On Saturday February 17th, 2018 at 12:05 in the afternoon, I entered the water.
The water at Lake Pflugerville had been in the mid-40s F about 5 days before race day, on our location test day, so I was worried. But instead of the nearly freezing rain of that day, race day was a comparatively lovely mid-50s overcast day, with the water an almost tepid 48 degrees F.
The Iron Unicycle was always meant to be a feat unto its own. Something unique. For that reason I allowed myself the freedom of doing a pre-swim mile run in the wetsuit to warm up for the cold water (and cut a slice of the final run), and then ended up doing 2 miles in the wetsuit after the swim as well. This 2-miler returned the blood to my feet before I hopped on the unicycle. After starting the 1-mile wetsuit run and the swim at 12:05, I exited the water at 1:40pm and ran the other wetsuit run of 2 miles, bringing the total distance to 6.7 miles at about 2pm.
The hardpacked path around Lake Pflugerville is about 3 miles, and I had planned in 6 laps around the lake. I gave some kids high-fives, I stopped 2 or 3 times with my crew to snack and hydrate before the big push out around Austin, I fought the wind.
At just past 3:40, having put away 18 miles of unicycling around the lake and bringing the total mileage to 24.7, I set off for downtown Austin. The long way, that is. For the first leg of the 167 mile unicycling portion, I had daytime on my side. The sun even peeked out a couple times! The trails were beautiful and my pace rocketed up, which meant good news as far as making up for the many breaks I had taken. It spelled bad news for my soreness later on, though.
The first phase lasted from 3:40 to 7pm, leaving me at 59 unicycle miles, or 65.7 miles total. As you can see, the rest stop at the end was Modo Yoga, where my crew captain Jimmy Agnew works. Just as the last yoga classes ended, he was able to set out some snacks, heat up some roasted veggies, and even put on some Bob Marley for good vibes! His help, humor, and upbeat energy kept me going for the full 24 and 1/2 hours.
Phase two went by in a relative breeze, lasting from 7:15pm to 11pm. At this point I had reached 97 unicycle miles, or 103.7 miles total.
For mileage, not for effort!
I listened to the a Divine Throughline podcast about nut-based cheeses, which was appetizing enough to keep me attentive. My headlamp started to fade, so luckily the on-route pitstop at my brother’s house allowed me to get some new batteries. My brother Morgan was my original inspiration for wanting to do something like an Ironman. He did his first (and only, he’d say) Ironman in Coeur d’Alene, ID in 2015.
My break stop at 11pm gave my crew a chance to fit on two other bike lights, and I ate some figs, dark chocolate, and took a power nap. I chugged some tea with chocolate and cordyceps, which is a mushroom shown to give a performance boost. Try Four Sigmatic’s mushroom products here.
Here is where delerium began to seep in.
I left at 11:35pm, having once again taken a longer break than anticipated, but this time for a good reason. Some soreness and nighttime fatigue led me to take a power nap and then sluggishly get some snacks before heading out. This leg lasted from 11:35pm to 4am. Although this was meant to be a 29 mile out and back totaling 58 miles, I somehow shorted it by 10 miles. I suppose having these maps pre-downloaded instead of having to guess would have been helpful. I arrived back to the crew at exactly 4am, exactly 10 miles behind schedule. No problem, you might think. Well, The Iron Unicycle was very specific. I was meant to be leaving on the running portion at 5am, allowing plenty of time to run the 10 miles to the Austin Marathon starting place. (Remember 1.5 Ironman means 1 and 1/2 marathons.) This means that I needed to unicycle 20 miles from 4am to 5am. My pace had slowed from 14 to 10 mph, breaks included, so this was not happening. Jimmy tailed me in the car under my urging. This kept me on pace and on the unicycle. If I did fall, he’d be there to tend this wacky athlete.
The original loop designed for the end of the unicycling was meant to be a distance Jimmy could support by bicycle, but we need to do 20 miles, it was raining, and I decided I’d much rather have him run with me to the start of the Marathon. We did a bigger version of the above loop, bring the unicycle portion total to 167 miles by just before 6:00 am.
I stuffed some snacks into my mouth, hydration pack, and pockets. I pulled on my compression socks and running gear, and happily tossed the helmet and gloves off, and joined Jimmy on foot to the Marathon. We now had less than one hour to arrive at the Marathon
fresh and ready to finish the (last) 26.2 miles. We managed to squeak out 6.7 miles. Because I need 10, but did NOT want to add the on after the end of the marathon, I just hoped that I could summon the will power to add them on during the marathon. I would double-back on the crowd 1.65 miles and go again with the flow, adding a total of 3.3 miles. This did not happen. I managed to add .3 miles over the course of marathon, partly due to those prior logistic and pacing errors, and partly due to lack of remaining willpower. I decided firmly that I’d rather come up short on the arbitrary 1.5 ironman running distance. I’d rather just finish the Austin Marathon as it came.
I felt considerably fresh from 0 to mile 12 of the marathon, which were my mile 9.7 to 21.7, or 193.4 miles total. But every mile after that I became less and less motivated. I wish I could give a story of the warrior mindset. I wish I could say I was in great pain. Well, I was in great pain. Maybe not the worst of my life, but enough that, when combined with the fatigue and drain of an overnight race (and remember–uncycling 167 miles!) I simply became content with walking, with just finishing. At no point from mile 12 til the end of the marathon did I doubt I could finish. But I doubted I could run or do more than walk. Initially I ran between water stations. Then that became broken up by bouts of walking, then it was only the downhills that I ran. Luckily, my brother and his wife showed up at mile 18 to usher me along. My peppy sister-in-law, who by running standards was as fresh as daisies, coaxed me into little jaunts of slow running. We chatted and laughed as we debated when we would walk again. I picked the telephone pole 10 feet away, she picked the stop sign 50 feet away. We compromised. After my sister-in-law came my brother, who saw me through to mile 22. This was the mile marker that hit me moderately hard on last year’s Austin Marathon. The year prior I had run the Austin Marathon with 5 months of solid run training, and was able to eek out a 3:28 marathon. The infamous mile 18 bonk did not happen, but I did get the mile 22 no-f*cks-given stage. Same here. The f*ck jar was empty. My only promise to myself was to finish, and to finish by running the last mile.
So even though I started in cold water 24 and 1/2 hours earlier, and then weathered the discomfort of 167 miles of coasting-less unicycling. Even though I fell 1 mile shy on the unicycle and 3 miles shy on the running, and even though my legs seemed to be built from pine needles and granite, and I was tired enough to nap in a port-a-potty, I ran the last mile.
Then, the 71-year-old guy who finished his 71st marathon way ahead of me gave me a high five.
I guess it’s all relative.
Thank you to Ari from Four Sigmatic for sending out the support package of insanely awesome superfood mushroom elixirs! Try their products out, everyone!
Thank you to Paul and Kat for sticking it out with the filming in all conditions: cold water, moving car, moving unicycle, moving car keeping up with moving unicycle? Thanks for the awesome footage!
And most crucially, at the darkest hours and with the best vibe and humor, Jimmy Agnew, brother in arms and crew captain, thank you! You and Raygen were the unsung heroes, but I shall sing your praise nonetheless!