Right now I’m lying on my couch after arriving home from what could be considered a LONG weekend at Ironman Louisville. The weekend kicked off Friday morning when I picked up Ilia Owens from her house at 5 am. Typically, Rebekah accompanies me to my races and is my race “sherpa”. Since she had other responsibilities, Ilia stepped up and answered the call to assist me throughout the whole weekend and did a spectacular job!
Driving went smoothly the entire way to Louisville and we made it with plenty of time to do athlete check-in and attend the pro meeting that day. It was great getting to see some of the guys I hadn’t seen in awhile, including my coach Jesse Vondracek who was in town for the race all the way from Arizona. Ilia and I had a calm evening as we settled into our homestay and had a delicious dinner with our crew from Lexington, SC.
After a short morning swim in the river with Jesse, I spent most of Saturday laying around and preparing my stuff for the following day. I used Ilia’s previous knowledge of the race and had everything laid out and organized for the morning. I enjoyed watching the coverage of Kona and went to bed ready for the next day. My morning routine went smoothly and after setting everything up we made the walk upriver to the swim start area. The river temperature was reported at 71.8 degrees that morning which meant a non-wetsuit swim for the Pro field. Typically I would have preferred to be wearing a wetsuit, but with recent improvements in my swim, I was excited to see how I could do without it.
The race organizers decided to delay the swim start to exactly 7:23 am for the Pro men since it was still fairly dark out. I don’t know if the extra few minutes helped, but we all definitely felt very rushed as they didn’t let us enter the water until after 7:21. Everyone very quickly made their way to line up and then with very little warning the cannon was fired! As with any Pro race, the start was a tangle of arms and legs as everybody jostles for position. I was somewhere near the middle but it was hard to tell with how dark it was still. As things started to sort out I could tell that a pack of swimmers was forming just ahead of me. I put in a few surges but never quite made the connection and just missed latching on. Rather than continuing to put in hard efforts at the start of my first Ironman race, I decided to stay conservative and let the group get away.
I swam solo for the remainder of the upriver portion (first 1/3 approximately) before making the turn to come back down river (remaining 2/3 of swim). For awhile I was mostly alone until I realized that some of the kayaks I had passed were following me. This continued for awhile until they passed me and I realized that they were leading the women’s race! There were 2 women leading alone who eventually slowly passed on my left. I made sure not to interfere with their swimming and decided to sit right behind and pace off of them. This continued for the remainder of the swim and I ended up coming out of the swim just after them in 12th place.
I made my way through transition relatively quickly and got started on the bike with a couple male Pros around me. I initially took the lead but was then repassed after about a mile. I kept him in my sights for a bit but decided it was more important to stick to my own plan and not get caught up in the “tactics” of racing this early on. The wind was definitely noticeable as it was pushing me along well over 27 mph for 10 miles or so before some of the climbing started. At just before the 30-mile mark, I was caught by another 2 cyclists who were going hard to try to catch the larger groups up the road. I picked it up a little in hopes of having some company, but didn’t enjoy how much they seemed to be “working together”. I resolved once again to riding my own race and hoped to catch others up the road as they faded.
At mile 55 on the bike course we turn to make a second loop where the Pros merge with the Age Group athletes on their first loop. I hadn’t experienced this before but it was absolutely terrifying. Over the next 35 miles my voice became hoarse as I yelled “On Your Left!” probably a thousand times in an attempt to have adequate space to pass. Now would probably be a good time to apologize for those people who I either scared or upset by my passing. This was a dangerous situation for everyone involved. I was often traveling nearly twice the speed of some of these athletes with hefty wind gusts and many athletes either simply didn’t hear or decided to ignore me. The fact that there were also cars on the course and many sharp turns, bumps, and fast descents made for a ride that I did not enjoy. Thankfully I made it to mile 80 safely where I peeled back off to riding solo (directly into a headwind).
With maybe 10 miles to go on the bike, I came upon 2 cyclists who were going a good bit slower. As I passed them I realized that the first one was my coach, Jesse! I made the pass relatively quickly, but Jesse stayed with me until we arrived into the second transition. A volunteer informed me that I was in 14th place at the time and although I had biked pretty hard (speed of about 24 mph and 255 watts NP), I was excited to see what I could do in the marathon.
Jesse exited transition about 10-20 seconds behind me and bridged the gap to run next to me by the half mile mark. This was familiar territory as we had done exactly this at Oceanside 70.3 earlier this year and ran together for about 9 miles there. We socialized a bit in the early miles clicking off about 6:30 min/miles while it still felt easy. We yoyo’d a bit through aid stations, but after the first turn around point at a little over 7 miles it was clear that he was holding the pace better than I was. As I made my way back into town the weather began to change from a warm sunny day to getting windier with a lot more cloud coverage. Around mile 11 or 12 I even nearly got hit as a wind gust blew a road barrier in my path maybe 10 yards ahead of me. Even the port-o-potty doors were flying open! By the time I got to the turn around for the second loop I was feeling okay but the pace was definitely slowing.
Just past the 15-mile mark a couple things happened. I first started noticing a decent amount of cramping primarily in my calves. I also suddenly had the urge to use the bathroom! I darted to the nearest bathroom and took care of the second problem with only 2-3 wasted minutes. I still had over 10 miles to go though and the cramping only continued to get worse. I tried a number of things over the next 10 miles but nothing would resolve it (except stopping!). This included changing my running stride, stretching, taking in fluids/electrolytes, coke, salty chips, chicken broth, Hotshot, etc. The only thing I could do was tough it out and just make what progress that I could. I gained and lost positions throughout the run but had lost track of where I was in the race. With a little over a mile to go, I realized that I was close to being able to go under 3:20 for the marathon and maybe 9 hours overall. While coming into the race I had a bit higher aspirations than this, at this point I just wanted to put forth everything I had.
Over the remaining mile, I poured everything I had into getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. I nearly toppled over at least a dozen times and I was literally yelling at myself at times to keep the pace going. Eventually, I saw the finish line and continued to push through my legs attempts at seizing as I saw the clock at 8:57:XX. As I crossed the finishing arch I came about as close to tears as I ever have at a race. I ended up placing 15th in the Pro field which I was satisfied with, but am mostly proud of what I was able to push through. I could have easily walked this race in or made an excuse about how I “didn’t have it that day”, but I pushed myself to the limit regardless and I am content knowing that.
I spent a good amount of time after my finish bundled up watching others finish and eating food around the finish area. It had gotten really cold really quickly but my amazing sherpa Ilia had warm clothes for me to bundle up in! It was great talking to my Lexington friends after their races and I even saw a fellow Alaskaman finisher! Huge congrats to Jeffery Kane, Wendy Hart, Gary and Angie Blight, Jonathan Cochran, Richard Jackson, Sam Cox, and everyone else for finishing this grueling race! Also, huge thanks to my homestay again McKenzie who not only hooked me up with a place to stay, but volunteered at the race too. I’m not 100% sure yet what my plans will be for the rest of the season, but I’ll be deciding soon. Thanks for reading!