It all started one dark, chilly, evening several months ago in a dusty sports bar on Capitol Hill. I arrived late, my taxi driver wasn't quite sure how to get me there, but I was excited and nervous about "the meeting." I stepped into the bar...and felt out of place...I had be there before, but it looked different that night. The place was empty, and the smell of stale beer and french fries filled the air. What was I doing here? Was I in the wrong place? Did I have the wrong date? Hmmmmm.... At first I thought I would turn around and leave...maybe the cab was still out front? I could be home in front of the tv in 15 minutes. In stead, I musterd the courage to ask the bar tender where the DC TriClub was meeting for the "So you want to do an Ironman Race" event. He pointed to the stairs, and I began the slow climb. That was really the start of this journey.....
Once I got upstairs, the room was packed...packed with excited, energetic people who all seamed pretty "normal". I ordered a diet coke, hung out in the back and chatted with a buddy until the program begain. Once the speakers begain, I started to get really excited. I loved hearing the stories from the "pros" who had done IM races before. The folks who were telling their stories represented all levels of expereince, but they all had completed an IM. I was so inspired by all of them and I decided I was up for the challenge. The main things I look away from that event were, "say good by to fee time for 6 months" and "it wouldn't hurt to get a coach."
With my 40th birthday taking place 2 weeks after IM Louisville, I had secretly already signed up for that race at the enouragement of a friend, but hadn't fully committed to doing it until that night. So....THANK YOU DC TRICLUB for that nudge to give this a shot.
Fast-Forward to Louisville:
After 6 months of "no free time" and a coach who seemed to fill every waking moment with training, I arrived in Lousville on Thursday, feeling nervous, but good. There was a lot of buzz among the racers about whether or not wetsuits would be able to be used for the swim. Everything I read said it was unlikely, so I never really considered that it would be an option. I made the mistake of mentioning the fact we probably wouldn't use wetsuites to someone in the expo area and he proceeded to have a total melt-down about the fact that "it hadn't been officially determined yet"....Okay...so I guess I should just keep my mouth shut about the wetsuit issue..I felt bad for the guy the next night at the banquet when they announced there would be no wetsuits--the crowd was silent after it was announced. I was glad I was mentally ready to go without one.
I was able to get a room at the host hotel, the Galt House, at the last minute thru Travelocity. I'm so glad moved there. It was very convenient to the transition area, and the river....and in 1974 I am sure it was a very elegant property.... That said, I would recommend staying there for anyone considering this race in the future. The "brutalist" architecture along the riverfront isnt the most welcoming, but the river looked inviting to me (with the exception of the large logs floating in it near the hotel).
In the days before the race I did the two practice swims, which really helped get me ready for race day, and drove the bike course, which someone described to me afterward as "similar to Columbia"...which felt sort of accurate to me.
I had a bit of a hard time admitting that I wanted to not "just finish" my first race, but actually have a decent time. I told a few folks back home that I would be thrilled to finish @ 11:59:59....that was the goal. After driving the bike course, I figured I would probably finish in 12:15 or so...but was still holding out hope to come in under 12 hours.
I left the hotel at 5:15am to get to transition and get in line for the swim. I was amazed at the march of zombie like "tri spouses and partners" walking back to the hotel carrying bike pumps-- nothing says "love" like carrying a bike pump back from transition at 5am.
I checked my bike and began what felt like a never ending walk to the swim start.... Well, I was wrong about the bike pump spouses...what I really learned was nothing says "love" like your mom holding a space for you on line @ 4:30am. I swear people's families were holding spaces...it looked like a camp-out for concert tickets. I didnt care much that we were at the back of the line...I hung out with my friend who was doing the race with me and we made some new friends that morning.
Once I got in the water, the sun was coming up and I felt really great. I was suprised when I saw someone actually stand up in the water before we made the first turn....maybe I should have been aquajogging? Swimming against the current didn't feel too bad...the water was warm, then there were cold currents, then I turned and was out in the wide part of the river and the water got choppy, wavey, warm and cold again. Everyone I tried to draft off of ended up being slower than me, so I did a little ping-pong around the swim course and finally just dug in and pushed thru in a straight line. Got out of the water in 1:17 feeling strong and encouraged. For me it was a fun swim. Loved it.
I don't have much to add to what others have said about the bike course. It was hilly, but not as bad as I thought it would be. There was a lot of passing, and the crowd never really spread out. The out-and-back part of the course was a tough climb and it reminded me of aptly named "Devil's Bottom Road" in rural VA where I've been training on weekends. Seeing the race horses along the course encouraged me to want to go faster. And the final 8 or so miles were pretty much down hill and a great way to get my legs ready for the run. My goal was to finish the bike in under 6 hours and I made it in in 5:58!
Not sure what I was doing in T2, but when I finished the race I learned it was a 10 minute transition ----yikes! Need to work on that. Got out on the run course feeling good. Legs felt strong (must have been that 10 minute rest!) The first loop was perfectly fine. I was on track for a 4 hr marathon (my PR was 3:48 for a free standing marathon), so I was feeling pretty good. Well...then they make you run past the finish line before you start the second loop..... That's when things got a bit rough for me. I didnt think I would care that much about seeing the finish line, and having to keep going, but it did totally reinforce just how much longer I had to go. By mile 15 I was not feeling so great and my focus started to go...but I just kept moving forward. By mile 18 I didn't care about my goal to finish under 12 hours. I just wanted to be done...but I kept running..and running and running. And by "running" I mean moving my legs forward--I wasn't exactly sprinting along. At mile 22 I was miserable....but I kept running.
At mile 24 I stopped at a firehydrant and did a quick stretch --my neck and shoulders were killing me and pulling on the hydrant (which was NOT spouting water or anything..it was just a convenient prop) helped me get back in alignment. I gave myself a quick pep-talk and a smack on the butt and headed in for the last 2.2 miles.
Crossing the finish line felt amazing. My family was there and seeing their cheering faces, and matching Tshirts was wonderful. I heard them call my name and say I was an ironman, and I just relished in the moment for a bit before I exited the finsish line area. I had no idea what my time was (I still hadn't figured out how to work my new watch properly), but I was flying high. My neck hurt, my back hurt, my legs were in pain, but I didn't care...I just finished my first Ironman.
After shuffling over to the recovery area, I signed up for a massage, and snarfed down two slices of pizza, caught up with my friend who also did the race (she passed me on the run) and sat down for a few minutes. Moments later my partner came trotting up to me with a huge smile on his face...he had his blackberry in his had and he gave it to me....I looked at the screen and it said:
Christopher Speron -- total time 11:59:26. I couldnt believe it -- I tried to add up all the minutes to double check and make sure the number was right...and it was. I did it! Under 12. 33 seconds to spare. I couldn't be any happier!
Can't wait for the next one!
Thank you DC TriClub for that event which helped give me the encouragment to take the leap!
I'm an Ironman,