Miranda Murphey arrived at the finish line with little fanfare, her feet covered in blisters, her entire body aching. The officials were closing down the race as she completed her final mile eight hours after diving into the Savannah River early Sunday morning.
Murphey and her training partner, Jessica Ruark, both teachers at Thomson High School, had swum 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles and completed one 6.5-mile loop of the run course when a race official informed them that they had missed the 4 p.m. cutoff. It was 4:02 p.m.
After a disheartening moment as she surrendered her race chip, Murphey considered her options. Though she couldn't continue the official race, she could still accomplish what she had set out to do.
"I signed up to do 70.3 miles, and I didn't see any reason why I couldn't do my last lap and get my 70.3 miles done," she said.
Though the race had officially ended, spectators along the route provided Murphey with the food, water and encouragement she needed to complete the second loop.
"As I was coming into the last mile, Jessica [Ruark] caught up with me and told me that she just didn't want me to be by myself and wanted to make sure I was OK," Murphey said. "She stayed with me for that last mile, probably the most painful mile, and helped literally pull me across the finish line."
Her husband, parents and sister were waiting there to take pictures and watch Murphey receive her medal.
"Something that's really important to me is that you finish a race unless it's going to cause permanent damage to you," she said. "If you're capable, then you finish, and it's OK if you're the last person in. It wasn't quite the finish I had in my mind, but it was a finish nonetheless and I was proud of myself."
More than 3,000 athletes from 44 states and 19 countries participated in the third annual ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta triathlon on Sunday.
The race began at 7:30 a.m. with competitors jumping into the Savannah River at staggered start times for the 1.2-mile swim. They then transitioned to a 56-mile bike ride through Aiken County, S.C., and back into Augusta. The third and final leg of the race was a 13.1-mile run through downtown, where runners arrived at the Augusta Common finish line.
Thomson High School was well-represented. Murphey and Ruark's fellow teacher Neil Osbon competed on a relay team with former THS teacher Kelly Flanders.
For the relay race, three team members complete each of the three legs of the triathlon.
Flanders made it a family affair by organizing two teams made up of herself, Osbon and four of her relatives who came to town from North Carolina and Costa Rica to compete.
"We have a tradition of family celebrations," Flanders said. "We've had a family talent show and a family poetry slam. Now this is the family triathlon."
Flanders completed the bike portion of the race, passing the race chip to Osbon so he could begin the run.
Feeling good, he started his run hoping to maintain about a nine-minute-mile pace.
"By mile eight, I could hardly breathe," he said. "I felt as if I were inhaling soup instead of air. I had to force my lungs to expand, and my strides were little more than a shuffle."
Plagued by his increasing thirst and exhaustion, Osbon willed his feet to keep pounding the pavement. In 28 years of running, he said this was the most difficult race he'd ever done.
"I prayed for strength throughout the whole race, confessing Scriptures as I went," he said. "'If God is for me, who can be against me?' I muttered while stealing breaths and blowing bubbles. For a while, that's all I had to go on."
As a light rain began falling, he finished the last two miles of the run as his teammates cheered him on.
Flanders said she was proud of the performances by all six team members.
"It's really not about competing; it's about completing," she said.
Flanders' family, along with Osbon and his wife, Georgette, celebrated together post-race with bluegrass music and a steak dinner.
Murphey and Ruark took personal days on Monday to sleep off their exhaustion and recover physically.
Neither of the women had done such a lengthy race before. After registering in March, they spent six months training.
"When you spend that long working toward a goal and pushing yourself to get there, it kind of becomes all you think about," Murphey said.
Before the race, they decided to stay together as much as possible, though their strengths lie in different areas. Ultimately, it helped them get through their toughest moments, with Murphey staying strong during the bike loop and Ruark providing encouragement during the run.
"Words can't express how proud I am of Jessica," Murphey said. "She's a great competitor and a great teammate."
At this point, Murphey isn't sure if she'll do another 70.3-mile race at any point, though she says it's a possibility.
"There's a certain element of crazy involved, something that becomes addictive," Murphey said. "There's a really great feeling that comes from knowing you set out to achieve a goal and you accomplished that goal."