September 1, 2009 § 3 Comments
>Ever since I saw the footage of this moment in 1997, I wanted to do an Ironman. Even being twelve years old, I knew that there was something special about an Ironman. These althetes aren’t doing it for the money, or the prestige; triathlons (especially then) were still relatively unknown to many. I knew that there had to be something more to this event. When I started running ultras, I finally was given a glimpse at what was so special about endurance events. Still, I knew that I wanted to do an Ironman to really understand it, and experience it for myself.
Friday: Arrive in Louisville at around 11am with my dad. After a brief scare where my bike was about 30 seconds away from going to Vegas, we made our way to the Hotel. We were staying at the Steelbach Hilton, right downtown, adjacent to 4th Street Live! Little did we know, this would also serve as the finish line for the IM. I went to check in, and we did some walking around to see the city. Everyone we saw was in town for the race. It took awhile to do the race check in, then we went on a little jog, and before I knew it it was time for dinner. Went to the Red Star in the 4th street live area. While we were sitting up there, I looked up at the Improv club’s lineup for the weekend and saw that Arj Barker (plays Dave in Flight of the Concords…the friend they meet when they move to NY) was headlining. So my dad and I decided to get tickets to the early show there, and that would leave us about an hour or so to watch the free Sister Hazel concert right outside! This decision turned out to be a good one. The show was super funny. Also not too inapprop (which would have been kinda awk with my dad there) and then we made it outside to see Sister Hazel in time to see them play All For You and Your Mistake! woop woop. After that it was time to call it a night and get some rest.
Saturday: Woke up earlyish so I could get to the practice swim for 8:30. Since the swim is in the Ohio River, it was only going to be open until 10am, and I wanted to get about 1000 meters or so in. The swim went well, but I did notice the current of the river…I swam upstream about 15 minutes and it only took me 10 to cover the same distance on the return trip. After that, we went back to the hotel and I put my bike together and took it for a quick spin to make sure it felt right. Then it was off to the Old Spaghetti Factory for some good old carb loading. After that we did some more walking, and went back to the expo. I didn’t have time to really shop around on Friday, so I did a little more of that. At one point we ran into the comedians from the night before outside the hotel! We chatted with them for awhile about the race, and they were some pretty cool dudes. I will prob facebook friend them. The rest of the day is a blur – got my transition bags and bike to the transition area, took a little nap, had a solid Papa Johns dinner (that’s the only thing I could trust my stomach with…my nerves were way out of wack and my stomach was feeling it) and went to bed.
Sunday: THE BIG DAY! Woke up at 4:15. Did the usual routine of braiding my hair, and forcing 2 packs of oatmeal down. Walked over to the T2 area to check my bike. This is where the problems began: I found my back tire flat. Ughhhh not good news. But, at least I found it early, right? The bike tech guys were awesome and got it changed quickly, and I headed over to the swim start, about .75 miles up the road. Went through the body marking, and before I knew it it was 6:40 and I was in line on the docks for the start. This is a time trial start, so they were sending us off of 2 docks. Everyone asks if you dive or jump – and I definitely jumped because there were mad people in the water below me. I would have def landed on someone slash dove right on top of dudes if I dove. So I jumped in around 7:01, and there I was. Even though I was really close to the front, it still felt like a million people were around me. I tried to find a rhythm, but between all the people, and trying to swim up the current, it didn’t feel very smooth. Just as we were nearing the far bouy for the turnaround, I was confused as I saw some peoples shins and knees right at my face when I went to breathe – wtf? It turns out we were swimming right over a sand bar and people were walking. So I joined the party, but it was over too soon – back to swimming. Lots of swimming. I knew I wasn’t going very fast, but at this point there wasn’t much I could do. I got in around 1:24, which was about 10 minutes off where I hoped to be. However, with the current and no wetsuits, it wasn’t surprising.
T1 went smoothly, I was basically just grabbing my helmet and my race number and heading out on my bike. This was the first time in a race I was getting on the bike with my pedals clipped in, and I managed to pull it off, but about 50 yards out of the chute something didn’t feel right. With the crowds of people still all around me, I pulled off to the side with a sinking feeling. I reached back and felt my back tire…sure enough, completly flat. Ahhh. Panic mode set in. I yelled into the crowds if anyone had a pump. At this point, I didn’t think it was the tube, so my only hope was going to be if I could get it to hold enough air to carry me through the bike. A long shot, I know, but I wasn’t exactly going to throw in the towel right there. Luckily, someone had a pump and I got the air back up to 120 and was on my way. The peope who gave me the pump didn’t exactly look confident for me, but I assured them that I would just have to bike faster to get done before it flatted. I think I must have actually believed this because my first bike split was pretty quick (note: can’t go by the computer split as I lost some minutes due to the stopage).
I settled into a rhythm as much as I could as I headed out into the first loop. I was extremely nervous though about the tire. I figured I had 2 cartridges with me, so if I could make each pump last me 45 miles, there’s a good shot I’ll get in. This bike course has a pretty dece mix of flat and hills, and after about 35 miles I noticed that I was dragging up the hills. I pulled off at a minivan with some dudes next to it, and asked if they had a pump – miracle, they did! I got off and pumped up the tire again…it had falled back down to a pressure of about 80 so I was still super nervous. However, after that it was like a brand new bike and I was back in business. I still had a quite a ways to go though. Throughout everything, I made sure to eat and drink as much as possible. It was a chilly day at points with the wind and being wet still from the swim, but I knew I was working hard nonetheless and needed to maintain my nutrition. I mastered the art of refilling my water bottles on the bike (more difficult than I thought without the aero bottle!).
After about 75 miles I felt the bike dragging again, so once again I pulled off and found a pump. Again, the pressure had dropped, but this time only to 90ish. I felt like Mike Zero with the tire that just wouldn’t stay full, but whatevs, I finally thought I was actually going to make it through this bike. Hopped back onto the bike and just kept chugging along. At about mile 80, I started to feel this horrible pain in my right knee. It’s something I’ve only felt one other time on the bike, so it worried me, but there wasn’t really much I could do.
Then, as I come down the road, I see these 3 random dudes. One of them is wearing short shorts and is swinging his shirt above his head. “IS THAT HER?!” I hear. Holy crap. It is none other than Ryan, Brennan, and Brennan’s friend!!! I don’t usually like surprises, but this one was awesome. It came at a time when I was about ready to start coasting, and it pumped me back up to stay in the race. I was shocked, flattered, and just so happy to have them out there. Five hours before when I got on the bike I wasn’t sure I was going to finish; now, I knew that I would make it with them right along with me. I could finally taste the end.
Unfortunately, I still had another 22 miles to bike and then 26 to run. I finished the bike in 6:13, which made me pretty happy. That was what I was hoping to ride if I had no problems, so I think if everything had gone well I could have taken some minutes off that. I proceeded to have the worst dismount ever off the bike, changed into my running shoes, and hit the bathroom before I started to tackle the marathon. My legs felt great, all things considered. It was nothing like the problems I faced at Providence with the run, so that was a relief. I ran into Ryan, Brennan & Co again as I headed out, and with a high-five I was off.
It’s evident that I felt good for the first half of the marathon looking at my splits. I was running 8’s for awhile before I fell to about 8:30’s. Around mile 9 I had a stomach problem and had a quick bathroom emergency. I only lost 3 minutes though and was able to keep moving pretty quick. Around mile 13 I got passed by some really hot girl. Ryan and Bren were right there, and I tried to stay with her because I figured at least then while they watch me plod along they could watch her as well. I managed to stay with her for all of…..200 meters before I decided that was not a good idea. It didn’t matter though, because Ryan and Brennan were still the best fan club I could have asked for. Singing, dancing, yelling slightly innappropriate but hilarious things — they pulled out all the stops and people LOVED it. I got a few men who double checked that I was friends with them as they were scared I was being stalked, but when I assured them they were harmless I had countless people tell me how lucky I was to have such great support, and they couldn’t have been more right.
At mile 14 I hit the turnaround….this was some sort of cruel punishment as you actually go right by the finish line. This is when it really started to hurt. I knew I was on pace to go under 12 hours, but I also knew I could easy let that slip away if I lost focus. It was time to just do what I do and get the job done. When I hit 24 I was just so excited. There were about 5 of us who had been mostly together through the run and were at this point together, and were encouraging each other to push through and just get there. When I rounded the final turn and saw the Ironman arch up ahead, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to just take it all in, the crowd, the cheers, the athletes out there with me, everything. Being at the finish of an Ironman is truly a remarkable experience. I crossed the line in 11:51:43 with a huge smile on my face and a feeling that is just impossible to describe. The words “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!” rang in my ears. A volunteer was with me right away, making sure I was okay and getting me water and coke. A couple minutes later I found my dad and made my way to a curb to sit down. I felt “okay” but was a little bit woozy, and I knew I needed food. Luckily, the guys came to my resuce with some chips, and a little bit later I was on my feet getting to the hotel for a much needed hot shower.
Later that night we all had dinner at an Irish Pub right at 4th Street Live. The cheers of the crowd never died down – I have honestly never seen such a high level of energy be maintained for so long. Looking at the faces of the people coming in, and exchanging congratulations with those finishers standing next to you is the best feeling ever. The race certainly took its toll on me. I would have liked to stay out and cheer on people until the end, but I was just too tired. I went to bed, and woke up this morning feeling surprisingly good. My dad and I killed some time with breakfast and packing up before heading over to the awards ceremony banquet midday. I think this is where it finally hit me that I was an Ironman finisher. Watching the video of the race was the first time I felt emotional about the race, as I relived my race with the other 2400 finishers.
All in all, I ended up 7th in my age group. I was 5 minutes away from a top 5 finish. Of course, there are plenty of “what-if’s” that go along with this race, as I am sure every competitor has. But I know that in each moment of the race, I put my cards on the table and did my best. In the end, that’s all I can ask for and I am happy to have had the opportunity to be out there, and the support from my friends and family to help me along the way.