As I went through all the long months of training the question I was asked most frequently by my non-triathlete friends (yes- they do exist!) was: “What on earth made you sign up for the Ironman?” And my answer was always the same: “I hang out with the wrong crowd.” It begins to seem normal to swim, bike, and run long when you hang out all the time with people who’ve done multiple Ironmans. Then the question changes from “why are you doing Ironman?” to “why AREN’T you doing Ironman?” I love riding my bike, swimming and running- so it seemed somewhat inevitable that one day I’d do one.
That being said- training for this was hard. I couldn’t have made it to the starting line without my coach, Rob Falk. Not only did he put together a plan that worked around my demanding work schedule- he was also there for me above and beyond the duties of a coach. He’d call after scheduled long runs just to check in and see how they went, and show up at the pool to keep me company during long swim workouts (even if he did always complain afterwards that I was trying to kill him.)
I also couldn’t have made it to the starting line without unending support from Phil. In addition to training for his own race, he also spent countless hours (yes, hours) cheering me up when things went badly, problem solving when challenges seemed insurmountable, making sure our house didn’t go to pieces, and motivating me to get out the door when I was dragging and tired.
Rob had me write up a detailed eleven page race plan that laid out exactly what I needed to do each day for the week or so leading up to the race. This helped a lot. I will note, however, that I felt inadequately prepared for packet pick-up. Phil had mentioned that everyone else would be wearing M-dot gear, and failing that, sporting clothes as technical and triathlon-y as possible the entire week both pre and post- race. I didn’t really believe him- but as soon as we checked into the hotel I realized how wrong I’d been to ignore that piece of advice- EVERYONE was wearing a technical t-shirt, race hat, and cycling glasses. As we headed over to pick up our packets, luckily I was able to throw on a Musselman tee at the last second, but felt inadequately prepared to compete with the level of triathlon related gear that was there (including an Ironman finisher’s medal to PICKUP a packet. Yes, we really saw this).
Waking up early a few days in a row to get accustomed to getting up at 4:30 in the morning was helpful. So were the hardboiled eggs. I was nervous/excited as we walked over to transition to pump up our bike tires, drop off our special needs bags, and head over to get in line. (Note to future Ironman Lou competitors- even though they say you are not allowed to line up before 5:30am- people had CLEARLY been there for a while when we made it there at 5:45 or so.) Also- Kelzie’s suggestion to bring a roll of toilet paper along was very helpful. My mom hung out with us for most of the time, which was really nice, and helped distract me from thinking about the day ahead. All of a sudden I was handing my morning bag to a volunteer, and then running down the dock behind Phil. We quickly wished each other luck and jumped into the water and Ironman had started!
Even though the swim took longer than my goal time, the distance wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (probably proof that I need to swim harder next time). It was frustrating to constantly swim over/around/between people, and I never really felt like I got in a rhythm. Also, I didn’t do a good enough job sighting, and felt like I was constantly swimming out into the middle of the river, when really I should have been going straight ahead. More open water swimming practice would be helpful. But, the long practices I’d done helped me mentally, since I’d swum far more than the distance of the swim during training, and so I never got very dispirited even when my foot cramped up briefly and my arms started to feel tired. Then it was done, and I was looking forward to getting on my bike.
We’d driven the course the day before and I got very nervous. I’d done some riding out at Deep Creek, so the hills in Kentucky shouldn’t have been anything, but driving up and down the rollers was scary. Coincidentally, Matias emailed while we were driving the course, and reassured me that the hills weren’t nearly as bad as they seemed in a car. He was right.
The first ten miles of the course were flat, then there were a few mild climbs, an out and back section that had two climbs, and then you started on the loop. There were about five miles of rollers on the loop (nothing as big as River Road), and then the course eased up. All in all, it is a very fair bike course- nothing tricky- nothing too hard, and just enough variety to keep from being boring. I was looking forward to seeing my family at mile 38 and mile 68 when we came through LaGrange- it gave me something to look forward to, and helped break up the long day. I missed them at mile 38, but heard them screaming when I came through again which really lifted my spirits.
I was very concerned with my nutrition (and salt intake, since my foot had already cramped during the swim, and my hamstring was starting to feel twitchy the minute I got on the bike). In my race plan, I’d come up with a schedule for eating every hour, and I tried to stick with it. (I actually wrote out the nutrition plan and taped it to my bike, just in case I got spacey out there and forgot to eat- which I’ve been known to do on training rides). The first two hours went by great- but then my stomach started to rebel against the constant diet of sweet things I was forcing down. By mile 70, my stomach was so knotted up I actually stopped to get off the bike and try to go to the bathroom to ease my discomfort. (Much more on this later). I stopped eating the Shot Blocks I was supposed to eat around mile 80, and switched to liquid only (which still hurt my stomach, but also probably was not enough calories in the grand scheme of things).
The last 20 miles into town were a breeze- there was a great tailwind, and the course was generally downhill/flat. My legs felt surprisingly good, and was on pace to beat my goal bike time of 6:30. I felt relatively comfortably in my aerobars (which I’d only put on my bike about a week before the race- oops) and I was getting excited/nervous to get off the bike and run.
Time: 6:23 (17.5 mph)
This was the section I was most nervous about. As I got off the bike I made a promise to myself- I wasn’t going to regret not trying. No matter what happened, I wanted to give it my best, whatever that might be. After a quick bathroom break in transition, again trying to ease the pain in my stomach, I headed out on the run. The first three miles went by quickly. I saw my family around mile 2, and that gave me a boost.
Mile three was the first time I stopped to try and use the bathroom, and get some relief from the pain in my stomach. Mile four or so I tried to puke, hoping that if I could get something out I’d feel better. No go. At this point I was still running from aid station to aid station, stopping to take water (my stomach hurt so badly the thought of drinking Gatorade/eating anything was horrifying). Around mile seven (after another long bathroom stop) I had a stern talk with myself- I knew I couldn’t make it this whole marathon drinking nothing but water. So at the next aid station, I took a sugar cookie, since it seemed like the least offensive option they had. I kept up the running/walking through aid stations for most of the first loop, and ate another sugar cookie somewhere along the way. At special needs I took a Xantac, which helped for about a mile, but then the stomach problems returned.
I was determined not to let my family see me down, so I ran through town. I was really glad my mom didn’t ask me how I was feeling, since at this point I was really feeling crappy. Around mile 15 the nutrition/stomach problems hit full force. My walking breaks, which had been mostly restricted to the aid stations, suddenly became longer. I walked the entirety of mile seventeen, which was a real low point. I was feeling very frustrated with the way the run had been going, and how long it was going to take me to finish. But, I knew these negative thoughts weren’t going to help me cross the finish line.
Whenever I got down, I’d check in on myself. As cheesy as it sounds, the moment I’d start to get negative I’d ask myself “Is this the best that I can be doing right now?” If the answer was yes, then I’d stop giving myself a hard time and keep walking as fast as I could. If I felt like it wasn’t, I’d force myself to start jogging again, and set a goal of reaching the next aid station, or the next bathroom. I started drinking chicken broth, and had a pretzel and another sugar cookie somewhere along the way.
At the turn-around I tried to cheer myself up by telling myself I only had a 10k to go. At that point it wasn’t that helpful- I knew I could make it six miles, but I didn’t think I could make it very fast. Despite my best attempts to stay positive, I was also getting really frustrated with how slow my run was going. I’d long ago turned off the stopwatch. But, I did some quick mental math, and realized that if I was able to finish the next six miles in a reasonable amount of time, I’d still be relatively close to my goal of 13 hours. Sure, I wasn’t going to beat it, but it wasn’t going to be as bad as I thought either.
I started running more than walking- breaking down the miles so that I just focused on running from cone to cone along the way. At mile 23 or so, I stopped walking altogether. There were more spectators along the course, and my pride wouldn’t let me head into town with my tail between my legs. I saw Phil about a half mile before the finish line, which also boosted my spirits. All of a sudden, I turned the corner, and the finish line was just ahead. I was so thankful to be able to go to the left, towards the finish line, rather than follow the folks who were just heading out on their second loop. I saw my family just before the finish line, vaguely heard them announce my name or something, and then it was over, and a very nice volunteer wrapped me in a blanket, put his arm around me, and got me some Gatorade. At that point I was just so glad that I didn’t have to run anymore. My family found me quickly, and it was great to have them to celebrate, even though I was not exactly at my most coherent. I was so thankful that they’d flown all the way out from California to be there and cheer me on.
Time: 5:27 (12:30/mile)
Total time: 13:23:52
Before the race, I didn’t think I’d ever want to do another Ironman. The training (on top of a stressful job) was really stressful, and I put too much pressure on myself to do everything perfectly. But as soon as I hit the water on race day, I was having fun. And, I don’t like how my run went and I want to do better. I think I could do some things differently and avoid some of the problems that I had (such as find a better nutrition plan for the bike, and therefore avoid spending at least half an hour in the bathroom, and bonking on the run). I’m going to get some more experience running marathons, and have fun doing half-Ironman distance races next year, and then see where I’m at when sign-up time comes around.
And I couldn’t end this race report without saying thanks to all my training partners, especially TJ and Chad, who were always offering positive encouragement. Thanks for reading!
Great race! I'm proud of you for hang tough.
I really am impressed how you did not stop much despite the pain. To me thats more impressive tand o conquer the long run and really good times all around
Now you have a base for next time as well
Very inspiring race report. Well done!
obviously you hang out with a bad ass. congrats!
Great Job at LOU!!!
Funny thing about IM... most get hooked. LOU was my third and I am already looking at IM Arizona as #4 in 2011. I'm sure you will be signing up as well, I think there is an IM spark now burning. It's an awesome sport.
I wore my "Life is Good" t-shirt for packet pick up. Threw everyone off with all of their technical gear.
Again, great job and CONGRATS!!
CONGRATS LAUREL... you had a great race and should be proud of yourself!
Enjoy your time off! :)
Congrat Laurel! Where you gonna get the tattoo?
Congrats again, LB. I'm so proud of, and impressed by, you.
I'd been looking for this report... I guess I missed it before.
You had a great race! 26.2 miles can be a long way to drive a car or ride a bike but when the wheels are coming off, it's a REALLY long way to run. Way to fight through and -- and this is where it really counts -- finish looking good for the crowd.