Mid-September, I completed my first Ironman race. I had trained for it most of 2020, but it was cancelled due to Covid. Then in August of last year, I crashed my bike sending me and a friend to the hospital, both of us with broken bones and other injuries. My injuries required surgery to put a broken scapula back together. So 2021 was for rebuilding and I think the injury not only affected my athleticism, it affected me mentally as well. I have never been a great athlete—I spend a lot of money to be mediocre. But this year, I was filled with doubts and have had a dark cloud above me and around me which made mediocre seem harder.
Nonetheless, after a lot of heartache, tears, and doubt, I went to the race, hoping for the best; but not expecting anything.
I didin’t sleep well the night before the race. My brain was just too ‘on’ and thinking through my hydration plan for the run and that it wasn’t well formulated. I was also worried about a timing chip I couldn’t find and how that would work race morning. Nonetheless, Jess and I set an alarm for 4:00am and we were in the car by 4:16am. Then Jess drove the 45 minutes from where I was able to get hotel rooms to the race venue, dropping me off so that I’d have extra time in transition to get all of the logistics I’d have to deal with for the day which involved things like dropping bags off to various places and replacing the timing chip I’d received and lost the day before.
I got my bike ready, stood there for a while pondering it, and then set off to drop off my personal needs bags for the bike and run. These are bags that I can access once during the bike and run to have extra nutrition, clothes, socks, or a special food treat to look forward to. Meanwhile, Jess worked to figure out how to get me a timing chip.
The official water temperature was over 77 degrees, which normally wouldn’t be wetsuit legal. But because the Choptank was filled with stinging jellyfish, the race director made the call to make it wetsuit legal. I wore a sleeveless wetsuit. Before I knew it, they were having us line up according to our estimated times to finish. I lined up with the 1:20:00 to 1:30:00 group and once the National Anthem finished playing and the cannon went off to signify the race had begun, I started to sob. Jess was outside of the chutes trying to keep me laughing, making silly faces. As I marched up the chute, she had to go further away to avoid the throngs gathered there, but it made it all the more comedic as she bobbed and weaved over, and around other people to try to keep my attention. Three athletes started the swim every three seconds and it was only 10 minutes after the race started for my turn to head into the water.
The announcer said not to run into the water, take it easy, so I did. I walked in and half way to the first buoy. And then I started to swim. For me, the swim is my strongest suit, but sometimes the thing that gives me the most anxiety. But on this day, I just swam. Swimmers hit my head, my feet, my legs, my torso but I somehow remained calm. “I’m fine” was my mantra. Jelly fish stung me all over. Zap! Acknowledge and keep swimming. Zing! Acknowledge and keep swimming. Oh, that tentacle went across my face! OUCH. Acknowledge and keep swimming. They felt like razor burn. I also felt my wetsuit cutting into the skin on my neck. With little to do at that point to fix it, I just kept swimming. Acknowledge and swim. At one point, I ended up under a buoy, having been pushed there by other swimmers. I startled and came to a full stop. At that moment, my calf cramped big time. I hadn’t been kicking, so I started then to try to work it out by kicking. It worked! Keep swimming. Finally the 2.4 mile swim was done. Finish: around 1:15:00. I was super excited about that!!
I ran out of the water and into the changing tent where I got prepared for the bike ride. Because of Covid, the tent didn’t have closed sides like usual, so changing clothes was a little more difficult to do for many. I had worn a bra and tri bottoms under my wet suit, so I just needed to put on my jersey and go. Putting a jersey on a wet body proved to be difficult, so with it all sort of gathered at the top of my back, I called out for a volunteer to help me get my shirt pulled down into place. And then I left the tent and headed to the transition area to my bike.
The bike for the Maryland race is flaaaaat. Like 400’ of gain over 112 miles flat. I had ridden it in 2020 for a practice run, but this year, they flipped the course direction so a lot of it seemed new. Trees, water, trees, corn, trees, soybeans, a bridge! Trees!! I tried to work to my nutrition plan, which was to take close to 350 calories an hour. 200 of that an hour was Tailwind and the rest was with sugary food like Base bars, Sports Beans, etc.
My only stop on that ride was at personal needs where I saw Joe and my parents wait for me. That was super awesome!! The second loop I didn’t go quite as fast, but I was still able to average a moving time of 18 mph, which is good for me. Yay, oxygen! Yay, flat!! Time: 6:19:12 which also reflects the time at personal needs.
I was still feeling pretty good as the bike was finished. But now it was time to think about the run. I racked my bike and went to get my run bag and went into the changing tent. This time, I switched to a t-shirt to be more comfortable on the run. I brought my own Tailwind to drink in a Nathan backpack. Sometimes on the run, I regretted this choice, but it kept me with hydration that I knew I could tolerate.
Anyway, the run is a 3.5 loop course, very spectator friendly. The run goes first into the downtown area and then loops back past transition and along the water for a time and then into neighborhoods. I was determined to run at least the whole first mile, but maaan, it felt hot and the humidity was so high! What benefit I got with extra oxygen was cancelled from more humidity. So I found myself doing intervals, which was sort of the plan, but I was really flexible with the plan. Very soon I was running past RAR brewing where I saw Joe, my parents, and Jess. That was super. The crowd was awesome (like a hotdog (ref: Eddie Izzard)). After mile 2, I decided to speed walk, trying to stay close or below a 15-minute mile walking pace. When I saw my overall pace creep higher, I’d run for a bit to get it back to a 14-minute mile average pace overall. In the neighborhoods, homeowners had sprinklers and sprayers to try to help with the heat. I kept putting ice in my bra and in my hat to try to stay cool. I also had to work to stay with my nutrition plan, which was to take in about 200 calories an hour. That was done with the Tailwind I carried in my backpack and with food from the course. I brought my own food, too, which I carried with me for 26 miles; but, I never used any of it.
On lap 2 past RAR, I saw that my sister Sandy Beebe was there with her kids. That was a nice surprise because I didn’t expect her until later.
The road into downtown Cambridge is cobblestones with a lot of uneven areas. On lap three, as I headed toward RAR Brewery for the 3rd time, I completely biffed and pancaked my body onto the ground. I hurt the meaty bit of both palms and my right shoulder (the opposite one that I’d injured in August 2020). Another athlete took tome to stop and pick me up off the ground, but I was unable to settle myself down and get my breathing under control, so I wheezed out, “Get me my inhaler”. He did, and I was instantly better and walked to the end of the cobbles and started running. I remembered I had Tylenol with me, so I took that.
Joe and Jess at one point were near the transition area, but my race brain doesn’t really remember the exact order of things, but I was super happy and surprised to see them there and it made me happy. I just remember I was eating my PB&J from my special needs bag.
As the sun went down and the temperatures dropped, I was able to run more and pick up my pace. At one point, I realized I could make a sub-14 hour finish if I ran more, so I did. I resorted to counting out loud to 60 while running and the gave my self a count to 60 to walk. This took my mind off of other things, like the blister forming on my foot, or the pain of my shoulder from my fall or that I was tired.
Soon, I realized I only had a 10K left, then 5 miles left, than a 5K left and then I was on the half lap taking me back past RAR Brewing. My family was spotted at the turn onto the cobblestone streets, as they’d headed closer to the finish line. I had less than a mile to go!! High knees over the cobblestones! Don’t fall!
And then I was done..running down the red carpet to the finisher arch where the announcer said, “Leslie Beahm! You ARE AN IRONMAN” and to my surprise there was Jess ready to put the medal around my neck. And with all the excitement, right after that, I couldn’t catch my breath. “Inhaler!” I blurted, and Jess found it and gave it to me and instantly I was able to breathe again. I got my finisher hat and shirt, got some pictures with Melissa Brookshier who finished about five minutes after I did (but her total time was faster; she just started the swim after I did) and we went to rejoin my family.
What a long day. What a wonderful day. What a surprising day. I was so happy to have Sandy Beebe and her kids, Whitney Beebe, JC Kaiser Nancy Beebe there to cheer me on and hug me after that finish.
Thanks to my coaches, Jenn Hoban and Erin Trail for giving me the plans to get this done, my husband for doing extra duties to give me time to train, the Coronita gang for their friendship, PTs, massage therapists, Becky Black who is trying to get me to run better, and a host of other people who were in the know that I was doing this and sent encouragement or trained with me.
Would I do it again? Right now, the answer is no. Physically I was mostly fine, but emotionally, I wasn’t. Maybe having done one, the emotional toll for the second would be less. Still, the cost of the race, from an emotional standpoint was very high. I’m glad it’s done. I’m proud it’s done.
And now it’s off-season and I’m ready for it!