So yeah, this was the year of the two Ironman races.
After IM Lake Placid, just 11 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure how Louisville was going to go for me.
I mean, let’s be honest. It wasn’t looking good. I missed every single key bike workout (save one) and hadn’t run over 10 miles in this block of training. I had crashed on the bike, resulting in a suspected torn hip labrum. I was t-boned by a crazy lady in my 2007 Honda Pilot after a ride a month ago (suspected broken hand; turned out to be bruised).
But to go into Ironman with these kind of shenanigans was gonna go one of two ways for me: terrible, or not-so-great.
But as many of you know, my coach, Brett Daniels, went down on his bike the same weekend as my car crash—and after a shattered elbow and collarbone—he was out of Louisville–his A race. When it was clear that all of my ailments were pretty much “okay,” I felt that I owed the race, my coach (and of course, myself) a good college try at Lou. I knew I would have a hard time sitting on the sidelines and just watching the race that I was supposed to be a part of.
So I had the loosiest, goosiest race plan of all. The longest taper. The shortest build.
The funny thing is that I actually did have a pretty good plan, in spite of all the circumstances. I felt that it was as solid as it could be. The question was–would I be able to execute it?
And here’s the kicker: I had to execute it, or I would be staring at my first official DNF (did not finish).
Another funny thing about Louisville? Most Ironman races in America give us a 17 hour finish time cutoff. Depending on if the swim start is a “mass start” (everyone jump in the water at once and fight – e.g., IM Wisconsin), a rolling start (small groups of us nutjobs, corralled by swim times, jump in the water and fight, e.g., IM Lake Placid), or time-trial start (1-2 or 3-10 of us at a time jump into the water and fight and try not to swallow the water – IM LOU)… well, the swim kind of dictates the amount of finish time you have–until you turn into a pumpkin (e.g., NOT an Ironman). And because of this, it’s not always midnight. You have “your own personal midnight” sometimes. For example, in Lake Placid, I started in the second corral and I had a TOTAL of 17 hours to finish the race… that, however, was not midnight. It was more like 11:45pm because of my swim start.
IM Lou is a little special, in that the race starts later than most, at 7:30 am. We were all in the water in Lake Placid by 6:45 am, I think. And yes, at IM LOU everyone gets until midnight to finish. However, due to the time trial start, the most time that you will have to finish the race is 16:30. The clock starts with the first swimmer in the water at 7:30 am. And your allowed finish time could be as little as 15:30 if you are the last one in the water (and if it takes that long for everyone to get in. I think the dock was clear by 8:15 on Sunday, but I’ll confirm).
So for all the nervous soon-to-be Lou Ironman? The summary: jump in the water whenever you do in Lou… you have until midnight to finish. That’s all.
So it behooves you to get in the water and line up quickly for the swim on race morning. (As in ridiculously early.)
As you can imagine, this did not feel very great for me. My last two Ironman-branded races were 16:44–just eeking in 16 minutes under the 17 hour cutoffs.
Ipso facto, a 16:44 performance at IM Lou would be a slap-out DNF.
[I finished Beach 2 Battleship 140.6 last year in 2014, and had a nice 14:59 finish, but that is historically a very fast course.]
So anyway. Scrunched cutoff time. Undertrained. Sort of gun-shy and worry-wartish after Lake Placid. What a recipe for a weird race.
However. Because I had absolutely nothing to lose in this race, I decided a few weeks ago that Ironman Louisville was going to be Best Race Ever. The fact that I was even making it to the start line was a bloody freaking miracle. So I was going to enjoy every second, do the best I could with what I had, and hopefully make it happen. No guarantees, no regrets.
I was pretty lucky ducky to have so many friends and Team members up here in Lou.
I didn’t have as much time to “play” with them as I had hoped, but there was decent amounts of time to at least grab hugs and lunches and selfies.
I drove the bike course with Anne and her hubs, Mike, and Margi. It was scary. And awesome. And scary. (The course, not the driving).
I had driven up to Lou by myself on Thursday, and the Expert met me on Saturday, which was fantastic. Meaning he wasn’t victim to my pre-race crazies or the tedium that is required for pre-race things.
I have been eating about 80% clean since April of this year, and while the weight loss has been nice, I can measure the most radical change in the shift in my workouts and finally (in this race)–race performance.
Race week, I didn’t give in to the familiar food sabotage (though I did have vino, which wasn’t in the actual “plan”)… but I did avoid the foods that I have noticed make me feel like poo, and feed myself on the things that fuel. I know that the race week food set-up was the first step in setting me up for a good race, despite all the signs pointing to “crazy” and “potential DNF.”
To give you an idea, on Saturday (day before race), I had mahi-mahi, quinoa and kale salad, garden salad, brown rice and veggies. (A ton of food, really.) We ate at Gordon Biersch down on 4th street. And they had fabulous, reasonably healthy choices. I ate there three times during the trip, actually.
Pre-race dinner: salad with a nice, big salty slab of salmon with olive oil, mashed potatoes from the closest little pub we could find that wouldn’t walk my legs off.
Pre-race breakfast: three rice cakes, almond butter, banana. I knew that wouldn’t be enough, so I also had a small snack baggie of dried fruit and salted pumpkin seeds waiting in line for swim start.
So that’s enough food talk. 🙂
The Expert and I went to bed at 9:00 on Saturday night, which was 2 hours later than planned, because I had to watch Andy Potts finish Kona in 4th place–his best performance yet on the Big Island.
I slept fantastic.
Most folks mention that they really have trouble sleeping the night before a race. I don’t know why, but in recent years, I haven’t had an issue at all. And usually (knock on future wood), I sleep fantastically–like my body “knows” what I am about to put it through–so it completely gives in and rests.
Alarm went off at 4:00 am, and we were up, ready to go.
Shower, sunscreen, tri kit, coffee, breakfast, timing chip, bags, out the door.
We met our friend, Todd (a/k/a Swim Bike Nap–who was, in fact, napping when we found him) in the lobby. The Expert drove Todd and me down to transition and waited, and then shuttled us to the swim start. We were in “line” for the swim by 5:40, and it was still 1/4 mile long. Crazy pants land.
I was cold. Todd and I waited and chatted with the folks around us, until the Expert showed up and we started slowly shuffling forward.
Before we knew it, the time was 7:10, and Todd and I needed to get our wetsuits on. We started the wetsuit scramble, which is tough while trying to also move forward in a line.
I downed my little snack baggie of dried fruit and a bottle of water. 7:20. The energy was rising. The Expert backed away and to the side, and I stood in line with Todd. I looked at the Expert and my eyes started filling with tears. Like I do at every swim start. The emotion is HUGE for me. I ignore race day until about 5 minutes to “go” – and then I am overcome with emotion.
Todd and I zig-zagged and walked down to the docks, and then this happened — the worst fist bump fail in the history of the world. Omg.
Everyone wants to talk about the Ohio river and the swim. I don’t want to talk about it that much. (See above for more info on swim start and time trial and times).
Summary for me: it was a swim. I took several detours and didn’t swim as efficiently as I wanted, but it was fine. I did, however, stay in my very comfortable zone and didn’t push it—I wanted to feel fresh for the bike, and I managed to stay pretty cool and calm and get out of the water in 1:15–just two minutes shy of my Placid time–and without getting knocked in the head. Bonus.
I should have been faster, but I spent too much time focusing on keeping my mouth shut tight. The river was dirty—I mean dirt-y—the water was full of silt, and it was yucksters. It wasn’t really any more can’t-see-through-it than what we have in Atlanta, but it was funky monkey.
I also saw nothing of the “fast current” and “speedy times.” That’s just my opinion. I don’t think the current existed. Or maybe it did, and I was in no hurry in the swim. Either way.
The swim is part of the triathlon trifecta that I usually can tolerate.
I know I can get in the water, swim and get out. That’s the only part of triathlon I am usually certain about. I tend to have little drama in the swim portion–when I stay away from the 40-44 age group males. 🙂
My triathlon race day drama starts small and usually builds into crazy. To be honest, I had no expectations of anything different happening this go round.
There was a long exit from swim “out” into the changing tent. My strategy this time was to make sure that I was dry and changed, and to take the time to baby my feet before the long ride. So I did.
I changed my clothes (even my sports bra) and dried off with a full sized towel I packed. Then I dried my feet separately and spray powdered them, and put on my giant Swiftwick Four “boysocks” (as my friend Amy calls them).
Basically, I took my sweet time changing and preparing for the long 112 miles ahead. Oh, plus the marathon. (But I would worry about that later). 🙂
But getting in and out of transition “only” four minutes slower than Lake Placid where I really hustled and didn’t change or dry off… totally worth it in the long run.
Ah, the bike. My “favorite” part of triathlon, for sure. I love to ride. Anything up to 70 miles is awesome and fun for me. After 70, I start to not really understand why in the world I sign up for these things.
And I didn’t feel proud or happy with the bike. Why? Because on paper, I don’t like my pace. And that’s dumb. (I know).
More importantly, my “slower” pace was part of the plan.
I forced myself to go slow(er) than I wanted. I envisioned myself riding a tricycle all day long. I needed a little mini-horn: beep beep. I thought all day, save the legs save the legs.
One of the things we need to remember as athletes is to meet ourselves on the race course from a place of reality…
I was very under-trained for this race on the bike because I just had a poo-storm of things for weeks that caused me to miss my key rides (I had only one 100 miler—and weeks with NO milers). I know I had some residual fitness from the training before Placid and racing that day, but still. Lake Placid was eleven (e-l-e-v-e-n) weeks before. I knew that I had to be smart. Very smart on the bike. IF I wanted to finish the run.
And I also needed to let the ego go.
Just breathe. And let every single effing person ride past me, “on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left, on your left.”
Well, you get the idea. (Except it was that ^, times 4,000).
Even Todd played along and around Mile 20 goes zipping by, saying, “Hiiiiiiiiii.”
And I’m like, “hate yoooooou!”
At Mile 30 I had my one thought of doubt all day.
I said to myself, “I’m not going to finish this race. I only have 16 hours and 20 minutes. I can’t do it.”
And as quickly as that poop went through my head, I shook it out. I pedaled probably 100 yards and shook my head. “What are you thinking, Mere? Get that crap out of your head.”
And I did.
And I began to think, “Best Race Ever. This can be the best race ever. You can do this.”
I repeated that. It became my mantra for the race.
It was hard to let the ego go and stick to my plan, my race, and stay calm inside my own head. To focus on the advantage of the free speed on the downhills, but stay slow and composed on the climbs. To push a small gear even on the flats–one that would keep the legs fresh at all times. To let the people “go” and race my own race.
(Course note: there are two pretty steep climbs on the two-loop portion. They are short, but they pitch up. I have no idea of the mileage, but one is after a bridge which has big warning tape “caution” because there’s a huge gap… so you slow down to a crawl, only to immediately pitch up and climb. So just be aware of this. Lots of people walking up this one –I think likely because they didn’t get the gear shift completed in time more than anything.)
The weather was perfect, but my Garmin was mocking me. It ticked back and forth between 14.7 and 14.8 MPH. And I couldn’t stand it.
On Mile 56, I turned the damn thing off. I thought, whatever. I am riding by feel. And that needs to take priority now. I need to feel these hills, not look at numbers.
Every hill, granny gear. Spin. Keep the lactic acid out of my legs. Breathe. Drink. Spin.
Look at this good looking support crew!
To continue my trek, I had a massive picnic at Special Needs stop to make sure that I changed my socks, hydrated, made a porta-potty visit. I also ate a bag of Kettle Chips and some mini Oreos. That was my treat from the bag. And they were good choices. I never like what I put in my Special Needs bag and then I usually spend the remainder of the bike ride mad at myself: who packs that kind of snack?!?
This time, I had salty and sweet, and it was dynamic.
(Course note: Special Needs was around Mile 65 on this course. That’s late in the game, so pack accordingly. I was jonesing hard for Special Needs by the time I got there.)
However, I haven’t really had cookies or ice cream or sugary-stuff lately. The chips were fine. But I’m not sure if the Oreos are what contributed to my GI Issues on the run, or if it was just the fact that I was running a marathon (more on that next). I was, however, a HUGE fan of the kettle chips. Salty crunchy nom nom nom.
I also made a mistake of dumping Tailwind powder into my aero bottle (water was in the bottle already), thinking that a couple of miles down the road, the swishing of the bike would have “mixed it.” First big sip of that? Whoa. Nope, not mixed. Tailwind sludge. So as I was riding, I pulled out the straw, opened up the little lid, and used it to stir. But then, I could not for the life of me, get my straw back in. Crap. The Tailwind was splashing out with every downstroke. (And that is some sticky shiznit.) I didn’t want to stop, and I had enough Tailwind in the other two bottles.. so I grabbed a pack of lube and shoved it in the straw opening, to block the splashing. It worked (a little), but finally, I took 30 seconds to pull the bike over, remedy the straw situation and then move on.
One of my major lessons from Placid and Coeur d’Alene (my first Ironman), was to take the time to “fix” things and get them right the first time. Take that extra time in T1 to dry off and change clothes completely (if you think you need that), because the time saved later (e.g., not having blisters on your feet or a destroyed Queen) is totally worth it.
I will note one thing about the bike course.
The asshole rider factor was out in full force on Highway 1694. I was appalled at some of the sportmanship, cursing and riding like crazy bats-out-of-hell from my fellow participants. I just can’t imagine that a race is worth this kind of rage and anger and RISK. I was a complete wreck by the time I got off that portion of the bike course, especially after seeing a rider down.
After that stretch of road, a woman went past me and said, “Wow.” And I knew just what she was thinking. I said, “It makes me wonder why we do this.” She nodded.
Bike: Slow. 7:51:18
In and out of T2 faster than Placid with some fabulous help from fellow SBM friend, Chris Owens. She saw more of me than she probably ever cared to see in those brief minutes, but she was fantastic and key to getting my butt out of the tent and on the run. She even opened a Reese’s cup for me. That’s love.
I changed my socks (for the third time) and powdered my feet. Changed into my tri kit, and plopped on my visor.
I told her, “I have to have the marathon of my life now. To finish.”
She said something like, “Then go do it.”
And it clicked for me, in that moment. Go get your finish, Meredith. Go get it.
So I took off out of the tent and out on the run course.
The Volunteers & Ironman
A quick note about volunteers and Ironman… When people say “I couldn’t have finished without the amazing volunteers out there,” they are speaking the truth.
Thank you thank you thank you, all of you, and medical and officers and everyone out there all day, making the roads safe(r) for us and keeping us taken care of. Additionally, while some people “poo poo” Ironman and the cost and this and that… I am not one of them. When I race an Ironman-branded event, whether a full or a 70.3, I go into a race knowing that the WTC puts on a jam-up event with proper support and volunteers. I know there have been some growing pains over the years with some IM events, but overall, I find that Ironman really puts on a great race. And Louisville was no exception.
So I was off… I saw the Expert as I headed out on the run. He told me exactly how much time I had and what I needed to pace to come in as a finisher. I absolutely ADORE that man for that. He’s screaming, “15:30 pace. You have to have it. Now go!”
I told him, “I feel great!” And I did. I felt amazing.
My run plan was simple: Do not think about the marathon. Run three minutes, walk one minute. Repeat 1000 times until complete. Collect finisher’s medal and get a beer.
My overall plan for this race was “Take the time, all day long.”
And by that I mean, to take a few seconds/minutes and take the time to do what I needed in that moment. If I needed to take off my sock because a pebble was in it, I did. To fix my straw on the bike. Another example was my timing chip. Was driving me batty with the way it was rubbing on my ankle. Also, I could feel blisters starting to form between my toes around Mile 9. Two things that would make me crazy. So I sat on the curb, spent one whole minute lubing my feet quickly and switching my timing chip around. Done. Instant comfort.
Same thing in Special Needs. My feet were feeling pretty good. But I had a plan: change socks, lube/powder feet (depending on the state of things: no blisters? Powder. Blisters? Lube.). I had some small blisters between my toes. I had packed toe socks (Ininji – the ones that go around each toe) and my Swiftwicks. I thought, “Blisters between the toes? Maybe the toe socks.” But my plan all along was to go with my tall Swiftwicks… I did not deviate. While we do have to be flexible and adaptive in Ironman–to go “off plan” may not be the best idea. Here was my thought process (in case you care): Toe socks will help the blisters between the toes. Yes, but the issue in Lake Placid was the giant pad-of-the-foot blisters. Toe socks will NOT help that–Swiftwick will. Which was your plan. What would be worse? Toe blisters or whole foot blisters? Decision made—stick to plan.
I took probably 8 minutes in Special Needs run. I had a snack. I changed socks. I emptied crap out of my pockets, and refilled. Hugged the Expert and I was off again.
To be honest, I felt amazing.
The entire run I swear to you, I was waiting for the shoe to drop. I thought, I can’t believe I am still running at Mile 13, 16, 20. Wow. Who is this person? Not me… I have never run continuously more than 17 miles (yes, in my life, despite having completed three 140.6 races… the always culminated in the vast majority of the day being a death march walk where I swear off the sport of triathlon forever each time).
So to look at my Garmin at Mile 20 and see the overall run pace was 13:20? And it was caused by actually running? Well, I was happy. Truly.
But then, my stomach sort of unraveled on me, and I spent some time in the porta-potty two times. (Glad I did too, could have been bad and changed the course of the finish line photos for sure).
I was on top of my nutrition on the run. I was diligent and listened to my body like a ninja–I pinged back and forth with every station but did so diligently and by listening. I started out with Gatorade (which tends to suit me okay) and water. I had two Huma gels on the run. As soon as the chicken broth came out, I took it. (Knowing that in Lake Placid after I spent time in medical, the chicken broth is what brought my blood pressure back up to normal.)
Around Mile 9, I had a gel, and my stomach flipped on me. I was at capacity. Okay, regroup. Start over. So I skipped the next station (except water and took a Klean Endurance chew). I opted also to eat 1/2 of a banana. On my next walk interval, I fished out another bag of dried fruit and pumpkin seeds and ate half. That seemed to quiet my stomach, and I was able resume the regime, until Mile 20 when it was just a mess.
I think it’s possible that my stomach got gross because it was Ironman and it’s a long day. I was jostling all my stomach contents around by running, and it was near the end. Could have been the dried fruit. But by this time, I didn’t want to eat anything. So I opted for the chicken broth and water, with a small 1/2 cup of Redbull at Mile 21. I hoped that would be enough to slog me to Mile 24. I knew once I hit Mile 24, someone would have to knock me out to prevent a finish. 🙂
My favorite part of the run was around Mile 20, and I was trucking through an aid station.
“Water! Gatorade! Chicken Broth!” the volunteers shouted. “Chips!”
I slammed to a stop, “Chips!? Yessssss!”
One of the volunteers said, “Get some from the buffet!”
I said, “The buffets are the only reason I show up at these things!”
And the volunteer laughed so hard, I could hear him for about a tenth of a mile. Which made me laugh uncontrollably. (And I really do love the buffet. But hey Ironman, where were the cookies!??!)
I saw lots and lots of people on the run… lots of hugs and smiles. And my girls! Wow! Congrats to my fabulous teammates on their fantastic days at Lou—you represented and kicked butt out there! PRs all around – Jillian, Teresa, Margi and Rebeccca. Way to go ladies. I found out afterwards that our teammate, Anne, had gone down on the bike and was taken to the hospital. She’s okay, but is pretty banged up and bruised. It SUCKS so bad when you have friends who get hurt. Get well soon, lady. Lots of love your way.
With two miles to go on the race, I wanted to weep.
It was such a wonderful feeling to have experienced a good day. A good race. A solid performance. It was just so nice to think to myself, “I really have no drama for this race report. How bizarre.”
I did notice how many people fart while running. A lot of farts. Carry on.
I was feeling a little woozy with a mile to go, but I wanted to run it in strong and happy. I stopped and took two giant cups of chicken broth and chugged them, so I would hopefully avoid medical.
I said a quick prayer and thanked God for getting me safely to the finish. I thanked God for my family and James and Stella (the Swim Bike Kids). And I smiled even bigger when I thought about the kids, and how, when I walked in the door from the trip–despite having done a really long and hard race, they would likely only ask me, “Mom, did you bring us a present?” (And I was right.) 🙂
Run: 6:00:24 / 13:46 pace
With a tenth of a mile or so to go, I turned the corner, and then another and there was the beautiful sight I know and love—the Ironman finish line. I don’t think it will ever get old. I love it. It’s what keeps us “crazies” going back time and time again, I think.
As the Expert says, “At what point in your adult life do you ever do anything where people actually cheer and scream for you? Never! That’s why racing is so awesome.”
And he is right.
I saw the red carpet and the screen and heard the announcer. There it was.
The culmination of the race season: my two Ironman year. A long day. Months of training. New changes with my nutrition. All of it comes in waves through my head during that run down the chute.
I was there in the moment, living it up. And to say I was happy and thrilled and proud of my race was an understatement. My finisher photos are epic-ly crazy. I didn’t care.
An Ironman-brand PR by an hour and eighteen minutes, with a time of 15:28:00.
All I could think was, I can’t wait to do this again.
And it really was… Best. Race. Ever.