I call this “the Ironman that should not have been”. I planned not to write a race report for this one, for so many reasons, but then I thought, well I need something to remind me of things I should not do. Maybe if it’s on paper, I won’t make the same mistake again for the 7th time. Just maybe, 6 times will teach me a lesson.
After my last IM, I proclaimed my retirement. So when the Crewe said that they were doing IM Louisville and IM Arizona, I said “no way, you’re not bullying me into doing another IM”. I held my ground for months. I trained with them, but did not enter, I was just there to support their effort. The subtle bullying continued and I finally made a proclamation that I believed, would not come true. I said if general entry was still open on August 1st, I would enter. I was sure that would not happen, it never happens in IM. Of course this year of all years, the race did not fill up and I was caught in my own web. Well you know how the story ends, I enter the race.
I continued to train, even threw in 4 sprint triathlons for fun. Things seemed to be going well and then in the last month before race day, life kept getting in the way and my training started to plummet. My runs were slowing down, my bikes were staying flat and my swim was more of a float than a swim. It was like I peaked a month too soon. I was really regretting my decision. I dreaded the swim, worried that I would drown, thought my bike would be ok, but that the run could go south fast. Then 3 weeks out my knee started hurting and swelling and just not cooperating at all. Too late, I spent the money, a lot of money and I was going even if I didn’t think I would come out alive.
Before I knew it, race weekend was here. I guess when you don’t enter until 10 weeks out, time really does fly. All the Crewe was pumped and ready to go, everyone was signed up as a Zilla to help with the team competition. Lots of newbies were going and most of them were young fast movers. More women than usual were entered, Liz, Tanya, Donna and I, with a host of 10 boys. We had a good team, and we all needed to work hard to win the team competition.
We had tons of support, lots of family and friends showed up to cheer us on. So many people supporting us at home, sending good luck messages and planning to track us on race day using the Ironman app. All I could think about was letting everyone down with a crappy finish time and even doubting that I could finish under the time cutoff. It was only 16.5 hours instead of the usual 17 hours.
We rolled into Louisville on Friday, checked in at race headquarters and had some dinner. Saturday we were up early and out checking our bikes into transition and dropping our transition and special needs bags. The weather was near perfect on Saturday, even a little cool, but the forecast for Sunday was showing rain, but a little warmer. We were all stressing about what clothes we packed, were they the right clothes to cover the forecast. The river was rolling the current was moving fast, but we were assured that the flood gates would be closed in the morning and we would not have much current at all. Dinner came early then off to bed, hopefully I could get some sleep. I laid in bed and looked out the window at the river and the swim buoys, wondering just how it would go in the morning and thinking “just get through tomorrow and you can go back into retirement”. My first goal was to finish under the cutoff time, alive. My stretch goal was to finish faster than I did the first time I competed at Louisville, which was in 2010. My dream goal was to break 14 hours, and that was a true dream.
Funny thing with goals, Mother Nature can throw every goal out the window. Even worse is when your own body throws your goals into the trash.
I woke up Sunday to a heavy rain, I got dressed in my tri kit and wetsuit, put on a hoodie, hat and gloves then put a trash bag over the top of everything to try and stay dry. I headed out to transition with Sketchy in tow, we checked our bike tires and found Jeff and Phil. We stood under the highway bridge with Jeff and Phil and their wives, hoping to stay dry just a little longer. I have to give credit to these Ironwives, I’m not sure I would have stood in the cold rain for 3 hours if I didn’t have to race myself.
We had to get in the lines based on our swim times, Jeff was up with the Pro’s in the under an hour line, while Sketchy, Phil and I were in the 1:20 – 1:30 line. Sketchy and Phil are faster, but we decided to hang together in a middle ground. The good thing was that they could hold my place in the line when I ran back and forth to the Johnny about a hundred times. This is no exaggeration, just ask them.
Speaking of the Johnny, I met a really nice guy while I stood in line, he grew up in St Louis and now lives in Louisville, he was volunteering with his son. I said I worked at Boeing and he said, he flew a 737 for UPS. He even let me cut in line in front of him, I guess the dancing around while I talked to him clued him in that I may not make it to the Johnny in time. While walking back to the line I heard a guy say that the swim was being changed and shortened due to the extremely fast current. I stopped in mid step and asked if that was true and he said yes. I took this info back to my group and we all did a little happy dance. Soon the news was moving through the crowd, most people were happy, except for Jeff, he was crying. Of course he was crying, he has been petitioning for a much longer swim, he calls it the equilateral, you divide 140.6 by 3 and all the elements are the same distance. In fact, if we would have done the original swim course Jeff would have been the only person in the Crewe that would have finished the swim. Just so you know how fast Jeff is, he was 1st out of the water in his age group of 114 men and 27th out of the water overall, he beat some of the pro’s out of the water. The new distance was just 9/10th of a mile, in very strong current.
The problem with the change in the swim course is that it made the race start over an hour late. We stood waiting in the freezing cold rain for over 3 hours, and even though we had trash bags over us, we were still shivering the entire time. When we finally made it to the dock and were told to jump in, it was almost a relief to hit the water. The water was so much warmer than the air, my feet and hands felt so good under the water I didn’t want to start swimming, but I did. I really didn’t have a choice, the current sucked me into the middle of the river, in what felt like only seconds. I had problems staying on course, the current was washing me further out with every stroke. The lifeguards in kayaks and on boats were yelling for me to cut in, I was trying, but the current kept pushing me the other direction. I swam as hard as I could towards the stairs where volunteers were pulling people out. I finally was in reach of the shore, a volunteer standing waist deep in water on the stairs reached out and grabbed my arm, then yanked me right out of the water, pulled my wetsuit zipper and propelled me forward. I actually wanted to the kiss the guy, but there was not time for that. I was just saved from washing down the river, and the only thought rattling around inside my head was to run to transition so I could ride my bike in the pouring down rain while shivering from the cold wind. Life doesn’t get better than that. I have to wonder what normal people do for fun.
It was my longest transition ever, well at the time, because my second transition was even worse. As I ran toward the tent a volunteer handed me my bag, and I headed to the door of the tent, shivering all the way. Once in the tent there were no chairs available so I was standing trying to get wet clothes off and dry ones on without getting the sand I was standing in, in my bike shorts. I was so cold my hands wouldn’t work, I had to ask a volunteer to help me get my shirt over my head. I wanted to eat the peach cup I had in my bag, but I couldn’t get it open because my hands were so cold. I finally pulled it open with my teeth and ate it. I got my helmet on and ran out to my bike while pulling on my gloves. Let me tell you, it’s not easy pulling bike gloves on with wet hands. I pulled my bike off the rack and headed to the mount line. On the way out, I heard Pam yelling to me, she told me Sketchy was right in front on me. As I neared the mount line I saw Godfather cheering me on. I really appreciated all the support from friends, I was in need of kind words at that point. I was on the verge of tears, not because I was tired, I was just so cold I didn’t want to do it anymore, I just wanted to get dry and warm. I had to tell myself that I had never quit and this wasn’t going to be the first time that I did. I didn’t want to be called a quitter and did not want to go home and have to tell all my family and friends that I gave up. It was the angle and devil on my shoulders, one saying don’t give up, you are tough, the other saying just quit, go get warm, it will feel so good. So I just smiled to keep from crying and kept going.
I took off on the bike, wishing I would have put tights on, my legs were so cold and had turned fire engine red. I had put on a vest and arm warmers, so my core was ok, mostly it was just my legs. I also put a stocking cap on under my helmet, I think that helped a lot too. It was only a matter of minutes before I was soaking wet again, maybe there was no real reason to put dry clothes on. It did feel good for those few minutes though.
I rode along through rolling hills, keeping a moderate pace because there was a lot of standing water on the roads and I was trying to maneuver around the puddles where I could. After 20 miles I was on the loop, the loop had some pretty challenging hills. They would not have been so bad if I could push the down hills, but because of the rain it was just too dangerous in my mind to do that. Ambulances screamed by me three times during the bike and I saw multiple crashes and people off the road with mechanicals. At about mile 54 I passed Liz, I didn’t realize it was her until I heard her yell my name. We passed back and forth a couple times and at the special needs bags, Liz stopped and I kept going. At mile 60 I was coming into LaGrange for the second time and could see Sketchy up ahead. As I rode through town I heard people yelling my name, and saw Jennifer Miller, then Erica and Jay Hunt cheering me on, I heard someone else, but didn’t see them, later I found out it was Pam and Jenna. I finally caught up to Sketchy on the other side of town. We started riding together, well sort of. We tried to keep just out of drafting distance, but sometimes we just rode side by side, not really worrying about getting caught. I mean as slow as we were going, no one really cares, we aren’t going to win anything.
Soon we were nearing the end of the second lap and the rain was down to a light drizzle. Of course it was still cold and at one point I turned into the wind and it felt like I was getting hit by sleet. I kept thinking it can’t be sleeting, it’s October. After what seemed like forever we hit the 90 mile mark and were heading back to transition. It was mostly flat with a slight elevation drop all the way in, I felt like my life was changing for the better. Oh, but then tragedy struck, my right knee started hurting. I was behind Sketchy and he was holding around a 19 mph pace, I didn’t know how long I could keep that up, I knew I couldn’t do it for those last 18 miles. I yelled up to him and told him to go on, not to wait, but he slowed a little and I stayed with him. We finally rolled in to transition where we saw Godfather cheering for us. I gave the volunteer my bike, and hobbled towards the tent, where a volunteer handed me my bag. In the tent, a heater was blowing warm air, what a blessing that was. Again there were no open chairs. I finally saw one that had cups turned over and water sitting on it, I moved the cups and sat down, heck I was already wet. I just hoped it was actually water and someone hadn’t pee’d on the chair. At least it was right next to the heater vent, and it felt so good. Once again my hands were so cold I was having problems getting my clothes off. A volunteer came over and helped me, thank goodness for the awesome volunteers. It took forever to get changed and then I realized I didn’t have my running gloves in my bag, I quickly asked myself out loud, “is it better to go with no gloves than wet bike gloves”, the girl next to me said no gloves, so that’s what I did. I also grabbed a trash bag and stuck it in my pocket just in case I got really cold later in the run. I was wearing my tri kit with a long sleeve shirt over it and my stocking cap with a ball cap over it. I hoped that would be enough to keep me warm, but not too warm.
As I ran out, Godfather told me that Sketchy was right in front of me. I caught up with him in the first half mile, his knee was hurting and he said to go on, he was going to walk most of the run. As I ran on, my knee was hurting, but I kept telling myself it was just from the cold rain during the bike and as soon as it warmed up, it would stop hurting. I saw Doug Havlin, he came out and started running next to me, telling me to stay on pace, that I could do it, I really needed the encouragement. After mile 4 my stomach started to hurt, which took my mind off my knee hurting, but by the next water stop, my only option was to stop in the Johnny, I was in there so long, 3 different people knocked on the door. I know I lost over 10 minutes in there. When I came out I felt a little better. As I moved forward, I could see Sketchy up ahead of me, he had passed me while I was busy “baking a cake”. I caught up to him at the next water stop, we walked through it together then I took off again. I made it to mile 11, then my knee said enough. I started doing a speed walk, trying to run every once in a while, but really it was a death march. I saw Josh, Andrew, Sean, and Jeff passing me heading the other direction, how I wished I was in their position and not mine, they were all many miles in front of me.
I heard people talking about the finish line and how long it would be open. Since the race started late, we all hoped that they would keep the finish line open later, I mean we were given 16.5 hours, no matter what…Right? I heard all kinds of ideas on what they would do, but nothing other than speculation. At mile 14 I asked a volunteer and he told me it would be open until 12:45 am. I did a quick calculation in my head, based on my official start time which was 9:30, I only had 15 hours and 15 minutes to finish before the cutoff. I finished Chattanooga in 2017 in 15 hours and 5 minutes, my mind was screaming, “how am I going to finish this before the cutoff”, I really didn’t think I would make it. The thought was really mentally bringing me down, but I just kept telling myself that I wasn’t a quitter. I got a few more miles under my belt and Phil caught up to me, on his second lap, he walked with me for about a minute and gave me a pep talk then he took off, he only had 3 miles to go. I soon saw Jeff, he stopped and tried to give me his vest, I guess I looked really cold. I said no, I didn’t need it, but Jeff took it off and forced me to take it. He put it on me and zipped it up, my hands just weren’t working. That vest was a life saver, I will never be able to repay Jeff for his act of kindness. So Jeff headed in for his last 2 miles, while I headed out for my last 12 miles.
I kept telling myself to just move forward and I did, then I saw “The Bus” the one that picks up everyone who doesn’t make the cutoff and drives them back to the finish. I almost had a mental breakdown. I knew I was in jeopardy of being sucked up by the bus, so I just kept moving as fast as I could. Then the slight drizzle turned to a downpour and all I could do was thank Jeff for giving me his vest. As I kept moving I worried that my friends on the course behind me would not make it either, we were all cutting it way too close.
All of the sudden a little black kitten ran into the road and I stopped to pet it, I didn’t have time, but I thought this cat needs some love as much as I do right now, so I gave him 30 seconds and kept moving. Then I kept thinking what if he gets hit by a car, I hope he is ok, worrying about him took my mind off my own troubles.
I was finally on my way back to the finish line, I only had 3 miles left, but I wasn’t moving fast, I was keeping about a 16 minute pace. All of a sudden I hear a motor and I see “The Bus” drive by filled with people. I was talking to a guy I caught up with and we both breathed a sigh of relief, we knew the bus wasn’t coming for us. I soon heard the cheering of the finish line, and I knew it was right around the corner. As I came around the corner I could see all the lights and I stepped onto the red carpet knowing that I had made it. Jeff and Pam were at the fence cheering, I stopped and gave him his vest and straightened out my clothes hoping that I would as least get a good finish photo. I ran through the finish line and threw up my arms, glad to be finished, and I then realized the rain had stopped. The rain stopped in the last mile of the race, I’m not sure what that means, but I think someone in the sky was getting a good laugh.
At the end of most Ironman races I have been a little emotional, really on the verge of tears at the finish line, the funny thing was, this time I wasn’t. I was just done, not proud of the accomplishment, not happy about it, just done. I don’t know if Mother Nature beat me, or if I just mentally checked out. After getting my finisher swag and having my photo taken, I sat down in a chair at the end of the finish line and waited for Sketchy and Donna to finish, I knew they were behind me and I hoped that neither of them were on the dreaded “BUS”. Jeff and Pam were standing behind me and Jeff gave me a chocolate milk, it tasted like gold, well what I think gold must taste like. We waited for what seemed like hours, but it was really only about 8 minutes, and Sketchy and Donna came in within a minute of each other. I was happier for them than I was about my own finish.
We all went to the food tent and ate French fries and drank chocolate milk. We saw most of the Crewe and we all talked about the great finishes everyone had. We all rejoiced that our entire crew finished before the cutoff.
Much more went on that night, but I won’t bore you with the mundane. I finally made it to bed about 2 am, thinking I would sleep late, but we all know that never actually happens. The race was over, 6 Ironman races under my belt. If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would do 6 Ironman races in 8 years, I would have said you are crazy, but here I am, I’m not sure how it happened, heck, I’m not even sure if I’m glad about it. What really makes me happy is all the good friends I have made throughout this Ironman journey. All the people who believed in me, who cheered me on, who bullied me into races, who picked me up when I was down, who I’m sure would come and bail me out of jail in the middle of the night if I needed them to, all these people who have my back, they are my brothers and sisters from another mother and I have no words that are large enough to say Thank You. So I’m just going to say this once and if it ever gets out I will deny it, but I love all of you insane people and that includes Russ!