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Ironman 15: Crossing the finish line

Hey there! Here’s the fifteenth in our series of guest post from Lance Rogerson, who has partnered up with us for his Ironman training. Read on for this week’s update.
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Well di’lishiNATION, it finally happened – I earned the title of Ironman!  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I managed to accomplish every single goal that I set out to achieve.  I wanted to finish with my biking before the winner crossed the finish line and I did that.  I wanted to finish with a smile on my face and I did that.  Lastly, I wanted to finish in under 15 hours.  I finished in 14 hours and 32 minutes.

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The weather turned out to be not quite as perfect as I had hoped for; we managed to have a cold snap for about 3 days around race weekend.  I got up that morning, went to get body marking done and check on my bike in T1 around 5:30am.  It was ridiculously cold.  The thing that gave me hope was that I knew the water was still sitting right about 70 degrees.  However, around 7:15am as we are all standing on the beach waiting for the race to start it was still pretty cold.  The day before the race, the race director told us that the race start would be one of the most breathtaking we would ever see and he was not exaggerating at all.  We were standing on the south end of Wrightsville Beach in between the sand dunes and we got to watch a beautiful sunrise before starting – it was inspiring.  The swim went great, I managed to hit my stride the moment I got in the water and I didn’t stop until I got to the dock 2.4 miles later.  The only draw back about the swimming was that low tide was at 6:51am, so starting the race at 7:30am did not allow for much of a push from the tide.

I was nice and warm in the water with my wetsuit on, but once I stepped out of the water that all changed.  It got worse when the wetsuit strippers helped me out of my wetsuit.  At that point I knew what I had to do and I wasn’t really able to think of much else because I was so cold.  Running to the changing tent I couldn’t feel my legs or my feet, I’ve never been so cold in my entire life.  It was madness in the tent trying to get changed.  I tried to go as quickly as possible, because I knew I needed to get on the bike and get my blood pumping.  Being so cold I was a little disoriented trying to find my bike.  I managed to locate it and got on to head out on my long ride.  I remember being able to pick out my wife in the crowd, it was nice to have something to make me smile and distract me from the cold for a few seconds.  The first 20 miles of the ride were miserable.  I had to keep saying out loud to myself, “Lance, you knew it would be cold and this would be the worst part, just keep pedaling.”  So that’s what I did.  Finally the temperature started to rise, I had my blood was pumping and I warmed up.  However, I didn’t manage to get feeling back in my toes until the halfway point when I sat down for a minute and took my shoes off to get my feet in the sun.

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The first 56 miles heading out were rough.  We had a bad headwind.  Everyone was struggling to maintain speed.  At the halfway point, we got our special needs bags that had whatever we wanted to pack in them (I included some cookies, but was wishing for some froyo).  We were all discussing how the rest of the ride – while not backtracking our course so far – should be better because we should have somewhat of a tailwind.  Or so we thought.  Somehow the wind managed to change directions every time we did.  It was blowing in our faces the entire ride.  During training I would average around a 17.8 mph pace.  On race day I pushed out a 16.1 pace.  I remember about at mile 111 I was crossing the bridge over the Cape Fear River and that incline seemed like a mountain.  I was all but yelling at myself, “Lance, you’ve biked 111 miles, you WILL pedal the rest of the way, getting off and walking your bike up this hill is NOT and option.”  I managed to finally make it back into town and was so encouraged to see my wife and friends there at the bike finish/run start cheering me on.

I took my time in T2 to refuel by eating a snack before I headed out to do the marathon.  Which oddly enough did seem even remotely daunting after all the miles I had just covered.  I was really glad that I knew everyone was right outside the running start.  I have to admit had they not been there I probably would have come out walking, which would have caused my legs to take longer to loosen up.  I came out running and managed to keep up a pretty good pace.  I approached the run realistically.  Being my first Ironman I knew I would not run the entire thing.  I decided that for as long as I could manage I would run for 30 minutes and walk for 5.  I kept repeating that over and over.  I pretty much managed to keep that pace until the 13 mile mark.  I saw my wife and friends and that caused me to run some, but I was still struggling.  I made the turn and headed back for one more loop.  At that point I my energy level was dropping quickly.  My legs felt fine but I knew I had to keep up my nutrition so I wouldn’t hit my wall.  I remembered reading to skip out on caffeine the week before your race and hold off as long as you can so that its effects would be good and wouldn’t wear off too soon.  Well I haven’t had caffeine in about 3 or 4 years so I knew the effect would be pretty good.  I had saved an espresso gel for this moment.  It was incredibly nasty tasting, but man that was the boost I needed.

I found my second wind and I was running well again.  I had been thinking after being slowed down on the bike I wouldn’t make it in under 15 hours and I was ok with that.  I knew I would finish so I was happy.  However, around mile 18 I looked at my watch and after some calculations realized that if I kept pushing I could meet my goal.  Between that realization and the caffeine I managed to turn it on and push out the last few miles.  I remember walking during the last mile or so as I was saving up a little energy until I got to final straight away so I could finish strong.  I got to the point where I had picked to run and suddenly it seemed a lot longer and darker than I remembered.  I started running but couldn’t quite see the finish yet and I was quickly growing discouraged.  About that time my wife was beside me running telling me I was almost done and to keep going – that was far better than any amount of caffeine.  I finished strong and earned the title of Ironman.

The finish line of any long distance race is always cool, but the finish line of an Ironman is truly something to behold.  As I was running in I had complete strangers high fiving and congratulating me.  I was the only one finishing at that point and the entire crowd was cheering me on.  It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced.  Two of my youth, who had volunteered at the race that day, were there at the finish line to put the medal around my neck.  It was so great to see so many people there to support me.  We took lots of pictures and I told stories of the last 14 hours, but I headed to the car before too long in fear my body would shut down on me.  After some amazing late night French toast at a local breakfast place here in Wilmington called Jimbo’s, I went home and crashed.  It was a day I’ll never forget.

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I cannot say enough good things about the Beach2Battleship race.  They had everything organized.  The volunteers were amazing.  The race simply could not happen without them.  They cannot imagine how encouraging they were.  It makes me proud to call Wilmington home, knowing what a great job our city does at putting on this world-class event.  While, yes I have talked about my times, at the end of the day the times did not matter.  It was finding inside myself the strength to finish.  The love and support I felt from everyone out at the race cheering me on and everyone cheering me on through Facebook updates etc.  Those are the things that made that day one of the most memorable of my life.  To everyone who supported me – by coming out to the race, training me, training with me, running the race with me, texts, tweets, Facebook comments & likes, thoughts, and prayers – I cannot thank you enough. You cannot imagine what it meant to have that support.  A huge thank you to di’lishi for sponsoring me in the race.  It’s been awesome to connect with everyone and bring all of you along for my journey.  During the running portion of the race I wore a specially designed di’lishi running shirt.  I had people the whole time telling me they wanted some froyo or talking about how much they love di’lishi!

From the first day of training to the end of the race, I learned far more about myself that I expected to.  I still remember finishing my first marathon, almost 4 years to the day before the Ironman, I felt like I could do anything in the world – like I could fly.  That feeling increased exponentially finishing those 140.6 miles of the Ironman.  During those 14 hours I battled a lot of inner demons.  The ones telling me I wasn’t good enough to complete the race, that I should quit.   The race was a lot of fun, but it was very tough – at some points more mentally than physically.  I ended up amazing even myself, as I found out what I was made of – nothing feels impossible.   I cannot wait to see where my journey takes me next – I am a finisher, but never finished…