This weekend I hit a milestone. I became an IRONMAN!
That means I swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, and ran 26.2 miles, and I'm more alive than ever to tell the story!
Before I get into the race recap, I wanted to first acknowledge everyone who has followed along in my journey since my first post in January. To my family, friends, colleagues, coaches, and teammates...THANK YOU. Your messages, calls, comments, and notes of support leading up to this point have been so incredibly special. Your well wishes were with me the entire journey. Words cannot express how grateful I am.
I can talk for days about the last week, but I will try to condense it as much as possible. Bare with me, it's worth the read. Maybe I'll inspire you to hop on the triathlon/Ironman bandwagon! (Or I might completely turn you off to the idea, haha).
Last Thursday, August 13th, I loaded up the car with Barb the bike and all my race supplies to head to beautiful Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. The eight hour drive from Manhattan was not so bad, and there was plenty of time to wrap my head around what was to come. From that moment on, everything revolved around my race. I was drinking water like a camel, eating as clean as possible, stretching the legs, elevating the sprained ankle, resting my eyes...I was in race mode.
We arrive to the beautiful Mont-Tremblant and immediately head to the race site to check out the Ironman village, have a little dinner, take pics near the finish line, and asses the massiveness that is about to take over my few days ahead. I was pumped.
We stayed just outside the main village, only several minutes down the road, in an apartment-style suite nestled in the woods, overlooking the mountains. Sleep was most important this night, so I got to bed at a decent hour so I could rise early and meet some of my teammates at the race site to go for a short bike ride on the course. Know before you go, right!?
Friday morning I wake up to a downpour of rain, clearly indicating that a bike ride was out of the question for some time. Still, I loaded Barb the bike back into the car and headed to the village as it was the day for mandatory athlete check-in. It's true - Ironman races require an early check-in, so you've got to get to the site at least two days out otherwise you won't get your bib. Since the weather was icky, I waited in line to weigh in, sign my life away, get my bib & chip, and pick up my gear and special needs bags. Plus, my awesome Ironman Mont-Tremblant back pack! Score.
Soon, the rain cleared away and so myself and two other Terriers - Rob & Viktor - got out our bikes and went for an hour ride on the toughest part of the bike course. This section is the last part of each 56-mile loop, with small but steep hills that seem to never end. Well, I huffed and puffed but I got through it and felt at least mentally prepared for this section come race day.
Friday night there was an athlete banquet (2600 anxious people in a hot tent eating carbs) followed by a mandatory athlete briefing. I heard inspiring stories and learned the rules of the road. Then I stood when Ironman virgins were asked to present themselves. I was in awe of the roaring round of applause. This was going to be one heck of an experience.
Back at our villa, I packed my transition bags that would be checked in the next morning. Everything for T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run) was loaded into labeled bags. I triple-checked them, along with giving a last inspection to my bike, and I went to sleep, for tomorrow would be the day before the big day. Yikes.
Saturday morning, I headed to the swim exit to do a few hundred meters in Lac Tremblant (Lake Tremblant) with Rob & Viktor. What a beautiful feeling it was to swim in those cool, calm waters. I was absolutely riding high with adrenaline, so excited for what was ahead. After I dried off, I got my bike and gear bags out of the car and made my way to the transition area to drop them off to rest before our big day the following morning. The bags were placed in a large tent, strategically in line with other bags of the same number range, looking like a sea of plastic. I noticed people who had done this before marked their bags with colorful tape, ribbons, or anything to help them identify it from a far. Smart move. Will try that next time. Then I took Barb the bike to her metal resting place, putting her on the rack to rest until I saw her again. The weather was HOT and I knew Barb's tires needed some TLC overnight, so I let a lot of air out of them to avoid any bursts due to the heat. In the morning, I would give her a good pumping. Bye bye, Barb. Sleep tight, I told her. We have work to do in the AM.
Dinner was at 5:30pm that night...an Italian feast of carbo-loading close to our villa. Before sleep, I packed my special needs bags (the bags I could access at mile 56 of the bike and mile 13 of the run) with goods I thought might be necessities. Finally, before hitting the hay, I took out cards from my teammates and read them carefully. I was speechless. I was humbled. I felt super lucky to have these people in my life. They'd be with me all day Sunday, even from states away.
IRONMAN RACE MORNING!
I woke at 4am after sleeping a total of three hours (much more than I expected). I drank my coffee, ate my breakfast (Levy's bread (2 slices) with Justin's honey peanut butter (2 packs), banana (1 & 1/2) & salt) and foam rolled for the final time. Then I dressed in what would be on me for the next 20 hours. There was little left to do but grab my wetsuit, gather my special needs bags, and go.
I get to transition and greet Barb and fill her two low tires. I then fill her bottles with orange thirst quencher gatorade, stuff her bento box with four Honey Stinger waffles and tell her that I will see her soon. Then I take my two special needs bags to be dropped off in their designated dumping bins. At this point, all I had left was a wetsuit, goggles, and a cap. That was it. It was down to me and my seal suit. At swim start, tons of emotions are going through not just my head but my entire body. I am paying way too much attention to everyone around me and I'm trying not to get discouraged. I'm spending most of my minutes reminding myself that I am completely ready for this. All my training has led me to this starting line. Now it was time to have fun. After suiting up and kissing my husband, I lined up with the 18-39 female age group. Hundreds of us would all start together. In those final seconds, I cried for about two seconds in my goggles with a huge smile, and squealed at the same time. This was it. Time to get this party started.
SWIM - 2.4 miles
The gun went off and fireworks exploded prompting the start of my very first Ironman. Hundreds of ladies jumped into the lake, and I held back on the sand to let them all get a head start. I was in no rush. This swim was what I was most excited for, and I promised myself that I would go slow and steady to conserve all energy needed for the rest of the day. Little by little, I walked then dove into the water slowly immersing myself into the mess of people. I kept my head above water as people were already choking on water and pulling others down with them. I almost immediately moved all the way to the left to get my own flow going and before I knew it, I was smooth sailing. Overall, it was a solid swim. The fog was dense so trying to see the buoys up ahead were tough and I inevitably swam off course at times (oops) but always found my way back. I caught up with the male group ahead and experienced some pretty bad swimmers who clearly never learned to sight, therefore they were smacking into me left and right. Anytime I felt someone grab my foot, especially my bad ankle, I kicked them. Serves you right, buddy! No one was ruining my swim or bringing me under. About 1000 meters in, a huge wave came at us from the left, probably from a boat far away, and we all swallowed several gulps of water while simultaneously screaming "what the f*** was that!?" But this is open water swimming, and anything goes. ONWARD. At the halfway point, I realized I was much too slow and had used barely any energy, which is all fine and dandy, but I knew I had more in me. So I picked it up. Drafting off other swimmers was not going to work in this race as athletes were kind of all over the place, so I found my own lane of sorts and just went forward. I gained a bit of speed but still stayed super conservative. Before I knew it, our 2.4 miles was coming to an end. I thought, 'ok, I definitely didn't give it enough, but at least I didn't drown or get eaten by an alligator.' I came out of the swim as fresh as a daisy, huge smiles, and gave a thumbs up to the crowd. First Ironman swim, I totally loved it. Now the race was really to begin.
It felt like a long run from swim out to the first transition zone. My ankle was a bit swollen from swimming so I couldn't run too fast. When I got to the tent I yelled my number and a volunteer handed me my transition bag as I ran into the "changing area," which is basically a makeshift locker room of chairs surrounded by black curtains where all of us ladies were stripping, lathering on creams and sunscreens, putting on socks and cycling shoes, and anything else that we felt necessary at that time. I was in no rush, and I knew this would be my longest break of the day as it was before my longest stretch of the day - the bike. As I dried off with a towel, I buried my face in it and gave a little happy/nervous cry for a few seconds. I can't explain it; it just came out of me. I put on my cycling socks and shoes, ate a few Clif Block chews and drank some water, put on sunscreen, helmet, sunglasses and gloves and headed out of the tent to get my bike off the rack. Then I was off.
BIKE - 112 miles
This is the longest part of the day and my least favorite of the three disciplines, so I was trying to stay positive. The good news is, I felt the excitement more than the nerves. The course, which is 2-loops of 56 miles, took us briefly through town before entering the major highway. The roads were as smooth as butter, making all of us pleased that we didn't have to dodge pot holes or debris. The rolling hills make for a challenging but completely doable ride, and I was focused on making sure I kept my heart rate down in order to make it through without burning out. I mentally broke up the course in four equal sections, to help me see through it easily and decide how I would tackle each. The first was my easing in ride and I took time to breathe deep and get in some calories, both liquid and solid. I was proud that I stuck to that first plan. At one point, I found myself randomly in tears again for about five seconds, mainly proud of what I was doing, and wishing certain loved ones were still on this earth to cheer me on. The second part saw me turning around on that first loop, and I hit a big, long hill around mile 30 that took a little out of me. It was starting to get very hot and the sun was beating down on me, especially on my back, and I was trying hard to keep myself as cool as can be by literally throwing cold water on my body. Eventually, I made it to the end of the second section which was the part of the course I had rode on Friday, with those small, steep hills. I already saw people clipping out and walking up the hills, and one guy even was hunched over his bike on the side of the road looking like he was dunzo. But I soldiered on and knew I was just a handful of miles from seeing my husband and making a stop at special needs to claim my bag of goodies I had packed. I attacked the hills as best as I could, then rode the downhills, hitting speeds close to 40mph before I saw the roaring crowds. Soon, I was back out for round two, but not before stopping at special needs, which was basically set up on the side of the road with dozens of dumpsters containing our respective bags. One male volunteer saw me coming and already grabbed my goods and had my bag wide open for me. I simply pulled up, straddled my bike and started to sort through what I had packed. First, I re-loaded my hydration. (I had frozen a few bottles of orange gatorade/water the night before, so by now they were nice and cold.) Then I emptied my Honey Stinger waffle wrappers (I had already eaten 3-4) and loaded in another 4. I grabbed a bottle of sunscreen and a single packet of anti-chafing creme and pulled over to the shade where I got off my bike and applied both to my body. I also made a quick bathroom stop before taking a few deep breaths and getting back on Barb for 56-112 miles. I didn't care about losing time here; this was most needed and I was surprised how many people actually stopped to eat full sandwiches and have chat fests with other cyclists. These were my kinda people.
The third of fourth section of the bike brought some of the worst heat of the day and I was starting to recognize that my stomach was hardening and cramping, which was a sign that I was taking in more salt than I needed. So I started to scale back on the gatorade and drink more straight water. It worked, and soon my stomach was back to normal. Then a plethora of things started to happen. First, I was experiencing excruciating pain in my shoulders and neck from riding mainly in the aero position (leaning on the two bars in the middle). It was a pain I have never felt before and it made it very clear that I was not accurately fit for my bike, as this is not an issue I should be experiencing. Next, my saddle sores started to get very bad. I could feel the burns forming downstairs and it was so painful that I spent a lot of time slowing down to stand up on my bike and readjust my positioning. These two pains, matched with the sunburn that was forming, were so bad that I had to find mental tricks to block them out. THEN, the headwinds picked up, and no matter how flat a road might have been, I was forced to work 3x as hard to get through the air's dense push against me. It was a low moment for me, for sure, but I didn't stop moving, drinking or eating; I tried to keep a positive attitude because within thirty miles I would be done. I did stop around mile 70/80 at an aid station to get off my seat and refill my bottles again with cold water. But it wasn't long before I had to soldier on. This was an Ironman. No one said this was going to be easy. And those last steep hills were the worst after riding 100 miles, but I knew I was almost done. I saw a few crashes - one where a woman all bandaged up got back on her bike and finished the race. So I didn't have many complaints after that. The worst part was over, I thought. I'm finally finishing the longest part of my day! And I did.
Getting off my bike was the happiest part of my day. I handed my bike off to a volunteer and ran toward the transition tent. The announcer yelled "Brittany Forgione coming off the bike, doing her first Ironman, looking fresh as a rose!" I got my gear bag, went into the changing tents and began my final change over. I kept the same clothes on, but I did change my socks and then slipped on my new ankle brace which would give stability for the next 26.2 miles. I shoved it into my sneakers, switched out my helmet for a visor, put on my race belt, grabbed a cold water, and I was off.
RUN - 26.2 miles
I started with a smile and a deep breath. I was so excited to be on my feet, because this is the sport I know best. The issue was, I had this sprained ankle, and I knew this race was a bad idea, but I wanted to do it, therefore I would have to make sacrifices. Immediately coming onto the first stretch of road, I noticed a hill and decided to walk it to avoid discomfort. That would be my strategy for the rest of the day. Walk, run, walk run. If I saw a hill, I walked. If I felt an ounce of ankle pain, I walked. If I saw puddles or rocks, I walked. Any other portion of the road, I would jog. My plan was a smart one. The first 13.1 miles I felt fresh and enjoyed most of it. We ran a few miles through town before entering a narrow trail in a shaded area which took us several miles out and back. Again, this marathon was two loops of 13.1 miles, so I knew I'd pass the finish line and still have half more to go. Listening to my body and stomach, I still felt a little heavy in the salt department, so I stuck with drinking mostly water, sipping gatorade lightly, and only consuming about a pack of Honey Stinger chews for each 13.1 miles. I was offered pretzels, bananas, orange slices, chicken soup, coca-cola, gels, and I didn't go for any of it; I was too afraid to try something I haven't during training. That proved to work fine for me.
My spirits were pretty high despite my need to walk a bunch and only maintain a 12-minute mile pace (I'm generally 8:30 in a half marathon, 9:10 in a marathon). But I was happy. Then it turned south, when I turned toward the village ending my first loop, and seeing my husband close to the finish. I wanted so badly to finish with some of the others, but I knew I had 13.1 more miles to do. I've read a lot of race recaps that mention how the last 13.1 miles are the worst part of the day, especially if you get a drive by of the finish line. It's a tease I was not happy about, and I was fearful I was hurting my foot and hated that I had to walk to be a "good patient." Luckily, the special needs stop came upon me and though I didn't need much, I still stopped to get my runner's stick and roll out my calves to keep my legs as strong as possible. I looked down to see my fingers were swollen and my knuckles were white. Yikes. I took a deep breath and just moved forward. The first few miles of that second loop had me at my lowest, seeing people run their last couple miles on the other side while I still had to do this whole thing again. But once I entered the trail, I felt new again. Fellow runners were commenting on my strong stride despite my injury. I was starting to talk to a lot of people, making friends to pass the time. I found myself with a lot of guys, seasoned Ironman athletes from all over including DC, Jersey, Virginia, Texas, and Canada. Soon, the sun started to set and the view alongside us on the lake was a stunner.
I felt extremely lucky to be able to do this. I felt invigorated. I felt the night creeping on me with peace and power. Suddenly, the skies were dark, and I felt more alive than ever. I could barely see where I was going, so I was a bit nervous of my footing, but I was running more than walking. Glowsticks lined certain parts of the forest and I grabbed one to keep me in view to others for my last few miles. When I entered the main road that would lead back to the village and finish line, I was jumping for joy. I still walked, to keep up with my plan, but when the last mile was upon me, and the crowds started to build again, I picked up my pace as people yelled "you're doing it! go get it! you're going to be an Ironman! Go Brittany!" (I heard my name all day because my name was on my bib. Makes a HUGE difference). The strobe lights from the finish line were hitting the sky and were in full view. I inched up to the village, and when my feet hit the cobblestones, the crowds went from 20 people to 2,000. Immediately, my being was surrounded in roars and cheers and claps and high fives. The last couple of hundred feet had me floating, smiling from ear to ear, sprinting through the path and making that turn toward the brightest lights I had ever seen. It was here, upon me, the finish. The chute that once was a distant vision, something I only read about in books, was now my reality. I made a decision to do this, I committed myself, I trained hard, and now I would get my reward. I threw my hands high up as announcer Mike Reilly yelled "Brittany Forgione from New York City...BRITT, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!"
That was it. I had done it. No tears, just a huge overwhelming sense of emotion, matched with a smile. I knew immediately that I wanted to do it again.
I was handed a finisher hat, tech tee, and of course THE MEDAL!!! Then I was led into a tent where they were serving us athletes food including pasta, salad, bananas and more. I was too amped to eat, plus I couldn’t seem to find the hunger for it. I picked up my bike and bags from transition and headed back to our villa. I would have stayed for the midnight finishers but I needed a shower badly, plus I wanted time to call my family. Sleep that night was tough; I had so much energy, plus some pain in my right knee. Go figure, the sprained ankle held up after all, and I almost forgot it even existed. Days later, it feels no worse than it did before I raced. Insanity.
I finished in 14 hours and 48 minutes, a time that impressed me given my ankle injury and the fact I had to hold back in every sport, with an emphasis on the marathon. But that's fourteen plus hours of an undeniably good time, where not once I felt awful, wanted to quit, or wished to never do this again. I finished stronger than I was when I started. And now I'm really excited to see what I can do at my healthiest, injury-free in 2016.
Monday I rose a proud Ironwoman. Immediately I wanted eggs, a bagel and cream cheese, so I immediately sought that out. Then my husband Jay and I headed to Spa Le Scandinave to spend some time in the various cold and hot baths. Well, I stuck to the cold baths and recognized that I was surrounded by other triathletes with the same idea. Then I found myself an empty hammock, climbed on in, and three hours later awoke from the most peaceful nap. The fun continued later that evening when I scarfed down a pizza, sipped an alcoholic beverage for the first time in a long time, and bought the biggest ice cream cone on the planet. The next morning we said goodbye to dear Mont-Tremblant and headed back for New York. My big weekend was over.
Wednesday I get to work, feeling good as new, and I’m surprised with a very warm welcome back from my colleagues, presenting me with a Wheaties box with my finishing photo on it, alongside a spread of Dunkin Donuts treats. And the love has continued since, from friends and fam far and wide. It has been an amazing week, but I am most grateful for my husband Jay, who was the sole BForge cheerleader out on the course, and made me feel like a million bucks every time I turned into town for those few seconds. This sport takes me away from a lot and he has been the best support system, always cheering me on and giving me the thumbs up to keep it going. Thanks Jay. There is nothing more important than helping your partner embrace what brings them joy, and you've got my back. xo
I want to note that this is just the end of chapter one. My story doesn’t end with Ironman - it simply begins with it. I hope that my adventures and experiences so far have been fun to follow along, but more so I hope you have found something special in your life to reach for. If little 'ol me can conquer an Ironman, you can do anything you set out to do. It’s so important to believe in yourself and let doubt slip out the back door. I went into this with a huge heart for the sport, and belief in myself…belief that I could and would accomplish this one step at a time. A certain finish time wasn’t even on my agenda; the act of committing, pursuing, and conquering was all that was important here. If you’re looking for some motivation to get you to that next step, send me a note. I’d love to here from you and help in any way I can. --> FITwithForge@gmail.com
Thank you again for the love & support. One Ironman down, another to go! Ironman Lake Placid is in my future...July 2016, baby! Till then, you better believe we’re keeping this conversation going. I've got more swimming, biking, and running to do.
To never ending the journey,
**See all the fun shots from my race weekend in Mont-Tremblant below!**