I am an IRONMAN

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Well, I’ve had a little over a week to recover and reflect on the whirlwind that was last weekend and the 14 hour 29 minute and 55 second journey I took to becoming an IRONMAN. So here goes a recap… warning, it will be long! I did try to label the sections, so if there is a part of the weekend or the race that you are particularly interested in, it should be fairly easy to find 🙂

Thursday, August 22nd: The Journey Begins

Louisville is about a 7 hour drive from Winston-Salem, so we began our trek on Thursday afternoon. My parents started out around 3pm and the hubs and I hit the road an hour later. The plan was to drive about 4.5 hours to Grayson, KY for the night and complete the journey in the morning.

It poured off and on all throughout the drive and I grimaced and clenched the steering wheel, worried about what it was doing to my bike on the back of the car. I had hoped to be able to pull my bike inside the car if we encountered rain, but I packed entirely too much!!!

Jason and I stopped at Subway for dinner, switched drivers, and continued on. I remember looking down at my phone with about 120 miles to go and thinking that I didn’t want to be in the car that long. HOLD ON, JENN… better find some patience, because that’s 20.6 miles LESS than YOU have to do on Sunday. Yikes!

We finally landed at the Quality Inn around 9pm after entirely too much time in the car (we were a little giggly). Played some cards with my parents and hit the hay.

Friday, August 23rd: Hello Louisville!

The four of us were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by 7:30am or so. After an eventful experience at the continental breakfast (let’s just say there were several waffle-making malfunctions), we hit the road… next stop Louisville.

This last little stretch of the drive was BEAUTIFUL and extremely green. We traveled down through the mountains and made it to the rolling hills (little mountains as I learned on the bike course) of Louisville. As we entered downtown, things got hectic. The Galt House, the host hotel was enormous – two separate towers with more than 1,000 rooms and triathletes, bikes, and gear EVERYWHERE! Dad and I parked the cars while Mom and Jason checked in. We hauled nearly everything (bikes included) up to the rooms and took a few minutes to get settled.

All checked in!
All checked in!

By this point, I was pretty hangry and with the added anxiety of the race, well you can only imagine. Jason and I went in search of food. We found a great local Mexican place specializing in fish tacos (which Jason got) and my steak burrito was DELISH!

We headed back to the hotel for Athlete Check-In. Typically, IRONMAN does not allow Saturday or Race Day check-in, so all athletes were required to check in either on Thursday or Friday by 5pm. All went smoothly as I went from table to table collecting my race number, medical waivers (only a little scary to sign), my swim cap, wrist band, bibs, and AWESOME bookbag. Then, Jason and I hit up the IRONMAN store where we spent more than I’d like to admit on a half-zip pullover and tri-top both emblazoned with the IMLou logos.

While prepping for the ride, we looked out the window and witnessed this unique double (sister brides?) wedding!
While prepping for the ride, we looked out the window and witnessed this unique double (sister brides?) wedding!

Back up in the room, Jason and I got ready for a short bike ride that would take us out the first few miles of the bike course and allow us to check out both the swim start and the transition area. It was a good little spin and it was nice to have Jason with me. We ran into Mom and Dad who were out exploring as well and readying themselves for their Sunday morning volunteer duties, cleaning up the swim course buoys.

And that’s not it for the day. We still had a welcome dinner to attend along with a mandatory pre-race meeting. Things got a little emotional for me during the dinner and meeting as it started to sink in – I’m actually here. I’m surrounded by thousands of other triathletes and in two days we are all going to attempt to complete IRONMAN Louisville. There were also several mentions of those of us who had decided to fundraise through the IRONMAN Foundation. This too stirred my emotions.

The athlete meeting walked us through the rules and a brief description of each course and things to watch out for. Afterwards, Jason and I headed out to meet Mom and Dad at the Bluegrass Brewing Company for one last pre-race beer (for me at least).

Saturday: August 24th: Final Preparations and Marathon Training

Ha! I know what you were thinking… marathon training?! The day before the IRONMAN?! But no, thankfully that was not me! Dad and Jason had a 13 mile run on their Marine Corps Marathon training schedule and headed out around 7:30am on Saturday morning to knock that out. They made great time and are really kicking some ass in their training. I’m very excited for both of them (I’m just along for the ride at the MCM this year… I’ll be running, just not sure how fast!).

While they were out knocking down 13, I got ready and jogged down to the practice swim. IMLou allowed athletes to hop in the Ohio at the swim exit point to get a feel for the water the day before the race. I was curious about three things: temperature, current, and cleanliness! I swam around for about 500m or so and left satisfied with all three. The water was about 82 degrees (perfect!), the current didn’t seem to be too strong, I didn’t run into any debris, and bonus, my legs felt great. Check! Short jog back to the hotel and I got to work readying my gear bags. If you’ve ever done a big race like this, you want to make sure that you have everything and that everything is in it’s place.

Piles and piles of stuff!
Piles and piles of stuff!

I laid everything out in piles: things I’d need before the race (swim suit, cap, extra cap, goggles, extra goggles, warm clothes, breakfast…), things for the bike (helmet, shoes, clothes, GU…), extra food for the halfway point of the bike (didn’t need it), things for the run (change of clothes, shoes, race number, GU…), extra food for the halfway point of the run (again, didn’t need it – I was a little over prepared), and things I wanted for after the race. I also packed up my bike and bike bags with the extra tubes and tools I’d need in case of a flat or other bike malfunction (not that I know how to fix anything other than a flat) along with a Clif Bar and peanut butter sandwich.

With help from my entire support team (Mom, Dad, Jason), my bike and bags were delivered to transition area which had just opened for receiving these items. It’s mandatory to turn in your bike, bike gear bag, and run gear bag on Saturday by 5 and I wanted to get as much stuff to transition ahead of time as possible.

All set!
All set!

After everything was set, we headed to lunch at Mrs. Potters Coffee Lounge and Café. I had a great chicken panini and was able to order 6 strips of bacon to go so that I could pack them for the bike. The waitress only thought I was a little crazy 😛

After lunch we walked up to the Louisville Slugger factory and then Jason and I went back to the hotel while Mom and Dad continued to sight see. I got a good nap in during Terminator 2.

We had planned to head to the Spaghetti Factory for an early dinner… but we weren’t the only ones. Apparently, that was EVERYONE’S plan. Instead, we walked across the street and got a table right away at Bistro 301. I decided on the shrimp scampi for my pre-race carb intake.

Bedtime was 7:30pm for me. My alarm was set for 3:30am – eight hours later to hopefully guarantee 5-6 hours of good sleep.

Sunday, August 25th: IRONMAN Louisville

Game face!
Game face!

I’d say I slept well given the anticipation and probably got about 5 hours of sleep with a few hours of just lying in bed. I don’t think I fell back to sleep after waking up at 2:30, but I was disciplined enough to stay in bed until just before the alarms sounded.

First order of business was getting my game face on. By reaching the $200 donation level in my fundraiser, I agreed to wear two VT face tattoos during the race. Then it was into my neon orange swimsuit ($500 donation level) along with plenty of body glide. Jason and I were ready with plenty of time to spare, so we relaxed and sipped some Gatorade until it was time to head to transition (which opened at 4:45am).

IMG_2092In transition, I pumped my tires to 100psi, added my water bottles to my bike, and placed my bag of bacon where I wouldn’t forget it. Everything looked good, so we trekked down to the start (about a mile up the road) where I was “body marked” (race number 142 down my arms and age 26 on the back of my left calf) and got in line.

I remember Jason telling me I looked more calm than I had in Raleigh at the half. I took that as a good thing, though I definitely had no clue what I was in for. It was nice to have an extra day in Louisville to settle in and get the lay of the land, but I can’t completely give that credit for my calm. I did feel a sense of peace that I’d done the preparation necessary and now needed to conserve my energy for the task ahead.

IMG_2110“Hurry up and wait” is certainly an accurate theme of the build up to an IRONMAN and is a theme that probably continues throughout the day for any IM spectator. We waited in line for the next nearly 2 hours until the Pros started at 6:50am. The physically challenged athletes began at 6:52am (yes, people do this with specialized bikes and wheel chairs, all with their arms and there are even blind competitors who are accompanied by guide throughout the race) and the rest of us age groupers started at 7am. I crossed the timing mat just after 7:03.

Just a little background on the IMLou swim start: It’s a long first-come first-served line. You start two at a time, from two docks with new swimmers entering the water every second. It takes approximately 45 minutes to get all ~ 3000 athletes in the water. AND regardless of where you are in that line, the finish line cutoff still occurs at midnight… hence why I wanted to be (and was) towards the front of the line.

THE SWIM

Brief course summary: In the Ohio River, 1/3 against the “current” on a very protected side of a small island, then 2/3 with the current in the main channel under two very cool bridges.

IMG_2111If you know me, you know that the swim is my strength. It’s where my confidence soars, while many others’ withers. The start to my swim was a little unfortunate as I accidentally kneed the girl in front of me in the head upon jumping in. I felt (and still feel) HORRIBLE. She came up very startled and went back to the dock to get her bearings. I hesitated for a moment then went on for fear of being jumped on myself. I just hope I didn’t end her day before it started.

I had to push that out of my thoughts and focus on my race. There weren’t too many swimmers in front of me and I navigated around people as needed. The buoys and the island were to my left, my breathing side, so it was easy to stay straight at least for the first bit. At one point someone decided it was really fun to continuously grab at my feet. This is not polite. If you touch feet, look up and figure out which side you should use to pass the person (if you think you can pass them). I began to kick hard… he got the message.

By the time I passed the tip of the island, the swimmers had thinned out and there were even fewer in front to me. While this was a confidence boost, it also made tracking a bit harder and I found myself having to trust that one or two people were headed the right way. I eventually paused to clean off my goggles. It was also around this point that I got my first few whiffs of gasoline… yuck! “Keep your mouth closed,” I thought. I remembered another IMLou alum’s advice for the swim: “If it smells like it and looks like it, it probably is IT.”

There were a few more buoys to pass before the big red turnaround buoy and they began to pass a little faster. In the beginning, it seemed to take FOREVER to move from one buoy to the next. Now headed back downstream, the current is with you and you are swimming in the main river. It was harder to sight the buoys and my goggles weren’t helping. I stopped 3-4 more times to clear them out while treading water. As I neared the first bridge, gasoline fumes again filled the air (that can’t be healthy!). But, that soon passed and before I knew it, I was under the second bridge and looking ahead to see volunteers helping athletes up the temporary steps and into the first transition.

I felt I’d made good time in the water. It didn’t feel that I been swimming for much more than an hour and my sense of time was right on – swim split 1:02:18!

THE BIKE

Brief course summary: A fairly flat 20 miles out of Louisville then a very steep (both up and down) 10 mile section in “the canyon.” Out to LaGrange for two 40ish mile loops that were all kinds of up and down before heading straight back to Louisville (no canyon on the way back, thankfully).

As you can probably tell from that description, I got more than I’d bargained for on the bike. I’d hoped for Raleigh, only doubled with the long, gradual hills, but was met with the shorter, steeper variety. Even many of those that were less steep had an increasing grade causing lost momentum before even reaching the hard part.

All that was compounded by the fact that my fast swim and early spot in line put me out there biking with the “big boys,” which meant that I essentially got passed for 3-4 hours straight with little opportunity to pass anyone. It wasn’t until I began my second loop through LaGrange that I was biking with people who were more my speed. Too bad their legs were a little more fresh as they were only on their first loop.

That first half of the bike was a particularly dark time of the race for me. Though, I’d started with a smile, that soon faded into a concern for where the first set of port-a-jons would be. My stomach was a little funky and I needed one badly, but continued to force myself to drink until the aid staton at the end of the canyon turn around. The volunteers loaded me up with at least 3 bottles of IRONMAN Perform while I relieved myself, but I soon learned that carrying a total of 5 bottles of liquid is quite heavy. Being passed constantly is also tough mentally and I began to question whether or not I actually belonged in the race. Somehow I convinced myself it was too early in the day to think about quitting (later in the day I used the reverse statement,  that I’d come too far to consider quitting,  as a way to stay in the game). I remember at one point thinking “can someone just get me off this crazy ride?!”

Two lessons learned for future races: (1) Don’t start out front in the swim to leave some competitive motivation for the bike. (2) Carry only a little more water/sports drink than you need, it’s not worth the weight.

IMG_2246I missed seeing Jason on my first pass through LaGrange, but he was there in the crowd somewhere. I made one other port-a-jon pit stop, just before my second pass and was finally starting to feel better. I found myself able to smile again and managed the hills and kept my momentum much better the second time around.

I did see Jason just before the 70 mile marker. I gave him a big smile and wave and let him know I was feeling OK. I knew I only had a few more steep hills left before it was time to head back to transition. In my memory those last 40 miles passed quickly and without too much angst. I was passing some people and back and forth with others – I belonged.

IMG_2251As I neared transition, I unclipped my shoes and allowed my legs to kick free of the pedals hoping that they’d have the strength to stand and move me over the final 26.2 miles. I’d actually been looking forward to this point for a while. The point when it would just be about me and my two legs moving me forward to the finish.

THE RUN

Brief course summary: A little boring and a little cruel, the very flat (almost too flat) course takes you out and back and out and back again. You get to see the finish line on the first time back, then you head back out to retrace your steps for the final 12 miles.

Before I get to talking about the run, I want to quickly mention the transitions and the volunteers in this area. They are awesome! During both T1 and T2, there is someone there to find your gear bag for you and direct you to the changing tent, if you desire. As you enter the changing tent, there is a line of women or men (depending) and they’ll ask you if you need help, I accepted this both times. They help you unpack your gear bag and give you a hand in just about any way – yes, I even had someone help me pull my bike shorts up (THANK YOU!). When I came back from the bike there was someone there to grab my bike and put it back on the rack for me. Just a really great experience and a great group of people working there nearly all day!

IMG_2258
Starting to run

Now, on to the run… My legs were tired, but my mind was possibly more tired. At this point, I’d been out there for just over 8 hours and it was getting HOT! I managed to pick up a jog to run by my family, but this soon turned into a power walk as a worked to get the GPS on my watch going. I knew I had plenty of time to finish and I would do just that provided that I remained healthy.

I continued to walk/jog for the first 4 miles or so using my watch make sure that I’d maintained at least a 15 min/mi pace on my walk. At each aid station I took two cold sponges and something cold to drink (usually Perform).

I met Iron Ron at mile 4. By this point I’d become content with just power walking, but he turned around and said “hey, you want to jog up to that stoplight.” “Yeah,” I replied and off we went. In my head, I thought THANK GOD, this is going to be good – someone to talk to and coach me through this run.

Iron Ron and I continued to walk, talk, and pick landmarks to jog to from that point until mile 21. I couldn’t even tell you everything we talked about – mostly our families and other races. We had two others join us periodically – Rhonda and Brandan. It was great to have this support group.

One of my favorite moments was around mile 10 when I was telling Ron how I hadn’t REALLY planned on doing a full IM this year. That I definitely had my sights on the half, but may not have signed up for the full without the encouragement of my husband and coach, Richard. I told him how I’d asked Richard “Do you really think I can do it?” At that point someone turned around (I’d soon know that it was Brandan) and said “You’re doing it right now, aren’t you?!” “YEAH!” I replied.

Group

We were all together at the halfway turn around, but Rhonda’s jog soon faded to a very quick walk and Brandan paused to talk to his Dad. Ron and I kept on. On this second time out, the air was finally cooling which was great, but there were also many more disturbing sites. People were lying on the side of the road, some with IVs, some “just resting.” You start to ask everyone you see if they are OK. I saw people give up and get in a van to be taken off the course. Ron and I tried to ignore this as much as possible and kept moving forward.

After we made the final turn for home, I looked over and sitting on the other side of the road, still on his way out, was Brandan. He said he hoped he’d meet us at the finish, but that he’d just thrown up 6 times and wasn’t sure. I began to realize that things could change in an instant and I knew I needed to keep myself in check for these last 6 miles or so. I was already very aware that my entire body hurt to the touch… no putting my hands on my hips or sides (not sure what that means, but it freaked me out a little!).

IMG_2290Shortly thereafter, I sent Ron on his way to finish with a fist bump and a smile. It was a little sad to see him jog off, but nice to have some time to myself to reflect on the day as much as my mind would let me. He’d told me that even though this was definitely not his fastest IM (he’d finished Florida in under 12 hours) that it had been his most fun!

At this point it was getting dark and I accepted a glow necklace to wrap around my arm. I started to realize that some of the people on their way out would be really close to not making the midnight cutoff and that some people around me were only on their first lap and certainly wouldn’t finish before 12.

I kept myself moving. Kept eating and drinking at the aid stations. Kept jogging to stoplights, cop cars, and other landmarks. Soon I was getting back into downtown and knew that the finish was close. There was an awesome aid station volunteer who let me know that I’d come 140 miles and I only had .6 to go. I picked up my jog and it was at this point that the first person, a spectator, addressed me as IRONMAN. I teared up.

Two turns around the block and I was staring into the bright lights and crowds of the finish line at 4th Street Live (it’s like the Epicenter in Charlotte for those who are familiar). It was easy to pick out Mom and Dad in their bright orange t-shirts, but I didn’t see Jason right away. He was supposed to be handing me my VT flag and that’s all I could think about… “Where’s my flag?”

Jason was just up from Mom and Dad on the opposite side of the road. He handed me my flag and I hoisted it overhead and continued to run. I had to readjust my bib a few times to make sure that my number stayed in front (IRONMAN rule). The lights blinded me as I came through the line with my flag flying behind me and a smile on my face. 14:29:55 was my official finish time!

I am an IRONMAN!
I am an IRONMAN!

THE AFTERMATH

I’d been prepared for a full on mental/emotional breakdown at the finish, but found myself incapable of any of that. I had no emotions or thoughts left. I was almost in a trance. Another great line of volunteers was standing there with medals in their hands. The woman who gave me my medal accompanied me to a tent where she held my things while I had my picture taken. She asked if I was OK and if I needed to visit the medical tent. I told her that I was fine and probably a lot better off than some of the people she’d helped already. She made sure that I found Jason before exiting the finish line chute.

Just outside the finish line Jason videoed me doing the Hokie Pokie (as promised for reaching the $1406 donation level). I’m not sure how I did it, but I’m glad I attempting it before sitting down!

We made our way to the convention center where they had pizza and sodas for me. Jason and my parents opted to wait outside and I was eager to rejoin them. The refreshments room was a little disappointing and depressing. There were people wrapped in blankets fresh out of the medical tent. The guy beside me had finished in 11 hours or so, but was on the phone with his family upset about something that had happened with his bike and was eager to know his split times. I had to get out of there… “WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE HAPPY! WE ARE IRONMEN!” I wanted to scream.

I had to get Jason to help me find the bathroom as all other volunteers were busy with athletes in need of more serious help. I was able to change into pants and my finisher t-shirt and rinse off my face and arms. I was gross. Oh, and my heels… they were just two big blisters. Yuck (and OUCH!)!

Once I was changed, we headed back down to the finish line. I had to lean on Jason for support as my legs had become a little too wobbly and stiff. On the way, I ran into Brandan with a medal around his neck. “You made it!” I yelled. “So did you,” he said with a big smile (I’m so glad he did!). I gave him a HUGE hug and continued back to the finish line.

I wanted to watch others finish and stay until the last person did. My body wasn’t so sure about that. Shortly after getting back to the finish line, I was lying on the concrete trying to cool myself and keep myself from blacking out. Mom found a table at the bar next door and Jason helped me inside where I ordered a sprite and some chicken tenders.

I felt much better as the clock neared midnight and we headed back outside to bring in the final group of finishers. I cheered and screamed and yelled to bring those last few IRONMEN across the line. When the clock struck midnight, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see what happened next.

They turned off the music and started to tear down the banners. One final girl approached the finished and they did turn the music back on for her, but no announcements were made. I shed a tear for her. I can’t even imagine…

Monday, August 26th: Coming Home

Kudos to you for making it to this point in the post!

We took our time getting out of the hotel and were on the road on Monday by about 11am. Jason had the job on chauffeur as I sat in the passenger set with my compression shorts and sleeves beginning the recovery process. (Note: compression clothes are amazing!)

This was the first time I’d looked at my phone since giving it to Jason on Sunday morning and I had 98 Facebook notifications. I wanted to be sure I looked at each one, read each post, acknowledged each like, and saw each picture. For some reason, an email from my coworker Amy caught my eye first. She’d sent me a screen shot of the live finish line video feed.

I know Jason had tried to explain to me that people were watching and that there was a video, but I hadn’t fully understood that after the race. It began to sink in. She said “For your scrapbook 😉 I know everyone watching took a screen shot of your great accomplishment, so here is mine to add to the collection. Again, awesome job!”

Everyone? Who is everyone?

I turned to Facebook and almost instantly the tears were streaming down my face. So many of my coworkers, friends, family, and many people I hadn’t even expected to be watching had been, some I didn’t even know! They’d taken time out of their Sunday evening to sit and watch and wait for me to come through the finish line. Jason looked over at me “are you crying?” he asked.

“I had no clue how many people were watching me!”

So thank you. Thank you for taking the time to tune in to my race. Thank you for watching for Jason’s updates, for the kind words of encouragement, for the congratulations… It means more to me than you will ever know.

Click here to watch the finish line video look around the 6:35 mark of the video, or when the IM clock says 14:32… you can’t miss me!

What’s Next for TriGrlTri?

Well, the MCM is in 8 short weeks, so that’s literally what’s next. But beyond that, I’m still trying to figure it out.

It has taken at least a full week for the entire IRONMAN experience and accomplishment to sink in. There were a few days right when I was starting to feel better (less sore) that I started to question myself. Could I have run more? Faster? Did I have anything left to give? These are scary, negative, depressing thoughts. Things I wouldn’t normally post on the blog, but I’m posting them because I want you to know that these thoughts do occur. And that it’s OK. Writing this post has been cathartic in letting me know that on that day, during that race, with the prep I had done, I gave it everything I had both physically and mentally.

If you’d asked me right after I finished if I would do another one, I would have told you “No way! And I don’t recommend it for anyone else!” But now, having had some time to think and recover, I would definitely do another one and would encourage anyone who WANTS to do one. But I’m going to tell you right now, you have to want it.

IRONMAN will chew you up, spit you out, separate you from your family and friends, and could ultimately break you if you aren’t careful. You have to want it and you have to keep it fun, otherwise there’s no point.

I’ve had countless people come up to me since the race and tell me how inspiring it is, how they got back in the gym, how they went for a run, etc. It’s so great to hear! My maid of honor ran her first 10 miler on the same day as IMLou (I pretended you were running some of it with me, Elise!). My bridesman timed himself in a 3.2mi run that day for me (you were with me there for a while too, Alex!). My Dad will run his first marathon in DC with Jason and me at the end of October. It’s amazing the things I hear people doing. I certainly don’t take credit for it, because like I said… YOU have to want to do it. But if I played any role in adding some positive activity to your life, I’m honored.

Because I completed IRONMAN Louisville I know that you are capable of accomplishing so much more than you think you can.

There is nothing bigger for me to do, no bigger race for me to enter (no, I have no desire to run an ultra-marathon). I think the thing that’s next for me is helping others realize what they can accomplish.

Oh, I’ll still be pushing myself too. I think next summer will be the summer of sprint tris and there will definitely many more Olympic distances and half IMs in my future. And I’m sure one day another IRONMAN…

Donate Now!
To my Ironman Louisville Race for a Cause to benefit the
Virginia Tech Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention
to honor the 32 Hokies who lost their lives on April 16, 2007.
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12 comments

  1. Congratulations and great race report. I also completed Ironman Louisville. It was my first full as well and was an amazing experience.

    If you are interest, here is a link to my race report.

    Like

  2. Most Outstanding recap I have ever read …… I am so proud just to know someone like you ….I hope to do some of the sprints next year and work my way up to 1/2 IM ….Vanessa has been my inspiration and now you are too ….. 🙂

    Like

    • Awe! Thanks Greg. I’ll probably start prepping my race calendar for next year in November. I’ll let you know what sprints I’m looking at… definitely 36 North!

      Like

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