As the orange moon begins to descend behind the red rock canyons, the sky becomes a pallet of red and yellow. “Athletes, please make your way to the swim start”, a voice booms. With green swim caps and black wet suits, an army of matching determined warriors make their way to the base of the water. Functioning off of 3 hours of sleep and a small bowl of fruit, I take a stand next to my comrade. I take a moment to soak in my surroundings. I see thousands of determined faces. Everyone beside me has dedicated the better half of a year to this race. Blood sweat and tears. The day no one thought would come, has finally arrived.
“Athletes, please make your way into the water.” the announcer commands. With a deep exhale, Steve and I meet eyes as if to say, “let’s do what we came to do.” I clench a tight fist and throw it toward Steve. He meets me half way and our knuckles bump. We make our way slowly into the bone cold water. 15 minutes go by of simply wading. For a moment, everything goes silent. I can hear the thumping of my heart beating violently in my chest.
the cannon explodes. Surging with energy, we swim. What started out as a calm still water, became a violent whirlpool of flailing arms and legs. blood began to flow from my lip, as a powerful leg smashed into my face. Impossible to maneuver. The water raged vigorously. Constant hands and arms hit my back, feet, and head…all I could do was deal with it. Then, when I thought the worst was behind me, an old enemy returned. No one saw it coming. In an instant ferocious winds formed an infantry of gigantic waves that came barreling through the water. Everyone was being thrown back and forth, left and right, and off course. This being my first open water swim, I didn’t know what level of difficulty this was. Later, I was told it was the toughest swim in the history of Ironman. I was having an absolute blast! “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” I road the waves up and down, smiling all the while. Often gulping down large quantities of water, which caused me to gag and choke. Off to the right, I could see dozens of people hanging on to the rescue kayaks, clearly out of energy. Had the wind started before the race, the swim would have been canceled no doubt.
After about 2 miles, I was done having fun and was ready to reach the finish. I was becoming dizzy and making slow progress as the massive white caps forced me backwards. Finally, the finish was in sight, and I cut through the raging water with all my might. “Show them what your made of.”After 1 hour and 45 minutes of fighting, I climbed up onto solid ground and nearly fell over. I was extremely dizzy, everything was blurry for a moment. The crowed was booming and smiles filled my sights. I stumbled over to the wet suit strippers and laid down. That’s when I noticed my tracking chip had been knocked off. I knew someone had pulled it off in the chaotic blue water. “If you lost your tracking chip, you can pick one up at the ‘bike out’ I heard announced. Hundreds of people didn’t complete the swim course. Disqualified. I got my chip, got my bike, and busted a move.
It all happened in an instant. My body didn’t have time to adjust to the bicycle. The first 5 miles were treacherous trying to adapt, but soon enough I became one with my carbon fiber chariot. Finally, I was able to think well enough to come up with a plan. “Remember, save your strength for the run”, I thought to myself as I cruised passed another cyclist. I cut through the first 20 miles of hills with ease. “Ahead is an aid station” a man shouted as I passed by. In the distance I could see dozens of people lined up along the side of the road with extended arms. As I got closer, I realized they were handing out nutrition. I was riding with only one water bottle cage, because my other ones didn’t fit. This put me at a large disadvantage. I knew I had to get as much water as possible. “Perform! GU! Banana! Water!”, the volunteers shouted. I grabbed a water bottle and a banana from their helping hands and kept on cruising. The bananas were cut in half to make them easier to consume. With the cap of the water bottle pinned between my teeth, I used one hand to steer and the other to pinch the banana out of it’s peel. That golden treat disappeared in a single bite. I then chugged the entire bottle of water and tossed it to a volunteer. The sweat dripping down my hand caused me to slip off the handle bar. I became dangerously close to going off road, but I regained control and made it a point to just get to the next aid station. Now, about 30 miles in, I was approaching the scenic 2 loop portion of the course. AKA: the hard part. The first loop was gnarly. The suns rays beat down like a fire on my tender skin. The relentless uphills and powerful headwind caused agonizing pain. “Just keep moving forward.” 15 miles later, I reached the next aid station. This time, I had to stop and relieve myself of bodily fluid. “BIKE UP!” the volunteers shouted as they took my bike from me with a smile. “Need me to get you anything!?” I was so amazed by the willingness to help from all the volunteers. Constantly trying to aid in anyway with encouragement. Once my bladder was empty, I filled the single bottle attached to my frame and chugged the remainder liquid. OFF I GO!
After a series of towering hills, came the toughest one of all. It’s nickname: The Wall. This is a mile steep rock face. I remembered taking this beast down in training, so I was prepared. I lifted off my seat and began to pedal hard. The taste of salt filled my mouth as sweat streaked down my face. Gritting my teeth, I began my acsent! I passed every single cylist in front of me. “That’s the way!” I heard a pro athlete shout to me as I passed him. Everything in my being wanted to stop…but I knew I couldn’t. “You rock the bike!” another athlete exclaimed searching for breath. These words of encouragement carried me the rest of the way. Once I reached the top, I was in for a break. After one more long uphill, I would have a 15 mile stretch of pure downhill relaxation. I pedaled fast through the canyons topping out at 50 mph. Still, the pros blew right past me. I was in the highest and toughest gear and couldn’t accelerate. I didn’t understand how they were. Finally, I reached another aid station and poured the water down my back. I took out some gu I was storing in the back pockets of my tri suit and gulped them down. The 1st loop was done, one more to go. “How am I ever going to do this?” I began to doubt myself. The heat and wind really began taking a toll on my brain. It was fried and I was dizzy. “Just keep pedaling.” the second loop consisted of less wind and lots of bananas! The time came when I reached “the wall” again. “I’m going to walk this time…and I’m going to be okay with that” I thought to myself. However, by the time I got to the base of the rock, I changed my mind. “Go big or go home!” As I cruised up the hill even faster than before I heard many athletes praising me once again…which was so uplifting. “Holy Sh**!” About 600 feet from the top, I pulled off to the side. The cyclist I had just passed encouraged me, “Don’t stop! Keep going!” …It worked.
I powerhoused the last 17 miles and finally came to “Bike Finish” I stumbled off the bike and found my way into the changing tent to gear up for the run.
I sat there, on the verge of vomiting, and wondered how I was going to finish this race. All the naked old dudes changing around me certainly didn’t help my nausea. I poured several cups of ice water down my neck, for just a moment of refreshment. I dropped my head into my knees. I thought of what life would be like after the race if I failed . How could I let all my friends, family, IronMan Company, and most importantly myself down? That’s when I lifted my head, tied my shoes, stood up, and marched out into an ocean of smiling, cheering, raging spectators. It all happened in slow motion. “Failure is not an option. Push that envelope.” I knew I didn’t have to do it fast, but I DID have to do it.
Jason: You know what they call the last man to cross the finish line?
Jason: An Ironman.
Blinded by cameras flashing in my face, I walked through the running shoot. “Let’s go Taylor! Looking great!” I heard a voice shout. That’s when I began my slow jog. My stomach churned and my head spun wildly. I barely held my balance. “God, I know I’ve done a lot of wrong in your eyes in this life. I know I don’t deserve to beat this, but please give me just enough strength to finish this.” I pushed foreword.
“Perform! Gu! Ice Water! Wet Sponge! Pretzels! Fruit!” Thank the Lord for those aid stations. I emptied several ice waters on my face, had a few grapes, and pressed on. It was about this time that my heartburn began. “Great…this is the last thing I need.” I began to stumble and slowed to a power walk.
It was at this moment that I met the man who carried me the last 20 miles. His name is Jason. He’s a father of 5, and this was his third St. George Ironman. He’s a true inspiration. The previous year he walked the last 22 miles of the marathon due to heat stroke and a sour stomach. He was feeling lousy again, and we agreed to tackle these last 20 miles together. The hours ticked slowly by. Jason kept my spirits high and promised me we would make it to the end. “Pain is temporary. To finish is forever” The sun fell behind the mountains, and the brightest full moon of the year lit up the course. A few times I heard “Trailing The Sun” shouted at me followed by words of encouragement. It certainly helped. “Looking great!”
The hours ticked slowly on. The heartburn didn’t let up, the dizziness got worse, the churning in my stomach became chaotic. If I stood still, I couldn’t see straight. However, Jason and the rest of the spectators kept my spirits high.
Me: Hey man, it’s swim, bike, run… it’s not Swim, Bike, Run, Walk… is this really going to count?
Jason: Listen, when your body is falling apart and you have every reason to quit, and you keep moving forward you’ll have truly earned it. That’s true strength.
With one hour to midnight and still 3 miles from the finish, the pressure was on. Under other circumstances, I could bang out those miles in 20 minutes easy…but not now. Not when I was moving at 4 miles an hour and falling apart fast. We kept moving forward and made a couple friends along the way who were also burnt out. We encouraged each other the whole way.
Then, I saw the 25 mile marker…Something inside me ignited. The last 4 and a half months flashed through my memory. leaving home a naive kid, and ending up here a man. I felt the iron begin to pulse through my veins. Jason reached out his hand and I grabbed hold. “Let’s finish this thing like real IronMen”, I said. “You got it” Jason and I turned on full speed and I ignored my feet littered with blisters, I ignored my melting brain, and ran toward the sound of the crowd. Before I knew it, I cut the corner and saw the flashing of hundreds of cameras and the cheerful faces of thousands. I extended my arms and slapped hands with dozens of raging fans. I raised my fists to heaven with the biggest smile anyone could make. As I crossed that line, my body exploded with iron. It was over. I did it…at long last. I defeated the toughest IronMan course of all time.
Thank you Jason…thanks for it all!
Thank you Jesus. Thank you for it all.