So, I thought about a lot of stuff during those nasty sixteen and a half hours. It went something like this:
1st leg of swim: Cold! Wet! Are my wetsuit armpits leaking? Jebus, it’s crowded out here. I’m gonna freeze up if we don’t go OH MY GOD THE CANNON WE’RE OFF. I hope I won’t have to thaw out in the changing tent before I get on the…hey, is that the first turn buoy? Already? Sweet!
2nd leg: I need to pee. Christ Almighty, I can feel my bladder expanding to dangerous proportions, but I can’t make myself urinate while I swim. Do I stop? God, I can’t stop, I’m doing so well. But, argh! To hell with it! I’m stopping to pee, and…oh, wow. That is the best. Let’s bring this home!
Swim Exit: Dude, did I just do that in 1:22? RAWK. Doh, must keep upright while I run up the carpet. Good on ya, mate, that’s all I hear. Confirm that I tore both armpits in my wetsuit.
T1: Nah, I’m not going to need my knee warmers. The sun will come out soon. This is just a little overcast.
1st 20km: I feel so saucy right now. I am going to rock this ride.
2nd 20km: Hey, is that rain?
Remainder of 1st leg to Reporoa (the turnaround): Cold. Wet. Cold. Wet. Working on two serious soakers. NZ roads are made of pebbles embedded in tar, which means entire ride is like holding onto a broken Magic Fingers bed at a cheap motel. Headwinds out mean tailwinds home, right? Whose stupid idea was this, anyway? Hey, there’s Scott, there’s Anna Wills, there’s a bunch of other LA Tri people. All heading back to Taupo. Crap.
Reparoa: Oh, thank you God.
1st leg home: Sing Muse’s Knights of Cydonia entire way as tailwinds almost make up for the fact that it’s still raining. Get lapped by Kieran Doe, the bike leader. Cool.
1st pass through town: This entire crowd yells its guts out for me. That is so cool, I’m gonna get out of the saddle and drive. Hey, the announcer sees that and is saying as much! “It’s Adam Rakunas, from California, out of the saddle and working hard.” You got that right, baby. And there are my friends who came to watch me! Yay! Collect armband and head out for second lap.
95 k out: Man, my front tire feels squishy. That can’t be good. Oh, hell, I’ve flatted! Must stay calm, must relax, I can fix a flat…dude, I just flatted in front of the bike techs! They swap my tube out, pump it up with a floor pump, and I’m en route. Yay!
2nd leg out: Oh. Right. Rain and headwinds. Great. And now I get to go up this giant hill behind the racetrack. This is pretty cool country, even though it’s wet and windy.
130 km in: Where in God’s name is Reporoa? And when will my keister stop hurting?
Reporoa: Oh, thank Buddha. Collect armband 2, the one that says I get to go straight back to town without climbing that big hill behind the racetrack again.
The rest of the way back to town: Get out of saddle, try to flex out legs and back. Can’t stay aero for long, even with these tailwinds. Have played do-si-do with same people several times, and all of the aid stations on the other side have packed up. Still a few straggler volunteers and cheerers. God, I want this to end. When this is over, I will dedicate myself to everything I’ve neglected since I started training: the garden, my writing, working for The Children. So tired. Still wet and cold, and now angry. I am angry that I might not make it back in time because the weather is giving me an excuse to slow down. To hell with that: I am going to get back to town long before the cutoff, do the run, go back to America, and work for The Children.
T2: 4:45pm ish. Thank you, Vishnu. Off the bike. Manage to keep my shoes clipped in and stagger in stocking feet to tent. Out of my wet clothes and into dries. Lady at T2 aid station: “Do you want some water? You don’t want to dehydrate out there.” Me, looks up at sprinkling sky: “Are you kidding me?”
5pm. Cross overpass bridge over Lake Terrace, start reading card Anne (who couldn’t make it to New Zealand because her stupid clients’ shareholders keep insisting on things like “accountability” and “financial responsibility”) gave me for my T2 bag. Try desperately not to cry at how awesome she is. See the gang again, this time with a sign that has picture of Anne with a “Go Adam!” word balloon. Try desperately not to cry again.
Up Tongariro Road, which borders the park that has the finish line: I really want to run for these people, but my knees are killing me. Hm, maybe if I hadn’t been a macho idiot and had worn my knee warmers on the ride, I’d feel a lot better.
5k in: I make a buddy. Ryan is a quantity surveyor from Hastings, about 30k away from Taupo. We walk and talk for the next 10k. He says our pace is right on for bringing it in. I’m not convinced. Somewhere along the line, I start swinging my arms as I walk. I actually outpace Ryan and leave him behind. I feel bad about this for all of 100 meters.
Tongariro, 2nd time: All of these people cheer like I’m done, but I’ve still got another 22k to go. It’s now dark, and I am scared that I am going to die in this foreign country with its wrong-way driving and hobbit-sized showerheads, and won’t see my wife beforehand. I want to pack it in, damn the consequences. Then I look at the time: it’s 8.20pm, and I’ve just cleared 22k. It took me 3:10 to go 20k, ten more minutes to do the second 2k. Holy crap, I just might make this if I keep it up. Refill my fuel belt at an aid station, where a volunteer asks, “Are you all right?” “Just bloody exhausted,” I say, “You gonna pull me?” “No way!” says the volunteer, “You might punch me!”
9pm: Now feeling The Fear again. Thinking about walking up to ambulance and saying that I’m done and want to go home and don’t give a toss about finishing this race. Have a CarbBoom and outlook improves.
Rainbow Drive: The crowds are still in their pavilion tents, their tables littered with empty booze bottles. One guy says, “You’d better pick up that pace, mate.” “This is all I’ve got,” I reply, walking past with arms swinging. He doesn’t express his opinion again when I return.
Get a clear plastic poncho from a volunteer, whom I hug like she’s just given me a lifetime supply of tacos. The poncho makes me look like a piece of dry-cleaning flapping away in the wind, which has now picked up. Oh, and the rain is still going, too.
9.30pm: There’s a big hill to the turnaround, and it’s dark. There are fewer cars, which means the only illumination is from the glow sticks on our wrists. Somewhere ahead of me, there’s a woman racer walking with a friend. The woman is hunched over, and whether it’s her back or her guts that are troubling her, I have no idea. I pass her and tell her we’ll make it. I have no idea if she hears me.
Turnaround: I pass Peggy Cramer and tell her we’ve got two hours left. I’m not sure if she wants to hear my updates, but what the hell. A medic gives me two Panadol (the local brand of acetaminophen), and I suddenly feel like a million Euros. I know it won’t last, but I keep swinging my arms.
Wharewaka: We had to cut down this street for a few blocks, and there’s a very rowdy party tent parked here. I actually start running and call out to the crowd lining the road: “Come on, my people, show me THE LOVE!” They explode into cheers, and I make the entire loop at a jog. One of volunteers says, as I pass them, “Is that Adam?” I am incredibly glad our names are on our race numbers, and that I’ve also made a “WTF?” impression on the vols.
Rainbow Drive: My friends have found me on the road and walk with me for a few k. They sing Cake’s “Going the Distance” (“The sun has gone down and the moon has come up/And long ago Cameron left with the cup”). I have the best friends in the universe. I finally outwalk them, and they zip back in the car to the finish line. I am going to finish this thing. I am going to bring this home.
11pm: The crowds are thin, but people are cheering from their hotel balconies or in front of their businesses. Waiters coming off shift are outside their restaurants, the owner of a motel chats me along for half a k, and the volunteers ride alongside on their bikes, talking us upright. One woman drives by and yells out the window, “Who’s an Ironman? YOU’RE AN IRONMAN!” Not yet, baby, but soon.
Tongariro Drive: Anna Wills drives alongside me. It takes a few seconds for my brain to spin up and recognize her. She brought it in, even after breaking her arm three weeks prior, the stud. I start running the last 500 meters.
Top of the chute: It’s dark as I make the turn, but then I’m bathed in spotlights and the crowd. I am high as a kite as the announcer points at me, mic in hand, and I can’t hear a word he’s saying as I run down the chute and leap over the finish line. I wish I’d remembered to do Peggy’s thing and look around at everyone, but I am so glad to be done that I let the volunteers lead me into the med tent for a weigh-in. The nurse is surprised that I’m still 84.9 kilos, same as when I registered on Thursday. “Do you feel all right?” she asks. “If you’re offering me an IV, I won’t say no,” I say. They sit me down and give me soup and buttered white bread. I talk with Alexis, a young woman who looks about as high as I am. This was her first Ironman. We toast each other with soup, and then I get up for my finisher’s shirt and massage. Scott dogpiles me just as I flop on the table, and then Kristy the masseuse works on my legs. I hear the announcer bring in Peggy. Somewhere in there, Ryan from Hastings brings it in, though I didn’t find that out for sure until I checked the results next day. The hunched-over woman came in around ten past midnight. We eat the Quiches of Victory and call home.
And now it’s been five days. I can finally walk normally, and everyone points out that I’ve used the phrase “When I do this again,” rather than “If someone holds a gun to my head and demands I do this again.” What is it about this distance that induces the psychosis not just to do it once, but keep doing it? I have no idea. But I’m glad I did it, and ever gladder that I’m home where the cars drive in the right direction and the tortillas aren’t made in Australia.