The dream began when I was only in high school and I watched in awe the Ironman World Championship in Kona for the first time from my living room studying for a chem exam. Swim, bike, and run a total of 140.6 miles in one day. What? How amazing is that? Some call it crazy but I was completely entranced then tears came down my cheeks watching real people crossing that Ironman finish line. It was the real people, not necessarily the pros, who were the most inspiring to see them accomplish their feat overcoming such unimaginable pain. I only knew the beginning of that physical pain that brought such as amazing rush of euphoria for hours after a race and sometimes even days. Not surprisingly to many marathon and ironman finishers, the euphoria of your first almost never goes away. The first is always special. At age 14 without having any childhood experience in sports, I decided I wanted to run a marathon. People thought I was nuts. Only one person said go for it and damn it I’ll run it with you: my father. We didn’t know what we were doing and hadn’t run more than five miles in our lives, but we went for it. My dad just told me that if you simply have faith in Him and yourself, the power of the mind would triumph even when the body weakens. I found out the hard way the day I ran my first marathon. We crossed hand in hand at the 1999 LA Marathon in 4:05:05 and since then it changed me forever. I began to believe that no matter what preconceptions others have of you or even yourself, you could push yourself beyond anything you have ever imagined. Only months after finishing my first marathon, I told myself one day I will finish an Ironman because I know I can.
I arrived race day very nervous, very frightened of getting hurt, very unsure how I would do. I had not trained as much volume for this ironman as I had for my first and second. On our drive from the Los Angeles area to Arizona, I even broke into tears because this was the first major race my dad or any other immediate family member would not be on the cheering stands for me. Everyone had to work and couldn’t come along. I had grown to rely on my family for emotional support because they truly are my strength. I work as hard as I do academically, professionally, and athletically because they model such enduring work ethic. With their love and sincere encouragement, I feel like I have the power of an army. Love and faith has done that for me.
As nervous as I was, it didn’t help to discover at 6:18 am that I had forgotten my wetsuit. “Anyone have a women’s medium wetsuit they can lend out?” the announcer called out in the darkness of the morning. Dear Lord, my race cannot end before even the start. Tick tock… tick tock…. closer to race start time at 7:00 am and I had no wetsuit. Should I just say screw it and swim without one? Then a miracle came down when one man came to the front and said, “You can use mine. I’m not feeling well so here you go.” Jumping into the too large black rubber suit then it was a mad dash and jump into the water. The shot of the cannon was the only reminder that it was race time. Go! Now swimming 2.4 miles is not as daunting as biking 112 miles or running 26.2 miles for me, but trying to stay afloat among 2,700 or more other frantic swimmers can send anyone into a panic. Be aggressive, be tough, be you... Our pool was closed for the past month for renovations so I had only swam once in that time. Could I survive the swim? Bring on the cramps! I was sure going to try. Much slower than I normally do, swim split 1:33:22.
Wetsuit stripper quickly peeled off the oversized wetsuit and off I went to find my rudimentary bike for Ironman standards. It gets me from A to B and it sure got me to the finish line so I may not have carbon parts but I needed to prove to myself I had legs of steel. 112 miles…. best way to tackle any large feat is break it into parts. Three loops… let’s treat it like a 5K. Hardly but mind tricks are saviors at these distances. First loop start strong but smart, second loop remain strong but survive, and third loop hammer it hard like it will be your last. I did just that. First loop of 37 miles was my fastest, second my slowest, and third my second fastest. Again, I lacked the mileage volume in training for this race, but I made sure that when I jumped on that saddle that I hammered hard. Leisure time is a luxury so I needed to make every mile a quality ride. For me, it worked. Without upgrading my bike like I sincerely wanted to, I dropped more than one hour from my bike split most likely because it was a flat course. Nonetheless, I know riding only 1 90-miler and 2 60-milers is not enough. Making every mile count is. Bike split 6:30:46.
There aren’t enough words to express how much I love to run. From the moment I jump into the water, I have to resist the thought: I cannot wait to run. When you love something so bad, it never seems like work. Coming back from a minor ankle injury sprain, I was unable to follow the progressive training plan for my run as I would have liked, but here is where race strategy would come into play. Run too fast in the beginning of a marathon, you hit the wall, which in my honest opinion should never happen if you are prepared for the distance and you execute the right race strategy for yourself. It took about 15 marathons to figure out that there is no wall. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, it just means you are racing the right pace for what you are prepared for. Now run too fast in the beginning of a marathon IN an ironman, be prepared to be mangled. As excited as I was to get off the bike and ease into 7:30 pace, I backed off. I could not make the same mistake I did at Vineman or Coeur d’Alene, my first and second 140.6 respectively. Forcing myself to slow down to 8:00 min/mi, I found myself constantly fighting with my mind: C’mon just a little faster, just a little. I knew better. Well let the miles build and then you’d have quite the entertainment listening to the thoughts of athletes during those last few miles of the 140.6. Mile 15: pace began to slow, thighs began to burn, feet began to ache, calves began to throb… Mile 18: why did I sign up for this again?? I know sleeping in feels much nicer on a Sunday morning. Mile 20: Oh, I remember. I only have a 10K to go and I can break 13 hours?!! Walking was painful. Shuffling was painful. Jogging was painful. So what else to do? I might as well run my heart out and I did. I picked up the pace through the screaming pain that shout out of my legs. I ran and ran… and pushed so hard passing male after male after male. "Woah great pace," they’d mutter. Haha it might be cruel but I rather do enjoy passing triathletes on the run. Running through extreme pain--it's my talent. My body was fatigued, my body was depleted, but my mind and heart was full of vigor. I was going to do this. I was going to finish for my family, for those who can’t, for those who want to and for me. I approached the finisher’s chute and heard the roaring cheers of the spectators standing shoulder to shoulder cheering for absolute strangers. Tears clouded my eyes. I looked upwards and said in my head, this is for you. I couldn’t even see the clock anymore but I could hear it: “Congratulations, Nadia!! You are an Ironman!!!”
It never gets old. It never will be forgotten: where I came from, what it took to get here, and how it all started with just one dream. Anything is possible when you believe.
2.4 mile swim in 1-loop mass start in Tempe Lake @61°F
112 mile bike in 3 out-and-back loops @71°F
26.2 mile run 3-loops
Race Day Food:
200 1 pack of almond butter (breakfast)
200 1 box of granola
400 1 serving of Go Lean Protein Crunch
100 1 gel (During T1)
500 3 Powerbar Perform rehydration fluid (Bike)
100 1 Coconut water
500 2 boxes of granola
300 6 half bananas
300 1 Salt & Vinegar Chips
700 5 mini-energy bars
200 1 serving of Nut Clusters
200 1 serving of Nut Clusters (During T2)
100 orange slices (Run)
100 1 Coconut water
300 1 slice of pizza (Post race)
600 3 meat tacos
100 1 Coconut water
5,000 Total Calories (values approx.)