“The short-term pain will be worth the long-term gain.”
I approached mile 7 of the run. My heart rate was elevating even at the slow pace I was running. My stomach was starting to not enjoy what I was putting in my mouth. My feet were killing me. A tidal wave of exhaustion just washed over me. I had been in the race around 12 hours at this point. I kept repeating the above quote in my head. It was my mantra to get me to the finish…
I went into the race with one goal, to finish before the cut off time at midnight. I didn’t want to put a goal time in mind, because if I missed it by one second I know I would have been disappointed with myself. I knew that doing the race was going to be an accompishment in itself and I wanted to go into it without expectations. I was going into the unknown with my body, physically and mentally. It has been a little over a year and a half since I set the goal for myself to do an Ironman. This is how it all went down.
The race started at 7 a.m for the age groupers. The swim start in Louisville is different from many other triathlons. Usually you are grouped into your age group and you start with your group at the same time. I haven’t done many triathlons, but I have never been comfortable with the wave starts. If you’ve never seen the start of a triathlon, I like to compare it to piranhas. It’s nothing but trashing in the water. Fighting for a spot, kicking people in the head, getting kicked in the head yourself, your hands seem to grab more feet than water. I’ve always just became out of breath really quick at the start of swims and have always resorted to going to the breast stroke for a while to catch my breath. It always kills my rhythm and my goal swim time is shot to hell.
At this race, they had roughly 3,000 of us line up. Once the gun went off, each racer would run and jump (feet first, not dive) off a dock, one at a time but in rapid succession. As the line quickly moved, nerves began to rise. I threw on my swim cap, then made sure my goggles were tightly on. I really didn’t want to deal with leaky goggles. Especially for about 2 hours. It wasn’t until 25 minutes after 7 that I got to jump in the water. I took a deep breath and hopped in.
Since the start was different, the piranha effect didn’t take place. Thank god! Everyone was spread out pretty well. Immediately I took it easy and fell into my rhythm. I was calm. Occassionally someone came by and bumped me, but it never effected anything really.
The first part of the swim was about a 1500 meter swim up (I believe. There wasn’t a current) the river. The second part is 2500 meters the other direction. About 400 meters into the swim though, the morning sun broke through a clearing in the trees. So for a little bit everytime I looked straight to see where I was going, I just really looked into a bright glare. This really went on until the turn. I kind of had to rely more on the direction people around me were swimming.
Around the 800 meter mark, I had my first “oh shit” moment. My first leg cramp. “Already” I thought! How could this be? I was plenty hydrated, I had a great breakfast and I even ate GU about 10 minutes before getting in the water. The only thing I could think to do was suck it up. It finally went away after a minute or two.
I made it to the turn around. Feeling good. The sun was out of my eyes. Goggles hadn’t let a drop in. Still swimming freestyle. Probably before the next 400 meter marker, my other leg got a cramp! This time I tried to keep swimming like normal like last time, but it made the leg worse. Not wanting to give up, I just stopped kicking with that leg. It felt weird doing that for a minute, but it worked and got the cramp to go away. Got back in my zone and pushed forward.
Stroke, stroke and breathe. That’s really all I was thinking. Then every so often I would look forward to make sure I was heading in the right direction for the next buoy. Time wasn’t on my mind and I didn’t let the fact that a good bit of people were passing me. I was doing my own race, not theres. I was swimming with a clear mind for a while. Then I tought “hope I don’t get another cramp.” Just right after I thought that. Boom! I yelled out this time. It was the worst one yet. A safety kayaker was close by. I thought about calling him over. Not gonna give up I told myself. Just stopped kicking with that leg again and continued on. This one was a bugger and wouldn’t leave as quick as the other two. It even went into my foot. I started spreading my toes to get it to go away, and it helped a bit. Finally it eased away.
I should be getting close now to the swim finish, I thought. I looked up and could count 2 more buoys after the one I was coming up to. Almost there! By that point that was the most I have ever swam in my life. I was feeling really good. Some fatigue in the arms, but I felt like I could go on for a really long time. Slowly I knocked off the buoys. The swim finish was just a pool length away. They had volunteers help people get out of the water. I made my way to the closest one to me. As I got closer the volunteer was reaching out for me. Our arms locked and she helped me up the steps. Right when I stood up, I almost just fell over. I had no balance. Thankfully she was still holding onto me.I took a second to ground myself and went up the steps. Onto transition!
A volunteer handed me my bike bag. I thanked them and found a shaded spot to get ready for the ride. I didn’t actually want to get ready in the transition tent knowing it would be crowded and hot as hell in there. I popped a salt pill and ate a banana. Loaded down a bunch of GUs in the pockets, a few Natural Valley bars and some pretzels. Put my shoes, helmet and number belt on and made my way to get my bike.
The bike is my least favorite of the 3 sports. I think it’s because it’s not really natural. You sit on a machine. Yeah, you power it, but it’s not like swimming and running. This area was what I was way underprepared for. I was in for a long day, but I was ready to get on with it.
My plan on the bike seemed simple, but I lost track after awhile. Drink water every 5 minutes, eat every 30 minutes (gel once an hour and something solid the other time) and 1 salt pill an hour. I pretty much kept up with it, but I lost track of when I ate and took a pill after a few hours.
First 10 miles or so seemed pretty flat and easy. I looked at the elevation map a few days before and knew that there were gonna be some hills early in the ride. Around mile 15 or so. When hills are expected, they aren’t that bad to me. I savored the long down hills and pushed back up those hills. (that section was an out and back) After that the ride seemed to level out… but for just a brief moment. From my memory of looking at the elevation map, I thought the rest of the ride would be somewhat easy, not the case.
Around mile 30 and allthe way to about mile 100, it was rolling hills. Not bad at first. But for someone who didn’t train as much as I should have on the bike, they began to suck. I got off at the aid station that I think was around mile 30 to go to the bathroom. Relieved and after a good dousing of cold water on my head, I pushed on.
Overall by this point I was feeling good. I was keeping up with hydration and nutrition. Since the swim I didn’t have anymore leg cramps. I was just cruising and taking it easy. And then all the sudden the ride just started to wear on me. I felt like I had been riding a really long time since the last aid station and I felt like I had passed a few mile marks, but couldn’t remember where I was. (One thing I forgot to mention and I guess I should throw in now, since my goal was just to finish I didn’t want to be a number slave, so I never turned on my gps watch)
Mile 40 the next mile marker said! Damn! I was expecting the next one to say 50 or 60. That wore down my spirits a bit. Nothing I could do about it. I pedaled on. Around this time a guy, named Steve I believe, was riding the pace as me. And he seemed to be cranking the whole time. But every so often he would stop pedaling to fart. This gave me a few good laughs and got my mind off of the long ride. hahaha!
Around mile 60 my ass began to start hurting and my feet started to hurt. Kind of weird about my feet, because there isn’t any impact. For some reason evertime I pushed down, my feet would kill. Maybe my bike form is off or maybe a blood circulation issue. Fatigue was catching up to me too at this point.
Mile 70 was around where they had the special needs bags. This was if you wanted to have more food or whatever. I got off again. Ate a peanut butte and jelly sandwich, some pretzels and reloaded on salt pills and a few other snacks. From this point on I stopped at every station to stretch and also because my feet felt better once I was off the bike.
The rest of the ride just dragged on. The rolling hills were getting to be brutal. I basically coasted the down hills just to conserve energy for the climbs. And by this point I was getting off the saddle every few minutes to give my ass a rest! Mile 90 came and all I could think about was running. I hated being on the bike. Why the hell is the ride 112 miles!?
I remeber thinking after the mile 90 aid station that there should be one more before the bike ends. Remember I didn’t have a gps going so I had no idea about time and distance. Soon after I left that aid station, I ran out of water quick. So I assumed the next station would be around the corner. My mouth was dry as hell and all I wanted was the last aid station. Where is it!? I kept thinking. It will be bullshit if there isn’t one more! I came to a bend in the road, no aid station. Probably around the next bend… nope! Where is it?!
I made the final turn on the ride and really needed another break. Iwas thinking if there isn’t a station around the next bend I was gonna get off where there was some shade. I started coming around the bend and I saw big garbage bags. I noticed those from previous aid stations from volunteers already cleaning up. All my frustration melted away. I got new water bottles and ate a banana. A little kid that was volunteering came up to me and asked if I wanted a GU. I said no thanks, but then reconsidered. “Yeah I’ll take one”. He gave me a blueberry one. I had never had that one before, but screw it. I tasted so good! A lot of times the gels don’t really taste like what they say they are, but this one was money. Brighten my spirits. Ready to finish this ride.
The last 10 miles were the flat and easy, the same road as the start of the ride. Got to the finish and handed my bike to a volunteer. My watch said 5 p.m. What a day so far! Grabbed my run bike and this time went into the transition tent. I wanted to sit down. I changed my socks. The first thing I noticed was that a few toes were numb. (they still are a few days after the race!) Ate a gel, took down some salt pills, put on my running shoes and filled my handheld water bottle that I run with. I walked out of the transition area.
My goal with the run was to run at a very comfortably slow pace for as long as possible. Iwanted to push myself as far as I could and then come up with a run/walk strategy. Something that I love about long endurance events is that they have cola at the aid stations. It has always worked with me in the past, so the first opportunity I got a took down a cup. Probably took much looking back on it.
I felt great. Finally to my favorite sport. If I had to guess I was probably running 11 minute miles. Super slow, but then again I had a whole marathon to do. The next aid station I took some orange slices. The tased amazing but my stomach didn’t like them too much. Next station I took another GU. I was starting to think I need to chill on the sugar, but didn’t.
Made it to mile 7 and that’s when everything hit me. I started to walk. I usually feel ashamed when I’ve had to do that in the past, but today’s goal was just the finish line. I decided to try and walk a half a mile and run the other half. I thought that would be a good strategy to follow. I ended up walking most of the way to mile 11 though. I was fine with it, I still had plenty of time til midnight.
A little passed mile 11, someone came up to me and just started talking. I don’t remember what was first said, but we seemed to connect. He was about the same age as me. It was his first full Ironman too and his only goal was to finish as well. I remember his name was Chris and he was from Denver. Super cool guy. We actually ran, with a few walking breaks to mile 17. Around that point my side started cramping really bad and my heart rate is pounding again. I asked for the last walk break, so I started to feel bad to ask for another. I told him to go on without me. We parted ways. I was so tired at this point that a few times I closed my eyes and felt like I could have fallen asleep right then and there.
Mile 17-20 was pretty much all walking for me. With a 10k to go, I had right at 2 hours to finish. I could walk the rest of the way and make it. But being a runner, that’s not how I wanted to finish. I started to run, but I was drained. I was starving, feet were pounding and my side cramp hadn’t gone away. Screw it, I thought. I kept running. After about a half a mile, I forgot about all of that stuff. But don’t let me full you into thinking I was running at a good clip, some people were walking just as fast… or slow as me. I stopped at a few aid stations. Took very short walking breaks.
About 3 miles to go, two groups passed me. A guy and lady passed me. One of them said “We’re almost there. Keep your head up!” I never realized my head was down until then. I lifted it up and smiled. The next group of people passed. I think it was really one racer in the group and she had a few friends by her side to get her to the finish. “You got this!” one of them said.
A mile later both groups were walking. I gingerly ran passed them. Both cheered me on and wished me luck. About a half mile later, a cop on a bike rode by. How much further he asked. I told about about less than two miles. “You’re basically there!”
Mile 25 came. I could hear people cheering in the distance. I could start to see bright lights coming from downtown. “By endurance we shall conquer” I told myself. I ran without stopping. The goal was in sight. Within reach. I made a few turns and was on the final stretch.
The finish shoot was so damn loud. People were cheering, screaming and slapping the sponsor signs along the barricades. Everyone wanted high fives! It was amazing. It made me feel like I was coming in first place. Like I had won the race. So much excitement was going through me, a lot of it seemed like a blur. After I gave my final high five, I started pumping my fist in the air. It was so loud, I don’t even know or remember if the announcer told me I was an Ironman! haha!
Crossing the finish line of an Ironman is the best racing experience I have ever had. I am still feeling the high on the finish. I don’t care that I only had 20 minutes left until midnight. I accomplished my goal of doing it. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to do another one. I now truly believe anything is possible. Never give up and you can do some amazing things with your life!