As I sat down on the side of the road on Sunday, contemplating whether I should, or even could, finish the race, the only thing I could focus on was:
I want my fucking t-shirt and medal.
When Ironman Louisville started up however many years ago, I never understood why anyone would do it. It almost always produced obscene temperatures and humidity, and just didn't seem fun. But when I traveled there in 2009 with Brennan to watch Alyssa compete in her first IM, I thought "hey, this isn't so bad." It was mid 70s, absolutely beautiful. Never before had I seen better weather at any race. With the help of Brennan's friend P.K., a local, we got from the airport to mile 90 of the bike course just ahead of Alyssa coming through. After coming to the rescue of a mechanical (broken pedal), we zoomed back to town and got ready to pedal to various spots of the run course to watch Alyssa. The course seemed so nice, and it seemed like there were tons of spectators the entire way. The finish line on 4th Street Live! is among the best in the sport, and the medal Alyssa earned was awesome - it was a little horseshoe.
While racing on Sunday, I thought "man, this race was a lot more fun in 2009."
Since the 6 or 7 people that read this probably know how I did already, I'm sure you're also wondering WTF happened? To answer that, I'll go back to the beginning of last week.
Tuesday - I went to the track workout with plans of running just a couple of easy miles, but I felt good and I wanted to stretch out the legs a bit, so I ran with Melissa's group through part of the workout (1200-400-1200, 1000-400-1000, 800-400-800). I felt really comfortable on the first one, running just under 5:40 pace, and then pulled out a 71 on the 400. I was going to call it after the 2nd 1200, but I felt alright and continued on the with the 1000 set, and ran a little bit quicker. After the 2nd 1000, I was done, and felt good about the light workout.
Wednesday - I sucked it up and got in the pool, but didn't feel very good and was really down after the workout, frustrated with my swimming. I rode an easy 90 minutes in the evening, and it was pretty windy - which reminded me of my Wednesday ride before Arizona last November.
Thursday - Early morning swim before driving out to Louisville, Alyssa and I swam a short 1600m and I felt slightly better than Wednesday, but at this point I've resigned myself to a 1:10 swim on Sunday.
Health-wise, I was feeling pretty good this week, with the exception of a canker sore. I will get these from time to time, usually related to periods of overtraining, stress, or, just general sickness. I wasn't really going to sweat it, though, because it came early in the week and I figured it should be good by the weekend.
My memory of Louisville was admittedly a bit hazy, as Brennan and I had taken a 6:20am flight on Sunday, following the wedding of Arjun and Melissa in Chicago. With fewer than 2 hours of sleep and much liquor consumed, we were somewhat out of it when we got picked up at the airport around 9am. That, and we were whisked away to wherever P.K.'s girlfriend lived to pick up bikes, then somehow we found a McDonald's (and saw a dead deer right on the road!) and found the bike course. I remember the bike course being crowded with cars and cyclists having to ride through them. I don't remember how we got back into the city, but we parked and then were zipping back and forth on the course for the next 4 hours. It was 7pm when we were done, we ate dinner and then went to P.K.'s apartment to crash for a few hours before an early flight back to Baltimore.
This year I had decided on driving out there, and Alyssa was up for it so we left Thursday around 7:30. Following the earthquake on Tuesday, Baltimore was bracing for the potential wrath of Hurricane Irene. I don't know if we drove through it, or some other weather system, but for five hours of our drive we were in a torrential downpour. While it made the drive a little tough, it actually helped time pass a little quicker, and before we knew it we were in Charleston, WV, eating surprisingly good pizza in an otherwise unsurprising town.
We had made fairly good time when we got to Lexington, and since it seemed lke UK's campus wasn't far off the highway, I wanted to go have a look. This unfortunately added an hour to our drive, as the traffic was terrible and campus was super busy. I like to run a lap on the track at campuses I visit, so I was disappointed when we found their track and it was gone - just dirt! They were clearly renovating the entire complex. My disappointment was abated by the UK women's cross country team that ran by us though. To keep the spirit of Title IX alive, the men's team was out there too, for Alyssa.
Back on the road and we were in Louisville by 7:30, and we checked into the hotel - some 300 feet from the finish line. We headed out for a shakeout run and there was a commotion a block up. Apparently someone had climbed to the top of a construction crane, drunk as a skunk, and was threatening to jump. I've never seen anything like it. Nor have I seen anything like the people on the ground, all the les miserables of Louisville, filming with their phones. When I caught a glimpse of the man on the scaffolding, who eventually came down, I swear to you that I recognized him. I am 99% sure that this guy was driving in a car that was stopped at a light when we got into town, and he was throwing up in his car. The timeline and level of inebriation was right, so I'm pretty sure it was.
Crisis averted, it was time for dinner, then bed. Friday morning we got up and headed over to the Galt House for registration. Pretty easy process, and then Mike and I headed out for a little ride. We just went out and did the first 12 miles of the course, enough to see the way out of transition (very flat, but road surface not great at times) and then we saw a hill that we didn't expect, so we went up that before turning around. When we got back, I started getting a little stuffed up. I thought maybe it was just allergies, as I tend to not do great with new environments this time of year (e.g., lots of trees) and occasionally have trouble in hotels. I brushed it off and we went about our day, but by dinner it was a lot worse, and I caved and got a Claritin and some throat lozenges. I still struggled to sleep on Friday night. Part of that was definitely the obnoxious level of noise bouncing up from 4th Street right into our 10th floor, 4th Street-facing room. I would have expected live concerts to have to finish by 10 or 11pm, but apparently they can keep going until 1am. In case you are in the same situation, ask for a non-4th Street-facing room!
Saturday morning I woke up and it was not good. Mike and I walked down to the practice swim, and we did about 20 minutes in the water. The current wasn't as friendly as I thought it might be, but you could obviously notice it. The water was warm, and it was dirty. It definitely did not help me get better. After the swim, Mike and I went for a 25 minute run and my body was starting to feel pretty achy. We ate lunch, and then got our stuff to transition. To avoid another mile walk, Mike and Alyssa rolled down on their bikes while I transported mine, along with our bags, in the car. Then, we drove the bike course, to find out that it was much hillier than we thought! The three of us certainly didn't mind, as the topography was pretty similar to Baltimore County, and most of our rides. The out and back section looked tough, with a fairly fast, twisty descent into a long climb up to the turnaround, then back out onto the loop. The last 20 miles or so looked like they could be pretty quick.
All the while, I was not able to breathe. We had even acquired a Neti Pot and I tried that to no avail - my nasal passage was so blocked that the water wouldn't go through. I felt like I was coming down with a little fever, and I finally took DayQuil around 4pm. We went to dinner that night as I called friend and triathlon confidant, Brian Shea, to ask if he had any suggestions for how I could get through the race. I was not positive I could make it through the race, but since I could obviously wait until morning to decide, I took a NyQuil at 9pm and tried to go to sleep.
I woke up Sunday and could breathe a little better, not much, and I was really, really dehydrated. We went down to transition, and then over to the swim start, where apparently 6am was too late to get there and have a decent position in line. Holy shit. I was not going to sit in line from 4am on, that was for sure. We were pretty close to the end of the snaking line, and just sat there as we heard the cannon boom for the pros (6:50am) and then age group (7:00am). We eventually got moving and finally made it onto the ramp when they stopped athletes from getting in the water. A few minutes went by and then all of a sudden paramedics were racing down to the water, where they had just pulled someone out. He was a big guy, probably 250 pounds or more, and he was completely blue. I have never seen anything like it. They were doing chest compressions and racing him to the hospital, but you knew. You just knew. There was no way he was going to make it, and unfortunately, that was confirmed after the race. It was upsetting, and the IM staff then had to regroup and try and pump everyone back up to get into the water. And that's where my day started.
Swim - 59:42 (138th overall, 21st 30-34)
I did three things different in this race that I could possibly attribute this great swim (for me) to:
1. Shaved my legs
2. Wore my watch
3. Breathed to my right
I normally shave my legs, but this year I got real lazy. I hadn't shaved since prior to Eagleman. And really, it doesn't matter, it's not like that was making me swim terrible all summer. As far as the watch, I didn't even turn it on, I had just forgotten to put it into my T1 bag so I had to wear it. But the breathing to the right may actually have helped. Normally I have trouble doing that and going in a straight line, so I just breathe to my left. Which then means that I'm breathing basically every other stroke, and that seems to tire me out a little bit more. My left arm will be more tired and my head/neck gets tired.
Alyssa jumped into the water first, then me, then Mike. I saw Mike just take off, but didn't see where Alyssa went, and it was just a sea of green and pink caps. The swim starts off with a little shelter from Towhead Island, swimming upstream, before turning around and then coming back with the current to the finish. On the map it looks like the first third is up and the second 2/3 is back, so if the current is friendly, most athletes can see a time close to what they would swim with a wetsuit. I felt much more comfortable in this swim, and I think part of it is the time trial start. Despite having to swim around many people, it allowed me to warm up and then get rolling, as opposed to a mass start where I feel compelled to go hard at the start, then have to recover a bit.
As I steamrolled people, I thought "I have never felt so fast" - so thanks to all the slow swimmers for making me feel good about something on Sunday! I rounded the far buoy and was able to sight the buildings for the way home. The morning was also somewhat overcast, and even if the sun had been out, it would have been behind us on the way home, so I felt like I could just put my head down and go. At some point, though, I looked and I was really far to the right of the buoys. I corrected myself, and a few minutes later was really far to the left. I don't know how that happened. Either way, I felt like I was swimming forever, and while I was comfortable, I was also ready to be done. Imagine my surprise when I exit the water and see 1:33:xx on the clock - that meant I had swam about an hour! I couldn't believe it. Then I started thinking that the water was probably super friendly and people probably swam under 45s because there was no way I swam that fast. Either way, I wasn't going to complain. I made it under an hour, which meant 2:39 faster than I went at Arizona last year, and it would be great if I could swim about the same time even at AZ this year.
T1 - 4:12
It was maybe 100 or 150m to run up the concrete to the transition area, where we picked up our bags. I went a row past my bag's row, and the ground was really wet and muddy and my legs went out from underneath me as I tried to correct to my row. I stayed upright, fortunately, grabbed my bag and went into the tent. I had the top half of the speedsuit already off, stripped the rest and put on my jersey (yep, wore a jersey on the bike, best decision of the day). I carried my socks and shoes with me to my bike so I didn't have to run on the mud in my Speedplay cleats, which tend to pick up mud quick.
Bike - 5:14:21 (76th overall, 14th 30-34, 21.38mph)
I rode 5:32 last year at Arizona. The effort was not hard, but I got really tired after the wind, rain and the boring course. Now with months of hard riding back under my belt, and a new bike, I felt like <5:10 was going to be pretty easy, and my goal was 5 hours. As I don't ride with a computer, I rely on my watch to give me 10 mile splits so I can keep track and have some idea of how fast I'm going, but really I just go on perceived effort. Can't ride faster than you can ride.
In the first few miles I wanted to establish a rhythm but also had to be careful, since my late start meant I still had to pass hundreds of people. I was pretty much hugging the yellow line, as the hordes of novice cyclists rudely and inappropriately rode all over the road. I barely trust people I know to handle bikes properly, so I certainly don't trust people I don't know - especially not Ironpeople. I passed through 10 miles around 26 low so I knew I was riding pretty well, and headed up the hill. That was a cluster. I slipped into the small chain ring and just cruised on by, and at the top it began to open up a little. It was shortly after the top that I passed Mike. But, I was so out of it that I didn't know what happened, and thought he was coming up on me. He goes "you must have swam pretty well" and then I was just confused, I thought he meant I came out of the water ahead of him, which then made me think I must have somehow swam less, because I wasn't sure how I hadn't seen him as I came up on him. I finally figured it out and continued onto the out and back.
That was pretty harrowing. People of varying skills and stones meant there were people zooming down the hill on the left, there were water bottles rolling down the hill, bumps at the bottom, really dodgy. I felt good though and rode up the hills really well. My only concern was that, at an hour in, I haven't gone to the bathroom since the early morning. The medicine had dried me up and despite my best attempts at rehydrating, I wasn't going to be able to make up the deficit. And eating was very tough still as I couldn't breathe through my nose so I had to chew and breathe at the same time. Otherwise, I felt okay.
Onto the loop, and as we headed into the town of La Grange, we were going into a stiff headwind. This was not fun. Coupled with a number of false flats, it felt like I was going nowhere. But it's deceptive because I'm flying past people and nobody is going by me, so it's hard to say how I'm actually doing. I had been riding pretty consistent 10 mile splits but then around mile 60, with a tailwind, my quads seized up. They had just not been lubricated enough, and there was simply no way I was going to be able to get enough water to them.
I backed off a little to let them relax, and then found my rhythm again and kept going. The same thing happened on the second loop though, in basically the same place (mile 90). At that point I was thinking shit, I have 22 miles to go, another hour of riding and I'm at 4:12 or something. This is not the day I thought I'd be having, and more importantly, how am I going to run??
When we left the people going onto their second loop you finally had an idea of just how few people were in front of you. I exchanged positions a few times on the way back in with a couple of people and the last 10 miles were particularly annoying as we were treated to a cross/headwind. I came into T2 at 5:14:21, which is an improvement on my soft time from November, but I wasn't real psyched. I was, however, psyched that it was so easy aerobically. I really do feel good about that distance and riding it pretty quick, so I expect to ride fast in November.
A few other notes from the bike:
1. I think I will always wear a regular jersey on the ride at these races. Since I don't wear a one piece for the race, I can race in tri shorts and no top. Then, just leave the jersey in my bag, packed with my food, thus eliminating the need for a Bento box or anything like that. The less on my bike, the happier I am. After the bike, I just take that off and put on a running singlet anyway.
2. I had acquired one of the little setups to put a water bottle cage in between the aerobars. I don't like the idea of having them behind my seat, so I decided the front would be good. In general, I liked it, but the cage did not embrace the Deer Park 20oz sport bottles very well, in fact at all. So I either have to find a different cage or figure out something else.
3. Besides it tasting terrible, Powerbar's Perform drink is annoying. When you tried to twist the top of the cap to drink, the entire top would come off. Very annoying, very sticky. Powerbar should do something about this.
T2 - 4:59
I took my time here, I ended up taking off my tri shorts and put on my running shorts, and changed into my singlet.
Run - 5:52:08 (1136th overall, may as well have been DFL, 13:25/mi)
I can actually break this down to what I was thinking every step of the way.
Miles 1-3 (7:23, 7:00, 7:14): Surprised. My legs actually felt okay. I was concerned about going out too fast, so I made sure it felt like I was walking. 7:23 up and over the bridge, 7:00 down. Super comfortable. Hey, there's Mike, how did he get in front of me? (note: he had virtually caught back up to me by the end of the bike and then passed me in transition tent) I feel okay, I can do this. Don't think about being sick.
Miles 4-6 (8:13, 8:13, 9:13): Ugh. I stopped in the bathroom in mile 4 to try and pee. It actually hurt coming out, it was so dark. Without that stop it would have been a 7:35. Then I just had to slow down. I was carrying a flask of orange Gu, and could not get it down. At the aid stations, I could not take anything other than water.
Miles 7-10 (9:43, 10:55, 12:14, 16:28): Uh-oh. I was walking a lot more now, and by mile 10 I had come to a complete halt. I realized that there was nothing I could have done, I was just too sick to have competed. I was sad for a minute, but kept on.
Miles 11-13 (13:13, 16:50, 29:56): Dammit. Why? All the time. Can't catch a break. It was here that I literally sat on the sidewalk for a really long time. People were asking me if I was okay. Then two cops came and made sure they didn't need to call medical. I said I was fine, I just didn't want to do it.
Miles 14-15 (54:14): Yep, just sitting here, hanging out. I looked pretty casual at this point, as I was just wearing running shorts and a white singlet. My number was somewhat obscured by the singlet, which was covering it, and if I hadn't been wearing a chip, I don't know if anyone would have thought I was racing. Here I was hanging out near the hotel, but not at it, because I didn't want to see it. I waited for Alyssa, who had swam and ridden the shit out of the course (1:05, 5:43, was in 3rd in her AG off the bike, had the 28th fastest bike split of the day) but was struggling on the run. Her coach, Hillary Biscay, was racing too and had passed her, and told her she had to finish. And so it will be, I said. I'll go with you.
At this point I was feeling very ill. I hadn't eaten anything in 3 hours, because I couldn't, not because I wasn't hungry (I was starving). I actually contemplated grabbing money from Alyssa's dad and walking over to Qdoba and getting a burrito. The course also seemed very quiet, much quieter than 2009. I remember riding our bikes on the sidewalk and actively having to avoid crashing into people, and the special needs volunteers were so loud, and the aid stations were loud. I remember the Ford Inspiration Station kicking, and the Louisville U. aid station being awesome. They were all physically there this year, but they were just quiet, and there were fewer overall spectators. I also realized that, at 20 minutes per mile, I'm covering 3 miles per hour and that's going to be 4 more hours. I had to at least do 15 minute miles so I could make it in a reasonable time.
As we headed out onto the second loop, the two of us silently shuffled along the road. I was able to run for a few minutes, then I'd have to walk, then I could run to an aid station, then walk. The process was arduous, but the rhythm had us splitting miles of 12:24, 13:41, 12:05, 11:42, 11:40, 12:32. It was the most I could do. I couldn't breathe, and I was really struggling, but I was getting there. Alyssa seemed to be doing a little better, but not much. After we hit the turnaround and were on our way back, I felt worse but was buoyed by the fact that we were at least on our way back in. Almost amazingly we split the next three miles at 13:30, 13:30 and 13:32. I didn't plan it, that's just how fast you go when you walk for a few minutes each mile.
At one of the final aid stations, it was probably the best thing I'd heard all day - Justin Bieber's "Baby" came on, and suddenly it was all good again. Not that I physically any better, but I just felt better. We hit mile 25 in 12:58 and then we could finally see the end. We crossed the finish line together in 12 hours, 15 minutes and 20/21 seconds.
What I said at the beginning, about all I want is my t-shirt and medal, I wasn't joking. During my hours of quiet time with myself, enduring yet another beyond terrible day, I realized that I don't train for races to not finish. I don't start races to not finish. I work entirely too hard to go to these things and call it a day because it didn't work out in my favor. On this day, I got sick. I just needed my body to hold on for one more day and things probably would have gone my way. But it didn't. I could look back and say "hey great job doing as well as you did in the swim and bike being sick, and then finishing when it was really tough" but I really don't care. I finished because I wanted my t-shirt and medal. It could have been a 5k, it could have been a marathon - if it's a race, I will finish it.
I got through the finishing chute as the sun was behind the buildings, so it was just starting to get dark at 7:45pm, and walked over to get some food. It was freezing in this building, so the trip inside was brief. I happily ate three slices of pizza, and then walked back over to the hotel to take a shower. What started as a shower turned into a bath, where I then fell asleep for a few minutes, before going back down to meet the gang at Red Star. Around 11pm we drove down to transition to get our stuff, and then headed up top of 4th Street to watch the last half hour of finishers come through. While there, we took the opportunity to get some frozen beverages from Wet Willie's, our favorite Miami post-race spot (so it's cool that Louisville has one). Since the race had been held up 10 minutes to evacuate the downed competitor, they let the official race finish go until 17:10:00. We watched the last people come through and headed back to the hotel, ready to sleep.
We woke up the next day and headed to Panera for some breakfast, and then over to Galt House for the rolldown allocation. Mike ended up with a great day - 9:49 for 44th/13th with a 58:01 swim, 5:16 bike and 3:26 run, but as our competitive age group only had 6 slots, he was out. Strangely, in W25-29, one of the two spots went unclaimed and since 3rd place had already earned her slot, it went to 4th. But 4th wasn't there. Neither was 5th. Or 6th. Holy shit. Despite a terrible day, Alyssa's 17th place was not looking out of reason to earn the slot. It finally stopped on 12, and the girl freaked out and gladly accepted. Oh well.
Then it was over to Awards Banquet, which I did not go to in Arizona. This was pretty fun. The food was great, and they do a really good job. And, Hillary and her friend, another pro from Australia, chilled out with us and we had some good chuckles. After awards it was time to hit the road, and Alyssa and I made our way out of Louisville with some great weather to drive in. I stopped a few times to stretch, and I unfortunately had another fairly severe case of hiccups (note: if anyone knows why this happens to me and only me following these events, I would love to chat). We were going to stop in Morgantown, WV, for the night, and got there just in time to get some sushi from a place that closed at 10. It magically stopped my hiccups, so that was cool. Went to bed, woke up the next day and made the rest of the trip (after running a lap on WVU's shitty blue track), stopping in Cumberland, MD, for lunch. The weirdest part of the day was for as nasty as it was on Thursday, it was beautiful on Tuesday, and we heard the SAME songs in the SAME places as we did on our way out. Not strange if it's top 40, but these were some definite random jams from back in the day that you would almost never hear with frequency. It was very strange, as if we were caught in some Bermuda Triangle wormhole. I half expected to get back and the race never happened, like we were heading there this weekend or something.
Last November I was able to finish the Ironman, finally accomplishing that goal, and moreso capping the tumultuous year and change since the accident. This year was a lot different. Louisville was a race I signed up for largely because Alyssa and Mike were going to do it, and I figured I'd be in shape for it so why not. I also wanted another opportunity to get the distance in. Last year, it was Thanksgiving week, and I was tired, and I came back and it was cold, and I was ready to be done with training and racing. This year, I still have a fall schedule of races and a return to Arizona. And I'm more excited for it than I thought - I legitimately had concerns that I would finish the race on Sunday and be complacent and not want to do anything. Maybe that's the benefit of having a bad day.
The only thing I can say is that most people I know have not had bad days like that. Most haven't suffered like that. I wonder what would happen if they did? Would they quit? Would they continue, even though the marathon took them nearly 6 hours? To put it in perspective, my 12:15 race was 711th out of 2439. That's a lot of people finishing after that time. A 12 hour race is faster than a lot of people could ever imagine going, so it would be disrespectful to drop out just because I'm going to be out there for a real long time. I guess, if I had to, I would have completely walked the entire thing (I actually don't think it would have been much slower considering how long I stopped on the side of the road).
For now, a small break this week to let the legs rebound, and then next week will be light too as I head into the Lancaster Triathlon on Saturday, 9/10.
Oh, and the medal this year? It sucked. No horseshoe. Just some lame rectangle thing. I was so mad.