Becoming Unlimited – The Road to Ironman 70.3 Augusta
My journey to Augusta can be summed up with the above two phrases. The first: You are unlimited. You are unlimited came to me through my coach, Suzy Cerra. These were not words that she spoke to me or had me recite to myself over and over as some mental exercise. These were words that she demonstrated to me through her actions as a coach, as an athlete and as a friend. I saw this daily in her but most recently and strongly in Madison, Wisconsin during her Ironman. I was so honored to be there and be witness to her perseverance when things went terribly wrong on the bike. She was unlimited and she got it done. I thought, “I too am unlimited and I too will get it done.”
The second: Namaste! Namaste is more than a funny phrase I say after pretty much everything. Even after I tell someone where to get off I will throw in a Namaste for good measure. Namaste in Sanskrit means “The light within me honors the light within you” or “My soul honors your soul.” I truly try to live this way despite my multiple personalities that you all see. It is a little weird but weird is my middle name so Namaste to that.
Over the past several months my training had been progressing as it should and like a good athlete I was doing exactly what my coach was telling me to do – which is not like me at all. No one is the boss of me except Coach Suzy apparently. I had my doubts throughout most of the training, especially since, for some reason that I will pass off as a mental deficiency, I could not breathe on the runs. Therefore, I did not quite buy into the fact that I was going to be able to pull this whole 70.3 thing off until one day it clicked. The skies opened and a miracle occurred. I was able to breathe while I ran. It was after my longest run of 13 miles that I thought, “I think I got this.” All I had to do was execute the plans. The race plan and the nutrition plan.
When taper week finally came I was relieved and excited for what was coming. Final touches were being placed on the nutrition plan that ET Team Dietitian, Laurie Schubert, developed for me. She even sent me a diagram with cool action figures. I am sure that was because she knew I couldn’t do any type of math or calculations despite being a financial crimes detective. My last meeting with Suzy was fog like. She gave me some valuable tips, a hug and her nutrition belt which made me feel like she would be with me on the run in a creepy stalker sort of way. That was the last time I saw her prior to the race.
Going to Augusta with Patty S. as my Sherpa was the best thing that could have happened to me (except for the brutal 13 hour drive with her and the nonstop talking). I am thinking that God was looking out for me on this one because Patty being there was literally one of the keys to my success. That crazy broad kept me salted (literally), grounded and laughing the entire time. I could not have asked for a better training partner, Sherpa and friend. I am so thankful for her. Thank you, Patty, and sorry for the roach motel.
On the day of the race, I was putting my essentials in transition when the sexy sounding announcer said that for the first time since hosting this race the swim was NOT wetsuit legal due to the heat. But if you wanted to wear a wetsuit you could, however, your race would not count and you had to go in the last wave. Are you kidding me? I was counting on my magic wetsuit to help me float along the 1.2 mile lazy river. So as I began to have a mini panic attack out of nowhere, Patty, the Sherpa, slapped me back into reality and said, “You don’t need a frickin’ wet suit. You are a badass swimmer. Now get your goggles and cap and let’s go.” That was all I needed to hear because I knew I was a badass or at least I believed that I was during the fifteen minute walk from transition to the swim start. Fifteen minutes later I was not feeling the badassery and I started to panic again but I knew there was no way my Sherpa was going to let me go back to get my wetsuit. I grabbed my phone and started playing my “Om Namah Shivaya” song to calm me down. My wave was called before the song was over, but oh well, it was game time. I jumped up and put myself right in the front of the line. I am sure that I cut a few people off but it was better for everyone that way. Instead of sitting on the dock waiting for the start horn I jumped in the water, which of course people copied because I am a trend setter. The horn went off for my wave to start and you would think there would be mass chaos but there wasn’t. A warm calm came over me (or was that someone urinating in the water?). I just stuck my head in the water and swam repeating my swim mantra “Om Namah Shivaya” (Sanskrit for “I bow to my inner warrior”) over and over. The 1.2 mile swim was the most calming and enjoyable swim of my life and it was over before I knew it (34 min).
Out I immerged from the water feeling like a mermaid but based on the picture I saw that Patty took I looked more like a beached whale. Clearly she does not have the Thinify app on her phone. Regardless, I heard her yelling at me, “You rocked the swim you badass!” I was all like, “Hell, yeah, I did.”
Onto transition and it took a while but I needed to get some sunscreen on this pasty white skin. Off The Black (my bike’s nickname) and I went and right out of the box he did his job. During the ride I did what Suzy told me to do and I held back even though I felt great. I executed my nutrition plan to the letter and I am very proud of that. I did stop at the aid stations and refill with Endurance. I even saved a life by giving a girl a couple margarita shok bloks because I brought extra thinking I could bribe people to be my friend along the way. On the course a girl named “Jaimie” from Atlanta and I kept passing each other. She called me “Chicago” and cheered me on as I did her. The course had a few hills but I was well prepared for them due to the training in Madison plus I totally anticipated them and worked the gears like a pro. The Black did not disappoint me at all. He was the Rockstar of Augusta. I finished up the bike in a good place (3.5 hours).
Back into transition and I was feeling really good and in control. Not cocky at all but confident because I was executing the plan, I was doing it. I quickly put on my baby powdered socks and shoes, ET visor and stalker Suzy nutrition bib belt and off I went. I reached the sunscreen volunteers and got me a quick top off spray and then we hugged it out for a moment. There is always time for hugs. Off on the run I went. Now it was sunny and hotter than hell (105 with the heat index) but for some reason I did not notice it. Maybe it was because I was too busy thanking every single volunteer and police officer that I saw. I was all over my nutrition plan. I swear Laurie would consider me a text book example of how it should be done. I again talked to everyone that I could. I even talked to myself for quite some time. I met a guy who was struggling like a mother and he needed salt in the worst way so, again, I saved a life and gave him three margaritas. He told me about his near death experience during the swim but he got through it and dammit if he didn’t make me tear up because he teared up. I stopped at every aid station and drank my Endurance but noticed they were giving out Red Bull so I asked for vodka. The first three stations did not think I was funny but I am sure the rest of them did. I met two guys in speedos who were singing. I had to hug them so I did. At mile 7 I saw Patty for the second time and she was, of course, talking to a man – who was rather hot, I might add. I was starting to cramp so I asked her for water so I could take a salt tablet and what did she give me… BACKWASH! So backwash it was. By mile 10 I stopped sweating and started cramping bad on each calf. I would push off each foot and I would cramp and fall over as if someone was cutting my Achilles tendon. I had to do more run/ walk than I wanted but I felt really good because I knew I had this no matter what and I was having a great time.
Finally, I turned the corner to come down the chute. I saw the beautiful Ironman logo and bridge. In my mind all the hours and hours of hard work flashed by like in the movies. I, of course, started crying. Not the beautiful movie actress cry but the really ugly cry. The snot running down your face cry. I had to take a moment to compose myself because I did not want FinisherPix to capture snot running down my face but they did anyway. I ran my hardest feeling like a gazelle but most likely looking like an injured hippo and I frickin’ finished in 7:29:34. I heard my name. Elena Duckler as it was pronounced but I did not care. I get called a lot of things a lot of times so Duckler the Half Ironman it is. Yep, I too was and am unlimited!