The temperature was perfect that November morning in Panama City. I met my family on the beach and took in every detail. This was it. For two years I had been remolding my body and my life for this day. I breathed in the salty air and smiled as I thought back on all the struggles, the pain, the conflict. There had been so many life changes but I got through them all and came out stronger on the other side.
This was a difficult trip to say the least. I’m not the only one who sacrificed for this event. My sons missed their mother. Most weekends I would be gone before the sun was up and didn’t get home until after dinner. I had to rely on my 16 year old to take care of his brother including taking him to school on the mornings I trained. My staff needed me to be more present both physically and mentally. My business suffered. I knew why I was doing this but it wasn’t always understood by those looking in from the outside.
At the last minute officials made the race wetsuit optional. This just means if you are competing for a place or for Kona (world championship), wetsuits were not legal. I debated whether to wear one. I knew I wouldn’t place but I also knew I was a strong swimmer. In actuality that was one of two things I would have done differently that day. I decided to wear a wetsuit. I am a strong swimmer and had no need to wear one. Being in the second “wetsuit” wave put me among some not so strong swimmers and this made for an obstacle course of bodies moving in every possible direction. A lot of energy was spent dodging arms legs and entire bodies. The waves were choppy and the second loop made for a challenging reentry. I had to dive under the waves to keep from being knocked over. My sighting was good but for one reason or another I ended up going 2.66 miles instead of the 2.4 required. This added 20 minutes to my estimated time. I wasn’t happy but hoped I would make it up on the bike.
Transition was slower than I wanted with a lot of extra distance to cover to get to the changing area and back out to the bikes. Andy, my coach, was volunteering in my area and got to hand me my bike. That was just the person I needed to see at that time. The 112 mile bike ride was a dream. I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time. It was a fast course and I maintained an 18 mph pace for most of it. I had to stop twice which lowered my pace a little but I still ended up with 17.8 mph average. My fastest ever (when not drafting behind my cycle buddy Bill). At mile 80 my adductors (inside of my thighs) began to cramp intensely. I shifted my feet around and checked my posture. It helped for a few seconds but then it came back. I then decided to do a little cranial work on myself. I worked the area relating to the Psoas or hip flexors. Gone. That work never ceases to amaze me. I finished the ride strong and took about 10 minutes in the transition to running.
Here is where the day took a turn. My first mile was in the 10 min mile range. For me this was way too fast to get my heart rate where it needed to be. By Mile 2 my entire body hurt. My lungs grasped for enough air to keep me moving. I was in pain. Just then, like he knew I needed him, Andy rode up next to me on his bike. I told him how bad I was feeling. “How long will this last?” I asked him. “Until the finish line” he replied. “I don’t think I can do it”. At that moment I had a decision to make. Quit, walk or keep running through it. At Mile 2 I chose to keep running. That would end up being my biggest lesson of the day and the phrase I will always draw on when I need strength. When life gets hard I just remember MILE 2. By about Mile 4 I was able to settle into a pace and was, once again, comfortable. Comfortable, relatively speaking. It was incredibly hot and at each aid station (every mile) I dumped water on my head, down my back and down my shorts. I was adequately hydrated so this meant that I could either stop at multiple porta johns to relieve myself, eating up precious time, or…..Yes, I am now a true triathlete. Just let it go. Unfortunately, this meant more water dumped on me to rinse. An unfortunate result was very wet shoes and feet. I did not anticipate this or the coming consequences.
Somewhere during the first part of my run I saw Andy on the phone. By the look on his face I knew it wasn’t good and I instinctively knew what had happened. Cindy, my training partner, was pulled from Mile 80 of the bike and they wouldn’t let her complete the race. She didn’t meet the cut off time. She was physically ready and knew the total bike cut off time, but just didn’t realize there was a cut off at Mile 80. My heart sank. Andy said “you are now doing this for the two of you”. Cindy and I were a team and I wouldn’t let my team down.
At Mile 13 I was met by Cindy and got my special needs bag. We sat on the ground while I changed my wet socks. With wet shoes, it did little good. She ran the first mile with me but was in her stocking feet because the officials wouldn’t let her get to her transition bags. She was so strong and kept a supportive spirit and a big smile on her face when I know her heart was broken. My heart was broken for her.
By Mile 15 my toes began to hurt. By Mile 20 I could barely walk. I had blisters and had begun to lose two toe nails. I would eventually lose six in total. Each step was brutal. I stopped and put Band-Aids on my toes but it did little to help. My feet were so wet they wouldn’t stay in place. This was the second thing I would change about the day. Keep your feet dry. By Mile 21 I could no longer walk in my shoes. Each step was excruciating. I looked at my watch and realized I may not make my goal time. I wanted to finish this Ironman within 14 hours.
What to do? I was faced with another decision. I only saw one option. I took my shoes off and ran the last 5 miles barefoot. A few of the roads were rough and painful but most were smooth. The dry warmth of the asphalt felt amazing. I kept an eye on my watch and picked up my pace. I was determined to beat 14 hours. I now had one mile to go and all of the sudden I see my son, Jett. He came out to find me and ran the last mile with me. That is a moment I will never forget. That support remains more special than he will ever know. I got to see my family multiple times along the course which filled me with their love and support. I could not have done it without them. Multiple times throughout the day I got hugs and kisses from my youngest, Tanner. His smile kept me moving and reminded me why I was doing this. I was doing this for my two boys. They kept me going when the training got tough. They are what got me out of bed on those EARLY chilly mornings. I could not and would not let them down.
Running down the finish line shoot was unbelievable. People were cheering and holding out their hands for high fives. This was it, my dream realized. Just a few more steps and I would hear that phrase I had been waiting to hear for two years. “Lisa Morris from Flowery Branch Georgia, you are an Ironman”. I couldn’t wait. I touched my good luck charm one more time as I crossed the finish line. I hear the announcer say “Lisa Morris, from Flowery Branch Georgia, You’re an Ironman again. What’s up with the shoes?” What? Nooooo That’s not what you are supposed to say. This was my first Ironman. I was too happy in the moment to be crushed but I am, to this day, a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to hear that phrase and never will.
I was immediately swarmed with volunteers, arms around me, making sure I wasn’t going to pass out. I felt great...strong. I had met my 14 hour goal with 5 minutes to spare. A volunteer came towards me with the medal and was about to put it on my neck when I heard Andy yell, “Wait, I’ll do it”. My coach, the man who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself placed the medal around my neck and gave me the biggest hug. A perfect ending. “I did it, I did it. Thank you so much!”. I must say I had cursed his name many times over the past couple of years. “How is this helping my business”, I would say. It’s taking me away from my business. This is crazy. Andy had us come up with a seemingly impossible goal, then create a plan to achieve it. In that moment and now after a lot of reflection I finally get it.
I am a completely different person from that unsure girl who committed to this back in December of 2013. Not only am I 50lbs. lighter, I have never felt this physically or mentally strong in my entire life. I did not anticipate the mental toughness required to complete this journey. I also never realized how many excuses I had used in the past to keep me from success. I had this ability in me all along. I just needed to believe and expect more of myself.
Along the way, certain relationships no longer fit but I couldn’t stop moving forward. While very painful, I had to say goodbye. Other relationships formed that aligned with my new way of thinking and acting. I also, now, see clearly how this translates to business. I must have a goal. Then make a clear, step by step plan to get there. I must follow those steps EVERY day. Not performing those daily tasks is not an option. If we give ourselves an out we will, more often than not, take it. The only way I achieved my Ironman goals was to NEVER give myself an option to abandon my plan. Fierce persistence. This ability resides in us all. We just have to want it bad enough to never quit.
On January 9th, my training partner Dr. Cindy Starke found her redemption at the Full Iron-distance triathlon in Naples Florida. I was there to watch her cross the finish line. We are a team and while we crossed different finish lines, 600 miles apart, we finished together. I am so proud of her and her fierce tenacity. Cindy Starke from Gainesville Georgia,
YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!