It's been a week since I became an Ironman 2.0 with my second Ironman finish in Louisville, KY. For those of you that know me, you know this finish meant a lot to me. For those of you that don't, a little background. My girlfriend and I signed up for Ironman races over a year ago. She registered for Ironman Wisconsin, and I registered for Ironman Louisville. Our plan was that we would train together all year, and when race time came, I would support her at IM Wisconsin, and she would support me at IM Louisville. Unfortunately, the best laid plains often go awry, and this was not to be. Our relationship ended a week before her race and five weeks before mine.
As is often the case after a relationship ends, I was heartbroken. It was a relationship that had it's problems, of course, but one that I never saw ending. I was hard pressed to focus on anything, and had an especially hard time focusing on training. I still had my last long workouts to go, and just didn't feel motivated to do it. I was going through the motions and trying to process everything. I was a member of an Ironman Louisville facebook page, and posted one day that I was thinking about backing out and not even doing the race because my heart just wasn't in it. The members of that group were amazing to me, and convinced me that I needed to do the race for me. That most of the training was done, and that I deserved that finish line. People reached out to me in so many ways. Men, women, old, young, it didn't matter. It renewed my faith in people and I appreciate each and every one of you that posted, messaged me, and got me to that start line!
With the decision made that I would race I had my last long workouts to get through and logistics to plan. Ironman is not an easy event. 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. It's harder when you have to travel to do it. And to travel alone and have to deal with all of the logistics, it can be overwhelming. At least, I thought so. In reality it wasn't so bad. It was actually pretty freeing to not have to worry about anyone else and I could do my thing, hold my own space, and take care of business.
Once I got to Louisville, everything started falling into place. I checked in and registered, met new friends from the facebook page, found some great vegan food at a place called Heart & Soy, and generally tried to get in a good mental place. Mentally and emotionally I was on a roller coaster, but I was determined to have the best race possible. Leading up to the race there was some concern that we wouldn't be able to swim because there was a toxic algae bloom issue along the Ohio River, but on Friday we got the all clear that the toxins were below the acceptable recreational level and we were good to go! I checked my bike in on Saturday, watched some of the Ironman World Championships on the big screen at the Ironman Village, and just did my best to take in the whole experience. A dinner of Chipotle Saturday night, a stop at Starbucks to get a few gift cards for random race volunteers, and an early bed time rounded out my pre race festivities.
Race morning the alarm went off at 3:30, and I was up with no problem and trying to get some calories in to start the day. I headed down to transition, made sure Shanti (my bike's name) was ready for the day, dropped off my special needs bags, and began to walk to the swim start. IM Louisville has a time trial swim start which means all the athletes line up and go into the water a couple at a time. The line is first come first serve so a lot of people get there early to get into the water early. The finish line cut off is midnight and the first swimmer goes into the water at 7:30. If you think you might need every minute possible, you want to get in line as soon as you can. I understand the first people were in line before 4:00 am. I got there fairly early and was probably 300-400 people back. It was fairly cool with an air temperature of 49 degrees and a water temperature of 69. It was fun talking to people in line and trying to quell pre race nerves, but everyone was focused on the long day ahead of us.
One really cool thing about IM Louisville is that before the start, the official bugler of Churchill Downs plays "Call to Post" He's in full dress and I was close enough to the front to hear and see him.
Here's what it sounded like...
After the National Anthem, the cannon went off and the first swimmers hit the water. The line moved really fast and about five minutes after the cannon sounded I was off the dock and into the river. The water felt great at 69 degrees and it wasn't too crowded. I did IM Wisconsin in 2011 and it's a mass start with all 2500 athletes starting together. This swim was different. With the mass start, swimmers self seed themselves fairly quickly with faster swimmers moving forward and slower swimmers falling back so you find yourself with like paced people fairly quickly. In Louisville, you don't have 2500 swimmers to deal with at the start, but because of how the swim start works you are either swimming over others, or having others swim over you almost the entire swim.
I swam upriver a bit around Towhead Island to the turn around buoy, then headed back down river. It was very cool to sight on downtown Louisville and while I didn't notice much of a current, I did feel like I could stretch out my stroke a bit. I had planned to wear an old Timex Ironman watch throughout the day just so I could have an idea of time of day and total elapsed time. I took it and had the battery replaced a week before and tested it and it seemed fine, but when I came out of the water, I looked at it and it was dead. Oh well, no big deal. I came out of the river, had a wetsuit peeler help get the wetsuit off (I was told the day before by a volunteer captain they prefer "peeler" to "stripper"). I grabbed my bike bag from a volunteer and headed into the changing tent. I had a sense of calm urgency, just trying to be smooth as I prepared for the bike. I headed out, grabbed the bike and as I was leaving transition, the clock said 1:28. I knew I went in the water five minutes after the start, so my total race time was about 1:23 with the swim and transition. I was totally happy with that. Going in I wanted to break 1:15 for the swim.
Official swim time: 1:12:14 Pace: 1:52/100m
T1: Swim to Bike: 11:29
As i was heading out onto the bike, I noticed a volunteer at a crosswalk making sure spectators didn't cross in front of athletes. I stopped and handed her a Starbucks gift card and said thanks for volunteering. Later I found out she was a member of the IM Louisville facebook group and posted about receiving it. This community is so amazing!
The first 10 miles or so of the bike course is flat and follows the Ohio river. It was also pretty cool, so I was glad I had brought arm warmers for the first part of the ride. The first fun/scary part of the course comes when you turn right and do about a ten mile out and back section. There's a really fast, winding downhill, followed by a long uphill, then a turn around and the same thing back. People were flying down the descents and I understand there were a few crashes that ended races. All I wanted to do was survive this section, so I was more than happy to sacrifice some speed for safety. Shortly after the out and back, the loop started. The loop was really hilly with a lot of rollers that just didn't seem to end. After training all year on the IM Wisconsin course, I didn't think it was so bad, but a lot of people talked about how much the bike course took out of them. Coming through LaGrange was a very cool experience. Barricades line the street, the announcer is calling names, music is pumping and it's like racing through a town in the Tour de France. I took a little time to sit up, slow down and totally enjoy the experience. After LaGrange, there are some short steep hills on some country roads and residential sections, then its into a headwind and heading back to do the loop a second time. I was feeling fairly good, and my nutrition seemed to be working. I went with simple this year. An uncrustable PB&J sandwich every 20 miles, BASE Salts every 5 miles and water and Gatorade. Hitting the loop a second time and the hills seemed harder than the first time, but I guess that's the way it always is. I knew it was a matter of just spinning up the hills, and riding down. Back through LaGrange a second time and the pick me up from the crowd and before I knew it the second loop was over and it was time to head back to town. I was hoping to finish the bike in 6:30 and was on pace to do it. Heading back you get a few miles of overall descent, but there's still enough hills to make you work, and the last ten miles are flat back into town. By this point, I was ready to get off the bike and started going to mantras in my head that my yoga teacher had given me. "I am Brahman. I am limitless." and "Real Love. Real Tough" These helped immensely to let my mind focus on something else, while still moving forward. Overall, the bike felt good, but the last 10 miles I started feeling a twinge in my knee that was bothersome and I hoped wouldn't impact my run. I made it back to transition, grabbed my transition bag and prepared for the last part of my day: Running the distance that killed a messenger in ancient Greece.
Official Bike Time: 6:28:48 Speed: 17.28 mph
T2: Bike to Run: 10:33
As I headed out on the run, I was realizing that my day was shaping up exactly as I had hoped. My crazy goal time of a sub 13 hour finish was still possible, and my swim and bike had been just about perfect. Now is a good time for a little background. My first IM in 2011, I finished. I can't say much more than that. My time was 16:19 and I was proud. Damn proud. In the last 4 years, I'd had a lot of changes in my life. I had found yoga as a lifestyle, not just a way to avoid injury, I found a teacher that I love and respect, I became a vegan, I dropped over 40 lbs and I had PR'd at every distance I raced. I had no idea what was going to happen on this run, but I was prepared for anything. The run for me, traditionally has always been the hardest and where things tend to fall apart. This day was to be no exception, but it was still great and huge improvements were made.
As I started out, I felt good and strong. Running aid station to aid station. I didn't know what my pace was, but I felt good. I found out later I was averaging about a 9:35 pace for the first 8 miles or so. Around mile 8, I started to feel incredibly thirsty, had a dry cotton mouth, and realized I hadn't peed in a while. I knew dehydration could be a serious problem and I did not want to end my day in the medical tent with an IV. I decided then I needed to back it down, get more fluids in me, and salvage the rest of the day. The bright side was that the twinge in my knee from the bike never presented itself on the run. The marathon course is mostly flat with a few dips at overpasses and its an out and back. Even slowing down I felt good throughout the first loop, and like most Ironman events you get to see the finish line before heading out again for the second loop.
The second loop was a bit harder, still trying to take in as many fluids as possible, doing my best to encourage other runners, and every now and then seeing someone I knew, or a new friend on the course. This is where you start to find out who you are and what you're made of. There are some dark moments and you just have to remember to keep moving forward, or as we say in the GORUCK community, DFQ (Don't F&%#ing Quit). Running, walking, drinking. I knew that my sub 13 hour goal was gone, but it really didn't matter. I didn't have a watch and there were no clocks on the course so I just kept pushing forward and giving it what I could. Thinking about all it had taken for me to get there, and the fact that I almost surrendered and didn't even start. As each mile wound down, I was feeling better. I figured I would probably beat 14 hours and that would be great! I made the final turn onto Fourth Street and saw the finish line. An Ironman finish line is a very special place. It represents a lot more than 140.6 miles on any given day. It's mental and physical strength. It's discipline. It's suffering. It's sacrifice. It's knowing that you've given up what you want now for what you want most. It's understanding that you have the power to change your life. It's all those things and more. It's facing your fears head on. It's doing something most people will never even attempt. It is finally coming to the realization that you are enough. That all you ever need you will find inside. It's a moment of complete and total triumph.
Official Run Time: 5:10:01 Pace: 11:49 per mile
Overall Finish Time: 13:13:05
What can I say, it was an amazing day as evidenced by the picture above. I think it captures exactly what and how I felt and that moment and for that I am grateful. I still have a lot of chaos in my personal life, but I know it will get sorted out. I learned a lot about myself on this journey, and a lot of what I learned was crammed into the last month leading up to the race, and that's ok. I will continue to learn, and study and grow. I want to take this chance to say thank you to everyone who helped me over the course of the last year. New friends and old. Triathletes and Yogis. You all hold a special place in my heart. I love both communities and hope to bring them together here. You are all amazing in your own ways and you have more in common than you can possibly imagine. Stay with me on this journey and let's learn about ourselves together. Send me a facebook friend request or follow me on twitter @SpiritialCadre.
I'll leave you with these two thoughts, and they both apply to all of you in some way or another.
You are an Ironman!