11 hours, 55 minutes and 58 seconds after jumping into the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, I became an Ironman. It has been a weirdly incredible journey over the past 9 months.
Between December of 2011 and August 26th, 2012, ish got real. I lost my job. I sold my house. I sold nearly all of my possessions. I moved 1,361 miles away. I was a bum. I swam in the Pacific. I cycled in the mountains. I ran on the beach. I got a job. I moved 1,329 miles back the other direction. I rode on Route 66. The job changed a great deal. I discovered Austin…. and at the end of it all, I swam 2.4 miles in the Ohio River. I cycled 112 miles through Kentucky’s rolling hills. I ran a marathon in 93 degree heat. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. I became an Ironman.
Race Week: With any endurance event training, there is a taper. It’s the worst part of training season. You’ve spent so much time training and putting in the time and effort for race day that you can’t sit still. You have to unfortunately. With the unknown looming, it has been worse. My previous 3 marathons, I knew what to expect. I knew my training was on point. I knew what it took to make it 26.2 miles. This race, I had no clue as to what was coming on Sunday, August 26th. That’s what made race week nearly unbearable.
My roommates and coworkers threw me a little “Good Luck and Don’t Die” party on Wednesday. It was awesome and I they even made me a motivation book. Thursday morning, I took off to Louisville. I got settled in my place and went to get checked in. There, we were given our countless items we needed for the event. The best item we received was no doubt the awesome backpack. Thursday night, I explored the part of Louisville that I was staying in and found it to be a really fun city. I just couldn’t take part.
Friday, I met a group from the IAMTRI Group (a great resource for Ironman Louisville if you can tolerate sifting through a few 100 pointless email notices). We went on a 20 mile bike ride of the course and followed that up with driving the course. It helped big time to have some sort of knowledge of the course before actually racing it, being an out-of-towner. I met two guys that I hung out with the rest of the day at the IAMTRI Fundraiser event and then at the Athlete Welcome Banquet that night. The food wasn’t terrible and the event was all about getting you pumped up for the race that was to take place on Sunday morning.
That night, I slept awful. I just couldn’t get much sleep. I woke up early and rode my bike down to the practice swim session in the Ohio river. Jumped in and had a nice, leisurely 18 minute swim. Afterwards, I went back to where I was staying and packed all my transition bags. Double and triple checking everything I needed was included. I then went and checked my bike and bags at transition. Let me tell you, I thought I spent plenty of money doing this triathlon thing… sheesh! People have dropped some coin on bikes and gear. It’s incredible the amount of cool stuff one can have on a bike. Once that was done. It was time to hydrate, fuel up and relax. My parents, sister and niece all came into town that night and we went to eat at this Italian cafe. Spaghetti was the meal of choice, naturally. Once I had my fill, my family dropped me off and I was in bed right around 9:45. Perfect.
Race Day: 3:40am – Alarm goes off and I jump right out of bed. I slept amazingly well. I got up about three times to go to the bathroom which was a great sign as inconvenient it may be. I immediately went to the kitchen and made my two sweet potatoes, 2 bananas and 2 bags on instant oatmeal. It was slightly tough getting all that down for breakfast at such an early time but I knew I needed it. This is where all the mental games began. My dad picked me up at 4:30 and I made my way into transition, getting my tires aired up, nutrition on the bike and my Garmin in my run gear back and began making my way to the swim start.
For Ironman Louisville, the swim begins about 3/4s of a mile away from the transition so athletes must walk to the start to get marked and grab their spot in line. I got my spot towards the front, but there were still several hundreds of people in front of me. No sweat. I sit down and cool out just trying to think of the day ahead. The time was 5:40 by this point. It was going to be a long day.
Time absolutely flew by and 6:35 was here. I took my gel that I brought with me and the line was slowly creeping up as people were beginning to stand in line bunching up towards the front. At 6:45 or so, the announcer came on the speaker system and we could hear the National Anthem and at 6:50, the pros were off. It was very cool to see what fast swimmers look like in the pro field. Then it was the age grouper’s turn. I never had nerves as those are usually accompanied by cause for concern and never once did I have that. Excitement is what I would describe the feeling I had as the gun went off and the line began moving. HERE WE GO!
SWIM – 1:13:35
I’m smiling all the way to the start. I get to the end of the dock and jump in feet first. Swimming all those times in La Jolla and here in Barton Springs prepared me for this moment. Open water swimming is a different animal and you HAVE to practice in order to survive it. I immediately got in my rhythm and headed up Tow Head Island. It was .8 miles up the channel before turning around and heading down the river for another 1.6 miles to the transition. My breathing was better during this swim than in any other practice swim. It was weird but I was thankful for it. Every third stroke, I’d take a breath. Sighting was incredibly simple with bridges to target with every look. Also the line of swimmers helped too. My right ankle began to ache a bit so I had to quit kicking with my right foot for a while and it bothered me for the rest of the swim. It seemed to take forever to get to the first bridge but once there, the second bridge came right after and we were nearly done. In the past, I’ve exited the water and been dizzy but this time around, I was perfect. The pain in my ankle simply just went away also. I never thought about it again. I was excited and all smiles again. I heard my sister screaming for me and saw them and waved.
Transition was great. The volunteers were awesome and one guy helped me the entire time I was in T1. I got my nutrition in me, water in me, my chamois cream smothered where it needed to be and my shoes on. Ran out of there, got sunscreen on and grabbed my bike… all in under 5 minutes. On my way out, I saw my family again. Waved adios to them and told them I’d see them in about 6.5 hours.
The bike section is pretty simple in terms of direction. You stay on a road for a long time, make a right, turnaround, make a right, stay on a road for a long time, couple of turns, do it again, stay straight and you’re finished. Things you have to take into account, hills. Lots of them.
Looking back on my training, the hill workouts paid off big time. Throughout the entirety of the 112, not once did I feel like my legs were in a tremendous amount of pain. I didn’t have any cramps. The biggest battle while on the bike for me is the mental aspect of it. 6+ hours is a long time to stay on a bike. I had a plan and I stuck to it, luckily. I took a gel/stinger waffle/bloks every 20 minutes, knocked out 2 bottles of water and/or Ironman Perform (similar to Gatorade) in between aid stations in hopes to have to stop at them to go to the bathroom. I went to the bathroom 5 times during the 112 miles, stopping every time to do so. It was just what I was hoping for honestly. It meant I was staying hydrated but also gave me a chance to jump off my bike and stretch my legs a bit.
There were a few lengthy hills that made you work and you had to keep that in mind coming around on the first loop knowing you had to do it again. I kept a reasonably consistent pace considering that I stopped and took bathroom breaks, stopped to get my special needs bag, stopped to refill my aero bottle. My legs never felt too worn out but by mile 90, I was ready to be off the bike for sure. The good thing about mile 90 is that you are heading down the home stretch. The last few miles seemed to stretch out forever and I was extremely happy to see transition off in the distance. I made a few final turns, got out of my shoes and saw my family.
RUN – 4:11:18
Coming off the bike, my legs felt surprisingly great. I gave my bike to one of the volunteers and ran down to grab my run bag. I made it to the tent, put on my compression sleeves, socks, shoes and gold bond medicated powder (clutch). I spoke with a few volunteers in there and had some water. With that, I was off again and this time in under 8 minutes.
My legs felt amazing, considering. I took off and I knew I was going out fast but I couldn’t help it. I feel the most comfortable running because that’s the thing I have focused on for over 2 years now. My first 2 miles were an out and back on a bridge over the Ohio River (where we swam earlier) and almost to Indiana. After that, the course cut through downtown and on one road all the way down making a 6.5 mile out and back. We did that part of the course twice totaling the full 26.2 miles.
I ran without walking through the first 8 miles. My plan going into it was run as long as I could and then walk the aid stations from there. This started at mile 8. Also starting at mile 8, a sharp pain that came from a left calf cramp. This only happened twice and it only happened for a split second. At mile 10, this happened again but in my right calf. After mile 10, I had zero cramps the rest of the run. From mile 10 to 15 were consistent miles but my time was slipping slowly. I had it mapped out in my head at mile 13 where I could be when I cross the finish line. My goal of a 4 hour marathon was going to be close and had to keep consistent 9:30 miles from then on out. That was going to be tough. But after doing some math, I would still be able to hit my overall goal of a sub-12 hour race. I was shooting for it.
At mile 15, a lady ran next to me. We were doing the exact same pace with the same plan of walking the aid stations. We didn’t speak for the near hour and a half that we ran together but we knew what we were doing. We would push each other to start running after the aid stations (the hardest part) and we would stick together running the mile until the next aid station. In retrospect, this was huge for me. I don’t know if I could have kept that pace without her. Mile 20 is when things started to unravel. I had taken Ironman Perform, water, cola, chicken broth and oranges and bananas at the aid stations when I needed it. After mile 20, nothing was going down without a horrible feeling afterwards for the next half mile. I stuck strictly to water after that. At mile 22, I hit the wall. This was unlike any other wall I had hit before though. Nothing was cramping or anything but my feet were hurting big time. I had the chills but I was still sweating. I made a plan to walk the aid stations (1 mile apart) and then I would walk for 1 minute at the mile marker (roughly .3 or .4 miles from the aid station) and then I’d run to the next aid station. This continued until just after mile 24.
After mile 24, I knew it was right around the corner. I found a guy that was keeping a steady pace. I stuck with him. We talked a bit and both passed the final 2 aid stations and right at mile 25, I picked it up. I had a sudden boost of energy and my feet quit hurting. A smile returned to my face and the crowd began to appear in the distance. I ran through downtown Louisville, made a few turns and there it was. The finish line. I entered the finisher’s shoot and heard the crowd. Then it went silent. I didn’t hear anything. I ran to the finish line, stopped, took a bow and crossed. I never heard my name called and I never heard the words, “You are an Ironman,” but they were said. I saw my family as soon as I crossed and I was filled with an unbelievable feeling. The volunteer asked how I was feeling and I said great. She asked if I needed medical and told her no I didn’t. I got my medal, my t-shirt, hat, water and Perform and then I kind of blacked out. I remember bits and pieces from the next 5-10 minutes. I struggled to catch my breath and was a little light headed but my legs felt relatively good. I was able to walk and get my gear, including my bike and then it was time to rest and recover. I earned it. I WAS AN IRONMAN.
This has been a long, long, long journey to get here. Zip codes changed, people were met, stories were told, tips were given, training got longer, all for one goal. Though I trained solo for the majority of the 9 months, I definitely could not have done this with out the support of my friends, family and another Ironman Finisher and coach. Thank you to my friends who tuned me out and let me go on and on about training sessions, long runs, longer rides and all the laps in the pool. Here is a prime example to the right: In all seriousness, all of my Twitter followers and Facebook friends motivated me as well. Knowing that I had so many people tracking me pushed me to the finish line. I’d also like to thank my coach-from-afar, Stacy. She was always there to answer any question I had and sent me some incredible motivational messages to prepare me for my day. I Shawshank’d it, no doubt. Thank you to my family who always asked how things were going during training and who always wanted to hear my story. My mom, dad, sister and niece who were my support crew throughout the race day. Every time I saw them, I needed them. The boost that you get from seeing people that care for you so much is amazing during any event like this.
Looking back at the day 48 hours later, there were very few things that I could have done to improve this first time around. I was right mentally the entire day. Never did I think I wouldn’t finish. I was happy. I took things as they came and actually enjoyed them. Triathletes take themselves too seriously, all the time it seems, and I made it a point to not. Laughing, smiling and enjoying the misery can make an Ironman journey incredible and it certainly did mine.
Now I need to go shave my legs. They’re all stubbly.