Well, here is my story....
We left for Florida on Tuesday afternoon and drove half way, then completed the trip Wednesday. We were so excited to get there. Such a weird feeling driving into Panama City Beach again. You can certainly feel the excitement that comes with IRONMAN, but for me there is still just this anxious feeling and connection I can't explain.
We got checked into our condo overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Mexico and immediately went to get checked in.
IRONMAN Village was like it always is. Lots of spandex and buff people. I remember feeling so out of place last year and still somewhat had that feeling this year. We got checked in, said our hellos to some of our CTF family and had dinner with part of TEAM DENVER.
Thursday was a packed day. It started off with me being the CTF rep for the IRONMAN athlete panel. Myself and three others (from other organizations) were on a panel that got interviewed by Dave Ragsdale, IRONMAN Florida's official announcer. It was fun and I hope that it brought some awareness to CTF.
After that, we rushed over to the CTF brunch where most of the CTF team was there. We got to meet some new athletes and Denver was able to spend a little time getting to know a couple of his athletes. Ryan and Eric... You guys are awesome and we are so proud to have y'all as part of our family now! Anytime you have a race, let us know and Denver will root for you near or far!
By the way, we were the NUMBER 1 fundraiser for the 2nd year in a row! In total we raised $16,200! This could not have happened without the love and support from all of you. I am overwhelmed with how much friends and family continue to give. You gave money, love, support, words and prayers and we are forever thankful to YOU!
Thursday night was the athlete banquet. It is always great going because it is truly just a bucket of inspiration. You'll go in only running a 5k or perhaps just a couch potato and come out signed up for IRONMAN. (Yep, happened to me in 2013..) CTF was able to make a presentation and show a video I'll post later!
Friday morning was a practice team swim. We went out and the sea was calm...And nice. It was measuring 77.1 degrees and anything above 76.1 would mean wetsuits were "illegal". At first this sounds bad but overall it means unless you want to qualify for Kona (like, you're super fast) you can wear your wetsuit and be ok! We swam one lap with our wetsuits and one without. I had mostly decided to go without my wetsuit and just swim in my trikit. After all, I did that in Cozumel and my swim there ROCKED! When I went to bed the night before, I had it in my head I was swimming wetsuit free. I felt good.
3AM Saturday came quickly. We got up, had a big breakfast and got ready to go. I felt nervous but excited. It was a weird feeling. Very somber and quiet... but my heart was pumping with excitement - UNTIL I looked outside and saw big white caps. Jason tried to tell me that it looked like that every morning but I knew better. The nerves came and the uncertainty hit me like a brick. I got scared and started to think the worse. Jason and I had packed up and at the last minute decided to take our wetsuits with us. Thank the Lord I took it. With less than 30 minutes to go until the race start, I decided to wear my wetsuit and I am so glad I did. I think I just might have washed up onto the beach if I had not.
Since it was technically not wetsuit legal, there were 2 waves. Non-wetsuit participants went first and about 15 minutes later the folks that had on wetsuits went. There was a fairly good group from CTF starting together. Some of my favorites in fact. Jason, myself, Craig, Angela and Tony we're all going into the big angry sea together.
We got through a couple of smaller waves and all the sudden there it was. A wave that was trying to show me who was boss of that ocean. The wave that I had feared since the day I signed up to do this. The one that takes you under and you can't find your way back above the surface. The wave that makes me never want to step foot into the ocean again. I instinctively turned my back to let it pass and I went down. Hard. It knocked me on my face and back to where I started. I was ready to call it quits there. I had a mouth full of salt water, my goggles were pushed aside and I felt like I had already swam 3 miles.
(this is the non wetsuit group going out. LOOK at that wave...)
A complete stranger picked me up and (kindly) yelled at me to dive through the waves. Jason and Craig were waiting and they too were (kindly) yelling at me to dive through these waves. Im telling you, this is something I had never done. I hated it and was ready to get out of that ocean. A big wave came, I dove. Another...dove again. I wanted to go back so bad. Every time I went under a wave I seriously thought I may not come back up. I wanted to quit. Jason was right beside me and was coaching me through each breaking wave. Craig wasn't leaving either. Those two awesome guys had my back and saved my day. Jason encouraged me to "just keep swimming" and Craig just told me to put my head down and follow his feet. They talked me off the ledge, I put my face in the water and started to follow Craig's bubbles. Im forever thankful for that moment and what Jason and Craig did for me. Once I got going, I did pretty well. I would have to stop and catch my breath here and there and I would also look for Jason. He stayed by my side in that swim. The whole time. Do you know how hard it is to swim with someone with 2500 other people around you? It's not easy but Jason was sure to be there every time I lifted my head to look for him. Before I knew it We were at the first turn, the second turn and at the beach again. Unfortunately we had to go back in for another lap. Getting back out was a little (that word being used lightly) easier. And the second lap went fairly smooth. (Also saying that lightly) I don't think I have ever wanted to be done with something so bad my whole life. I so badly wanted to quit, it crossed my mind more than a couple times...but I also wanted to show that stinky ocean who was boss that day. And I did! I conquered that swim like a boss! Finished it up in 1 hour and 40 minutes. A little slower than I thought but I was ecstatic that I did it.
Running up to transition, it just hit me. I DID IT! I started that swim and I was DONE! Right there, I started sobbing. Like, LOUD-CANT BREATH sobbing. I couldn't even control my emotions. I mean, literally 2 years in the making. All the anxiety, the paralyzingly fear, the crazy thoughts...the training, the practice swims, your prayers, my prayers... That moment was done. That moment that I had worried over, stressed about and prayed over for 2 years was over....I was a mess.
The kind volunteer in the changing tent helped me and consoled me. I am so thankful for every person that helped me in that moment. It was so terrible but i wouldn't have had it any other way. It was perfect.
"Because I, your GOD, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go. I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic. I’m right here to help you.’" Isaiah 41:13 MSG
We got on our bikes and headed out of town. Right out of transition we saw all of our people. First we saw the CTF crew screaming their heads off for us and right after that we saw our family and a few other CTF family. :)
This was the part I was just NOT excited about. I was trained for it...but I absolutely just don't like my bike right now. I think I'm just tired of it. 5, 6.. 7 hours on your bike at a time is just annoying and boring. I also can't stand to eat all of my nutrition anymore so I hate eating while on the bike. I got seriously bored. I also had trouble getting food down. Not because I was feeling sick, but I think my mouth and throat was so dry and nasty from all the salt water I took in, I just couldn't actually get it down and swallow it without gagging. Gross, right??
Compared to last year, the bike was great. The wind was minimal and we had nice cloud cover. At the halfway point some of my favorite CTF girls were there screaming for us! Tara..Carolanne you girls make me so happy and your attitude and joy for life is contagious. I love y'all and absolutely loved that I saw you not once, not twice but like 5 or 6 times on the course!!!
We were off for the last half of the bike. With about 20 miles to go, it started to sprinkle. At first I got a little nervous with the wet roads, but it felt nice. THEN.. It started to pour! It rained pretty hard on us for a good 15 minutes. A lot of people were slowing down, but I kind of just wanted to be done so I sped up and just went for it. The bike really was pretty uneventful. Just boring. I'll take that over mechanical problems, flat tires or a crash. Unfortunately Jason and I weren't able to talk too much due to drafting rules...but knowing he was right behind me the whole time was comforting.
I cried here and there just when I started to think about the day and what was happening. I felt the prayers. I felt good and I was so excited to be there. The bike took us 7 hours and 27 minutes. I wanted it to be a little faster, but I can't complain when I just simply finish the ride safely. We rounded the final corner back into town and saw all our people again. It was so much fun seeing everyone so often. Having such a big group there was awesome!
Transition 2 went much better than the first. I didn't cry this time. Got changed and off we went.
Coming out of transition my legs felt like they were done. I knew that all the CTF peeps and our family were right around the corner so Jason and I were just taking it slow to take it all in. We said our hellos. Gave hugs and kisses and we were off for our first 13.1 lap. Waist up, I felt good... But my legs were screaming. They weren't happy and I didn't want to run. But Jason made me. It was dark by 5:00 pm there so it really messed with my head. I figured we would be going until midnight...use my full 17 hours but Jason brought it to my attention that we could pull this off in under 16 hours, he was pushing me to get a 15:30 time. I didn't think that was possible because of the way my legs felt. Fortunately, my training started to pay off. I started to feel better as the night went on. Jason and I were on a walk run schedule. We would walk...when I wanted to. Ha!
We actually had a great pace and schedule. Running for a short amount of time then walking. It's amazing how quickly the first lap went. I couldn't believe how good we were doing and feeling. I was only eating the nutrition off the course because anytime I tried to eat my nutrition I was gagging. But I'll tell you. I thoroughly enjoyed the potato chips, cookies, pretzels, Coke and ice water and oranges. And we found one aid station with Popsicles and it was the best stinkin Popsicle I ever had in my life! Towards the end of the run Jason and I were running more than we were walking. It was late-ish so a lot of the folks out there were walking - it felt good to pass people. I'm not usually a passer, I'm usually the pass-ee. Got the first lap done and the second lap was all we had left. Once we headed back out to the park I knew we were good to go. I still felt good and was ready to finish this thing once and for all. We hit the 18 mile mark and I was ready to get it! 18 miles was where I dropped out in Cozumel. I KNEW that I was finishing this thing. I still had over 2 hours to finish up 7 miles. The closer we got to town the more excited we got. We could begin to hear the music and every now and then I would get a small glimpse of the announcers voice. 2 miles to go and it started raining on us again. I hate running in the rain...it seems that everything I was afraid of happened that day. But it was downright awesome.
I secretly cried a little then...Just for a second though. I was exhausted and the reality of the day was setting in.
My excitement and adrenaline quickly stepped in and Jason and I took off for the finish line.
And there it was. I had seen it before, but this time it was real. I completed my journey. That light at the end of the amazing red carpet with the cute little M-dot...that was it. Jason and I (escorted on the side by the fabulous Carolanne again) took it in. Saw the CTF peeps SCREAMING and there it was....
"Jason and Katy Wakin, coming in together.
YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!"
The second we crossed the finish line I saw Denver reaching over the gate for me. I ran strait to him and gave him the biggest hug. And right beside him was the rest of our family. All of them just completely as excited for us as we were to be done.
Amazing. Simply amazing.
What an incredible journey. From the grueling training starting in March 2014 to the disappointment of the cancellation of the swim last year to the heartbreak of not finishing in Cozumel... It all led up to that moment.
And it was absolutely perfect. Every single moment of that day was perfect. I'm so thankful that Jason was by my side 100% of the time. He is my rock and I would not have wanted to do this any other way.
My love and thanks of course to Jason. But also to our family for being so supportive. For following us for two years through this crazy journey. For supporting us 100% and loving us through think and thin.
To all of YOU who have supported and encouraged us for the past 2 years. For those that continue to give to the Children's Tumor Foundation in hopes to find a cure for NF. For your continued prayers and for your prayers on race day.
To the amazing men that joined TEAM DENVER and made their IRONMAN dreams even bigger than they are. Thank you. Each of you have been such a huge part of this and I can't imagine have doing this without you and your families. You made this journey of ours complete and now I know that "everything happens for a reason"
God surely knew what He was doing when he put that first little thought in my head 2 years ago. We've made incredible lifelong friends along the way and Jason and I have become 110% closer than we've ever been. I laugh when I see the signs that say "if you're still married, you didn't train hard enough."
We have learned so much about each other, our relationship, friendships and how seriously amazing God is.
This journey may be over but the joy that's after the finish line last forever.
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10