PAIN in the Alleganies ½ Ironman
June 21, 2014
My alarm rang at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 21st. It took me a second (ok, several) to realize that alarm was meant for my husband, Mike, and me to wake up because I was participating in a ½ Ironman event that morning. First test passed….we actually get out of bed…4:00 a.m. is the middle of the night to me. Was I excited or nervous? Probably a little bit of both as this was my first long endurance event in 7 years!
We are able to get in the car rather quickly as we had the car packed the night before. As we drove 80 miles, Mike helped me put things into perspective by saying I was more prepared than I ever had been due to the well thought out plans Francois had me follow so diligently. I don’t listen to many people but Francois is the exception to this rule. I always tried to come up with my own training plans and much to my dismay I would always end up injured! So I “listened” to Mike and told him I knew I did what I needed to do because of the plans Francois had me follow….huge thanks, Francois!
As we entered into the state park, at 5:30 a.m.. my stomach got a little queasy as we drove past the volunteers setting up the run course. My first thought was, “We have to run up THAT?” I did not have time to dwell on that negative thought as Mike parked the car and whisked me to the packet pick up. After getting body marked, I set my transition area up and proceeded back to the car to warm up as the air temperature was only 50 degrees. (Sorry Francois, I know that not what you meant when you told me to warm up!) I realized I still had the butterflies in my stomach as I tried to eat a bagel. Uh oh….I am nervous.
After the prerace meeting, I put my wetsuit on and headed to the lake to visualize the line I wanted to take. I took a few warm up strokes and got back out so I could be counted into the corral. The sprint race took off 10 minutes before us and it was exciting to see them start. A sense of calm came over me as we were asked to stand at the shore. 30 second count down, 15 second count down, backwards from 10 to 0 and we were off. I usually start toward the middle of the pack but decided to go up front and to my surprise, I was able to take the first 25 yards rather quick (for me) to break away from the mass start and was able to get into my rhythm rather quickly. We swam a two loop course and the most difficult part (beside not being able to see through the murky water) was having to exit the water after the first loop and running to enter back in for the second loop. As I was entering into the second loop I looked at the girl next to me and said, “Round 2”. The second loop felt just as good as the first loop. Finally seeing the land, I heard Francois in my head telling me to kick a little harder in order to get the blood going in my legs to make the run transition easier. As I exited the water, I heard Mike say my split of 29 something.” I kinda looked at him like he was crazy because my goal was 35 minutes. Off to a good start. First leg done☺
I was looking forward to the bike leg as this is my favorite part of the triathlon. I was rather disappointed that the course was shortened to 48 miles due to road conditions but appreciated the race director’s concern for safety. On my way out of transition Mike told me there were 2 girls ahead of me. Another sense of calm enveloped me as I thought to myself, “Not a problem.” This was a two loop bike course that is known for climbing.” My goal was to ride the pace I should. I also wanted to make sure I consumed enough liquid and calories before the run. (I knew swallowing the lake water several times didn’t account for hydration!) I found the proper gearing and off I went. I knew there was a 6 mile climb 2 miles into the bike leg so planned accordingly. Amazingly enough, my legs felt fresh and I had a blast spinning up the hill, past “2 girls” and also some guys. However, even though my legs were fresh, nutrition wasn’t as good as I still had a problem drinking let alone taking in a gel. No problem, I thought, I will do what I can do. After a bumpy 3 mile descent it was back to another 5 mile climb. Was able to drink some liquid but still knew it wasn’t enough. I rode through the transition area onto loop 2 and was excited to see Mike cheering me on. My goal was to ride the second loop the same time as the first loop and to my surprise, my splits were pretty dead on. Fortunately, the last 2 miles of the bike were downhill and flat as I was able to follow Francois’ instructions of getting my RPM to around 90 to match my run cadence. As I dismounted from the bike, I saw a total time of 2:32 and 3800 feet of climbing. 2nd leg done☺
Run leg….hmmmmm…..I was a little, ok, majorly, worried because of my lack of nutrition. As I exited the transition area I realized I forgot my Garmin watch but realized there was nothing I could do about it at that point. A cyclist named Greg who was in a bright green shirt rode up to me and said, “Looks like you need a hand.” At first I thought he knew I was worried about my nutrition then realized he was leading me out on the run course because I was the first overall female. I was grateful for Greg as he led me through a windy, hilly course that was much more difficult than the map on the website made it look. I took a defizzed Coke at mile one because I had heard of this helping. Well, I also heard you shouldn’t try something on race day that you didn’t practice in training. At that point, though, I needed a little jolt. I realized I wish I would have had my Garmin because I had no idea where the mile markers were nor did I have any idea what my pace was. At the halfway point, I saw Mike and when I looked at him I said, “This hurts.” The cheerleader that he is he said, “It’s supposed to!” Ok, second loop….off I went. I used every aid station to pour water over my head or drink Heed and swallow some enduralytes. It wasn’t a pretty run, but who said anything needs to be pretty? I was told by Greg that this course was created to help people train for the Lake Placid Ironman. Well that’s great, I thought, but I’m not the Lake Placid! I got a burst of energy on the last ½ mile because I knew the finish line was ahead. I rounded the corner and vaguely heard, “And here is the woman’s first female ½ Ironman finisher Megan Collins.” Third test passed….I finished. What stood out to me more than hearing that announcement, though, was seeing Mike at the finish line waiting for me with a big smile on his face. ☺ Being the first overall female finisher was not my goal. It really was icing on the cake.
Why was this my first endurance event in 7 years? As important as it is to physically take care of your body, it is also essential we are mentally able to handle that challenges that catch us by surprise. I say this because I am a 43 year old breast cancer survivor. I was thankful that I was so physically in tune with my body because I insisted to find answers to the lump I felt even though it did not show up on a mammogram and the doctors insisted it was nothing. The surgeries and treatments were physically demanding, so I put my triathlon experience to the test by breaking it into 3 legs: The swim (surgeries), the bike (chemotherapy) and the run (radiation). The finish line was when I was able to accompany Mike to his first ironman event in Louisville 1 month after my final radiation treatment.
I look at my diagnosis as a blessing in disguise because it stopped me in my tracks of life and I was able to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually reflect on what truly was important to me. I realized I took a lot for granted in all realms of my life. Prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer, people would ask me why I ‘do triathlons’ or competitions and I would come up with a million different reasons, which made me wonder if I even knew why I was “competing.” Now when anyone asks why I would put my body through something so physically demanding, I simply smile and say, “Because I can.”