I figured it was about time for me to sit down and get some Ironman thoughts down. However, it’s not very likely that I will ever forget every single second of my Ironman day.
All of my hours, weeks, and months of training all came together in one day, Ironman Coeur d’ Alene, June 27, 2010. It was a spectacular race. Very special to me, because it is held in my hometown.
Since I was a young, even a teenager, I have had my eyes on Ironman. I watched these “super-athletes” compete in the most grueling endurance sport ever, and for some CRAZY reason, I thought that it looked like something I wanted to tackle.
The week leading up to the race was just a frenetic buzz of energy around this city. My friends and other racers met for short rides, runs, swims, and sometimes just for coffee, JUST to get our minds off of what was coming. I have had the wonderful privilege of meeting some of the most awesome people through all of this. From here in CdA, to out of town, and even out of the country. The Tri community is like nothing else.
Things started heating up on Thursday when the IM Village opened up. We all headed down to see what vendors were there, look at new bikes, wheels, gear, you name it. Friday we had our athlete banquet/welcome dinner, we were able to sit with 2500 other racers, have dinner, and get PUMPED UP watching videos and hearing the one and only, Mike Reilly speak to us. The energy was amazing. Tears were flowing. We were ready!
The voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly
Our Coeur d'Alene group.
My amazing, and gorgeous training partner, Natalie
Saturday was gear and bike check- in. Going over my bags got me feeling a little unhinged. Morning bag, bike bag, run bag, bike special needs bag, and run special needs bag. WOW! I was happy to be able to take them down, and drop them off, along with my bike and let them go from my mind. In the transition area, you could see, and feel the nerves. Everyone looking over their bikes, checking tires, mechanics, bento boxes etc. This was when all of this really hit me. Reality hit me over the head. I WAS ABOUT TO EMBARK ON THE GREATEST TRIATHLON ever.
Sunday morning, my friends and training partners met. It was not just another day and we knew it. Our bodies, shaking uncontrollably, only able to have small talk, and lean in for frenzied hugs. All of our minds were elsewhere. I got my body marking done, and my stomach was in knots. My body was shaking, I was sick to my stomach. I went into my bike, put all of my fuel onboard, and checked, over and over, counting my food for the day. Checking to make sure calories were correct in my bottles. 2- 20 oz bottles of Heed in the lower cages, H2O in my Areo-bottle, 2- 31/2 hour bottles of Perpetuem on my seat mount. In the Bento boxes, pretzels, baby red potatoes with sea salt, a few gels, Cliff blocks, Endurolytes, SportLegs, and Race Caps, and GasEx strips. And a gel flask, mounted onto my top tube. WAY more than enough fuel.
We made our way down to the beach for the start.
Stretching into our wetsuits, getting more anxious by the second. We had small talk, trying to get our minds off of the day. We checked our goggles, made sure our neoprene caps were on straight, as well as out regular Ironman swim caps….and the cannon went off. 2500 athletes all diving into the water at the same time. I have watched this from the shore, and it looks like a million piranhas fighting in the water.
I got in, and was pretty quick to realize it might be a while before I could actually pull off a full swim stroke. Bodies were everywhere. Elbows, heads, knees, feet, some swimmers, riding right on the back of my legs and knees. I was ridiculously calm, although fighting in this mess of sharks. I kept thinking to myself, “Paula, you are doing this…stay relaxed, you have worked so hard and so long for this, no matter what happens, stay focused and in the game, this is your dream, Baby!!” Heading into the first turn buoy, was CRAZY. Every body in that water came screeching up on one another. Frog kicking, treading water. This was the only time I felt like I couldn’t breathe. There was hardly any forward movement, but a lot of kicking, and drinking of water. Passing the first buoy was fantastic. Getting to that first turn- around at the beach was amazing, I felt so great! Back into the water for the 2nd loop. I felt so strong, and so relaxed. When I came out of the water the 2nd time, I could not believe it. After all, swimming is the worst of my disciplines, and what I looked forward to the least...and who swims 2.4 miles, anyways?? I could hear the crowd, hear the music, and I felt so alive, and courageous. I ran up the beach, peeling my wetsuit down to my waist, and up to the wetsuit peelers. Ok, these folks really have their act together. Yelling out, waving their hands for you, and BOOM, you are on the ground, wetsuit ripped off in 1 second by two people, and a third to pull you back up standing. Then you are running towards the bike bags, volunteers, yelling out your number. I was handed my bag and pointed to the changing tent. Inside were hundreds of women, peeling off wet clothes. My volunteer, sat me down, asked how I was feeling, dumped out my bag and started changing me. She handed me my gel and bagel, and put my socks, cycling shoes, helmet, sunglasses and jersey on me. She then took out my sunscreen, and slathered me up, asked if I was ready, and pushed me out the door, towards my bike. I didn’t get her name, but THANK YOU!!
I easily found my bike. I had practiced this the day before. Grabbed it, and headed out of transition, onto 112 miles on the bike. It felt good to be heading out onto the course. The sun was shining, the crowds were rowdy and loud, really pumping you up. The first 90 miles I was way ahead of schedule on the bike. I was gearing well, climbing excellently on this hilly course, and flying on the down hills. I know this course like the back of my hand, and know exactly where I can and do make up time. I felt great! My fueling was going well, my body felt strong. At a few points on the course Greg, Corey and Thomas were able to pull along side of me, in a Press Car. That was such a treat. Seeing them, made me smile, and kept me pumped. This is NOT something that happens every day on the Ironman course. No one is allowed on the course except staff, but thanks to some “special people” I was able to have some “special attention” They pulled up along me one time, as I was climbing in the baking sun, and started CRANKING the Black-eyed Peas. YAAAAAAHHHYYYY!! “Tonight’s gonna be a good night!” I was smiling, and it gave me a great push!!
The sun was getting hotter, and the last 20 miles, was getting hard. The wind picked up and my speed started to drop. My stomach was started to hurt. I didn’t understand why. I pushed on, but was started to feel my body coming undone. Heading back into town, which is on a flat, the headwind was ferocious. I was really having a hard time keeping any speed. My legs were burning, and I felt like I was barely moving. I was happy to make the final turn that was going to bring me back in T2. The crowds again were going crazy.
Through the whole course, the crowds were amazing. I have raced A LOT of races, and man…they make you feel like a super star. The aid station workers are amazing as well. VERY supportive. I pulled in one time to use the biffy, and they grab your bike to hold, grab you H20, and ask how you are feeling. VERY attentive. Every volunteer in this race is top-notch. There is NO way this race could exist without them. I have heard CdA has the best. I whole-heartedly agree.
Mom & Dad giving me a HUGE shout-out!!
Back into T2 and into the changing tent, where I saw a familiar face. My friend Michelle. I almost cried, in fact I did, and so did she. She changed me, and said, “You are doing this Paula. You are going to be an Ironman tonight!!!!” And out I went…
I ran out of T2 to see Greg and Mariah by the fence. They were screaming and yelling, as I took off on my run. 26.2 miles...here we go! I was feeling pretty good, and I was surprised, that my legs felt so great! I headed out of town, passing people, watching my pace, checking my time, thinking, Dang….this is going to be the best part of my race. I am a runner…this is what I do!!! Then…. a couple of miles in….my stomach. My stomach was cramping up so bad. This cannot be happening. It was so hot out, and I thought maybe I needed some electrolyte, and water. I couldn’t even take a sip. How about a gel? No way. I was sick. The cramping got worse, and I finally had to stop and walk. I was crying. Who would have thought, the BEST part of my race was going to be the worst? How humbling this was to me. I came back through town, and even the crowds were not helping. They were screaming, and I was hurting to the point of absurdity. My gut was killing me. I just kept moving forward. I kept checking my time, and knew at this point there was NO way I was making my goal time. Just keep moving I kept saying to myself. I was trying to encourage others around me too. We were hot, tired, and this was the part of Ironman, that I knew the mental tenacity needed to kick in. I saw some friends along the course, and they knew I was in trouble, and hurting. They hugged me, THANK YOU, JESACA, KIM, KIANDRA, FAITH, AND ALLI (your kiss Alli, made my day baby girl), you have no idea how much that helped me along, and kept me going. And Jeff... seeing you and Ellie, having you running along side me down the sidewalk, shouting to me that I was looking strong, made me feel invincible. Made me feel how proud you were of me!
I had so many thoughts in my mind it was ridiculous. And even at one point, thought about stopping. I knew I just couldn’t though. “Give up”, is not in my vocabulary. Not to mention it wasn’t just me I would be giving up on. Greg, my kids, my family, my friends, friends Greg works with, my training partners…all who have supported me through this year came to mind. My Running Mama’s came to mind. What would they do? What would they be saying? I thought about every single person I knew. Keep moving. So what if I blew my time goal, keep moving. I knew that at some point my body would be screaming at me to stop. I knew it would play tricks on me, and it would beg me to give up. I knew that I would face demons like never before that would tell me it’s ok to stop. I knew I would be pushing myself to the limit, and past. Way past. I knew my willpower was going to be my only strength. I knew my God was on my side. I knew that THIS was was makes you an Ironman. And I knew how good that finish was going to taste. As the sun faded and the day cooled, I kept moving forward. I saw my friend Michelle out on the course on her ATV…”Keep moving girl, she shouted.” She knows this feeling, being an Ironman herself. She knew the words to keep me going. Then finally I could HEAR the finish line. We were still a mile or so out, and I could HEAR the roar of that crowd. Like nothing I have ever heard. As I turned onto Sherman Ave, which is the final stretch, I didn’t feel a thing. My achy legs stopped aching, my stomach stopped hurting, my mind cleared from the toughness of the day, my body was on a cloud, when just prior it was pushed to the very limits. I ran down Sherman with my hands in the air. Saw my daughter Mariah and friends running down along side me, screaming, "Go Mama Nilges!" I knew a dream was coming true. The crowd was high-fiving me, and into the final stretch I pushed. I could hear Mike Rielly, and tears came gushing out of my eyes. On this day I knew the meaning of courage, endurance, stamina, humility, fortitude, agony, dedication, will power, pain, euphoria, and grace. This was all wrapped up in a beautiful bow for me as I crossed the finish line, hands in the air and into Greg’s arms…(yes, he was my catcher, thanks to some special favors of friends.)
I will never forget that moment. EVER! I learned a lot about myself that day. I learned that dreams come true, and to go for what you want in life. Don’t hold back, ever! I learned that determination and dedication will take you anywhere. I learned pain is temporary. That being a little selfish can pay off, and then you get the privilege of paying it back, which feels beautiful. I learned I am a lot stronger than I ever thought I was. That tears, of both pain and joy cleanse your soul. That family, friends and complete strangers can make you feel like a rock star, and that with strong will power you can conquer anything.
I had family and friends all waiting for me behind the finish, and it was absolutely worth everything at that point. That feeling of achievement was incredible.
Having that medal put around my neck was unbelievable. Hearing that long awaited voice saying, Paula Nilges, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.
I am an Ironman!!!
I am an IRONMAN!!!
I had friends and family all over the USA watch me cross that finish line (thank you East-coasters for staying up late), and even called to say they saw me. My sister in-law said I had a smile 140.6 miles wide, that I am sure will never leave my face, or my heart!!