Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ironman St. George AKA Highway To Hell

Iron Ryan headed up to St. George last weekend to see if he could top his previous attempt at the challenging course of Southern Utah, trying to best his previous time of 13:50. 

On Saturday, Ryan exited the swim with an impressive 59:12, comparing the open water thrashing to "running the bulls in Spain, but in the water". He then rocked the bike portion of the race, shaving 40 minutes off his previous time, for a 6:30 bike split.  

I'll pick up his story at the beginning of 26.2...


I started the run with a good pace.  I felt pretty good for the first mile.  The two guys I was running with both said, “wow only 25 more to go” as we reached mile one.  The aid stations had cold water, ice cold sponges, misters, and some even had garden hoses spraying you off as you ran by.  

As the run began, you could start to feel the heat pounding down on your body.  At mile 3 you reach to the top of the mountain and are surrounded by red rocks and black asphalt with added temperature nearing 100, this was not your ideal running conditions.  My feet felt like they were melting.  As the run went on, the pain factor in the body went up.  My feet began to ache from the heat pounding on them.  I felt like someone was chasing me with a blow torch.  As I reached mile 4, I passed Mike as he was heading back down the hill.  I yelled at him and he yelled back.  It was nice to see him out on the course.  

As the day went on, the heat increased and my run slowed to a jog and then a shuffle and eventually a fast walk up some of the steepest parts of the run.  I did not feel bad about my speed walk because people walking were actually going as fast as those who were shuffling up the steep hills.  After one loop (13 miles) I knew the second loop was going to suck even more than the first.  I had never been at a point during a race where the heat sucked so much out me that even walking became difficult.  

I then thought: should I just stop now and save myself from the unknown that might occur during the second loop of the run.  I was spent.  I knew it and my body knew it even more.  Did I go too hard on the bike?  Am I drinking enough? Food?  All these thoughts kept entering my mind.  How was I ever going to make it 13 more miles?  

I looked at my watch and saw that it was around 5:30 PM.  I had been going for ten and a half hours.  I knew I could make the midnight cut off time even if I walked 2 miles an hour.  I was determined to finish at all costs.  I started my job up the road and at mile two I saw my wife, two kids and my mother-in-law.  They were cheering loudly and telling me I could do it.  I am glad they were on the opposite side of the course, because if they were any closer, I would have emotionally lost it.  I held back a few tears, gave them a fist pump in the air and told them to wait for me at the finish line..

After seeing my family, I entered the most difficult part of the run course.  It is about one mile long and is very steep.  I somehow made my way to the top and to the aid station.  I drank as much as I could, ate a few oranges and then began my shuffle down the fiery path.  The aid station I had just left was playing music and they had the song on “highway to hell”.  I thought that song was very fitting for the current situation that I found myself in.  I was now focusing on one foot in front of the other.  About a quarter mile past this aid station, I saw Mike again heading down the road.  I thought to myself, “if he feels anything like I do, then we should just go lie down and die together..” (I can put a little bit of blame on him for getting me into the mess I was in on top of the hill).  

As we got closer to each other I began to tear up and get emotional.  I could see the pain he was feeling by the look on his face.  It was kind of a relief to see his pain because I was feeling pain also.  At the top of the run loop, in the hot sun, I gave Mike a huge hug.  We were both crying as we stopped to embrace each other.  He told me “this is the hardest thing I have ever done and we are going to finish.”  With tears streaming down our faces, I somehow got the words out for him to just wait for me at the finish even if it was midnight, I would not give up.  He gave me a few encouraging words and we parted our ways.. He was down to his final 3-4 miles and I still had 10 more to go. 

That moment out there on the run course was a defining moment for me.  It made me really dig down deep, deeper than I had ever been before.  Thanks Mike, I needed that.  I continued on my journey, one mile after the next with people cheering us on at every aid station, telling us to keep going and not give up, knowing what we were suffering out there in the heat.  I made it to the turn around and knew I only had 6.5 miles to go.  The next three were up hill and every step tested my will power.  I made it to the top and started to see the light at the end.  One step at a time is what I kept telling myself.  I did not put myself through weeks and weeks or training to give up now. No way.  I was in it for the long haul.  

I made it to the final aid station and I stopped to get a drink.  I jokingly asked the girl who gave me the cup of water how I looked because I wanted to look good for the finish.  She laughed and gave me a sponge to wipe the salt away from my lips, eyes and ears.  One mile to go. I looked at my watched and saw that it was at 13:33… My time last year was 13:52.. I thought to myself that I just might get a PR after all the misery I felt out on the course. 

I then took off, nothing was going to stop me now. I ran the last mile at about a 9 min pace. I ran down the shoot and heard the famous words I had been dreaming about all day…”Ryan Stokes, a police officer from Mesa Arizona… YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”  I had made it… 13:42,. A PR by ten minutes.  

After crossing the finish line, puking water all over some nice volunteer's feet, getting my medal and picture, I finally met up with Mike and my family. What a day, what a day. All I can say is that when someone turns the furnace on, it literally sucks every bit of juice out of me. It was the most difficult event I have ever done in my life, but I am glad I did it.

Can't wait to get back in the pool...


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Que lindo es sonar despierto.
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