Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ironman St. George Race Report

The Ironman St. George experience started Wednesday morning when my good friend Derek Morris and I loaded the bikes into his truck to start our 9 hour journey to St. George.  It was a relaxing day, no workouts, just driving and enjoying the moment.  Upon arriving in St. George, Derek and I met up with another good friend, Doug Brasher, and we all settled into our condo we later named "The Athletes Village".

After a great nights sleep we went and registered for the race on Thursday morning.  This was my first exposure to the literally thousands of volunteers from St. George who would continue to be my life line for the next few days.  There optimism and willingness to help at any given moment was so appreciated.  Thank you volunteers! 

Earlier that morning I received an email from Ironman asking if they could do an interview with me about my Kona Inspired video and our cause for Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome.  I was honored that they would ask and very thankful for the exposure that we were getting for these incredible children.  At the athlete registration I met up with Dave Erickson who was on site covering the event for Ironman.  Dave was great!  He was a very upbeat and optimistic guy.  After the interview and a few cut aways of Derek and I walking around the expo we were done.  Thank you Ironman and Dave for that great opportunity!  You can see the interview HERE:

That afternoon we went for a swim at the swim location, Sand Hollow Reservoir and had a short ride.  The anticipation was starting to build and in my heart, I wished the race was the next day.  Waiting around for Saturday to come was tough. 

Thursday night I didn't sleep well.  I felt groggy in the morning, but it passed.  We made all our last minute preparations and dropped our bikes off at T1 (the swim to bike transition) and went back to the Athletes Village to rest.  I took a few hours and watched one of my favorite movies of all time, Cinderella Man.  I believe this movie portrays better than most the strength that comes when you are motivated by cause.  Doug made us dinner and one of the highlights of the week happened, Andrea arrived.  It was so good to see her.  She has a way to put my mind at ease and gives me an incredible amount of confidence.  I love her dearly. 

Sleep came quickly that night and before I knew it, it was 2:45am, time to wake up and start a very special day.  We were bused from downtown St. George to the swim site, about a 20 minute ride.  It was dark but I could see the huge lights from T1 from the freeway.  I reflected on the journey to get here and once again, was overcome with emotion.  I'm normally not an emotional person, but something about those kids and the gratitude in my heart to get to do this for them really gets to me.  It still does even writing this.

Conditions were perfect and they announced that the latest weather forecast showed mild conditions and temperatures in the low 80's.  St. George is know for punishing winds but it looked like we were going to get lucky today. About that moment I felt the slightest breeze.  Little did I know, it was a sign of things to come.

Putting on my wetsuit is always a transforming moment for me.  I love competition and I love to compete and it was time to do just that!  The water felt great.  It was a site to see treading water out by the start line looking back at the spectators lined up and down the shore.  I've never tread water while someone sang the national anthem before.  Not an easy task holding your hand over your heart!  I was ready to race!

The cannon sounded and just like that we were off.  Something amazing about a full Ironman is all the athletes start at the same time.  There were 1432 swimmers all bunched together and all trying to make there way through the water.  You get kicked, smacked, and pushed but it is awesome!  I love the swim start!  I got into a group of swimmers and everything felt perfect.  We were making great time.  The swim buoys seemed to be flying by one after another. 

The course is a big rectangle.  We were just finishing up the first stretch, about 3/4 of a mile when I noticed that there were some swells starting.  No big deal, that's what happens in the middle of a big reservoir.  I made the turn at the corner and was immediately slammed by a big wave.  I thought, "who the heck is out here in a boat making wakes?!"  Then another hit me.  I looked up and could see white caps all around.  I then realized that the wind was blowing like no other and that I was in for a long day.  I continued to try and swim, now swimming across the white caps.  This was nuts!  I could see other swimmers treading water trying to regain their bearings.  Seeing the buoys was next to impossible because of all the spray coming off the white caps and the huge swells.  I was very thankful that we got the swim started before this wind storm blew in because otherwise there was no way Ironman would have let us swim in these conditions. 

I continued to battle to the next turn.  Now it was time to go directly into the waves and wind.  During the swim, there are dozens of kayaks and people on long boards out there providing support and help when needed.  After the turn I saw one of the kayaks tipped over and holding on to his kayak.  I also saw a boat full of swimmers making their way back to shore.  There were at least a hundred athletes that called it quits for the day during the swim.  At one point in time there was a life flight helicopter hovering overhead.  I said a silent prayer in my heart that we'd all make it out ok.  These are a few comments I've seen on different websites about the swim:

"This was my first ever triathlon and I have never been that scared in my life. At one point I looked around and couldn't see another person, boat, buoys, etc. It turned into survival mode for me. Finally I swam to a buoy and clung for dear life. Just then a boat came by and told me that I had gotten incredibly off course and that I probably couldn't make the time cut off. I swam anyway and by a true miracle barely made it in time. I saw grown men sobbing in the T1 tent. It looked like a medic tent in a war zone."
"At one point I felt like I was in National Guard Training! Last year I swam the same course in a 1:13, this year at the one hour mark I was less than a mile in and disoriented and panicked. It was time to get out. When the kayaks are capsizing and athletes are clinging to race buoys? I think it is safe to say it was crazy."

"I was one of the volunteers on a kayak, and I could barely paddle against the wind and waves, I couldn't imagine swimming in that water. I saw people being pushed off their stand up paddle boards from the wind. We all just kept thinking, "I hope the swimmers that are still out there are ok" We were told that only about 6 life boats and kayaks were still out there helping."

At no point did I ever feel unsafe or worried that I wouldn't make it through the swim, but it changed the way I approached the rest of the swim.  I wanted to conserve energy because I knew I still needed to bike 112 miles and run a marathon, but I also knew if I didn't swim hard I was going to be going backwards with the waves.  Not being able to see the buoys, I found an island that I knew was going in the right direction.  I swam and luckily the island kept getting bigger so I knew I was making progress.  Finally after what seemed like a very long swim, the swim out transition was in site.  Stepping foot on the boat ramp was great.  When I stood up, I was almost blown over by a gust of wind and that's when I realized the biking portion was going to be interesting.

My first turn on the bike course put me directly into the headwind and a mouthful of sand.  I know how important it is to have a positive attitude during these races.  I refused to let any negative thoughts come to mind.  I started joking around with some of the other cyclists which helped lighten the mood, but it was still a little daunting to consider that not only did I have 112 miles in front of me on an already difficult course, but that the hardest stretch of the course would be straight into a 20-30 mph headwind.  I settled in and just kept peddling. 

I felt good and was keeping on top of my nutrition.  Around 30 miles in is where I really hit the wind.  For the next 20 miles I was going directly into the wind and was moving at a snails pace.  Everyone had their head down and was grinding it out.  There are some big climbs during that portion of the race.  We were all getting a baptism by fire of what it means to be an Ironman.  Mentally my mind would drift briefly into a pity party, but I would quickly pull it back.  At this point in the race I really had to focus on my purpose for doing the Ironman.  I remembered the support from everyone and the prayers being offered on my behalf.  It helped tremendously. 

Around mile 50 we turned and now had a tailwind now.  What a relief!  We were all FLYING through the course.  At one point in time I was on a flat straightaway and looked at my speed.  I was going 40mph.  It felt great!  I also got to ride with Doug for a while which was great.  Being halfway through the ride and onto the second lap of the course was encouraging.  The only challenge is I had to fight through the dreaded 20 mile uphill stretch again.  Luckily the wind wasn't as bad but still present.  I paced myself and continued to have a good attitude.  I love interacting with the fans and people watching the race.  I'll never pass up an opportunity to give someone a high five or thumbs up.  Half the battle was just having fun and enjoying the experience.

Mile 112 finally arrived and I hopped off my bike.  Wow!  My thighs were on fire!  I had been on my bike for 6 and a half hours straight and trying to run through the transition area was kind of comical.  I'm sure I looked pretty funny.  I sat down and quickly put my shoes on.  Time to stand back up and face the marathon.  I started to run and my legs were gone.  I was a little concerned, but I kept saying, "put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time".  I did this and literally had to keep telling myself this every step for the first 6 miles.  I had a good pace, my heart rate was great, but my legs were hammered.  I hate to keep referencing this, but I stayed positive and that made all the difference even though my body kept screaming to stop running.  Around mile 7 something amazing happened.  My legs came back and I felt a renewed sense of energy.  I'm not sure how or what happened, but I felt much better.  I kept a good pace and continued to push.  The miles continued to pass but the effort required to get through them increased.

I loved seeing Andrea and all those who I knew while I was running.  It helped tremendously.  By mile 20 I was out of gas physically.  My legs hurt like they've never hurt before.  I was dizzy and my body was begging for me to stop.  I've read about this before.  I've read that the last 6 miles of an Ironman is all heart.  I could now understand what they meant.  I had to dig deeper than I've ever had to in a race.  I knew I was getting close, but I knew running 6 miles wasn't something I could just coast through so I did the only thing I could do, put on a smile.  I ran by Andrea about this time and had a huge grin on my face.  I'm sure everyone that saw me thought I must have been dogging it or that I wasn't working hard, but believe me, physically I was spent, but mentally I refused to give in.  The miles continued to pass and the finish line got closer and closer. 

On the final turn off of Diagonal street it hit me, only about a mile to go and I would be an Ironman.  Tears welled up in my eyes and the pain of the day began to pass.  I could hear Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, saying "You are an Ironman" to those crossing the finish line and I knew it would be my turn soon.  I couldn't help but think once again about the amazing support from so many.  I again visited in my mind the images of these children and how badly I want them to find their forever family.

I made my final turn and entered the chute that all Ironman finishers dream of running down.  Excitement overcame me and I felt better than I had felt all day.  Then I heard it, "BRADY MURRAY, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!" as I crossed the finish line.  The race was over. I had finished.  I had finished an Ironman! 

Andrea was the first person I got to hug.  We hugged like we had been apart for an eternity.  What a great moment.

I've learned a lot from being a part of this.  I learned just how important it is to stay positive.  Life will give us crashing waves, huge headwinds and long distances but there is NOTHING that will be thrown at us that we can't handle.  I learned that if we have sincere desires to serve and be part of something that is bigger than any one person, that those opportunities will be given to us.  I learned how important it is to surround yourself with positive support.  Everyone from family, to friends, to coworkers.  Positive and encouraging people make all the difference.

So now what you may ask?  My commitment as a husband to Andrea, and the father of my children will always be my #1 priority.  I have an unwavering commitment to my faith, my extended family and friends and to my employer.  With that being said, I feel like during the last 6 months we have just written a great introduction to a book that is going to have a very happy ending for many orphans with Down syndrome.  I did not sign up as a temporary volunteer for this cause.  Andrea and I feel that this is something we will be a part of for the rest of our lives.  Together with anyone who has a genuine desire to be involved, we will work tirelessly until every child has a forever family! 

Priorities for the cause at the moment are to find a way to win the Kona Inspired competition, race at the Ironman World Championships and most importantly share these children's story with the world!  I plan on racing the Boise 70.3 (half Ironman) in June for the children as well.  In addition, I hope to find opportunities to present and share these children's story in as many group settings as possible.  I really enjoy public speaking and that is a wonderful way to share the message.  We are also about $2,000 shy of reaching our goal for Maggie.  That is something we hope to have taken care of sooner than later.

I also want to grow the RODS Racing team.  To become involved is very simple.  You simply need to have a desire to become part of this cause and a willingness to use your talents and abilities unique to you on behalf of these children.  I'll post more about RODS in the future, please feel free to contact me if you would like to learn more. 

I want to wrap up this blog post by saying that I know that EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US has unique talents and abilities that have been given to us.  What we do with these talents and abilities are dependant upon us.  We can use these talents and abilities for much good if we choose to or we can allow fear and idleness to steal our opportunity.  Listen to those thoughts that come to your mind and your heart.  If you listen and act there will be many individuals who you will inspire, motivate, and truly make a difference for in so many small and simple ways and occasionally in big ways.  One step at a time, we all can and will make a difference!


WheelbarrowRider said...

Good grief! What an incredible story of perserverance for a wonderful cause!

Brady said...

Thanks for the comments! I just realized I accidently deleted 3 comments. Jeana's, The Davis Family, and catvvinat :( So sorry! Please try again, I promise not to delete them this time!

Kelli @ The Turquoise Piano said...

Way to go, Brady! I think of the Boise 70.3 two years ago and I still can only think of cuss words to describe it. I can't imagine a full in the wind. Congratulations!

Leah said...

Great story! Thanks for the encouragement!

Steph said...

Brady thank you for posting your experience. Shirley and I checked on your progress via internet throughout the day and when we thought you were getting close stayed in front of our computers to watch you cross the finish line. It was awesome! I can only imagine the feelings you were having at that moment. So proud of you.

Becky said...

Awesome!!!! I can't believe how crazy the conditions were! When I rode the ULCER a couple years ago we had a hot, strong head wind for half of it, and it was intense; I can only imagine trying to do that during an IRONMAN! What an unforgettable experience!