I had been playing those words over and over on every swim, every bike, and every run for the last 8 months while training for this event. They stirred emotion, caused pain, joy, exhaustion, love, anger, fear, frustration, disgust, sadness, surprise, happiness, and taught me things about myself that even I didn't know was there. How can those small little words cause so many different emotions? I don't think I will ever be able to answer that without the memories of this journey causing me to tear up. Ok, enough mushy stuff and onto my day at Ironman Texas.
I went into this race with a couple goals. I wanted to have a strong swim that would give me motivation for the rest of the day and I wanted to stay up right on the bike after the crash in IM70.3FL. My plan the entire time was to wear my wet suit as long as it was allowed. This was my first full distance Ironman and I wanted to enjoy the day. As the race grew closer the water temp rose to 81 degrees which made me a little worried about getting over heated in the water. I hadn't ever swam that distance at one time and thought I might get hot. The bike is my strongest of the three legs and I knew as long as I followed coaches plan I was fine. The run was a little different at this distance. I knew it would be a gut check with the heat and humidity along with a 112 mile ride happening first. I wasn't nervous at all. All those big time football games made my mind clear and focused.
I arrived at Ironman Village for check in Wednesday afternoon and went through check in without a hitch. The volunteers do such an amazing job at these events. I met up with Michael Ramirez for the athlete briefing and then had lunch with Coach Dawn. It was nice to see some familiar faces. My family wasn't coming into Houston until the next day so I did most of my preparation that night. I went through my super detailed check lists and packed my transition bags for race day. It went so smooth I had to check everything about 5 times to make sure I didn't forget anything. I think Ironman has made me extremely OCD.
Friday I took my family (Courtney, Hudson, Brent and Sherri) to the Ironman Village to get them familiar with the lay of the land and make sure race day they knew where to be to help me on the run. It was amazing to have my family there to share this with. Ironman is not something that can be done alone and it made my experience so much more fulfilling to share it with my family.
Race morning I woke up just like I planned at 3:00 am just like I had done on the races before. I kept my routine exactly the same so that my body and mind knew what was coming next. I ate breakfast and drove to transition arriving around 4:00 am. I went to my bike and the transition area was completely covered in mud and smelled horrible. The rain over the last week had taken a toll on the grass that was there before. It was now just a mud pit. I prepared the nutrition on my bike and made sure my transition bags where labeled and my red bow was visible so that I could be quick in and out of transition. The water temperature was announced just before I headed to the swim start at 81 degrees. I had a plan and even with the temps that high I was sticking with it.
Swim - Walking over the bridge and over looking the swim is a pretty daunting sight. You can barely see the turn around and for someone that is not the greatest swimmer it is hard to not get nervous. When I got to the swim start I started to focus on the task at hand. I wanted to keep my thoughts in the moment and not concern myself with whats next. One thing I have learned the hard way throughout this journey is Ironman can be an unfriendly animal if not prepared and even worse if you get ahead of yourself. It is ever changing and what you expected will most likely not happen so be prepared to change at all times. As I finished putting my wet suit on we said a prayer for everyone there and gave thanks to even be in the position to do this. How blessed are we who have been given the opportunity to be in this position. I am so very grateful to even start. I walked down to the swim start and watched as the none wet suit swimmers entered the water. I was laser focused at the start. I put myself at the very front of the wet suit group since I new I would be a faster swimmer and didn't want to get stuck behind anyone. I expected to finish around 1:30 minutes. When they finally let us go I was the second swimmer in the water and started great and the water was not warm, it was actually cold in places! I moved out to the first buoy and stated to get into a rhythm. I had never found a rhythm on any of my swims before. I started looking forward like coach said and found groups of swimmers ahead to pick off. I made my way through group after group. I was the aggressor this time which was a new one for me. Keeping my focus on each group ahead of me made the swim go by very quickly. Before I knew it I was at the turn around and making my way back towards the canal. I maintained the pace for a bit and then found another gear. I kick it up a notch with about 1000 meters to swim and found myself moving through swimmer after swimmer. The canal was like a washing machine with the amount of swimmers but I never let my focus move away from picking off the next swimmer in front of me. Before I knew it the red buoy was right in front of me and after a quick left had turn I was at the stairs and out of the water. As I exited the water I looked at my watch and it said 1:14. I had to look again, I think I even let out a scream in excitement. It was short lived as I quickly refocused and readied myself for transition. Once out of transition I ran to my bike to start the next leg. So far so good.
Bike - Once out of transition and on the road I started going through the plan in mind to make sure my mind was on the next task. My plan was to ride the first 56 miles in mid to high zone 2 maintaining around a 130 heart rate. I also had to make sure I was eating and drinking something every 15 minutes. The first 56 miles went by without a hitch. I had heard the first half of the course was fast but I had no idea it was this fast. I was barely putting in any effort and I was maintaining a pace of around 22 mph. It was incredible. Although I knew the back half would be miserable if not prepared for the head winds and chip seal roads. Mentally I had to focus on keeping my heart rate low and eating. It made the time go by faster focusing in on the small goals, every 15 minutes and not the bigger picture that I was riding 112 miles. Just before bike special needs I came up behind one of my favorite people, Kris Cordova. It was like Christmas seeing her out there. Let me quickly tell you that she taught me how to ride smooth and steady. Its hard to even put into words how much she means to me and how much she helped me throughout this process. I look up to her tremendously. We visited for a minute and I must have looked like and idiot since I was so excited to see her and then I moved passed her keeping my focus on my race. It was hard to go by her and not want to just ride with her. Just after passing her I made the turn back towards The Woodlands and the head wind came on with a vengeance. It was hard not push harder as you could feel your pace drop but I had to keep my focus on my heart rate. I didn't want to blow up before the run. It was slow and boring for the next 40 miles and I was getting tired of eating and drinking. I was ready to get the heck off this bike. At around mile 100 you go through some neighborhoods and God must have been looking out because at mile 105 He dumped about a 15 minute down poor on me. Those 15 minutes where like heaven! It cooled my body and allowed me to rest a bit before the run. I finished the bike with a 5:36 split and a 20 mph average. It was exactly how coach and I planned it. So far my race was going perfect. I felt strong coming off the bike and my nutrition was on track.
Run - I made it through transition again without any issues and hit the run course. It is a 3 loop course that goes around Lake Woodlands and along the waterway. Once on the run I started to feel the toll the swim and bike had taken on my body. It is not called a Ironman for nothing right? I made it through the first 7 miles holding the 10:00 pace that I wanted. At around mile 10 I saw Courtney and Hudson. I only saw them for a couple seconds but the mental strength it gave me was incredible. Although I was having stomach issues and my knees started swelling I was able to keep moving. At around mile 16 I really started to feel the pain. My back and knees where locking up and I was having trouble maintaining a run. On top of that I couldn't take down gels anymore for nutrition so I had to move to oranges and grapes from the course. It wasn't much but at least I was getting something down. The pain was incredible and the stiffness just kept getting worse. I made the decision to stop at run special needs on lap 3 to put on a new pair of socks and to take some ibuprofen. It was the right decision. The new socks were amazing! I don't know if it was just something that took my mind off the ridiculous heat and humidity but I was able to get my pace back down at least to around a 11:00 minute mile. At mile 20 I knew I was getting close, I told myself you can run 6 miles in your sleep. I willed my body to keep moving. Each mile closer I could feel the emotion building. I saw Brent at about mile 22 and he ran with me for a few steps. He reminded me I was almost there. I tried to take in the entertainment around me the last 4 miles but the pain was excruciating. My knees looked like watermelons and my back was so stiff I was having trouble swinging my arms. I got to mile 24 and thought I could pick up the pace but my body shut that down in a hurry. I could hear the finish line, I was only a couple hundred meters away. I saw the damn sign for lap 2 and 3 to the left but this time I was going right! All of a sudden I found myself looking up at the finish line. I looked around at all the people cheering and I knew it was over. It was really over. All I could think about at the moment I crossed the finish line was to thank God for the strength and courage to get me through this. I don't even remember hearing those words, Mark Dodge you are an Ironman! I walked under the arch and it was done. 8 months, hundreds of laps and miles behind me but I was an Ironman. The emotion I had been holding in the last 6 miles came rushing out when I saw my amazing wife Courtney. We both cried together and celebrated the moment. It was something I will cherish with her forever. One of those moments that no one can take from you. I finished the run with a 4:56 split and a total time of 12:00:38.
My coach had the perfect plan for a day that was brutally tough on most but her experience separated me from a lot of the other competitors. She set me up for success with all the training and one hell of a race plan. This was the first race for me that everything came together. I will never forget this race and the amazing time I had with my friends and family. Thank you all for the prayers and support.
Also a quick update on the fundraising. With your help I was able to raise over $14,500 for Save the Children! I am just as proud of that as I am completing this Ironman. Unfortunatly I did not make it Kona as I placed 3rd and needed to be one of the top two. I will have another update out soon on this.