Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ironman Texas Results (5/17/2014)

The alarm went off at 3:30 am, and I was not a very happy camper. I was already drained from driving up to Dallas on Thursday only to come back home on Friday, but I had committed to my best friend, Shauna Hall, that I was going to be there before the swim start to calm her down. Somehow, I had forgotten that I had so many other friends that were going to be there too including fellow team members Karrie Bellard and Jackson Wyers. Fortunately, I was able to see them both throughout the day.

Matthew & Jackson Wyers Before
Swim Start
I got to The Woodlands about 5:00am and set up the Shawn's Anomaly tent in our regular spot on the waterway and run course and rushed over to the swim start where I walked with my friend and 1st timer Pamela Fergusson. She seemed pretty ready for the day. Shauna had not made the pilgrimage, so I decided to hang out by the "Swim Lessuns" guy and get a few laughs. Jackson came by and we snapped a shot before he went off to get ready.

Dylan Signing The H.O.P.E Flag
Finally, Shauna, came up with her family and we started  walking towards the start line. You could tell that she was really nervous, but I just did my best to just keep her smiling and making her laugh. After body marking, we finally found Pam and her son Dylan, who had been Shauna's inspiration from the beginning. She was dedicating the race to him after being born with kidney birth defects that demanded a kidney transplant. At the Houston Marathon, he had placed his name on the H.O.P.E. Flag, and have been supporting Shauna all through her training. They definitely have a very special bond.

We sent Shauna off to get into the water and watched all of the athletes start. It is absolutely amazing to watch the start of an Ironman when 2,500 athletes all start swimming for the same piece of property that can only hold about 300 of them. It is a sight to be seen:

Shauna made it in faster for the 2.4 mile swim than she expected, and we were all excited for her. Once she got past the transition tent, Pam waved her down and pinned the cross Dylan wore through 20 surgeries for protection and strength before she took off on the 112 mile bike ride. 

It is very hard to keep up with the athletes on the bike and nearly impossible to spectate due to traffic and road closures, so you have to depend on modern technology to follow the progression of the athletes like IronTrac and/or if they rent a gps tracker, you can follow them with MyAthleteLive (If you are doing an Ironman, I highly recommend that you rent a tracker. It is totally worth it for the spectators that are there to support you.) I am so glad that Shauna had a gps tracker on because it really helped with what happened next. 

We expected Shauna to have a 6:30:00 or 6:45:00 bike, but after 7 hours passed and still no sight of her, we were all starting to get concerned. All of a sudden the 8 hour mark passed and concern now became fear. Something was obviously wrong, and we did not know what it was. She was either hurt or she had a mechanical error. Finally, we see Shauna show up at the 8:29:52 mark very sick and looking very worn. All of us immediately started to worry about the clock because from where she stood, Shauna was going to have to run a huge PR to even finish on the right side of midnight. She gave her bike to a volunteer and just sat on the ramp crying and defeated. We felt the same way she did, but knew we had to get her moving, so we told her to get up and come to us. She came to us and explained that she was having horrible stomach cramps for the whole bike that caused her to ride horribly slower than her normal pace and the wind just literally took everything out of her. All we wanted to do is get her out on the 26.2 mile run course to at least have a shot. She started running to the changing tent and was out before we could get to the other side. We had missed her for a short time, but noticed her tracker was moving, so we knew that she started on the run.

Finally, Shauna's sister, Krisha, and I ran out to intercept Shauna on the run course to see how she was doing. To our amazement she was looking really strong, but was still complaining about cramping and abdominal pains. By this time, I still have not given her the flag because I did not want to add more stress on her, but she insisted that I did the next time I saw her at the Shawn's Anomaly tent. Krisha and I ran back as fast as possible to the tent to wait for her. Finally she showed up and I passed on the flag, it was a very special and emotional moment for everyone that was there to see it. Shauna and I both cried. 

We all watched her run away, and we started to look at her average miles per minute, and we all came to the conclusion that she was not going to make it in before midnight. We were certain of it, and the only thing that was uncertain was how to tell her that she was not going to finish this race. Several texts back and forth between Barry (her brother-in-law), Krisha, and I trying to determine what to do. Finally, I knew what I had to do. I knew that I was going to have to go out there and run with her just like what we did from the first time we ran Ironman Texas together 2 years ago. I asked Krisha to crunch some numbers to determine what type of pace we needed, and I headed out to intercept her again. Now, keep in mind, I was not wearing the right running gear and I have not ran more than 3 or 4 miles since the Houston Marathon in January, but at least I had running shoes, so I was going to try. 

I finally intercepted her and told her that we needed to maintain at least a 14 minute pace to finish the race. She argued with me for a little while and told me that she had plenty of time. This is nothing abnormal for her considering we argue about pace all the time during training, so I just stated the fact again, "We have to maintain at least a 14 minute pace to finish the race." She stopped arguing and said "Okay". At that time, I was not even sure how much she even had in the tank to finish, because frankly, she was looking pretty pitiful. I decided to test her out and started running a 10:30 pace just to see if she could keep up. She did and we kept that pace for about 2 and a half miles before I let her finish the loop on her own. 

By this time, my battery was going down on my phone, and I did not want to be without it. It was the only real communication we had since the course is so big. I texted Krisha to find out if she had any juice left in her portable charger, but it was out, so I ran to the car and got out my car booster and used it to charge up my phone as I ran to intercept her again when she arrived to Krisha and Barry's location. By the time I got there, Shauna was making the small out and back on the dirt path, and Barry was walking with her and encouraging her. As I walked up, Krisha gave me this look as is she was wondering what the heck I was doing with a car booster. I don't blame her, but to add to it, I gave it to her and asked her to bring it back with her because I was going to run the last loop with Shauna. Krisha never questioned me.

It was after 9pm and darkness had set in by now. The back part of the IMTX course is very dark and lonely. You nearly cannot see down some of those trails because it is pitch black. I knew she did not need to be alone during this time. I was so impressed with Shauna. She was still running when I felt I would not be if I were in her situation. We talked about everything on those dark roads. It was just like the first Ironman we did together in 2012. 

Finally, we made it back to the waterway and she was just two miles away from the finish. We had given her an hour to do 2 miles, and we both knew she was going to make it. She started to get so excited and starting yelling, "I AM GOING TO FINISH! THE H.O.P.E. FLAG IS GOING TO WAVE HIGH!"

I wanted her to suck it all in, so I told her that I was going to the finish to get a good spot so she could soak up the cheering of the supporting crowd. Approximately 30 minutes later, Shauna comes around the finisher shoot waving the H.O.P.E. Flag for all to see. Thousands of people were there, and I am pretty sure there was not a dry eye. SHAUNA DID IT!

There is still so much of this story that could be told, but leaving you with this moment is all that matters. Since that moment, the internet has been blowing up about what she did and how determined she was to finish. Not only did she finish, but she had a personal record 6:15:19 on her run. Something that should not have happened, but did because she had the H.O.P.E. Flag pushing her. 

Picture taken from Ironman.com

When it really boils down to it, her race was very similar to the journey that we as parents of birth defect children have gone through. There is a lot of pain, a lot of sickness, and a lot of uncertainty, but just like Shauna did, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and pressing forward and never giving up. When I got home, I was very sore, exhausted, had chafe in places that I don't even want to mention, and been up for nearly 24 hours. I felt great!

Congratulations Shauna on becoming the 2nd Ironman to carry the H.O.P.E. flag for the marathon portion of an Ironman. The torch, or in this case the flag, was passed along to another great athlete and leader that night, and I could not be more excited about the future of Shawn's Anomaly and the H.O.P.E. Flag. I look forward to seeing who will step up to carry it next. Anyone? It will change your life forever along with changing the lives of all of those that witness your journey while inspiring parents affected by birth defects to keep take it one step at a time. You will never regret it, GUARANTEED.