Ironman Florida, 2001 (My first Ironman)

Mary at IronmanI thought about this today during my ride, thought I’d repost it here.

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Here was my initial fundraising request for Ironman Florida 2001:

As many of you already know, on November 10th I will be participating in Ironman Florida in Panama City Beach, Florida.  I set this goal for myself last year, and have spent a good part of 2001 working toward accomplishing this goal. (For the few family members, friends and co­workers I have not bored with the details of this event, it consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112­mile bike and a 26.2 mile run — yes, all in one day.)

Since the events of September 11th, I’ve found it very difficult to train with the single­minded focus I had known previously. I have continued to train, but till now had not been able to find the same satisfaction in what I was preparing for.

After receiving an Ironman USA newsletter announcing the Janus Charity Challenge, I feel I have found a new sense of purpose for competing in Ironman Florida.Janus has offered to donate $500 to each charity that an athlete raises funds for.  (See  http://www.ironmanflorida.com/relieffund.html) I have decided to use this opportunity to raise funds for the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows & Children’s Fund.  One hundred percent of the funds donated to this charity are given directly to the benefit of the widows and children of NYC Firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty.  It is where the NYC Fire Department has asked donations be sent.If you want to donate to the firefighters’ families, there is no other ‘recognized’ fund.  The UFA fund is set up by the firefighters, for the firefighters.  I have already contacted Janus and verified that the UFA Widows and Children’s Fund qualifies for their matching funds offer.

My husband, Bryan, is a New York City firefighter.  Bryan arrived at the Trade Center that Tuesday shortly after the buildings collapsed.  He spent many hours and days in the following weeks dedicated to the rescue efforts,but was eventually able to come home to his family.  So many of his fellow firefighters did not.  343 NYC firefighters lost their lives trying to save others that day.

The following quote is from an article on xtri.com by Kara Douglass:

“. . . A close friend of mine, who is training for her first Ironman, helped me reconcile those feelings and renewed my focus.  Did someone on those planes or in those towers, or the Pentagon dream of completing an Ironman? she asked.  If they did, or if they had any dreams, I owe it to them to spend my time here on earth accomplishing mine.  They ran out of time.  If I waste and squander my time, if I don’t follow my dreams, I disrespect their memory.”

And here is my recap/thank you to everyone who helped me:

I have spoken with many of you individually and e-mailed those of you that I had e-mail addresses for, but I wanted to make sure that I thanked everyone who contributed financial and emotional support to my fund-raising efforts for the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows & Children’s Fund.  In light of all the questions raised about other charities since I started this, I want to assure everyone that 100% of the funds donated to this charity are and always have been used directly to benefit the widows and children of New York City firefighters killed in the line of duty.

After sending the last batch of contributions that I received to the UFA, the total amount that I raised came to $13,540.  Janus Funds had allocated $100,000 toward this effort.  There were only 34 athletes who participated in the fundraising campaign.  They decided that they would disperse the entire $100,000 among the charities that these 34 athletes raised funds for, so their contribution would be more than the initial $500 they promised.  I found out on New Year’s Eve that they have sent a check in the amount of $5,734 to the UFA on my behalf!

I did take all your personal notes with me to Florida.  The night before the race, I sat and read through all of them and was reminded of the tremendous amount of friendship, support and generosity I received from each of you.  How did the girls from Jersey Elite, my daughter’s competition cheering squad, find the time to sell lollipops to benefit the firemen in addition to all the school and extracurricular activities they already participate in?  The $425 they gave to the UFA was only a small portion of what they raised.  I wonder if the preschool through 5th grade children from the Neptune Township Ridge Avenue School will ever know how touching and inspiring their donation of $90, raised by them five cents at a time, which they earned each time they were “caught” by a teacher being nice to one another really was?

I received a letter and a donation from someone that I have never met but her letter has stayed with me since I received it.  She told me about a friend of hers, Gerard Dewan from Ladder 3 in New York, who was lost on September 11th.To quote her letter:

“. . . Jerry loved to run.  I was touched when I read your e-mail.  Jerry had been running 12 miles a day 3 times a week in the last months of his life.  It breaks my heart when I think about how he will never do that again . . .”

When I had just about twelve miles left of the marathon I mentally stopped, looked up and asked Jerry to help me the rest of the way.I truly believe he must have heard me.I was able to run the second half of the marathon in 2 hours 16 minutes.Since this was only 4 minutes slower than my 2:12 first half, I figure he must have just decided to pick me up and carry me.

I did complete my first Ironman, much faster than I had dreamed was possible, in 12 hours, 15 minutes.  It is still overwhelming to me when I look back at the day.  I remember standing on the beach looking out at the Gulf of Mexico and at all 1,800 plus athletes lined up along the shore line and wondering how was I ever going to get in and swim 2.4 miles with all of us starting at the same time.  Somehow or other, I did.  I managed to find a comfortable rhythm, and had no serious difficulty until the end when another athlete managed to accidentally whack me in the eye.  No blood, no black eye so I just kept going.When I hit the beach and realized I was done with part one — in 1 hour, 14 minutes (way ahead of schedule) — I know I was shouting with excitement.  Running through the lines of volunteers and spectators all cheering was such a rush!Off to the transition area and more wonderful volunteers who basically did everything for me that I needed to get me out on the next leg of the day — the bike.  Again I remember going through the chute lined with spectators all cheering and I know I was cheering also. 112 miles — could I really do it?  The spectators, volunteers and other racers on the bike course were incredible.  The coordination involved in supporting this part of the day is unbelievable.  The lines of volunteers holding out water bottles, gatorade, gels, power bars and more — all watching the approaching cyclists and shouting out their offerings while also shouting encouragement was inspiring.  They covered all ages, shapes and sizes and truly seemed to want to make sure I got exactly what I needed at each aid station.  The spectators were unbelievable, holding up signs,looking each one of us in the face, shouting encouragement and support, suggesting I bike like Lance (I wish!), and telling me I looked great (unlikely at this point!)  Brief conversations with other participants in the race were inspiring, but the number of officials watching for drafting did not allow for much more than a quick word of support as I either passed or was passed throughout my ride.  No flats, no crashes and before I knew it — well, 6 hours 18 minutes later . . . I was done with leg two.  Once again, way ahead of schedule.  I did feel the start of some stomach distress, but into the tent again after an enthusiastic volunteer grabbed my bike and put it away for me.

A word for all those wonderful volunteers in the tent at this point: there is nothing attractive about a bunch of people who have been out in the sun pushing themselves to their limit for many hours who now want to get ready to run a marathon.  I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.  My volunteer just stood at my side with my bag of stuff opened and laid out, ready to hand me whatever I needed next.  Okay, off I go again — through that same chute lined with supporters.  When I saw my husband and daughter at this point I remember telling them yes — I’m okay and yes — I think I’m going to make it.

Trying to settle in for the run proved difficult at first.  I had to make a couple of pit stops which I thought would lead to the end of my day but within a couple of miles my stomach settled down.I began running with a very fit looking young guy — he told me he was 25 and hoped to be able to hold 10 minute pace.  I said that was a good pace for his second leg of the run and what I hoped to hold for my entire run.  He said he was just starting his first leg, also!  He and I ran most of the first half together, till he started walking and I left him behind.  What a boost to my ego that was!  I saw my coach and friend Brian Shea heading back on the end of his first loop — I should have told him I was ahead of schedule so he didn’t have to spend time trying to figure out if he was behind schedule.  Once again, incredible volunteer support.  Hundreds of children, teens and adults holding out all types of nutritional support and again, seeming to want to make sure that each one of us got exactly what it was we needed.  If they didn’t have it, they ran ahead to the table that did and grabbed it for me.  Spectators and signs of encouragement lined the out and back, two loop marathon course.At the end of the first loop I got to the point where the course forks.  There are two signs — one pointing me to the left to start my second leg and one pointing me to the right to the finish line.  How long before I’m back here?  I headed back out for leg two.  My husband and daughter were there, again asking how I was, I could see the incredible look of love and support in both of their eyes.  I really started to believe I was going to make it.  Now it’s getting dark and I can see people heading back in with light sticks.Wish we all had them since so many people ahead of me were walking and I, somehow, was still running.I was terribly afraid I was going to run into someone.  So many athletes are finishing, so many more are starting out on their first leg.  The support continues.  Music, costumed volunteers and more line the course.  I offered what support I could to those who looked like they were struggling, and I was encouraged by other athletes as I ran along.  It has gotten really dark, my watch has reset its timer to zero, I no longer have any idea how long I’ve been out.  But I’m still running and making forward progress.  The crowds of spectators are getting thicker and I’m approaching that same fork in the course, but this time I’m going to the right.  I get to the top of the finish chute and see the clock — 12 hours, 15 minutes and hear Mike Reilly, the voice from so many Ironman races on tv announcing “Moira Horan from Spring Lake Heights, New Jersey finishing her first Ironman!”  The tape is being pulled across the finish for me and I am running into it with my arms up in the air, crying and laughing all at once.

My husband and daughter are there, as is Brian and his wife, Andrea.  I have finished 23 minutes ahead of Brian’s bold prediction of a 12 hour 38 minute finish for me.  I thought he was very optimistic and totally unrealistic.  I find out that Brian has finished in 9 hours, 47 minutes, a personal best Ironman finish for him.

I’ve recovered without any injuries, and been goofing off and eating since I finished.  Fortunately, my scale is broken.  It’s nice to not have a 5 or 6 hour day of training scheduled, but I have signed up again for Ironman Florida in 2002.  I hope to participate in the Janus Charity Challenge again, also.

I cannot thank you all enough for your friendship, support and generosity.  I hope you have had a Merry Christmas, and I wish you and your loved ones a Happy and Peaceful New Year.

All the best,

Moira

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