Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Journey of an Ironman - Part II





I sleep well the morning before the race and wake up a little closer to 4a.m., the time the transition area opens on race morning. I have my bagel with jelly and peanut butter, sip on a Powerbar Perform sports drink and make my way to transition for a final check of my bike and equipment. I stop to take a quick picture with the official race announcer, and make my way to the swim start.

In virtually every Ironman, the start is a mass or wave start. Uniquely, in IM Louisville it is a time trial start, as competitors enter the water one after another. This results in an almost mile walk to the entry point. Much to my surprise and dismay, I was roughly 1500 spots back (half the pack), and had another mile walk just to get to my spot. The walk took so long, in fact, that I only had 15 minutes once in line to get prepped, as the line started moving. The race had officially begun!

I enter the water and begin swimming upstream. Yup, we do the first quarter of the race upstream and the last two-thirds downstream. I site using bridges (two to pass under) and stay to the outside of the main pack to keep some open water. The swim goes well and I’m out of the water without much trouble. The shortest leg of the race is over in just 1 hour, 21 minutes.

I take my time in transition, making sure not to forget anything, and head out on my bike, a converted road bike with clip-on handlebars so that I can ride in aero position and hopefully save enough energy during the 112 mile bike ride to complete the run. At this point, the sun is out and the temperature is quickly climbing into the mid 90’s, unseasonably warm for Kentucky in the early fall.

I pace fairly well for the first half of the ride. In training I had done several 70-80 mile rides, so this would be my first time attempting over 100. Feeling good, I complete my first loop around the town of Le Grange. We make two loops around the town and then head back into Louisville. I find that the course is very hilly and many parts are narrow and I have to slow my speeds to match that of those around me, making any momentum I have virtually non-existent and the climbs that much worse.

Around mile 85 I begin to become disoriented, most likely due to the inevitable dehydration setting in. I make sure to fill up at the 85 mile aid station and continue along, fighting off the dehydration. At this point, being further than I had ever ridden previously, I find that my “undercarriage” (a kind cyclist term for…well, you know) is so uncomfortable that it is almost unbearable to sit. I begin standing on down hills to relieve the pressure, and begin to have terrible hot spots in my shoes. At this point sitting feels like being on a chair of needles and standing, or even peddling, feels like being forced to hold your feet to a fire. 

Being in such pain I hardly notice the last aid station on the bike course at mile 101 and blow right by. At this point I want nothing more in the world to be off that bike! I look around and other riders are suffering the same heat and distance-induced pains, and I am least comforted that I’m not alone. Some are even off their bikes and lying prone, trying to muster the energy to go on. I say a quick prayer to myself that each is okay first, and can complete the race second.
Ironman Swag Bag

I soon find that others may be praying for me as I begin to feel a twinge in each thigh. As I have been systematically shifting from seated to standing to leaning on the crossbar for relief, I stand only to have a searing pain shot through both thighs. My dehydration had caught up to me, only miles from the finish of the bike leg. I painfully dismount, and stand in a half crouch, straddling my bike. Both quadriceps are fully and excruciatingly cramping. With a shaking hand I reach and grab a salt tab and go to wash it down with water to make the cramping subside, only to realize I have no more water. Skipping the previous aid station had proven to be an almost catastrophic mistake. “17 hours…anything to stay under 17 hours.”

I remount my bike, and begin to peddle away despite the cramps. As I press on the cleats, each leg alternates cramping and being forcibly ripped from a cramp. The next (and last) 7 miles of the bike course takes the better part of an hour.

As I approach the transition area, the roar of the crowd and sound of cowbells begin to fill the air and the cramping doesn’t seem to hurt so badly. I enter transition, gingerly dismount my bike, and slowly walk to the changing tent. Even with the steps to the tent, each leg is taking turns, alternating which one cramps. I sit down, and think to myself, “now I have to run a marathon!” 
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