It is now Day 5 after the Lake Placid IRONMAN. I’m starting to feel a little less emotional so I thought I would take this time to share my experience. But first, I want to express my sincere gratitude to MMRF for their unbelievable support the days leading up to the event and especially on race day. They went way above and beyond the call of duty with their attention to every little detail an athlete and supporter needed for a very long day. This included cheering zones that were located on the most crucial areas of the course as well as placing MMRF volunteers everywhere! The cheering zones were well supplied with food, beverages, chairs and coverage from the hot sun for MMRF patients, more MMRF volunteers and family members. These amazing supporters, who all wore orange MMRF t-shirts were a constant reminder for me of my “why”. I could not have chosen to work with a better organization that is working so hard to find a cure for cancer.
This event became more than an IRONMAN to me. It became less about putting in the long hours of training and the sacrifices that came along with it. It became less about overcoming fatigue, discouragement, injuries, pain and sometimes lack of motivation. It also became less about trying to reach “time” goals for each segment and it even became less about crossing the finish line. Instead, this IRONMAN became an entity bigger than myself. An entity bigger than I could have ever expected or dreamed of. It became more and more about the patients and the families impacted by Myeloma and other forms of cancer. But it also developed another entity. When I posted my “Prayer List” idea, (to receive names of individuals to pray for while I trained for the IM and then on Race day) I was not sure what kind of response I would receive. I was pleasantly surprised and touched by the emails and the texts that came in daily. My prayer list started to grow and each training session took on a new meaning. I had a mission and that mission was to pray for each person’s name that was given to me! Including more Myeloma patients.
As I carried out my mission, I discovered that my training sessions became less daunting and more fun! No longer did I look at biking 4-6 hours followed by a 30 minute run, or running 3-4 hours or swimming 1 hour as a chore or a very long training day. Instead, I saw it as an opportunity to use my passion and love for training, being active and fit for a higher and more meaningful purpose. On race day, I had a copy of my prayer list at each transition (swim, bike and run) just in case I became delirious and couldn’t remember any names! But I didn’t need the list. The names were already in my head and heart and I sent prayers all throughout the race.
So, what about the race itself? My biggest challenge was the swim and not because I am not a good swimmer! I did have a wet suit malfunction but the challenge was that it was absolutely chaotic! With over 2700 people all trying to swim in the same direction for 2.4 miles (2 loops around Mirror Lake) it is no wonder there was chaos. But I found people to be extremely aggressive and it seemed like no one knew how to “sight” properly! They were swimming all over the lake even though they had lines, buoys, and volunteers to guide us. I was head locked a few times and swam over quite often. I think I spent more time trying to protect myself and dodge the kicks, pulls and head butts than actually swim! But I made it and I finished strong. No bruises (well, except for the scars on my neck from my wetsuit’s velcroe)
Next came the 112 mile bike. (2 loops through the Adirondacks) After the wetsuit strippers (yes, they have volunteers who actually help take off wetsuits from the athletes! Interested in volunteering now?) I ran to the transition tent. Everything went pretty smoothly here. My only challenge was that the weather started to really heat up and the bike tent felt like a sauna. So much so that when I put on my sunglasses, they fogged up immediately and stayed that way for almost an hour. But the transition was not the only area that was hot. The temperature started to rise and the forecasted rain and clouds disappeared.
Lake Placid is known for its hilly terrain and with the first 6 miles a steady ascent, 30 miles of steady rolling hills and the last 12 miles all uphill, bike incidents were to be expected. I saw several athletes with flat tires, blown wheels and witnessed a few accidents. Luckily, I made it through with no incidents just fatigue. The first loop I felt great but the second loop I had to dig deep. But what kept me going during my lowest moments were Craig and Angela. Two Myeloma patients who gave a testimony at the MMRF reception dinner the night before the race. Craig, who I am very blessed to now call my friend, has had Myeloma for 8.5 years (life expectancy is 2.5 years) and has undergone 74 rounds of Chemotherapy. 74 ROUNDS OF CHEMO! How could I even think of complaining when he has suffered so much and I so little? Angela has had Myeloma for over 2 years and hearing her tell her story of how she, a single mom, had to tell her two teenage boys she had an incurable disease with a short life expectancy, you better believe my two little legs kept on pedaling while I counted my blessings! It’s quite amazing when you stop thinking of yourself and think about other people who are going through struggles of some sort or who are facing illness and sometimes death, how your own situation doesn’t seem so bad.
Next came the 26.2 mile run. In the transition tent, I changed into another pair of bike shorts, put on my trainers, threw on my baseball cap and fuel belt, guzzled lots of water and then I was off! Was I ever glad that I chose to wear my fuel belt. I would never have made it to each aid station if I did carry my own fuel. The heat was beyond brutal at this point. I saw so many athletes bonking from dehydration and other issues which encouraged me to stay properly fueled and hydrated. I was successful but my knees took a beating on the hills on the second loop around. So I chose to be safe, ran easy or powerwalked, enjoyed the beautiful scenery, chatted with other athletes, and cheered on my fellow teammates as we passed each other. But the best part of the run was the last mile. As I made it up the final hill (yes, there was a nice long steep ascent before the last 2 miles) and turned toward the last leg of the race, I was overwhelmed by the cheers from the crowds that were lined up along the run course. I felt like a rock star! Suddenly my knees didn’t hurt so much and my pace picked up even faster. Then I saw my husband and best friend. When I saw my husband, I felt a huge need and desire to stop and show my appreciation for all of his support and love throughout my journey to the Lake Placid Ironman. So I stopped to hug him. If I had the ability to stop time for just a little bit, that would have been the moment. I didn't want it to end! But I had a race to finish and other supporters to thank.
As I continued toward the last turn around point, two wonderful events happened. First, I met Christine. She and I were beyond fatigued. Our legs were exhausted and the turnaround seemed like another marathon away! So we chatted to keep our minds off the pain. This was Christine’s first IM and she was blown away by how challenging the course was. She didn’t think she had it in her to run the last .2 miles. After hearing that, the Personal Trainer came out in me. I encouraged her to pick up her pace to powerwalk and then as we came to the last turn I said to her “Now we run!” She was hesitate at first but she did and just as we went around the final bend, we saw the finish line. Then the second wonderful event happened. I saw Natalie walking. Natalie was from my home town (Montreal) and she and I biked together on the course sharing training stories and encouraging each other. I was so happy to see her! I reached out for her arm and said “Let’s go! We are all going to cross the finish line together!” As the finish line approached, I felt an overwhelming feeling of peacefulness, love and gratitude. I worked so hard to get to the finish line and now I was about to cross it! But then something strange happened. Something that I would not have expected from my extremely competitive self. I started to slow down and told Christine to keep going. This was her moment and I wanted her to cross the finish line alone and hear Mike Reilly call her name. As I watched her cross the finish line, I turned to Natalie. She was right behind me so I knew if I crossed the finish line, she would have her moment too. So I crossed over and heard the words “Donna Foster-Larocque, you are now an IRONMAN!”
I don’t remember much after crossing the finish line. I was delirious with excitement, happiness and amazement. But my wonderful husband, my super amazing mom and my best friend were right at the finish line to congratulate me and to confirm that I DID IT! But I wasn’t alone in my journey and I didn’t feel like I crossed the finish line on my own. I crossed with my family, friends, the MMRF team, my new friends through MMRF, the people I met along the way through my training, the Volunteers, the names of the individuals on my prayer list and my Dad, whose passing inspired me to get involved with MMRF.
So now the question is, what’s next? Stay tuned. J
Stay active and anything is possible!