“The trick is not to make the butterflies in your stomach go away, but to make them fly in formation.”
[sign on the bedroom door across the hall from where I slept in Louisville]
Game On - The truth is I’m not sure how many butterflies had time to congregate in my stomach with only ten days advance notice. Despite the late registration or perhaps because of it, I feel like I had been training for Ironman Louisville for both several years and not one single day. Literally since the Tuesday after the 2007 Boston Monsoon when I began commiserating with my first and formative training partner, Ironman racing has been the inevitable outcome, if not the immediate goal.
There is no perfect in Ironman, there is only crisis management….and I was not managing the internal crisis of deciding to sign up very well. I was waiting for someone to say “ok, now you’re ready to TRAIN for an Ironman,” as if I needed permission, when really I’ve been training for one for a long time and finishing wasn’t out of the question and doing well wasn’t out of the question either. It was time. The game was on. And the butterflies that showed up must have come from a marching band practice.
The Road to … - Preparations for the trip were fairly routine, even easy, considering I would be staying with gracious and generous family members in Louisville. The course is unique, but not overly challenging – wet (surprise!) swim [1 lap], rolling to hilly bike [lollypop with 2 laps], flat and hot marathon [2 lap] – so my recent training builds were applicable. A quick bike tune-up, acquire more chamois butter and body glide than any one person should legally be allowed to possess, and I was on my way to the airport, where I learned that the number one way to get random people to talk to you is to have an aero helmet.
Once settled in Louisville I went to athlete check-in….and wasn’t on the list. Wait, I’m in the right city, correct? I shouldn’t be in Canada where there is also an Ironman race this weekend, should I? Because I haven’t unpacked my bike yet. Oh, my fault for registering AFTER all the numbers and packets had been printed out. I became the proud owner of a number 5 from the very.end.
Well, If Johnny Jumped Off A Cliff, Would You? - Due to the flooding that occurred before the inaugural race two years ago, the Ironman Louisville swim has a unique time-trial start. Lemmings, I mean athletes, get in line, walk down a ramp to the end of a dock at a marina 0.75 miles upstream of the swim finish, and jump. Just the abrupt and undignified way I like to start all my races. I’m not kidding actually, since all other Ironmans have a mass start and I’ve never been a fan of fighting brawls or swimming in washing machines.
And my lemming impression was pretty good, if I do say so myself. I vaguely remember having some sort of thought like “you know, Kelzie, you start an Ironman at the bottom of this ramp,” but things were happening really fast and you kind of just don’t want to contemplate it. I reached the end of the dock and simply jumped…
Into The River – The time trial start allowed things to spread out much more than usual and the line order was not based on swim speed or estimated finishing time, so there were plenty of people to pass and room to navigate between them. The first portion is up-current protected by an island and favors strength swimmers, so I was moving through the masses until the masses reached the sandbar. Not kidding. Apparently the time-trial start is not the only unique thing about the Ironman Louisville swim. I sighted and suddenly saw people out of the water from the waist up, which is unusual for a horizontal sport. The turn came not long after I returned to the horizontal plane and the masses and I were now moving with the current. Although without splits I can’t know for sure, I think I had one mental and physical lapse, shortly after the turn, where I suspect my pace dropped, but I either put my big girl pants on, got a second wind, or perhaps both, and returned the pedal to the metal….or as close as it goes to the metal during a race this long.
Frankly, the swim was consistent and uneventful so I don’t have much fodder for description. How about: “it was wet.”
Goal: 1:00-1:10, Actual: 1:07:50
Just Don’t Bring A Knife To A Gun Fight – Less than 5 minutes after exiting the water I mounted my trusty and speedy steed, The Stallion, and promptly went what felt like ridiculously slow for an hour. Because in a gun fight you keep your powder dry and your gun concealed under your spandex, er, jacket. After 8 flat miles, the hills and rollers start and frankly don’t stop until those same miles on the way back. Now, there is a difference between hills and steep hills, and these being of the first variety, I enjoyed them because they opened my legs up, gave me a break from what could have been hours upon hours of the same bike position, and what goes up, for the most part must come down. I got through the out-and-back, definitely the longest if not the steepest climbs, and started the lap, to be done twice, and just took it as it came.
Sadly, on the second lap, I had to say a big NO THANK YOU to my potential 15 seconds of fame. Things had started to heat up in the first 60-65 miles, and not in my quads if you get my drift. I decided to grab my special needs bag and the chamois cream therein for my bike shorts. The race directors place many video camera men around the course to gather footage for the race-day video to be shown at the awards banquet. Thinking he had identified a particularly photogenic situation, the camera man in special needs put the camera lens just over the shoulder of my attendant. I open the ziplock, scoop out a good amount of chamois cream, and ahem, begin to prepare to apply said product with said hand. Not one to rotely film in wide angle, said camera man begins to follow said hand to said application area with said camera lens. WHOA! Danger, Will Robinson, Danger! In an instant my attendant’s hand shoots up over her shoulder in front of the lens and the camera man pans the lens to the sky. With his quick assurance that I would not make an appearance in the race-day video I rode on.
Looking back on the entire 112 miles, it feels like I went out and warmed-up for a serious ride that started at the Mile 80 sign. I didn’t so much consciously put the hammer down as I was in a gun fight, and I had a gun…with dry powder. And the terrain suited my strengths. I clicked down a few gears and just flew.
Now, in all honesty, my effort output was not without anxiety. My mantra for the bike was “ride to run strong.” For the last thirty miles, it became “well, there goes my marathon.” Perhaps it should have been “like it or not, I get to run a marathon.”
Goal: 5:20 – 5:45, Actual: 5:26:06
All I Want For Christmas – Your bike-to-run bag is yours to pack and can contain pretty much anything you want. Socks and shoes would be smart, along with a hat and sunglasses and a few gels. What unfortunately occasionally is NOT included is a pair of good legs to run a marathon. Santa must have received my letter, because somewhere in there, underneath more chamois cream and Vaseline, was a pair of running legs.
A few years ago, when I was training for an open marathon, a friend and seasoned Ironman said “it’s a marathon, you just run it.” At the time I was affronted. How could I not be? She had belittled my season’s goal race. Now I completely understand her point.
It was mile 6 before I really knew what was happening. Well, not entirely true, since I remember passing a few women in that period and wondering if I should slow down. From the crowd’s reactions to seeing a woman, I guessed that I was one of the first, if not THE first, they were seeing. At the turn-around at mile 8.25 I learned there were a few female amateurs in front of me, but as it turns out, I saw some of them up close later on.
I first walked an aid station at mile 9 or 10 (I had to go to the bathroom…I doubt the volunteer realized what I was doing) and jumped on the Red Ambulance (aka Coke) sometime around then as well. Actually, I forgot the Red Ambulance makes rounds during Ironmans and didn’t really need it, but it sounded good when a volunteer offered it and I was willing to overlook the fact that it was totally flat and practically hot.
By walking the aid stations I was playing a (dangerous) math game. I could hold a pretty decent pace between aid stations if I took a walk break at the aid stations, and then get right back to the decent pace with my first running step…so was I losing time, holding time, or gaining? Debatable, but I felt better than I probably would have if I had forced myself to run the entire thing and it was more enjoyable that way. There I go again, trying to enjoy myself in the middle of an Ironman. Silly Kelzie.
Anyway, I successfully did one of the hardest things to do in an Ironman: run past the finish line knowing you have another half-marathon to run before you actually get to cross it. The crowds, my parents, and Chas, Marcy, Lesly and James really helped – a lot.
My pace lagged, yes, but I learned the second secret of Ironman (the first being crises management): the winner is not the person who went the fastest, but the person who slowed down the least. Miles 18 through 23 were my “down” portion of the race - the drudgery sunk in and crowd support and energy waned – but as soon as I hit mile 23 I became the proverbial horse sensing the barn.
Goal: 3:45 – 4:00, Actual: 3:34:37
Kona, Baby, Kona - The first Ironman experience does not end at the finish line. [In fact, mine didn’t even really include the finish line because I never got the “Kelzie Beebe, you’re an Ironman.” I like to think I beat that announcement there; see the difference between goal and actual below.] The three days following the finish line are an integral – and unavoidable – part of the first, really any, Ironman. Imagine nearly 3,000 people of all ages relearning to walk. And it’s the marathon that makes you forget how. If I had stopped after the bike, I probably would have only been tired, hungry, and a little sore.
Long story short: I took a lot of consistent training, added a little bit of good luck and weather (the live chicken I sacrificed must have worked; it makes all the blood and feathers around my apartment worth it), and left it out on the streets of Louisville. I had fun, the support of lots of friends and family, and a little bit of success. I flew as far as the butterflies could carry me, and perhaps with a little more notice, more butterflies will be able to carry me a little bit farther. I am excited to find out.
Goal: 10:59:59, Actual: 10:16:04, first in my age group, 9th woman, 2nd female amateur
This race report is the amateur version of Christie Wellington going to Africa for a couple of years to do "normal" work and coming back to win the first Ironman that she ever did. I hate to see what you are like when you have more than a few weeks to prepare for an Ironman :)
To meet Boston Marathon qualifying time on the run leg of an Ironman is just plain sick. What shampoo do you use ? I'm going to have to start using the same ones :)
Good writing. Even better race performance.
Great line... "second secret of Ironman (the first being crises management): the winner is not the person who went the fastest, but the person who slowed down the least."
DC Tri Club is populated with some awesome people. That includes you.
I am totally jacked up right now and feel like I can run through a brick wall. Thanks.
Congrats, Kelzie! Really an awesome report and it's amazing that you were ready to actually race your first IM.
It seems like all summer I've been seeing a streak going by me and then I'd realize, "Hey, that was Kelzie." Now I don't feel so bad -- you were apparently always cruising by so fast I couldn't be expected to recognize you.
Enjoy the recovery!
Sweet come back after the hip stress fracture a couple years ago! Glad to see you resolved the "flat" issue as well and didn't have any on the course, aside from the run that is ;)
Awesome race, Kelzie, and congrats on getting that Kona spot.
Way to Go Kelzie! (and very enjoyable read!)
Congrats on Kona Kelzie!
You were an animal out there. Congratulations.