Ironman Texas 2018 – Guiding Randi Strunk

Randi asked me to guide her through Ironman Texas shortly after we completed 70.3 Texas together last April. I’m always so surprised, flattered, and grateful when a visually impaired athlete asks me to guide them in a race – especially when it’s a race as important as an Ironman. I know it sounds strange to say that I feel surprised when someone asks me to guide an Ironman, given how many I’ve completed as a guide, but that’s just how my brain works. I never take it for granted that someone like Randi would willingly tie herself to me for 140.6 miles.

28277395_10103742586448552_6519955120025130823_n.jpg

One of my favorite cycling photos of all-time. Scott Flathouse captured this picture of me and Randi during 70.3 Texas 2017.

I should note that Randi and I decided to race Ironman Texas before I had any idea that I would be guiding Kona, as well. So, instead of having a year to train for one Ironman, I had six months to prepare for Kona and then six months to rest, mentally recover from the Ironman World Championship, and prepare for Ironman Texas.

Often, I meet blind/visually impaired athletes through social media or through friends of friends. The story behind how I met Randi is a little bit different.

In early 2014, I was going through a rough time. I had moved to Texas from NYC six months earlier, and I hadn’t really figured out what I was going to do with my life. I had also taken a long break from training when I moved to Texas, which is completely unlike me. So, I was desperately searching for some motivation, when I started emailing local groups that supported the blind/visually impaired community. Guiding has been the one constant in my life since 2008, even when every other area of my life seemed to be falling apart.

I sent a message to the Austin chapter of the National Federation for the Blind, asking if any of their members might want me to guide them for a run. Kimberly Aguillard wrote back quickly. She was the president of the local chapter and had never run with a guide!

Kimberly and I went on a couple of runs together in Austin. I really enjoyed getting to know her. She was such an accomplished and driven person! I was sad when I learned that her move from Austin to Houston was imminent. I credit her with reigniting my desire to train!

kimberly with me.jpg

I took this selfie of me and Kimberly after our first run together, on March 25th, 2014. Kimberly is smiling and looking slightly down. I am smiling and looking at the camera.

Back to the point of the story – Randi and Kimberly have been best friends for many years. A year or so after Kimberly and I met, Randi had just begun training for her first triathlon and Kimberly suggested that she reach out to me! I encouraged Randi to attend the Dare2Tri Paratriathlon Camp in June of 2016, and in April of 2017, we did a half Ironman together.

Race Week: 

I flew to Minneapolis the Tuesday before our race, to give a couple of presentations for my job. Normally, I would avoid traveling the week of an Ironman, but I thought it might be fun to fly to Houston with Randi. Randi and I had dinner together the night before our flight. It did not feel like we were going to toe the line of an Ironman in a matter of days. I knew it would start to feel real when we got to Texas.

After landing in Houston, Randi and I drove straight to athlete registration. We both got athlete wrist bands, swim caps, and timing chips.

I wanted to make sure we got off our feet, so we didn’t stick around the expo for very long. After having lunch at a nearby restaurant, we drove to our home stay to clean up before dinner.

Ironman races are incredibly expensive, when you consider race entry fees (which guides do not have to pay), flights, rental cars, equipment costs, and lodging, so we were incredibly grateful to my good friend, Arnie Lachner, and his wife, Kelli, for opening their home to us. I was especially glad that they had three little dogs! I always miss Peanut and Cashew when I’m on the road.

Randi and I made it to the athlete dinner in time to hear Mike Reilly kick off the event. We sat with some good friends and Team RWB teammates.

Towards the end of the dinner, we got to see the Ironman Minute video that BCC Live filmed during our trip to Boulder in March. We spent several hours filming, so we had no idea what parts of our interview they would use. About a minute into the video, I saw that they had used some footage from Kona, that I’d never seen before. When I saw a clip of Helen’s Kona finish, it felt as if I had been sent right back to that moment. I found myself in tears. (Here is Triathlon Taren’s video of our finish, if you’re interested.)

Randi and I were both really happy with how the video turned out. Dave, Marcus, and Melina made sure to get the message we wanted across – Randi is an athlete and a professional, who just happens to be blind, as well.

After the dinner, we drove to pick my husband, James, up at the airport and headed to Arnie’s to sleep.

31936723_10103869917461182_2283834888119386112_n

Randi and James (the love of my life) standing in transition the day before the race. James helped us every single step of the way over race weekend. He is one of the most generous, thoughtful people on this planet.

The morning before the race, Randi and I tested her bike out (briefly), and then drove to transition to drop the bike off as early as we could. We met up with Randi’s husband, Ryan, who had flown in that morning. Randi, James, Ryan, and I went out to lunch after dropping the tandem off.

Over lunch, I learned something that completely floored me. I knew that Randi had ridden a single bike when she was younger, but I assumed she was able to ride a bike because she has nerves of steel! Randi also grew up in Nebraska, so I figured that she had ridden in an open field or something. Randi has been visually impaired since she was born, but she had some usable vision until just 2 years ago. For some reason (she still does not know why), one day, she abruptly lost most of the rest of her vision. Randi went from being able to see lines on a cross walk, to not being able to see anything that would help her navigate.

What I found most impressive about how Randi handled her sudden vision loss is the way channeled her frustration into a new hobby. Randi started doing triathlons after her vision declined. As if I needed another reason to be in awe of this woman. Here is a Facebook post with some background information on Randi, if you want to learn more about why I think she’s so great.

Race Morning: 

James drove us to transition, where Randi and I fought our way through the crowd to get into the actual transition area. We needed to put water and bento boxes on the bike and put some additional food into our T1 and T2 bags. It was simply too jammed with athletes for me to take Randi to the area where bike and run transition bags were laid out. I left Randi with the bike and hurried to drop the essentials in our bags. Before I walked away, I was able to snap a shot of Randi with Mike Reilly (the ultimate Ironman announcer). I felt like that was a good omen for the day.

In transition, we also got to meet the owner of a beautiful green tandem bike. Marcos and his guide, Luis, were attempting their third Ironman together. Marcos and Luis are both from Mexico, and Marcos speaks limited English, so I stumbled through a conversation in Spanish with him. We had also hoped to say hello and good luck to our friend David Kuhn, and his guide, Bruce Hayes, but we didn’t bump into them in transition. David is an indefatigable endurance athlete. Many of my friends, as well as my husband, have had the pleasure of guiding him in various events. You always have a good time when you’re racing with David!

The last time I raced Texas (way back in 2013), I remember having to practically run to swim start with Rachel Weeks, because I completely underestimated how long the walk was going to take us. This time, we built in plenty of time to walk the mile + to North Shore Park.

On the walk to swim start, a few athletes recognized Randi from the Ironman Minute video. Randi isn’t one to seek out attention, but I think we were both happy to know that our fellow competitors were cheering her on!

James helped carry our special needs bags to the park. Randi’s husband, Ryan, also accompanied us. I was so glad that he could be there to see her off!

In the weeks before an ironman, I often find that I simultaneously feel like race day will never arrive and that it will arrive way too soon. That feeling never seems to leave until the gun goes off.

Swim:

The night before the race, James made us a new swim tether out of bungee cord. I love that Randi feels the same way I do about swimming – it’s a necessary evil. She had no interest in going to the Texas practice swim, so our first time swimming with the tether was during the race.

Texas has changed from a mass swim start, to a wave start. I naively assumed that the swim would be more civilized, because racers would start over a period of 30 minutes.

The beginning of the swim was lovely. The three blind athlete/guide teams started right after the professional female athletes. We had ten minutes to get comfortable in the water before the age group athletes started.

Thankfully, James’s swim tether was perfect. The last time Randi and I raced together, her tether was a bit too short, for my liking. The tether length prevented me from taking a full stroke.

I hope Randi doesn’t mind when I share the next detail about our swim. Every other stroke, or so, Randi would punch me in the arm! At least, that’s what it felt like. She was veering slightly towards me, which resulted in a full contact experience. I am laughing as I write this, but I’m sure Randi knew it was happening, and was not pleased.

One of the best parts of the swim was the fact that we had our own personal paddleboard escort. Catapult team member Michelle, paddled behind us for the entire swim. I had no idea just how helpful she would be, until the age group athletes started swimming past us.

The wave start did virtually nothing to thin out the pack. Even with Michelle behind us, athletes were swimming on top of us and trying to swim between us. We had no desire to clothesline any age groupers. But my biggest fear when it comes to athletes trying to swim between us is the thought that someone will pull the tether off of us.

Like most other Ironman swims, this one was incredibly chaotic. I can’t recall exactly how many times I put my foot in someone’s face, but it was more than a few!

Randi is a strong swimmer, so we were not concerned about her ability to make the swim cut off time. I wasn’t worried, at least. Randi’s pace was very consistent throughout the swim. Unfortunately, she experienced some severe calf cramps which slowed her down a little bit. She had to stop three times to hold onto Michelle‘s paddle-board. I tried to give her a calf massage in the water to relieve the cramps. Unfortunately, my hands-on approach was only moderately effective. But Randi pressed on.

When we turned into the canal, I thought we were almost done. Clearly my memory did not serve me well, because the canal was much longer than I remembered. In the canal swimmers were packed together. It felt like I swam with my head out of the water for most of the last 500 meters because I had to remain so vigilant.

The best part of the swim was looking over and seeing James on the shore, along with Randi’s parents and husband. I felt so comforted to know that James was there.

At one point, I noticed that Randi‘s mother, Jan, was motioning to Michele. She seemed to think that Michele was paddling too close to us. She had an incredible look on her face. It was the look of a mother who is concerned that you’re going to hurt her child. I tried to thank Michelle loudly, so that Jan wouldn’t be concerned.  James got an unbelievable photo of us swimming while he stood on a bridge above the canal. Based on how close she is to me and Randi in this picture, I can absolutely understand why Jan thought that we were about to get mowed down by Michelle’s board. I’m still blown away by how much control Michelle had over the paddle board!

swim shot

My husband, James Spencer, took this photo of me and Randi during the swim. You can see us swimming just ahead of the paddle-board. We are wearing light blue swim caps. Swimmers in pink and green caps are on either side of us.

Finally, we turned left around the final buoy to head towards the metal steps that would lead us out of the water. I yelled to the volunteers to let them know that we needed two people to help us up, because Randi and I were tied together.

After just under two hours in the water, Randi and I finished the swim.

Transition 1: 

James was our official handler during the race, so he was able to wait for us at the top of the stairs that led us out of the water.

Our friend, Marcus Thomas, was also waiting at the swim exit. He was on site filming the race for BCC Live.

Finisherpix captured a really great picture of James standing in front of Randi, after she exited the water. Randi is holding onto James’ forearms and had a slight smile on her face. I’m standing next to Randi looking quite happy (I’m talking, as usual, and my hand is on her arm). In the photo, Marcus is standing behind us with a video camera.

swim exit with james

Swim exit photo. Described in paragraph above.

When Randi and I did 70.3 Texas last year, I somehow managed to run her into an athlete that was on the ground getting her wetsuit taken off by a volunteer, just after we exited the swim. Randi tripped over the athlete and fell to the ground. It was not my finest guiding moment! So in this race, I was very intentional about where we walked, as we approached the wetsuit strippers.

James grabbed both of our transition bags, so that I could focus on navigating Randi through the rows of bags and volunteers safely.

I grabbed the bags from James just before we entered the women’s changing tent.

As a guide, I think I am usually most nervous before the start of an Ironman bike, which is ironic, because the bike leg is the part of the race that I enjoy the most. I think my concerns lie in the fact that so many things can go wrong during a bike ride. Cycling is dangerous, no matter how cautious you are as a rider.

Bike:

Randi and I made good time in transition. I stuffed an entire Smuckers Uncrustable in my mouth as we ran towards Randi‘s Tandem. I never seem to be able to consume enough calories while racing, despite the fact that I eat virtually nonstop. I wanted to refuel before we even began the ride, hence, the PB&J Sandwich.

When we picked up the bike two days before the race, we had a brief panic moment. I assumed that we could swap out the stem on Randi‘s bike to make the cockpit a little bit shorter for me. When I guided Randi and a half Ironman last fall, I was stretched out too much and had severe neck pain after the bike ride. I was nervous about whether or not her bike would even fit me if we couldn’t change the stem. Thankfully, Marcia and Rick at House of Tandems were able to perform a miracle. James took some additional measurements for my bike at home, and Rick was able to figure out a way to fit me to the bike. My position went from being one that would potentially leave me in a great deal of pain, to the most comfortable position I’ve ever ridden in during an Ironman. Thank you over and over again to House of Tandems!

We walked the bike out of transition and approached the bike mount a line. Marcus followed along with a camera as we mounted the bike and tried to keep up a we rode away. I couldn’t stop laughing as I watched him sprinting alongside our bike. What a champion!

bike exit.jpg

This is a photo of me waving to a spectator as Randi and I walk her tandem toward the bike mount line.

Beginning of an Ironman bike is normally quite crowded. Safety is always my primary concern, so we took it really easy for the first few miles of the bike.

I spotted the first crash of many that we would see along the bike route, before we even reached the Hardy Toll Road. A woman was standing on the side of the road with her bike across from an aid station. She appeared to have slipped on a patch of gravel.

I reminded myself to be exceptionally careful as we rode through aid stations.

Shortly after we got onto the Hardy Toll Road, we saw the pro men coming back from their first loop. They looked like they were flying! I was happy to see my friend, Andrew Starykowicz, in the lead. I described the scene to Randi, as well as I could. I tried hard not to turn my head too much when I spoke to her, as an aero helmet turned sideways is anything but aerodynamic!

The first loop of the bike was quite crowded. Every single athlete in the race was on the bike course during that first loop, so there people riding at vastly different speeds. Above all else, my priority while guiding is to keep my athlete (and myself) safe. Though the course got congested at times, there was plenty of room on the road, in general.

As I mentioned earlier, we saw the aftermath of crashes beginning well before we got onto the Hardy Tollway. At one point, I complained to Randi that athletes should have to pass a test before they’re allowed to ride in an Ironman.

Soon, we started seeing packs of riders forming on the other side of the road. The packs were mainly made up of competitive age group athletes. I wondered where all of the officials were. It was the most blatant drafting I’d ever seen in 18 years of racing. And of course, they were all drafting in their aerobars, which was a recipe for disaster. No wonder we’d seen so many casualties along the side of the road.

I am hyper vigilant when I’m piloting; this ride was no exception. Thankfully, Randi and I were able to avoid ugly situations.

Every time another pack would pass going the opposite direction, I would grumble to Randi. I wasn’t sure if she fully understand how egregious it was. When we were passed by a pack of cyclists on our return trip, we could feel the air whooshing by, and I knew that Randi completely understood what I had been talking about.

Blatant drafting and dangerous cyclists aside, Randi’s ride was going incredibly well! Our only goal for the day was to finish in under 17 hours, but I was curious to see how Randi would handle the 112 mile ride, given that she’d been training inside all winter.

Early on in the bike, we’d seen the tandem team from Mexico on the course. They weren’t too far ahead of us, so I secretly hoped that we would catch them, or at least close the gap.

We hadn’t seen David Kuhn and his guide, Bruce, since the beginning of the race, so we were both really pleased when they rode past us after the first turnaround. Randi and I wanted there to be three blind finishers at the end of the day!

Randi and I cheered for David and his guide and I made a joke to David about his fanny pack, though I don’t think he heard me. David had a huge bag dangling from his left side. I guess he packed even more food than I did! Randi and I kept going at our pace after they passed us, though we played leap frog with David and Bruce a couple of times.

I have mentioned a few of the negative aspects of the Texas bike course, but I think it’s important to share some of the awesome and hilarious things we saw while riding:

There were at least three guys riding fat bikes! Fat bikes are like mountain bikes, but the tires are at least double the width. I believe that their original purpose was for snow riding. Needless to stay, they are MUCH slower than road and tri bikes. What a challenge it must have been for the riders! Last year, one guy attempted to do the race on a fat bike, but didn’t make the time cutoff. We actually bumped into him, as well. The coolest thing was that the fat bike riders all seemed to be having so much fun.

My other favorite character was a guy riding an upright a hybrid bike, wearing a camo hydration backpack, a tank top and baggy shorts. He was wearing a commuter helmet and drank maple syrup straight out of the bottle. When we cheered for him as we passed, he squeezed the plastic dinosaur that was mounted on his flat handlebars, and it squeaked! (This guy did make the time cutoff on the bike, but he looked ROUGH on the run. I never did figure out if he finished the race!) I got so excited every time we saw him, because he was such an awesome departure from the stereotypical triathlete.

Finally, I have to give thanks to the volunteers. The bike course volunteers were amazing. They braved the sun and the heat for hours and hours. And they never seemed to lose energy! I’m sure they assisted with crashes, when they occurred near an aid station. Thank you, volunteers! These races wouldn’t exist without you!

Over the 112 mile ride, Randi and I stopped three times, which took a total of 9 minutes. Randi hustled through each stop, so it didn’t cost us much in terms of our average speed. I tried not to get too excited, but I was really stoked about how well Randi was riding. Our average speed was solidly above 17mph, which was was faster than my conservative estimates for our bike pace.

Scott Flathouse-K10A5465

We were lucky enough to do another race where Scott Flathouse was taking photos. Here is a shot of me and Randi on the bike during Ironman Texas. We are both wearing red Handlebar Mustache socks and grey Ownway Apparel kits.

I can’t recall piloting for a cyclist that nailed her pace so consistently during an Ironman bike. Randi maintained the exact same output (as far as I could tell) for the entire ride. Because Randi lives in Minneapolis, she did virtually all of her training on the Wahoo Kickr. The Wahoo really doesn’t let you cheat at all, especially when you’re riding in erg mode, so Randi must have figured out exactly what kind of effort she could maintain. And she did it! You can’t ask for anything more from an athlete competing in an Ironman.

It got really hot towards the end of the bike. There was no cloud coverage on the Hardy Toll Road, and of course, we were in Texas.

The fact that Randi didn’t completely collapse in the heat is astounding to me. She had 18 inches of snow in her back yard just 2 weeks before the race!

Over the last 30-40 miles of the bike, Randi seemed to be feeling a bit uncomfortable. She hadn’t ridden her tandem in months, so it’s not surprising that her fit wasn’t perfect. We coasted some of the downhills so that she could stretch. I also started grabbing extra water bottles at aid stations, so that we could douse ourselves in cold water.

My system was to grab a Gatorade (or water) and hand it right back to Randi. She would put that bottle in her bottle cage, and then I would grab two more bottles before the end of the aid station. I would put one in my bottle cage, and then we’d drink from the third water bottle, pour water on our backs, and toss it before trash zone ended. It took a bit of coordination, but we got it down!

31945596_10103869917091922_4590132678535151616_n.jpg

I stole this screenshot from the post-race video. In this picture, I am taking a water bottle from a volunteer at an aid station.

As we neared the end of the Hardy Toll Road, I realized that we were somehow ahead of David and Bruce, as well as the tandem from Mexico. I wasn’t quite sure when we passed them, but I figured we’d see everyone again on the run.

I don’t remember much from the end of the bike, except that I wanted to maintain our speed, without making Randi blow up. It was incredible to think that we were more than 2/3 of the way through the race! Randi was on track to become an Ironman!!!

Transition 2: 

After witnessing so many crashes, I was glad to get off the bike. I was also thrilled by how well our ride had gone. Randi rode so fast, we’d built up a huge time cushion for our run.

After handing our bike to James (greatest handler of all-time), we ran through transition to the changing tent. We took off our bike shoes and helmets, changed into dry socks, and put on our running shoes. I had to pull handfuls of trash out of my pockets from all the food I’d eaten on the bike.

I don’t normally carry a ton of food with me during an Ironman run, because the aid stations are well-stocked, but I did make sure to bring my bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. I’d eaten Doritos during the half ironman Randi and I did in September of 2017, and they tasted amazing! They replaced my normal stash of salt and vinegar chips.

After a few minutes in the sticky changing tent, we were ready to begin our marathon.

Run:

It was hot when we started the run. I told Randi that it might make sense to walk for a bit so we could evaluate how she was feeling. We were both wearing hats, so I made sure to fill our hats with ice, whenever I could.

We both took a moment to think about the fact that we were actually on part three of her Ironman! Barring a crazy medical event, Randi wasn’t going to have any issues finishing this race in under 17 hours.

James got a photo of me and Randi coming out of T2. You can see the bag of Doritos in my left hand. Half of the run consisted of Randi trying to understand what I was saying as I shoved chips into my mouth.

31946107_10103869908643852_2001530725022564352_n.jpg

Starting the run! Holding a bag of Doritos!

The Ironman Texas run is 3 loops. The benefit of a multi-loop course is that you’re rarely alone. It’s easier for spectators to get to different points on the course, when the loop is shorter. The Texas course runs along a canal in the Woodlands. It feels like a giant party during a few sections of the course. Texas spectators are outstanding – their energy was off the charts!!!

The day before the race, I posted a plea to anyone who planned to spectate. I wanted the people in costumes to describe themselves to Randi. I thought it would be fun for her to hear a guy describe himself as “the hottest guy in Texas” or something absurd like that.

We did encounter some really fun groups of spectators within the first couple of miles.

run-course-dudes.jpg

In this photo,  Randi Strunk and I have just encountered the Moxy folks on the course. There is a guy in some kind of mask. It’s hard to tell in the photo. he’s wearing a speedo and is holding a pinwheel in his hand. He’s clearly cheering for me and Randi. I look delighted and thrilled! Randi and I are running in this photo. Behind us, there’s another Moxy guy in a speedo. He’s got a police hat on and he’s holding a megaphone.

I told Randi to expect lots of loud music and attractive people in crazy costumes. I’m glad I didn’t mislead her!

After walking for a bit, we decided to try and implement a run/walk strategy. We would run for a few minutes or to a marker of my choosing, and then we would walk. Whenever there was an aid station, we would walk, in order to ensure that we both consumed enough food and drink to keep us sufficiently fueled.

We chatted with racers along the course and tried to keep our spirits up. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Though I do prefer multi-loop run courses, there are some drawbacks. When you’re on your first lap, people around you may be on their last! It’s impossible to not wish that you were farther along in the race. But, it’s still nice to encounter people that you wouldn’t normally see in a race with a one-loop course.

Not far into our first loop, Randi and I realized that our tether wasn’t working. Randi was running with a waist tether, that was connected to each of our race belts, but she wasn’t getting enough feedback from it.

zo mendoza photo

In this photo, Randi and I walk side by side along the canal. We are perfectly in synch. You can see that we are each holding one end of her yellow tether. Photo credit: Zo Mendoza

We decided to remove the tether from our race belts and hold the the bungee cord for the rest of the race. Originally, we intended to steal a shoelace from a friend along the course, but the bungee was quite effective, so we stuck with that.

I can only imagine how terrible it must have felt for Randi to be constantly going off course during the first few miles of the run.

We kept up our run/walk strategy for much of the first loop, but the heat wasn’t getting any better.

Randi’s stomach also started bothering her, so we decided to ditch running for the time being. The good thing was, we had built up such a cushion on the bike, Randi could have walked, or even crawled, part of the marathon and she still would have finished in under 17 hours.

One bright spot on the first loop included our first trip through Catapult Corner, where we saw our friends from Houston, including Catapult’s founder, Jarrett Hubert. Jarrett has guided blind/VI athletes through Ironman Texas two times! It was wonderful to see someone who knew exactly what Randi and I were going through.  The Catapult folks were having an awesome party – we wished we could have joined them!

The second thing that I remember clearly from our first trip around the run course was bumping into my awesome friend, John Flores, just after mile 8. John had taken the time to make personal signs for his friends that were racing. When I noticed my sign, I started bawling!!! To be fair, physical exertion can make me more emotional, but I would challenge anyone not to cry if they saw a photo like this.

31936803_10103869913064992_3462706941610950656_n.jpg

John had stolen an adorable photo of Peanut and Cashew from Facebook. He laminated the photo and included text that read, “Go Mommy! There…Now hurry up & come home & feed us!” It was just too much for me to bear! Poor Randi must have thought I was nuts! If she did, she kept it to herself!

After the first loop, we didn’t run any more of the race until the very end. However, we kept walking at a really good clip! The second loop is always the hardest. There are points when it feels like the race will never end. We celebrated every mile marker we passed. Thankfully, I love to talk and Randi didn’t seem to mind the distraction, so we had an awesome conversation almost the entire way.

Randi has an outstanding sense of humor. She had two quotes in the race that made me die laughing (and still make me laugh when I think of them, even weeks after the race).

When I offered her some watermelon that was at an aid station, she replied, without skipping a beat, “melon is garbage fruit.” I now know that it’s a line from a show, but it’s still so funny to me. I will never offer Randi melon again.

The second line that almost killed me was what Randi said when I told her I wished I could get her to feel some of the spectators’ costumes (or lack thereof) along the course. She totally went along with my joke. She held her hand up, as if to touch an imaginary person, and said in a somewhat creepy voice, “Is this a tactile exhibit?” I think I almost fell over when she said that! Also, I did make her touch the costumes (and abs) of some of the more entertaining people along the course!

I picked up our special needs bag on the second loop, because I knew it was going to get dark. I had stashed two knuckle lights in special needs, that would come in handy when the course became pitch black.

Towards the end of the second lap, the tandem team from Mexico caught up to us. We walked with Luis and Marcos for a couple of miles, and got to know a bit more about their stories. Incredibly enough, Luis, Marcos’s guide, has completed over 150 Ironmans! Insanity!!!

Luis and Marcos seem to have a great relationship. I’m so glad that we got to know our competitors along the way. When we got close to special needs on the third lap, I realized that Luis and Marcos didn’t have a light, so I gave them one of my knuckle lights to use. I’m all about race karma. Put good energy out, and good things will come back to you.

The course got quiet on the third lap. Randi and I were both in pain, but we were still moving forward. We weren’t in danger of missing the time cutoff, but we were ready to be done with the race! I think Randi handled the run like a champion. She calculated exactly what she needed to do to finish, without risking having a total meltdown. I wish I approached things as practically as she does!

31964061_10103869909127882_210000003576365056_n

Bad dance moves include hand gestures. I’m glad Randi was able to laugh at me! Photo Credit: James Spencer

Every time we passed an aid station that was playing music, I got a little burst of energy, but those moments were few and far between.

James even witnessed my bad dance moves, when he spotted us running past the Redbull DJ.

The best part of the third lap was passing all of the mile markers that weren’t ours! Finally, when we passed the 18 mile marker, it meant that we were actually 18 miles into the run.

When we got to the final out and back section at the end of the third loop, I began to feel overwhelmed by emotion. I was so grateful that Randi asked me to share this experience with her. The more time I got to spend with her, the more I liked and respected her. We were already great friends before the Ironman, but this race had brought us even closer together.

My hips hurt pretty badly, but I felt really good, considering the fact that we were at the end of an Ironman. I was glad to feel in complete control. I know that I could have given Randi whatever she needed on that run, which is the only thing I hope for when I’m guiding. I just never want to slow anyone down, or have a negative impact on their race experience.

I thought about the fact that Randi had decided to become a triathlete after she lost the majority of her remaining vision. She said she never got depressed – she just got frustrated. But she obviously channeled her frustration into something positive. If only we could all respond to adversity the way Randi does.

Randi made it very clear that she planned to run the finish of the race, so we mentally prepared ourselves for that last bit of running before crossing Randi’s first Ironman finish line.

The last two tenths of a mile in Ironman Texas were mostly uphill, and there were two sharp u-turns in the middle. Ironman transformed the streets of the Woodlands into a red carpet affair. Spectators lined the finishing chute all day and night. Each person that crossed the finish line was treated like an international celebrity.

The easiest way for me to guide the finish line was to hold hands with Randi, so as we ran towards the bright lights of the finishing chute, I grabbed Randi’s left hand with my right, and we began to run.

It’s difficult to explain what it feels like to cross the finish line of an Ironman. It’s one of the greatest feelings of all time, in my opinion. If you’ve finished an Ironman before, imagine how amazing you felt, and then multiply that times 100. That’s how it feels to cross the finish line with a partner, friend, and teammate by your side.

Finish! Ironman Texas 2018

Finish line photo of me and Randi Strunk finishing Ironman Texas

 

As soon as we crossed the line, Randi and I embraced. She was finally (officially and IRONMAN!!! I was in tears, of course. Our friend, Marcus, was there to catch the entire finish on film. Check out the Ironman Texas 2018 race day video, for a few clips of our race. Our finish is towards the very end of the video.

James was waiting just after the line to greet us. James has been so invested in Randi’s race, since we agreed to compete together. He is the most amazing cheerleader and supporter. I was completely caught off guard when he broke down in tears. I’m trying not to cry as I write this, because it was such an emotional moment. Since James and I began dating, in the fall of 2015, he’s supported me as I guided three full Ironmans and a number of half IMs. James knew that Randi and I had executed this race perfectly. I stayed within my limits and I finished the race feeling good, which was all James wanted for me. He was crying because he was so glad that both Randi and I had achieved our goals. James, Randi, and I had a big group hug, to celebrate our finishing moment.

 

medal pic

Randi and I pose with our finisher’s medals in front of the Ironman Texas background, moments after finishing the race. We are both wearing Ironman Texas hats. We are holding our medals up for the camera. We are both smiling broadly, as you might expect. I am holding one water bottle under my arm and another in my left hand.

Ironman Texas 2018 was my 9th Ironman as a guide for a blind/vi athlete (my 10th if you count the full distance race I completed solo in 2005). I do keep track of the number of Ironmans I’ve done, but I hope all of my friends know that each race is just as important to me as the very first Ironman I guided. I can’t compare one Ironman to the next. The experience I had with Randi was unlike any other race I’ve done. Randi is unlike anyone I know! Randi is a friend that I will go to for advice, with whom I will share my successes and failures, and someone that I hope to know for years and years to come.

Thank you, Randi, for asking me to race with you. I am so grateful to have shared this experience with you and I cannot wait for our next adventure!

 

 

Scott Flathouse-K10A5886Scott Flathouse-K10A5895

Advertisements