O Canada! Part X

"Hi, horses!"

This is the third (and last) time I've seen these horses today. I wonder if they're as sick of me as I am of them? Oh, I'm not really sick of them I guess, but I sure am happy to know this is our final encounter.

"Headed for home, headed for home, headed for home." That's my feet talking, their steady, reassuring cadence propelling my tired body and mind forward toward that blessed stretch of road known as Main Street in downtown Penticton.

Through the cloud cover now showing breaks here and there, the sun hangs low above the western mountains on my left. It's nearly 5:30 pm, and I wonder how much daylight I have left. It's hard to tell, the clouds will steal the light away from us earlier than usual; I wonder if I'll make it back to town before dark? "What's it like out there when it gets dark?" I had asked Jason (with more than a hint of nervousness in my voice) when we rode the run course on Thursday. "It must get pitch black, there aren't any street lights and no houses for long stretches going by the lake."

"You got it," Jason grinned cheerfully in reply. "It's pretty creepy."

"Oh. I see."

Well, Skippy wanted me to get her a glowstick anyway.

I trot on. The number and caliber of racers I can now see behind me (i.e., heading for the turnaround) surprises me. Some of these folks look like the type that would have been done an hour ago; what are they doing behind *me*? Sobering proof of the challenge presented by the Ironman distance; all bets are off when you're going this long.

Aid stations, portapotties, chicken soup, fruit, cookies, Allsport, water, fatigue, smiles, laughs, jokes with spectators and volunteers---it's all becoming a long blur. I'm quieter now, doing far less cheering for athletes I see coming the other way. Haven't got the energy to spare, need to conserve what I've got. I keep looking for Jason though, still wondering if he could possibly be behind me---and now, so far from the turnaround myself, so far behind me.

I reach the base of the killer twisting hill that begins at about 15.5 miles (it's the downhill we hit around 10 miles). Don't think about what you're doing, just put your head down and keep your feet moving; you'll be fine, it's just like running the hills at the Dish. Swing your arms, breathe, look at the lake and the shards of sunlight skipping off of it---keep moving, TriBaby, keep moving. Enjoy the reduced pounding of running uphill. Think of the positive here.

I crest that thing and allow myself a moment of internal celebration. YES! That is the toughest climb on this run course, so now you're home free! Sort of. Never mind that you have more than 10 miles to go; just savor the moment.

Now that I can run fairly upright once more, I peer down the road ahead and spy a tall figure approaching. The runner draws nearer, but he's not running, he's walking. He's wearing arm warmers and sports orangey blonde hair. Can it be, is it...? "Jason!!"

Jason's face splits into a grin when he recognizes me. "Run, Lokelani, Run like the wind!" he crows to me. "You wanna be an Ironman, Jason Mayfield?" I reply gleefully. "When you've finished your bike ride...." and together we chime, "Go run a marathon!"

"Jason, what are you doing back here? I can't be ahead of you! What happened?"

"Oh, nothing, I just wasn't ready. You look great though! Go get 'em, TriBaby!"

"I don't know, I bet you'll end up catching me before this thing is over. Come on, Jason, run me down!"

"I don't think so!" he laughs.

"Well, I'll see you at the finish, hang in there."

Wow, a tough day for Jason. I can't believe I'm ahead of him--- over 5 miles ahead of him at that. He appears to be in good spirits, though, so I have no doubt he'll finish. Gotta be tough to be so far back right now. I utter a silent prayer of thanks to the TriGods; if I were still headed the other way at this moment, I don't know if I'd have the strength to keep moving. I think luck has a lot to do with it, but in any case Jason's doing a fantastic job.

Not too far behind Jason I encounter Eric "Iron TriGuy" Bruce and cheerfully inform him of Jason's presence up ahead. "Go get him!" I command. Eric grins and obligingly picks up his pace a hair. Wow, what am I doing ahead of both these guys?

16 miles. I pass the 16 mile marker. From now on, I muse, I'm in uncharted territory. I've never run farther than this before. Hope the legs hold up. So far they're doing ok. They're tired, of course, and a bit tight, but no blisters on the feet, no creaks or aches in the joints, and no outright rebellion from any muscles. I count my blessings.

I'm mentally turning more deeply inward. Concentration is getting a little tough. The chief component of my thoughts involves the "jodies" I've used to keep my cadence going in training. The sing-song military chants keep me moving and lull my tired brain in a numbing fog.

"Ain't no sense in lookin' down
(Ain't no sense in lookin' down)
Ain't no discharge on the ground
(Ain't no discharge on the ground)

Ain't no sense in lookin' back
(Ain't no sense in lookin' back)
Government's got your Cadillac
(Government's got your Cadillac)

Am I right or wrong?
(You're right!)
Am I goin' strong?
(You're right!)

Sound off: One, Two
Sound off: Three Four
Bring it on down,
One, Two, Three, Four,
One, Two---
Three Four!"

Footsteps and breathing keep time with the chants and carry me along. I run with a Canadian gal for a little while who really keeps me moving. We chat and laugh for a mile or so, but she inevitably forges ahead and I'm left alone with my jodies to sustain me. I pass any number of athletes reduced to walking. I continue running from aid station to aid station. Picking up a run becomes increasingly difficult after finishing whatever aid I take on at each station, but I press on. My walks get longer after the stations, but I don't allow them to exceed a couple of hundred meters. Gotta keep moving.

Despite the strict rule against pacers or personal support crew on the marathon course, many mountain bikes roll alongside runners beside the lake here. I wish I had my crew out here right now. The distraction and support would be most welcome at this point! The day is seeming unbelievably long.

17, 18, 19, 20 miles, all a blur. Even at this point there are still runners on their way out. Talk about GUTS! As for myself, Ah, just 10 kilometers left! This is where they always say the marathon really begins. Oh yeah? Well, this part looks and feels no different from the last 7 or 8 miles, it's just more of the same. It's nothing but a survival thing, kids, just keep moving. Just a 10k! Come on, come on, you're nearly back to town, keep it moving.

Returning through Skaha Estates I begin trudging up a gradual rise around the 22 mile mark. Gazing toward the top of the hill, I spy the silhouette of a man who appears to be waiting for me, looking down the hill in my direction. Mmmm, wonder who that could be? I crawl up the rise, and, drawing nearer, I realize it's none other than Augie.

"Augie!! What's up? What are you doing here? This is the Slug Section, you should have been done an hour ago!"

"Oh, just not a good day for me, I guess. Come on, let's go." I obediently fall in step beside my fellow RSTer, my mind awhirl with amazement and surprise that I could have caught up to such an experienced Ironvet out here. Clearly, it's been a tough day for many today.

With Augie beside me I pick up my pace a shade and it's relatively painless. In the darkening skies overhead, a flock of Canada Geese wings its way northward ahead of us, back to Lake Okanagn. Was this the same flock that caught my eye just before the race began an eternity ago at 7am? There is something right and comforting about seeing those geese, as though they are here to symbolize the close of the day in a perfect circle of events. They're ending the day for me just as they began it.

The spirit of the moment is unique and beautiful. Here I am in the last miles of my first marathon in my first Ironman, trotting along beside a new friend who seeks not a fast finish for himself, but rather the sharing of the experience. I know perfectly well that Augie could drop me like a bad habit, yet he sticks beside me, content to trundle along at my plodding pace. It's not about the final time--it's all about the moment.

Augie and I exchange war stories as we trot along. I bemoan the sorry state of affairs involving my activities for the past 4.5 hours: "All I do is eat, drink, pee! Eat, drink, pee!" To prove the point, at the very next aid station I make straight for the portapotty. Augie, the lucky guy, finds a convenient bush elsewhere along the way. Damn, why do guys get it so easy?

We reach the 24 mile aid station back on Main Street. We're so close now I can TASTE the finish. However, there's still a little business that must be attended to first. I eye the portajohn with unequivocal lust in my heart. Upon reaching the little blue box and grabbing the door, I tell my friend "Don't wait for me, Augie, go on." Without a moment's hesitation Augie offers a succinct (and gallant) one-word response: "Bullshit!"

I cannot describe how that silly expletive touched my heart. I know, it sounds funny, but nothing Augie might have said instead would have sounded sweeter at that moment. This guy is a real runner with several Ironman's under his belt; he could blow my doors off six ways from Sunday with nary an effort, but here he is, both contented and determined to stick with me through my pokey paces and finish this race up with me. If I had the energy to spare I probably would have shed a tear at this honorable demonstration of friendship. Instead, I simply step gratefully into the portapotty and try to take care of business as quickly as possible.

I emerge from the blue box with renewed vigor and energy. "Come on, Augie, let's finish this muthuh up!!" I shout.

2 miles to go. Less than 5k. We're back in town, back on Main Street. It's twilight, and there are more and more people cheering us on here. I will my tired legs onward. The beginnings of a nasty blister are, at last, forming on the sole of my left foot, but I ignore it. What's a little blister after all of this? Just another 20 minutes or so and you're DONE! Keep going, keep going.

Augie talks to me, but I am beyond hearing. That finish line is so close, and I am so intent upon getting there, that I can focus on nothing else. I run faster than I have run all day, my head tilted slightly back, eyes fixed on the traffic lights two intersections away. I can see nothing else, though I hear the cheers of the growing crowds on Main Street. Beyond the the traffic lights, now my eyes are glued on a streak of twilight breaking through the cloud cover directly ahead. It's a surreal moment; I am there, but at the same time I am far, far away. I'm in a zone beyond any I've even known in my life.

The decorative lighting suspended above the intersection of Main and Lakeshore marks the final left hand turn to the finish. We wheel around the corner and the cheers of the crowd are deafening. I retain just enough presence of mind to fumble with and untie the shirt from my waist---I never wore it, but now I want to be sure it doesn't obscure my bib number at the finish. I bunch it up and squeeze it in my right hand as we make our way toward the line.

With every ounce of energy left in my body I put in a sprint. I can see the clock and realize it's just over 13 hours and it is just a number, a number with no meaning. All I really see is that finish line with the banner amid all the lights. With 15 meters to go, I reach out and grab Augie's right hand in my left. Hands clasped and held high, the moment has come----- we cross the line and I am an Iron(wo)man.

To the epilogue....