It’s Ironman Day!
I set 3 alarms for race morning, just in case. I woke up 10 minutes before any of them went off, at 4:20 a.m. I wasted no time. I had my water, cup of coffee, english muffin with PB&J, and milk. Same thing as every day as I’ve done in training and other races. Nothing new.
I braided my hair, got my kit on to wear under the wetsuit, double checked my special needs bags, and got the family up and out of bed. We left for transition around 5:20, and before I knew it, I was in line to get in. I got the special needs bags dropped off, all my fluids set up on my bike, aired up my tires, got body marked, and met up with our group.
The swim start for Louisville is about a mile walk down a path from transition, and people notoriously get in line crazy early to make sure they are at the front of the line. We got in line after 6 a.m., and the line was already over a half mile from the start. So, we made ourselves comfortable and waited out the next hour and a half until the swim would start.
My mind was in so many crazy directions. I nibbled on a granola bar and sipped on Gatorade as much as my nervous stomach would allow, according to my plan. Susie, and our friend Mike’s wife, Nikki, kept us company. Hubby and kids ended up finding us too, so I was thrilled they could hang out with us until the start.
We shoved ourselves into our wetsuits and got the swim caps on as the line started moving. Before we knew it, we were at the swim start dock.
Ironman Louisville has a very unique swim course and set up. First, it’s a later start due to the sunrise. As a result, people only have 16 hours to complete the race, in comparison to 17 hours that most other Ironman races offer. Then, there is a rolling start, where a few people jump off a boat dock every couple seconds. It’s a nice alternative to a mass swim start. We swim upstream in an area protected by a small island for about 750 yards or so. About 800 yards from the end of the island, there are turn buoys that we go around and then swim downstream the rest of the way.
Our group of people stuck together and started seconds within each other. I found myself getting emotional, and I had tears in my eyes as we approached the dock to get in. Then, it was our turn. It was 8:01 a.m. Our friends Mike and Katie were off a few people ahead of us. Then, Scott went off just seconds before me, and then it was my turn. The water was warmer than the outdoor air, so it was actually a relief to get into the water after standing in 49 degrees all morning. The first couple hundred yards were good, I found a clear spot close the island with little traffic, just kept swimming, and found a happy pace. So far so good!
Then, the craziness began. I caught up to a massive crowd, as it got super congested with other people ahead of us. At one point, I had nowhere to go. I had swimmers within inches of me in every direction. Someone hit my big toe so hard it throbbed until I exited the water. I almost got kicked and punched several times, but frequently changed the side I was breathing on to keep my face safe. I was finding myself really anxious and on guard, and just wanted some clear water. This went on until we got to the turnaround. Once we got into the main river going downstream, the crowd let up a bit and I was able to get back into my rhythm. We had 3 bridges to swim under, so it was great to know the landmarks. Before I knew it, I passed the final bridge and saw the swim exit.
Volunteers were arm in arm in the water, grabbing and helping swimmers up the stairs. I exited the water, had a wetsuit stripper pull my wetsuit off, and ran across to transition. I saw Hubby and the kids along the way, and got my gear bag.
Swim Time: 1:14:44 (15 minutes faster than I’d projected).
The changing tent for an Ironman is where all modesty goes out the window, as most of us are changing our clothes completely. I had a beautiful angel of a volunteer. I pre-warned her I would be getting naked, and she laughed, assuring me that everyone else around me was doing the same. I toweled off, changed into my favorite Coeur tri shorts, and my Prairie Life tri jersey. My amazing volunteer helped me get my bra on, wiped my feet off, and put my socks and bike shoes on me while I managed my helmet and sunscreen stick. I thanked her over and over, and it was time to head out on the bike. I took my Shot Bloks, salt tab, drank some water, got sprayed down with sunscreen and grabbed my bike. I felt SO good.
Transition 1 Time: 11:48
The bike started off great, it was just absolutely perfect outside. We truly could not have asked for a better day. Sunny, no wind, and cool temps. I actually rode the first half of the bike with my makeshift arm warmers. I used a pair of Hubby’s old black socks. I cut the toes off, and they fit perfect. I knew I’d be ditching them in a trash can, and didn’t want to toss my good pair of arm warmers.
I had a very specific nutrition plan that I’d practiced during long training rides and runs. With the cool weather, I was prepared to nix the salt tabs and some of the water on the bike, per Niki’s advice. I decided to play it by ear though, and keep up with those for the first hour or so to be sure I was staying hydrated. I didn’t want to go down a hole I couldn’t get out of!
The first 10 miles of the bike are flat and fast, along a beautiful stretch next to the Ohio River. I enjoyed that part so much. I was flying along at about 18 mph, in a very easy gear. This felt great. I was told to take it easy the first stretch, and was glad I did. Then, the hills start. Oh the hills. Hills, hills, everywhere. Rolling hills, steep hills, downhills. It was like a Dr. Seuss book about hills. I quickly forgot about the easy flat we started out on.
Before I knew it, we were close to the second water stop and aid station around mile 24, which is in LaGrange. I’m a klutz, I fully admit it. Unlike the fast kids, I do not fly through the aid stations and grab bottles. I stop, fill my hydration system, and then go. We were told at the athlete briefing to exit at the end if we chose to pull over. So, I was sticking through on the right, and spotted 3 other bikes stopped just past the volunteers with the drinks. I was preparing to do the same. As I was doing this, I heard people telling someone to slow down, and then a guy telling me to look out, and then…a guy hit my back tire. This dude plowed through the aid station and hit my back tire, and he completely wiped out right behind me Luckily, I unclipped my pedal fast enough to catch myself from going down with him and stopped my bike. He was bleeding, I was shaken up, and ended up about 10 feet from where I was supposed to stop. I had to get out of the way from everyone else before getting hit. I apologized, thinking maybe I didn’t do this right. He got up, said it happens, and went along on his way. A volunteer came and helped me dump the Gatorade into my bottle and made sure I was ok. I started shaking and tried not to cry. This was not in my race plan.
I double checked my rear tire and wheel to make sure everything was good, and got back onto the course.
I was trying really hard to shake it off, and refocused on my nutrition and hydration. I took a salt tab, took a few sips of my cold Gatorade, a swig of water, a couple bites of my Clif Bar, and settled back in…
A few miles down the road, we went through downtown LaGrange (which is where Hubby, kids and the sherpas were planning to catch us). I did not see them, but it was great to have the crowd cheering us on out there.
Then, it hit me. Around mile 40, I felt a side stitch coming on in my upper right abdominal area. I was going over everything in my mind, wondering why this was happening. My nutrition was spot on, and I was perfectly hydrated at this point. I’d ditched the idea of altering my hydration plan after the first water stop because the original plan had me feeling good. My stomach felt great otherwise, as I kept everything exactly to what I’ve practiced and planned. No gas pains, no GI upset, it just felt like an ab muscle that was unhappy. I tried breathing deeper and longer, nothing was working. I felt really nervous that this would hinder my race, and I was frustrated. All season, everything has gone exactly to plan. Why now? Getting out of aero position on the bike seemed to help, so I went with that every so often. In the meantime, I focused on my nutrition and hydration because I had control over those things and wanted to keep up with my plan.
I went on to special needs at mile 60, which was glorious. Hubby’s friend, Shannon, was a volunteer at that station and requested my number block so she could see me. I had never met her until that moment, but the first time I met her she was my favorite person in the world! She passed on a message from Hubby that he and the boys were proud of me, they love me, that they could not wait to see me at the finish line, and that our son was having a happy birthday. She truly made my day, and my spirits were lifted in a way I absolutely needed at that point. I told her to tell them I love them and can’t wait to see them.
Shortly after that, we went through LaGrange again, and I saw Hubby, kids and our other sherpas! Oh, sweet relief to see them. I needed that. I needed that a lot.
Then, I focused on the rest of the bike. I have to admit, even with the hills, the course was absolutely beautiful. I was very thankful that I’d trained on hills around home so much, as it helped me trust in my training and reminded me I could do it. There were a couple really nasty hills that people were dropping chains on, and I was glad I got up and over those with no problems. I still couldn’t get over the complete perfection of the weather! I got to spend the day biking in 70-degree, sunny, fall weather, with little wind. It doesn’t get any better than that.
I made about 4 or 5 total pit-stops along the bike route, and used the restroom 3 of those times. So, I used that to remind myself of how well-hydrated I was. I took one salt tab per hour, and kept up with Gatorade and water. The nagging stitch still wasn’t going away, but it wasn’t going to stop me. I kept telling myself, “Suck it up, Buttercup!” Hubby and I use that saying on hard days of training.
Finally, came the last 10 flat miles. Oh, that glorious stretch of flat road never felt so good. I spent that last part of the bike focusing on praying for the strength to push through the pain for the run. Philippians 4:13, I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.
Bike Time: 7:20:28 (a bit slower than I wanted, but I took time and took care of myself to ensure a finish).
The bike dismount line to the bike rack seemed like an eternity, but I was glad to see Susie and Nikki. Susie asked if I’d seen Scott on the bike (I had not). I handed my bike off to a volunteer, got my bag, and headed into the changing tent again. This transition was less complicated. I only changed my top into my Team Nebraska Triathlon shirt, switched into running shoes, and put the race belt and sun visor on. My side stitch was bugging me, so I took a Tylenol, some water, a Shot Blok, and got out of the tent. I decided to make a quick restroom stop, and then it was out to the run course. Along the way to the run out, I saw Susie (who let me know that Scott just finished the bike–YAY!). I finally saw Hubby and the kids. I needed that. I kept smiling through my side stitch. Running actually felt better than being on the bike.
Transition 2 Time: 14:17
The energy in downtown Louisville is amazing. If you register early for an Ironman, you have your name printed on your bib. Random strangers were yelling my name and cheering me on. It really helped me get through those first few miles.
My strategy for the run was to walk the aid stations in order to ensure I was hydrating and fueling to plan. I kept up with the salt tab every hour, 3 shot bloks an hour, and Gatorade and water in between it all. I was disappointed that I was not able to run as fast as I normally do with the side stitch. I really wanted to hold a minimum of a 10:30 pace, but I found myself at a pace of 12-13 instead. I was so very thankful for the steady fueling strategy, though, because aside from the side stitch I felt great. My legs felt really good and strong, my mind was clear (well, as it could be for a day spent covering 140.6 miles–ha!), and my stomach wasn’t upset at all. I truly felt amazing otherwise. Focusing on the nutrition helped distract me, and reminded me of what was going well.
I saw another Team Nebraska acquaintance from home a few times on the running loop (he’s fast and finished in just over 11 hours). I saw Hubby and the kids at about mile 6 of the run, then I saw Mike from our group shortly before the first turnaround on the run, and then I saw Scott just after the turnaround. I saw Hubby and kids again at mile 8, and made my way back into town for the half way turn around. Around mile 10 across from Churchill Downs, there is an island in the road with signs that were made by friends and family members at the expo. Hubby and kids made me a sign, and I picked it out at mile 10 on the first loop, and found it again at mile 23 on the second loop. That sign gave me the distraction I needed to get through the rest of the race. I was so anxious to see them.
As I approached the half way point, I found myself overcome with emotion again. Just before the turn off, you come to the very edge of the finisher chute…and then, nevermind, not yet! It’s a total mind game, because the finish line is physically within reach. I wanted to cry. I knew I only had 13 miles until I’d be there. In the meantime, I went through special needs and got my magical Gatorade Prime pouch, and packed last of the Shot Bloks that would get me through the race.
The last 13 miles were dark, in more ways than one. The sun had gone down, the energy on the other end of the course started to dwindle, and my side still hurt. I saw Scott again 2 more times, and passed by our friend Mike around mile 23. It was so awesome to see familiar faces out there.
Finally, the miles ticked down. Mile 24. 25. About 1/2 mile from the finish line, my emotions started to hit me. I was going to be an Ironman. Every bike ride, run, trip to the pool for the grueling laps. All those long weekend training sessions were going to pay off. I cried the last half mile. I was sobbing. I poised myself to take in every last moment of this race. Just before the finish, I saw Nikki and told her Mike was not far behind. Then I saw Susie! I told her Scott was a few miles behind and he was going to finish this!
Then, the signature Ironman carpet was in front of me, and the tears flowed. I high fived people along the chute, and kept an eye out for Hubby and the kids on the right hand side (where he said they’d meet me). Then my name was called out. I did it. I crossed the finish line. I AM AN IRONMAN!!
Run Time: 5:34:22
My amazing volunteer met me and escorted me to the side of the chute at the end of the finish line, where I saw Hubby and the kids (and my new friend Shannon!). Once I got over there, the volunteer handed my (birthday boy) son the medal, and he slipped it over my head. My son got to medal me! I was still crying at this point. I hugged my boys (except the oldest, he refused to hug a stinky mom) and Hubby. I thanked Shannon again for taking such great care of me in special needs. Come to find out, she was the one that arranged with the finish line volunteers for my son to medal me. This moment was so amazing for me, and for our family. I am so grateful for this experience. My family sacrificed so much for my training, and I love that they were included in my finish line celebration.
My volunteer helped me through the rest of the finisher line, got my shirt and hat for me, took me to get my photo taken, and made sure I safely got to my family at the exit.
I was elated. There was pure joy in what I had just accomplished.
Finish Time: 14:35:39
More hugs were exchanged with the family. I was beyond thrilled to have them there, and to have my kids watch me reach a goal I set. They know how hard I worked for this. I truly hope they learn from this that they can reach any goal they set for themselves.
After that, I made my way to the food tent. I needed something to eat that was not made by Clif (the thought of a Shot Blok still makes me gag). I ran into Mike, congratulated him on his finish, and then I got a massage. Then, I finally got a slice of pizza and the most AH-MAZ-ING cup of chicken broth. The thought of chicken broth on the course sounded repulsive. Once I got to the food tent, though. Oh my goodness. I have never ever tasted anything that was so amazing. I had 3 cups of it. I never drink straight chicken broth. Ever. That night, it was my favorite thing in the whole world, even more than wine!
By this point, we went back to the finish line to see if Scott was in. Sure enough, we weren’t even there for 2 minutes and he crossed the line! We made it just in time to see him finish, and met up with him and Susie for a moment afterward. Perfect timing, and what a great moment to know all of us in our group finished. I know how much it took Scott (and Susie!) for him to cross that finish line, and I knew it would happen that day. It was an awesome day, all around. Our hard work paid off.
Our kids were done by now, as it is well past their bedtime. So, we said our goodbyes to our friends and headed back to our hotel. I was still starving after my slice of pizza and chicken broth, but nothing on our side of the river was open. So, Hubby and I put our kids into bed, and we hit up the vending machine at the hotel. I was craving chips and Coke. Coke was another thing that sounded horrible on the course, but tasted amazing after the race! I added some cashews in for some protein–and that was dinner, folks! Not the best, I know. It tasted SO good, though.
This exerience was so amazing. It taught me so much about myself, and helped me grow so much stronger as a person. The race was just a cap to all of that growth. I worked so hard for this all to happen. A few years ago, I would have taken a side stitch and contemplated quitting. Wait, a few years ago I wouldn’t have even dreamed of signing up for this race! Not once during Ironman did I let the thought of quitting cross my mind. I just knew my side stitch would make it harder, but I was still going to make it. My husband and kids were there to see me finish, and that was what I was going to do. This day taught me that there are 140.6 miles in which anything can happen. To become an Ironman, you have to figure out along the way how to get to that finish line–no matter what happens. As long as I was conscious and able-bodied, I had no reason NOT to make it! I am healthy and strong, and I am so grateful to God that I could do this.
The volunteers for this race were second to none. From the changing tents, aid stations, finish line, and everywhere in between–they rocked it. There was even an aid station volunteer at mile 22 of the run that was giving out free hugs. Free hugs to stinky triathletes! Seriously, they were the best I’ve seen. Thank you to all the IMLOU volunteers who made this race so awesome.
I want to thank each and every person that supported me and encouraged me in this, and followed me along the way. I am so grateful for the texts, phone calls, Facebook messages, comments, likes, and everything else in between. I had an amazing team during this journey. My Hubby and kids, Susie and Nikki (our race day Sherpas!), all of my family and friends, Scott and all my training partners that endured long biking and running sessions with me, my PLF people that have inspired me, my awesome dietician Niki Kubiak who helped me nail my nutrition all season, and the list could go on. Praise God for this opportunity, and for all the wonderful people I’m blessed to know!
I’ll be adding a photo gallery with my FinisherPix and finisher video soon. I decided I packed enough into one post just talking about 140.6 miles!