Three years ago Charlie and I were watching some sports program and chanced onto a program on the Ironman Race in Hawaii. “Could I do that?” I wondered at the time.
Molly and I are sitting at a very pleasant Bed and Breakfast, enjoying the Montana mountain wild flowers out our window. It has been a wonderful trip and fulfilling Ironman experience. As most of you know Charlie, Maria and I all finished. We all met some goals we had, the most important was finishing.
When we arrived at Coeur d’Alene it rained for the first day and 1/2 and was cold. Thursday, the three of us went for a swim the glacial lake, glacial in size and temperature. It was around 60 degrees with 6- 8″ waves and raining from a cold grey sky. I had a hard swim and started fearing my ability to swim the 2.6 miles in such water. We swam on Friday and Saturday, also. Each day I felt better about swimming and the weather was clearing.
I was afraid of rain on Sunday, and hypothermia on the bike, so I stopped and bought clothes for such a day. We had all trained for so long for this event. I was told the race would go on even in the cold rain. I became a little harder and more accustomed to the cold water and cold air. I started feeling a bit more confident about the swim.
The briefing the night before was amazing, there were 2700 other people doing this event. At the briefing they went over the rules and the cut off times. We had a little over two hours to swim the 2.6 miles, one minute over that and you could not continue with the event. I again started to feel nervous and anxious. Wasn’t much time to fret though, it is amazing all the things that have to be in place and organized to be ready for this race.
Molly was a wonderful Grandma Support person for the three of us, watching Cecelia and Wesley, and allowing us to get prepped and continue our workouts the three days before the race.
The morning of the race we were up at 3am, to get ready. The weather turned out to be a wonderful day, no sign of significant rain. As I stood on the shore of that huge lake waiting for the swim, it was with a bit of apprehension and determination. As I looked around I saw many others looking straight ahead with a similar look. It is hard to put into words the sense of comradeship one feels with so many strangers, by this time Charlie and Maria are somewhere in the crowd and it was “me, myself, and I” that was going to run into that glacial lake with thousands of other athletes for the longest swim of my life.
It was a steady swim and as straight as I have ever swam, at the mid-way point I knew I could make it as long as I did not get kicked in the face, pass out and float to the bottom of the two mile deep lake (actually, with my wet suit it would be hard to sink). I pulled some muscle in my left arm at 1.5 miles but knew I could still make it, my calves periodically would tighten and cramp, but if I just let them trail they loosened up. As I swam to the beach finish line, I was exuberant, as I hit the cold air I started to shake.
Next at the transition tent putting on my biking shoes, I realized I did not pack socks, I’d have to ride the 116 miles without socks, something I had never done. I thought to myself, “Time to become an Ironman”.
On the bike I was shaking so hard the front wheel started shimmying, so bad down the first big hill I thought there was something wrong with the wheel. I pulled over, fearing the wheel had come loose or something. I found nothing wrong with the tire and started to hold the aero bars as I normally did. Soon the sun started to shine on me, I stopped shaking and so did the bike. The bike ride had one long hill, almost two miles. Going up was hard but down was fast, and the road curvy — living on the edge on that one!
At 100 miles I let out a yell, I had never ridden a century ride before! It was a fun and a triumphant feeling, as I rode into town to the transition. Volunteers took my bike and hurried me on to the transition run tent.
Running was slow and clumsy after that bike ride, after two-three miles my legs seemed to open up and I started to hit the stride I hoped. When I hit my first big hill I saw many others walking, I had never really walked in a marathon, but decided quickly this was a different sort of race. About this time I finally saw Charlie first then Maria on their way to the finish line. I was so happy, they too were on their way to finishing.
At the food stations I ate about everything they offered me, including lots of salty potato chips. Passing one of the many hundreds of well-wishers, I said to a woman about my mom’s age, “My Mom would disapprove of me eating potato chips for supper.” She said, “You’re doing an Ironman, you can eat anything you want.”
I walked several high hills, mile 13-20 often eats me up, but when I hit mile 13 I knew I could make it. At mile 19 a young boy handing out water said to me, “You’re going to be an Ironman.” I picked up the pace after that. The last six miles I ran strong, and the finish line was great, so many people urging you on and cheering, neatest finish I have ever done.
At 14 hours and 32 minutes I crossed the finish line, the man on the microphone announced, ”Steve Vacha you are an Ironman!”
Next thing I remember was two days later and Molly and I were sitting in a hot springs in the hills of Montana. No really, I enjoyed the next several days after the race, celebrating and sharing stories with Charles and Maria and walking very slow. I also have a faint memory of a tattoo parlor…
Thank you all for your good wishes and prayers.