As we got to know Patricia over the weekend I think all three of us just felt a special sort of magic coming together. Patricia knew by the time that the race started that she had free reign to race as fast as she liked, that she didn't have to put on a smile for us, and that this experience was all about her, all for her.
Michelle and I completely underestimated just how hard the race would be on us. Patricia is strong like bull and we spent 11 hours and 50 minutes racing hard in order to guide and enable her to do her best.
And her best she did indeed do.
Patricia Walsh is the fastest blind Ironman athlete on the planet. Period.
Patricia broke the female blind Ironman record by 4 hours, and she broke the male blind record by 55 minutes. She absolutely killed it.
So, here is the story from my perspective, as a first time guide, helping Patricia through the marathon portion of Ironman Texas.
The night before we all decided that the King size bed in our room would be more comfortable than the pull out bed we also had in the room. Yes, all three of us slept in that king bed, and while Patricia's night was restless, I think Michelle and I slept like logs. The complete lack of nervousness was a bit odd I must say.
Ironman is always an early morning and we were up and at 'em. I had the unique view of being able to get pretty much anywhere on the course using my "I'm her guide" phrase and I enjoyed a front row seat to the swim start that morning. I helped the girls with bags and caps and sunscreen. They headed into the water with the pros, tethered at the waist by a piece of bungee cord.
When the gun went off for the pros, the PC athletes went with them as well. I watched Michelle and Patricia until I couldn't see them any more. They looked like they found a good rhythm, swimming side by side, their strokes matching perfectly. Patricia said it was the first race where she hasn't panicked in the water. The sensory deprivation in the water for her can be quite alarming. I kinda think that Michelle had something to do with it, she has a calming presence in the water.
Then I booked it over to the swim finish and watched the top swimmers come in. Ironman Texas is awesome to watch the end of the swim because they swim up a little canal. I expected the girls around 1:30 and right around then I saw two orange caps coming down the canal amongst a ton of AGers. I ran down the canal and Michelle poked her head up and asked for a Mix1 in transition.
Patricia is in the orange cap
I booked it to transition using my golden phrase "Blind athletes guide". I grabbed Patricia and Michelle's transition bag and followed them into the tent. Blind athletes tend to get swarmed by volunteers so I kept them at bay and set out everything for Michelle and Patricia. What seemed like 30 seconds later they were running out of the tent.
I followed them as they grabbed the tandem, ran out of transition, mounted perfectly, and they were off.
I, of course was taking pictures the whole time.
I was tired! Matt gave me a ride back to the hotel where I took some down time, watched the race on Ironman live, and tweeted away.
The girls were riding really fast and when their 58 mile split came in at 2:55 I knew I had to book it back to transition. They came in with a 5:45 bike split! The tandem has it's share of issues. Some things make them faster, some slower. Michelle can tell you better about that.
I found my way back to transition and before I knew it, the girls were running through transition and I was sprinting to keep up with them. We grabbed bags, I helped Patricia with her shoes and out we went. Patricia and I were now tethered at the waist.
Immediately Patricia told me that she needed to focus and that we need to keep all words relevant to running. This was her nice way of saying "Don't chat, just do your job". It took me awhile to settle into my job. How much notice does she need before a turn? Turns out a lot less than I would have though. By the end of the marathon I wasn't even saying "left", I just had to go left and Patricia knew.
Going through a marathon in this manner was quite interesting. Not having any control over pace was harder than I expected. You know when you get to that point in a marathon where going faster almost feels better. I hit that place a few times.
Also, being so verbal with other athletes was totally foreign. Patricia was constantly passing tons of people and we were on bike path sorts of terrain. With a three loop course it was packed out there and we had to bob and weave through many. I started out saying "On your left" and then loved the reaction people would give when we passed, seeing that they had just been Blicked (Blind Chicked).
Then it morphed to "Two runners on your left" and that was also fun to hear what people would say after we passed. Then finally, at the end I was yelling "Blind runner on your left", and surprisingly, people were less likely to move over. It was odd, once people knew they were getting passed by a blind runner, their ego set in. A few guys really had a big issue with it, but 98% of people were super supportive and gave us lots of love.
I spent a lot of time "yelling"
Speaking of love, the crowd on the last lap was insane. They were going wild for Patricia, at that point she was running in the 8 min pace range and we were flying by people. She gave a fist pump and the crowd irrupted and suddenly she knew all those cheers were for her. I had known for miles. She picked it up big time and we were running side by side, so strong, racing for that finish.
Patricia had her issues out there on the course, every Ironman athlete does. I learned a lot about Ironman racing to watch her battle those issues, to watch her problem solve. It was extremely enlightening. I thought about what I would have done, but I didn't offer suggestions. I was there to let her race her race, not my race. She figured things out, she used her intuition and I think that's a lesson we can all learn from.
Michelle joined us for the run down the finishing stretch. We ran in the three of us, side by side with Patricia sprinting away. I hadn't told Patricia where she was at time wise for the last 6 miles. She was running strong and I didn't feel the need to motivate her by telling her splits. When she crossed the finish line she asked "What did we go?" I said 11:50 and she said "Including the PRO start?" and I said "yes" and she lost it. She was jumping up and down and so excited and jazzed and happy. That made the whole thing worth it.
All in all it was one of the hardest marathons I have run, even though I think it was 4:15. It was hot and humid, and I had the weight of doing Patricia right on my shoulders. I was anxious to do a good job. I made some guiding mistakes. I got Patricia tangled up at one point, I talked too much at another point. I made quite a few rookie errors, but Patricia got it done despite my newbieness.
By the end of the run I felt like we had it together, and I do feel that Patricia was able to run to her potential. We are all so proud of her! My horizons were broadened this week. Many people have said to me this last week "What a wonderful thing for you to do for Patricia". Honestly, after living the experience I say "What a wonderful thing for Patricia to do for me". I was given many more gifts this weekend than I gave. My heart was soaring on Saturday evening, and I felt a deep calm and pride that I haven't ever felt.
Thank you Patricia for inspiring me, for reminding me, that while you may be blind, you see much more than I do at times. I will forever be greatful for the lessons you have taught me. AND, I am so darn proud of you!
Thanks as well to Matt at CDifferent for asking us to do this, to everyone who gave us rides around in Texas (there were lots of you), to Mac with Quintana Roo for helping with the bike, to David (a new friend, and his blind son Brandon is now an Ironman as well), and finally to Kompetitive Edge for all they do for Michelle and I.
You all supported us with tweets, retweets, facebook messages, and oodles of electronic love. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!
If you ever get a chance to guide a blind athlete, or work with any of the PC athletes out there, I highly recommend it. It will change your life. You will have a new appreciation for the sport that you do and you will think differently about your place in the sport as well. Patricia is an inspiration to every single person she meets, she uses athletics to push herself, and in turn she gives others a different perspective. Me included.