Saturday, September 9, 2017

Hiking Mt. Whitney ~ September 6-7, 2017

Last year my friend told me that she wanted to hike the entire John Muir Trail that summer. I told her that I would join her for the first part of her hike, especially if she started at Mt. Whitney since it's a hike I had on my bucket list. Due to injuries and the inability to acquire a permit, she wasn't able to do the hike. So she moved her plans to this summer. Once again I told her that I would hike Mt. Whitney with her if she was able to get a permit to start the JMT from the Whitney Portal. She was able to get a single permit for herself in May to start her hike on September 7, 2017. Since she was only able to get one, I thought I was off the hook....I mean out of luck. Fast forward to August 14th. She calls to tell me that she was able to get a permit for me if I still wanted to hike Mt. Whitney with her. I was very nervous but agreed. I was worried that three weeks was not enough time to get ready for a hike labeled as an "extreme" day hike.

I thought about backing out probably 100 times but in the end I decided to suck it up and at least attempt it. I knew I would kick myself if I didn't try. I did two training hikes, Griffith Peak and Fletcher Peak, both near Las Vegas and range between 11,060 and 10,255 feet.

About a week before we were scheduled to leave, two permits opened up allowing us to start on September 6th and stay overnight. I felt a lot better about this option because the idea of hiking over 22 miles in one day sounded miserable. We decided to leave on Wednesday morning, drive to the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center to pick up our permits and bear canister, grab a quick lunch in Lone Pine and then head to the trailhead, Whitney Portal.

All went as planned. We arrived at the Whitney Portal, used the pit toilet, and weighed our packs. Hers weighed 40 pounds and mine weighed 43 pounds. I was carrying a few additional items for us to help lighten her load since she was packed for a 2-3 week hike. We started our journey at 1:30 PM. 

The Whitney Portal is an actually wooden structure that you walk through to start the hike.

The trail started to climb immediately. Our packs were heavy but our spirits were high. We chatted with each other and with other hikers we came across. We were excited to finally be starting something that we had talked about for over a year. 

At about the 0.5 mile mark, we came to our first real water crossing, the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. I knew that all the crossings would either have rocks or logs to help us across but I was still nervous about falling in. The weight of our packs affected our balance but we took it slow and made it across without issue. 

Right after the creek crossing, we entered into John Muir Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest. We were surrounded by trees. It was beautiful. 

Shortly after entering, we saw two bright flashes of lightning followed by almost immediate claps of thunder. That was a bad sign. I had packed rain gear but had hoped not to use it. After hearing more thunder, we decided it was time to get ready for rain. It started to rain right after I finished getting dressed and putting my pack cover on. It ranged between a light drizzle to a downpour. We just had to put our heads down and continue on. It rained off and on for the next several hours. 

During one of the rain breaks, we were greeted with a beautiful rainbow as we looked into the valley. 

At around the 2.25 mile mark, we came to my favorite water crossing. It was a long section of logs constructed as a walkway. The water running underneath sounded so peaceful. The logs were stable and wide enough to walk across without worry. 

At the 2.5 mile mark, we passed Lone Pine Lake. It was a little off the trail so we decided not to go to it but to continue on our path. Shortly after that, we entered the Whitney Zone. All hikers beyond this point are required to have permits and a tag on their packs. 

Near the 3.25 mile mark we entered into a beautiful meadow. This was the first time my imagination went wild and I imagined seeing a bear wandering through the foliage. Luckily, that was the closest I got to having a bear encounter. We walked along the edge of the meadow with several water crossings. At the end of the meadow, 3.5 mile mark, was Outpost Camp. This is the first of two official camps along the trail. It was a large flat area near a waterfall with lots of trees. 

Our original plan had been to make it 6 miles on day one and camp at Trail Camp. We realized that was not going to happen because we were losing daylight. We decided to go on a little more and see if we could find a spot along the trail.

At the 4 mile mark was Mirror Lake. There was a sign that stated no camping allowed. You're not allowed to camp within a certain distance of water and there was not enough ground space to create that distance.

My friend had an app downloaded to her phone that showed where campsites were along the trail. It showed one 0.2 miles above Mirror Lake so we decided to check it out. It was a perfect spot!

We talked to the few hikers that passed our site on their way down the mountain. We set up camp, cooked dinner, forced ourselves to eat something and chatted until we decided to go to sleep. I saw a few ground mice but they stayed far enough away.

While we were getting ready for bed, I had the scariest moment of the trip happen. We heard a loud rumbling noise coming from the mountain above us. I looked out the tent but since it was dark I couldn't see anything. The sound lasted for about a minute. It was a rock slide. Somewhere above us, a huge section of scree let loose and started sliding down the cliff. All we could do was pray that it wasn't going to hit us. 

As usual, I got very little to no sleep that night. I was tired but just couldn't go to sleep. My friend was able to sleep soundly so I was happy for that. I heard a group descending the mountain around 9:30 PM. I hope they stopped at Outpost Camp because it was going to be a very late night if they were heading for the portal. I heard the first hikers pass our tent at 2:30 AM on their way up the mountain. I heard another group go by at 3:30 AM. 

I had set my alarm for 4:00 AM. It ended up not being necessary since I was already awake. We woke and started getting ready for the morning. I ate the other half of my dinner from the night before. I was much more hungry this time around. I repacked my backpack and helped break down our campsite. It was still dark but luckily there was a full moon and we had our headlamps on. We ended up starting our hike at 5:30 AM. 

It was surprisingly peaceful to hike in the dark. It was calm and quiet. I had decided to hike the 1.8 miles to Trail Camp and drop off my large pack and switch to my daypack. I knew this would take some time so I did not stop to wait for my friend and went straight to the camp. At one point I realized that the moon was giving me a shadow. That was pretty cool. As I hiked, it was beautiful to see the sky go from pitch black to all the varying shades to daylight. 

At the 5 mile mark, I passed Trailside Meadow. It was beautiful. It was the first snow I remember seeing. On the other side of the meadow was a large mountain side full of scree. I'm certain that was the area that had the rock slide the night before. I realized that there was no way it could have reached us so that made me feel better.

Around 6:30 AM, I saw my first rays of sunlight peak over the ridge. It was a beautiful experience. I was alone but felt so much peace. 

I reached Trail Camp in just under two hours. Trail Camp is at the 6 mile mark on the trail. It is located at the base of the 99 switchbacks. Once there, I dropped my pack next to some rocks and grabbed my water purifier to refill my Camelback bladder. I was using my friends Sawyer Mini Water Filter. I quickly realized that I couldn't fill up the bladder in the standing pond water. I was barely able to get 8 ounces of water in it. The water was freezing and I had to submerge my hand to fill it. I couldn't handle it anymore so I figured that was enough water. I then had difficulty getting the filtered water out. I was frustrated. Just then I heard a guy ask if anyone wanted his extra water. I immediately ask for it. A few guys came over. One figured out how to get the little bit of water I had collected filtered and into the bladder. Then the other guy poured his water into the bladder until it was full. I was so grateful! I then went back to my gear and pulled my bear canister out. I lodged it next to a rock away from tents and near other bear canisters. Then I transferred want I wanted to take with me to the summit into my daypack. I also ate a bit of dried fruit while I waited for my friend. 

She arrived a little over 30 minutes after me. She refilled her water and then came over to me. We talked for a few minutes and then finally decided that I should continue on without her if I wanted to summit and get back to the portal before it was too late. She was carrying the stove and we had planned on eating a hot lunch together so we had to prepare our lunch then. I would just carry it with me until I was hungry. We said our goodbyes even though I knew I would see her on the trail at least one more time while I was on my descent. After all was said and done, I had spent over 1 hour and 20 minutes at Trail Camp. 

I left my friend and Trail Camp and started the neverending 99 switchbacks. I don't know if there really are 99 switchbacks but I can tell you that it was way too many. They climb 1600 feet in approximately 2.5 miles. There was running water around a quarter of the way up that I had to cross on several switchbacks. They were icy so I had to watch my step. About a third of the way up is a section of old cables. I'm not certain why they are there and what help they would really offer but it offered a cool photo so I took it.  I've seen pictures of this section during the spring and it is covered in snow and ice so I'm sure the cables are there for that time of year. At this point I met a man named Joe. He was 58 and from California. We chatted for a few minutes and then we continued on our separate ways. 

I found it interesting that there was a group of us that were hiking at about the same pace. We would continually leap frog one another whenever one of us would take a break. There was a group of three men (a dad with his two grown sons), two girls from Idaho, and Joe. We ended up talking off and on as we made our way up the switchbacks. It made for a nice distraction. 

Finally, the neverending switchbacks ended as I made it to Trail Crest. It is at 13,600 feet and allows you to look down both the east and west sides of the mountain. It was breathtaking. 

Just below Trail Crest is a sign stating that we are entering the Sequoia National Park. It's pretty cool to think about all the different areas I crossed through on the hike. 

Being able to look west and see new scenery was a nice change as well. The remainder of the hike to the summit was along the western edge of the mountains. 

After the sign, I began a 0.2 mile downhill section. I was happy to be going downhill but I also knew I would regret it on the return trip. At the bottom of the downhill section there was a split in the trail. To the left was the John Muir Trail and to the right was the final section of the Mt. Whitney Trail. This is where my friend planned on dropping her heavy backpack and continuing to the summit. There were several other packs along the rocks where other JMT hikers had done the same thing. 

I had hoped to wait until the summit to eat lunch but at the pace I was going I knew it might be two hours away still and I was hungry. So I found a nice little seat that overlooked the Sequoia National Park and ate my lunch. It was no longer hot but it wasn't cold either. I sat in the sun, amazed by the beauty surrounding me. I was also able to chat to all the hikers going up and coming back down. It was a nice lunch break. 

As I was finishing lunch, Joe met back up with me. He decided to sit down for a break as well. He told me that his hiking partner had to turn around on the switchbacks and decided to head back to the portal. He asked if I would be okay if we hiked the rest of the day together. Since I was going to be alone for the rest of the day too, it sounded like a great idea to me. 

We set off again. There were a few sections that were difficult between there and the summit. There were a lot of small boulders that required a small amount of climbing over. There were also sections with sheer drop-offs and narrow trails. There were also areas of downhill that once again made me regret them because I knew we were going to have to climb back up them. 

For most of the 1.9 miles after the JMT junction, the trail runs straight along the west edge of the mountains with only one switchback. Towards the top of the mountain we came across our only snow crossing. It was well worn so I didn't feel it necessary to put on my snow cleats. Descending hikers had passed us and told us that we were almost there and that once we crossed the snow we would turn right towards the peak. 

They were right. We turned right and had a few more switchbacks as we climbed to the summit. It was such an awesome feeling to finally be able to see the Mt Whitney hut because that meant we were almost there. 

At 1:30 PM on September 7, 2017, I reached the summit of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. It was exhilarating! 

I signed the registry at the hut with "For my boys. Do hard things. Never quit!" Then I grabbed a sign someone had made and had my picture taken with it. It said " Mount Whitney, 14,505 feet, September 7, 2017."

I had to take my customary picture at the Geological Survey plug. For some reason there were four plugs on different rocks on the summit. I just picked one to take a picture of. 

Just before I started my descent, I stopped by the hut to check it out. It is a stark contrast to the barren rocks at the summit. 

Inside the hut is a reminder that lightning is deadly and the hut should not be used as a shelter during a storm. 

After spending about 30 minutes on the summit, Joe and I started our descent. About 30 minutes into our descent, we crossed paths with my friend as she was making her final push towards the summit. We stopped and talked for a few minutes. She was in high spirits and both excited and nervous about her journey. I gave her one final hug and a few words of wisdom and encouragement and we said goodbye again. 

As I continued my way back towards the JMT junction, I stopped to take a picture looking through one of the windows to the east of the summit. 

I also took a picture of Guitar Lake. It is to the west of the summit. That is where my friend hoped to camp for the night on the JMT.

That was the last picture I took. I knew that I was in store for a long, hard descent back to the Whitney Portal. I arrived back to Trail Camp at about 5:20 PM to repack my backpack and bear canister. People had commented on marmots and other small animals messing with packs left at Trail Camp but nothing had been disturbed. Joe and I refilled a bit of our water and each had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We left Trail Camp at about 6:00 PM. 

We pressed hard to go as far as we could before sunset knowing we were going to be finishing in the dark. The first few miles went fairly quickly and before we knew it we were 4 miles out and at Mirror Lake. That's when we put our headlamps on and it was completely dark by 3.5 miles out. The final 2.5 miles seemed to last forever. We were both hurting. There was no more talking, only focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. The last thing we wanted was to get injured on the trail after dark miles from help. The final 1.5 miles were sheer torture. Everything hurt. We knew we were close but it was so dark we couldn't see how close so we just kept walking. 

Finally, at 10:15 PM, we crossed through the Whitney Portal for a final time. I was so elated I almost cried. Joe said he did too. I was so happy to be done and so happy I had decided to reserve a hotel for the night 30 minutes away in Lone Pine, CA. Once we were at our cars, Joe and I hugged and said our goodbyes. He thanked me for sticking with him and I did the same. We both agreed that God knew what he was doing when our paths crossed. I will never see him again and I don't even know his last name but I am so glad I had him with me for the day.

Hiking Mt. Whitney has been something I have wanted to do for a few years but it was something that I never thought possible. I am amazed at what my body is capable of doing. It is strong and my mind holds a "never quit" attitude. I may not be the size or weight I want but I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am able to do hard things. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Achieving the Impossible, Ironman Arizona 140.6 ~ 11/20/16

On November 20, 2016, I achieved the impossible. I completed my first Ironman. This is coming from the girl who only a few years ago hated to sweat and exercise. Who was morbidly obese and suffering from hypertension and osteoarthritis. If you had asked that girl if she would ever complete a triathlon, let alone a full Ironman, she would have laughed in your face. 

I had decided that Ironman Arizona, would be the perfect race for me. I was able to register on the day it went on sale and made it in before it sold out. I had one year to get ready for this race. But first, I had to have reconstructive knee surgery to fix a severed right ACL and torn meniscus. That surgery happened on December 29, 2015. 

I focused solely on rehabilitating and strengthening my knee for the next few months. I was finally cleared to slowly begin working out in April of 2016. That gave me 7 months to get ready for the biggest race of my life. 

I hired a coach to help me reach this goal. He is also a physical therapist so he was able to give me a training schedule that helped keep me on track and healthy as I progressed. 

Finally, race weekend arrived. I had put all the hard work in and was ready to reap the rewards. I packed my bags the night before I left. There was so much to bring! Way more than a normal triathlon. I had to bring enough nutrition and hydration to support me for a 15-17 hour race. There also needed to be items for a bike special needs bag and a run special needs bag. Also a bit of the "what if" items that you never know if you might need. 

On Thursday morning, I met up with a few fellow racers to carpool from Las Vegas to Tempe, AZ. This was a great way to make the time go faster and to get out our nervous energy. We talked and laughed a lot!

On Friday, we met up with a few more friends and explored Ironman Village. This is where packet pick-up was located as well as lots of vendors

Our tri club, the Las Vegas Triathlon Club, was awarded a special athlete's briefing given to us by the race director. This allowed us to ask specific questions to help ease my first timers nerves. 

For dinner on Friday night, I was able to meet up with several of my Coeur Sports Teammates. I had such a great time socializing with so many amazing women.

On Saturday, I needed to do a quick shake-out workout before checking my bike into transition. It included a 15 minute swim, 30  minute bike, and 15 minute run. As I was standing with my bike waiting for my husband to park the car, my rear tire popped. I was stunned. I needed to enter the water! Once my husband arrived, I handed him my bike and told him what happened. We decided to take it to the bike mechanic in the Village and get it fixed. I started my swim and he checked my bike in with the mechanic. 

The water was cold but not too bad. They were allowing us to swim an abbreviate version of our actual race day swim. I completed 0.5 miles in 14:55. It felt good! I then exited the water and found my husband by the mechanics tent. He told me that the bike wouldn't be ready until 2:00-2:30 PM. That meant that I wasn't going to get a ride in that day. So I grabbed my running shoes and got ready for my run. I set off on the actual run course for my 15 minutes. It went really smooth and I felt great. I completed 1.35 miles in 15 minutes. 

After the shake-out, I turned in my bike and run transition bags. Then I met up with my husband and sons and went to lunch. After lunch, we went back to the Village to wait for my bike to get finished. We finally were called up at 2:30 PM. They said they thought it was a faulty tube and had replaced it. We paid and I started to walk my bike down to transition. All athlete's bikes needed to be checked into transition by 3:00 PM. Right as I was about to walk in, my back tire popped again. I started to panic! I ran back up to the mechanic tent and told them what happened. They took my bike immediately and got to work. This time they replaced the tube and the tape that lined the inside of the wheel. With 5 minutes to spare, I finally walked my bike into transition. I said a quick little prayer that the tire would hold and left the Village. 

Now all I could do was wait. Me and my family met up with a few friends for dinner and then we returned to our hotel for a quiet evening. I was a nervous wreck! I was so worked up about my tire. I had worked so hard to get to this point and if I couldn't race due to a bike issue, I was going to be devastated. I asked for prayers from my family and friends and knew that was all I could do. So I reviewed my bike and run special needs bags one last time, showered and went to bed. 

It was finally race day! My husband wanted to take me to the race site so we woke up at 5:00 AM and left at 5:30 AM. We arrived at transition at about 5:45 AM. While he went and parked the car, I went to transition to check on my back tire. All the prayers worked because my tire was fine! Next, I went and turned in my bike and run special needs bags. I then headed back to transition to do a few final things. I was happy to see several friends as we were all rushing around. 

I finally exited transition and found my husband. We stood together and he calmed me down as I waited to head to the swim start. It was an excited nervous feeling. As the time neared, we prayed together and he kissed me, then I was on my way. I walked towards the swim start. Ironman Arizona does a rolling swim start so you seed yourself in the time that you are expecting to finish the swim in. I squeezed my way to the 1:10-1:20 time section. It was very crowded and I realized that I should have made my way up there sooner. While I stood there, I nervously chatted with the athletes around me. I was excited! At 7:00 AM, the cannon rang out as the age group athletes started. We slowly started to move forward. I looked over and saw a Coeur sister cheering me on. After a few minutes, I was at the stairs and making my way into the water. 

The morning was overcast which worked out great since we were swimming east and would have had the sun in our eyes. The swim is in the Tempe Town Lake which is actually a dammed river with concrete walls. The temperature is cold and the water is dark. I didn't let that shake me as I dove in. The rolling start helped with the crowding but there was still a lot of people. 

Shortly after starting the swim we go under these bridges. It was cool to look up and see all the people cheering us on. I kept scanning for my family but I never saw them. 

For the first mile of the swim, there was a lot of pushing, hitting, and swimming over by other people. I definitely did not like that. I had heard it was a common occurrence at these races due to the large number of participants and the fact that I was swimming with men. Most of the races I have participated in have swim waves and I start with women. Most women are not as aggressive in the swim as men are. As I approached the first turn buoy, it was very crowded. I decided to swim with my head up to avoid getting hit in the head. It may have slowed me down a bit but I felt like it was safer. Around this time I began to get calf cramps. This was something new. I had never had this happen during a swim. When I would feel them coming on I would stop kicking and just swim with my arms. The fact that I was in a wetsuit helped keep me buoyant even though I wasn't kicking. At the second turn, I swam with my head up again. After that turn, the crowds finally began to thin out and I no longer was getting beat up by other swimmers. I continued to have the calf cramps. I knew that if I got into trouble, there were plenty of kayaks and stand up paddle boards that I could have rested on. But since the cramps would leave when I stopped kicking, I just did that when they appeared. 

I made the final turn that took me to the exit stairs. I was so happy! I was just about to finish the 2.4 mile swim! I finished in 1:19:21. At the stairs, there were volunteers there to help us stand. I'm glad they were there as I was a bit wobbly when I stood up. It was amazing to see and hear all the people cheering as we exited the water. I had a huge smile on my face and waved to the cheering crowd. 

I ran to the wetsuit strippers and had them yank my suit off in one second. It was awesome! I then ran along the path to the bike transition bags. As I was rounding the corner, volunteers yelled out my race number so another volunteer could find my bag and have it for me when I arrived. I grabbed my bag and headed for the women's changing tent. I stopped by the bathroom first and then entered the tent. I had a volunteer meet me and sit me down. She grabbed all the stuff out of my bag and helped me get dressed and all my gear together. She was very helpful. I stopped by the sunscreen table and had volunteers lather me up with sunscreen. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich as I made my way to my bike. 

As I approached my rack, a volunteer met me with my bike. The entire transition process went very smoothly. I finished my sandwich as I exited transition. T1 was 11:22. There was a long section between transition and the street that was lined with spectators. I finally saw my husband as I rode along that section. I smiled and waved and was then on my way.

The bike course is a three loop out and back. It starts in the city center and makes it way out to the desert. The roads were either partially or completely closed for the entire ride. Road conditions were good and the overcast skies continued to keep the temperatures down. Each loop climbs to the turnaround. There were very few times that I was out of the aero position. Luckily I had trained many hours in the aero position so I was prepared. As I was nearing the end of loop one, and making my way back into the city center, I passed an intersection that my husband and two sons were at. They yelled and cheered. I waved and smiled. It was awesome to see them there supporting me.

The bike special needs was located at the 65 mile mark. I had packed it with refill powders so I could fill all my bottles with fresh fluids. I had been drinking one bottle of Skratch every hour. This was a plan I had worked out after becoming severely dehydrated during a 70.3 race in October where I had to DNF and go to the ER for fluids. It was a schedule that worked well for me and was keeping me hydrated. I also grabbed additional nutrition. I was eating one item every 45 minutes. I rotated between four things: a Honey Stinger chocolate waffle, Honey Stinger cherry cola chews, a Honey Stinger caramel waffle and Jelly Belly sports beans. While at the special needs aid station, I used the bathroom and ate another peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I had two volunteers helping me while at the station which was very nice. 

As I returned to the city center to finish loop 2, I once again saw my family cheering for me at the intersection. It was such a boost to see them. I was still feeling good and was ready to attack the final loop. The first two loops had a head wind going up the hill and a nice tailwind heading down to the city but on the final loop things changed. There was a tailwind going up the hill and a headwind finishing the loop. That was a bit of a bummer. I take a lot of advantage of downhills and really fly but with a headwind I wasn't able to. Before I knew it, I was heading back into the city center for the last time. I was so excited! I had kept the speed I wanted to and was able to finished the 112 mile bike in 6:34:32. And to top it all off, I was still feeling good! I was hydrating and eating as planned and my back tire stayed inflated the entire time.

I made my way down the long narrow section from the road to transition. A volunteer met me and took my bike and directed me to the run transition bags. I was handed my bag and ushered to the changing tent. I stopped by the bathroom before I entered the tent. Once again, I was met by a volunteer to help me go through my bag and get the things I needed. It was so helpful! I put on my FuelBelt, changed my shoes, grabbed my visor, packed my back pockets with nutrition and headed out of the tent. I ate another peanut butter and jelly sandwich on my way out. I wanted to get real food into my system throughout the day and the sandwiches were a great way to do that. T2 was 9:04.

I gave high fives to volunteers as I exited transition and started my run. I was 2/3rds done with my Ironman and on cloud 9. I started running and was so surprised that my legs felt OK. Sure, I was tired but I felt OK. For the first 4 miles, I was running at a pretty good pace. I was continuing to hydrate and eat on a time schedule. I would drink one bottle of Skratch every 30 minutes and eat one thing (rotating between a chocolate waffle, cherry cola chew, caramel waffle, and sports beans) every 45 minutes. After the 4 mile mark, I started to slow down. I did the math and realized that I was good enough with time that I could walk the rest of the run and still finish the race within the 17 hour time limit. At the 2 hour mark, I stopped at an aid station and refilled my bottles with Skratch powder and water. I had the extra powder in Ziploc bags. It was a messy and time consuming process but it needed to be done. 

The run was a two loop course bordering the Tempe Town Lake. It had sections that were lined with lots of spectators and other areas that were empty. There was even a section that was lined with some of my Coeur sisters cheering. Since it was mostly an out and back, you were never really alone though because there were always other runners nearby. 

The run special needs station was just passed the half way point. I stopped to grab additional hydration powder and nutrition. My husband met me there and we chatted for a few minutes. He walked with me as I read a few notes that my coach and girlfriend had written me. I placed them in that bag because I knew that I was going to need an additional mental boost around this point. The notes made me tear up but in a good way. I gave my husband a kiss and went on my way. 

I refilled my bottles at the next aid station. Once again, it was a messy and time consuming process but it had to be done. I also started to use the bathroom quit often. At least I knew I was well hydrated. 

My goal had been to run for at least the first 13 miles. I had slowed down but I was able to run until the 20 mile mark. By mile 20, I was hurting. My feet were killing me. I stopped at a porta potty. I sat there for a few minutes and cried. I needed a minute by myself to talk to God. I prayed for strength to get through the final 6 miles. I exited the bathroom refreshed and determined to finish. I started to walk. I was OK with that. At about mile 21.5, a fellow Las Vegas Triathlon Club member ran up beside me and started to walk with me. He was racing after recovering from an injury as well. We walked and chatted for a few minutes. It was so nice because it took my mind off of the race for a few minutes. I told him that he didn't need to stay with me because I didn't want to hold him back. He said that he was going to walk to the 23 mile mark which was the crest of the hill so we might as well walk together. This was such a blessing. Before I knew it, we were at the top of the hill and we started to run again. We stayed together for the remainder of the race. 

At about 1.5 miles out, my husband met us along the road. He told us the time and that we were going to finish this race. He told us that if we kept the pace we were at, that we were going to finish under 15 hours. I was in shock! My original goal was to just finish. My second goal was to finish with a smile on my face. My third goal was to finish in 15 hours. It was looking like I was going to hit all those goals. My husband then took off running so he could watch me finish.

Ironman had given all athletes a green rubber bracelet to give to someone who helped us over the weekend. It could be someone at the hotel, Ironman Village, a volunteer, your coach, a family member, etc. As we neared the final stretch, I took my bracelet off and gave it to my friend. With his help, the final 5 miles had flown by. Our chatting had taken my mind off the pain. I will forever be grateful for his help. 

We made the final turn and could see the finisher's chute. We were finally there. My friend had completed this race a few time before. He turned to me and told me to run ahead of him so that I could have my moment. He would make sure that there was plenty of space between us so I could savor the final few feet of the race. I thanked him, touched his shoulder in gratitude and turned towards home. 

The lights were so bright and the music was blasting. The chute was lined with hundreds of spectators and fans. And they were all cheering for me! I raised my hands and pumped them to the music. I saw a friend's husband along the side of the chute and gave him a high five. I was smiling so big. I slowed my pace and took it all in. For those final moments, I felt no pain. I finished the 26.2 miles in 6:26:58 for an overall finishing time of 14:41:17.

I couldn't see him but I heard Mike Reilly say "Sarah Girven, you are an Ironman! Come on Sarah, we're here for you. Sarah Girven, Las Vegas. Again, Sarah, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! Sarah Girven, Las Vegas, Nevada."

I crossed the finish line and immediately burst into tears. I was overcome with emotion. The volunteer that handed me my medal asked if I was OK. I shock my head yes. She said "just emotional?" I shock my head yes. I pulled myself together and was usher towards the wall to get my finisher's picture. I was still in disbelief but I smiled the biggest smile ever. 

As soon as the pictures were taken I could here my name being called. I turned around and my husband was standing at the barrier. I made my way over to him and we embraced. I cried again. He told me he was so proud of me. He might have cried a little too. 

I was funneled through to the food tent and grabbed a piece of pizza and a drink. I sat down in a chair, looked up and could see my family. They couldn't come in to where I was so I got back up and made my way to the exit. We all hugged. My boys were so proud of me. We made our way over to another tent where I sat down and tried to eat my pizza. I wasn't very hungry. As I sat there, the exhaustion came over me. They helped me take off my shoes and put on flip flops. I was tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. On our way out, we stopped so my husband could take one more picture. I look so tired but happy.

We got back to the hotel just after 10:00 PM. My husband and I went to sit in the hot tub for a few minutes while the boys got ready for bed. We then went back to the room and I showered. I tried to eat a sandwich they had picked up for me at dinner. I still wasn't really hungry. I ended up just eating the meat and cheese. Then I went to bed. I figured I would go to sleep immediately and sleep like I was dead to the world. It didn't work out that way though. I had a very hard time going to sleep and had a very restless night of sleep. I've since heard that this happens a lot after big races. 

I woke up early the next morning in order to go to the merchandise tent and buy some finisher's gear. My husband went with me. We spent way too much money but it was all worth it. 

We then met up with my Coeur Sports Teammates again for a post-race breakfast. This is an amazing group of women that I am so fortunate to be associated with. 

We ended the morning back at the hotel for a few pictures with two of my racing friends. We were sore but so happy.

We all spent hundreds of hours training for this race. Some of those hours were together but many of them were alone. Even though this sport is an individual event, it is most definitely a group effort. I know that I would not have been able to complete this journey if it had not been for the people I surrounded myself with. I had a fantastic Orthopedic surgeon, a great physical therapist, a knowledgeable coach, an amazingly supportive husband, and many wonderful friends. I met so many amazing people along the way. I will forever be blessed by their friendship and help.

On Sunday, November 20, 2016, I pushed my body beyond what I ever thought it was possible of doing. My mind fought off the darkness that attacks when you are in the depths of a race. My heart reached for that dream that seemed so far away. No matter what you are facing in your life, you are stronger than you can ever image. You are capable of achieving the impossible.