When I signed up for Lake Placid, I loved the IDEA of an Ironman. It was something I had never done. And people were shocked when I told then. Truth be told, I liked that expression of “are you serious?” people gave me every time I mentioned it. And then the excitement of seeing the shock wore off quickly when the serious training started. I fell off of my bike while on a long training ride (I had only used clip-in shoes literally a handful of times) and had to take 10 days off of training. The whole left side of my body looked like hamburger meat – I was bloody, bruising quickly and experiencing a pain that I had never experienced. Being a year round competitive swimmer for the majority of my life meant not having to deal with cuts, blood or contusions. I was swimming again after taking 10 years off… and for those athletes out there, you KNOW how tough it is mentally to get back into your sport, when you’re comparing the times you are currently doing to the ones that you used to clock back in the day. And the running! Goodness. I am a WATER SPORT person, people! I was seeing a PT on a regular basis, so I could get my knee and foot carved, hip flexors loosed, and a massage every now and again. But then I thought of why I was doing it.
I did this race in memory of Cynthia Lynn Sherwin, while fundraising for the National Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Cindy was my age when she started training for her first Ironman in Lake Placid and died while out on a 100-mile training ride of an undetected brain aneurysm that ruptured. She was beautiful, an experienced marathoner and triathlete and just started working with and reading to children about the benefits of being healthy. Her mom, Elaine Schaller, started Team Cindy in memory of her daughter, with 100% of the fundraising money going to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.
When I thought of Cindy and I thought of all of the generous donations that I has received, I couldn’t give up. When I thought about a family friend who has had 55+ brain surgeries, who is 16, I couldn’t give up. I thought of the people who weren’t able to compete and I trained harder. Physically, I was arguably in the best shape of my live. Emotionally, I was a wreck.
The 30-day count down to the race began, and there was not a day that went by that I did not cry at least once a day, sometimes more. Looking back, I think it was fear, but it could have had a little bit of nervous pride in there. This was the first thing I have ever signed up for and stuck with until the end. I registered for a marathon and only ran half. I had signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon, only to pull out. This was a huge commitment and seeing it through to the end not only gave me the confidence that I really can do anything that I put my mind to, but that my mind is stronger than my physical body. When the race got tough, I didn’t give up. And when I say tough, my body hurt a little bit, but it was my mind that was telling me to quit. My mind was telling me that I didn’t have anything to prove, that I gave it a good run, that it was ok to lay down on the side and snooze for a few minutes… but I put one foot in front of the other and finished.
When I ran into town where hundreds of screaming supporters were cheering for us athletes, I smiled. I had one mile left until I was an Ironman. When I ran into the Speed skating track that was used in the 1980 Winter Olympics and served as the finish line for the Ironman, my eyes started welling up. Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run” was playing over the loud speakers and I saw familiar faces of friends and family. When Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, said “Hilary Phelps, from Baltimore Maryland, you are an Ironman!” I let it all go. I let go of all of the fears that I wouldn’t finish, all of the anxiety that I was going to fail and all of the unnecessary expectations that I had put on myself to succeed. My mom, sister, niece and brother were all waiting just past the finish line and I ran into their arms and cried. My mom put the finisher medal around my neck, wrapped me in the silver foil and my brother gave me an M-dot pinky ring that they had all picked out. We laughed, because my hands were so swollen from the 14 hour race, that the ring didn’t quite fit!