To my amazing family and friends who provided me with the support needed to get through the training, race day and fundraising, there is no way I can thank you enough. You were a huge part of this adventure; helping me to realize a dream and making a Make-A-Wish wish come true for Richard. I will never forget that. I am truly blessed.
Watched the '99 Ironman Worlds (the one with Team Hoyt) with my Dad for inspiration before meeting up with "Team Aflac" (Brian, David and I… it’s a long story… I’ll refer to us a TA). At No Fat Low Fat I met Brian, David, Laura, Amanda, Erik, Theresa and Dave. Brian, David, Erik and I (click) are competing this year. We hung out and ordered food before starting the drive to Lake Placid (LP). Dave made an inspirational CD for me to listen to on the drive. The CD has stuff he uses for spin class and it rocks! Where he found the Bobby Knight "motivational" speech I have no idea! Before eating, David produced a clipboard with detailed race info and Brian scoured it for info (click). Dave split from the group as he and Vic planned to drive to the race Sat night/Sun morning on a banzai day trip (more on that later).
Our cars were loaded with tons of gear. Both Brian and I even brought toaster ovens so we could eat exactly what we wanted race morning. The drive (click) was happily uneventful.
Laura, Amanda, David, Brian and I stopped for dinner at an Olive Garden somewhere in NY. Better safe than sorry; Brian and David locked up some of the bikes (click). Fortunately, we got seated before two busloads of folks from a tour group hit the restaurant.
As David and Laura had mentioned, the Ironman
"welcome" and "road closure" signs were on the roads
In LP, Brian and I split to head to our hotels. He was at
the Holiday Inn, where Erik and Theresa were also staying, and I was at the
Hilton by the swim turnaround. The rest of the crew was staying at Laura’s
Grandmother’s cabin just outside of LP. I
unloaded my gear and went to Ben & Jerry's for a smoothie.
I met Brian at the Holiday Inn for breakfast and Erik and Theresa joined us. The whole crew then met up outside the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" rink before going to registration. Just outside the rink is the sort of odd looking "floating head bust" (click).
I got a bit more serious than other big races when I learned everyone gets weighed at registration. The reason is if someone ends up in the medical tent the folks in the tent can determine any weight differences and respond appropriately. Added to the seriousness is the fact a volunteer sat with each athlete and explained *everything* in the race packet. Since it was somewhat serious I didn't do my usual routine of asking if the run takes place the day after the swim and bike. 8^) I still said it but made sure the volunteer knew I was joking.
My packet had two deodorant freebies so I asked if they were trying to tell me something. 8^) Funny thing is on Wed I actually forgot to apply deodorant before going to work! I can't recall ever doing that before. The packet also contained a plastic bracelet to be worn as a race ID. It was also a ticket to various events. With the volunteer's help it only took me a half an hour to decide which wrist would work best for me. ;^)
After registration the crew split up to workout. Laura,
Amanda and Theresa rode a loop of the bike course in reverse (the steep, 50+mph
downhills starting around miles 10 and 66 (click) (click) are apparently *brutal* in reverse!) Erik went for a run
while TA went to
Following the swim TA went to the restaurant/pub by the swim start for lunch. After, we met with David's Mom and we went to the expo. I quickly checked out the expo, transition and finish line (click) (click) (click) (click) (click) (couldn't stop laughing at "Have you seen my balls?" t-shirts worn by people selling some sort or massage balls) and gave my fundraising tally at the Janus Charity Challenge booth. I got talking to the woman at the booth when David and Brian started calling me to leave. She let me know my friends were calling and I let her know I could hear them. 8^)
Brian and I split from David and his Mom to rest at our hotels. We were discussing swimming and it reminded Brian he’d left his wetsuit by the lake. It'd been hours since our swim. Thankfully, no one walked (or swam) off with it.
I got back to the hotel, called home and talked with my Mom. My family was getting ready and psyched for their drive to LP. Dad, Mom, John, Katie, Jack, Scott, Corinne, Rob and Maureen were able to make the trip.
TA had plans for a short run before going to the pasta party. I squeezed a few extra minutes into the workout by running from my hotel. It was weird running down Main St because everyone was checking out anyone else running or riding a bike. I felt like I was being sized up by the other athletes. The short run covered the out & back section of the run course and it felt good to get my legs going.
The pasta party was cool. The Ironman finish line race announcer got everyone pumped with race stories. We heard of a woman who missed the bike cutoff by a few minutes in '02 so she wore her race bracelet all year as a training reminder to make sure it wouldn’t also happen in '03. Every state was represented (only NY had more athletes than MA), as were many countries. The youngest and oldest male races weren't at the party but the youngest(19) and oldest(59) females were so they were brought to the stage. The youngest was trained by her Ironman Dad. She said her plan was just to finish (she did). The oldest is a rocket with an Ironman PR of sub-12. The announcer asked Ironman rookies to raise our hands. There were tons of us. He said he looked forward to welcoming us into the Ironman family by calling our names and saying "you are an *Ironman*!" as we crossed the finish line. I got chills thinking about it! After the party, Laura, David, Amanda and I got some of Stewart’s famous ice cream.
When I got back to my room I started putting together my swim-bike and bike-run transition bags (click) . These bags along with bikes need to be dropped off Sat afternoon. Despite having a checklist putting the bags together took a long time.
Today was a bit crazy to coordinate with race prep, the
pre-race meeting, families arriving, etc. TA got in a quick ride around half of
I picked up a voice mail from Rick, my friend and Team in Training coach. It was cool to get his and Lori’s encouragement as I was reminded of how they’ve got me through my marathons.
After the meeting I got a call from my Mom. The B&B where my family was supposed to stay was not open and was dumpy!! They met a super-nice restaurant owner and some other locals who offered help. I suggested my family drive to LP. We were planning to go to Mass in LP and I figured we’d work out something. I checked with the Holiday Inn and they had a few open rooms. All the hotels were booked but we were lucky there were some last minute drops. I met my family outside the standing-room-only (lots of people including us are outside) church. The Mass had a cool Ironman flavor to it as the two concelebrating priests were racing and the parish priest asked all racers to come up to the altar for a blessing. It was funny... most walked up rather slowly so the priest joked that if we all moved so slowly on race day, we'd be in big trouble. 8^) The blessing was very special and I got a bit misty. The church locals were very welcoming despite their church being overrun with visitors.
My sister, Corinne, was going to help me get ready race morning so after Mass she moved her bags into my room while the rest of the family sped off to the Holiday Inn to grab a room. They ended up with a suite which, creatively, fit them all! 8^) In the long run the Holiday Inn stay would be cheaper and it was right next to the center of the race (their B&B was about 45 minutes out of town) so someone was watching out for us!!
Dinner plans were for Corinne and me to meet at David and
Laura's cabin (they were now staying in LP) along with Brian. Also there was
Laura's Dad (who was volunteering at the swim in a kayak), Debbie, Amanda and Ethan
(who'd driven up after racing on the
Laura whipped up some pasta and sauce that was perfect for the pre-race dinner. Bit of excitement after dinner when David said he had something special for Laura. Hmmm, what could this be? Would it actually be a... yes... a new Timex Ironman watch!! 8^)
Then it was back to the hotel for last minute prep and some sleep. So there I was, the night before my Ironman. I'm about to attempt moving my body 140.6 miles by swimming 2.4 miles with my "closest friends", biking 112 miles (it would be my longest ride to date) and as they say, running a marathon after coming up with enough reasons. A few years ago I *never* thought I could do this. I couldn’t even swim 50 meters! But I knew I was ready. I'd done the work. I’d have my family (near and far) and my friends (near and far) pulling for me. With that in my back pocket (along with a good dose of faith) I was actually rather calm. I could *not* wait to cross that finish line to become an Ironman. I still get goose bumps when I think about it.
Sun 7/27 (race day!):
My three alarms got me up at . I started my 87 bathroom breaks and ate some food (instant oatmeal, toasted PBJ and some cups of soup for the sodium) while Corinne made a PBJ for my bike support bag.
Corinne and I walked from the hotel to the transition area. I went into transition to remove the bike tent and put my new (much nicer!) bike shorts in my swim-bike bag. I got to my bike and found a flat rear tire! I panicked trying to decide if I should fix it myself or get one of the support crew to help. I started to (nervously) work on it when bike support came by to help another racer. I asked the support guy for help and he obliged. I started hearing the “athletes must leave transition” announcements so then I panicked trying to get the wheel back on the bike! “Bikegod” David came to see if everything was ok and he put the wheel on for me. With my bike now set I went to the transition bags to drop off the bike shorts. I saw Brian getting ready to head to the water. He reminded me I needed to drop the support bags up by the lake. My “teammates” rule!
So I finally got out of transition and I’m thinking “poor Corinne”! She must have been wondering what the heck was going on because she could see me messing with my bike. Thankfully, when David left transition he saw her and told her I was ok. Corinne and I dropped off the support bags and we say good bye. Corinne was *awesome*! She has no idea how much she helped me the night before and race morning.
I put on my wetsuit and went to the start after passing on one more bathroom break. I saw a co-worker’s wife, Melissa, right by the start. She was volunteering but next year she’ll be racing. She took a picture of me with her cool phone (click). I thought it was convenient that Melissa ended up being right by Laura, David and Brian. I later found out she and Laura have trained together and she’d gone to high school with Theresa (small world!).
We all wished each other well and went into the water. David headed toward the thick of things while Brian and I worked our way to the side. It was amazing to look around and see 1800 athletes in and around the water with all the spectators (click) and the helicopters in the air!
The cannon sounded and off we went. 1800+ people swimming two 1.2 mile loops made for congested waters (click) (click) (click) (click). Despite this I had very little contact with other swimmers. The water was choppy but not too bad. I completed an uneventful first loop (click) and started number two. Somewhere on the last half of the second loop I heard beeping and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I then realized it was the alarm on my watch. After waking that morning I’d set it for the next day because I didn’t want to have it go off at 4:15am the day after the race. But when I set it I forgot had yet to happen that day! 8^) I laughed to myself thinking anyone hearing the alarm would be thinking another athlete’s heart rate was out of range. No, not quite.
When I finished the swim I was psyched to see Laura
again. She looking towards me and said
something like “nice work,
I put on my bike gear and used the bathroom. I mean, I used the PVC pipe with a section removed. 8^) I grabbed my bike and started the 112 mile ride (click). I saw Brian a few times on the first loop but never again. I later learned he flatted and ran into technical problems while fixing the flat around mile 55 (he lost 40 minutes!).
I spotted Ethan prior to the downhills and called out to him. Unfortunately, I missed the signs he and the crew placed on the course. The hills were a bit tricky with the winds but all went well. I saw a butterfly (big family significance here!!) around mile 20. While it would not be unusual to see a butterfly on the course, it would be unusual to see one considering it was raining! Around mile 40 (click) I heard someone call my name and it sounded like Vic. He and Dave had made it!! As I climbed one of the last hills before entering town (Papa Bear) I saw Melissa before she went back to her volunteer duties. At the bike support bags a volunteer handed me my bag and I wolfed down half of Corinne’s PBJ. I saw my family and started the second loop. The first loop wasn’t too bad despite the winds (20 – 25mph) and the rain (click).
As I climbed the hills leading out of town, I learned from the driver of a car stuck in traffic that Lance Armstrong had won his fifth consecutive Tour de France. It was sort of quiet on those hills so in my head I replayed the hill climbing songs from the CD Dave made for me.
Around mile 60 mile my bathroom breaks got ridiculous. I’d already stopped about 3 times on the first loop and then I stop at four consecutive aid stations! The ground was muddy at the stations and the mud got into one of the cleats on my shoe so I had problems clipping in. I had to stop twice using a twig and water from one of my bottles to clean the cleat and pedal.
It was maybe around mile 80 when the rains got ridiculous. It was pouring out (I *hate* riding in the rain!) and with the cool temps and windy conditions the bike wasn’t fun anymore. I also started to feel my left Achilles tendon start to tighten. A bike fitting had resolved this problem awhile ago but I think the weather brought it back. I started wondering what the marathon would be like with a sore Achilles. A few of the people I was riding with started to joke about the weather conditions and I stopped thinking about the Achilles.
Round 2 at Papa Bear I saw Dave, in the miserable weather, cheering everyone up the hill. I was thinking he’d lost it because he was shirtless! He later said it was better wearing no shirt than wearing a wet shirt.
It was back into town to finish the bike where my faithful family was again cheering me along. As I changed for the run I could hear announcements about the leaders finishing. I began my run with a kick of adrenaline from my family’s support. I realized I wasn’t freaked about having to run a marathon with a bunch already in my back pocket.
Kim, from Make-A-Wish’s office, gave me one of their Boston Marathon singlets (click) for the race. My cousin, Paul’s, company printed the shirts so I was extra proud to wear it. Some of the spectators knew Make-A-Wish so that was cool
The Achilles felt ok until I stopped at the first aid station. It tightened up again climbing a short hill and I started to realize going under 13 hours will be tough. Erik and I spotted each other and called out. He was heading back into town on his first loop and he was cruising. The crowds were good and the volunteers at the aid stations were excellent. Just after going by the ski jumps (click) (click) there was an Olympic gold medal winner (crew) holding out his medal so everyone could touch it for good luck!
I was running most of the time but I needed to walk any slight incline so I got a bit frustrated. I was tired but I knew I could run if my Achilles wasn’t bothering me.
I saw David ahead and figured something was wrong because he should have been well in front of me. We didn’t say much just offering each other encouragement. Later on I saw Brian on the other side of road. He looked good and I know he’d finish because “not finishing is not an option”!
I saw Theresa and told her I’d seen Erik and he looked strong. There was a crew outside of a house cranking music, having a race day party like at the Boston Marathon. I heard the start of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and got another adrenaline kick. Vic and Dave were on the nasty little hill heading back into downtown. Most everyone was walking it but Dave reminded us it was forward momentum. I took the left turn for next little hill section and a woman was out there looking at the names on the numbers. She was calling out the names and enthusiastically saying “you’re awesome!” *She* was awesome! I then saw Amanda and a bunch of folks cheering everyone along.
I felt great and was pumped to see my family! Due to the out & back by the swim area I got to see them twice (this course is very spectator friendly). Poor Mom, I later learned she thought I was coming in to finish not realizing I had another 13 miles to go.
I got my support bag but didn’t take much from it. I saw Dave and Vic again and went back out of town. My Achilles had been ok for those last few miles but once the rush from seeing family, friends and hearing “Thunderstruck” passed it bothered me again.
Erik and I spotted each other one more time and I got psyched because he was close to going sub-12 (he did!).
I saw the guy with the Olympic medal again. He recognized me and reminded me I was on my second loop and heading home. The same happened with the run turnaround volunteers. With 1800 athletes I’m amazed they remembered who was on what loop.
Unlike the latter part of some of my marathons, I could do math and I realized sub-13 was not going to happen. Sub-13:30 would still be within reach though and I continued along.
The skies darkened again and it started to pour (click). Similar to the bike there was a lot of joking and commiserating about the weather. I ran and walked with some guys and similar to the end of the bike, we joked about the rain. I told them I was glad I put on sunscreen that morning. 8^) This group is hardcore; besides Ironman they do ultra-marathons. (In the Holiday Inn after the race, my brother John spoke with a guy in the hotel who’d just done the race. John described me and the guy said he and I were running together. It must have been someone from this group!)
It was getting cool out so I began grabbing two cups of the warm chicken broth from the aid stations. At one of the larger aid stations a guy with a PA called out my name and told me I looked stylish with my head covering. I was going to call back and say I didn’t want to get my head sunburned but it seemed like too much effort. 8^)
As I headed back into town I knew I’d be under and I was pleased. I had also hoped to finish with some daylight. The sky was dark due to the clouds but I knew I would probably finish with a tiny bit of daylight left (the pics don’t show it though) 8^(.
I saw Vic, Dave, the “awesome” woman and my family again in the same spots as before. I had the out & back left and then I’d get to finish on the Olympic Oval (where in 1980 Eric Heiden won five individual gold medals in a single Olympics – no Olympian had ever done that before). I was not feeling my Achilles anymore and I couldn’t believe I was about to complete this journey!! As I entered the Oval I heard the Beatles “Obladi, Oblada”. I’m not a huge Beatles fan but it was still a cool song to finish with.
The Ironman finish was/is amazing (click)! There were two teams of people holding up a finish line so everyone got to “break the tape” (click). My head was spinning with emotions so I never heard the “Paul McCarron, you are an Ironman!” announcement but that’s ok because I was “flying”! I must have seen Laura because she was volunteering at the finish but I don’t remember. 8^( My family rushed over and I hugged them all. Vic and Dave were there as well and I don’t recall but I hope I hugged them, too. It was awesome!!!
Back to reality… I wanted to see David and Brian finish so I told my family I’d see them later at their hotel. Vic, Dave and I waited just outside the Oval and saw David with his Mom beside him. He was having a tough day but was going to finish. Brian soon came along and caught up with David. They crossed the finish line together (click) but then David went down. After spending some time in the medical tent he began to fell ok. It was a bit scary because a scale indicated he’d lost 17lbs! Thankfully, someone realized the scale was broken.
It was now around and Vic and Dave had to head home. So here was their kamikaze trip… on not much sleep, these incredible friends left Boston 2:30am race day, drove to Lake Placid, were amazing spectators in cruddy weather and now they had to head back to Boston. I’m blessed to have friends like these guys!
I went to my family’s hotel and hung out for a little bit. It was cool to hear how their day went and I was psyched to learn they had a blast. My family is the best!! The support they gave me throughout training, fundraising and on race day… I can’t express to them what it meant to me.
When Corinne and I started back to our hotel we were by the finish as it neared , the race’s finish deadline. I wanted to hang out to see the last finishers as the atmosphere is supposed to be electric. I later regretted the decision but I was exhausted. I just wanted to take a shower and go to bed.
Corinne and I met our family for breakfast before their trips home. It was great to spend this time with them since pre-race craziness had been replaced by post-race joy. After my family left I met with Brian and his Dad. Brian ran and fundraised in his Mom’s memory so his Dad was very proud! Brian and I then met up with David and his parents who were equally proud. I’m glad I got to see this other side of my training partner’s lives.
This day I was wearing my Team in Training, “if you think running a marathon is tough, try chemotherapy” t-shirt. A woman asked me about the shirt and I told her where I got it. She explained the phrase meant a lot to her because she is a marathoner and cancer survivor. We chatted for awhile and I learned Kristina and her husband, Ernest, were in LP for Ernest to do the Ironman. The good folks at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society were kind enough to get me a shirt and I’ve sent it along for Kristina.
Laura joined us and off we went to purchase some
Ironman gear and get our race photos.
David saw his parents off and TA and Laura went back to
At lunch, Laura, David, Bryan and I discussed “will we do it again?” and if so will it be LP or another location. Nothing was decided.
That night Brian and I went to the awards ceremony. Laura and David were there for some of it but left to have dinner with Laura’s parents. The ceremony was cool. The top finishers got their awards and it was amazing to hear some of the age groupers’ times. The hosts of the ceremony joked about the weather saying next year’s run will be wetsuit-legal. 8^) A volunteer and race video was shown and everyone got a DVD of the videos to take home. We missed it when the race video was shown on the big screen but we later learned Brian is in the run portion of the race video!
After the awards I got the chance to speak with Casey, who organized the Janus Charity Challenge. We’d had a number of emails relating to fundraising so it was cool to finally meet and thank her for her and Janus’ efforts. Through the Challenge 55 athletes raised over $600,000 for the various charities!
I was able to retrieve my special needs run bag on race night but had no luck getting my bike special needs bag. Brian and David weren’t able to get any of theirs. We’d been asking around all day but no one knew where they were kept. At the ceremony we heard they were in the back of the high school. Brian and I checked it out but whatever was left was piled up outside of a dumpster and it was nasty. Between the three of us we lost a bunch of gear. 8^(
Brian and I looked for a place to eat but most restaurants were closing. It was amazing how quickly LP was going back to being a small town. We grabbed sandwiches at a Subway and went back to out hotels.
I loaded all my gear and did some laundry. I met with TA for lunch and we reflected on our adventure. We could see the Olympic Oval from where we were seated. Most of the race equipment was gone from the Oval (click) making what had happened two days prior almost surreal. Brian summed it up perfectly. To paraphrase, it was not about Sun and the race. It was about the mornings/afternoons we’d spent swimming, riding and running together and hanging out for a post-workout meal. It was about the two training trips we’d made to LP and all the goings-on around the trips. Indeed, it was about the friendship the three of us will have for a lifetime.
By the way, Brian and I have signed up for the 2004 Ironman