And finally, I was heading out of T2 and onto the run course. 13.1 miles stood between me and the finish and I was ready for it.
Before I get into my recap of the run leg, I would like to mention two things…
1) My run training had been slim to none. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve dealt with nagging IT band problems, which seriously hindered my training. My longest run was 8 miles (note – that is NOT ideal) and that run happened in JULY. Yes, July—two months prior to my race. And, in the 6 weeks leading up to Silverman, my run training took a serious hit because my Achilles was giving me trouble. I averaged two runs per week, approximately 3 miles each. If this means nothing to you, I’ll quickly sum it up. I was NOT prepared to run a half marathon. Much less, after cycling 56 miles through the desert.
2) When I started the run, it was hot. Surface of the sun, depths of hell HOT. For those of you who haven’t visited either place, that means around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. To make the situation more hellish, the run course provided practically no shade. It was almost as if the Ironman officials were trying to inflict pain.
That aside, running is not only my favorite, but it is also my strongest of the three sports in triathlon. In my past races, I have passed a ton of runners. I’m not bragging. They probably smoked me in the water and on the bike. What I am conveying is that running is my jam. But a 13.1 mile run in the middle of the desert…that might be a different story.
Once again, according to the official Ironman website, “The run course consists of three loops that will go through some of America’s fastest growing city’s beautiful neighborhoods. The course will consist of rolling hills and challenging climbs.” Now, I’m not entirely sure how some people might define rolling hills. But when I think of rolling hills, I think of gradual ascending and descending climbs, each no longer than half a mile. This course, in my opinion, did not have such hills. It had a hill. One hell of a hill.
I had seen the course elevation map and was mentally prepared. Due to my lack of training, I had a strategy to make sure I made the cutoff time and finished once I got to the run leg (I had approximately 3 hours to run the half marathon). I planned on using my adrenaline off the bike to power me through the first 4 miles. I knew that I could run at least 4 miles and then could switch to a walk-run pattern to finish off the rest of the race. I also told myself that I would walk through ALL of the aid stations (spaced approximately 1 mile apart) and hydrate. We were on the surface of the sun, remember?
And so I headed out of T2 with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step.
This is happening. This is actually happening. As long as nothing tragic happens, I am going to FINISH this race!
Almost immediately after beginning the run, I realized I had taken WAY too much fuel along. I was the definition of over-prepared. The back of my shirt thumped with the weight of my Gus, Chomps, Honey Stinger Waffles, and Jelly Beans. Luckily, I saw my support crew almost immediately. I grabbed a handful of random nutrition and threw it at my dad. He laughed at me, probably confused, and wished me well on the run course. “Yeah Dem! Wooh hooh! You got this!”
And I was off. The beginning of the course is downhill (Thank God…). I tried to focus on taking short strides, sipping on my water bottle every few minutes, loosening up my legs, and getting into a rhythm. Unlike the bike course, the run course had a lot of out-and-back portions (meaning you essentially retrace your steps). This was good because I could distract myself by observing other runners heading the opposite direction. This was also bad because as I observed the other runners, I knew what I was in store for when I reached the turnaround point. As I cruised down the hill, feeling euphoric, I occasionally glanced to my right and saw masses of triathletes limping (like REALLY limping) up the hill.
I passed a bunch of runners and as my confidence soared, so did my anxiety. I’m only on my first lap. These people are probably on their second or third laps. They look terrible. I am probably going to die on this course.
At the very bottom of the hill, there was amazing crowd support. Kids were dressed up in Halloween costumes, cheering the runners on as music blared. A few people shouted, “You’re almost there! You got this!” I laughed out loud. Not really. No I’m not even close actually. But that’s okay because I feel fan-freakin-tastic! I reached the first aid station, feeling strong. I was on cloud nine. I walked through the station and took water and a cup of ice. Then I began running up the hill. I held the ice cup tight in my hand. Hmm, I wonder what this is for. What could I do with ice? Then it came to me. I dumped entire cup into my sports bra. It felt amazing. In fact, it was an absolute game changer because it kept my core body temperature down the entire race. 10/10 — would highly recommend.
My run back up the hill was less enjoyable than my journey down. I know you feel good now, Dempsey, but whatever you do DON’T PUSH THE PACE. This is not a sprint. This is not a sprint. I kept my pace steady and breathing even. There was fantastic support from cheering spectators. One guy offered to hose me down with water. Offer accepted.
When you reach mile two, you take a left as the run course heads past the finish line. Wait a minute, that hill was not that bad. Like seriously, I can’t believe everyone looked so weak! I walked through the second aid station, grabbing water and more ice for my bra. I feel freakin fantastic! I continued running, passing the finish line to my right. At this pace, I could probably run the whole thing! Triathletes who had finished cheered us on. I looked to my left and saw a lady with a sign that read: “Hurry up. Beer misses you!” I laughed out loud and gave her a thumbs up. I love running. I love this race. I love everything.
After passing the finish, I took a quick left and my heart sunk. I looked up and saw THE HILL. A GIGANTIC HILL. Ohhhh, so that portion that I just ran WASN’T the entire run course. Interesting. Okay this makes a lot more sense now. And I put my head down and began to climb and realized how naive I had been to think that the short 2 mile segment was the entire course. Once you make that left turn, you run uphill for a little over one mile, before turning around and heading back down.
The hill humbled me. My pace slowed. I understood why so many triathletes were walking. This course was no joke. I ran with my head down, glancing up occasionally to see how much longer until the turnaround. I see an aid station up there, I think. That must be the turnaround. Thank goodness. I walked through the third aid station (shortly before mile three), drank a cup of water, dumped a cup on my head (shout out to the guy with the hose earlier on the course for giving me that idea), and stuffed some more ice in my bra. I exited the aid station and continued running. And then, reality struck. Wait a minute. I am still going uphill. This can’t be. I’ve been running uphill FOREVER. No joke. The course continued uphill for another HALF FREAKIN MILE.
I shuffled along, ice sloshing around in my sports bra. I cursed the Ironman officials. Then I tried to comfort myself. What goes up must come down. What goes up must come down. After what seemed like hours, I reached the turnaround and began downhill. Thank God! Oh this feels amazing. I’m flying! I can finally breathe again! My legs don’t feel like they’re going to collapse! I did start to feel hungry. I pulled out a pack of Sports Beans (basically Jelly Beans and by far, my best tasting fuel) and began eating. Right around 3.5 miles, I hit the same aid station from the ascent. I wasn’t exactly feeling sick, per se. But my stomach definitely didn’t feel great. I decided I’d take two Zofran for nausea because, at this point, better safe than sorry (I have had severe stomach issues in my life). I also grabbed a cup of ice for the road and sucked on ice chips. It helped keep my core temperature down, but made it difficult to breathe. So I ended up tossing them.
The descent continued, and I started to feel better. The Sports Beans had given me an extra boost of strength and the downhill provided some much-needed relief for my lungs and legs. Right around mile 4, I began to feel confident that I could run not only the first 4, but the first 6 miles of this bloody half marathon — at that pace, I would most definitely make the time cutoff and be an official Ironman finisher! My spirits rose. This whole half Ironman thing really isn’t all that bad. Dare I say I’m having fun?! Wooh hooh, look at all the people I’m passing! They’re probably on their final lap, but WHO CARES. I FEEL AMAZING! Wait a minute, what’s that pain? Oh no, my knee.
The great thing about running downhill is that you can go fast, without much effort. The bad thing about running downhill is that it is HARD on your joints. Right after mile 4, the outside of my right knee began to hurt (my nagging IT band). I’ve dealt with IT band injuries for a long time, and I’ve learned one painful truth: Once your knee starts to hurt during a run, it will NOT get better. I never run through IT band pain unless I am in a race (and even in that case, I have only pushed through a maximum 2 miles of pain). This is why my longest training run was only 8 miles. Now I was facing 9 miles of knee pain. And I knew it was only going to get worse.
A little bit after mile 4, you turn right and run past the finish line. I saw the joy on the faces of the triathletes as they headed to the finish. And that motivated me to push harder. To finish. Take it one mile at a time. You got this, Demps. You’re going to see your parents soon.
My parents and Remi were at the same spot that I had seen them before. They cheered and shouted encouragement, and then I was on my way into loop 2. A lot of people complained about the 3-loop course. It is repetitive and means you have to climb the same hills three times. I loved it. I got to see my “IronCrew” three times, AND once I ran the first loop, I knew what to expect and how to pace myself. When I passed my parents, I gave my dad the empty water bottle that I had sipped on for the first four and half miles. From this point, I planned to use the aid stations for hydration. Having the bottle was REALLY nice for my first loop, though, and I would highly recommend it!
Though the number of runners on the course had dropped, the crowd support was still strong as I ran past the 5 mile mark. One more mile and you can walk. Just one more mile. Stay strong. My knee was really hurting at this point, but I continued to power downhill. I knew miles 5.75-7.75 were uphill and that I was going to lose a lot of time. I hit the aid station right before the uphill, downed a cup of water, put ice in bra, poured water my head, and headed up. Push push push.
My watch beeped to notify me that I had hit 6 miles and I slowed to a walk. I wasn’t hungry, but I knew that I needed to fuel or I would hit a serious wall. I took my time to decide what I wanted. Gu sounded disgusting, so I settled on some Powerbar Performance Energy Blasts. I ate half the pack (100 calories) and continued to walk uphill. To pass the time, I chatted up another racer. We told each other about our races. He was a seasoned triathlete who had competed in multiple endurance events. He said this was his hardest race to date. He told me that during the bike his legs cramped so badly that they locked, causing him to topple over. He said he felt dehydrated and weak. He had run a 50-mile ultra-marathon at a pace faster than he was running this half marathon. And he told me I was crazy for choosing this as my first half Ironman. We started running again at around 6.25 miles, but soon he had to resume walking. I wished him well and continued on my way.
You’re halfway done. You are killing it. The mind gives up before the body does. Stay strong. Another aid station, and I went through my usual routine. I was on cloud nine. The walk break had given me a surge of energy. I saw the finish to my right and heard my friend’s name announced as she crossed the finish line. “YEAH Melissa!” I yelled with a huge smile on my face. Everyone around me probably thought I was crazy!
Right before mile 7, I began the most difficult portion of the course. THAT DARN HILL AGAIN. In case you’ve forgotten about it, it’s a little over 1 mile straight up, no shade. And as I headed up the hill a second time, I envied my naivety during the first loop. Keep running, Dempsey. My inner dialogue continued between gasps for air. Okay, now I am tired. Like really tired. Like I NEVER want to run again. GOOD LORD DID THIS HILL GET LONGER THAN IT WAS 30 MINUTES AGO?!
Halfway up the hill, an aid station, and I couldn’t be happier. Everything hurt. I was parched. I downed some water provided by the amazing volunteers, and I decided I would walk a bit up the hill. I felt weak, but I knew I could finish the race. I just needed to race smart. And racing smart meant walk breaks. So I swallowed my pride and walked briskly towards the turn around. You’re more than halfway done. Oh jeez, is that an ambulance? That, right there, is why you are walking. You do NOT want a DNF (did not finish). Slow and steady. Don’t let your ego get the best of you. When I had about a quarter mile of uphill left, I began running again. Engage your glutes. Short strides. Pump your arms. I hit the turnaround and began cruising down.
If my knee hurt the first time I ran down this hill, it REALLY hurt now. Every step sent sharp, stabbing pain into the outside of my right knee. Mind over matter. Mind over matter. I passed mile 8, and shortly after, another aid station. Despite the pain, I felt I was stronger than most of the runners around me. I saw a man sitting on the side of the road, massaging his cramping calves. I saw a woman stop walking and double over (probably a combination of pain and nausea). And I saw countless others limping both up and down the hill. Call me a masochist, but there was something about all of this suffering that was kind of funny and made me really, really happy. Thousands of us had paid A LOT of money to compete in this race, and we were all enduring this agony together. It really did bring a smile to my face. I know, I’m not normal.
A little after 8.5 miles, I passed the finish line again. A woman I had been running near turned right at the fork toward the finish and I congratulated her. She was elated. I couldn’t wait for that same moment. I’ll be honest, though. Passing the finish line this time was DIFFICULT. I did not have the adrenaline I had on the first loop, and I was in a lot of pain. Once I veered to the left, I decided I needed another walk break. I talked with two other triathletes who were also walking. They both were shocked this was my first half Ironman. They said that this was the most miserable race they had competed in. Are you noticing a trend here??? I only walked with them for a few minutes (until right before mile 9) to give my knees a quick break. They told me we were all on pace to finish the race and wished me good luck as I jogged off.
Around mile 9, I saw my parents and Remi for the last time before the finish. At this point, I was totally confident that I was going to finish, so I stopped and talked with them briefly. I gave my mom my remaining fuel as well as my sunglasses (gotta look good for those finisher pix!). My mom was worried that I wouldn’t make the time cutoff and told me to speed up. But my dad and I laughed. We assured her the only thing that would prevent me from finishing before the cutoff would be collapsing. And then I took off for the last 4 miles of my half Ironman.
The last 4 would go like this: 1 mile down, 2 miles up, 1 mile down.
By this point, there were a lot less people on the course, and the crowd support had begun to dwindle. I forced myself to run the first mile despite excruciating knee pain. Light on your feet. It’s just pain, Dempsey. You are stronger than you think you are. Think about that finish line.
Right around mile 10, I hit the turnaround and the now familiar aid station and began the 2 mile uphill climb. I knew what I was facing and decided to walk. I finished my pack of Powerbar Performance Energy Blasts (similar to my walk/fuel strategy on the second loop). Eating was difficult. I felt like I chewed the damn little gel-chomp-thingys forever. My body felt like it was breaking down. I just wanted to be done with this damn race! I started running again.
Just put one foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. You’re going to finish! You’re going to finish a half Ironman!!! That finish line is YOURS!
Slightly before mile 11, I walked through my second to last aid station. I considered skipping it and just trying to push through to the finish, but I knew that things could go downhill (no pun intended) fast. One moment I could feel fine, and the next moment…well, I didn’t want to think about it. I decided I’d better be safe than sorry. Ice in bra. Water on head. Down a cup of water. And off I go.
I saw the finish line to my right and made that dreaded left turn to head up the worst hill on Earth. 2 miles. You’re 2 miles out. The hill seemed even longer the third time around. I had decided to run the first half mile to the aid station and then walk a bit (like I had on the second loop). But my body said no. It was having none of that. So I set small goals. Run 3 light posts. Walk 1 light post. Run 3 light posts. Walk 1 light post. I kept my steps short and my head down. I can’t believe that so many people PAY to suffer like this. Push, push, push. This is just plain torture.
After what seemed like hours, I made it to the aid station. I was halfway up the hill. Water, ice, more water. I was robotic at this point. The finish was so close I could taste it. Okay, Dempsey, this isn’t fun anymore. I’m still happy as a freakin’ clam, but this really isn’t fun. My knees, my legs, my lungs. What’s that?! My shoe was NOT that color when I started the race. Oh man, that’s blood! My foot must be bleeding. I continued my walk/run strategy. Small goals. One light post at a time. I reached the top of the hill (and mile 12). It’s all downhill from here!
As I cruised down the hill, I don’t think I stopped smiling for a second. This is happening! This is happening! This is ACTUALLY HAPPENING! I reached the aid station that I had passed on the way up. But instead of getting water, I stopped to fix my hair. Now that I knew I would finish, I had to make sure I looked good (well, as good as you can look after 70.3 miles…). My priorities were clearly in line. A volunteer asked if this was my last lap. “Yes,” I said, beaming. “Go get it, girl! Congratulations!”
After I finished beautifying myself, I began the final half mile of my half Ironman. All of the volunteers at the aid station gave me high-fives. My knee throbbed. Blood sloshed around in my shoe. My heart raced. My breathing quickened. A huge smile enveloped my face.
I made the final right turn and began the final stretch. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. The crowds roared. I looked up and saw the finish line. Oh my God.
To my right, I saw my parents, and I must have smiled the biggest smile of my entire life.
I pumped my fists.
I did it!
“And from Chatsworth, California, Dempsey Marks!”
I crossed the finish line. Absolute euphoria.
Final Run Results: 2:18:35 (10:34 min/mi)
FINAL SILVERMAN 70.3 RESULTS: 7:46:03
8th Age Group / 289th Female / 1159 Overall
Here are my Garmin splits for the run…
A volunteer quickly grabbed me and asked if I needed medical attention. “No I just want my medal,” I said. She laughed and pointed me in the direction of the volunteers handing out the medals. A young girl congratulated me and placed the medal around my neck. I turned to my right and saw my dad.
“Dempsey! Dempsey!” he yelled. I waved, a huge grin on my face. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my father so proud. It only made my elation grow (yes, it was possible).
I grabbed a water and a finisher’s shirt. Another volunteer asked if I was okay. I assured her I was and headed out to meet my parents and Remi. I found my Iron-Crew and gave them all huge, sweaty hugs.
“You did it, Dempsey! I am so proud of you,” my mom said as my dad patted me on the back. No words can describe how I felt. It was by far the proudest moment and best day of my life. I don’t think I have ever been happier.
The journey to get Ironman Silverman 70.3 was long and hard, filled with sweat, tears, and crippling self-doubt. I wanted to quit more than once. But I refused to let fear control my life. And the payoff was practically inconceivable and well worth it. I was so incredibly terrified of failure that I never allowed myself to fantasize about the joys of finishing. I learned so much about myself in the months leading up to the race and realized that I am capable of accomplishing anything I set my mind to. Chase your goals. If you are determined, there are no limits.
As the great Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
I want to say a very special thank you to everyone who supported me on this journey—my coaches, my friends, my family. And especially my parents. I could not have done this without you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!