Blogs tagged with "Kona"

It's a struggle to figure out what to write about my race in Kona that hasn't been written before because I seem to be plagued with disastrous races in Hawaii and this was my fourth time there. Because I wanted to thwart disaster this time, I knew I had to do some things differently. I trained differently. I mentally prepared differently. And I raced differently. And yet, the result was the same - actually, it was worse in terms of overall finish time and place. What was different this time was my attitude.
First of all, I never expected to be in Kona this year. My age group win in Ironman Coeur d'Alene was a bigger surprise to me than anyone who knows me. I even considered giving up my Kona slot because it was not in the original plan for 2014. The plan was to get my hamstring tendinosis healed and my body healthy enough to be a major contender in my new age group (50-54) in 2015.
After Coeur d'Alene, there was a major restructuring. I decided to train more seriously for Kona, and for the first time ever, I bought a 12-week training plan - an advanced program from Dave Scott. As a self-coached athlete, in retrospect I probably stuck too close to the plan and didn't adapt it for my needs, strengths, and weaknesses. However, by the time I toed the line in Kailua Bay on October 11, I felt I was in THE best athletic shape of my life. I had dropped about ten pounds and was finally feeling lean and strong. I felt like I finally deserved to stand among all the amazingly fit athletes there (this was a new feeling for me - in the past, I have felt out of shape and that I didn't belong).
Everything else in my life was in less than stellar shape. During the last three months, my stress levels had reached an all-time high. With a full-time job and a worse-than-usual construction-ridden daily commute, I struggled (and usually fell short) of getting the prescribed 19-21 hours of training per week - and I was stressed out about that. My workload had increased and I often worked late and had to get on my trainer after 8:00 pm - which meant riding until after 10pm and skipping valuable time for eating and sleeping. My work stress was at an all-time high because I was (and still am) doing the work of about three developers (if you don't know, I'm a computer programmer by trade).
So yeah, I was in the best physical shape of my life, but I was an emotional mess and mentally frazzled.
Checking the bike in.. after getting the coveted Cervélo shirt

I truly believed things would fall into place - both physically and mentally - when I tapered. And overall, my body did start to feel rested and I was less stressed (once we got to Hawaii - let's be real), but I had worrisome pain in my hamstring that worsened as I tapered more. I convinced myself it was normal. Athletic friends reassured me this was normal during a taper, so I ignored it. But something wasn't right, and even during the easy days of running, riding, and swimming in Kona, things were far from perfect. The hamstring pain just would not go away. But I refused to believe it would become an issue.

Pre-race in the King Kamehameha hotel

So race day came and there were many things about it that went well. Although I had trouble falling asleep, I still managed to get about three hours of shut-eye (that's three hours more than usual). I didn't panic when it took me about a half-hour to get through body-marking because of inefficiencies in the way they were doing it. I was able to get to the bathroom with time to spare and I was also able to get a wide-left spot on the swim start. But most of all, I was able to remain in good spirits throughout the morning and the day.

But I'm too mentally exhausted at the moment to write up a play-by-play of my race. If you've read anything about Ironman Kona this year, you already know that swim conditions were less than ideal (i.e. the swim was rougher than usual and therefore slow) and the cross-winds on the bike have been quoted as "the worst they've been in the last 15 years."

For the swim, I was about five minutes slower than expected. But, because of the rough water, you know I had a blast in the bay that morning. Right up until I climbed out of the water, I was actually expecting a time of about an hour. I was surprised and a little bit disappointed when I saw 1:05 on my watch as I ran to grab my transition bag.

On the bike, everything seemed to be going well despite the horrific cross winds (starting around 20 miles into the bike leg). My nutrition was good (timing was the only issue because it was hard to take my hands off the handlebars because of the wind). By the time I hit mile 90 - where I dropped out in 2012 - I still felt things were going well, albeit slow.
Starting the bike

It was in the last two hours of the bike leg that I realized things were, indeed, NOT ok with my left hip and hamstring. I started feeling pain and weakness on my left side, and all I can attribute it to is having to fight the crosswinds. This was never an issue in Coeur d'Alene as the wind was either in our faces or at our backs and rarely from the side. My left hip joint still has some kind of mechanical problem that still fails in the presence of side-forces (as we assumed in 2012). And my biggest fear was that major damage had now been done.

Around mile 100, I started to ponder the upcoming marathon. Depending on whether things continued to go downhill (they did), I had to make a decision getting off the bike:
  • try to run (possibly limp) the whole marathon, potentially cause more damage, and/or have to drop out
  • walk the marathon and secure the finish
Starting the run

When I got off the bike, the pain in my hamstring was excruciating and I could barely take a step forward. It started to work itself out during the long transition run - it was enough that I was able to get somewhat of a running gait going out of transition. But I was was having trouble taking normal steps with my left leg and when I saw my husband Jim, I let him know I was in pain.

I shuffled along for the first few miles, making sure to attend to nutrition at the aid stations. During this time, I was also fighting with myself about whether it would be better to stop and walk the marathon. Because it was much less painful, I knew I could finish if I walked. At mile 8, I saw Jim - he said he was there to convince me to walk the marathon. There was no reason to keep running because I wouldn't catch enough people to get on the podium anyway, and thus, it was better to avoid injury and finish. I knew he was right and I was terrified of losing another year to injury. After a panicked "am I going to disappoint everyone?" mental struggle, I made the call to walk the rest of the marathon. It would take a while, but at least I would get the medal and not feel empty handed on the trip home like last time. Besides, it might even be fun.

Once the decision was made, everything got a little easier. And, surprisingly, everything got a little more fun. I now had nothing to prove. I made a conscious decision, one of self-preservation. Seriously, why risk my next season by being stubborn? And now I knew I would finish. It was up to me to make this thing whatever I wanted to make it.

So I started taking in the scenery. And I found my smile. I watched people surfing in the waves. I laughed with the people at the aid stations who thought I was suffering (I wasn't). I walked with other athletes while they were struggling. Sometimes I jogged a little. I met a man named Tom who was retired from the Navy and lives on Oahu working in sports medicine. I met a woman from the Netherlands who qualified in Sweden and was having serious cramps in her calves. I met a woman who had to ride the last 60K of the bike in a single gear because she was having mechanical problems with her derailleur. After she told me she was from South Africa, she and I discussed a documentary called "Searching for Sugar Man" about an American musician named Finish chute

Once it got dark, it was less fun, and it even got a little tedious, but I arrived at the finish line, smiling, well after 13 hours, with my worst time ever in an Ironman. But I finished. And I think (hope) I avoided a serious re-injury to my hamstring. And I learned something new: it's NOT EASY to walk a marathon. I have terrible chafing from my triathlon shorts and blisters on my feet in places I never had blisters before.

All in all, I'm at peace with my decision. I'm not happy about it, but I accept it. It's not the race I wanted to have. It's certainly not the race I trained for. Hopefully, I can regroup and deal with all of that in the coming months. I certainly would NOT have been able to deal with another next-season-ending injury. I did that in 2012-13, and I'm not in a hurry to do it again. I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid.
And despite a sub-par race, Jim and I had an amazing time in Hawaii once again. We visited the island of Oahu this time - the weekend before the race. Going to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial was an emotional highlight of this trip. My father was stationed there in the later years of WWII (he was one of the young men who enlisted in the Navy as a result of the Japanese bombing). He had never been back there, even to take my mother, and I hope that in going there, his spirit was finally smiling on me and I could be at peace.

Here are some photos from our trip.

In Honolulu and around Oahu:

There's a lighthouse on the flip-side of Diamondhead

Looking down the beaches from the Halona Blowhole
Hanauma Bay
Beaches on the North Shore of Oahu:

Waikiki Beach:
Morning shot - looking toward Diamondhead
Statue of Duke Kahanamoku

In front of the Royal Hawaiian
Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial:

Road to the Sea Beaches on the Big Island (green and black sand) -
it took us over an hour to drive 6 miles on this road, but the
beaches were incredibly beautiful and worth the drive:

And an amazing sunset:
The Queen K - a long road that I never saw the end of.

On Saturday, October 13, I started my third attempt at Ironman Kona. My first attempt was in 2002, my second year of triathlon. I was a novice. I didn't respect the distance. I didn't respect the location. I didn't prepare adequately, and it ended in near-disaster. But I finished. My second attempt came last year, in 2011. I had a whole new respect for the distance, having had to work my way back from physical and mental injuries and many years off after being hit by a car. It took three tries to qualify, but I was determined to have a triumphant return to Kona. This time I would be well-prepared for the tropical heat and the wind. And yet again, I fell short of understanding the nutrition requirements - requirements now of a nine-years-older body. My race dissolved on the run, and I can only claim perseverance as I found myself on the side of the road begging the medical personnel at an aid station to let me finish despite a near-collapse. It took almost an hour to recover, but eventually, I did finish.

I vowed to go back this year and finally conquer Kona. But early in the year, the road back turned grim after a severe respiratory infection caused me to DNF at St. George. Then, several mishaps in early season races left me disappointed, discouraged, and ready to throw in the towel. By the time I toed the line at Ironman Louisville in August, I was worn out and lacking anything resembling confidence. But I HAD I made a commitment to myself, and I felt a need to either see it through - or sink to a new level of despair in my "season from hell."

And so I qualified and things began to look up. Kona became the goal, giving me the ability to slough off even further bad luck with a blow-out in Ironman 70.3 Vegas. It just became a "training race in hot conditions" for Hawaii. I was determined to stay focused, and every time I expressed fear or doubt, my husband Jim reminded me of that goal: "Remember, you WANTED this."

So I prepared for everything starting with everything that went wrong in 2002 and 2012 and continuing with things gone wrong in the "season from hell." I prepared for the heat. I prepared for the wind. I had contingency plans for every plague: dehydration, hyponatremia, too many calories, not enough calories, cramps, dizziness, nausea, blisters, sunburn, chafing, flat tires, trouble getting into my running shoes, not getting my special needs bags, starting the run too fast, getting clobbered in the swim. You name it, I had thought it through or practiced it.

But there was one thing I hadn't prepared for - the one thing I couldn't prepare for. A catastrophic biomechanical failure. Barring crashes or getting kicked in the swim, very few people injure themselves midrace, especially after a good taper. Thus, my breakdown on Saturday has left me utterly confused and mentally demolished. I never saw it coming. And I never experienced anything like it before.

It came after a great swim leg during which I was able to find patches of open water in the middle of the pack and navigate around every potential mishap. (My time of 1:02 in the swim was fast, considering the overwhelming complaints of rough water that morning.) Almost immediately upon starting the bike leg, I was in distress. There was pain in my left hip that felt like something was mechanically wrong. It made no sense - all my rides leading up to race day were asymptomatic.

Trying not to worry, I focused on keeping my heart rate in a comfortable zone. I was happily averaging over 20mph by the time I reached the ascent to Hawi and the turnaround at 60 miles. My nutrition had been damn near perfect, but by that point, a new pain had surfaced. The pain was on both sides of my groin and was increasing with every pedal stroke. I don't know if it was related to the hip problem (I suspect it was). I don't know if it was related to fighting a very strong crosswind on the Queen K (I suspect it was also). Whatever, it was getting more painful on the climb, and by the time I saw Jim at the turnaround, my concern was that I was flirting with a serious injury. I let him know something was wrong, but I continued on.

I didn't realize the full severity of the pain until I slowed down to pick up my special needs bag. After inching along to free my bottle of Gu Brew from the plastic bag, I reaccelerated and the pain almost sent me into tears. Yes, something was horrendously wrong.

We had the wind at our backs on the descent from Hawi, but instead of capitalizing on it, I spent the time trying to find a comfortable position on my saddle. Everybody and their brother was passing me now, compounding my physical pain with a mental one.

I did some thinking - maybe it was muscle cramping. It didn't feel like it, but I had to do SOMEthing. I took an extra Salt Stick capsule, then stopped at the next aid station to stretch and down a banana (this was the cramping contingency plan). I asked for a medic to help diagnose what might be wrong, but after three minutes waiting, I got back on my bike.

There was a crazy-strong headwind on the Queen K homestretch. The pain had subsided just a bit after the stop, but by mile 90, I was barely able to pedal without agony. If I could even finish the bike leg, I would probably have to walk the marathon. The pain seemed to emanate directly from my pelvic bone and had become excruciating upon every pedal stroke. I stopped at the next aid station determined to get a medical opinion - would I do a huge amount of damage if I kept going?

When I got off the bike, I pretty much had my answer. I fell to the ground in pain - I couldn't even walk. The aid station paramedic told me he wasn't going to let me leave until we had a medical consult. He helped me to a chair and I sat and iced it while we waited. Medical showed up 30 minutes later, and I discussed the injury with the doc. He confirmed that the pain was not likely a muscle cramp, but more likely acute tendinitis from overuse. I was done. I called Jim on a volunteer's cell phone.

They carted me to the finish line in the same van as Marino Vanhoenacker, the men's leader off the bike who dropped out during the run. I had to be carried to a cot in the medical tent, unable to put any weight on my legs. I wanted to cry but confusion and fear clouded my tears. The meds at the finish line had three different diagnoses, but I only heard one of them: pelvic stress fracture. It certainly acted like bone pain: no pain at rest, but white-hot searing pain when weight-bearing or trying to lift my leg.

Jim and my friend Julie (who came all the way to Hawaii for this crazy outcome) waited outside the tent for news. They were given a car pass to pick me up and take me to the Kona hospital for X-rays. Julie generously stayed behind to retrieve my bike (Did I mention I had to leave my bike at the aid station? Yeah, that caused a panic in the med van, to say the least.) At least she got to see more of the race.

I milked the House thing for all it was worth. I 

After six hours in the emergency room involving both X-rays and a CATscan, we still had no diagnosis, except it "wasn't a stress fracture." I was sent home with a cane, a bottle of Vicodin, and a serious Dr. Gregory House complex (i.e., according to Jim, I was hating the world).

Sunday, we did some sightseeing, I did a lot of crying, and then I limped through airports. I made one observation: that people treat you very differently when you have an apparatus such as a cane. (Ask me about it sometime, it was more than weird. Even Jim started noticing it.)

Despite my expectations, the Kona outcome really did seem like an appropriate demise to a triathlon season marred by race disasters. Even when I didn't race, bizarre things happened. Twice this year, I witnessed, at close range, two athletes being given CPR unsuccessfully after being pulled from the swim leg of a triathlon. I know I should remember these things before wallowing in despair over one season of mishaps, but it's still hard to invest so much time and money, and heart, into something and have it all go so wrong.

Julie, to whom I am forever grateful, says I just have to "shift my focus." It's a logical solution, but right now my heart needs to heal a bit. I mean, it was only two days ago and the disappointment is still welling up in my throat.

Some friends have said I should look at the bright side: yeah, it all went bad, "but at least I was in Hawaii." So with that, instead of race photos, I'll share my vacation photos... because it's true, I WAS in Hawaii and I was just as determined to enjoy the trip. Which I did - right up until about mile 62.4 of Ironman Kona.

Photos by yours truly and Jim:

We arrived in Kona and it looked just like I remember:
We rented a jeep so we could drive cross country (more on that later).
We went to Lava Java for cinnamon rolls.
And the Kona Brewery for you-know-what:
Monday we took a trip to an amazing inlet called Papakōlea Beach. Formed by a collapsed cinder cone, it's one of only two beaches in the world where the sand is green. To get there, we had to drive the Jeep cross-country, all the while praying that we didn't end up in a ditch (which was very likely). This was a bucket-list item for me:

Yes, the sand really is green.
That same day, we also drove to the southernmost point in the United States:

Lava tube:
We continued driving... to Punalu'u Beach, a beach made of black sand that serves as a favorite resting (sleeping) spot for endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles:

Turtles!!!

Not dead, just resting:

There are turtles sleeping everywhere on this beach.
On the way back to Kona, we accidentally caught the sunset, and to my shock and delight, we saw the ever-elusive green flash (this was another bucket-list item). The video doesn't at all do it justice:
Tuesday, I went to Ironman check-in. On the way back to our condo, we met four-time Ironman Kona champ, Chrissie Wellington. She is nothing short of amazing. And yep, you guessed it, bucket-list item number 3: check!

And we saw another sunset:

and got lei-ed on the way to dinner:
On Wednesday, we went to the Ironman Expo and Jim met Ivan, the guy who does for Cervelo what Jim does for NASA. They exchanged business cards. It was all extremely cool. He is the second-nicest computational fluid dynamicist I know.
 Then I ran into six-time Kona champ, Dave Scott.
We met in 2002, but he denies it (and seriously, do you blame him?)

And then we drove up above the clouds to the Mauna Kea visitor center... to see..
yes, another sunset!

Thursday we took a tour of the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation which featured the most amazing aroma ever - of Kona coffee roasting - and met a cat named Pumpkin:

and saw our fourth sunset:

Then we checked out Keauhou Bay and downtown Kona before going to the pre-race meeting. 

On Friday, we checked in the bike at transition.

and, um.. we watched another sunset:

On Saturday... you already know what happened:
At the Kona hospital ER, it matters not how important you are in the triathlon world. You are merely "Unassigned Tourist" to them.
On Sunday, we went to the Coffee Shack to visit the geckos.

Then we found two very cool places while out exploring.
The first was the Pu'uhonua, or "Place of Refuge." It was a place that offered sanctuary to those who broke sacred laws (punishable by death). Law-breakers who could reach this place would have their sins forgiven and would be allowed to re-enter society. Amazingly, it occupied the space on the other side of a huge wall from the royal and holy ground of the Hawaiian Ali'i.

The second cool place was St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church, also known as the "Painted Church" because of its interior art painted by one of the priests.

We said farewell to Hawaii after we watched our final sunset on the way to the airport.

Ironman Louisville transition zone

2012 has been a crazy roller coaster of a triathlon season. I have made numerous attitude adjustments, goal assessments (and reassessments) and plan changes. I fought race-ending illnesses, race-ending allergy attacks, and one major injury (still fighting). I've beat myself up and picked myself up - again and again and again. I failed to finish three out of six races I started. I had given up on making it back to Kona for the Ironman World Championship. In fact, I searched my soul for a reason to keep doing this thing - this Ironman thing. I've asked myself that question: "am I still having fun?"

Two weeks ago, the answer was "No."

So, then, what could possibly make me toe the line at Ironman Louisville on Sunday? What could possibly have motivated me to go back one more time knowing this distance would destroy me, knowing I would have to willingly descend into that personal hell we all know as the last six miles of an Ironman race?

I'm calling it commitment. Determination. Refusal to admit defeat. And the J-Team.

The J-Team is my Ironman support crew - they all have names beginning with "J": my husband, rocket scientist, level head, baseball aficionado, and fixer-of-anything-mechanical Jim, and my awesome friend, amazing chef, mom extraordinaire, positive-spinner, and attitude-adjuster Julie. Jim and Julie are the intellectual heart of the J-Team. They never miss a chance to direct me on the right path to the finish line. They document everything in photographs, good and bad. They pick up the pieces of races gone awry, and they revel in my (our) successes. I feel comfortable saying I owe my best Ironman races to their hard work on race day. The J-Team has at-home members also, like my good friend Jean who takes excellent care of our needy cat, Hopper, so that I can focus on racing. On Sunday, we added another at-home honorary member, our friend (cycling partner, rocket-scientist, math-obsessor, and numbers-over-analyzer) Nick. (He's an honorary member because only his middle name begins with "J".) My finish at Ironman Louisville had as much to do with them as it did with me - maybe more.

Here are some ways the J-Team kept me on track over the weekend:

  • While I waited in line for the porta-john on race morning, Julie went to make friends in the swim line-up so that I wouldn't have to start dead-last. (For those who didn't know, Ironman Louisville starts in a time-trial format because of a narrow swim channel.)
  • Jim and Nick were in constant contact on race day to determine my location on the course and what I needed to do. Nick was even checking my splits and the overall standings and letting Julie and Jim know when to expect me.
  • When I saw them on the course, Jim and Julie gave me the overall situation in addition to cheering me on. During most of the race, my anticipation remained high because I looked forward to seeing them at the next check-point.
  • Jim's motivator
  • Jim made sure I would stay on pace. After receiving an early birthday present from me - a personalized bat (photo right) from the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum - he gave me the following speech: "If you take the marathon out in anything faster than an eight-minute mile, I will beat you with my baseball bat like Al Capone did to that guy in the Untouchables." (Ok, so he didn't mean it.. but, point understood.)
  • And finally, Julie took one for the team. Saturday morning, in an attempt to avert race day disasters, Julie set off the fire alarm in our hotel kitchen while making her famous lemon pancakes. I think her plan was to have it serve as the weekend's token disaster for the "disaster magnet." The result of this sacrifice meant even more to me after the race when I learned that two potential disasters had been averted: someone threw tacks on the bike course causing many riders to flat, and last week I had eaten several mangoes from a batch that were recalled due to salmonella.
Back to the race report. Louisville is considered one of the toughest Ironman courses (see benchmarking at RunTri.com) and according to Team Endurance Nation's Patrick McCrann (read his report on the TriFuel site), this year's times were much slower than last year due to heat AND wind. High temperatures in August in Louisville can reach into the 90s and 100s - with high humidity. Heat always causes nutrition issues for me, and although I had been training in heat most of the summer, I'd be lying if I said I was confident in my nutrition plan. But I DID spend many training rides and runs this summer working on fueling, hydration, and electrolyte intake to avoid my nemesis, hyponatremia. I put most of my plan together using information gleaned from nutrition guru Brian Shea at Personal Best Nutrition - both from the PBN online forums and his postings on Slowtwitch. And full nutrition plan analysis was another aspect that Jim, the Excel whisperer, helped me out with - he developed a spreadsheet defining my various gels, drinks, and capsules (Gu Energy Roctane products, Gu Brew, Salt Stick, and Ironman Perform) with calories and sodium levels - all I had to do was plug in the amounts, and it would give me the stats. He made me study it, recite my contingency plans (such as, what to do if I don't pick up my bike special needs bag), and commit much of it to memory.
Getting body marked

Race day began after a fitful night with only a couple hours of sleep. Our hotel, the Residence Inn, was so close to the transition at Waterfront Park that we were able to walk there on race morning and avoid parking issues. Air temperature was in the 70s with a predicted high of 93 degrees F. I prepped my bike with nutrition bottles, dropped off my special needs bags, and we headed for the swim start (a mile away). I had no idea what to expect with the time-trial start, but by the time we got there, we understood why people started lining up at 2 a.m. Upon seeing the queue, I realized I would have to settle for a late start. Body marking came first, and then we started our trek to the end of the line.

It was a long walk.

We walked for what seemed like another mile before the crowd thinned out. I waited in the bathroom line while Julie headed to the end of the start line. She located a few Northeast Ohioans who were generous to let me jump in line with them. The plan was for all competitors to be in the water within 40 minutes starting at 7 a.m. We watched the pros swim by followed by early age-groupers. The line moved pretty fast, but its length gave me more than enough time to get into my swimskin (84-degree water meant a non-wetsuit swim), don my cap and goggles, and get hydrated and fueled. I reached the start just after 7:30. We were shuffled along and told to run along the dock and jump in feet first.

After a quick wave to the J-Team, my swim had begun.

descending to start

Right up until the point my feet hit the water, I had been wrestling with doing this Ironman. I was tired. Worn out. 140.6 miles had become such a daunting task. Especially after my all-out race last weekend. I had begun to believe my heart was no longer in it. But on Sunday morning, something happened when I hit that water. Something I hadn't felt in a long, long time.

I enjoyed it.

I was swimming in the Ohio River and I was having fun! I was expecting to hate every second of it, but instead, the water was not disgustingly dirty (as I had been led to believe), and the temperature was not too hot (as I had been led to believe). The time-trial start was more comfortable than the usual mass Ironman start. I didn't get clobbered instantly (don't get me wrong - I got clobbered, but not instantly). I had time to get in a groove while in the channel and there was no need to spot buoys because I could see exactly where I was (island on one side, river bank on other). The swim course rounded the island so that the sun is in your eyes only for a bit until you turn 180 degrees to swim downstream along the far side of the island, under two bridges, and to the finish line.

Out of the water and into T1

I stopped a few moments to gather myself after getting kicked directly in the face near the turn. Then I decided to swim wide for the remainder of the course. With the sun behind us and calm water, the yellow and orange buoys were ridiculously easy to spot - it was smooth swimming the rest of the way and I was very surprised at how fast it went by. I stayed relaxed and stretched out to get the most out of my stroke without further stressing my still-injured right shoulder tendon.

NO ONE on the planet was more surprised than was to look down at my watch and see a time of 1:00 when I climbed out of the water. I had expected 1:05 at best - more likely 1:10 because of the shoulder and lack of swim training. While running to the transition zone, a very uncharacteristic thought went through my mind: "I still got it baby!!" I was elated (and yet baffled by my own response). I decided to go with it - capture the energy - and ran into T1 with a purpose, lacking my usual fears.

See? I wasn't kidding.

I yelled my number, got my gear bag, and outran everyone to the change tent. The volunteers in the change tent were amazing. My shoes, number belt, and helmet were on in an instant. When I got to my bike, I realized there were a LOT of bikes still in transition. Thus, my swim had been very fast comparatively. I felt like jumping up and down screaming. I saw Julie. I saw Jim. I yelled "woohoo" like a 12-year-old, and got on my way. Seriously. Who the heck was I acting like? Certainly not me. This was NOT my usual M.O.

Whatever. My motto had now become... "just go with it."

And so I rode. I rode as I had planned to ride - relaxed, keeping my heart rate low and my cadence even. Navigating the rolling hills required concentration so that I didn't burn out my legs riding too hard on the uphills. A lot of people were getting out of their saddles on the hills. I kept my cool and rode easy.

The Ironman Louisville 112-mile bike course is easy to crush if you're accustomed to rolling hills. But it can also eat you up and spit you out if you don't ride conservatively. I met an athlete on Saturday who referred to the course as a "meat grinder." The shape of the course is a modified loop with a really flat first and last 10 miles and a short out-and-back done once before the loop begins. There are some formidable hills despite (I was told) being only 2000 feet of climbing altogether. I found that "climbing skills" are irrelevant on rolling hills, that being a good shifter and a good capitalizer-on-momentum is more important. And so (at Jim's urging) I tried to channel my effort intelligently into these two things.

Whizzing through LaGrange

Despite my concentration, I was still able to enjoy the atmosphere in Louisville during the ride. On one of the bigger hills, there were no less than three costume characters vying for our attention: the Grim Reaper (who came right up to bikers' faces to talk them into "going with him"), Superman, and the Devil (a.k.a. person-with-horns-dressed-in-red-satin). On another hill was a guy in a speedo wearing an American flag as a cape. This is great support and it certainly keeps the levity up. The looping part of the course took us through LaGrange where crowd support was enormous and they even announced our names to the throngs of people lining the street. It was during this stretch on the second loop that I finally saw Julie and Jim in the crowd, and it gave me what I needed - a huge burst of energy to get through the final 30 miles of the ride.

On the bike, I knew my fueling had to be perfect. I paid great attention to not screwing up this time. I drank three bottles of Gu Roctane and took five Gu Roctane gels supplemented by water, Gu Brew, and Ironman Perform to get 24-30 ounces of fluid per hour. I did one salt stick capsule every half hour. Even though air temperature rose as the day went on, I was never thirsty and never dizzy. I think the shade on the Louisville bike course kept the heat from overwhelming me, and the time-trial start forced me to ride my own race and not chase or try to lead anyone in my age group. For many miles, I leap-frogged with a woman in my age group: every time I passed her, she immediately passed me back, sped up to get way out in front of me for a few miles, then I would eventually catch her and start the entire cycle over again. Strangely, it didn't rattle my cage as all I did was make a mental note that it was happening.

With about 15 miles left on the bike, I started to wonder if I had rode too conservatively. It was ok, though, because I had to tax my system a bit on this last stretch which was into the wind. My back and hips had that familiar stiffness from being in the aero position for too long, but overall I felt relaxed and not overly tired. I was actually looking forward to starting the run and encouraged by the fact I had no nausea this time, even with the heat.

Starting the run

As I rounded the corner to the bike finish and T2, I saw Jim and I knew he would have some words of advice and know something about the overall age group situation. When I dismounted, I struggled to get my body to move in an upright position toward the transition bag area and shouted my number. I grabbed my bag and made my way to the change tent. The volunteer, again, was amazing in helping me get my pockets filled and on my way. Water and sunscreen were offered - I took both and was on my way. Going from hobbling to sitting to standing to running was easier than usual this time, but time would tell if I could hold it together. I saw Julie. I saw Jim. I was encouraged.

The first two miles of the Ironman Louisville marathon is out and back on a bridge. As I approached the bridge, I saw a woman in my age-group coming off the bridge. She was running strong and I wondered if I looked anywhere near that good. When I hit mile 1, I looked at my watch to see the split: 7:30. It was an uphill mile. Yikes! I needed to reign this in. I backed off. I hit mile 2 even faster. This was NOT GOOD. Then I saw Jim. Here's what he said: "Nick says you have a 20-minute lead in the age-group! Go easy!" and then he said the four scariest words: "All you have to do is..."

Get. To. The. Finish(Line).

Coming off the bridge near mile 2 - still smiling

Well, yeah. There's the rub. How many finish lines have I NOT seen this year? I had begun to question whether I would EVER see another Ironman finish line. I was two miles into my marathon, and I was already going down that mental path. I had to shake it off. What to do? Focus on getting from point to point. Ironman champ Chrissie Wellington says she focuses on running from aid station to aid station. Yeah. I could do that.

But it was so HOT. I focused on nutrition and getting ice and cold water on my body in as many places as possible. In my hat. Down my tri top. Down my SHORTS. I ran with ice in my hands. I poured ice water on my face. And it worked!

But there was one problem. My right inner thigh had started talking. It was angry. It was threatening to stop working. I paused a few times to stretch. I made sure I was supplementing with electrolytes. I walked only the aid stations and maintained a 8:15-8:30 pace. I saw Jim again at mile 14. He walked with me for a bit. He said that Nick calculated my age group lead at about 30 minutes. Don't worry about pace. And then those four words again.

Just get to the finish.

No nausea yet - only fatigue and that threatening pain in my leg. The special needs bags were waiting around the corner and to my delight, a volunteer was not only holding my bag, but he was holding out my bottle of Gu Brew for me. I almost cried.

With my trusty Gu Brew

I drank some of it and ran with it. By mile 19, I had passed the final woman in my age group (she let me know this - do all age-groupers do this?) and I was now leading out-right. But my race was coming unglued. My pace was falling to near 9-minute miles and my stomach was now angry. It was saying really mean things to me. I started drinking coke to shut it up - the sugar gave me energy for short bursts. With less than five miles to go, things were coming undone, my leg was cramping, and I needed a pick-up. That's when I made a major mistake. I was so sick of Ironman Perform and coke that I listened to THAT guy. You know, the guy who said: "try some chicken broth."

I would pay for that mistake. Coke and chicken broth DO NOT MIX. At an aid station with just over two miles to go, I was vomiting the contents of my stomach into a garbage can. And it wouldn't stop. I was bent over and started getting the shakes. If I stopped moving, things would surely fall apart in a hurry (because that's what they do in Ironman). Seeing me in distress, several athletes stopped to help. They poured cold water on me. They encouraged me. They were angels with running shoes.

And I turned and kept running. I had to stop several more times with the vomiting. Spectators encouraged me. You're at mile 14. Keep going. Hang in there. I couldn't muster the energy to tell them I was almost done. I stood up, jogged around the next corner only to see the sign: "finish straight ahead... second loop to the right."

Oh my God. WAS THAT THE FINISH LINE??? It was right in front of me!

I had almost given up the Ironman finish line. But Jim and Julie would be waiting for me there. Maybe friends would be watching online. So here's a little video of what happened next (the finish line camera captured by Nick with his Flip camera):

One of those hands was Jim's.

When I crossed the line, I proceeded to get sick one more time (obviously). I had a whole cadre of volunteers helping me move along and they finally put me in a wheelchair. I got all materialistic on them: where was my medal and my shirt and my hat? I must have them. I earned them. I was no longer that person in the medical tent not getting them. I finally finished another Ironman.

Julie and Jim stayed with me while I sat in the wheelchair and fought to overcome the lingering nausea and get some fluids in me. I had my own volunteer, an athletic trainer named Carol (or C.J.). We dubbed her a member of the J-Team - after all, her middle name started with J. While determining whether I should go to medical, it occurred to me that before the race, Julie said she would get a tattoo if I got a Kona slot AND stayed out of medical on Sunday. I was determined to hold her to it. Jim checked the live splits to find out that I had, indeed, won my age group at Ironman Louisville. I looked up at Julie and I said "Guess what!"

She laughed and replied: "We're going to Kona." (I guess she forgot the wager. But I'll hold her to it.)

The W45-49 Podium

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF TEAM PHOTOGRAPHERS JULIE AND JIM


My racing season didn't end in Kona on the high I was hoping for. Instead of executing my best race ever, I fell victim to my never ending bugaboo, nutrition. I also fell hugely short of expectations and now find myself confused and grasping at straws to find some answers.

I'll give the play by play in an upcoming blog, but in a nutshell, here's what happened.

The first 3/4 of my swim was the stuff of legends - fast and, surprisingly, without being clobbered by other swimmers. The final 1/4 was a nightmare as I got pummeled to near-smithereens by the time we reached the pier. (Time: 1:02.)

The bike leg went very well but my legs felt a little more fatigued than expected for my perceived exertion. I thought my fueling was good until mile 90 when I was hit by mild nausea that I treated with some cola. (Time: 5:49)

My marathon started bad, recovered, then went to hell at mile 9 with GI distress and my first bathroom break. I was doing everything I practiced that has worked in the past - Gu, electrolytes, water - but something went wrong and I was almost collapsed at mile 15 with what appeared to be hyponatremia. I asked for medical consult and based on my blood pressure, dizziness and uncontrollable shaking, the paramedic's recommendation was to pull myself from the race. I begged and argued for them to let me finish - and even help me determine what to do. I sat down for what seemed like forever to recover and ingest some coke, oranges, and Perform. When I felt better, I decided to walk the final 11 miles, but I started running and felt OK, so I slowly made my way to the finish. (Time 4:39)

My final time was 11:28:48, about an hour slower than I hoped for. Believe it or not, I still smiled at the finish line and soaked it all in, despite the disappointment.

And as they say... Third time's a charm, right?

- Posted from my iPhone

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