Ironman Louisville Part 5: The Finish

The finish was the most magical part, and it deserves its own post.  When I made the final left, the crowds immediately grew.  People were cheering, clapping, shouting congratulations, yelling things like “Ironman! You did it!”  When I made the final right turn and saw the lights, the finish line, and heard the music, I broke into a giant smile, and started choking up.  People continued to yell, and cheer, and call my name.  Once my feet hit the carpet lined with the Mdot logo, everything becomes a giant blur.

The people lining the barriers had those plastic banging things, and they were banging them against the barriers and banners.  I was half laughing, half crying.  I couldn’t hear anything except the roar of the crowd and the banging.  I couldn’t hear the music, I couldn’t hear the announcer. I was the only one on the carpet at that point, so I knew I would be coming under the arch by myself.  At some point, I raised my arms up, and ran across the finish line.

I felt like my face would split open I was smiling so hard, and a volunteer was about to put the medal around my neck when I saw Kenny over to the side.  I got my medal, and I’m not exactly sure what I said to the volunteer.  I think I might have actually blown her off? Oops. But I ran over to him, and he grabbed me in a huge hug, where I think I half sobbed and half laughed “I did it, I did it!”

It took a solid couple of minutes for me to realize almost everyone else was there.  There was a lot of screaming, cheering, and hugging, and I’m not sure there was much coherent talking going on.  The volunteer, who was also amazing, had stuck by my side the whole time, and offered to take our picture for us.

Once we calmed down, the volunteer took charge of me again, walking me through the finish chute, asking me the questions I knew were designed to make sure I was ok and didn’t need to go to the medical tent.  I said I was fine, just cold, but I had a sweatshirt in my morning clothes bag so I’d be ok.  She helped me get my finisher’s shirt and hat, guided me to get my official photo taken, got me some water and offered me food, and then gave me a huge hug, congratulated me, and dropped me off to my group that was waiting.  There were more tears, more hugs, and the three Iron besties were reunited, triumphant.

This experience was just incredible. I had so much fun during the race. Was it always easy? Of course not. Someone posted this summary of the race in the IM Louisville Facebook group, and it’s a pretty accurate summary of the day:

Through all of that, I never hit the wall, I was never miserable, and I never went to that ‘dark’ place everyone warned about. I had a plan, I stuck to it, and for once in my life, I didn’t go in to something with a huge amount of expectations on myself. I went in thinking it was going to be a long day, so I was just going to take it one discipline at a time, and enjoy it.

As I said on the Facebooks, and I’ll say again here, because it deserves to be said more than once:

“An Ironman is something you do not do alone. I have been so lucky to have an amazing group of people supporting me, encouraging me, lifting me up when I doubted myself, and cheering me on. Anne and Kim were my two Ironman training partners-in-crime, and it was so much fun to train with you across the miles and race with you. I am so proud of you both. Amy, Tara and Lorena came from all over the country to Louisville to be an amazing spectating squad. My other H&F friends were another amazing source of support and encouragement. The “Bachian” to my Team Smithbachian, Stephanie and Megan, for doing a tri with me and our runs, especially our now yearly run to the beach. Most importantly, and by far my biggest cheerleader and supporter, Kenny. Thank you to every single one of you for going above and beyond to help get me to the finish line of this race. It’s because of all of you that I can say that I am an Ironman!”

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Ironman Louisville Part 4: The Run

I came off my bike riding such a high. I handed my bike off to a volunteer, thanked him, and then proceeded to high five every volunteer on my way down to grab my run gear bag.  I was in my socks, as I had left my shoes clipped on my bike.  Within two seconds of being on the lawn, my feet were soaked and covered in mud.  Didn’t care.  A volunteer had my bag out and ready for me, and I took it, thanked him, and ran in to the changing tent.

I have to pause here and say that part of what makes this race so incredible is the volunteers. They are amazing. I’ve volunteered at two Ironman races before, and it is so much fun. Every volunteer I came in contact with was just outstanding. In the change tent, a woman grabbed me,  grabbed my bag, dumped it out, and said “Tell me what you need, and you got it.” I basically had to say “Vasoline. Socks. Shirt. Race belt.” Usually before I even said it, she had it right there ready for me. She took all my smelly and wet bike stuff (I changed from a bike jersey into a run tank) and said “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get it all back in the bag.  You go get ’em!”  At check in, we were given red bracelets to give to volunteers who we thought were awesome.  She got mine.

I made a quick bathroom stop, then headed out on the run, as I was running out, I saw Kim running in to the changing tent, so we gave each other a hug.  As I got up close to the road, I saw Anne’s husband, and he said Anne was about 5 minutes behind me. I thought it was awesome we were so close, and I knew I would see them both fairly soon on the run course, as they are both fast and I am not.  I turned out on to the first street, and up ahead was Kenny.  I ran over to him, and gave him a huge hug.  He asked how I was, and I said “I’m having SO much fun!” He said “I want to run with you for a little bit, so he took off next to me.  I kept looking at my watch, and I said “I’m going too fast!” I was shocked that I was running as fast as I was at that point, but I knew I had to back off.  My run plan was to do run/walk intervals of run .5 miles, walk 1 minute.  He stayed with me through the first half mile, and updated me on messages from my mom and my godsisters.  He dropped off, and the next thing I knew, I saw Tara come flying across the road at me, and she grabbed me in a huge hug, screaming “You KILLED that bike course!!”  I can’t remember what I said (it’s amazing how much of the day is a blur), and kept running.

About a minute after that, I heard a voice behind me that said “I spy, with my little eye, someone whose name starts with B and ends with F (for BAMF).” It was Anne, and we ran together for a couple of minutes and chatted about the swim and bike before she took off.

About a minute or so after that, Kim came up behind me, we chatted for a minute, and then she headed off as well.

I really didn’t like training for the Napa marathon.  I didn’t really like running the Napa marathon, and swore I would never run another one.  Here I was though, running a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles, and biking 112. The irony was not lost. And I was holding my pace pretty consistently.  I also enjoyed this run WAY more than I enjoyed Napa. I don’t know if it was the out and back of the course (I saw more people?), the fact that there were more spectators?  Maybe I had a better strategy? I don’t know. Our spectators were definitely the best. I saw Tara, Lorena, and Amy twice more during the run, with custom signs, including an Outlander themed sign. They were amazing.

I had to take a bathroom stop just after mile 3 where I lost some time, but other than that, I held my run/walk intervals and my pace stayed pretty darn consistent.  I have been having knee issues, and my knee was starting to hurt.  I had waterproof rock tape, and I had taped it up in T2, but the taped failed before mile 1, so I pulled it off.  I had spare tape in my special needs bag, so I was looking forward to getting that.

Here was the WORST part.  Just after mile 13, you turned left, then right.  The barriers split.  To the left was the finish line, which you could see, and hear.  To the right? Lap 2.  Making that turn back to lap two, as you are staring at the finish line was excruciating.  What a cruel, cruel trick.

Just after this meanness was special needs. I grabbed my bag, and grabbed some curb to tape up my knee.  Gave up more minutes to do this, but it had to be done.  Headed back out, and saw Kenny. Grabbed him in another huge hug.  He asked how I was, and I said I was starting to get tired, but I was ok.  He said something like “You’re doing so great. Go finish this!”

I kept my run/walk intervals going until mile 22.  Then, I was just tired.  The crowd on the course had thinned out considerably.  I was cold, because the storm that came through when we were on the bike course had dropped the temperatures, and I didn’t put a jacket or long shirt in my special needs bag. I started walking more than I was running.  Looking back, I think, had I had someone out there with me to run with, or talk to, I probably could have run more than I did.  But I was flying solo.  I looked at my watch and realized that if I kept pushing, I could come in under 15 hours.  However, in my internal dialogue, I said to myself “You haven’t hit a wall.  You’re not miserable.  You’ve been having fun and enjoying yourself. Don’t mess that up now and make yourself miserable.”  So I mostly power walked, with a couple of bouts of jogging thrown in when I felt like I could.

I found a group of 3 guys around mile 24 that I started walking with, and was able to chat with for a while, which was fantastic. I stayed with them until those final two turns into the finish, and then I said “I’m running this in.” They said “Go get it, girl” and I started shuffling to the finish.

I had made it.

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Ironman Louisville Part 3: The Bike

I was most nervous about the bike leg on this race. I’m not a good climber.  This course is full of hills and climbs. I had come down and ridden it three times, and never had a ride on that that made me feel awesome. I knew I was going to have to go out and be really smart with my pace and energy on the first loop, so I didn’t burn out and lose it on the second loop, and/or the run. I decided to set my Garmin and cover the majority of the screen so I could only see my cadence, and the distance.  I knew if I could see my speed and overall pace, I’d start obsessing, so I just decided to ride by feel.

I swam in my bathing suit and wetsuit, so I did a full outfit change in T1, and I was very glad to have dry clothes on for the start of the bike.  It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t exactly warm either. I grabbed my bike out of transition, and headed out.  I got to the mount line, and the guy in front of me was screwing around and blocking traffic, so I let out an exasperated, “Come ON.” He gave me the offended “Sorry!” but he moved over, so I walked a few steps up ahead of him, moved next to the barrier, and mounted my bike.  I had just started moving, when I looked to my left and saw Kenny holding up a sign, his phone, and waving.  I waved and smiled at him, and headed out.

The first part of the bike is flat, and false flats. I settled into a gear that was comfortably moving.  Not pushing, per say, but not easy spinning either. When we hit a hill that was more than a false flat, I backed off a little, and spun easy up the hill.  I let people pass me, but I also passed a few people.  I didn’t worry too much, as more people were passing me.

We turned on to 42, and soon the hills and rollers began. I kept my strategy going of riding to feel.  I used the downhills for momentum, and kept it easy on the uphills.  I never attacked a hill, and just tried to keep everything easy and comfortable.  I was enjoying all the people on the road who were spectating and cheering.  At one point, I passed a group of kids who had their hands out for high five’s.  I reached out, and the first one I got was a little girl.  I heard her yell “I got one from THE GIRL!! THE GIRL gave me one!” I started to cry.  It was so sweet.  I hope she got more high five’s from other women besides me.

Before I knew it, we were turning on to 393, which I thought was the hardest part of the course. The climbs on this road felt never ending to me during the training rides.  I dropped into my low gears, settled my weight as far back as I could, and went easy.  About halfway through that portion of the road, I realized the magic of taper.  While the hills weren’t easy by any means, I wasn’t struggling on them like I had during training.  I smiled and laughed at the signs.  One of my favorites was on this road.  It said “Think how great you’re going to feel tomorrow” with ‘tomorrow’ crossed out and ‘next week written under it.  On the biggest hill, there were two signs that got laughs as well.  The first said “Welcome to Grandma’s Hill.”  Right behind it, the second one said “She’s a BITCH.”

To my surprise, 393 ended quickly, and I turned on the road heading into LaGrange.  This road was long, steady climbs, and some nice downhills, so I knew I had a good section to relax on and gear up for Ballard School Road, aka Bastard School Road.  I kept my pace by feel, backing off when I felt myself starting to push, and riding comfortably the rest of the time.  I didn’t really pay attention going through the crowd in LaGrange, as I didn’t expect anyone to be there that I knew.  Made it through, and turned on to Bastard School Road.

This road was hard.  It’s short, quick, and mean.  But it’s short, and it’s quick.  I’m so thankful that I rode the course prior, so I knew how to ride it and not burn myself out.  The most nasty hill came from a lead in of a huge down hill, then a over a bride, then up a short, steep hill that turned into a long climb.  When I came down, there was absolute chaos through the area. Water bottles all over the road.  Bikes on the side of the road.  People walking their bikes up the road.  I didn’t see anyone crashed, thank goodness. Hopefully no one after me hit a stray water bottle. The name of the game here was low gear, easy spinning, and not pushing.

The road ended, and we moved into the heart shaped section.  I knew I had some time to relax again, until the turn onto L’Espirit.  I settled into my aero bars, enjoyed the scenery, and gave my legs a break whenever I could.  Made the  turn onto L’Espirit, pushed through the final climbs that I didn’t care for.  At the top of this road, the Cincinnati Tri Club was stationed, and I have to give them a shout out.  On loops one and two, they were a phenomenal cheering group.  They were so funny, so encouraging, and such a welcome mental break.

Soon, I made the turn back on to 42, and I was super excited for this part. In training, this was the section of the course that I always rode the best. These were the types of rollers that I ride well, and I had always been able to gain time back that I had lost on the hills.  Well.  Mother Nature had other plans today, because as soon as I turned, I rode right into a headwind. The wind never let up.  I felt like I was struggling so hard during most of that section of road.  It was such a bummer, considering how well I had been feeling up until that point.  Suddenly, I felt like I was fighting everything, and dammit, this was the section that was supposed to be easy! The wind was no joke, so I just held on and did the best I could. I was super disappointed, because I knew there was no way I could have gained any time like I wanted to.

Turned back on 393 to start the second loop, and even the second time around, the hills weren’t awful.  I felt pretty good with my nutrition, but I was looking forward to getting my special needs bag.  I pulled into special needs, the amazing volunteer helped me sort through my stuff, and pick through what I wanted.  I overpacked, and had way too much stuff, so I had to forfeit my spare tubes, a can of cheese-its, and a bottle of Powerade.  I had no place to put them!  Switched everything out super quick, and headed back out.  I looked at my data at that point, and basically had a “Holy shit, I am riding WAY better than I expected I would” moment.  I decided that the riding by feel thing was working out for me, so I covered my Garmin back up and decided to run with it through the end.

Also, peanut butter crackers were the BEST THING EVER.

Went through LaGrange again, and didn’t really pay attention to the crowds.  I don’t know what made me look when I did, but up ahead, I saw a sign being waved that said “FSU” on it, and my first thought was “Ugh, Florida State fans.”  Then I realized that FSU is our unofficial motto amongst my friends, so I looked again.  Sure enough, there were Tara, Lorena, and Amy screaming and waving.  I think I screamed back and waved? I was SO happy and excited to see them.  That was mile 62, and it was a great boost.

The rest of the loop, I rode a little harder.  Not hard enough to burn out, but where I knew I had some ability to push, I did.  I went a little harder on the hills the second time around.  I figured I’d try and push harder when I got back to 42 as well, as it should have been a net downhill for 32 miles back in to Louisville.

Oh, Mother Nature.  Right as I turned on to 42, I saw the clouds in the direction I was heading. They were black.  I knew there was no way I was going to finish the bike without getting rained on. I crossed my fingers that we wouldn’t see any lightning, and wouldn’t get pulled from the course. Thankfully, we did not, but if I thought the wind was bad the first time around? HAHAHA.  Joke was on me.

I have never ridden in wind like that before. I was getting blown all over the road.  A woman almost crashed in to me thanks to a gust of wind that blew her sideways. I had no idea how the people riding disc wheels were doing it.  Then the rain came.  So it was raining, and the wind was tearing through, and I was holding on for dear life.  I didn’t even care about my pace at that point – I probably went harder than I intended because I just wanted to get out of that mess.  It lasted probably a good 60-70 minutes? I think the wind finally died down when I hit mile 95, and the rain pretty much stopped after I passed the 100 mile marker (where, by the way, I cried again).

Made the turn on to River Road, and basically just started grinning like an idiot.  I had lost my Garmin cover, but I looked down at it, and realized I was still exceeding my bike expectations. I had one training ride where I averaged 13something miles an hour, so I was convinced it would be a miracle if I could manage to hit 15mph on the ride.  When I looked, I was at an average of 15.6, and I was about to come off the bike in just over 7 hours.  I put everything I had into the final few miles of the bike, and finished it out, still grinning like a fool.  I wanted to let out a scream of joy, but I settled for laughing when I crossed under the final bridges.  I made the final turn, and right up ahead of me was Kenny.  I can’t remember what I said to him, but I know I was grinning from ear to ear.

Thrilled.  Just thrilled.  Bike time: 7:04:53.

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Ironman Louisville Part 2: The Swim

I jumped off the dock, got my bearings, and started to swim. Not a moment too soon, as the guy behind me did a giant leaping cannonball, and landed almost on top of me.  The water temperature was 71.something degrees, so it was just chilly enough to be perfect for me in my wetsuit. It wasn’t as murky as I thought it would be for the Ohio river. I could see my hand out in front of me, and I could see people next to and slightly in front of me underwater.  I got in to my rhythm pretty quickly, and settled in.  I had set my Garmin the night before to go off every 20 minutes.  I didn’t want it to do any distance alerts, because I didn’t want to do calculations in my head.  When it beeped the first time, I realized that either I forgot to take the distance alerts I had on previously off, or I was going WAY slower than I wanted to.  I was keeping pace with the people around me, so I chose to believe the former, and then got annoyed at myself for my constant ineptitude at being able to set up my Garmins correctly.

I soon realized that I hadn’t seen any of the bright yellow bouys that marked our way up Towhead Island.  The first part of the swim was up a channel, behind Towhead Island.  It was supposed to be six yellow bouys up, then the turn bouy, then 11 bouys back to the end.  I was seeing small orange bouys to my right, but no yellow bouys.  Right after I realized this, I caught up to a big group of people in front of me, and it felt like I swam into the middle of a bunch of piranhas.  There was so much thrashing and splashing going on that it was just annoying.  I tried to sight the path of least resistance through them, and just plugged through as best I could.  Thankfully, there was minimal contact, and even when there was, people were really good about pulling away and not staying on you.  I did learn in this part that women should cut their fingernails before a triathlon. I got cut by at least two women.

I made it through that group, and finally saw a yellow bouy.  It had a 5 on it, so I guessed it was the fifth one? I pretty much gave up on counting the bouys or trying to figure out where I was, time-wise, because my watch kept going off. I figured when I got to the orange bouy, I’d turn.  That’s what I did.  I rounded the orange bouy, which was not crowded at all, and turned out into the Ohio river, where I was promptly met with incredibly choppy water.  That was an unexpected surprise.  I looked for the next bouy, put my head down…and the next thing I knew I had two kayaks coming after me, yelling at me to move over.  I managed to swim myself off course, so I reset myself and kept going.

The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful.  I managed to get off course again, and had another kayak come after me.  My calves cramped three times, which they normally don’t do, and I was wishing I had eaten a banana with breakfast after all.  Swam under the bridges, and finally started to sight the swim exit.

When I got to the exit, I swam myself into the little group that formed.  Because there’s really no shore, the swim exit is a set of portable stairs set up.  The person in front of me was swimming in, so I started my swim to the volunteers, and about 5 guys came around either side of me and just elbowed and shoved their way in front of me.  I basically thought, whatever, and treaded water for a minute and let them go.  The whole minute overall wasn’t going to matter to me, and I wasn’t interested in fighting them.  They cleared, and I swam to the volunteers and got hauled up. Ran up the stairs, and got directed to the wetsuit strippers.

This was my first time ever having wetsuit strippers, and I loved them.  I sat down, they yanked, and about two seconds later my wetsuit was off and they were pulling me up and handing me my wetsuit.  So awesome.  I grabbed it, and jogged off to T1.  Apparently the rest of my friends were right by the swim exit, but I never heard or saw them.

Swim time: 1:10:42.  Perfectly on target.

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Ironman Louisville Part 1: Pre-Race

There’s no way in hell this is fitting in one post, so I’m breaking it up in to the different parts of the race.  Each was unique and deserves its own part.

I actually managed to sleep the night before. I think my whole fairly laid back attitude about the whole thing was a big factor in that. I woke up on my own a little before 4:30am, and figured I was up for the day.  My alarm was set to go off at 5, so I just closed my eyes with the intent of just chilling until 5.  Next think I knew, my alarm was waking me up, so I actually managed to fall back to sleep.

As a side note, I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown on 2nd Street.  I’m a Marriott devotee, and while the hotel was fine, it has to be noted that you could hear EVERYTHING in the hotel.  Noise from the street, noise from the hall…all of it.  So if you’re considering this race and this hotel, and you are a light sleeper, either bring earplugs or get a different hotel.

Once my alarm went off, I got up, got dressed, gathered my morning clothes bag, and my two special needs bags, and then kind of looked around wondering what to do next.  It was such a weird feeling to be heading to a triathlon with no bike, and basically no gear.  Once I convinced myself I was really ok, and nothing was missing, I headed to the lobby to meet Anne and walk over to transition.

The walk went quick, as did the check in to transition. IM Lou is a well-oiled machine, and we basically waited for nothing all weekend. I got to my bike, put my nutrition bottles and Garmin on, and then dropped my special needs bags off.  Since the weather forecast was calling for rain, I went over to my transition bags to put my running sneakers in a giant ziplock bag.  Everything else in my transition gear bags was already double bagged, but I didn’t have room for my shoes.  Once I took my wetsuit out of its ziplock, I had a free baggie, so in went my shoes. That turned out to be an excellent decision.

Once all that was done, we saw Kim, and then headed down to the swim start.  The swim at Lou is a point-to-point swim, more or less, so we had to walk about a mile up the road.  This year, Lou did self-seeding for the swim start. The announcer said everyone who was 1:10 or over should stay on the lawn where we were, and if you were faster, to keep going down the road.  I figured my swim time would be right about 1:10, so I didn’t know if I should go with the 1:00-1:10 group, or the 1:10-1:20 group.  I finally decided to go with the faster group, gave Anne a hug, and headed up the road by myself.

The group up the road was a little less organized than the group on the lawn. I saw no signs for seeding, and a lot of people were asking if we  were in the right spot.  I finally just decided to get in line.  I got my wetsuit on, put my clothes in my morning bag, and waited.  It kind of sucked being there by myself and not having anyone to talk to, so I was just watching everyone else talk to their friends, teammates, and whoever.  Not too long after that, the volunteers came through and said “Athletes only on the sidewalk” so the woman who was with the 4 people in front of me started giving all of them hugs, and saying how proud she was of them, and how proud everyone who couldn’t be there was of them.  They all started crying, so I of course started crying.  One of them saw me, and asked if I was ok, and I said “You are all making me cry!” So they all gave me a big group hug.

Then, the line was moving, and we heard the announcer.  The national anthem was next, and everyone got really quiet.  Then the man who does the bugle call for the Kentucky Derby played “My Old Kentucky Home,” (I think), then the race call, and then the announcer fired the cannon and the pros were off.  I couldn’t see any of it, but I heard it.  Our line began to move, and we made our way down.  I ended up being about 2 rows up from the dock when the bugler played the race call again (so I was basically right under him, though I couldn’t see him), the cannon fired again, and the age groupers started jumping in the water.  I’d say it took about 5 minutes or so for me to make it down to the dock?  I wasn’t moving fast enough for the volunteers, and they kept telling me to hurry up, but whatever.  It was all wet, and I wasn’t going to slip and fall on the dock.

I was almost to the dock when I heard a voice call my name – I looked up and there was my friend Lorena waving her arms at me.  I was so happy to see a familiar face, that I think I waved back like a loon.  Then I got yelled at to put my goggles on, so I did, and walked around to the actual dock.  The sun wasn’t fully up yet, and my googles were tinted, so it was really hard to see.  I got to the dock, the volunteer yelled “GO” and I jumped in.  My Ironman had begun.

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Race day

I am an Ironman!

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One more day…

Today was just an awesome day. I couldn’t have asked for a better pre-race day. Started the day off with a shakeout ride with Anne, and then did a shakeout run with Anne and Kim.

We headed out for brunch, where we were joined by our every growing support crew, including Amy 🙂

Then it was time to pack em and rack em.

Dropped off our bikes and T1/T2 bags, which was an amazingly smooth process. Anne and I have primo bike rack locations and we are super excited.

Then it was back to the hotel to put my feet up, wear my awesome compression booties Kenny bought me for my birthday and just chill until dinner.

More amazing friends rolled in to town. I am so lucky to be part of the health and fitness community that I am. The support and friendships that have formed over the years are just truly remarkable.

Heading to dinner, we got to pass right by the finish line.

It’s real. It’s really going to happen. So I go to bed now, thinking of how lucky I am to have the love and support I’ll have following me tomorrow, and with these words echoing in my mind:

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