Ironmania Louisville 2009
Warning: This is a little long but it needs to be to really do the experience justice.
The day I had worked so hard for was finally approaching. I had taken off of work early on Wednesday to pack and spend a little time with the family before I left on Thursday for Louisville to get myself ready for the BIG day on Sunday. I was leaving on Thursday at 9 AM and as of Wednesday afternoon hadn't packed a thing yet. My recipe for packing was this: 1 big pile of almost all of my swim gear, 1 big pile of almost all my bike gear, 1 big pile of my run gear, 1 big bag of personal needs (Toothbrush, deodorant, contact stuff, etc.), and 1 big pile of other clothes to wear when I wasn't Ironmaning. Combine all that into 1 big pile, stir gently, and scoop into 1 giant suitcase with wheels. Then pack food and drink needs for the weekend, assemble box of bike tools and parts, and then make a bid pile of all the above mentioned in the garage to pack into mini-van. Sounds fun, huh? I wish I had taken pictures of this process. It was not the model of organization.
Morning arrived and the mini-van packing commenced. I had 2 passengers for the way down to Louisville. Bob, a friend, Ironman participant (1st timer like me), and training partner, and my grandmother, who was going to spend the weekend with her son, my uncle. Pretty uneventful ride to Louisville. We were staying at the host hotel the Gault House right on the river about 3 blocks from the transition area. Checked in the hotel and moved all of our stuff up to the room. My room for some reason was “upgraded” to a club-level room. While I thought this was cool at first it turned out to be a real hassle later on because it was on one of the top floors and you needed to use your room key before you could even access the floor. Bob and I then met up with another Ironmania participant, Jeff, who has done IM Louisville the 2 previous years and has multiple other IM events under his belt. This was nice in that we had someone to show us the ropes. We went to athlete check-in. This is where we went station-to-station to do things like get weighed-in, signed waivers, got our race packets and timing chips, and our goodie bag. And I have to say the only good thing about the goodie bag is the bag itself. Unlike other races I've done in the past where you earn your crappy t-shirt by just registering, the Ironman race actually makes you finish to earn your crappy t-shirt. But then they exit you right into the Ironman shop where they tempt you to by any and all overpriced stuff Ironman before you even show up to start. I resisted. No reason to put bad karma on me. This was already going to be tough enough without declaring myself Ironman before I finished. Then we met up with some more of the Ironmania racers and support crew for a bite to eat and a drink. This is where Ironmania racer Mel gave me the secret weapon for my run special needs bag.
Yes. Those are Hello Kitty Lucky Stars candies! Then it was back to the room for some rest. Oh yeah, the room was a suite with 1 room with 2 queen beds, 1 living room type room with a pull-out sofa sleeper, TV, and refrigerator, a huge bathroom, and a large hallway with doors at both ends. Why is this detail important you ask? Well apparently Bob claims I snore. So I woke up Friday morning and Bob wasn't in the queen bed he was sleeping in, both hallway doors are closed, and I walk in the living room and he is sleeping on the floor on top of the couch cushions since the pull-out was missing the matress. Sorry dude.
Met up with the Ironmania racers already in Louisville, I think at this point 6 of the 8 of us were there, for the practice swim, short run, and a short bike. This is the first time I had gotten to swim in the Ohio River where the swim would take place. The swim practice entered and exited the water at the “official “ swim exit. I got in the water and started to swim upstream. I could not believe how warm the water was. For the last week there was speculation that this could possibly end up being a wetsuit legal swim. Well, right away I knew that would be out of the question. The water was murky, I could not see more than like 6 inches in front of my face. The current was not bad at all. Swam for about 15 minutes then went for a short run. Then we all got on the bikes and started to ride the course out of town. The roads for the first few miles we bad. Potholed and cracked with a set of rough train tracks. Narrow too. I got buzzed by a semi at 45mph so close I may have been able to touch it with my elbow. That is the point where I said enough and turned back in. Showered, went to lunch and back to the hotel to where I got to meet my 3 new friends that I had been talking with for several months via emails. They belong to the same Tri club that I currently belong to and had only met briefly in passing before. But we have had some good laughs and interesting conversations in those couple of months. I then went to meet the rest of the arrivals who were doing athlete check-in. I gotta say I'm glad I did it on Thursday. No lines and I was done in like 5 minutes. Now huge lines and like 45 minutes. We all ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner and the off to the “mandatory” pre-race talk. This is where it really hit me that I was about to participate in an Ironman. Bright lights, big stage, and people telling you what to do and more importantly what not to do. Then back to the hotel for some relaxing, a couple of beers, and some TV. Same scenario as Thursday night I guess, but this time there was a mattress on the pull-out. Sorry dude.
Let's start off by saying Saturday was way busier than I expected. I expected to stay off my feet, relax, and watch TV most of the day. That didn't happen until almost 6pm that evening.
Met some of the group for an the swim practice for another easy swim. This time, however, the current in the river was stronger. Going upstream I felt like I had forgotten how to swim. Turn around and going downstream, needless to say was fast and easy. Went back to the hotel and showered. Karen was flying in with Craig and I didn't expect them until after noon sometime so I strated to get the gear and special needs bags together. Bike gear bag was almost full, run gear bag not so bad, and special needs bags almost empty. I not much of a special needs guy, my stomach can handle just about any type of food or drink I can reasonably take in during a bike or run. Bike bag basically had a baggie of Perpetuem and a flask of Hammer Gel, run bag had arm warmers and, of course, the Hello Kitty Candies. Karen called and her and Craig were in the Lobby. I had to go get them since I had that private floor need the room key to even get to the floor inconvenience. That got old real fast. Showed them around a bit and then met Jeff and Brabara for lunch at a pretty cool sports bar on 4th Street Live. This is where the race finished, by the way. Went back to the hotel to make the final preparations since we need to check bikes and gear bags into transition on Saturday. Checked the gear in by myself. Everyone else got an escort for some reason but the guy kind of just pointed me in. Not too complicated and I figured it out. The bikes had assigned parking spaces and the gear bags just got piled into number order. Now it was time to get the R&R I needed. Karen went out to the Spaghetti Factory to get me a take out meal, brought it back, then went out with Team Spektate to party, which they did a pretty good job of, or so I hear. I sat there, watching The Gauntlet (how about a little Clint Eastwood to set the tone), at my pasta and loaf of bread and I will admit to having a bottle of Lite while I ate. Then I headed for bed, 7:00 EST or 6:00 our time, so, needless to say, falling asleep was tough even for me (I can usually fall asleep anywhere and anytime). Finally fell asleep in about 30 minutes only to be woken up by the phone. This time I just shut the TV off and managed to fall asleep only to be woken by the phone an hour later. It was Tom Randich wishing me luck. He says “What are you doing up? You should be in bed.”. Fell back asleep until almost 1AM when Karen, Craig, and Chris got back for tearing up the town.
Sunday – RACE DAY
4AM wake up. Not too eventful. Food, drink, met Jeff and Bob in the Lobby of the hotel to head for the transition. The walk was about three blocks and the “support” crew was with us. That would be Bill, Barbara, Karen, Craig, and Chris. Got too transition and turned in special needs bags, pumped up tires, and just did the final bike once over and headed for the swim start. The weather report was calling for a high of 72, 8mph NNW winds, sun, and no rain. That and the 83 degree water was going to combine for perfect race day conditions. Finally, I was going to get a race where I could say the conditions are perfect. It seems like every race I've done in the two years of triathlon have had either, cold, wind, rain, stifling heat and humidity, or take-you-breath-away cold water.
The swim at IMLOU is a point-to-point swim in the Ohio River and a unique start because it is not a mass start but more of a time trial start. I say more of a time trial start because it wasn't necessarily 1 in the water every second or two as I had envisioned. We started walking to the end of the line. It seemed never to end. I bet I was in line at least a half mile away from the start. The line was longer than it really was though because of the spectators in line with the athletes. 6:50AM a gun goes off and the pros are away. This is when the race clock that you see in finisher pictures starts running. 10 minutes later and another gun goes off and this time age groupers get to start. At first the line started moving slowly but as you get closer the line really picked up speed. Almost to a fast run. Two lines into the water. Pick one, cross the mat and find a place to jump in. So instead of 2 people at a time it was more like 8 people at a time. Jumped off the dock into the way warmer than the air water. This was by far the warmest water I have ever swam in for a race. It actually was nice getting into water and not getting the air sucked out of your lungs but rather hitting the water and being able to get into the swim groove almost immediately. By the way, I had never swam this distance, 2 miles was my max and it was in a wetsuit. I had a swim skin for this. Just started swimming, no big deal. Got bumped here and there, but it wasn't that aggressive “you're in my swim space, rubbing is racing“ bumping. Just the water was murky and you really couldn't see 1 foot in front of you. Made the turn and decided to swing a little out into the river channel into the “clean” water so I could “just swim”. It's way too long a day to fight anyone of river space anyways. I tried to kind of take in as much of the experience as possible, the unique perspective of swimming by a docked, empty barge (VERY BIG), or swimming under a huge bridge spanning the river. Hit the swim exit stairs and saw 2:02 on the race clock. I had no idea how long I was in the water. I took a guess – 30 minutes before I hit the water + 10 minutes from the pro start = 1:20ish. I'll take it. Especially without the wetsuit. I had set myself up for a successful day with a solid swim. I exited the water with a huge smile, almost laughing, and said loudly “That was the most fun I ever had”. Ran past Team Spektate that was all over and cheering for me and headed for transition
Headed for the transition from swim to bike, calling out my number to get my bike gear bag. Ran into the changing tent and made a full change into bike gear. Hit the port-a-john, grabbed my bike, and headed off. Very uneventful transition, which is good, but very slow (14 minutes), very bad.
Back in June a group of us rode the course before so I basically knew what to expect. Rolling hills, a couple of tough inclines, some pretty fast downhills, and smooth roads. Challenging but not too terribly difficult. My strategy was to go out slow, spin the uphills in a gear that allowed me to keep my cadence up and effort down no matter the speed, and rip the downhills with little or no effort, and come back in a little faster. At times I felt like I was riding too slow. I was getting passed a lot. I really had to restrain myself from temptation to ride faster. On the beginning of my first loop I heard someone call my name from behind. It was Mel. I obviously was so focused that I failed to even notice that I passed her. This was a couple of miles before the first pass through LaGrange. LaGrange is a small town outside of Louisville that the bike course passes through that has a lot of spectators lining the road. The cool thing is that going through LaGrange is mostly slightly downhill and you can really rip through with some good speed showing off for everyone. I do have to say the bike was thankfully pretty much uneventful. Dennis passed me at about mile 80. And at about mile 90 someone called me a douchebag while they were passing me. It was Bob, one of my training buddies, carpool mate, and hotel room mate for the first 2 days in Louisville. I passed him back up and continued to ride back to town. On the way back in town, at about mile 100, I was passing a woman with a 68 written on her left calf. This means she's 68 years old. She looked to be struggling a bit so I said to her “Come on MaryAnn, where almost there”. She replied “I'm almost out of gas”. And I basically told her not to give up, I'm 41, you're 68, and it just took me 100 miles on the bike to catch her. I hope that gave her enough of a lift to get back in. Because it was the truth. About the last 15 miles of the bike my toes were really hurting and I was starting to get worried because there was no way I'm running with my feet feeling that way. I loosened the ratchet straps on my shoes and loosened the Velcro straps on my shoes to try to help circulation. This was the only point on the bike that I was getting really uncomfortable. Finally pulled into T2 with Bob following me in like 10 seconds later. Looking back on the bike, I made all the right decisions to set me up to run my first marathon. I ate and drank enough and came off the bike not feeling the least bit hungry. Could have rode harder, but didn't. And only came off the bike once to use the bathroom at about mile 65.
Once again, pretty uneventful, but slow (12 minutes). The good news was that almost immediately after getting my feet out of the bike shoes my toes felt 100% better. Changed in run gear and slipped my feet into the nice soft running shoes. That was a good feeling and I was glad to be off the bike and actually looking forward to running. Got sunscreened up by a volunteer and hit the port-a-john and headed out for the run.
Did I mention that this is my first marathon? Me and Bob headed out on the run together. I didn't really know how long we would stay together as Bob is a stronger runner than I am. My plan was to run slowly and walk aid stations but run none the less. It was really important to me to do this the “right” way and not to walk the marathon. I suprisingly felt good when I started running. My numb toes were not numb anymore, it was a comfortable temperature, and the crowd energized me. Plus the fact that I was going to do my first marathon. For some odd reason the fact I was going to run a marathon really excited me. That's really odd because running is the thing I like to do the least. Just started running between aid stations. We started calling them parties because of all the music, food, and drink. So now we were running from party to party, walking the length of the party. This part was cool because it was out and back twice and we got to see a lot of people we knew. Picked up some people to run with, chatting and just generally having a good time. It was really nice running with a friend to keep each other moving forward and having someone to joke with. I got to say I did use the aid stations well. I'm able to eat and drink with a good amount of ease when I do this kind of stuff. I wasn't stuffing myself full, but through each station I was alternating water and Gatorade and managing to eat a small handful of food, whether it be pretzels, banana, orange slices, or Powerbar. In fact, I had only 1 gel the entire run. Well, the turn around at the halfway point came. You can see the finish line like 200 feet away. Finishers go to the left of the cones, 1st loopers go right and do it all over again. In a way it sucked a bit to see the finish and turn away from it but really it energized me even more to see all the excitement and hear all the music and know that I was that close to the end of my journey that had lasted the good part of a year. Same strategy, run slow and steady and walk parties. Looping back out Craig and Chris came up to me and slapped me on the ass so hard that it made me forget about my legs which were starting to get a little sore and fatigued at this point. Mile 18 came and went without incident. This was a lift for me because it seemed like all I heard all weekend is how mile 18 is the break down mile and how bad it sucks from that point on. Well it passed just like the previous 17 miles just did. As a matter of fact, the Coke they were serving at the parties was going to be saved for mile 18. I was holding out as long as I could. Mile 19, 20, 21 passed. And I still stayed away from the Coke. This made me feel that I was winning the metal battle that everyone talks about. By this time it was starting to get dark out and I wanted the Coke. Mile 22 have the coke. Nice change but I really didn't “need” it. I now knew that I was going to be crowned an “Ironman” and it was just a matter of just enjoying the final part of the journey. At about mile 24 Bob picked the pace up and I just held steady. 25 I passed the special needs again and this time dug into the bag to retrieve my armwarmers. I didn't want them to go in the garbage plus even though I only had a mile left I was starting to get really cold. So I slipped them on while I was running. 26 I turned the corner onto 4th street and saw the finish. I also saw Team Spektate so I stopped gave each one of them a high-five or hug and then started back to the finish-line. My finish strategy was to finish slow, take the whole experience in, and be aware enough to hear me called an Ironman.
The Finish and Post Race
Crossed the line (14:16) and was escoted by what I think is referred to as a catcher. I got a medal put around my neck and then escorted over to a table where I got a hat and t-shirt. I felt it to be a little odd that I just did an Ironman and now I'm being asked what size t-shirt I want when in reality it was the last thing I cared about. Got a picture taken and then it was celebration time. My catcher kept asking me how I felt and I kept telling her that I felt great but my legs did hurt. This is when the PocketShot of bourbon came out. You see, Bernie gave me this shot of bourbon in a gel-type pouch, which had traveled many hundreds of bike training miles with me, traveled 112 IM bike miles, and traveled my first marathon with me. Pulled it out of my pocket opened it and drank it.
Went to the medical to sign-up for a massage. Walked into the mass of people and said loudly “Is this where the Cervelo Test Ride is?” which did lighten the mood in there. Over an hour wait for a massage. I'll pass since I want to see Mel finish.
What an experience! I seemed to make all the right decisions during the day. The weather was perfect and I had an incredibly lucky break by having a friend to run with for 24 of the 26.2. My only initial regrets is that I wish I would have gotten through transitions faster.
Monday can be pretty much summarized with one word, “OUCH!” I did manage to fight the crowd and by myself a finisher item. That in itself was an experience. It was like a feeding frenzy of sharks and I wasn't much in the mood. I bought an overpriced jacket, a couple of stickers, and a couple of t-shirts for the kids. I did want the pictures though. Just standing in line for these was another endurance event. Now this is where being on the 15th floor of the hotel was a rel bad thing. Trying to get out of there by 11am checkout was another whole experience. Finally got on the road home. I drove the 1st half of the trip. Then we stopped for lunch. This is when I really felt the pain. I really was incapacitated. Karen and Grandma went into the restaurant and I just stood there by the car trying to will my legs to move. I must have looked ridiculous. Cut-off jean shorts and white knee hi compression socks walking like Frankenstein. Everyone looked at me like I was some kind of freak. Probably felt sorry for me too. I should have just yelled loudly “ WHAT ARE YOUE LOOKING AT? I AM AN IRONMAN BITCHES!”
I have a lot of people that I want to thank so I hope I don't miss anyone. If I do please don't be offended.
First of all to my wife Karen, Thank You for putting up with me for the last 8 months. I know it's been tough. And thank you for being there on race day. I hope you had fun and now maybe understand why I like to do this. Besides you signed me up remember?
To my kids, Shayne and Nicole, who will probably never see this, thank you for letting me miss activities and be an absent parent a lot. I hope someday this will be something you can understand. I wish you would have been there.
To all my parents. Sorry I haven't been around lately.
To all my friends, thanks for giving me shit while you are staying out late, drinking, and having fun while I had to go to bed early so I could go ride a bike for 6 hours. All I have to say is “Look Out!” I have some catching up to do.
To the Ironmania athletes, thanks for all the company and support on the many, many miles of swimming, biking, and running. Without you guys there is absolutely no way I would have been able to do this. It was an incredible experience and I am honored that I can call each and everyone of you my friends. You guys are rock starts!
To the Ironmania Team Spektate that made the trip to Louisville. All I can say I WOW! You guys travel well. Never in my wildest imagination did I expect so many of you to make that trip.
To the Linclon Way Masters Swim coaches, thank you. In the matter of 3 seasons of masters swim you turned me from a guy who barely knew what he was doing and taught me the skills and gave me the confidence to do an Ironman non-wetsuit swim with a performance I'm actually proud of.
To the group of tri-mates and biker friends, thank you. 4 years ago when I met most of you 20 miles was big bike day. Because of you guys dragging me around for several summers you made me believe that I was capable of more.
To my 3 new friends, MaryAnn, Bethann, and Heather, thanks for keeping things fun. We certainly had a few laughs. Especially leading up to the big day.
Vanessa and Laura at Lifetime, thanks for the weekend spin classes that kept me from being lazy on snowy and cold winter weekend mornings.
What an incredible journey it has been. Lots of highs and lots of lows, although the highs were much higher and more common than the lows. Lots of laughs. Lots of aches and pains. Lots of days when I wanted to just be lazy and somehow managed to motivate myself or have someone motivate me. Lots of new things that I learned about myself and what I am capable of. Lots of fun party times with friends that I missed out on. Maybe a Chicago Marathon guest appearance is in my immediate future. I know that during training and the days leading up to Ironman I said I would never do another. Well, the only thing I'm going to say for sure is not next year. (Wisconsin 2011?)