Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ironman Louisville - Race Recap

   Well, that happened. Ironman Louisville 2017 is in the books. While it wasn't my finest hour, it was a great weekend surrounded by wonderful friends and inspirational people. Here's how it went down.
   Dudley and I arrived Thursday afternoon, and I was so relieved to make it, because I wasn't 100% sure we were going to. My car died twice the day before we left AND we got a flat. Nothing like a little car stress before an already stressful weekend! Fortunately, it wasn't anything a new battery and new tire couldn't fix.
   The first thing we did was head down to race check in. This was the whole point of arriving on Thursday - so I wouldn't have to deal with long lines on Friday, when the majority of athletes arrived.

I'm here!

   The rest of Thursday through Saturday was spent with friends and absorbing the Ironman experience. And, of course, buying all the things. 

My friend Mark from GMU. Go Patriots!

Obligatory IM swag purchases

I didn't buy this, but I thought it was funny. Ironman caftan!!

Kathy and I dropping off our bikes.

That's a lot of bikes!!  

   I also hit the practice swim on Saturday morning. The main reason I was concerned about this race was the swim. I'm a decent swimmer - not crazy fast, but consistent. And I don't generally have issues with open water. However, I did have concerns about the Ohio River, which was where the swim took place. It's just so BIG. And dirty! I've heard countless horror stories about how gross the water is and how sick people got after swimming in it. Years ago, I was supposed to do an Olympic race in the Ohio, and I received text the night before stating that there were abnormally high levels of E. Coli in the river and we had the option of switching to the duathlon, which I did.  So, with that history, I really had a hard time getting in THIS river. (This is called foreshadowing people, so pay attention.) But I suited up an went down to the practice swim, and all was well. 

Look how BIG that river is!! 

   We had lunch and dinner on Saturday with my IMLOU training group, Kathy, Johanna, Marne and Becky, affectionally known as Team Rom-Com (TRC). We adopted the name because we set up our bike trainers together and watch rom-coms while suffering - generally something with Hugh Grant. This is the crazy group that inspired me to sigh up for IMLOU four months ago, and they were with me every step of my journey. I'm very fortunate to have them as training partners and as friends.

Team Rom-Com!  (L-R: Kathy, Marne, me, Johanna and Becky)

   Race day began at 5:00 am, but I was up much earlier than that. I never sleep the night before an event like this. I was pretty calm, actually. I just couldn't sleep. This was a weird race in that I have been in DEEP denial that it was going to happen. Even the morning of, I wasn't crazy nervous. It was more of an attitude of "Well, I guess I'll go do an Ironman now." Which is completely different from my IMCHOO experience. But this was also my second IM, so I should have expected it to be different. 
    All of TRC met up at 6:00 to walk down to the race together. With the race starting around 7:30, we had plenty of time to set up our race gear, get in our wetsuits and relax a bit before the race.

Notice the flag. It was a bit breezy.

SWIM:
   My swim started pretty uneventfully. We had to swim about 800 meters up river in this "protected" area next to Towhead Island. Though the winds were around 12 mph at this point, the current wasn't that bad, and I was able to get into a decent rhythm while keeping my heart rate down. Knowing the Ohio freaked me out, I just wanted to stay calm and steady and maybe kick it up a notch the last 500 meters. And it was going well until I got hit by a competitor, swallowed some of the lovely Ohio River and started coughing. That in itself wasn't that bad. Stuff like that happens in open water all of the time. I recovered and kept going. But then I hit the turn around where we left the protection of Towhead Island and were in the main current. The river was choppier than it had been previously, and I had to work harder, which caused me to breathe deeper and I started coughing again. I apparently had swallowed more water than I had thought, as I could NOT clear my lungs. Mentally, I tried to keep it together. I have a swimming mantra of "Reach, Rotate, Relax" that I repeat over and over. Generally, this settles me, but not this time. Every time I tried to take in a good breath, I'd cough. And then... I couldn't breathe, and my wetsuit felt extremely tight. Suddenly NOTHING else mattered other than getting OUT of that wetsuit. That became my entire focus - not finishing the race, but getting out of that damn wetsuit.
   The closest support kayaker was about 100 feet away. So, I breast-stroked over to her (my head was NOT going back in that water at that point) and held on to her boat while I wiggled my way out of the suit. I can't tell you how good it felt to be free of that thing. I asked the kayaker if I could leave my suit with her, and she said she'd get it back to me at the end of the race. Honestly, I didn't care if I ever saw it again. 
   I still had about 1.5 miles to swim. Fortunately, I like swimming in colder water so the temperature didn't bother me. Considering my options now were to swim until the end or drop out, I started to swim. And swim. And swim. I was told to not use the bridges as landmarks because they are deceptive as to how close they are, and it's true. Those stupid bridges never seemed to get any closer. I tried to use the buoys as measurements, but they were extremely sparse. Finally, I saw the green roof of Joe's Crab Shack, which I knew was the swim exit, and that became my light at the end of the tunnel. My mantra became "Green Roof, Green Roof, Green Roof." After an eternity, I reached the stairs and a volunteer pulled me out of the water where I almost collapsed. Though I didn't think it at the time, it had taken every ounce of energy I had to make it out of the water. All I wanted to do when I hit land was lay down in a ball and go to sleep. I had nothing left....and my day had only just started.

Sheer exhaustion.

BIKE:
   Normally after a swim, I make some sort of an attempt to jog to transition. We are being timed, after all. Not Sunday. I walked the entire time, trying to regain some sort of composure. Don't get me wrong- I never thought I was going to drown, but literally, my survival instinct kicked in while I was in the river and I think I kind of went into a mild shock once I stopped swimming. I couldn't get my heart rate down, and I would still cough up river when I would try to take a deep breath. To add to the fun, I get these things called optical migraines. If you have never experienced one of these, picture a zig-zag formation that starts out very small in one of your eyes that proceeds to get larger and larger until your entire field of vision is blurred. They basically blind you in one eye for about 20-30 minutes, and then they go away. I rarely get them, and when I do, they are triggered from being tired and looking at a computer screen too long. Apparently, stress causes them too, because I got one while taking my bike out of transition. So, not only did I not have any energy, I was also blind in one eye. Awesome.

I have no idea how I'm functioning here.

   The first 10 miles of the IMLOU bike course is flat, and is basically the only true flat part of the course.  I felt like crap, but my plan was to try to recover as much as I could on this section before I hit the hills and while the wind (which had picked up) was at my back. I felt like I was crawling. EVERYONE was passing me. It was frustrating because the bike is my thing! To have everyone pass was pretty deflating, but I knew if I wanted to get through the rest of my very long day, I had to be smart. I was riding on fumes and any energy I had needed to be saved for when I hit the hills, especially on the second lap. 
   Unfortunately, I never really recovered. This seems dramatic to say, but every pedal stroke was a struggle. I had scouted this course several times over the past few months, so I knew it. It was hilly, but I had worked on my hill strength and knew I could stay in aero except for a few hills. That all went out the window. I had to sit up on every hill. Truthfully, I wanted to walk some of them. Everything was SUCH an effort. It was exhausting. And that was before the weather really turned bad.

 

   I guess I should touch on the weather. As I mentioned, the wind had picked up by the time we got on the bike (not that 12 mph during the swim is calm). Throughout the day, we had sustained winds of 20 mph with wind gusts of 30-45 mph. It was ridiculous. The temperature also couldn't make up its mind in that we had a high of 80 and then it dropped 30 degrees. I think it was about 54 when I got off of the bike. All of this, with still no energy, a cough that didn't go away until mile 60 and yet another optical migraine. 
   I did have two moments of feeling OK. Miles 60 - 80 were pretty good. I had finally worked the river gunk out of my lungs and could take a deep breath without coughing, I could see with both eyes and had a bit of strength. Though, it might have just been a caffeine buzz because I downed a baby Coke at Special Needs. I was also out of the wind for a bit, which was nice. But mile 80 meant getting back on 42, which was the last 30 miles home and it was all in a headwind. This was also when the worst of the storms hit. I got rained on, but missed the hail (fortunately). There was debris everywhere. Wet leaves, pine needles and acorns littered the roads. I actually got hit by a falling tree branch! It just brushed my leg, but it really could have ruined my day. The last 10 miles were pretty decent, too. Granted, I knew I was almost done, so that helped.
   I pulled into transition and gladly gave my bike to a volunteer, again not caring if I ever saw it again. Unlike the swim exit when I was the only one walking to transition - mostly everyone was walking off the bike. The wind and storms had deflated everyone. I know I wasn't the only one who was wondering how they were going to get through a marathon.

RUN:
   I was able to talk to Dudley for a few seconds while coming out of transition, and I told him about my day. He asked if I was going to be able to finish, and I said "Yes, but slowly." That urge to just lay down and go to sleep that I felt after the swim was still with me. It's funny because while I had no idea how I was going to run 26.2 miles, quitting never entered my mind. I wasn't trying to be a bad-ass - I just knew that dropping out wasn't an option. So, like the swim and bike, my only choice was to move forward. So I did. Slowly. I picked a pace that felt like something I could sustain for the marathon, with a plan to walk through every aid station. This is what I did for IMCHOO, and it worked great. Of course, right before I left transition, my training buddy Marne came bopping out of T2 like the damn Energizer Bunny. I would have loved to have run with her, but I couldn't follow. I just shuffled along as I watched her run off. Sigh.
   The good news is that the IMLOU run is as flat as an Ironman can be. If it had been hilly, I would have been screwed. I plodded along with my slow pace and ticked off the miles. I don't recall a whole lot of the first lap other than it was cold and windy, and that I just wanted to stop. I saw many of my friends out on the course, which gave me a small boost. While they looked miserable too, they were crushing the race. I could tell that some of them were going to have really good finishing times. 
   I had messed up my Garmin when I was in transition, so I was a little off on my milage and times. Ironman didn't have consistent mile markers (what is up with that, BTW?), but I knew I had to hit the half-way mark at a certain time to make the race time cutoff. I didn't pay any attention to the time cutoffs before the race because I didn't think I needed to worry about them, but with the day I was having, I kind of started to worry.
   When I got to around mile 16, I walked out of an aid station with a woman and asked her if she knew what the time cut-offs were. She assured me I was fine. And with that, any remaining motivation I had for the day was gone. We started to talk a little bit, and I thought "I'll just walk a mile with her (she was injured and couldn't run) and then start running again." But then one mile became two, two became three and then I pretty much walked the last half of the race. It wasn't that I couldn't run - I just was having a much more enjoyable time talking to my new friend Kara. And since my times were already shot to hell, I just kept right on walking. I know, it's not very Ironmany of me, but at the time, I didn't care. I was exhausted, cold and bitter. This was the most fun I had had all day, so I kept walking. And yes, I'm kind of regretting it now, but I'm not going to dwell on it. After the day I had, I was pretty happy that I had made it as far as I had without quitting. 
   At mile 25, I told Kara good-bye and started my slow shuffle towards the finish. I have a thing about running in the last mile, and I wanted to continue that tradition here. I could hear the roar of the finish as I grew closer and closer, until finally, I turned the corner of 4th Street and saw the finish line. Thank God. I was done.


Officially a 2-time Ironman.

   I don't really have anything more to add about my day. It was long, and hard, and not a whole lot of fun. While there is a part of me that is annoyed I chose to walk that back half, another part of me is pretty proud that I didn't drop out after the swim. Because I really wanted to. As my dear friend Kathy said, "Ironman is not all smiles." And it's not. I was very spoiled by my perfect IMCHOO experience, and I knew that. I almost didn't want to sign up for another Ironman because I knew I would never have a race as perfect as IMCHOO. Boy, was I right. IMLOU was the complete opposite. But I survived and for some reason haven't ruled out doing another Ironman, so that must say something. Not anytime soon, mind you, but I absolutely can see me doing another Ironman in 2019 or 2020.  



Happy RomCom finishers!!  (We missed you, Marne!)

   Thank you to Dudley, for being the best sherpa a girl could ask for. He even managed to get my wetsuit back before my race was over! Love you, D. Thanks also to Andrew at FTP for getting me fit enough to finish with only 4 months notice after a 9 month lay-off. Shockingly, until the run, I wasn't "that" far off my pace. If I hadn't been in decent shape, things could have ended much worse than it did, especially in the swim. TRC - you ladies got me into this mess, and I love you all anyway. I hope we have many more stupid adventures together. Mark - Congrats on your first IM. You crushed it. And to my friends from all over who supported me both at the race and virtually - Thank You. You might not think that seeing a familiar face on the course or knowing that someone is tracking you online makes that big of a difference, but it does. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.