My Ironman Mulligan: Louisville Race Report

I have no business being an Ironman, let alone an Ironman twice over.  I’m not, nor have I ever been an especially athletic person. I wasn’t picked last in gym class but I certainly wasn’t a player who had any significant impact on a teams’ victory.  I don’t recall a trophy or ribbon of any color showcased in my room, I just liked to participate.   I still do, maybe even more as an adult than I did as a kid. I refuse to spectate from the sidelines silently telling myself that “I could never do that”.

I signed up for my second Ironman to prove to myself that my first wasn’t a fluke, to see what I could do on a course more suited to me, and to do it on two healthy knees. Both my knees were almost completely reconstructed in 2011, the right in April, and the left in early September.  My surgeon found a fracture in my left femur during the second surgery leaving me crutch bound until December of 2011-not exactly the start to my Ironman mulligan I was hoping for.   Toeing the line at Louisville on August 26, 2012 would require very specific, non-traditional coaching and programming, and I had every confidence that Vin could be counted on to deliver just that.   Tweaks were made almost from the beginning as running proved to be a much more difficult motion than it had been even prior to my surgeries, so much so that I waivered constantly about whether to even start the race at all.   It was truly a delicate dance of “embracing the suck” that in the end would require some serious compromise to my IMKY goal but wouldn’t stop me from finding the finish line. 

I was as faithful to the programming as I could be, doing more work than I ever did in preparation for Lake Placid in 2010.  Even a house fire and loss of all training gear and equipment didn’t halt my ambition.  I attacked workouts with the drive of a real athlete.  This was in part due to my determination but also thanks to the support and inspiration of my training partner and boyfriend Bryan.  He was my biggest cheerleader, my friendly competition, and my conscience when I needed it.  Ongoing encouragement from ECC coaches and members was also hugely influential.  I went to Louisville wanting to make everyone proud.

What seemed so far away was suddenly staring me down-140.6 miles.  Bryan and I were calm and quiet as we waited in line for the time trial start, we didn’t need to talk because we knew exactly what the other was thinking.  We smiled knowing, believing that we would be Ironmen in less than 17 hours and jumped into the Ohio.   

The non-wetsuit swim felt like it took forever.  I was getting nervous that I was close to the cut off but as I sighted saw hundreds of swim caps in every direction. It didn’t help that my goggles had filled with water as I jumped off the dock, and shortly into the swim I sprained a finger against a foot in front of me and then struggled to keep my hand cupped as I pulled the water underneath me.  Upon exiting the river I learned that I was well under the cut off but could have watched a feature length film in the same time it took me to cover the 2.4 miles. 

Having only driven the bike course I was a little apprehensive about the next leg.  I knew that I needed to have a solid bike time in order to walk as much of the marathon as necessary.  The bike course was littered with carnage like I’ve never seen before.  Seemingly strong cyclists lay weary on the roadside, and discarded tubes were even more popular.  I later learned that tacks had been thrown on the road in protest by a disgruntled local.  At mile 40 on a narrow hill I was cut off in a crowd of riders and went  down.  My chain jammed in my derailer and snapped.  Other than a bruise and some road rash I felt fine but was at the mercy of bike support to get me going.  I had been averaging 17+ mph and was feeling great but now panic started to creep in as I waited and screamed inside “don’t they know that I need every second possible to finish the run err, walk?!”   What felt like a lifetime was probably more like 10-15 minutes until I was back on the course, and I still ended up with a respectable bike split of 7 hrs, 1 min…it would have been great to have ridden a sub 7 hour bike though!

I took my time in T2.  My feet needed some massaging to work out the cramps, and I was hoping that Bryan would be just behind me so that we could start the run together.  The fear of how far 26.2 miles was resurfaced and I headed out onto the streets of Louisville by myself knowing that he would surely be following soon.   The heat hit me like a wall, what little breeze I had enjoyed on the bike was a distant memory.  Fear of the heat and my plan to manage it had swirled in my head for days leading up to the race.  Every day I would check the forecast only to see the predicted temperatures skulk higher.  I was well aware that it could and would rip the Ironman carpet out from under many people’s feet but I knew that it was pointless to worry about the thing I could not control and reminded myself to stick to my nutrition and cooling plan just as I had done on the bike.  The only drawback to my nutrition and cooling plan which included dipping my hat in the ice buckets and inserting wet sponges into my tri suit was that water trickled down into my shoes and socks.   After hours of repeating this cooling ritual, my feet fell victim to blisters of the worst kind.  Every step was excruciating-it still is even as I type this report 3 days later. 

As in all the training runs I was able to muster, my run strategy was 4:1.  I sustained this pace for barely an hour before renegotiating and settling on 1:1.  I programmed my watch and treated it like a chipper.  At mile 16 (which was longer than any training run I’d been able to eek out),  I made the decision to walk the rest of the way.  The pain in my knees was all too familiar and I was not willing to sacrifice months of knee recovery for one race.  The decision to walk may not have been as easy had time not been in my favor.  The marathon, or as I’m fondly referring to it as my longest walk ever took me 6 hours and 38 minutes.  The high of the run was meeting Bryan on an out and back where he handed me a laminated card with quotes and messages from friends and family. 

The finish line was exactly how I remembered it.  Everything that had been hurting stopped for a brief moment, and I felt like a star under the lights of 4th Street Live.  I knew that I’d earned the title of Ironman and there was no doubt that the first time had not been a fluke even though my mulligan did not go as originally intended. 

Elm City is a playground for grownups which is just one of the reasons I drive 30 minutes to get there each day.  The breadth and depth of the owners’ experience, knowledge and commitment to members, as well as the camaraderie and spirit of the ECC community make it a so much more than a CrossFit box.  I dare say that because of ECC I’m not just a participant anymore, I’m an athlete-I’ve even got a few medals to prove it.