As I run the last 200 metres toward the finish line, hundreds of people in the stands and on the track cheer me on. I hear my name being called out on the loudspeaker. “Anne Tillman-Graham, you are an Ironman.” I swear my feet do not touch the ground during the last few metres. This is it! I jump through the finisher’s ribbon — put up for every competitor — and all I think is, “Wow, it’s over.” More than a year’s worth of tough love training for the
race of my life has paid off. I’ve just finished the Lake Placid 2004 Ironman in 13:36:40, well ahead of my personal target of 15 hours.

At 4 a.m. that morning, as I dab on Roger & Gallet’s Aroma Eau de Shiso and a lick of YSL’s Lisse Gloss in Crystal Pink, I hit the bleakest moment of the day. How am I ever going to make it through this race? What if I’m the last person on the course? What am I — a self-proclaimed girlie girl who loves green-apple
martinis — even doing here? I think back to my first marathon in 1993, when my husband and best friend stopped me from bailing at mile 23, pointing out it was further to go back to the start than to finish the last three miles. Shaking off my self-doubt, I meet my racing buddies, Julie, Andrea and Kealy, and we head to Mirror Lake, which is the starting point for the race. The Ironman — a back-to-back four-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre cycle and 42-kilometre run — started in Hawaii in 1978.

The air is cool, and there’s an eerie calm. No one is really talking. A crowd of spectators grows. At 7 a.m. precisely, the starting gun goes off. Two thousand purple and yellow swim caps bob across the mist-shrouded lake. At the front of the pack are the alpha types, crawling over each other and, in some cases, biting other competitors. At the back of the pack, those looking for a comfortable pace spread out and apologize quietly if they bump into someone. Out of the water in 1:28:04, more than 32 minutes ahead of my goal, I’m so overjoyed, I get a fit of the giggles. A volunteer peels off my wetsuit, and I run to change into my black and pink cycling gear (it matches my bike). I dab on some Clinique suntan lotion and put on my helmet. It’s time to get pedalling.

Over the last year, I’ve always trained with a partner or in small groups, so I’m concerned I’ll find it hard to keep motivated. Yet, during the cycle, I never notice I’m alone. The volunteers and other riders are great company. I ride through Lake Placid like I’m in the Tour de France. The crowds yell and scream. Over the loudspeaker, I hear my name, country, age. (I really don’t need reminding.) My goal was 7:30:00, so when I get in at 6:53:01, I’m ecstatic.

Finally, the run. As I crawl up the last hill with about five kilometres to go, I see my father standing at the steepest grade, pushing me on. Around the corner are my husband and my running partner, Kelly. Kevin leans over the guardrail and quietly says, “I am so proud of you; you did it.” That’s it, the tears start. It takes me a few minutes to regain my composure. I realize that this incredible day is coming to an end, but it also marks a beginning.

Just as Oprah inspired me to start running marathons in 1993, my enthusiasm for the sport — and the lessons it has taught me about challenging perceptions of myself — has spread to friends and family, who have followed me down the path. This year, I paced my co-worker and friend Diane Sonnenberg through her first marathon. My reward: her accomplishment — the bragging rights have been passed on. I’m more than just a girlie girl who loves fashion, makeup and martinis. I am Irongirl!