Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Recap: The Finish

I wasn't racing for a Kona slot or a place on podium.  I wasn't racing to check a box next to "Ironman."  And on a course shortened by Mother Nature and a clock extended by the same, I wasn't even racing for a PR.  I was just racing for myself.  It was as simple and complex as that.

As time kept ticking and the miles seemed longer, I kept pushing toward that finish line.  The one that symbolized nothing more and nothing less than the culmination of this 30-week-long journey full of literal blood, sweat, and tears.  The finish line that came after not just the dozens and dozens and dozens of miles covered on race day, but the thousands of miles tallied in the months before.  All told, it took 62 hours of swimming, 171 hours of biking, and 118 hours of running to get here -- to this finish line.  To me, that little arch meant so much more than the timing mat underneath.

I fought through those final miles because that's what I came to Texas to do -- my very best.  An Ironman tests the limits of your heart, body, and spirit.  I always intended to pass that test.

The most glorious moment of the day is the one in which you come to the final fork in the road: Veer left for more laps, or veer right toward the finish.  There are only a few random spectators here, and yet it's a defining moment of the race.  Taking that right means you've made it.  After all those long, long roads and this very long day, you've done it!  There's just over a quarter mile left and, frankly, the finisher's chute is the icing on the cake.  I pumped my fist in the air as I followed the arrows marked "Finish."  It felt like this: the winner, Patrick Lange's private celebration as he took this same exit toward the finish -- captured by my father-in-law.

There's a little incline from there toward the finisher's chute, and you're alone for those thirty seconds.  At once, it hit me.  All of those hard months of training, all of the hard miles on this long day -- all for this moment that was about to be realized.  I'd done it.  I'd given this day my everything.  It was enough for me.  It was all worth it.

I started to cry but quickly realized getting choked up doesn't work when you're already breathing so heavily, so I composed myself.  Stay in the moment, I thought as I made my way toward the crowds.  I took it all in -- the lights, the music, the red carpet, the people.  It was as magic as I remembered.

I ran toward the finish line, soaked to the bone, with giant blisters in my sopping wet shoes, and a giant smile on my face.  And I heard those sweet, priceless words:

"Ashley Davis, you are an Ironman!"

Splashing through that wet, beautiful red carpet.
Just about to ugly cry, because did you read about this day?!
Step 1- Run to finish line. 2- Run through finish to Matt. 3- Accept high-five from volunteer. 4- Cry to Matt.

But suddenly it all disappeared -- all I saw was Matt, standing in a sea of volunteers, smiling, waiting for me.  My emotions all came to the surface as I ran to him.  The one who had worked so hard for this race only to have the most heart-wrenching day.  The one who beamed at me with tears in his eyes as he placed my Ironman medal around my neck.  "I am SO proud of you," he said as he wrapped me in his arms.  I buried my head into him and let some tears fall.  "I had to fight for this," I told him.  And he chocked back: "I know."

It was such a bittersweet moment, celebrating the successes of the day while the disappointment loomed in the shadows.  This was not how things were supposed to play out.  The devastation I'd felt for Matt's freak accident taking away his ability to just race to his potential, that I'd had to push aside for the last two hours, finally sunk in.  I knew first-hand how hard he'd worked for this, how much he'd wanted it, and how close he was to realizing his dreams.  The disappointment was heavy.  And yet it was mixed with all the raw, relieved, happy, triumphant emotions surrounding my own race.  And it was vastly overwhelmed by my love and pride for that man who had soldiered on despite everything to finish the race.  We felt it all, all at once as he held me steps past the finish line.  I whispered to him, in a tone much celebratory that I'd hoped for that occasion but equally sincere: "I am SO proud of you, too."

The lessons we learn about ourselves, about the human spirit, and about life are the things that make triathlon so beautiful.  We were blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people at Ironman Texas, and we are so lucky to have learned the lessons we did that day.  We're better for it.

Final Time- 11:11:27.  (Listed as 11:13:00 -- I was very impressed by how close they came in estimating how long we were each stopped for the lightning delay!)  Projected time if adjusted for the full bike course would have been about 12:05 for 140.6 on that crazy day.

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