Around 6:30 pm
I was all alone in the tent, feeling abandoned. How could the shuttle just leave without me? How could the medics and volunteers not tell me that my day was done and force me to get on the bus, or better yet, in the back of one of the ambulances that kept screaming up and down Red Hills Parkway. My body had shut down, overwhelmed by the heat, and now I just needed to leave the course and put an end to the Ironman experiment.
I slowly sat up and started to drink some more water and Perform. It was still not sitting well with me and I immediately started coughing. I knew that the vomit was on its way up so I staggered out of the door and headed behind the tent where my stomach convulsed and the fluids came right back out puddling in the red sand where I was now collapsed.
I was now sitting under the hot sun with my face in my hands and not caring that long strands up spit were hanging from my chin. The convulsions of my stomach were brutal and shook my whole body. My medic came over and asked if I was all right. Still slightly comatose I said something like “maybe, I don’t know, I just need to rest.”
He noticed that I had started to sweat, “which is a good thing,” and then brought me back into the tent. As I lay back down on the bed I asked a volunteer if I could borrow her cell phone. Emily had been expecting me to return to the family cheer point on the course roughly two hours after I had last seen her. I was now an hour late. At 6:34 I called her and she didn’t answer, but almost immediately the volunteer’s phone started ringing.
“Hey hon, I’m in bad shape…I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” I mumbled through a shaky voice trying to stop my emotions from coming to the surface.
She asked where I was and I told her I was in the medical tent. She then wanted to know where at on the course. After I told her I was at mile marker 16 she almost screamed at me, “You only have 10 miles left. You can’t quit. You have gone 130.6 miles, you can’t stop now. You have plenty of time.”
“Wow,” I thought. I was looking for sympathy and instead I got a lashing. ” I know…I think…um…I think I may just rest for awhile and see what happens. I’ll…uh…I’ll call you when I figure out what my body can do.”
I ended the call and laid back down. I knew that she has suffered through this whole Ironman thing right along with me. She has been such a great support and allowed me my time to do my training and has always been forgiving when my grumpy tired attitude was unbearable. “How am I going to get through this?”
2:27 pm – The Run
It was awesome leaving the second transition area. There were tons of spectators lining the sponsor covered barricades. After a couple of hundred yards I turned up the false flat section of the course. The marathon course is a double out and back. So for about 2 miles you are running slightly uphill while in the downtown St. George area and then you turn right up Red Hills Parkway. This turn is the start of a brutal 1 mile climb between the red rock walls. The course then goes up and down, through a sandstone rock park and then down towards the other side of downtown St. George. It is there, around mile 6.5 that you turn around and head back the other way. There is another slight detour on the way back with a brutal hill where the Ford Ironman message board resides at the top. You then head the final 2 miles down the false flat to the half way point, and you get to do the same thing for a second time.
Before I hit the one mile marker in the run I saw Heather Wurtele (the eventual female winner) heading the other way towards the half-marathon point and knew that she would soon be lapping me. Ironman is a great event because all of us want-to-be athletes race on the same course side by side with the professionals. I was glad that none of them passed me on the bike and also glad that I would at least be able to see them on the run. As I was starting to head up towards Red Hill Parkway for the first time Heather passed me. It is amazing that these pros can run so fast, and run so fast after the swim and bike portions. I felt like such a slug and I was moving quite well. I cheered her on as she passed me and then quickly saw her fade away into the distance as she flew up the hill and I faded to my first walking session.
The hill is quite steep and I felt pretty good but my heart rate started spiking too high, so I decided to walk up the hill and get my pulse under control. At the top I started a slow jog and just told myself to keep pushing along. By now my pace was around 12 minute miles which I was fine with because it had really started to get hot and I wanted to be safe. I continually drank what I could at the aid stations and tried to pound the Shot Blocks and gels. As I reached the top of the hill, the male pros were heading down towards their finish. I kept moving as well as I could which meant a decent jog during the flats and downhill, and walk up the up hills.
Between the red rock canyon walls it felt like an oven. The walls seemed to grab all the sun’s heat and radiate it to the road where we were treading. I heard someone say it was 95 degrees up in this area and coming from Salt Lake’s winter, where I don’t think it has broke 50 degrees for 6 months, my body could feel the energy draining. Despite the heat, and losing energy, I was confident that I could keep moving. As I headed to the 6.5 mile point, the first turn-around, I could see Emily ahead. I came up to her and told her that I was tired, it was hard but I was going to finish. I still had pretty good energy and when she tried to confirm “I’ll see you back here in two hours?” I confidently replied “Probably, maybe two and a half.”
I headed back up the hill towards the top of Red Hill Parkway again and just kept moving. I wasn’t fast but I didn’t need to be. I was playing it safe and when my heart rate would creep to 135 beats per minute, I would walk until it backed off to around 120. The aid stations, and more specifically, the volunteers, were incredible. They say there were 5,000 of them which means that there were at least 3 volunteers per athlete…amazing, the people of St. George and the organizers deserve huge credit for what they do and their crazy positive attitude while doing it.
At Mile 11 I was heading back down the false flat and trying to drink what I could and my gut started really hurting. This causes huge problems because once you can’t drink anymore, your suffering starts to increase exponentially. I turned up the ridiculous detour and knew that the video board was ahead. Emily didn’t tell me the message she left so I was excited to see it. As I crossed a timing mat my message popped up. “1015 – C K Romeril, u r Mr Ironman. I Love You, Em.” So cool, and I headed down the hill with quicker feet towards the halfway point in the marathon.
As I headed towards the halfway point they have the runners run around a round-about intersection. Halfway through, those who are heading to the finish veer off towards the final chute. I wanted that moment right then but knew my journey would soon be over. I kept moving through the round about and headed to the halfway marker. “Half way done!!!”
“Just keep on marching on,” I kept telling myself, which I did quite well through 14 miles. Then I saw some extremely inviting areas of grass with big shade trees in the middle. They almost became more desirable than the finish line, but I kept moving. Then as I headed towards another aid station the porta-john looked inviting. I decided I would stop and try to go. By the time I stepped inside I knew that I didn’t need to go, so I threw the seat down and plopped on top. I leaned my head back for a short rest. After about 30 seconds I recognized the ridiculousness of the situation and headed back out. I grabbed some water, tried to drink it, couldn’t, so I threw it to the ground. I grabbed some cold wet sponges and replaced the dry ones that had been placed into the arm sleeves of my jersey to prevent anymore chafing from my wetsuit 10 hours earlier.
I was no longer jogging, my gut was hurting and I was on the verge of throwing up anything I tried to eat or drink. I grabbed cups full of ice and would let the ice chips slowly melt in my mouth. It was great and refreshing. I was sill hoping for a nice grass area but I didn’t want to go lay down for fear that some race official would just pull me off the course. I figured that if I could just make it to Red Hill Parkway, there would no longer be any grass to lay down on and I would have that temptation removed. It made perfect sense, so I found the nearest porta-john and went inside to contemplate this plan. “What if I passed out and died in here? No one would probably know until tomorrow when they start removing these off the streets, and even then they will probably be in a hurry and not check. It could be a long time before they find me,” I thought.
I headed back out onto the road. To this point I hadn’t seen anyone on the run give up, collapse or stumble too bad, but as I walked passed the last aid station before the turn up the big hill, I heard someone talking about some pros who were dropping out due to the heat. I found out later that one pro collapsed around mile 22. Ahe was in 2nd place, passed out and woke up six hours later in the hospital. Pros were walking and the age groupers were having a difficult time all over the course, but I hadn’t seen it.
Then I turned up Red Hills Parkway and everything came apart. I went from a decent walking speed to barely a shuffle. People who were walking were flying past me. One guy was in an ebay bike jersey. “I have that jersey,” I thought. “Ben gave it to me, I probably need to wash it in some hot water when I get home because most of my indoor training has been in that thing.” I don’t know why these thoughts were going through my head but they were.
“Tall German” then came walking past me. He looked over and in a strong German accent said “This is hard.”
“Yep,” I responded as I began to realize that things were going from difficult to critical. I started coughing and knew that vomit would immediately follow, but I held on. I looked onward and saw a guy in a black jersey with yellow stripes (he would soon be known as Rock-sitter) was off to the side of the road puking his guts out. Then “Tall German” who was now about 20 feet ahead of me had stopped and put his hands on his knees. “That looks good,” I thought. I bent over and everything started spinning. “That’s not good.” I again acknowledged to myself that things were deteriorating fast. Then the vomit began. Across the road something was going on but I was too busy to try and figure it out. Another athlete had probably hit the dirt.
The heat was now unbearable and it felt like I was being cooked. It was getting very difficult to stay focused. “Tall German” kept taking a few steps and then would put his hands to his knees. This continued until I passed him. I told myself that I just needed to get to the top of the hill. About two minutes later I turned around and could no longer see “Tall German.” He had disappeared. I don’t know what happened to him, he may have spontaneously combusted but I assume he turned around and headed back down the hill, ending his quest for IMSG. As I neared the crest of the hill I could see the next water stop with the “oh so lovely porta-johns.” I looked to the right and “Rock-sitter” was in the middle of a clearing on the red desert floor. There was nothing but a red rock in that clearing, about a foot high and a foot wide, and he was sitting on top with his head between his legs as projectile vomit hit the desert floor.
I continued walking towards the water stop and noticed that I could no longer feel my fingers. Within another ten steps my hands were going numb. “I am in serious trouble now,” I thought, knowing that my health was becoming a huge issue. I stumbled to the first porta-john and crumbled onto the seat. (See IMSG – Part 1)
Around 7:00 pm
I think I had fallen asleep, it was hard to tell, but at least things weren’t spinning anymore when I closed my eyes. The medic stopped in again for probably the 20th time. “Are you doing OK?”
“I think I’m doing better but I still get dizzy when I sit up,” I responded.
I could hear athletes coming and going outside the tent. Some would stop and sit under the canopy in the chairs. A few would give up right there and jump on the shuttle bus which kept coming by every 20 minutes or so, which meant I had a way out 3 times an hour. Whenever they came and asked me if I wanted on I would just respond “I don’t know.” and the shuttle would leave without me. Another patient came into the tent at one point but I was turned the other way. He was gone in an ambulance within five minutes. I would sit up every 5-10 minutes or so and when I got dizzy I would just lie back down. The pillow I was using was never wet, which meant I still wasn’t sweating. Cups of liquid continued to pile up along with bags of water which used to be ice packs. A plate of sliced up oranges laid by my side the entire time as my stomach was too nauseous to make an attempt to eat them.
Around 7:30 “IV guy” came in. He walked straight into the tent saying he needed a medic because he wanted an IV. “If I can just get an IV I’ll be OK and I can keep going.”
I told him that I thought that if he got an IV he would be pulled off the course. He told a volunteer he wanted a paramedic so they got on the radio and called for the ambulance. Within 5 minutes the paramedics were there checking him over and asking me questions as well. They confirmed that if administered an IV, he would be pulled from the course. He declined the help and asked the volunteers for chicken broth. The paramedics left after I told them I didn’t need their assistance either. I had tried the chicken broth but it was cold so I passed on it for the rest of the night.
At this point a new volunteer shift had arrived. The prior shift was great but their energy was running low, so it was great to be infused with this new group. One guy was particularly helpful. He made sure I was comfortable and would hunt just about anything down that he could…thanks for the chocolate milk. “Princess head” was also very accommodating. She was wearing a princess crown on top of her head and peaked inside the tent every 2 minutes to bring us stuff.
“IV guy” was laying down on his bed as we talked about the day. He was surprised to find out that I had been in there for over 1.5 hours. I told him the medic said I could stay there as long as I wanted and I knew I needed to get better before I tried to finish this thing. At this point my mood turned because I realized that I was eventually going to get out of that tent and give it a try. I knew that around 8:00 the bluffs would provide some shade, and if I wasn’t dizzy, I could trudge along at a slow pace and hopefully get to the finish by midnight.
“Chocolate milk guy” came back in the tent at 7:45 and told me to rest for 15 more minutes. He would be back at 8:00 and send me on my way back on the road. I laid back down and noticed that the pillow had started to get wet. I was finally starting to sweat again. I don’t know whose pillow it was but by the time I left it was full of sweat. At 8:00 I sat up and most of the dizziness was gone. I told “IV guy” I was on my way out. We wished each other luck and then “Chocolate milk” helped me out of the tent. He had found a small bottle of Gatorade and gave it to me. It was nice to drink something different for the first time in 10 hours.
I hit the road as the sun was slowly setting overhead. I noticed a couple walking just ahead of me. I sped up for a second and asked them that if they were walking, could I join them. They agreed and I am very gracious to them for it. They were from Alabama. He is a triathlon coach and had a great swim time. But when he got on his bike the seat post clamp had broken so he rode the entire bike course with his seat 7 inches too low. It killed him and his quads were destroyed. He met up with his wife at transition 2 and they decided to do the marathon together…and 5 miles of it with me. I am truly grateful to them. They were so positive and we just kept talking about triathlons, family, work and just about everything.
As we neared the final turn around point (mile 20) Emily was on the side of the road waiting for me. “Chocolate milk” had called her and told her I was on my way. Emily had my phone and access to Facebook. She showed me all the well wishes from family and friends throughout the day. It truly lifted my spirits and I was so glad I didn’t give up…or Bret would be calling me Alice for the rest of my life. Emily walked with me for about a half mile and then had to go get the kids to head to the finish line. As we made the turn around and started heading up hill I was given a grape popsicle. It was heaven. We reached another aid station and Alabama slowed down. I kept moving and lost them as the darkness had taken over the night. Thanks again Alabama.
The sun was now set and in between the aid stations, it was pitch black. Walkers still going the other way were wearing glow necklaces. I saw “IV guy” back on the road. We both acknowledged that we were still doing better and wished each other luck. As I headed towards the aid station where I had spent more than two hours in the tent, I noticed “Chocolate milk” waiting along side the road for me. He made sure I was still doing well and handed me another Gatorade bottle and a drink of lemonade. I saw “princess head” again as well. I am not sure these people know how much of a help they are to us. Finishing an Ironman has been a long time dream of mine and with their help I was going to accomplish it. Further down the road I ran into another amazing volunteer. She had just finished talking with another walker and headed towards me. With the most positive and optimistic attitude, so sweet it would hurt your teeth, she told me I was doing great and was going to complete this thing. For two minutes she walked with me heaping praise. Incredible.
I now found myself heading down Red Hill Parkway and my legs decided to start jogging. It hurt but with three miles left my body was trying to finish this thing. I didn’t jog for very long but every couple minutes or so I would jog for a couple of hundred yards. I could vaguely hear the finish line with finishers names being yelled over the loud speakers…but it was getting closer. The hilly detour hurt but I kept moving. At this point when I headed through an aid station I couldn’t eat or drink anything more, so while the volunteers applauded me, I applauded them for being such a great help.
The finish area was closing in, the sound was getting louder and the lights brighter. I had to catch myself a few times from getting too excited or overwhelmed with emotion. I can’t remember seeing mile markers 24-26. After staring at mile marker 16, which I could see while looking out the medical tent door, for two hours, mile markers didn’t mean anything anymore…it was all about the finish line. I hit the round about and veered toward the finish line…what a glorious sight.
The finish line chute was lined with bleachers of people. Everyone was screaming, it was almost deafening. I heard someone off to my right yell “Way to go Kris!” I have no idea who it was, but I think it must have been “Chocolate milk.” He was one of the few people out there that knew I go by my middle name. Emily and the kids were in the bleachers cheering for me. I couldn’t hear them or spot them in the mass of people. The crowds were leaning over the barriers trying to give me high fives. I couldn’t oblige because my hands were busy wiping away my tears of agony, pain and joy for completing a life-long dream. I was about to complete something that relatively few people ever accomplish, and on a course that is quickly becoming renowned as the most difficult course in the Ironman circuit…and in brutal weather that had even brought some professional athletes to their knees. (Run pictures)
At 10:40 PM I was officially an Ironman. At the finish I was probably running faster than I had all day. I collapsed into the “finish line catcher’s” arms as they immediately attended to my needs. They wrapped me in a blanket, gave me water and escorted me to a place where I could sit down. Wow…I am an Ironman. Now one week later as I finish writing this…I can’t wait to do it again.
I want to thank all those who had me in their thoughts that day. I know that it was stressful as you were following me on the Ironman site and on my facebook account. I have heard that some people were lying in bed with their phone just watching and waiting for an update. It was quite a day and an adventure over the past six months. My family has been brilliant, especially Emily. She deserves so much for supporting me through this…of course what better gift could I have given her than the ability to scream out “I AM MARRIED TO AN IRONMAN!” I adore her.
I love you all and I encourage you to find an incredible adventure.