I’m guessing you may be sick of my posts by now! But this is where it gets interesting…or at least less boring maybe?
I was so excited getting onto my bike and out on the course, I completely missed the fact that we went right past the Olympic ski jumps! I didn’t even look up, as I was so focused on the road and making sure I didn’t do anything stupid like hit a pothole or run into something (it could happen).
Once we got out of town, the climb started. It didn’t seem too bad on the first loop, probably because I was trying to take everything in, watching the men who I swam past, pass me like I was standing still, and also meeting one of my awesome Coeur teammates, Bri! She came up behind me and yelled “Yay Team Coeur”! She introduced herself and we chatted for a few minutes and wished each other well. I would see her several times on the bike and the run – she KILLED her first Ironman and I was thrilled for her!
The road flattened out a bit and then we started the decent into Keene. Rob had warned me about this part, saying he had gotten up to about 50mph when he rode it which terrified me. As I started to go down the hill, the scenery was so beautiful I said “wow” outloud several times, and it helped to distract me a bit from the fact that I was going about 42mph! I had full control of my bike, though, and I actually felt super comfortable. Usually I’m pretty chicken when it comes to going fast downhill, but I loved this! I was so excited and just loved it.
We then went through a small town and then to the first out and back which is mainly like farm country, along a river. Again beautiful scenery and I tried to enjoy as much as I could. I was diligent about eating (I had a peanut butter and honey sandwich, brown sugar Poptart (my coach’s idea!), Powerade chews, gummy bears, Enduralyte salt tabs and some Gatorade energy chews along with my Gatorade and water) and maintaining my energy levels the best I could. I was feeling great, talked with a few people as we passed each other, saw another one of my teammates, Lisa (who ALSO killed her race was was 6th in her age group-WOW!) which was a boost when I needed it.
We made our way through, to another out and back and then started to climb again, around mile 40. I struggled at first, as it was getting hot outside and I just felt my legs getting more and more heavy. It seemed like the uphills would never end. And then we got to what was called “The Notch”, near Whiteface mountain. Holy hell. They should just call this “Up.”
At one point, I was going 7mph.
If I had stopped pedaling, I would have either fallen or gone backwards, that is how steep it is, and it felt like it would never, ever end. I just had to keep telling myself to push forward and keep moving. It took a lot of mental strength in addition to physical to get through.
Once I passed the 50 mile mark, I knew I was getting closer to town, but also knew the infamous “Three Bears” hills were to come and I didn’t really know what to expect. I came upon them finally and Mama Bear was first (not too terrible), then Baby Bear (short), and then Papa Bear, which lives up to its name. But the best part was the crowds – it was like a mini Tour de France! These people were awesome and loud, wearing costumes and drinking beer as they cheered us to the top. It was a huge boost and I smiled the entire way up. It’s just what I needed, as I rounded the corner back into town along Mirror Lake.
I knew special needs was coming up, so I stopped to grab what I had – new water bottles and more food – and just as I was about to keep going, I spotted Rob and the girls!
I was so thrilled to see them, and they were awesome with their signs and smiles. Definitely gave me some energy as I knew I had a big challenge ahead of me.
I told Rob that it was a lot harder than I was expecting and that my goals were probably out the window. I knew deep down that my lofty goal wouldn’t happen, and that my time goal was probably unlikely too, knowing that I had to do those hills again and how fatigued I would be after, while still facing a marathon. He told me not to worry about it, to just keep going. I was around 3:11 for the first loop which wasn’t bad but my 2nd loop would be much slower.
I rounded the corner through town and heard Mike Reilly announce my name as I went by and the crowds were incredible. So many cheers and I just smiled as I headed back towards the Oval and onto lap 2.
Again, heading back out of town gave me some much-needed energy and I was ready to go. The hills by the ski jump, though, felt about a million times harder than they did the first loop. It took all my energy to get to the Keene decent (which again was super fun!) but I made it.
I knew what was coming so that was a little frustrating for me on the 2nd loop but I just kept trying to stay positive. I came to find out later that Rob didn’t really want to tell me how bad the hills on the backside of the route were. He told me he wouldn’t have been able to do the 2nd loop (albeit he hasn’t been training for 112 miles! He’s going to be awesome on his race for sure, as this route will prep him so well for his fairly flat course – he’s going to fly!). I had to talk myself up every hill, grind out the best I could and just tick off the miles.
Once I reached The Notch again, I knew I was almost done, but my legs and feet were absolutely toast. I couldn’t really feel my feet, and my legs were like bricks. I started to get really worried about how I would handle the run. I still had a MARATHON to go!
But I thought about my family and all the people who encouraged me throughout this whole process and I knew I had to keep going. I wanted to show my girls that even though something seems nearly impossible, you CAN do it and CAN dig deep to keep moving forward even though I wanted to stop.
I got to the Three Bears again, and although there weren’t as many people, it was still such a relief to get there and hear all the cheering. I loved it. And I also knew I was about to get to the lake and be back to see my family again.
Rob and the girls were on the other side of the road this time and I was going to stop but he encouraged me to keep going and finish it up. I told him point blank “I don’t think I can do this. That was so much harder than I expected…” He told me I had this, that I was doing great and to keep moving.
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to chuck my bike into the garbage and never look at it again.
I wanted to lay down.
I wanted to quit.
But I kept going, got into transition and the wonderful volunteers took my bike (and I joked with them that they could keep it) and I walked to get my run bag.
Back into the transition tent, and 2 more incredible volunteers helped me get situated. They took my bike shoes off for me, got my running shoes ready, all the while I was telling them that I didn’t think I could do it. They got me water, told me how well I was doing and that I COULD do it.
Then they took my race number out and looked on the back. I had taped a picture of the girls to it and had Julia and Rob write me messages, as I knew I would need a boost. She said “that’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen! Look at your girls – go out there and do it for them!”
And cue the tears. I knew right then that I could not quit. I couldn’t let Julia and Emily down. I couldn’t let Rob down. I couldn’t let Matt down. I couldn’t let my parents down.
I couldn’t let myself down.
So off I went out of transition, out the run exit to more cheers from the crowd. With my name on my number and my Spartan visor proudly displayed, I was greeted with thousands of people cheering me on as I tried to get my legs out from under me. I heard “great job, Erika! Go get it! You’re looking great! Go Spartans!” (and a few Go Trojans..which I politely said “it’s a Spartan!”)
And I was able to smile. I knew it would be a long run, but I was not going to give up.
Up next: The long, slow 26.2 miles…