Or, Dante’s Inferno...
or, The Bataan Death March...
or, How I managed to make my run leg almost as long as my bike leg.
I had dodged into the change tent and found a chair to sit in while I got some socks on my sweaty feet. I stuffed my helmet and bike shoes in the bag and grabbed my Fuel Belt and made a quick trip to the port-o-can. I had not been able to take a whiz on the bike and I was concerned about that. I had gone through over 100 oz. of fluids on the bike but it was not enough. I managed to emerge from the can with the mission accomplished and spied an open jar of Vasaline. I dug out a glop with my fingers and shoved it down my tri shorts where the salt had rubbed my upper leg raw. I also smeared it on my left hip where the tag on my shorts had left nice slice marks on my skin.
I ran out of the change tent and over the timing mat in less than 5 minutes around 2:30 pm in the afternoon and started cursing myself for running. The plan was that I was going to walk for the first 2-3 minutes to get the heart rate down. My stupid pride would not let me walk in front of the crowds of cheering spectators. I would soon be paying for this pride. I had reached my goal of being off the bike by 3:00 pm and I had plenty of time to get the run done. Now the question was, “Will I get this run done in the time I would like to be finished by?”
I was overwhelmed at the number of spectators on the run course. I thought that there were a lot of people cheering on the bike course. Dang! There were tons of people lining the run course and they were all going nuts. “Si se puede! Si se puede!!!” Venga Muchacha, Venga!!!” “Corre Elizabeth, Corre!!!” “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!!!” They were spilling out of the restaraunts and hanging over the balconies of the second floor of buildings. I made myself walk and the crowds went crazy to get me to run again. I had to find some ice to spill down my tri top. I asked for ice at the first aid station and all I got was a huge frozen rock of ice. It was not comfortable down my tri top. I soon found a couple of men handing out sno-cone cups of crushed ice. I chucked the ice rock and replaced it with the sno-cone ice. I got back to my plan of running for 10 minutes and walking for 1 minute. The cloud cover kept the sun at bay but the heat and humidity was still up there. I had run in conditions like this before, but it had been 3 or 4 weeks since I had run hard after 80+ miles of biking in this type of heat.
As I neared the airport and turned off the main drag along the coast I saw Bree Wee and gave her a shout out. I guess I got her at a time where she was not about to puke her stomach out and she gave me a shout back. I got to the inflatable arch that was spraying water and it was a little shocking. That meant that my body temp was higher than it needed to be and I had to cool down. I took a bottle of water from the next aid station and after drinking some of it, I started pouring it over my arms and head. It almost took my breath away it was so cold. My walking breaks were getting a little long so I decided I had to get back on track. I saw Rutger Beke pass me like I was one of the spectators cheering on the sidelines. Oh I felt so S L O W. I kept looking around for my land marks to run to. “I’m going to run to that orange terra cotta colored resort down there and then I will see if it has been 10 minutes.” I got the orange terra cotta colored resort in 8 minutes. “The HELL with it!!! I have to walk.”
I made it down to the turn around. I had not seen any of the other members of the posse I had been hanging with on the run yet so I was keeping my eyes peeled on the way back. My intestines were feeling pressure from some gas so I dodged into a port-o-can. OMG! There was actually toilet paper in there!!! What a treat! I was back out and running again. I saw my friend Luke around mile 5 as he was headed to the turn around. I saw Greyt Times as well and it was good to see friendly faces. The 10K timing mat was up ahead and I looked at my watch. SUCK! That took me 70 minutes!!! I kept up my run and walk combination but when I got to the airport, I was really feeling in the groove and I just kept running. HUGE MISTAKE! I saw Johnny Tri, Greyhound, and Speed Racer near the inflatable arch. The arch was not spitting out much of a water spray by this time. I was hitting the main drag with all the spectators and the energy was fantastic. La Policia were cheering for us and handing us water! That never happens in the states.
Coming into the “HOT CORNER” I saw Mrs. Greyhound and Superpounce. I also saw Tri Beaner and the rest of Drew’s Crew. The noise level was deafening! There were 8 to 10 drummers on the corner going nuts on the skins. It was hard running all the way down to the Finisher’s chute only to turn around and head back out. Running by the drummers, I could feel the drums reverberating through my rib cage. People were off the hook cheering for us. My walking breaks had disappeared and part of it was because I felt ok, and part of it was because of the crowds.
I got back to the airport and I had to start putting in the walking breaks again. I was trying to keep the water intake up and taking my salt tablets. The mile markers seemed to stretch further and further apart and it seemed like I would never make it to the turn around. I was getting near the half marathon timing mat. I was starting to do calculations in my head about how long the second half would take and when I might pull across the finish line. As I stopped to take my walk break, I entered Dante’s Inferno.
If you are familiar with Dante’s Inferno, not everyone in hell is suffering from the flames and heat. As Dante entered through the gates of Hell the inscription on the gate reads:
THROUGH ME YOU GO INTO THE CITY OF GRIEF,
THROUGH ME YOU GO INTO THE PAIN THAT IS ETERNAL,
THROUGH ME YOU GO AMONG PEOPLE LOST.
JUSTICE MOVED MY EXALTED CREATOR;
THE DIVINE POWER MADE ME,
THE SUPREME WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE.
BEFORE ME ALL CREATED THINGS WERE ETERNAL,
AND ETERNAL I WILL LAST.
ABANDON EVERY HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE.
Within this vestibule just inside the gates, there are a miserable lot of souls “who were neither rebellious nor faithful to God, but for themselves.” They had no hope of death and were envious of every other lot. That was me. I was envious of people who could still run. I was envious of the people laying on the cots in the medical tents. I was envious of those A--HOLE finishers who were pedaling their bikes back to their hotels with their gear bags on their back. COULD THEY NOT HAVE RIDDEN THEIR BIKES JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GRASSY MEDIAN BY US???? I was envious of the people on their last loop.
And as I descended further into Hell, I met the fate of those who were cowards to take a stand for what was just. The rules of the race state that an athlete can not accept assistance from friends, family, or other spectators. But I saw lots of people getting assistance. I just kept on walking and having my own pity party. And then my punishment was upon me. Like the wicked who were naked and stung by hornets and wasps my punishment came in the form of mosquitos. As soon as I slowed to walk, I was covered in mosquitos. Not just 3 or 4, but 30 or 40. I had them buzzing in my ears, swarming around my nose and mouth, and biting through my tri suit. I tried running again, but they would not go away. I must have looked like Ricky Bobby when he was running all over the NASCAR track yelling that he was on fire and flailing his arms around and no one saw any flames on his body. I know that we are not supposed to get any aid from spectators but there were spectators that had OFF! I had to get some! I stopped, along with 5 other athletes, and tried waiting for a guy with a spray pump bottle of OFF! but the mosquitos were so bad that I was getting eaten alive standing and waiting. I had to run on flailing my arms and swatting the bugs off of my body until I could find the next person with bug spray. I found a lady who sprayed down my arms and legs but she neglected to spray my clothing and the malaria carriers found my butt, my back, my chest, and my face again. I scratched until I thought I would draw blood and I wanted to cry but I had not tears.
I was miserable and I was only at mile 15. I forced myself to keep walking but my legs did not want to respond. It was as if the mosquitos had sucked almost the last bit of blood out of my body. I had no energy. I had no desire to continue. BUT DAMNIT, I WANT MY FINISHER’S SHIRT!!! That is all that kept me going. Fatigue was weighing heavily upon me. In Dante’s Inferno, those that are full of pride are punished by being forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs in order to induce feelings of humility. The weight of carrying my body down the road made me weary. Speed Racer was headed out on her last lap when she saw me and told me she would catch up and to keep going. I had nothing left as I approached the “Hot Corner” and I heard all the fans yelling and telling me to keep going and to pick it up and run. The noise was so loud that it made me nauseous. I wanted to vomit and then possibly they would pull me into the Med Tent and it would all be over.
Tri Beaner dashed across the street and was making an assessment of my condition. She said she was worried about me but I told her I just had to keep walking. I would finish my midnight now that I was on my last loop. I had 5 hours before they turned off the time clock. I had stopped eating and drinking back at the half way mark and the thought of trying to swallow anything was disgusting. My good friend Norma found me and walked with me for a good quarter of a mile. She was such a good sport as she heard me bitch and whine about how miserable I was. She had to leave me and now I was wrestling with my demons alone. The only consolation was that 90% of the people still out on the course were walking as well. Now it had become the Bataan Death March.
I weaved down the street as I walked. I thought I might just pass out once or twice. I thought about laying down in the grass of the median, but then the mosquitos just might suck me dry. I prayed, and I prayed hard.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23
And as if I had been heard suddenly I had a kid from San Diego, California named Ryan who asked me to walk with him. I made myself talk to him to take my mind off of my pain. He was doing his first Ironman and he had done something to his hamstring and it hurt too bad to run. He tried to get me to eat some crackers but they were like sand in my mouth. We walked and talked for two miles until he found a First Aid tent and left me to get his leg wrapped. I was feeling a little better and decided to try running. The first few strides were excruciating but then I settled into a rhythm. It was slow. Embarrassingly slow. Children could have outrun me. It was the Ironman shuffle. I rounded the turn-around for the last time and I was on my way to the finish line. I kept going, moving the pavement under my feet. I tried to play fishing and to reel some people in. And then I stepped down wrong on the pavement and rolled my right ankle under me and I had to catch myself from going face down on the pavement. I had to walk out the ankle because it was sore but I knew that I had not injured it. I walked and kept the pace up. Less than 3 miles to go.
The inflatable arch had long given up spraying us with water and I kept moving down the road. I ran a little bit. Run to the flags. Ok, run to the speed bump. Now just run to the palapa where the bar is. But the bar was now closed. I was going to ask for a margarita. I saw the ferry terminal. Ok, the time is getting close. I want to finish this under 14 hours. I can walk for two minutes and then I have to go. When my two minutes were up I started running. The crowds had thinned but there were still people cheering for us. I looked across the road and saw people headed out for their 3rd loop. I was so thankful to be passing mile 25. Past the ferry terminal. Keep going. Past Senor Frogs and Carlos & Charley’s. I can hear the “Hot Corner” now. Around the corner of the cruise ship terminal. I see the last stop light before the Finisher’s Chute!!! Mrs. Greyhound was shouting after me and cheering. I was going to make it. The crowds around the Mega store were cheering and some ran with me for 30 yards or so. I ran through the last intersection. The lights were bright and a volunteer was at the turn-around. I motioned that I was done and heading in. The crowds went wild. The music at the finish line was pumping and I saw my time on the time clock. I was going to finish with a PR and under 14 hours. “Elizabeth Garcia from the United States...YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!! Congratulations!”
I paused to put my hands on my knees and take a deep breath. I was so happy to be done. So happy to be alive. So happy to be able to stop moving. I was getting my Finisher’s Medal and a shell necklace that had been made for each of the finishers when Greyt Times got a hold of me and asked me how I was. I said I was good but I guess I was weaving and stumbling more than Greyt Times thought was necessary and she insisted that I visit the Med Tent. Speed Racer showed up as well and seconded the vote that I needed to be looked at. When they cleared a cot for me and I got to lay down, I realized that I had skipped Purgatory and I was now in Heaven. The cot was so soft compared to my bed back at the villa. The Red Cross team went to work on me. Someone asked me what I wanted and I asked for ice. I got a towel full of ice and I put it on my chest to cool off. I guess that I was radiating a lot of heat because the ice was starting to melt rather quickly. After a blood pressure reading and a temperature reading a nurse asked me how I felt. I told her I was really tired and that my lips, my cheeks, my legs, and my arms were tingling. She asked to see my tongue and asked if my stomach was upset. At that time it wasn’t so she wanted me to try to drink some Gatorade and, if I could, to eat a banana. She said that she believed that my potassium was out of balance. I sat up to drink my Gatorade but now I was sitting in a puddle of ice water. All of the ice was melting and the water was running down the plastic mat into my crotch. I chatted with the guy on the cot next to me as he was being draped in cold towels and prepped for an IV. I had to get up and get out of that water. Speed Racer was waiting for me just outside the tent and I really appreciated that. The Red Cross team dried off the cot and made me strip off my tri top and take off my shoes and socks. The spread towels on the cot and made me lie back down and wrapped me in more towels so that I resembled a mummy. I was asleep in a flash. The Med Tent was just behind the Finish Line, there were lots of lights on in the tent, and there was lots of commotion and I was fast asleep. I am not sure how long I got to sleep before Johnny Tri was squeezing my foot and asking how I was. He said I needed to stop ending up in the Med Tent when we raced together. I slept some more. I woke up again when a string fell in my face from the IV line that was being pulled down to hook up an IV bag for the girl on the other side of me. I decided that I needed to get up and find some friends and head home.
God bless Speed Racer! She hung in there and waited for me. Johnny Tri was getting dizzy and did not feel good so he headed back home. Norma and Luke had to head back because Luke was wanting to get home. Greyt Times had called it a night. I never saw Greyhound on the last part of the run. I hoped that he was ok. Speedy helped me find a slice of pizza, get my Finisher’s Photo and shirt, and pointed me in the right direction of the gear bags and bikes.
As I walked home on the dark and quiet streets back to the villa, the music and the energy were still high at the Finish Line. I realized that even though I was not happy with how the run turned out, I was happy with how the day turned out. I realized that the rough conditions that everyone seemed be complaining about were not that rough for me. I knew it would be windy, hot, and humid and it was windy, hot, and humid. I was prepared for the worst conditions. But I was thankful for the cloud cover, the patches of drizzle that I rode through, and the flat roads. Yes, I was even thankful for the chip-seal roads. It was a gentle reminder from home that I had pedaled my way through conditions just like I was encountering on the island and I knew that I would finish. I was thankful for all the people who live on the island of Cozumel who worked so hard to make this race possible for us and to spend all day cheering for us.
Will I do another Ironman? Yes.
Will I do it again in Cozumel? Yes. And I will put bug repellant in my Bike-to-Run Bag.
Thank you for hanging in there to read about the entire journey. All it takes is a decision to do something that seems out of reach. To believe with every fiber of your being that if you want to achieve it, there is no way you can fail. Experience is what you gain when you are faced with obstacles. I have gained a ton of experience from this race and now I have more to share with the people that I coach. Ironman is 20% physical and 80% mental. I may not be fast, but I can outlast.
Have a great day and remember, "Anything is Possible",