I pulled into the next aid station, having gone a while without seeing any spectators or support staff since we were now somewhere on the back side of a very windy canyon. The small crowd was a welcome sight. I got off my bike and tried laying on my back in the gravel and dirt. As if the ongoing terrible stomach ache wasn't enough to worry about, I was now feeling quite a bit of lower back pain, probably mostly from sitting/standing on the bike in awkward positions to try to ease the discomfort from the stomach pains. I also felt pretty drained of energy and a little dehydrated at this point, having been unable to eat or drink much now for about 7 hours of intense racing.

This was not the highlight of my life.

Or day, even.

Someone came by and asked if I was ok.

Ok? Nope.

Whatever I was feeling at that moment, ok was absolutely not it. But, recognizing that "ok" in this context really just meant "capable of survival without an emergency team," I saved this volunteer from the role of therapist.

"Yes. I'm ok."

I overheard two men talking about the bike cutoff times. We were biking on a large loop that we had to go around twice, and they mentioned that we had to be back at that aid station again by 4:00 to make the 4:00 cutoff. I quickly did the math in my head and realized that I was going to have to average about 19 miles per hour for the next couple of hours to make it.

Not impossible, on a typical day. But so far I had averaged somewhere around a very pitiful 12 miles per hour. Yes, your grandma goes faster than that with a walker. I had gone quite slow up to that point. And unless the wind stopped and my stomach settled immediately, it wasn't realistic to imagine this changing any time soon.

But, I wasn't ready to admit that. Not quite yet anyway.

So I jumped back onto Paul Cyclemon and whispered mine and Daniel's geeky catchphrase, "Ride, Paul Cyclemon. Show me the meaning of haste!" as I galloped onward, albeit slowly.

It's a little bit ironic for me to be quoting Lord of the Rings since I utterly failed to understand a single thing that was going on in those films despite my having watched all 297 hours with a lifetime of experiences and a doctorate degree under my belt. But I hung onto humor as much as I could, in this case repeating the one line I remembered from the mystical trilogy in the context of a not so mystical race. It didn't improve my spirits, but the superstitious part of me hoped it would bring good luck.

Before long we turned a corner and began our longest ascent, up a gigantic hill to the top of a peak. This hill is referred to as "the wall." I would have given up any of the following items, and possibly a combination of two or three of them, for a truck to have pulled me to the top:

1. My future
2. All of my clothing back at home
3. Happiness
4. Any cheesecake offered to me until July of this year
5. My ability to read

For that reason, it was probably good that a truck didn't come by at that moment to offer a trade.

And so I rode on. I convinced myself to look down at the ground and count out 100 pedals with my right foot before I would allow myself to look up and see how far I had made it up the hill. I did this many times before finally making it to the top where there was a sign reminding us to "stay possitive" (misspelling on the sign). I was surprised someone's foot hadn't gone through it yet.

Not long after, I descended upon the special needs station, which had a bag I had packed with goodies I thought I might need at that time. I did not have the foresight to pack a handgun. Or meth.

I did, however, pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which was handed to me as I sat in a chair, slowly munching on it until I felt the warm upchuck tickling the back of my throat. No sandwich for Eli. Shouldn't have wasted the good jam.

Back to Paul Cyclemon. The wind eased up a bit and I hit 42 miles per hour on one bumpy downhill, standing in a crouched position with my body leaning against the front of Paul Cyclemon, screaming the entire way. But the burst of speed was far too temporary. And eventually I hit the next aid station, staffed by my good friends Anna, Emma, and Isabel (collectively, "the annas"), who gave me a pep talk through my sunglass-hidden-tears about what I actually accomplished that day, if not a completed Ironman.

It was clear now that I wasn't going to make the next cuttoff time, several miles down the road. Check. Mate.

I talked to the Annas for a bit, and then to my family who was also nearby.

I guess I could have had someone call in support staff to come get me. But it just seemed like an even more devastating defeat to drop out before being officially told to go home. And so I rode on, pushing with everything I had in me, to make a cutoff time that had already passed.

Spoiler alert: I didn't make it.

Somewhere around mile 60-something, a man held out his arms to stop me, told me that I was a failure (in so many words), took my tracking chip from me, and pointed me the direction of the next transition, which was a few miles from that spot.

I rode along the course to transition amid the cheers of supportive spectators all encouraging me to keep pushing, having no idea that I had been disqualified. It's like people congratulating you on getting a job you actually didn't get but haven't announced yet. Except with a stomach and back ache. And throw up.

When I got to transition, they took my bike from me and told me I was still welcome to run, but then, as if I wasn't already aware, reminded me that I was no longer competing. I thought, what the hey, and walked into the changing tent with my running clothes bag.

I hopped into the marathon, motivated to run the full distance, but devastated that it didn't really feel like it meant anything. This inner-battle lasted for about 3 or 4 miles before I finally walked off of the course and back to the hotel.

Good bye, Ironman St. George. You've been a real jerk.

When I got to the hotel room, Daniel was already there, looking similar to how I felt. He missed the same cutoff time as me, but several minutes before I did.

We talked for a while about our experiences, both of us traumatized by several parts of the race, and also awed by the amount of support from so many of our incredible friends, and by so many of you strangers out there who sent encouraging messages, and in some cases, stood along the side of the road cheering us on. That will always be such a positive memory for me.

Over a week has passed now, and it's so strange that it has. Such an epic experience so full of frustration, disappointment, and a few little victories. It's hard to know what emotion to feel.

I gave myself a little pep talk at the end of the race. And again the next day. And every day since. Encouraging myself to be proud of what I did accomplish. Encouraging myself to be proud of the ways in which I've changed since I registered in a panic back in September, having never really swam or set foot on a bike. I didn't just learn how to do those things, but also learned more about dedication. About my own ability to face my fears. And to persevere, even when the storms and the waves become violent. Literally.

During this pep talk, I felt sheepish, wondering if I was just telling myself these things to make me feel better about failure. But I don't think I am. Because I believe these things when I say them about Daniel. I think Daniel has plenty to be proud of for pushing so hard for so long. For giving everything he's had in him to complete something that he could be proud of. And I guess if I mean it when I say it about him, I can mean it when I say it about myself. I can mean it when I claim that Ironman St. George was not really the goal, but just a place where we could showcase what we had gained while accomplishing the actual goal. And if that's true, then Ironman St. George was actually quite a success. Although one without a physical medal and a declaration of true ironman strength at the end.

Platitudes? Maybe. But they seem right.

I think no failure is permanent as long as you keep on pushing. No setback means anything about your character as long as you don't accept it as your destiny. And no experience is without value, as long as you cherish the strange parts of it.

That's what I'll keep telling myself, anyway.

Love you all.

~It Just Gets Stranger