The alarm clock in the hotel room is set for 3:45am. So is the alarm on my phone, just in case. Turns out not to be necessary. I wake up at 2:30am and lie restlessly in bed, my mind racing. As if I would oversleep for Ironman.
At 3:30am I finally get out of bed. I look out the window at the few wayward college students stumbling home through the dark streets. I have never felt so awake. I have never been so nervous.
I drink coffee, eat a bagel, get dressed and organized. Before I know it it’s almost 5am, time to go. The walk down a sleeping State St. to Monona Terrace goes by fast. I drop off the special needs bags, and head to my bike. There is a nervous excitement in the air, as everyone prepares for their day. Now it is just final preparations on top of months of preparation. The work has been done. I think to myself, I will be an Ironman today.
I get body marked and head down to the water. It’s 6am, and the first hints of light begin to hit the water.
I remind myself to be calm in the water. Be calm, don’t panic. Over and over. Breathe.
6:15am, wetsuit on. I am doing this. I am ready. Breathe.
6:30am and into the corral, over the timing mats, and into the water. It’s a sea of athletes, I am so nervous. For a few minutes, I stay where I can stand. Someone sings the national anthem. I don’t focus on it because I don’t want to tear up in my goggles. I am really doing this. Be calm, don’t panic.
There is a loud boom as the canon goes off, and a frenzy of screams, cheers, arms, heads, and legs. The washing machine.
I hesitate for a moment, looking for a clearing. Be calm, don’t panic. I put my face in the water and swim. Finding a rhythm amidst hundreds of bodies is hard. It goes one stroke, look up, two strokes, look up , breathe, stroke. I find clear water on the first length and try to stay way outside the buoys. The first turn is in sight, and it is a mess. People everywhere, arms flailing, kicking, elbows. Be calm, don’t panic. I am no longer nervous, I just want to make it through this swim.
Two more turns and the first lap is over. It seems I have been swimming forever. I tell myself it will be over soon. One stroke after the next, just keep moving. I am sure I have been in the water for hours. There is never clear water, never any room. Finally I make the last turn and head towards shore. I realize I have survived the swim.
I unzip my wetsuit and lay down for the strippers. They rip the suit off in one giant tug and hand it to me. I check my watch. Surely I have been in the water forever. It reads 1:27:xx, faster than expected. I head up the helix through the cheering crowd. This is amazing. I am really doing this.
I will be an Ironman today…