How much time do I have left? I started to worry that I might just run out of time...
7:26:23 p.m. (+12:44:01 since race start) Mile 11.8
I was back at the horse stables. This looped section that took runners off the main road for a half mile was pancake flat. I walked/ran the loop all the while trying to do math in my head.
“I started around 6:45? 6:50? I can’t remember.”
(Everyone is tracking you on their phones, right?)
(Doesn’t the app list your start time?)
...AND THE PROJECTED FINISH TIME!
Good thing I tagged myself on the app. I open my phone to check my math...
6:43 a.m. start meant I had to cross that finish line before 11:43 p.m.
I was 14.5 miles from the finish line. In training runs I was able to run that in 2.5 hours.
(Great! You can be done in 15.5 hours and a new record.)
But my legs refused to do anything more than walk/run.
(Yeah, you might be doomed.)
7:57:01 p.m. (+13:14:30 since race start) Mile 13.6
I was halfway through the marathon. I was standing at the edge of the climb into town. From there it is only 400 meters, a mere loop around a football field to the finish line.
Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls” in 1776 during the low point of the American Revolution. I was now 127 miles into this race and my feet hurt. I was at a low point. My walk was getting slower and I was beginning to remember why I keep saying, “I’m never doing another Ironman.”
8:27:40 p.m. (+13:45:09 since race start) Mile 15.5
I passed through the horse stables for the third time. This time of night there were fewer participants. Definitely, NOT lifting my spirits.
Then I remembered, “I’ve done the math.”
(You mean the app did the math.)
Well, it does give you a projected finish time and it adjusts that estimate every time I pass a timing check point.
Estimated finish time: 11:10.
(What time did you start the race?)
“As long as I don’t slow down...too much, I will finish in under 17 hours and be once again crowned an IRONMAN.”
(You psyched yourself up!)
Not “psyched myself in,” ya know, instead of “psyched myself out?”
(Don’t ruin the moment.)
8:52:20 p.m. (+14:09:49 since race start) Mile 17.2
Two miles past the horse stables was a long steep hill.
(I bet it felt good to walk down it.)
But you know that expression about things going up?
It also applies in reverse.
Climbing back up is going to be a world of hurt. If I’m in this much discomfort now…
Stay positive, don’t start to doubt.
The sights here on this road remind me that three hours earlier, on this spot, I Zoom-called Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard. Getting a signal here in the mountains was iffy, but I try to never miss his weekly Torah class.
(Did you listen to a 60-minute class while walk/running the Ironman???)
No, but I did a 30 second “Hi from the Ironman.”
“David, I thought you were running the Ironman today.”
“I am, Rabbi. Only 20 miles to go.”
“ONLY?” He replies with a chuckle.
One of Rabbi Blanchard’s themes is, “What if?”
To me that has meant, what if instead of doing what you always do, because that’s what has always been done, you choose the alternative option. Ok, how can I, on a darkened road, seven miles from the end of the race employ Rabbi Blanchard’s approach?
(Ummm, “seven miles”???)
Instead of 20, I only have seven miles to go. I can do seven. The challenge turned from physical to psychological because at the bottom of the hill is a left turn that goes on for what feels like eternity. At this point in the race, the sun has gone down and this road is illuminated by a series of generators unevenly spaced apart. It became impossible to see just how far the road is to the turnaround. Each generator might be the last one. When you are walking, the road feels like it goes on forever.
9:31:50 p.m. (+14:49:19 since race start) Mile 19.4
Finally, I made it to the last turn around. A series of orange cones led to a large blue inflatable with an “A Frame” sign in front of it that said “TURN AROUND”. That’s what I did. I stopped and looked back down the road.
At 9:31 at night, this was a scary place. An abandoned place. A holy place. The Chinese have a belief that when they go into battle, the spirit of their ancestors goes with them. I’d like to think that it is true for me as well, that I carry the spirit of my four grandparents with me, but here in the silence of a deserted road, all I felt was how alone I was. The race ceased to exist.
For a brief moment, it was just me and the sound of the generators. I felt at peace with the silence.
Then the magic happened. I rounded that last turn around and stepped over the timing mat. Now I was headed home. I was on my way back to the finish line, back to my family.
David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6.
He can be reached at [email protected]