Calm accompanies me to the starting line of my first Ironman. I roll, tug, and yank on my wetsuit and neoprene cap. I hug my brother-in-law. I follow 2800 other Ironman Hopefuls into the frigid waters of Tempe Town Lake.
When I jump in, I understand that my mind is already on my side. Although the air temperature is in the low 50s and the water temperature a chilly 61, my mind lets me believe otherwise. The cold water comes at me through my wetsuit. (This isn’t as cold as I thought it would be.) I don’t dare my Raynaud’s to reveal to my mind how cold I really am. I keep my hands in the water because it is 9 degrees warmer than the air. As the clock creeps closer to our start time, I look right and then left, and then behind me. (This isn’t as crowded as I thought it would be.) Another huge victory for my mind.
Cannon fires; I feel a swift kick to my nose. I remain calm. Upon confirming with a quick swipe across my face that there is no blood, I smile and keep moving.
A mile later, I feel a crack as my left hand hammers into someone’s right elbow of steel. My mind doesn’t register that I still have about 139.6 more miles to go with that hand. The water is so cold, and my hands so numb, that the pain doesn’t register. I only hear Coach Steve’s voice in my head, “Pierce, Catch, and Pull; Pierce, Catch, and Pull.”
Out of the water in 1:14. (Ridic. A year ago I couldn’t even swim across the pool.) Fistpump.
WATER to ROAD
My mind tries to convince me that I am running on flat concrete, but my feet register a surface of knives and needles. A quick glance at my toes. (Holy freakin’ blue!) The air temperature is still in the mid-50s, which feels a lot colder at 20 mph, and feels a lot scarier with Raynaud’s. (Keep it together, girl! Remember that ride when your water bottles froze? You got this.) Fistpump.
Getting on my bike out of T1, I hear “Bob Young of Virginia is out of the water!” Fistpump for my teammate. The next time I see him is from the side of the road at mile 10. I struggle to fix my flat.
I have never had a flat before, but I am prepared. I practiced changing my tube again and again on my living room floor. The tumble weeds and sand of the Beeline Highway are not as comfortable as my living room carpet. (No problem, Kgo. You’ve got this.) But I didn’t have it. “It” punctures my only spare tube as I inflate the spare with my only CO2 cartridge. There, in the bushes on the side of the road, I chuckle. (Andy is going to love this.)
The day before, my sherpa Andy Lipscomb convinced me to leave my 2nd spare tube and cartridge behind. As someone who has never had a flat, I agreed that it seemed silly to plan for two. Yet there I am, 10 miles into my first Ironman, in need of a second spare tube. I invoke a mantra that had saved me in countless challenging scenarios this past year. (What would Poppy Tony do?) I peak out from behind the bushes and start fistpumping everyone who passes by. Within a minute a very nice Ironman Hopeful throws me his own spare tube and cartridge.
I remove my tire to locate the sharp and unrelenting culprit, but I find nothing. Just as I prepare to inflate the new tube, the roving support vehicle arrives. Fistpump! While the race photographer opens the back door and proceeds to film me (smile!), the mechanic attempts to inflate the second spare tube with a hand pump. Pop! Third tube of the day. He hands me a brand new wheel, takes my old one, and remarks that he just fixed pro Leanda Cave’s bike too. Genuine smile for the cameraman.
18 minutes lost. 102 more miles to go. (What would Poppy Tony do? Race like the wind.) Though I noticed the swelling and discoloration in my hand when I removed my glove to change the flat, the severity of the pain only starts to register as I change gears on the gradual climb to the first turnaround.
I remain calm and try to take my mind off of my hand and lost time. So I talk. Sometimes to myself. Sometimes to riders around me. I search for my brother. I look for other Zers. I scream and fistpump at them. I tell every tall man I pass that I wish it were a draft-legal race. This softens their egos as I leave them behind. I tell every fool who tries to draft off of me that I am about to pee. Most of them get it. The rest get wet. I converse with veterans, teachers, whiners, first-timers, hotties, men with large calves, women with larger calves, and a new U.S. citizen.
As I pull into transition, I look down at my bike computer and see a 5:25. Fifteen minutes faster than my “best case scenario” race plan. Since the computer captures my moving time, it displays what my time would have been without the flats. I no longer care what my time really is; I am overjoyed that I am capable of biking a 5:25 on a 112 mile course in the middle of an Ironman. I am so.damn.proud of myself for keeping my mind in the race. (Forget the flats! Just go run. Run like you are your father’s daughter.)
ROAD to CONCRETE
I have to hold myself back. I am out of the T2 gate at 7:35 pace. No matter what I do, I can’t slow myself down. My goal is to run a 3:30 marathon. Knowing that “even splits” are the most efficient way to run, I don’t want to run faster than 8:00 minutes per mile. But my legs have a mind of their own. A fast mind. A mind that knows no limits. (Slow down, Kgo!)
Again, I talk to people. I search for a pace partner. “Want to go sub-3:30 with me?” I ask every person I pass. Eric from Seattle is my first taker, but he can’t hold on and I am alone again. Mile two: 7:48 (Slow down, woman!) Mile Three: Another 7:48. (Maybe I can go faster than 3:30.) Mile Four: 7:52. And then, going in the other direction, I see Meredith Colaizzi, the girl who beat me at Musselman by 2 minutes, only she is two miles ahead of me looping back toward transition. Then, a 7:44. (Yeah, you know you want her.) Mile six, the main hill on the course, I hit a 7:43 (How’s that for consistency?) And then I just let my legs go.
And they go.
Mile Seven: 7:30. Mile eight: 7:39. Up ahead I see two nephews, two parents, a sister, an Andy, and a C-Ride all cheering for me! Andy yells that I was 17th off the bike and my dream of top ten starts to feel like more of a reality.
Mile Nine: 7:34. Ten: 7:47. I am running way ahead of 3:30 marathon pace. I haven’t run a single of the first 10 miles at my goal pace of 8:00/mile, but I feel good and I feel like I am wasting energy questioning it. So I stop questioning. Mile Eleven: 7:29. Twelve 7:39. Thirteen: 7:43. (Holy goodness. I just killed that half marathon.) Fourteen: 7:55. (There is my brother!) David, come with me! I yell. He later tells me that I passed him like he was standing still. Fifteen: 7:36. Sixteen: 7:41 (I. freakin. love. this.) Seventeen: 7:40. I see my family just up ahead. Smile! High fives to the nephews.Andy screams as he matches my stride, “YOU ARE FREAKIN’ CRUSHING THIS RUN!” (Hell yeah, I am!! Where the hell is Meredith?) Eighteen: 7:42 (Holy consistency!) Nineteen: 7:43. Twenty: 7:52. (Okay 20-mile wall, I’ve heard all about you. Bring it!)
Twenty one: 7:52. Twenty two: 7:49. Twenty three: 8:04. (Is that that you, wall?) No, instead I find a guy from London running my pace. I ask him to come with me. He obliges. What the hell is wrong with your hand?, he asks. (Oh yes, my hand.) It is a beautiful bruised and swollen rainbow, but my mind is still protecting me. I remain calm. I think I broke it, I say. You are f-ing crazy, he replies. You got a 3:25 in you? I ask. I listen incredulously as I repeat those words silently to myself (Three-twenty-five marathon???) He tells me he’s already been out there for 3 hours and 25 minutes and he wants to know what the hell am I doing trying to get him to run my pace.
Mile twenty-four: 7:32. I push harder. I work to finish my third and final loop, but it is not clear who I am racing. (So. Many. Runners. So many calves. Who am I passing? Who am I racing?)
Mile twenty-five: 7:34 (STFU, Central Governor.)
Mile twenty six, my fastest mile of the day: 7:12
26.2 miles in 3:21. (Three-twenty-one??) Kendra Goffredo, You are an Ironman! 140.6 in 10:27:58. (Sub-10:30??) I hug my parents. My eyes are teary. My mind stops protecting me. (Holy hell, my hand is killing me!)
RULES are RULES
Ninth amateur female. Fourth in my age group.
I wouldn’t learn until the next morning that fourth qualified me for the World Ironman Championships in Kona. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn in time how to “claim” my slot. For future reference, one does not claim her slot on the podium, and the rule book says as much. But should you forget, rest assured that Mike Reilly will yell in your face that “rules are rules.” Powerless, I watch as my unclaimed slot rolls down to Meredith who came in fifth behind me. Stomach ache.
But as I slip sadly back into my chair, I look across the table at my dad and remember why I started doing any of this anyway. And the familiar sense of calm returns. I remind myself that I just raced the race of my life, that I stayed mentally tough despite MAJOR setbacks, and in doing so, I honored my dad’s athletic legacy. And he was healthy enough to see the entire race! Those things will always be more important to me than racing in a Hawaiian city I never knew existed 365 days before.
Though it baffled me at the time, the calm I experienced leading up to, throughout, and after my first Ironman makes perfect sense. I stepped to the line knowing that I had done every last possible thing to prepare for that day.
Fight on, Team Poppy!