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Ironman Louisville 2017 Race Recap

I can't believe I am finally typing those words into the title box! I have followed other bloggers' Ironman journeys and read stranger's race recaps for years and have been waiting for the day I could write my own! Actually, the reason I ever thought I could even possibly finish an Ironman was because of a few (now-defunct) blogs I used to follow a few years ago, written by women who were just like me. See, I started reading these blogs around the same time I started to dabble in triathlon, as well as when I started training for my first marathon. They were written by women I really related to - they had only been into running/triathlon for a couple years or so, they were middle-of-the-packers who always strived to better themselves, and their experience and ability levels were nearly identical to mine. I followed their Ironman journeys in 2014, and although I knew that Ironman was a thing that was out there for experienced and talented athletes, that was the first time it ever occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, Ironman could one day be a reality for me too. It is truly surreal to have now accomplished this dream that, not long ago, was just that - a dream.

Ben and I rented a minivan for the trip - it's a 10 hour drive and since, we had the two of us, Bane, two of my bikes (an extra one just in case - I have had mechanical issues with my tri bike over the last month and was really paranoid), and multiple bags/suitcases (most of them filled with my tri stuff), so it seemed easier and more comfortable to have the extra space. We folded all of the seats down in the back so it was one big, open space and made a bed so we could take turns sleeping while the other person was driving. We left DC at 3am on Thursday morning and arrived in Louisville just before 2pm!

Everyone else was already in town so the first thing we did was pick up our packets and check out the expo. Packet pick-up was fairly uneventful and the expo was a little underwhelming, which I suspect may have been due to the IM World Championship in Kona taking place the same weekend. Generally speaking, everything was run well and I never felt like we got shafted being the smaller race, but there were a couple of little spots where it did feel like we were the B team and that was one of them. I bought an IM Louisville mug as well as a hoodie - I usually have a policy of not purchasing race merchandise until after I've finished it, but IM stuff goes really quickly so if you want something, you better get it! I actually learned that the hard way about a water bottle I was also going to buy but put back at the last minute because it had the race distances on it and I didn't want to jinx myself! I figured I could come back for it later but they were completely out the day after the race - lesson learned, I guess!

On Friday we did a short group ride on a few miles of the road that leads out from transition to the main part of the bike course, and also did some race recon. We checked out transition so we could see exactly where we'd get out of the swim, go out on the bike and run, etc., as well as where we'd start the swim about a mile down the road. Having done Beach2Battleship twice now, which has two different transition areas about a 20-minute drive apart, I can definitely say that only having one transition was much simpler this time!

Saturday was gear and bike check-in day, which started off horribly. There was a practice swim that morning that I had planned to do but missed, which wasn't a huge deal but was kind of a bummer since I was feeling unusually anxious about the swim. Then I lost my wallet almost immediately after we parked downtown, so the first thing I did that day was spend over an hour looking for it and panicking about it. I eventually got it back the day after the race, but that obviously didn't help me on Saturday! I just had to forget about it and get my gear together and ready to check in, but I was so flustered by the whole thing I was having a really hard time keeping it together that whole day.

Alyssa and Kristen met me downtown near transition, so once I had everything together I took a break before checking it in to do a little shakeout run with them. This may be embarrassing to admit, but I didn't realize that Indiana was just across the river from Louisville until I signed up for this race, and I thought it would be cool to run over to Indiana and back! We covered just under two miles going back and forth over the Big Four Bridge, one of the bridges I'd be swimming under the next day. We had lunch together and then I went back over to the transition area so I could finally check in all my stuff for the big day!

During the first couple days of driving into Louisville and going to packet pickup I was really happy and excited, and it was such a nice change from how I felt doing all of my pre-race prep last year. Just having a full race course to look forward to made such a big difference! And although I was really grateful to have such a different, more positive experience this time, by the time Saturday rolled around I really wasn't in a great place. Losing my wallet first thing that day put me in a bad place and made me feel really down about myself. I felt so stupid for being so scatterbrained that I lost it and that sent me in a downward spiral about how stupid I was, period, and how I can't do anything right  and how it was probably a bad omen that something was going to go wrong the next day. Running and triathlon have helped nearly silence those voices over the last several years, but all of a sudden they were loud and clear the day before the biggest race of my life.

Race Morning
Race morning was my final 4:00am wake-up! I got up and made some coffee and choked down as much yogurt as I could. I was hungry and knew I needed to eat for the day ahead, I was just so nervous I could barely stomach any food. I legitimately thought I was going to puke while I was brushing my teeth! We decided to bodymark each other at the house instead of having volunteers do it, and after that it was time to go!

We made it to transition with about an hour to spare. Since we had dropped our gear bags off the day before, all that was really left to do in transition was put our nutrition on our bikes and pump our tires. I loaded up my bento box with all my stuff (PB&J, salt tablets, stroopwafels, and energy chews for breakfast, lunch, and dinner - yum!) and then I was ready. Everything went really smoothly and we were out of there and headed to the swim start in no time.

It was about a mile walk from transition to the swim start, and we were able to stay with our supporters until just about the last minute. I had Ben, Alyssa, Kristen, and my mom there, and it was so nice to be able to walk and talk with them during that time. It really took my mind off of everything that was about to happen and for the most part I finally felt pretty calm. My nerves were wearing off and although I wasn't totally sure I was ready, especially when it hit me on the walk down to the swim that, wait, I have to run a marathon later today?!, I definitely felt like it was finally time to get this thing done.

There are several different places and ways to start the swim in triathlons, so not every Ironman starts the same way. Louisville has a unique start at a marina, and everyone lines up and then jumps off of a dock two-by-two into the water. In previous years the swim has been first-come, first-served, meaning that there was an incentive to start in the front, especially for slower swimmers, to maximize the time allowed to complete the race before the time cutoff. This year, it was changed so that everyone got 16.5 hours to complete the race regardless of when they entered the water. And instead of lining up first-come, first-served, there were groups for anticipated time, broken down into 10-minute groupings, like a normal race corral system. The swim groups were self-seeded and I would have probably gone in the 1:20-1:30 group, but I wanted to start together with everyone I was racing with, so we started in the 1:40-1:50 group. 

The line moved pretty quickly, especially once we actually got down to the dock. I just kept following the person in front in me until eventually I got to the end and could see a volunteer gesturing for us to hurry up to get to the end of the dock, so I started running. I read another recap that described the swim start as ripping off a Band-aid, and I thought that was pretty accurate. After all of the training and the preparations, all of a sudden it came down to just a few seconds to get started. It all happened so fast!

IM 70.3 Atlantic City had a similar swim start this year, so I had at least experienced it before, which I think helped. I didn't want to jump in because I didn't want my goggles to fall off, so instead I just sat down on the dock and then scooted into the water! My dad was right behind me and I panicked because I really wanted to tell him bye, I spent the first minute or so trying to find him in the water. Finally I did and he looked at me like I was crazy, but I told him I just wanted to tell him I loved him and would see him at the end!

(I'm the third pink swim cap in the beginning of the video, in the wetsuit with blue on the front and orange sleeves)

The swim is normally my favorite part of race day, but a few weeks prior I started getting really crazy anxiety about it. I am usually very comfortable and very happy in open water, but a few weeks before race day I developed this crazy, irrational fear that there would be lots of frogs in the Ohio River (I have a pretty extreme phobia of frogs from an incident when I was a child - maybe embarrassing to admit that I still have it at 30, but oh well). There were a lot of fish in the water at Atlantic City this year that I kept touching, and that freaked me out a little, so I'm guessing that's where that came from? Open water is generally my happy place, but for the last few weeks I had not been able to shake this overwhelming fear that I'd touch (or worse, see!) a frog in the water during the swim and that I'd hyperventilate and have to end my race right then and there. I was so relieved once I jumped in and realized that nothing was in the river - at least nothing that I could feel anyway - and felt like my normal self!

The first third of the swim (three-quarters of a mile or so) is upstream inside a small barrier island. Since I had started so far back in a slower swim group than I really should have, I spent a lot of time passing people, especially at the beginning! I could definitely feel that we were swimming against the current, although it really didn't feel that strong. I was swimming at a really comfortable pace and found that I was moving at the same speed I'd be moving in the pool with the same amount of effort, so that was good. I knew once we made it past the island and turned around the current would really pick up and I'd speed up, so I felt really good about my swim time.

Swim start on the right, Towhead Island on the left
The turnaround was further past the point of the island than I thought it would be, but once I rounded it the swim really started to go by quickly. It was really windy that morning so the water was choppy and it didn't feel like I was moving all that fast, but every time I looked at my watch I could see I was easily swimming paces I can normally only sprint for a lap or two. I kept my effort level very relaxed and comfortable and aside from a couple times when I swallowed a little bit of water, my breathing was very steady. My splits during last two-thirds of the swim were some of my fastest ever, just after IMNC, and I knew I was going to come in way under my estimated time.

We passed under the Big Four Bridge, which I had run with the girls the day before, and the people up on it looked so tiny! We also passed under the Abraham Lincoln Bridge and ended the swim just before the JFK bridge. It's probably not that exciting to normal people, but I'd never swam under a bridge before so I thought it was cool! It had been cloudy that morning but during the swim the sun started peaking out just slightly and there was a point where I just felt so overwhelmingly grateful. I tried not to think too much beyond what I was doing in that moment, because I didn't want to freak out over how far I still had to go, but it was very cooling realizing that I was finally doing this thing I'd dreamt of for so long (even though I've done the full swim before). After passing under the Lincoln Bridge I could see the tents set up at transition and the swim exit just beyond that, and I was shocked at how quickly I made it to the end. I kept swimming until I made it to the final dock, where volunteers were in the water to catch us and help us onto the stairs leading out of the water. I saw Alyssa and Kristen as I was running over to the wetsuit strippers, and then made my way into T1!

 Official Time: 1:13:20
(A goal: 1:30, B goal: 1:25, C goal: 1:20) 


It was a bit of a hike getting from the swim exit to transition and back out to the bike course, so my transition time includes at least a few minutes just of run/walking time. T1 was pretty simple and easy, and since I didn't need to change any clothes and the tent looked crowded, I ended up just dumping all my stuff out on the grass just outside the tent and sorting it out there, which several other people were doing. It was still fairly warm out that I didn't need any extra layers I had packed, but I stuffed a light jacket under the back of my tri top just in case I would need it later. Given the long run to and from transition, my time was a little longer than I was expecting, but with my fast swim time I was still a few minutes ahead of where I had expected to be.

(You can already kind of see how hard the wind was blowing - and it only got worse!)

The bike course is a lollipop shape, with stem of the lollipop along River Road/US-42 leading out away from Louisville, a loop that you ride twice, and then the stem again heading back into Louisville. Each section was very different, so I think it makes the most sense to break it up into each one:

River Road/US-42 (Miles 1-21)
It was around 9:30am when I got on the bike, but it was still cloudy and overcast and actually a pretty nice morning for riding! There was a really pretty glow on the horizon, and the temperature was pleasant but not at all too warm. Given that this section was at the very beginning of the ride, and that it got more eventful later on, I really don't remember too many details from this part! I do remember riding along the river, which was pretty, and the fall leaves. I could see some storms brewing off to the northwest and I was hoping they wouldn't impact us, and the weather stayed pretty nice during these miles.

Although this section is slightly net uphill, the few inclines it did have were gentle and it was relatively flat. There was also a little bit of a tailwind at my back, so I used that to my advantage to try to build up as much speed as I could since I knew the hills were coming.

I mostly remember just trying to settle in for my long bike ride as much as I could, and being grateful for each mile that passed! I've talked a few times about the mechanical issues my bike had starting about 3 months before the race and finally getting resolved, as far as I knew anyway, about a month beforehand. Although I had no reason to believe that it would malfunction on race day, I was really paranoid something was going to go wrong. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I needed to feel like someone or something was looking out for me out on that course, and I think I thanked God for every single mile I successfully and safely made it through.

First Loop (Miles 22-56)
I rode the loop virtually on my trainer six or seven times during the last couple months of training, so I felt confident that I knew what to expect. Although none of the hills are very steep or very long, one of the worst ones comes shortly after entering the loop, and I was really glad I could anticipate it properly! There were signs at the top that said, "Welcome to Grandma's Hill" and, "She's a Bitch!" which made me laugh. The family of the grandma who lived at the top of the hill were all standing out cheering, which was really nice of them!

One of the biggest things that struck me on my first time through the loop was how much nicer it was to see the scenery while I was riding it rather than stare at a map like I did on the trainer! It was a really gorgeous course with lots of rolling countryside and scenic vistas, especially with the leaves changing. And another thing about the actual ride compared to the trainer is that it was much more difficult on the trainer than in real life. I was fairly certain that would be the case, but it was definitely a relief!

There was another hill not too long after Grandma's Hill and that's where I saw Ben, Alyssa, and Kristen for the first time on the bike! I knew they were going to try to make it out to the bike course, but I had no idea when or where. It was such a boost to see them and I assumed they were going to stay in the same spot, so I told myself I just had to get through another 2 hours or so alone and then I would see them again.

A few miles after I saw them, I went through the town of LaGrange. I've always heard it's a big spot for spectators on the Louisville course, but I couldn't have imagined there would be as many as there were. Ironman had set up barricades like they do at transition and the finish line, and there were spectators lining them, sometimes 2-3 people deep, for probably a half mile, at least. It was mile 30ish of the bike (or I guess 65ish if you were on the second loop), but the way these people were cheering you would have thought it was the finish line! It was incredible and one of my favorite parts of the whole day.

A few more miles past LaGrange there was another big crowd of spectators, and then we turned toward more of a residential area. This part of the course was added in the last couple of years when an out-and-back section in a different spot, which was reportedly very hilly and very dangerous because of the turnaround, was removed. This was definitely my least favorite part of the course, mainly because it just wasn't that scenic, and after all the excitement of the last 12 or so miles, it was a little lonely and boring.

I made my final turn on my first lap of the loop at around mile 47, and although I knew I only had about 9 miles left until I started my second lap, I could tell they were going to be a little rough. It was now close to 1pm and not only had the wind picked up, it was now a headwind because I had changed directions. Although there seemed to be spectators at least here and there along the majority of the bike course, they were pretty sparse along this section, and the scenery wasn't particularly interesting either. It felt like a long time getting through those miles to complete my first lap, and my speed was definitely slowing, but eventually I made it to my second lap!

Second Loop (Miles 57-91)
Although I felt well-trained for the hills and kept my effort at an easy-moderate level, they definitely felt harder the second time around! There were several times when I really thought I was in a harder gear, only to look down and see I was actually in my easiest gears. I guess the fatigue was really starting to set in! It had also gotten pretty sunny by that point, and I was definitely feeling warm. The sky was so blue it looked liked a completely different day than when I had started!

Ben, Alyssa, and Kristen had moved from the spot where I saw them on the first lap, so I was a little bummed by that, especially since I didn't know when I would see them again. I got to the special needs station shortly after that and I stopped, mainly because I needed to mix up more of the powdered sports drink I was using. A super nice volunteer named Jim held my bike for me the whole time I was there, while I ate a PBJ and some dill pickle chips, charged my watch, and went to the bathroom. I had a little bit of a moment in the porta potty - I was at mile 60 on the bike and still had 52 miles left to go, plus a full marathon. I had been doing pretty well mentally but I just wasn't sure I could keep it together the whole day, so I cried for a minute and then got over it and kept going. I got my bike from Jim and left special needs, only to realize I had messed up my watch and ended up having to restart it. I knew what time I had started the swim and what time I had gotten on the bike, so I was able to estimate my total bike time, but from that point on I never knew my exact bike time or my speed.

I saw Ben, Alyssa, and Kristen unexpectedly right after I left special needs! I went through LaGrange again, which was just as fun as the first time, and then into the neighborhood, which was slightly less boring than the first time - probably because I knew I wouldn't have to see it again. As I was approaching the final turn when I'd head back toward Lousiville, I braced myself for the headwind I knew was coming. I had 9 more miles left on the loop plus the 21 back to town so I was as prepared as I could be for 30+ miles going straight into the wind. I was ready.

What I was not ready for was the storm that rolled through at that very moment. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees, the wind, which was already strong, must have doubled in speed, those skies that had been bright blue for the last couple hours turned grey, and it started raining. I read later that the wind got up to 32mph at peak and that the gusts were up to 45mph. All of a sudden it was all I could do just to maintain control of my bike and keep moving forward. It looked like a scene out of the Wizard of Oz, and at one point a girl next to me said, "Wouldn't it be cool if there were a tornado right now?" Ummm, no, no it would not. There were a few times I seriously worried they might pull us off the course which, after last year, was definitely not something I was emotionally prepared to go through.

I think the worst part of the storm only lasted 20 or 30 minutes, but during that time it was probably the scariest conditions I've ever ridden in. I got blown around a lot and at times it was all I could do just to keep control of my bike, and there were branches and debris getting blown into the road. I don't mean to make it sound like it was a life or death experience by any means, but it was most certainly not ideal and probably a little dangerous at times given the number of other cyclists out there and the fact that the road wasn't closed to traffic. The really bad part finally passed but after that it was still very cold (I saw afterward the temperature did drop 15 degrees in less than an hour), my toes were numb, my fingers hurt so bad I got shooting pains in them whenever I squeezed my brakes, I was soaking wet, and there was still a strong headwind. The damage was definitely done! It felt like it took an eternity to get from mile 80 to mile 90, and there was an aid station there where I stopped again to eat and to put on that jacket I'd had stuffed under my back for 5 hours. It was soaking wet but at least it helped trap in some of my body heat!

River Road/US-42 (Miles 92-112)
The only solace of the last 20 miles of the bike were that they were a net downhill. Although it didn't help as much as I'd hoped because of the wind, it was still nice to get a break from the hills and to pick up a little bit more speed again. I saw Alyssa, Ben, and Kristen for the last time somewhere around mile 95 - I had assumed when I saw them at Special Needs that I wouldn't see them again until the run, so it was quite a surprise to see them standing on the side of the road! That part of the course is pretty desolate in terms of spectators, so it was a very welcomed surprise. I'm sure I didn't act like it, though, as all I could think about was getting back to transition and putting on warm, dry clothes. I actually think I was more miserable at Kinetic this year, even though these conditions were worse, but those last 32 miles were some of the longest and most awful I have ever ridden.

I really started counting down when I got to the last 15 miles - less than an hour left! Somehow they ticked by until I finally found myself on River Road once again, heading back to transition. Those last few miles are a blur - partly because of my mental state, and partly because of the weather. By that point those blue skies from a few hours prior had been solidly gray for quite some time, and everything, including me, was soaked from the rain. It wasn't at all how I expected to end my Ironman bike, but then again, nothing about this journey has really gone the way I would have ever expected it to.

 Bike Time: 7:06:48
(A goal: 7:00, B goal: 7:15, C goal: 7:30) 

Although I had been looking forward to putting on dry clothes for the 2+ hours leading to T2, when I got there I was on the fence about changing. I had originally planned to wear my tri kit the whole race, but I packed a change of clothes for basically every possible weather scenario in the event that I did decide mid-race to change. But, since I didn't actually intend on wearing any of these emergency clothes, I packed the most random, non-matching items. I ended up completely changing and putting on long pants, a short sleeve top, a long sleeve top, and a hat. My only regret is that I didn't really plan my outfit out that well (since I really didn't think I'd wear it), so what I ended up wearing on the run was a random mismatched outfit. I realize that is not even close to the most important thing, but I'm bummed I didn't get to wear my cute tri kit that I love so much! On the flip side, even if it looked stupid, the top I wore is one of my favorites, and the hat is from my sub-4 at Shamrock this year, so both are special to me. After taking my time drying off, completely changing clothes, using the bathroom, and running all the way to/from transition, my transition time ended up being way longer than I had anticipated. I definitely could have cut down some of that time - next time I'll be faster (and cuter!).


As I was running out of transition to the run course, I was looking everywhere for my people and finally spotted Alyssa and Kristen as I turned the corner onto the first street of the course! I thought I heard them say Tracy was just up ahead but I wasn't sure. Then I saw Ben a few seconds later and as I was processing what Alyssa and Kristen said, I could see Tracy just up ahead, so I shouted at Ben, "Is that Tracy right fucking there?!" (it was really loud- sorry for the f bomb, spectators). We usually catch each other during the run, and actually ran the whole second loop of IMNC together last year, but I didn't think I would run into him until much later, if at all. It was quite a shock to see him in the first quarter mile!

The first mile of the run winds through downtown Louisville, but I was so busy trying to keep my hat on my head in the strong wind, running after it when it did fall off, and and catching up with Tracy about our swims and bikes that I didn't really pay much attention to the course. I do remember my watch chiming at Mile 1 - it was a little surreal to finally realize I was actually out on my Ironman run.

The next couple of miles went through a residential area, which was lined with pretty old houses and colorful trees. My legs felt...weird during the first couple of miles. They were heavy, not as heavy as they've ever been by any means. I also ran way too fast out of the gate since I was trying to catch Tracy, and even after I caught him I think we were both a little speedy in our excitement. 

We passed out of the residential area through the University of Louisville and then continued on, past Churchill Downs, to another residential area. My legs finally started to feel normal around mile 3, and I was shocked that I was able to run fairly comfortably. Tracy and I had slowed our pace a little bit so that helped, and we just kept trucking along. There was an aid station roughly every mile, and I stopped at I think all but the first and last one, so my focus was just on getting from one to the next. It wasn't a 26.2-mile run, it was just a series of 10-15 minute runs. 

The course is a double loop so I was expecting the turnaround to come around Mile 6, but it actually didn't come until after mile 7. In hindsight I think I preferred that, as I always feel better mentally the more I have behind me before turning around, if that makes sense. One turnaround down, two more to go, I told myself. The next time I'm here, I'll be only a few miles from the finish line. 

Tracy and I saw one of our other teammates (we're not a real team, FYI - just random people who have weird/various connections to each other), Robert, just before the turnaround, and ended up catching up to him around Mile 8. We ran together for a half mile or a mile before Robert dropped back. Shortly after that we saw my dad on the other side of the road, around 4 or 5 miles behind us. I was relieved to see him, especially since he looked like he was doing well.

I remember feeling surprised that the miles were going by fairly quickly, although I suppose that makes sense considering their duration relative to the entire race. I actually think running an Ironman marathon is a little easier than a standalone marathon - not only is it generally a slower pace (I was running 60-90 seconds slower than my PR pace), but after spending 8 or 9 hours swimming and biking, what's another 4 or 5 of running?

At mile 11 we were back to the University of Louisville, and that's where Tracy told me to go on without him because his neck was really hurting and he was going to start walking. I was a little reluctant to run 15 more miles all alone, but I also knew that that would be a good test for me. Running the last 13 miles of the race last year together made a huge impact on my race, I'm sure of it, and although it would have been nice to have a buddy for all 26 this year, I also didn't want to feel like I'd "cheated" by having him as a crutch to get me through when things got too tough.

So I ran ahead and mentally geared up for another 2.5 hours solo. Fortunately, I saw Ben, Alyssa, and Kristen not too long after I left Tracy. That was the first time I'd seen them since I went out on the run, and Ben told me that when he'd seen my dad get off the bike he was worried about finishing. That got me all worried, and I spent a good while seriously contemplating if/how I was going to turn right around when I saw my dad so I could do another loop with him and get him to the finish line!

The girls jumped in at that point and ran/chatted with me for half a mile or so until I got to the next aid station. After I said goodbye to them I wound my way through downtown again and, maybe deliciousness was already starting to set in, but I remember being downright giddy over only having a couple hours left. It was still too early to get too excited, but I think it hit me all of a sudden that I was actually going to do this. The hardest parts of my day were done: I had made it out of the water, off the bike with no mishaps, and I was halfway through the run. In all of my pre-race worst-case-scenario nightmares, not one of them featured something going wrong on the run. That's all I kept saying leading up to the race: "I just want to get to the run." There was nothing left to potentially stop me - even if I walked the rest of the way, I'd make the 16.5 hour time cutoff. Not that I was really ever worried about not finishing, but it was still such a relief to know that there was absolutely no way I wasn't going to finish.

I followed the route back downtown and, although I was expecting to get close to the finish line before heading out on the second loop, I guess I didn't realize how close. I turned a corner and could see Fourth Street Live just up ahead, and I couldn't see any signs diverting finishers from first loop people. I panicked and started looking around to see if I had missed a sign, and was about to ask some people behind me when I saw a guy in front of me peel off to the right, and then I saw the sign pointing to the second loop. It was literally maybe 100 yards from the finish, so close that as we were approaching I don't think the spectators could tell who was going in to finish and who was going out for another loop. There was a lot of cheering as we were approaching and then it kind of died off as they realized we were turning for the second loop!

Although the second loop was, obviously, the same as the first (except for that initial mile winding from transition to downtown), it was very different the second time around. For one, although the sun had been setting and it had been getting darker for the last several miles of my first loop, it had gone completely down by the second loop. It was actually a very strange and eerie feeling to be running a marathon in the dark! It was well lit and there were still spectators out so it wasn't at all desolate or creepy, but it just felt...odd.

I saw Ben, Alyssa, and Kristen again around Mile 15 or 16. I think I gave Ben a kiss and asked him about my dad, and I think he told me that our teammate Leah (Tracy's girlfriend) had caught up to him and that they were running together. The girls ran with me for a little bit again, and I was surprised both that my pace had been pretty decent and consistent the whole time, and that I was still in pretty good spirits. I know I wasn't the most talkative or pleasant running partner at that point, but I did appreciate just knowing that they were there! 

Although I was getting down to single digit miles left, they were starting to feel longer and longer. It felt like forever to get to the turnaround, but I was really trying to stay positive. The second loop was much more sparse and had a lot more walkers than the first! There were some stretches where I didn't see anyone else running, everyone was walking (other than the water stops and I think two brief times I walked to breathe through a cramp, I was running). I got to Mile 20 a little after the turnaround and told myself only 10k left, a little over an hour.

At that point, though, even making it from one water stop to the next took some serious convincing. It was also during those miles that I started to feel a little...off. It wasn't terrible, but my breathing was getting shallower, I felt a little indigestion, and I was a tiny bit nauseous. I had been alternating between honey stinger chews, Skratch, and plain water at the aid stations, plus grapes, chips, pretzels, and/or Coke at some of them - not all at the same time, of course - but by the end I was struggling to keep shoveling food in my mouth. I was definitely getting delirious and loopy and knew I needed the sugar, so I kept taking food even though I didn't feel like it.

The fact that it was so dark out didn't help matters either, and honestly the last few miles are really a blur. I was getting close to 13 hours total, four hours over my previous longest endurance event, and I could definitely feel the difference in those four extra hours! Fortunately I really wasn't in that much pain, and my running pace stayed at ~10:00min/mile pretty consistently even at the end (my water stop walks just got a little more extended...). I remember getting to 4 miles left, which sounded like an eternity!

By some miracle I made it to Mile 23 and during that mile I saw Leah and my dad going out on their second lap. I think the first thing I did was yell at them, "This hurts!" I mean, like I said, I wasn't in any serious pain, but it definitely didn't feel great! I stopped for a second to hug them and tell them I had 2.5 miles left and my dad told me, "They're going to call your name soon!" and it's probably a good thing I had thoroughly exercised all emotion out of my body because otherwise I may have just broken down crying right then and there and not actually have made it to the finish line. Actually, I did get choked up for a bit after that and that's when I had to take one of my two non-water stop walk breaks so I could calm the fuck down and catch my breath. 

I was truly on autopilot at that point and have no idea what I did to convince myself to keep moving, but somehow my legs just kept going. I alternated between getting really emotional to the point where I choked up and couldn't breathe, to tuning out everything around me and staying hyperfocused on just putting one foot in front of the other. I wish I remembered more of those final couple miles but truthfully, I was so tired - mentally and physically. I remember walking a water stop during Mile 24, then maybe walking for a few more seconds shortly after because I was getting so anxious about finishing that I couldn't breathe, and then telling myself to stop thinking about it and get it together so I could actually finish. I remember approaching the Mile 25 marker and telling myself I was going to run the rest of the way in, not even stopping for the aid station. And that's...what I did. Those 12 minutes felt like an eternity and a blink of an eye all at the same time. 

Time was doing all kinds of weird things in my brain but the next thing I knew, I was rounding the corner, the same one I had rounded nearly 2.5 hours earlier, and I could see the same finish line I had seen 2.5 hours earlier, only this time, I didn't have to turn and run a second loop. This time, I got to run straight for it. I slowed down to take in as much of the energy of the spectators, the lights, the music, the announcer. I looked down at the red carpet in true disbelief - for years I have dreamed of running down that carpet and for a few seconds before the finish I couldn't stop staring at it. Look, the red carpet. It's here, it's right under your feet. You are here. You did it. 

You are finally here.

 Run Time: 4:36:25
(A goal: 4:30, B goal: 4:35, C goal: 5:00) 

In true this-didn't-go-as-planned fashion, my official finisher photos are...not great. I'm not smiling, I don't look happy, I don't look overjoyed, I don't really look like...anything. Except that I just poured my guts out for two fucking years to get to a finish line that I really wasn't sure I'd ever see. I guess my picture perfect finish will have to come next time. I posted this on Instagram and got a comment that I look fulfilled, which I thought was truly the best description. My exhausted face may not show it, but in the moment I felt fulfillment. I felt relief. I felt like I was finally home.

Running down the chute at Fourth Street Live was one of the most indescribable feelings I've ever had. I want to say I had this overwhelming feeling of pride, of accomplishment, of happiness, but the truth is I think I was so overwhelmed by the entire day that I couldn't think about or feel anything more than concentrating on each second as it came. There was no past, there was no future, there was only the present. I don't think I have ever truly lived in the here and now the way I did on October 15.

When I think back on it, I see the lights brighter and more vividly than anything I've seen before. I hear the music and the cheers of the crowd so loud it's deafening. I see the sea of faces lining the chute, I see their hands slapping the barricade walls and clapping. And, of course, I see that carpet, the most vibrant red.

It's like everything that I ever have imagined's coming true today.

 Total Time: 13:21:40
(A goal: 12:59, B goal: 13:30, C goal: 13:59) 

Immediately upon crossing the finish line I met my catcher, Emily. Ironman has a pretty cool finish line setup where there is a volunteer literally waiting to "catch" you and help you navigate through all your post-race stuff. After spending 13+ hours by yourself it's actually a little disorienting to stop and have to do something other than swim/bike/run! Emily was amazing and immediately put her arm around me and started talking to me and asking me questions (she knew where I was from - she's from Virginia Beach also, and her husband did the race) and not only helped me get a mylar blanket, water, my medal, and my finishers shirt and hat, but she also dealt with me wandering off while she was doing those things because my mom was standing on the side of the chute after I came through! I had no idea who of my support crew would be where and when, and she was the first person I saw. I ran up to give her a hug and I think that's when the emotions I hadn't been able to tend to all day started coming out. My mom is totally not into triathlon (actually I'm not sure she has ever seen me finish one ever?), and 9:30pm is way past her bedtime, so to unexpectedly (I mean, I knew she would be there at the finish, I just didn't know where) see here there smiling and cheering and waiting to hug me was the best.

After I saw my mom on the side of the chute I had to keep going all the way to the end, and that's where I saw Ben, Alyssa, and Kristen! I got to hug them all and it was so fun to actually get to see them for more than 2 seconds! The only thing I specifically remember any of them saying was Kristen telling me, "No more ish!" (since I refer to IMNC as Ironman-ish) and that was seriously the first time that it hit me - I had finished a full, 100%, 140.6-mile Ironman!

But even though it was around 9:30pm when my race ended, the party had really only just begun! I changed clothes and made it back out to the finish line in time to see Tracy finish, then we ducked into a bar for a beer and a bite to eat while we waited for the others. I was starving but I felt so nauseous - I barely choked down a salad before taking one look at the flatbread I had also ordered and wanting to puke. No issues getting the beer down, though!

We had been tracking my and Leah, who were running together, and as we were finishing up our meal, they were getting close to the finish line. We went back out to the finish line and waited for a few minute until we saw adorable Miss Rooker come through the chute with the biggest smile on her face! I was a little confused about where my dad was, because I knew they had been running together, but it wasn't more than a minute after Leah finished that my dad came through the chute.

I think my heart grew ten sizes just watching him run down and through the finish line. Becoming an Ironman myself my was one thing. Seeing my dad become an Ironman - especially knowing the road we both took to get here - was truly incredible. I hugged him as he came out of the chute and he told me, "We did it!" My response? "Fucking finally!"

My dad and Leah finished with about an hour to spare, which meant the party still wasn't over. Once they were all settled our whole group ducked into another bar next to the finish line for celebratory beers while we waiting for the last finishers to come through. The last five minutes of an Ironman are huge and a lot of people, even if they'd finished hours and hours earlier, will come back out to cheer on the "midnight" finishers (which at Louisville happened to actually be around 12:45am because of the unique swim start). We saw the last official finisher cross the finish line at 16:29:59 (the cutoff is 16:30:00), but there were still two more people out on the course. The race officials decided to let them finish (technically their results will say DNF but they get to cross the finish line and get a medal like the rest of us, so who cares?!), and about five minutes later, we screamed, we yelled, we cheered, we hit the sides of the barricade until ours hands hurt, until the very last finisher came through.

Final Thoughts
Although I had hoped to be a little faster (when is that not the case?), I am really happy with my overall time and proud to have met most of my goals. Like I talked about in my goals post, I really wasn't sure what to expect or what was realistic - one minute I felt like I was subconsciously setting goals that were too easy so that I could achieve them, the next minute I was worried that my goals weren't easy at all and that I was going to have to work extra hard just to make those "easy" times. 

My swim was my most surprising performance of the day, and I mostly have the Ohio River to thank for that! I wasn't sure how strong of a current we would get on the downstream portion but even so, I think I swam well. I was calm and comfortable the entire time and by the end I was a little disappointed it was over because I definitely could have kept going.

If I'm disappointed in anything it's my bike time, but considering that two years ago, even a year ago, really, the idea of spending even 3 hours on my bike was almost incomprehensible, I can't be that upset that I spent 7 hours riding 112 miles. I've made a lot of progress on the bike this year in particular - not so much in my speed but in the other ways I didn't even realize were important until this year. I learned to be more comfortable spending those long hours in the saddle, I stopped being afraid of and avoiding hills and instead started actually seeking them out, and I learned to have fun while doing all of that! I knew when I signed up for this race that my bike time would probably suffer (I'd expect to be almost an hour faster on a flat course), but I think the hit was worth it considering how much more fun I had training and racing in challenging but beautiful places. I do think I could have cut out some of my stopped time (when I set my goals I didn't account at all for stopping for nutrition at special needs, or for needing to stop at another aid station to put on a jacket because the weather changed seasons in the middle of the ride...), but for the most part my bike time, while not as good as I had hoped, was pretty close to what I was expecting.

I have seen Ironman described as a swim/bike-too-hard/walk and, not that I'm here to judge anyone for walking or even crawling their way through a marathon - get there however you need to get there - I really did not want that to be how my day played out. You just never know though - as you can see in my run out video, I came out the bike seriously convinced that a 6+ hour marathon was in my immediate future. I knew it was a possibility, but I really didn't want it to be my reality.  One of my goals was to get to the run ready for a solid marathon, and although it was obviously not my strongest or fastest, it was completely in line with my goal.

Oh, what a day. Oh, what a night.

I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. 

It Was Never Random

Greetings from Louisville, Kentucky! I was going to do a final recap of my training with all kinds of numbers and statistics, as is my custom, but I couldn't do it. This race is so much more than the last 20 weeks of official training.

This race is YEARS in the making. Six and a half of them, in fact.

This race is three months of Couch to 5k, when I started from square one and learned to run for the first time, just for one minute at a time. It's one minute turning in to two and then three and then eventually 30 straight. 

This race is four more months of getting more comfortable with running. It's three months after that of training for my first half marathon, and finishing long runs week after week, astonished by the distance I had just covered.

This race is another year of running, of training, of getting up the courage to try the half marathon for a second time.

This race is three months of off and on running through an injury, and getting my first road bike so I wouldn't lose my fitness or sight of my goals. This race is six more months coming back from my first injury.

This race is three months of training for my first sprint triathlon, and three more of training for my second one, my third one, my fourth one, and my first Olympic triathlon all in the same summer.

This race six months of training for my first full marathon, and two months of training for my next one. This race is three more months of training for another marathon and reevaluating my goals, which turned out to actually be three months of accidentally training for my first sub-2 half marathon.

This race is four months of training for my third marathon, three months of getting back into triathlon training, and four months of training for my first half Ironman, which was by far the hardest training I'd ever done.

This race is five months of training for what was supposed to be my fifth marathon, which led me to two months completely off from running because of another injury.

This race is four miraculous post-injury months of training for my first full Ironman. This race is four months of training for my first sub-4 marathon and two months of training for my third half Ironman leading to, finally, four months of training for my first second first full Ironman.

I've trained much, much longer than these past 20 weeks. These past four months may have been the ones officially designated on my calendar as "Ironman training," but I have been training for this since before I knew what an Ironman was, or what any triathlon really was. Every step, every stroke, every pedal of these last 6.5 years since that first day of C25K has in some way contributed to and shaped my race on Sunday. The past 20 weeks were an important part of the puzzle, but they were certainly not the only part of the puzzle. It's all cumulative. It's all there. All the highs, the lows, the successes, the failures, the triumphs, the disappointments.

It was never, ever, ever random.

You can track me on Sunday here or by downloading the Ironman Tracker app. My bib number is 449 and the race starts at 7:30am!

Ironman Louisville Race Plan + Goals

Two summers ago, literally the day before I started training before my first half Ironman, I took a class with yoga teacher and endurance athlete Sage Rountree. I found out afterward that Sage is also an Ironman and triathlon coach, and she has a book called Racing Wisely, which covers everything from choosing a race to recovering from it. As someone who tends to overthink and worry about pretty much everything (in racing and life in general), Sage's guidance to mindfulness throughout training and racing has been hugely beneficial to me in the past. One of my favorite parts is guidance for creating a race plan (worksheets available in PDF format here), and I've been writing them for big races ever since that first one nearly two years ago. 

I've been waiting ever since then for the day that I could write a race plan for a full Ironman, and even though I'll be holding my breath at least until I actually get in the water because of what happened last year, I think I'm ready to finally put this one together.

The Years They Felt Short, But the Days Were Long

Race week is here. After 20 weeks of Ironman Training Round 2, 16 months since I started Ironman Training Round 1, with 4 half marathons, 3 half Ironmans (Ironmen?), 2 century rides, a marathon, and thousands of miles since...it's finally race week. This day has been a long time coming. 

I'm finally coming out of hiding this week to finish this journey, and that includes documenting it. Part of the reason I stopped updating was that once I felt behind, it was so daunting to think about catching up. Week after week piled up until I had more weeks absent than not. I won’t bore you with every detail of every workout of the last 9 weeks but I do think I’d like to take a quick (or not) little trip down memory lane.

Week 9: I had my first big breakdown of this training cycle and took 2 unplanned rest days. I went to Target and bought new sheets instead of training one night and it actually might have been the best thing I did all training cycle because I woke up the next day feeling like a new person. I also completed the Farm to Fork Fondo (53 miles) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It was my first time ever visiting Amish country and the hills were challenging, but it was breathtakingly gorgeous and one of my favorite rides I’ve ever done.

I Think I'm Doing Okay.

So it's been over a month since I last updated and as some of you noticed, I made my blog private for a little while since then. I had kind of stopped updating and wasn't sure if I really wanted to keep writing here, which is something I've gone back and forth on for a while now, but that's another story for another day. I just wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it anyway, and I started getting a lot of spam comments that I just didn't have the time or energy to deal with, so I just thought it would be easier to shut it down for now, at least temporarily, until I figured out what I wanted to do with it. And I'm still not sure what I ultimately want to do with it, but I have had the urge to update about my Ironman training. I've heard from a few of you wondering what was going on, and I do miss updating in this space and, to be honest, time and energy are big reasons why I haven't been updating but honestly, I just haven't really...wanted to? And the times when I have wanted to post have been sporadic and fleeting and I haven't been able to string together enough of those thoughts to actually post something. So I don't know for sure if I want to keep writing or not, and I've kind of gotten to the point where I'm not not really interested in writing about my everyday life, and I'm also not really interested in writing a hardcore fitness blog. At this point it's really just a training/race log, primarily because I like to have a record of that stuff. I think it's cool that other people read it, and I definitely read other people's, so I get that that's a thing that some people find interesting to read, so that's where I'm at right now. I don't really see that changing anytime soon, and it may just all fall away after this Ironman thing is over anyway, I don't really know. We'll see.

Ironman Louisville Training: Week 8

Not much to report this week...it was mostly good with a couple of low points: my two missed swims. I've now missed four of my last six scheduled swims - two were out of my control, one was intentional, and one was my fault - which is, you know, not great, but swimming is one of my stronger disciplines (all relative since I'm not particularly strong at any of them!) so I'm not too concerned.

On the bright side, I handled my bike ride this weekend like a champ! It always helps to have company, and I actually enjoyed almost all six of those hours I spent pedaling on Sunday. This Ironman thing may not be a lost cause after all.

In other news, this week I finally started to feel like I was making a breakthrough in my IMNC anxiety/disappointment, but by the end of the week I felt like I had taken two steps forward and one step back and didn't really end up much farther than where I started. I know I keep being vague about all these feelings and it's really not intentional. I do want to get them out and talk about them but every time I try I just don't know what to say. I know the words are in there somewhere and I hope to find them soon.

Ironman Louisville Training: Week 7

This week was...a doozy. I'm really emotional about my training, too emotional maybe. I always have been. It was the emotional side that sucked me in in my early C25k days, and that hasn't changed. Most days and weeks that's a good thing - that emotional side is my lifeblood and why I stick with this sport at all - but sometimes it throws me for a loop and that was this week. I struggled with motivation after coming back from vacation, and I had to do some serious soul-searching over why I am even training for this race in the first place. After last year (a phrase I have vowed to now remove from my vocabulary) I'm finally feeling ready to start facing the facts, admitting some ugly truths to myself, and moving on. I want to talk about it more, and I need to talk about it more. Hoping to get some these swirling thoughts of my head and into this white space sooner rather than later.

This week I finally had the realization that Ironman training, by this point, is hard. It just is. It's hard whether I work out at 5am or at 5pm. It's hard to spend over an hour in the pool. It's hard to spend a handful of hours on my bike. It's hard to run on tired legs and when the heat index is approaching 100 degrees. It doesn't get any easier just because I pack my lunch the night before or I make an effort to put my laundry in the washing machine when I take my clothes off or I use my commute home to double as a workout. I mean, that stuff doesn't hurt, but it's not a magical solution to make training easy. Because it's just really hard. That's #ironmanlife (the coach I used last year put notes at the beginning of my weekly plans - which I'm recycling this year -  and that was literally the only note for this year's plan, which I found hilarious yet appropriate). And that's not going to change.