A few weeks before Ironman I was having physio treatment with Alex. He asked how I was feeling about Ironman. I was ready. I said I thought ‘Ironman was like
fighting a Gorilla. You don’t stop fighting when you get tired, you stop when the Gorilla cries Uncle!’ He laughed and said ‘good analogy Sammi.’
Two days before I was to step into the ring with my Gorilla, the AP.10 crew met with Alex for some last minute thoughts and motivation. Coach talked about the obstacles we might face on the day; tiredness, walls, the highs and lows. He gave us strategies for coping with each. With years of racing and coaching experience under his belt, his words were gold.
The big day arrived and as the heavy weights stepped into the water I found myself swept along feeling comfortable and at ease. The usual punch and shove in the water, all a normal part of training and had been well rehearsed. I was happy with my swim and as I gathered my bike bag I ticked round 1 off in my head. Ok, 2 to go.
Away on the bike with my family and crowds cheering us on and a blast from the megaphone as Coach shouted our names and words of encouragement. I found the hills easy as I travelled out of town and along the straight. I was turning the legs over comfortably when I came upon a familiar shape. Here was my husband, Gary on the side of the road with a shredded tyre. I pulled up and saw that we was ok, smiling and waiting for the bike mechanics. Coach’s words rang in my head. ‘You need to run your own race.’ There was nothing I could do to help, so I kept going.
On the second lap with 165kms done I started to feel the legs were tiring. Hills were taking their toll and I found my head was starting to fill with negative thoughts. Again Alex’s words came to the fore. ‘Replace the negative talk with positive, back the pace off for a short time you will come good again, check your nutrition, and be your own best supporter.’ I got in some calories, took the pressure off the legs. I told myself that I was proud of how far I had come already. Pretty soon the power was back in the legs and I put the final kms behind me. Round 2 done.
Round 3 was always going to be tricky for me. With a pesky IT-band that had plagued me over the past few races, the running had been kept to a minimum. 4kms into the run an all too familiar pain started to creep its way in. The IT-band was giving off warning shots that it wasn’t happy. It was at this point that I found myself with my back against the ropes and the Gorilla was landing some pretty nasty body blows.
I could feel I was falling hard and just as I was about to hit the canvas, a familiar footfall came up behind me. It was Gary; he had caught up to me. One look at my face told him everything and he hugged me. We walked on to an aid station. As we walked I tried hard to pull it back together. I told Gary to keep going, that I would be ok. I was going to the toilet and then I would get going again. I entered the loo, sat down and sobbed. I have never cried during training or racing before. It was totally out of character but a sign that I had hit the wall hard. The Gorilla was winning!
Once again, Coach’s words came ringing in my ears. ‘When you hit the wall, remember what it is that motivates you.’ Images of my Grandma came to me, we don’t have long with her and I wanted to honour her. I looked at my arm where my Dad’s words are tattooed there, ‘This Too Shall Pass’, and I knew that it would. My mum with her words; ‘put the pain in a box and put a lid down on it hard’ and my daughter Keryn who I have always tried to instil in her strength, resilience and belief in herself. Ok, I had my motivation. And then an image came to me of Coach. He was out on the course dressed up, on his painted dragster bike with outrageous helmet and goggles and megaphone at the ready, he was hilarious. I had found my ‘happy thought’ and in that loo in only a couple of minutes I had gone from tears to laughing out loud. I was ready to go again. I opened the door and there stood Gary, waiting patiently. He had given up his race to run with me. I loved him more in that moment than I can ever describe. Ok, ‘Let’s kick this Gorilla’s big hairy butt.’
We fell into step, me in front, Gaz behind and together we ran/walked the course. The pain never left, but the experience of running with Gary reunified us, of seeing my family and friends, the AP.10 Crew and hearing my name and words of encouragement from the crowd lifted me.
We entered the finish chute, found my family and hugged them. I turned and there was Coach larger than life. I hugged and thanked him for everything he had done for me. I turned to Gary and together we ran the final few steps hand in hand to the cheers of the crowd.
As I crossed the black line I smiled triumphantly – and behind me from way off in the distance I heard the cry…….”UNCLE!”