Another Ironman is in the books for me. This one makes number 8, and as with each race before it, I am continuing to learn about myself and critique my performance. The nitty gritty is that I had a very good day overall and managed to finish 6th overall and 2nd in my age group. I punched my ticket for Kona, but different from my previous Kona race in 2013 – this time I will have an entire year to get ready rather than 6 weeks!
Leading up to race day, the question on everyone’s mind had been “Is the swim going to happen?” There has been a blue algae warning for the past 3 weeks that seriously jeopardized the likelihood of the swim taking place. I was quite frankly indifferent on this topic as race day approached. The swim generally gives me a jumpstart on most of the field as I am a fairly decent swimmer, but in the end, the Algae warning was magically lifted for the 3 miles of the Ohio River that happen to coincide with the swim course… The water was still nasty. Visibility was limited to about elbow distance, and at certain points to about 3 inches. If you were close to the shore, it was pure muck. I just tried to follow my usual plan, hug the shoreline on the upstream, and swing way to the middle of the river on the way back in order to maximize the flow of the current. My goal was under 55, so job done as I finished in 54 minutes and change.
Heading into the first transition, I was trying to run under control.. In previous years, I have blasted through transition and had my heart rate skyrocketing by the time I exit. Yesterday was again just focusing on being steady. In the change tent, I was treated as my friend TJ helped me get my bag unpacked and gear ready. I just feel bad that it took minutes to recognize that the person standing right in front of me was someone I knew. Mind wasn’t exactly paying attention to details, but he was even wearing his Ironcology hat… awesome. Then off to the bike.
In years past, I have cooked myself on the bike and destroyed my run as a result. Knowing this, I started the bike with one thing in mind… hold back. I have a power meter on my bike that tells me how hard I am pedaling. I knew my ideal numbers and I stuck to them. The thing never once read more than 20% of my goal, and for the remainder of the time it sat right on the mark of 240. I had to check my ego a ton of times on the bike as people were passing me up the hills, but big picture is that I was right on track. There is a number called the Variability Index telling you how consistent you rode. The goal is usually to be between 1.0 and 1.05, I was 1.01. I aimed to keep my heart rate right at 140, and it hovered between 135-145. Aside from navigating through traffic, dealing with the usual stomach cramps from eating the same thing for 5 hours straight, and the nice miserable headwind for the last 30 miles, for which I would have loved to have had someone else to ride with – the ride was pretty uneventful. My goal was 5:10, I rode 5:11 so once again job done.
When I came into the second transition, I was once again greeted by my friend TJ. I honestly took my time in transition. When I came out of the tent, I was starting with my original game plan of holding 7 minute miles until 18 and then bring whatever I had left. I cruised out of transition, paused to greet the race director, my friend Eric Atnip, high fived a few other friends on the way out, and then sat on 7 minute pace. That lasted for 1 mile – and of all times in the race, this was where I should have checked my ego. I felt good. My legs were tired but nothing was trashed. I was trying to hold back and just focus on my cadence, but the miles just started getting faster. As I was coming through aid stations, volunteers were telling me what place I was in. It started out 19 (not overall yet, simply the order we were in on the run), and by the time I hit mile 3, I was being told I was 12th. I saw the lead runner on his way back from the turnaround who was being escorted by my swim coach, Susan Bradley Cox. I looked at my watch and knew he had 20 minutes at least in time on the course from where I was, but I looked at his stride and I said to myself, I can catch him. I even told Susan that I was coming for her. I looked at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th guys and said the same thing. It would have been smarter to realize I was catching them because of the rolling start, but to just stick to the game plan, but what fun is that? The next 10 miles just started popping off. I wasn’t necessarily focusing on the other runners, I was just letting my legs go and rolling my cadence picturing the moment when I’d catch the front guys. My 7 minute miles turned into 6:40, then 6:20, then I saw a 6:10 and told myself to back off. I tried to slow back to 6:40 which I was able to control for about a mile and then I came to mile 13 which is when you are entering back into downtown Louisville at the turnaround. Again trying to hold back, I come through mile 14 and had run 5:45 by my Garmin. That’s not good. I hit the brakes and about 2 miles later my first half marathon had definitely caught up to me, and my fast pace started crashing into the ground..
There always comes the point in an Ironman when your body just starts saying enough is enough with the Gatorade, power bars, gels, etc. and that point was mile 18 for me. It required 2 serious bathroom stops, some drift walking, and the need to close one eye to see straight to figure it out. My low 6 minute miles quickly turned into 8 minute miles. I felt sick to my stomach, so I just tried to force in as much Coke as I could (only thing I could sort of stomach). Six miles from the finish, I downed an entire 20oz bottle and started trudging along. Sorry, but after I hammered the first half, the last thing I ever wanted to do was walk. I just focused on maintaining my stride and taking in fluids. Once I made it to mile 23, another friend named Tim was riding his bike on the side of the course. He checked on me, and told me I was 3rd in the age group with only a minute in between us. Not good enough. I had 3 miles to go, so I put my head down and ran the rest of the way. I was able to muster up 7:30s but at least I could hold that all the way in.
I ended up crossing the line in 9:28, which is 6 minutes faster than any other Ironman I have ever done. As I crossed the finish line, the announcer Dave Ragsdale (who really gives me a lot of credit for what I did last year) announced my name and told the entire crowd about what I have done with Ironcology. The cheers went from very loud to sonic boom. I was so excited that I just threw may arms up as if I was the winner. It doesn’t matter because I finished the race and my time was certainly fast enough to meet all of my goals – I made it to the podium, I qualified for Kona, and I’m still fundraising – unofficially, I have now surpassed my initial goal of $200,000!!! ($211,311 to be exact. There will be a press release within the next few days detailing this as well as the clutch local supporter who contacted me Friday to tell me his company has raised the remaining $25k…I’m trying to wait and provide them with the opportunity to announce appropriately.)
Completely separate from the exhuming satisfaction of crossing that finish line, the best part of my day bar none, was when I came through aid station #7 on lap 2 and was struggling, my boys were volunteering and handing out sponges. After I took a sponge from each of them and started running forward, Ande yelled at me, “Hey, get back here, I want to give you a hi-five!” I stopped, turned around and gave both of my boys a hi-five. That was perhaps the only encouragement I needed to pull my act together and finish the race.
Now I get to take some much needed rest and start preparing for World Championships in Kona… but that can wait until next year. And you bet I will be taking my boys with me.