I asked a volunteer to get a doctor to examine me.
Away from the eyes of those just outside the transition changing tent and away from anyone of the TriBlogger Alliance I pulled the volunteer close to me and said, "I want to talk to a doctor. It's not an emergency."
It wasn't an easy thing to ask for but I thought I owed it to my family. I wasn't searching for an excuse to drop out of the race but a clear conscience to continue. Nobody was going to end my race but me just as nobody was going to finish the race for me. My cough was at its worst when I got off the bike and I felt a stabbing pain in my back each time I took a deep breath. It was probably nothing and that's what I wanted a doctor to tell me. It would be a comfort to hear those words. A minute went by after a volunteer left the tent to find a doctor and then two minutes became three and still no doctor. "Screw it," I thought. I put on my sunglasses, put the Honor Roll in the side pocket of my tri-shorts and ran out of the tent and onto the run course.
The cheers from the spectators were loud. Everyone was smiling, putting out their hand for a "fiver" and I felt ten feet tall. Ironman can do this to you because for that one day every athlete on the course is a rock star. Maaaaaaaaan, I was pumped up!
A hundred yards past the changing tent the sounds of the spectators were gone and the euphoria faded. It was time to focus. My feet felt good and my legs surprising strong. One benefit of going as slow as I did on bike is that I didn't wear my legs out. My back hurt just above my left kidney from the jarring but nothing like it hurt when I coughed. As long as I didn't cough the little aches were no big.
Less than a mile into the run my heart rate monitor watch sounded an alarm. I was above my heart rate limit... again. Crap! The lower limit was 140 and the upper limit was 150 beats per minute. In training the upper limit warning never happened this soon after getting off of the bike at never at what seemed to be no more than a warm up jog. Despite feeling good in my legs I backed off of the pace until it dropped to under 140. It didn't take long to drop and I was back on the run. A few minutes later I was at the top of the limit again and again I slowed it down to almost a walk. This speed up and slow down became the routine for the entire run.
At mile three my watch turned over 9 hours. Foreign territory. I hadn't trained beyond 9 hours before and how my body might react worried me. Was there enough left in my legs? Was I drinking and eating the right amount? Was there enough mental toughness to finish? There was only one way to find out and that was my resolution. I resolved that after 117 miles of racing I would be calculated and single-minded in my approach to the marathon. Call it business-like. I had a job to do. A mission.
For as bad as the winds and cold were during the swim and bike it was a perfect evening for the run. The air was in the mid-50s with only a hint of a breeze. Finally, a break from the elements. But there was no break from nature's call.
Just as in St. Croix 70.3 and the Big Kahuna Half-Ironman triathlons after it my digestive system was beginning to protest around mile three. After a couple of minutes in the little blue hut I was back on the road feeling good. Perhaps this time my GI system wouldn't be a big factor in my run time. I walked through each aid station and refueled on water, Gatorade, GU, and bananas. Although offered cookies, Coca-Cola, and chicken broth I declined them all because I hadn't trained with them and didn't want to risk an upset stomach. This was no time to experiment.
The half way point of the marathon is near the finish line and I could see the bright lights and the announcer calling the names of the finishers. That's also where the special needs bags were lying in organized rows by bib number. A volunteer read my number and using his flashlight retrieved my bag. I pulled out a blue base layer shirt and put it on. It only took seconds for me to eat a large apple and chase it with a Red Bull. Only a half marathon to go and I would be an Ironman!
At mile 14 it was time for another pit stop. While inside the blue hut of relief I began to feel dizzy. Although my legs felt fine it hurt like hell to breathe and my ears were stopped up making it hard to hear. I had been at it going on 12 hours and my mind was tiring. If I was going to make it I had to concentrate and push the pace.
Not long after that Tri-Mama caught me from behind. Just seeing a familiar face, especially her face, made me feel so good. We chatted a while as we ran together until my watch warned my heart rate was spiking again. I slowed to a walk and she ran on ahead of me.
Most of what happened after that is a blur until I reached the mile 20 marker. I knew that with only a 10-k to run and nearly four hours to go until the midnight cut off I had the race in the bag. Barring a bonk or twisting an ankle I was going to make it. I was going to freaking make it. I turned off the blasted heart rate monitor. I'll finish this on feel, thankyouverymuch!
With less than I mile to go I could see the lights of the hotels and amusements near the finish. I began to run until yet another coughing fit stopped me in my tracks. I put my hands on my knees and looked up. Another athlete was standing over me. He asked me if I was OK and I said, "Yeah. Just a little cough." He said, "Dude, I've been listening to you cough all night. I knew if you can do this I can do this." He waited for me to start running again and we ran together for a while until he pulled over on the side of the road to water a bush.
A quarter of a mile away and just one last turn I was on the final stretch and could see the spectators and hear the announcer calling the names of the finishers. I ran through the spectator lined barricades leading to the finish line. The finish line is on the top of a parking garage at the front of the Boardwalk Hotel. Bright spotlights bathed me as I ran up the ramp and finally I could see the finisher's arch and two volunteers holding the tape. I lifted my arms and pumped them into the air and finally, thank God, I finally heard the announcer, Mike Reilly, call my name, "Brian Brode, from Plano, Texas, YOU are an IRONMAN!"
I was met by a volunteer and he put my finisher's medal around my neck and a silver space blanket around mmy shoulders. He offered me food, drink, and asked if I needed to go to the Medical Tent. I said, "No, none of that for me. Not this time. ...
... I never felt better."
14:36:16 and it was over. Except for one more thing.