Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ironman Success!

"YOU are an Ironman!"

Those words have been fueling my husband now for over two years. Yes, you read that correctly... this dream has literally been brewing for years- the dream of accomplishing the Ironman- a 2 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run... all in under 17 hours. It's quite the undertaking. In fact, there have been people who have finished this race in 17 hours and 30 seconds and they don't get the title... could you imagine the heartbreak? And there are many who don't finish, sometimes due to poor training, lack of nutrition or hydration, mental breakdown, or even bad luck. We've seen many of those scenarios in our own family, as well as experiencing the sweet taste of victory, and we couldn't wait to  have one more Ironman in the family. Thankfully, after this trip, that dream came true for my husband. And before you read the race-day recap, you might want to clear some time because it will be lengthy... but I wanted to include every detail because I never want to forget it.

This past weekend our family packed up the car and made the drive to Panama City Beach for the Ironman Florida event. The fact that we were even registered for it was a miracle in itself after our Ironman Louisville debacle, but as with anything else this family does, we were not going to quit until we acheived what we set out to do. Besides, sometimes you have to help make the miracle happen.

The first couple of days of the trip were just spent relaxing beach-side. Jake decided (after much convincing) that he loved the ocean, but Lil was not a fan. Josh's dad and our friend Austin made the trip with us, so we had extra hands to help with the kids, which was awesome. We had a couple of great seafood dinners, but mostly stayed close to our condo as it was right on the beach. I spent most of my time on the balcony as kids napped... it was blissful.

The day leading up to the race involved much preparation, filling transition bags, dropping his bike off, etc. I'm used to half and full marathons where you get to just show up on race day, but this takes pre-race requirements to a whole new level!

On race day, Josh, Austin, and myself were all up bright and early, heading to the start line around 5:30 am. Austin took care of fighting traffic and parking while I stayed with Josh as he got his special needs bags turned in and got his body markings taken care of. Austin found us and we headed over to the beach. It was still dark out, the sand very cold on our feet, but the stars were out and there was a buzz in the air. There is nothing more energizing than a start line of a race. I love that atmosphere with every fiber of my body.

It did not take long for the crowds of people to come filing out... spectator and athletes lined the shore until it was almost time to start. As the sky lightened, we noticed that the water was much choppier than it had been the morning before and that they would be in for quite a swim. I am not sure who was more nervous- Josh or myself- but if he was then he certainly did not show it. We heard them call the professionals to the start, so we told him good luck and parted ways. We found a spot near the water with a good view of the action and watched as the professionals took off.
Next, someone sang the National Anthem, and then off they went! I think the most intimidating thing about Ironman Florida has got to be the mass swim start. 3,000 athletes all take off at the same time into the ocean! They looked like a school of sting rays with just elbows, heads, and legs breaking the surface. Josh later told us that for the first mile he just got beat up, his goggles knocked off, and felt like it took forever to get past the breaking waves. And then to make matters worse, they all had to get out of the water, run over a timing mat, and do it all over again. I think after lap one that would be difficult to do, but again, this race is all about the battle of the mind.

If you look closely in this one you can see them getting out of the water (left side of the screen) and going back in again. It did not look like fun!

Since we couldn't tell the swimmers apart, we headed to the swim-out chute, where the athletes come out of the water and run toward the bike transition. I love seeing people come out of the water... most of them are smiling and some look really worn out. It was fascinating to me to watch the "peelers"- the volunteers who literally pull wet suits off of the swimmers. Each athlete strips it down to his or her waste and then sits on the ground where a volunteer pulls it the rest of the way off. It was crazy and I know those volunteers got a good arm workout that morning! In the video below, they are the volunteers in the yellow shirts, but I'm not sure if you'll be able to see it in action. Thankfully I was able to find Josh, exactly at the time he had estimated to finish the swim, smiling as he made his way out of the Atlantic. Leg one- done. Only 138.2 miles to go.
The only downside of the Florida course is that there are not many great places to see the triathletes on the bike course. At the Louisville event we found a spot where they'd pass twice, but the race guide  for this event advised not to even try. Considering that he was on the bike for seven hours, this was a long gap for us. Plus, I felt a little bit guilty about relaxing in the condo watching movies with the kids while my husband was traveling 112 miles on a bicycle! Josh's dad and Austin did explore a bit and saw him pass by at around mile 70, so that was great!

We wanted to get back down to the transition area to see him come in on the bike and out on the run, but they got stuck in traffic (due to the race) for about 40 minutes on the way back. The craziest part about being in the condo during this time was that I actually watched the winner cross the finish line while Josh was still on the bike! This guy broke a course record for the bike, completing it in 4:04 (roughly averaging 28 mph on a bike!) and completed the entire course in 8:07 and some change. I am in awe of that athleticism and endurance! Just amazing.
Once we knew that Josh was out on the run (thanks to the live tracker on the Ironman website and an app on my phone), we packed up the kiddos and headed to a spot on the course where we'd see him at mile 3, 10, and 16. It took about 3 minutes for Jake to find a big dirt-hole to play in and Lil was content in the stroller as long as she could shake the cow-bell (because you always need more cowbell, right?). We cheered on the participants we didn't know, calling them out by name as we read their bib numbers and trying to give smiles and encouragement where we could. About 15 minutes after getting there, Josh came by and stopped to chat for a minute. He told us his legs were starting to lock up a bit, but he still felt hydrated and in a good place mentally. We gave some more encouragement and off he went again!

And this is where our spectating got a little rocky. After waiting all day, Jake did not understand why his daddy only stuck around for five minutes. He cried when Josh left and then Lilly cried because Jake was crying. I took her out of the stroller and strapped her onto my back, fished out some bubbles for Jake and everyone calmed down a bit. Well, for about five minutes. Jake then started dumping the bubbles on his already filthy shorts and Lilly started throwing herself backwards in the carrier. It was clear that they weren't up for the long haul. Thankfully my father-in-law took them to the condo while I waited around for lap two. We still had a long day ahead of us.

When Josh passed by again, I almost missed him, but thankfully he saw me. It was starting to get dark and everyone started looking alike. Since I was by myself at this time and his legs would cramp if he stood in one place, I ended up walking next to him for about a mile as he filled me in on how he was doing. What I will say is that he still had his wits about him, which was impressive at that point. I've only run a marathon in comparison, and even in that 5 hour stretch I found myself in some very dark places, but he still seemed confident and upbeat. Even so, we knew that he still had another lap to go and just like the swim, it's very tough mentally to pass by the finish and have to keep going. I left him around mile 12 and told him I'd see him again at mile 15. During this time I had Austin deliver my running shoes to me and pick up the camera bag and chair I had abandoned at my last spectating post. I seriously could not have supported Josh to this capacity if it hadn't been for him and Josh's dad. They were amazing... supporting me as I supported him.
When Josh came back around and saw me again, he was running! At this point, any forward movement was impressive, but I was so proud to see him moving at that pace! I again wanted an update but did not want to make him stop, so I just started running next to him. It was dark out and I figured that nobody would even notice that I wasn't an official competitor, and this allowed me to see how he was feeling without slowing him down. His quads were cramping pretty badly at this point, so he was running as far as he could and then walking when he needed to, still averaging 12 minute miles, even with the walking mixed in. I could tell that he was to the point that he just wanted to get it over with, but he did not complain. He did mention that he could hear people finishing when he made the turn and I know that had to be frustrating... especially with 13 miles still left to do. It was kind of crazy at that point to be amongst the runners that were all fighting their mental battles. Most everyone around us was doing a run/walk mix by this point, and several of them were encouraging each other as they passed. I love the comraderie on a race course, and every one of them needed that from everyone else. It was pretty awesome. When we got to a road that I knew was close to our condo he told me that he had it from there and that he'd see me at the finish. We parted ways again and I headed back to round up the troops and head to the finish line. I certainly did not want to miss that!

If you have ever been at the finish line of a half or full marathon, you know that the energy is amazing. This, I have to say, was just like that but on steroids! I think my favorite part about this race was seeing people who did not have anything left in the tank suddenly find a reserve of energy and sprint to the finish. Many cried, several jumped for joy, a lot of them kissed and hugged their families who were on the sidelines, and one man even did a cart-wheel.  Josh, in true Josh fashion, was no exception of course. After running over and dishing out kisses and hugs, he leapt over that finish line, screaming for joy at the top of his lungs. And hearing that announcer finally say, "Joshua Mauney, YOU are an Ironman!" was a long-awaited, sweet reward.

Um... do you think he was just a tad bit excited based on this finish???

I can honestly say that even though I was not a participant in the race itself, the entire day and that moment in particular was one of the coolest experiences of my life. A lot of people do not realize the time and money that goes into preparing for one of these things... Josh's training was literally like another full-time job and then you have to add in the race fees, gear, equipment, and nutrition that you have to purchase to make this happen. Plus, in this case, there were travel expenses as well. After all was said and done, however, I think we'd all say it was worth it. Josh is the man in my life who always encourages me to go for my dreams and always inspires me to do more. So many people in this world are just one "yes you can" away from pursuing their dreams and I am thankful that I could be that for him, since he is that person for me. I may not have gotten a medal, but I sure feel the same satisfaction that he does for this accomplishment. It was a big day for this family and I could not possibly be more proud.

Now that it's over our crazy family is already looking toward what's next. Although he's trying to convince me that it's my turn, I was somewhat relieved to see that Ironman Florida 2013 sold out in less than a minute and I'll have to miss out next year (oh darn!). But now that he gets to actually just work out for fun again, I think we'll probably find a few events to put on our calendar next year and maybe even do some of them together. I'll never say never, but what I will say is definitely not any time soon. I have a whole new respect for what it takes to accomplish this race and will let this Ironman enjoy his glory for awhile.
I know this post was long enough as it is, but if you want to read his take on the day, you can find it on his blog (here)!  I also hope to post the (much better) photos from my nice camera (these are all iPhone photos) as soon as my card reader decides to work again!


  1. Congrats to Josh and to YOU for supporting him along the way! Those videos were fun! Do you think he wants to do another?

    1. I feel like there will be MANY in our future! I just asked him to promise me that he'd wait a year and do it again once the kids are a bit bigger!

  2. Wow. You guys are amazing--and gorgeous! I wish I enjoyed working out. That is just incredible. Congratulations on such an accomplishment!

  3. SO many things I love about this post! I love seeing our signs in action, especially at the Swim Out where he could find you easier, and I love how the people across from you on the Run were posting football scores. (Great idea!) I love that you were able to spend some time on the course with him, too, just the two of you. That's special. You look like you mastered the IronSherpa's spectating duties! I've taught you well!

    1. Oh I left that out... every aid station on the run was themed! The one across from us was posting scores and playing game-day type music. There was also a 70's themed one, a Halloween one, and a luau one that I saw, and of course I did not see them all!

  4. Ah-Mah-zing!! So proud of Josh and your family! Love you all! - Deanna Johnson