Quick recap folks (necessitated by the writers strike forced hiatus. Unions.): Swim 1:19, Bike 6:22, 2x5min naked guy reunion. All aboard the Asics express, (Asics, refers to the brand of running shoes I was wearing. Express, refers to the fact that I was going to be running rather than walking, which is an expedited form of locomotion by comparison) the train is about to leave the building (fine, I will stop using that patronizing tone).
I was ecstatic to be off the bike. I felt pretty good at this point of the race, it was nice finally being on my feet and I was excited to be heading out for quick and easy 26.2 miles. Heading down the beachfront amidst all my adoring fans was highly enjoyable. All those people were there for me right? It was hot, but I was smiling, running light and fast. In hindsight it was probably a little too fast. My intention was to run the marathon portion of this never ending day with a negative split (second half of the run faster than the first people, we're never going to get through all of this material if I have to keep catching you up). I was running an 8:20 minute mile, with a relatively low heart rate, well, low relative to that of someone going into cardiac arrest via ventricular tachycardia, of course, but you knew that. I found myself fighting to bring my pace closer to 9:00 in order to stick to my game plan, but every time I glanced at my watch, 8:30, 8:20, 8:25? "Don't worry, that won't last long" whispered the legs to the brain, followed by a hollow evil laugh.
I headed out of town, the sun beating down on my shoulders, gladly accepting cold sponges offered by the IRON Army which I placed strategically in body cooling positions. No, not there. At mile 10 I was still feeling quite good. And then; the HILL of DEATH. My name, not theirs. When I drove the run route a few days earlier, this hill didn't seem so daunting. After 9 or 10 hours of perpetual forward motion this hill resembled, with striking similarity, Mt. Everest. I started to walk. My ego was obviously mad at me for walking so it wouldn't accept a comfortable walking pace, instead I was forced to speed walk with giant steps to the summit of my Everest. The first transition step from walk to run at the summit was met with a violent hamstring spasm, as was the second. This brought me to a sudden and frightening stop. How the hell am I supposed to finish the last 16 miles if I can't walk without a paralyzing hamstring spasm? Nothing I did brought relief and although my 3 mile pace prior to that moment was around 26 minutes, this next 3 miles took an agonizing 55 minutes. Tiny little shuffle steps seemed to be the only way I could avoid the excruciating hamstring spasms. The ancillary benefit? I looked like a speed walker, which is tremendously cool. With ice packed in my tri-shorts from my butt to my knees, I persevered.
Coming back up the Hill of Death wasn't nearly as bad. The ascent was significantly more gradual and I had a goal: catch the only man that was running up it. Not surprisingly, everyone around us was walking. For fear of a repeat offense by my hamstrings I had to keep running. I stared at the back of this man's tri-shirt and reeled him in. With each step, I got closer and closer. Eager for conversation, if only as a deterrent from the building overall body pain, I asked this mystery man a couple of questions when we were finally shoulder to shoulder. His name is Jim, he's VC from Edmonton, Alberta (Canada; a.k.a the country above the US) and this was his second Ironman Canada. Jim and I ran together for the remaining 12 miles or so. Or 20km, eh?
As time passed, we kept our pace. I continued alternating water and Gatorade each aid station while packing ice in the back of my shorts as my hamstrings grew sorer and sorer. We reached mile 15 where my wife, family and friends were enjoying a constant procession of athletes displaying various degrees of discomfort. Jim and I were met with signs of encouragement and playful poking, the distraction was a welcome one. As we continued on, Jim and I passed a man around mile 20 suffering from what can be aptly as projectile vomiting syndrome. He claimed that he was OK and content running porta-john to porta-john. Between the heat, and the sheer volume of miles we all put in, the increasing frequency of ambulances was not a huge surprise. My intestinal discomfort started around mile 20.5, sympathy pains for our fallen comrade I suppose. The thought of swallowing anymore Gatorade, cola, gels, pretzels or even water at this point kept me on the verge of a stomach emptying display.
3 miles to go. The crowds were growing, the excitement was building, the end was drawing near and I still felt like sh*t. One foot in front of the other. We rounded a corner heading down towards one of the final turns. Behind the huge crowd of people lining the street, the grandstand was visible, and over the cheering you could hear the announcer, Steve King, congratulating the finishers. My emotions were in turmoil. Attempting to stifle the river of emotion building inside me with a huge smile on my face and exhilaration coursing through my veins, I relented.
As we rounded the final corner, I could see the finish line. My head begged my legs to go faster, but my legs vigorously objected.
The blue carpet lined finishers chute, emblazoned with the Ironman trademark was incredibly inviting. There were people excitedly cheering the finishers as they labored across the line with one final attempt at a controlled stride. Each spectator in the crowd willing each athlete under the giant digital clock threshold. I heard voices yelling my name, but I could see no faces, my focus was narrowed, I wanted desperately to cross that finish line.
I crossed the line, beaming ear to ear, with my hands raised in personal victory. I was overjoyed to have my wonderful wife Christi find me in the finisher's chute. Christi made that moment even more special. I couldn't have done any of this without her.
After a thousand hours of training, 3300 miles to get here, and spending the last 12.5 hours swimming, biking and running, I had just finished the Ironman!
Eric Barber . . . YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! Feels pretty good.