Ever since September 11, 2011, when I watched and cheered in awe of my dad and sister compete in Ironman Wisconsin, I have been dreaming of the day when I would finally do the same. As soon as I had watched them race I knew I wanted to do the same. All year I trained, watched Kona reruns, read slowtwitch forums, visited countless irnman review websites, trying to imagine when I would finally hear those oh-so-sweet six words “Hayley Braun, YOU are an Ironman”.
Finally, I can say that I am. Even just watching my dad and sister compete, I knew that ironman was more than just a race, and it was. It was about pushing myself past my limits and working hard to achieve something that I had previously thought impossible. It was almost a surreal experience, being out there with 2300 of your new best friends, all with a common goal, and all in a little bit of pain. Preparing for it I would always get so nervous for different parts thinking “how am i going to survive 112 miles on the bike” or “how am I going to be able to run a whole marathon on tired legs”. I was excited but I was also scared crazy that there was no way I’d survive. (side note on the scared crazy part, Eleanor Roosevelt one said ”Do one thing every day that scares you.” so I knew I was on the right track)
Looking back though it was the best race experience I ever had. Logistically, definitely not, but the experience of going out and pushing yourself beyond your expectations adds a whole new level of emotion to the race. The swim is notoriously slow and I just felt like I was out there forever soaking up all the wonderful Ohio River filth. I think my pretty green tri-suit was permanently stained brown in some spots thanks to all the muck!
The bike was solid, with rollers throughout the Kentucky countryside. Disappointingly though some locals scattered tacs all over the course. Luckily I didn’t flat, but it was a sad statement to the respect of the time and effort the races put in for this race. For most of the bike I felt really good. The best part was seeing my teammates cheering me on. One had even written the infamous Jens Voigt quote “shut up legs!” on his stomach to encourage me. I tried to not push my legs too hard so that I’d have something left in them for the run but near mile 90 or so they were starting to feel the effects of the day. The run was a wee bit hot, but thankfully most of the course was very flat.
Sadly, I crashed on the run. My goal coming into this race purely was to finish. I knew there would be future ironmans to do where I could push harder earlier in the race, but for this one, first and foremost, I had to make sure I could cross the line. The first 7-8 miles were pretty rough less because of my legs and more of just exhaustion but my sister met up with me and ran on the sideway with me for a couple miles and that picked me up. The make it to the finish line mentality really started setting in near mile 20, when my legs and feet started going numb. I had seen the videos of the “ironman shuffle”, legs collapsing, and people crawling, so I was starting to get concerned. I also started feeling exhausted. I decided to start power walking mainly to assure that I had a balanced foot plant every step. If I landed wrong I didn’t want anything to buckle underneath me. I also started talking to everyone around me in attempts to wake myself up. Finally, at mile 24.5 I saw my dad and yelled at him to just keep talking to me so I didn’t fall asleep. He did a pretty good job although he kept trying to do cute little dad things and post status and pictures of me on facebook half the time. What seemed like quite a bit later I could finally hear the finishing crowd and the excitement started to kick back in. I knew I had to run through the finishing chute so I picked up my pace, grabbed my University of Michigan flag from my friend and FINALLY ran through with a time of 14:09. The feeling of crossing the finish line was even better than I could have imagined and even though it was a rough race it has to be one of the greatest days of my life. And as a bonus, the Ironman “swag” bags are transition bags/backpacks and just about the coolest thing ever!!