Thursday, August 30, 2012

You are an Ironman!

You are an Ironman! Those few words are the culmination of many months of brutal training, planning and just plain stress. Those words ring out over the loud speakers at approximately 30 Ironman events all over the world whenever a competitor crosses the finish line. Those words signify the end of a long journey for those who choose to attempt it.

My journey began in earnest in December 2011 when I pulled the trigger and officially signed up for Ironman Louisville. In reality it began much earlier.

The Beginning (to keep this novel more readable, I'm doing separate sections. Yes, I can be wordy)

When you sign up for an Ironman event, you are committed. They don't do refunds. Well, they will do a partial refund ($150 of a $650 fee) to a certain point, but something like 4 months out you are stuck. Either do the race or eat the $650. In fairness, an enormous amount of planning and cost goes into running an Ironman, or any triathlon for that matter. You can't just have people signing up and then deciding to cancel at any time. Very similar to airlines in many aspects. Also in fairness, WTC (the company that owns the Ironman brand) puts on first class races. Yes, it's a lot of money, but when you consider everything that goes into it, the cost is mostly justified.

I was committed. My last race of 2011 was Ironman Branson 70.3 (half-Ironman distance) in September. I had a really good race (5:43), especially considering the monsoon we dealt with. I worked to maintain fitness through the late fall, early winter, but started ramping up in January for Louisville.

The Training (click this link to read about the training)

Leading up to the race I spent a lot of time and effort planning. I had some challenges to get through, but those only made me stronger. Or did they?

The Race - Prequel (click this link to read about the time leading up to the race)


Race morning. I couldn't believe it had finally arrived. Eight months of training all led to this one day. Unreal. I had a detailed plan for breakfast. Approximately 900 calories of various foods, sodium loading (with salt water - yuk). I got lubed up (it takes lots of lube - you don't want to chafe), sunscreened and dressed. Bid my lovely wife goodbye and headed to transition to check my bike (get the tires aired up and make sure all is okay) and then walk to the start.

Louisville is a very unique Ironman in that the swim is a time trial start. This means that each person starts individually. All other Ironman events either start everyone at once (~3000 people) or in age group waves (200-400 people starting at the same time). At Louisville, you get in line, a LONG, LONG, LONG line. I swear, I walked another mile to get to the end of the line and I was an hour early.

Did I say the line was long? Yeah, well I'll say again, it was LONG. And there were no porta potties at my end of the line. I had to "go" but was able to wait until the line moved forward to where the potties were. Other people did not or could not wait. They, men and women, were going wherever they could - behind cars, garbage cans, walls, etc. It was funny. One thing you learn when doing endurance events is that most athletes are not shy when it comes to going to the bathroom or changing clothes in public, for that matter. 

Once the line started moving, it moved and moved fast. The professionals started at 6:50am and the age groupers (all the non-pros) started at 7. Approximately 3,000 age groupers started jumping in the water at 7am. As far as I was back in the line, I started the swim at 7:23. That is pretty darn quick considering where I was. Another kudos to the folks at IM Louisville. 


I felt it would take me about 1:30 to do the 2.4 mile swim. The swim starts up-river for 1300 yards or so and then turns down-river for the remaining 2900 yards. I felt pretty good and just tried to stay relaxed. This was no wetsuit, so NOT panicking was crucial for me. I got close to the turn and I saw people walking. I had heard of this from previous years but was told the river had been drudged. Well, when I was able I did indeed walk in the water. Only for 10 seconds or so, but it was fun and a nice little break. I wish there had been more of them. Ha!

The rest of the swim just seemed long. I had planned on stopping and hanging onto buoys for a few seconds every now and then, but I made it the entire swim without doing that. I got kicked, hit and swam over a few times (only one made me stop and yell at the person), but relatively speaking it was pretty good. I was still ridiculously slow but I survived and that was my main goal. 

As a side note, many people (in person and on the Internet) said the course seemed long. The pros times were 5-6 minutes slower than previous years, so it does make sense that the course could've been long. In the end it makes no difference, since we all swam the same course, but it makes me feel slightly better about my time.

Took my time going through transition. With the impending heat, I had no intention of hurrying myself at all during the day. With the Racine history (see The Training link for details if you haven't already), I was scared to death of a repeat, so I was hell-bent on not letting that happen.


The bike course starts flat for the first 11 miles, so I let the legs get loosened up and flew a bit. This bike course is pretty hilly. It's not steep hills but a lot of long and short climbs. Living and training in the Ozarks, I have become fairly strong on the hills, so they did not scare me. My biggest concern was burning too much energy that would cause problems on the run, so I took it easy as I could the entire bike.

The course includes a 30-mile loop that you do twice. It goes through a town named La Grange. They pretty much shut down the town and throw an Ironman party this day. It was AWESOME! People lined the streets and they even had an Ironman announcer calling out riders' names and comments. In my case, I clearly heard my name and they mentioned that I had an artificial hip (you fill that stuff in on the registration). That gave me a huge boost for quite a few miles. It's so great to get the support from the community.

With my Racine issues, I wanted to make sure I had my nutrition handled. I used a special mixture (Infinit) that contained calories and electrolytes in liquid form. I had three bottles on my bike with this and another bottle with zip lock bags of powder prepared to mix more liquid after I drank the other bottles. 

The plan was great. Was great. Until I actually tried to get the zip lock bags with the pre-mix out of the storage bottle I put them in. I'm going down the road trying to get a bag out, since I was coming upon an aid station, and the bag tears. Dammit! I have white, sticky, powdered mix flying on me and I can't get the dang bag out of the bottle. The more I tried the worse it got. Epic failure. I swear this powder looks like cocaine, so I'm glad I didn't get pulled over. And it was all over me as the bag tore.

So, I gave up and chunked the bags at the trash station and got the sports drink provided by Ironman. I adjusted my nutrition plan based on this setback and moved forward. I tried to stay generally within the caloric and sodium/electrolyte plan I had began with. I was fairly successful with that and the bike seemed pretty easy for the most part.

I tried not to get in the "red zone" (high heart rate) and really never did. Even on the climbs, I remained fairly controlled. I did get lucky and missed some drama. Apparently, some jerks threw a bunch of tacks on the road and caused dozens of flats, and two other jerks dressed in camo were jumping out and startling cyclists. I'm so thankful I missed this but very upset that others got caught up in it.

Also, for some reason the Kentucky bluegrass was messing with my sinuses. I rarely have sinus issues, but I sneezed more times than I care to count and I had to continually blow "snot rockets" (gross I know), otherwise my nose would've just kept leaking the whole day.

The last 30 miles was supposed to be a nice fast journey to the finish. Unfortunately, when I made the turn for that last 30, a head-wind had developed. Minor setback but certainly was upsetting. I didn't let it bother me too much and cruised on in.

Going into the race, I really didn't think I could do under 6 hours on the bike and have anything left for the run. In reality, I did under 5:50 and felt great going to the run. I could've gone harder but didn't know it at the time.

When I dismounted the bike my legs felt very good. I was able to run down to transition and into the changing tent. This is different from Racine when I dismounted my bike and couldn't walk due to the horrific cramping. 

I again took my time in transition, too much time really, but I wasn't worried. I did a full clothes change into comfortable running gear. Made sure to get sunscreened up again. Had to pee again. I've never peed in a race and I peed twice in this one. I guess I finally hydrated well.


Started the run and felt surprisingly good. I mean really good. The run course has one climb and it's in the first mile. The rest of it is flat. I felt great going over that climb. Got into the downtown area and saw my wife! What a sight for sore eyes. I can't even begin to explain how much it meant to me to see her. I was so freakin' happy. She walked with me and we talked for a few seconds. We kissed quickly and I kept going. I was one happy camper.

My goal was to run as much as I could and walk the aid stations, so at each aid station I walked and took in nutrition and cold sponges (I used the sponges to cool my shoulders, head and back - I didn't eat them - just wanted to be clear :). 

I figured if I could run at least the first half of the marathon and I could mix in more run/walking and would have no problem finishing. I just kept going and going, running aid station to aid station. Before I knew it I was halfway through the run. A little after mile 14 I was coming into downtown and saw my wife again. She ran with me for a bit and talked to me. I was doing good and she was reporting back to my friends and family on Facebook. That was a nice thing, but more importantly, I was so happy to see her again.

Shortly after, I got to the special needs area. I had a dry pair of shoes and socks to change into. It took a couple of minutes off my time, but I'm convinced it helped immensely. I took off again and felt fantastic. What a difference the dry socks and shoes made!

I was cruising. Aid station to aid station. I still walked the stations. I knew I would start hurting at some point. The aid stations are 1-mile apart. It got to the point where I was easily making it to the next aid station without much trouble. 

At halfway through the run I had done some calculations in my mind, since I pretty much knew I would finish, barring a catastrophe. It was only a matter of when. Beyond finishing, my personal goal was to finish under 13 hours. After halfway through the run that was all but a certainty. Then it became trying to get under 12:30.

I knew at some point my legs would give out and start cramping and I would do the Ironman/marathon shuffle. If you've seen it you know it's ugly.

Somewhere around mile 18 or so I was passing by the University of Louisville campus. There was a sorority house that had a bunch of girls with a lot of signs cheering for the runners (they were into the sauce, so they were quite happy!). They were playing music, also. It was a nice lift the first time around, but the second loop the song "Wild Ones" by Flo Rida started up as I was passing by. It sounds silly but this gave me a nice boost. This was one of my favorite songs to run to during my training. The beat is awesome, especially for running. My legs immediately moved faster. I'm thankful to them for playing that at the right time.

Got to mile 20 and still felt decent. Things were looking good. I knew at most, if I could continue to run a bit, I had under an hour left. I was not only able to continue running but my pacing got faster. 

Around mile 24.5 my eyes teared up. It was right then when I realized I was about to do it. All this training. All this stress and worry. It was almost over and my wife was going to be there to see it happen. I could not have been happier.

I kept going and as I approached the last aid station I teared up again just thinking about the finish. I felt so good I just picked up the pace and skipped the aid station, the only one of the day I skipped.

Turned the corner from 3rd Street heading to 4th Street and to the finish. Louisville is often revered for having the best Ironman finish. It is incredible! 4th Street is lined with restaurants, bars and businesses with people everywhere. It's simply amazing.

I crossed the line in 12 hours and 16 minutes. Far beyond what I thought I could do given the weather conditions. The odd thing is that I wasn't even exhausted when I finished. I could've gone further if needed. I know I left some time on the course, but I have no regrets whatsoever. I finished in the top 20% in my first full Ironman distance race and at one of the toughest courses in the world.

As I reflect on the journey, and especially the training, I realize that all the pain I put myself through really paid off when it counted.

It was quite an adventure and I'm excited to figure out the next chapter.

By the numbers:

3,014 people signed up. Approximately 2,590 started the race, 395 started in my age group. I finished 84/395 in my age group (40-44) and 483/2,590 overall. Approximately 395/1,975 of all males. That puts me in the top 20% for my first Ironman. Difficult to be disappointed with that at all.

I am not a good swimmer. Plain and simple, but it's fascinating to see my rankings improve with each transition. I was 2,103 after the swim. That's the BOTTOM 20%. After the bike I was 801 overall. That means I passed 1300 people on the bike. 1,300. And I didn't ride hard for fear of bonking on the run. Then after the run I dropped to 483, so I passed yet another 300+ on the run. So, I went from the bottom 20% to the top 20%. 

If I can ever learn how to swim faster I might be something to deal with. (I copied these stats directly from Ironman's site, hence the formatting)


Rank: 84
Overall Rank: 483
State:Springdale AR
Profession:Computer Analyst


Swim DetailsDivision Rank: 316
Split NameDistanceSplit TimeRace TimePaceDiv. RankOverall RankGender Rank
Total2.4 mi1:42:191:42:192:38/100m31621031604
Bike DetailsDivision Rank: 141
Split NameDistanceSplit TimeRace TimePaceDiv. RankOverall RankGender Rank
23 mi23 mi1:07:103:00:2720.55 mi/h
40 mi17 mi52:003:52:2719.62 mi/h
70.5 mi30.5 mi1:37:335:30:0018.76 mi/h
112 mi41.5 mi2:13:057:43:0518.71 mi/h
Total112 mi5:49:487:43:0519.21 mi/h141801675
Run DetailsDivision Rank: 84
Split NameDistanceSplit TimeRace TimePaceDiv. RankOverall RankGender Rank
3.4 mi3.4 mi30:528:27:059:06/mi
8.2 mi4.8 mi47:439:14:489:55/mi
13.1 mi4.9 mi49:0110:03:4910:00/mi
15.3 mi2.2 mi24:0910:27:5810:49/mi
20.1 mi4.8 mi50:0311:18:0110:29/mi
25 mi4.9 mi48:3812:06:399:50/mi
26.2 mi1.2 mi9:5612:16:358:33/mi
Total26.2 mi4:20:2212:16:359:56/mi84483396
T2: BIKE-TO-RUN13:08

1 comment:

  1. I'm blown away. A friend of yours directed me to your blog as I am a runner facing hip surgery. I'll probably be reading every post you've written! I would love to correspond with you about your experience. If you're open to that, my email is xlmic(dot)tio(at)gmail(dot)com

    Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment!