I.AM.AN.IRONMAN.

I.AM.AN.IRONMAN.

Just call me Sarah Ironman Rockwell from now on, because I FREAKING DID IT!!!! In the span of a few short years, I went from this…

to this…

When I first got into the sport, I laughed at the thought of ever doing a full Ironman. That was a sport for the elite, for the REAL athletes, for those so much stronger, fitter and tougher than I could ever be.

And now, as I sit here typing my race report, I AM ONE. A real athlete. I am stronger, fitter and tougher than I ever imagined I would be. And because of that, I am an Ironman. Un-freaking-real.

Now I want to document EVERYTHING about this, including the days leading up to the race, because I want to be able to look back and learn from my experience. So if you don’t want to read a novel, feel free to scan the pictures and look for the headers to note actual race day information.

In the days leading up to the race, I wasn’t just a little nervous. I was to-the-core terrified. I cried.

A lot.

I mean, a whole lot.

I did not feel ready. How could I, when I’ve never attempted something so huge in my life? How can you ever truly feel READY? It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my coach or my plan. I didn’t trust myself, my body, my brain. I mean, this was ME we were talking about. Weak, overweight, insecure, anxiety-ridden, afraid-of-everything ME. Everyone kept telling me how awesome I am, how strong I am, how much potential I have…but I don’t hear those things and internalize them. I don’t believe them. I’m not an egotistical person…hell, I’m not even a confident person…so the days leading up to the biggest physical challenge of my life? Well, they were a bit rough.

Aside from crying, I went to athlete check-in right when we arrived. When I gave my ID to the volunteer and he said my name wasn’t on the list, I panicked. But Stephanie was also in the check-in tent and heard what was happening, and came over to reassure me the same happened to her. I went to another desk, where they found my name and gave me what I needed. Catastrophe averted, but holy hell, what a way to begin…

Stephanie and I finished check-in and then bought some event merch…normally, I don’t like to buy stuff BEFORE an event, but gear sells out at Ironman events and I wanted to be sure I could commemorate the event with good stuff. $200+ later, I was done shopping. And I didn’t wear an OUNCE of what I bought until after the race. No more bad juju.

We had a little time to kill before the 2:00 athlete meeting, so we walked the expo, took advantage of the Normatech booth, drank water, and then attended the meeting. I haven’t dealt with special needs before, so when the announcer dude skipped over that on the bike section, I raised my hand and asked him to detail that part. He asked what I wanted to know, and I said anything. He basically said where it would be on the course and what we should put in our bags, but said nothing of the ins and outs of how it works logistically, so I asked for more detail again. Apparently, all he heard was me say, “Do you pull over?” and he sarcastically (and RUDELY) replied, “Well, yeah, you have to pull over. You can’t blow by and get your bag on your bike!”

I replied, “That wasn’t my question. I’m not an idiot. Nevermind, I’ll ask someone else.” Another official had come out and flagged me to come talk to her. After the meeting, I went to her and she apologized for the announcer’s sarcasm. I explained that this is my first full and I’m really nervous and making fun of me while not answering my question is NOT helpful. I was really upset. She talked me through how special needs would work (I just wanted to know if the bags would be roadside or if we’d have to pull into the school lot to get to them – turns out we pulled into the lot, which is not what the nice official told me, but it all worked out, so whatever…but that guy did NOT have to be such a dick).

We then checked into our AirBnB (Steph was staying the first night so she could do check-in early, and I was SO glad for the company of a friend who was racing), and went to get some food. After eating, we found a grocery store and picked up some necessities, then returned to the house and chilled, watched Beauty and the Beast and tried to just decompress and relax. We crashed early.

The next day, Friday, we didn’t have race stuff we had to do, so we went for a yummy breakfast and decided to drive the run course just to get a feel for it. I’m terrible at reading a map and translating maps to the real world, so things got a little tense for a minute, but it was fine. Tim had wanted to check out some liquor stores for craft beer and bourbon, so after driving the course, we grabbed lunch and went to a booze store. Then we went back to the house, Steph and I organized our gear bags, checked in with Coach Sam and painted our nails. SUPER EXCITING STUFF, YOU GUYS. Riveting, I know.

Then Steph headed out to join her parents, Tim and I cooked dinner and watched more Netflix. Another early night to bed for me.

The next day was bike and gear check-in. It didn’t start until noon and the day was HOT. As it was the day before the race, I had a pretty strict eating protocol, so we got up early to get breakfast in as close to 7AM as possible. From there, we went back home so I could double check my gear and put my feet up. Literally.

Then it was boring sandwich time and we were off to gear check. HOLY INTIMIDATING. Seeing how huge transition was…it was just insane.

A kind volunteer helped Stephanie and I find our rack positions and carried our gear bags for us, then helped us drop those off. He was so, so nice and really made dropoff easy. Steph and I walked the changing tents and then to our bike spots to get familiar, then headed back to the expo to meet up with Sam and the team.

Sam gave us all a quick talk about how the morning would go, what to expect, how swim line up would work, what time to get there, etc. Then she sent us on our way to get ready for the big day.

We all said goodbye and Tim and I headed back to the house. I had been stretching, rolling and using my Air Relax system religiously. I was hydrating and doing everything possible to physically prepare myself. But mentally, I was a disaster. With rain in the forecast, Tim headed out to find a waterproof bag and rain jacket to wear, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I tried watching Pocahontas to distract me, but ultimately sat around crying like a fool.

Then people started arriving in town to cheer, so I got a flow of visitors. Carrie, Teresa T. and Betsy stopped by first, bringing sweet good luck gifts of unicorns, superhero stickers and badass buttons, along with some advice to ease my mind. Their hugs and kind words helped calm me down a little, and they left. My mom called a few minutes later, right as a panic attack hit, and I was sobbing. She asked why I sign up for these things if they make me so miserable…she has a point, but I tried to explain that I was just terrified…but I didn’t disagree. Why was I doing this to myself? Why was I pushing my limits and comfort zone so hard? I felt like I was on the verge of a real breakdown. My anxiety was through the roof, I was shaking, I couldn’t breathe…I tried to calm down. Mom said she’d be over in a bit after they got some food, so I tried to pretend to be calm so she could stop worrying. When we hung up, I lost it all over again and laid bawling on the couch.

I know it’s normal to be scared before something this huge. As so many people pointed out, it means you care and are invested in the race. But among all of my other fears, the weather forecast had been getting more and more windy, which is something I just don’t do well with, and while I couldn’t do anything to control it, I just felt terrified that the day held too much for me to handle. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t dealt with true anxiety. This wasn’t just a little pre race day worry…I was in the throes of a serious anxiety attack and couldn’t pull out of it. Everyone I talked to said it was normal…but they didn’t feel what I was feeling…it felt like everyone was writing my anxiety off and not understanding how close I was to just losing it. I was terrified I’d be worked up in the morning and this would be my undoing. I did NOT work this hard for this long for my anxiety to take me down. I felt really alone, not because I think my feelings were special or anything, but because it seemed like no one fully grasped the depths of my sadness, worry and horrific fear. So, as usual, I tried to appear calm and collected and stopped talking about anything that really worried me because it wasn’t helping anyway.

My mom, stepdad, Teresa and Joe came over shortly thereafter while I was cooking sad dinner (plain chicken and potatoes). We chatted, I tried to avoid talking about the race too much, ran another compression cycle on my legs, stretched and eventually said goodbye to everyone so I could decompress and get ready to try to sleep.

I had forgotten my stuffed dog (yes, I am an overgrown toddler and I still sleep with a stuffed animal every night), so I had been snuggling this awesome pillow Liz gave me…

And then when Tim went to get a bag and coat, he also picked me up a new stuffed sloth to sleep with, which I have named Robert Downey, Jr. for obvious reasons…

So I was all set to snuggle the night away. My breakfast was ready and waiting, my gear was set out, I had applied my race tattoos, so all that was left was attempting sleep and attacking race day. This was it. My last night before becoming an Ironman. As I drifted off, I repeated in my head, “Tomorrow you will go to sleep an Ironman. You will become an Ironman. You will do this.”

RACE DAY: PRE-RACE

I slept decently well, and was awake before my 4:30 alarm. I grabbed my jar of applesauce and ate what I could, drank my usual banana/protein/coffee shake, started drinking my sports drink and got myself dressed. Most importantly, I POOPED.

I pulled my bottles from the freezer and topped them off with what was in the fridge, packed what was needed in special needs bags, finalized my morning bag and we were off.

Tim and I drove to transition and easily found parking. He helped carry my stuff because he’s the best, and took my special needs bags to dropoff for me while I headed into transition to add nutrition to my bike, T1 and T2 bags.

I found Stephanie again in transition. We aired our tires, walked transition one more time and headed out to meet Sam. At this point, I was resigned to my fate and accepting of whatever was to come. I was cherishing the calm before the storm and trying to just joke around and chill.

After a brief panic when I couldn’t find Tim before walking to swim start, we all gathered and started the mile walk to get in line to jump in the water. It was a comfortable morning, and Stephanie, Emily and I joked about the need for pre-race poops as we stopped at a bathroom on the way. If you don’t race, you don’t understand how important it is to start the day with an empty system. Pre-race poops are crucial, and as athlete after athlete exited the bathroom, we would cheer and high five if they pooped. It was pretty funny, and outsiders would have been completely confused by people bursting out of the bathrooms, hands held high in victory, stating, “I POOPED A LITTLE!”. So, so funny.

We eventually reached the field where they corralled us by estimated swim time. Emily went to her super fast start spot, and Stephanie and I crashed a space with a fellow tri club person we didn’t know (sorry if we ruined your zen, Ryan!). We were joined by teammates, and sat in the grass joking, hydrating and pretending like things were no big deal. At least, I was.

After one more potty trip, it was time to get our wetsuits on and start the final walk to the docks. We said goodbye to our cheer squad and joined the sea of nervous athletes making their way to the start. We faintly heard the boom of the cannon for the pro start, and then the age group start, and then the line really started moving. This was it. The day was about to begin. Stephanie and I told each other this was just another swim, just another day at Simpson Lake, it doesn’t matter how fast we go, we can do this, we just have to keep swimming…we can do this, we trained for this, we are ready for this. Today, we will become an IRONMAN. Tears filled my eyes a few times, and I got one last boost from handing off my shoes to Tim.

THE SWIM: 2.4 MILES

The line really picked up as we got closer. Before we knew it, we were charging down the dock, high fiving Peter, and jumping in the water. It happened SO FAST! We were going! It was like ripping off a bandaid. You had no time to think, just jump and swim or you’ll get jumped on! It was happening! The scariest part of the day had begun!

Hitting the water was a shock – the water felt COLD. As I swam away from the dock and into the fray, I warmed quickly and was pleased to feel the wetsuit Marian had let me borrow fit amazingly well and was very comfortable. I was breathing well, not panicking, and telling myself how awesome it was to be doing this. You are swimming in an IRONMAN! You’re doing it!

Now, I’ll say that, before the race, Coach Teresa had gone on and on about how great and open this swim was and how little I’d be touched. Well, that was a fat load of BULLSH*T. That swim was a sh*tshow.

I expected the channel by the island to be crowded, so I didn’t let this get to me. I stopped a few times to clear my goggles, but gladly did not panic. I watched my surroundings and tried not to get too close to the docks or mini yachts as we passed them. I kept my arms focused on fending off feet, determined not to get kicked in the face. I got grabbed on the leg pretty shortly into the swim, which immediately ignited a cramp in my leg. Surprise.

Cramping that early, while not unexpected, was worrisome, so I just told myself to swim with my arms and stay calm. I can do this. I am a strong swimmer. I may not be super fast, but I can swim forever. I had reminded myself that it takes a while to get warmed up, so if my arms felt tired, it would go away. They never did. Never once on this swim did I feel out of breath, panicked, tired or discouraged. The only thing I DID feel was the warm spots, which I knew meant someone peed, but between the catfish, diesel fuel and muck in the water, at least the urine was sterile…

As I made the turn to head downstream, I grabbed the nearest kayak and chatted with the volunteer. I told him I just wanted to take it all in, to appreciate the moment. I was totally fine. I was better than fine – I was enjoying the swim!!! I cleared my goggles again, said goodbye and headed in.

The swim in was long, and pretty darn choppy. The water had some wake to it, not quite waves, and I felt a little queasy a few times from the motion. I just focused on breathing when I wasn’t getting hit with water, and continued to dodge arms and legs that surrounded me. I tried not to look at the submerged barge at the end of the island because that sh*t scares the hell out of me. The other barges in the water were fine – they were upright – but I just tried to breathe on my right side to avoid freaking myself out.

As I made it to the bridges, I knew the finish was coming before the third bridge, but I couldn’t see where. It was an overcast, windy day, and the end buoys were black, so I just followed the bright green and pink caps in front of me and hoped for the best. I congratulated myself on a solid, calm swim and picked up the pace, fighting off grabbing hands and the resulting leg cramps. At one point, I yelled at a woman to stop grabbing me as she had pulled my legs 3 times…she swam away from me and I never saw her again. Good. I was feeling punchy.

Then, finally, I could see volunteers on the stairs waving to swimmers and helping them out. I WAS DONE WITH THE SWIM! I had done it! 2.4 miles in cold, choppy water – DONE! Holy crap, I was doing this!!

As volunteers helped me up the stairs, one nice gent helped unzip my wetsuit and pull it off my arms. I apparently looked at my watch, but I didn’t see a thing because I had no idea how well I had done on the swim until Corey told me on the run later in the day!

Then I ran to the strippers, where Corey and Elvit were volunteering. Luckily Corey was free and he called my name. I ran to him, laid down and had my wetsuit in my hands in no time. He got me on my feet and sent me on my way. He and El yelled good luck as I ran, and I just felt GIDDY.

There was a guy at swim in holding a sign that said, “I couldn’t get your clothes off that fast.” It made me laugh as I ran over to get my T1 bag and head into the changing tent. Thanks for the laugh, random guy.

Once in the changing tent, I knew I was supposed to use my volunteer for as much as possible. But I was a newbie, and she was about 14 and clearly also a newbie, so it wasn’t a speedy transition. I asked her to hand me certain things, but was shaking and fumbling like an idiot the whole time. I apologized as I took off my wet shorts, applied chamois butter and popped on my dry kit…it’s kinda awkward going full bits out with a kid helping you…I worried I was traumatizing her for life! But she was a champ and helped me pull on my top over my wet bra, and my sun sleeves, then applied some sunscreen, packed up my bag and took it for me. I was off!

I ran to my bike and was THRILLED to see most of the bikes around mine were still racked. This is VERY UNCOMMON – normally my bike is one of the last left to head out, but not this time! I felt amazing. Transition was kind of long, and I had to do the awkward bike shoe shuffle for quite a bit to get to the mount line. Then someone fell in front of me as I was trying to get going, and I had to stop and get re-clipped in, so it wasn’t a graceful bike start…but soon, I was off!

THE BIKE: 112 MILES

I started hydrating and eating right away. If you blow your nutrition on the bike, you will screw up your run, so I knew I had to nail that part. The day was fairly breezy already, but offered a nice tailwind on the flat portion out of town, so I loved flying through those first 11 miles! My nerves started to settle a bit as we turned onto 42. I recognized that this would be a very crowded course, and I could only do what I could do to avoid drafting. I put the worries out of my mind and focused on eating, drinking and keeping my cadence high.

A few miles down 42, I saw my dad and stepmom cheering for me. I waved, smiled and kept on going.

What felt like forever after that, we turned onto 393, one of the hillier roads on the course. Luckily, we started with an exhilarating downhill. Instead of clinging nervously to my brakes, I flew down the hill, grinning like fool at the thrill of it. I was flying, and it was AMAZING. Then we hit what’s known as “Grandma’s Hill”, a long climb that is one of the steeper on the course (but still not too bad, just takes a few minutes to get up). There was a cheering section stationed near the top, and they had put up signs that said, “Welcome to Grandma’s Hill” followed by “She’s a b*tch.” Much needed laughs came from everyone as we passed.

I was pleased to see I was passing a lot of people on the climbs, or at least sticking with people. Obviously some passed me as well (including pros on their second loop, holy fast!), but I was really happy with how I was doing. I focused on not burning my legs out on the hills but not coasting the downhills, either.

At mile 23ish, I pulled into a rest stop to pee. Sam had told me to stop and pee when I needed to on the bike, or it would make my stomach hurt on the run, and I wanted to do everything I could to set myself up for an amazing run. A volunteer held my bike and offered to help with anything I needed, so I asked if he’d top off my aero bottle while I went to the bathroom. I came back to a full bottle, and he tossed my trash for me – little things, but it meant so much! I thanked him profusely and went on my way.

Right after the rest stop, I found my teammates cheering for me like crazy, and then my family right after that! What a rush! I was grinning like an idiot once again. What an insane boost, to get so much love when I was still feeling so great!

Another cyclist and I had been passing each other off and on, and as I once again passed him, I told him I’d see him soon. Turns out, I wouldn’t see him again because he never caught me again! WHHAAAAAT???? Again, such a weird feeling for me.

A few miles down the road, we headed into LaGrange, a town where spectators can take a shuttle to in order to cheer. It was PACKED and the energy was electric. I was greeted by some guys in Speedos, which is always a hoot. It’s a slight downhill as well, so it was beyond words to fly through there, surrounded by cheers. As I smiled, the crowd would yell SHE’S SMILING, LOOK AT THAT SMILE, KEEP SMILING!! It was epic. Again, grinning like a fool. I was having the time of my life.

I got a little nervous here, knowing that the next left takes us onto the road with the big bump at the bottom of a steep downhill that turns and goes right into the steepest climb on the course (but it’s short, so I wasn’t worried about the climb – just about the bump and other riders around me). The day before, Sam had told us if we stay to the far left, the bump isn’t as bad, so I was going to try that. Big mistake. I should know better than to deviate from the familiar…even if the bump was a little lower on that side, which it didn’t feel like it was, it put me right in the path of all the ejected bottles and trash from previous cyclists hitting it too hard. As I tried to dodge things, I lost control and went off the road. Luckily I unclipped quickly and ended up mostly dumping my bike and stumbling just a little. I picked up Swift Wind, grabbed my chews out of the grass and checked on a few cyclists who had dropped their chains around me.

At this point, Steph passed me, but was navigating the sea of falling cyclists and trash, so I didn’t call out. I couldn’t get going up the hill, so I sprinted my bike up the steepest part, hopped on at the top and kept going. I passed Steph a few minutes later, which confused the heck out of her because she hadn’t seen me on the side of the road. But it was awesome to say hi!

From there, we had a short jaunt to a U-turn, another spot I was nervous about. When we rode the course in training, we thought the U-turn was at the bottom of a hill, meaning you’d have to go down, turn, and then climb back up, all while navigating a rest area that was there. Luckily, though, the aid station and turn were before the hill. And they called my name and number over the speakers as I passed, once again igniting my grin and eliciting some cheers and fist pumps from me. As I sailed out of the aid station, I yelled to a guy as I passed, “I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN!!!” He replied, “HELL YEAH!” and we kept pushing.

At this point, the clouds had broken and the sun was shining full force on us, hot and humid. The wind was still blowing, making some of the rollers less roll-y and more climb-y, but I was doing well. I was sticking to my nutrition pretty well, drinking lots and keeping my bottle full. I noticed I was sweating a bit more with the sun out, so I took an extra salt tab for good measure and pushed on.

Eventually, I got to another turn I had heard about from Marian, a spot at the end of a neighborhood where a sharp uphill makes a left turn onto 146. She had told me people gather there with music and cheer, so I was excited to get there. At first, I saw guys in Speedos and pirate gear chasing cyclists with rum, which was entertaining. But then I saw Tim, Mom, Jim, Teresa and Joe and was SO EXCITED! What a surprise! I had just seen them like 20 miles ago! Such a great boost. I smiled, yelled my love and pushed on with renewed energy…and maybe a few tears in my eyes…

Soon after, we turned back onto 42 to head back to the start of the loop. The sun was starting to get covered by clouds, and the wind was picking up. The best rollers on the course are in this section, but the dumb wind totally ruined them, killing all momentum and making it a little scary to descend and climb with others so close. I really had to focus here. And while I usually wouldn’t look forward to climbing back up 393, I was eager to be out of the intense wind, especially as the temperature fell quickly and it started to rain off and on.

As I started the second loop, I was thrilled to feel strong and not even a little bit tired climbing Grandma’s Hill again. I flew threw the aid station at the top, knowing I’d be pulling off to special needs next. I was nervous about special needs, but it went smoothly. The volunteer held my bag as I filled bottles, grabbed fresh nutrition and tossed my trash. Then I was off again, to be greeted in THE BEST WAY by my teammates. I mean, look at this picture. Karen is SO EXCITED TO SEE ME! Do you even know what that feels like? This whole day was surreal – people I know AND perfect strangers were SO EXCITED FOR ME. Unreal. AND I WAS SO HAPPY!!!

The weather held for most of that loop, just getting cooler as clouds rolled in and covered the sun. The wind was picking up, but I either didn’t notice or it wasn’t hitting us too hard on most of that loop. It rained a little here and there, but nothing terrible. I handled the big bump like a champ the second time and had no problems scooting right up that hill. And I was still smiling like an idiot when I saw my family for the second time before getting back to 42.

About 2 miles after the turn where Tim and my people were, we turned back onto 42 and this was probably the first time I really stopped smiling. The wind had gotten BRUTAL. I was struggling to keep control of my bike in aero, so I spent a lot of the last 30 miles more upright. The rain eventually came down quite heavily, loudly echoing off my helmet and making it hard to hear cyclists and motorists approaching from behind. It was stressful and scary and required intense concentration. I was chilled, but forced myself to keep taking nutrition so I wouldn’t be dehydrated coming off the bike. A few times, I told myself to just make it to the next mile marker and I could take a break if I needed it. Every time I’d see a mile marker, I didn’t want to take a break because that meant not making forward progress. I just wanted to be out of the wind and off the bike.

I saw my dad again as I approached town, did my best to smile and kept pushing. I was clinging to my bike for dear life!

Then came the magical turn onto River Road, indicating the last 11 miles of the day, and bringing us back to flat (albeit very pothole-y) ground. I’d been warned there is often a headwind on the way back, and after fighting crosswinds with gusts up to 40+ MPH, I was nervous making the turn…but SHOCKED to find we actually had more of a tailwind! I was flying again, passing people like crazy as we dodged potholes and road hazards. There was one more turn into the headwind before reaching transition, and the wind had gotten fierce at that point, but I knew I was almost done and didn’t care. I just pedaled my heart out and soon enough was at the dismount line!

HOLY CRAP, I SURVIVED THE BIKE!

I know I saw family and friends here again, but can hardly remember it. I was thrilled to hand my bike to a volunteer as I ran to get my T2 bag and head back into the changing tent. Once in the tent, I was disappointed to find zero volunteer help. No one approached me to help, so I just found a spot, opened my bag and did my best to get my feet ready to run. I took a little plain water, removed my sun sleeves and bike shorts (they were over my tri shorts), swapped into my visor, took off my sunglasses, applied RunGoo to my feet and new socks, put on my run shoes and race belt, packed up my bag, dropped it by the tent exit and found my way to run out. It was quite a jog to run out, which sucks because you’re running to the start of your 26.2 mile run, but I was in good spirits.

THE RUN: 26.2 MILES

In fact, I felt AMAZING. I had been looking forward to this run so much. This was the party! I didn’t drown, I didn’t have any flats or bike issues, my body felt GREAT, and I was back to smiling like a fool. I saw my family and friends as I ran out and let them know how great I felt.

Within the first two miles, I saw a lot of teammates and Sam as well. Sam ran out to ask how I felt, and I told her AMAZING! She joked it was because I have an amazing coach (and she’s right), and I replied that I get a LITTLE credit for the work I’d done. Laughing, we parted ways and I was ready to just KILL this run.

Within a half mile, my body told me it had other plans. Diarrhea cramps ripped through my abdomen, making me fear I would poop my pants. No good. NOT pooping my pants was definitely a goal I wanted to meet. I saw another teammate and let them know to tell Sam my stomach was acting up, and started looking for a portapotty without a line. Over the course of the run, I stopped 4 or 5 times, but without much in the way of relief. I soon realized I had nothing in my body to poop, and told myself to stop stopping. It was wasting time and not helping. I just needed to trust my system and accept all would be well.

Once my stomach started hurting, I had a hard time focusing on anything but moving forward. I walked aid stations and forced nutrition as much as I could, but was quickly off track with my gels in the first half. You can tell from my pictures where I was hurting, as I mostly stared at the ground. No more idiot smiles.

But I kept running. Sam had told me if I run more than I walk, it’s a successful Ironman run. So I never walked more than a minute or two at a time, and did my best to only walk at aid stations. Every now and then, when cramps were bad, I would take an extra walk break, but always went back to running. I honestly still really did a great job the first loop.

I was definitely emotional from the pain, and really wanted to see Tim and my mom as I came back into town. But somehow, as I rounded the corner for special needs, I missed my mom and stepdad. Tim saw me at special needs while I was refilling my bottle and gels, and told me I missed them. I burst into tears. I wanted my mom!

Somehow, in the confusion of special needs, I somehow put my long sleeved shirt back in my bag and gave it back to the volunteers. I picked up my handheld and went to grab my shirt when I realized it wasn’t on the ground and I had put it back. Crap. Crying, I frantically asked volunteers if they could get my bag back. They tried to soothe me, and masterfully found my shirt and brought it to me. Saints. I thanked them, popped the shirt on, hugged Tim and went on my way. One more loop!

I admit that, in hindsight, I might have been able to run more if I had listened and tried taking Coke sooner on the course. But here’s the thing – I was already struggling with my stomach and I just don’t drink soda, so I was worried it would make things worse. I took chicken broth and tried to take more Infinit, but the cramps were persisting. They’d come and go, so I did my best to just push through it, and seeing teammates out on the course definitely helped.

By mile 19, I’d had it. I decided since I only had 7 miles to go, if the Coke made my stomach worse, I could handle it. At the next aid station, I took the soda. It didn’t sit well at first, so I took more chicken broth and Coke at the next aid station, and by mile 21, I was feeling better. I could do this! I kept walking aid stations as the Coke needed a chance to settle, but was in better spirits and was able to start talking to fellow racers once again. It helped me to tell people “Good job” as I passed or as they passed me, which I’d been doing all day until my stomach blew up, so it was nice to be able to share kind words again.

Honestly, aside from the stomach pain, the entire run is kind of a blur. All I know is I checked my overall time once or twice and was SHOCKED to see that I might just beat my goal of finishing in 14 hours – a goal that seemed impossible during the days leading up to the race. I was even set to PR my marathon time! Holy smokes!!

My last memory before the finisher chute was taking a moment to walk with Corey and Elvit at mile 25. I didn’t NEED to walk, but I wanted a quiet moment to savor the day and reflect on all I had done and what I was about to do – finish a FREAKING IRONMAN!!! As I heard music play, I started running again and told Corey and Elvit the next time I saw them, I’d be an Ironman. I bypassed the last aid station and made one of my final turns toward the finish line.

I could hear it. Music blaring, voices yelling, an announcer calling names. I could see lights flashing around the next corner. This was it. My time had come. I had done it. Sam was there before the final turn, hugging me, sobbing, crying with me as I told her how shocked I was that I had done it. She told me to just enjoy the moment, gave me another hug, told me to stop crying so I’d get good finisher pics and sent me on my way.

I rounded the final turn, saw the bright lights…and almost tripped over the cones marking the turn for loop 2. I almost missed getting in the proper lane to finish! Nope, f*ck that, I do NOT want another loop! I hopped back over to my proper place, and took off for that amazing red carpet.

The short run down the chute is a hazy memory. I high fived some people, saw some family members as I cried, and I just kept yelling, “I DID IT! I ACTUALLY DID IT!!!” And then it was my time, as the announcer called my name, and the dream I’d worked so damn hard for finally came true…

SARAH ROCKWELL, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!

Hell f*cking yes.

To be honest, I didn’t hear a damn thing other than my brain saying over and over and over again, “YOU DID IT! YOU DID THE SCARY THING!! YOU ACTUALLY DID IT!!!!” I had to watch my finisher video to hear him call my name. It gives me chills every time.

Once I was over the line, my catcher gave me my medal, hugged me and wrapped me in a mylar blanket. He was THE NICEST GUY EVER and I feel so grateful he was the one there to catch me. He’d probably caught tons of people already, but was just as excited for me and interested in my day as he would have been for the first person.

He asked me how the day went, and all I could say was how amazing it was, how great I felt, how shocked I was to be done…he just smiled and excitedly congratulated me over and over again. He helped me get my gear and final picture, made sure I had found my family and gotten water, then walked me to the finish exit and gave me another hug. I wish I had the guy’s name so I could find him and tell him how much his excitement meant to me in that moment.

From there, I was reunited with Tim, my family, my friends and my teammates. It was a flurry of hugs, congratulations, pictures and celebration…all for ME and what I did. Insane. I’m still blown away by how many people were invested in my success, and how deeply so many cared about me, tracked me, congratulated me…ME! It’s just me, but so many people truly cared and cheered me on. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before in my life.

And in the end, I demolished the goal I thought was impossible.

I’ll be sure to follow up with more post-race reflections, but this novel is long enough for now. I’ll leave you with this…it doesn’t matter where or when you start. If you set your mind and your heart on something, and are willing to do the work, anything really is possible.

Just ask Sarah Ironman Rockwell.

One Reply to “I.AM.AN.IRONMAN.”

  1. Nice job! I remember you from the course talk question and because of your hair! Your experience is very similar to my day. Well done on the race and the recap. One of the best I have read.

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