Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Recovox Athlete - Paige Dunn Finishes Ironman Louisville!!

I really don’t know how to explain it…I really don’t. Ironman is just this weird sport with a bunch of crazy people and this mysterious allure. Everyone does it for their own reason and everyone has their own journey. You can try to explain to people why you do it or why its important to you but at the end of the day its just this feeling that you are on your own with. And its worth it.

I didn’t think I was going to race. I signed up last year and it sounded like a good idea at the time. (I’m sure Ironman makes a lot of money from all of the people who like the idea of it but never actually show up). I had a terrible race earlier this year at Honu and I just wasn’t in to training and racing. I have fallen in love with cycling so I have been doing a lot of that. But swimming and running….its been a long time. I gave up on running a while back when I realized how much pain my body was in. I’d go out on a run and realize I was just hurting. It wasn’t fun anymore and it was a big bummer. I used to really love to run. That was my thing. But having not run more than a couple miles at a time over the last few months I really didn’t think I could pull this race off. I mean you can’t really fake your way through a marathon.

I had a really hard time with deciding whether to race or not. I drove my friends and family nuts every day. And more than anything I drove myself nuts. I had decided not to go, not to race, and just put this whole Ironman thing to rest. But a few days before the race I had lunch with a good friend who talked me in to it. He believed in me and made it seem like the race would be a walk in the park. And he was actually right. Thanks Tom.

I got to Kentucky on Wednesday night and Thursday morning headed straight to registration. I sat in line behind a long line of slender men who all looked and dressed the same and most of whom had Ironman tattoos on their calves. They were all chatting away with one another and talking about the course and whether we would be allowed to wear wetsuits. The water temperature was 87 degrees - well over the race limit for wetsuits. You could feel everyone’s nervous energy fill the room. And then the guy behind me says…”I’m so glad we don’t have to wear wetsuits in this race.” It made me smile. He started asking me about the bike course and I really had no clue as I had tuned this race out a while ago and really didn’t look in to the race details. He asked me if I was trying to qualify for Kona and I said, “No…not going to happen”. He said, “You never know”. Well yah…I know. We went through the registration hoopla, weighed in, signed our lives away and got the t-shirt. As we walked out my new friend asked me my race number. “566” I said. And you? “5” he said. I just rolled my eyes and smiled. Pretty funny he was asking me about the course.

The days leading up to the race were really fun. Kentucky is beautiful and everyone is so nice. Although I really don’t like being called Mam. And most importantly, the food in Kentucky rocks! You should have seen my face light up when I saw the menu at Five Star Tavern – two full pages of steak options. And I’m not even going to begin telling you how good the cornbread was. I might go back to Kentucky just to eat the cornbread.

The day before an Ironman is usually the worst. You turn all of your gear and bike in and hope you got it right and then you just wait. I was actually really calm and having a great time people watching. I think the fact that I didn’t have months and months of serious training invested in this experience made things a lot easier on me. I really didn’t know what was going to happen but I was tired of worrying about it. I’ve done a few Ironman races but this was the first with no real training…it was a new challenge.

I woke up at 4:30am race morning and tried to eat and get myself together. I was out the door by 5:00 and my mom drove her husband and I to the starting area. (He was racing too which is why I got myself in to this whole situation in the first place). I checked on my bike, said goodbye and headed to the swim start. We had to walk about a mile to get to the new swim start. They changed the course at the last minute because of river currents. As soon as we arrived to the swim start, we got in a line that was forming off of the dock. The swim would be a time-trial start and we would jump in the river one by one. I lined up next to a couple from Louisville and right before the race started they said “Don’t mind the catfish even though they are rather large and look out for the water snakes because they bite”. Just what I wanted to hear. Time flew by and then next thing you knew I was in the water. The water really was 87 degrees so not wetsuit….it was like swimming in a bath. The sun coming up over the river was this really beautiful bright pink. As I swam away I just tried to not think about how sick the bacteria ridden water was going to make me. I don’t know how I managed to swim 2.4 miles but somehow it happened.

I was so happy to get on my bike. I love riding and I couldn’t wait to see more of Kentucky. It was the most beautiful….I mean crazy beautiful…course that I have even been on. It was green and lush and every few miles horses and cornfields lined the way. You get out there and part of you wants to laugh at all of the people who have so much gear strapped to their bikes that they are practically falling over…and then the other part of you gets a little choked up thinking about what you are actually doing.

The support was wonderful. So many locals were out cheering us on and it really makes it so fun. When we rode through the town of La Grange it felt like we were riding in a parade. Hundreds of people lined the streets screaming and cheering us on. I felt great on the entire ride. I was nervous in the beginning about pacing myself and didn’t want to ride too hard. I think it’s probably been 4 or so years since I have ridden over 100 miles. I have been riding a lot but that was definitely a lot longer than my body was used to. But I nailed my nutrition, went extra slow and realized at mile 70 that I had a ton of energy so I started to ride hard and have fun. I was passing most people at that point. You could tell that a lot of people were struggling. I wish I had ridden hard the whole time but I knew if I at all was thinking about doing this whole crazy thing that I needed to pace myself.

So here we go. I get off the bike and I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I sat in transition for a while to think it over. I knew because of my nagging hamstring running a marathon was out of the question. Not to mention I didn’t put in any long runs at any point in my training. So I’d have to walk. Can you actually walk a marathon…..and how long does that take? I sat in the transition tent, soaked my feet in ice, and then just decided go for it. I laced my shoes up and I was off. I got on the run course and actually started running. I was amazed at how great my legs felt. And I had a ton of energy. It was really weird. I saw my mom on the course and I think she was in shock that I had decided to start the run. She has watched every one of my Ironman races but I’ve never seen her as excited as she looked out on the course that day. My run didn’t last long but I kept moving. I never stopped and I had the best time. In fact, one of the best times of my life.

At mile 20 they had a huge billboard with electronic messages for athletes. I glanced up to read what people had written and was surprised to see a message written to me. “Have a great race P. Dunn. I’ll see you.” My new friend #5 had left me a message. It gave me an extra burst of energy. Thank you Alex. As I approached mile 25 I was literally in shock. I can’t believe I actually just did this thing. I literally wasn’t going to race a week ago and here I was about to finish an Ironman. As I rounded the last corner and saw the finish line I couldn’t help but smile. I actually almost started to cry but there were so many people lining the streets so I decided to pull it together. I crossed the line and felt great. I mean really great. I have done a few Ironmans but this was hands down the best race ever. I guess I am kind of biased being in the field of sport psychology but just goes to show you how mental sport is. You really can do anything you put your mind to. Anything.

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