Ironman Louisville turned out to be my hardest earned triathlon finish. The day started with high hopes and expectations and ended with gratitude for the volunteers and the ability to finish a race when I could have quit many times.
The swim went pretty well other than the news that one competitor had had a massive heart attack only 300 yards into the 2.4 mile swim. I managed to hold a pretty consistent pace and managed to swim a 59:47 not too slow but not as fast as I have done in other races.
The bike wasn’t too bad. I took the one “screaming down hill” at a pretty conservative pace although I kick myself now because I definitely could have taken a little more risk on it as the turns were gentle sweepers and the pavement quality was “bad for Kentucky” but pretty damn smooth by New England standards. The rest of the ride went pretty well. I would kick into the low ring on the climbs to try to save my legs for the run. I was hydrating well and had to stop to pee and adjust my aero bars at the 65 mile mark. I had decided to bring all my own hydration with me this go round as I had a bad experience with Powerbar ® Perform at Providence 70.3. So I used Gatorade to get me through the bike course and water and Clif shot bloks when I ran low. I did pop 3 salt tabs but since I had never used them in training I didn’t know how many to take and how often. I kept leap frogging with this chick Christine, know for her signature grey/ black cervelo and tri suit but electric pink heart rate strap. Things were going well at this point my legs felt good except for a slight cramp in my big toe on my left foot, but I figure it might have just been rubbing against my bike shoes. I hit T-2 in about 6:22. In T-2 I look down at my foot it wasn’t rubbing and I didn’t have any med tape. A volunteer offered to get me some but I figured I would be fine if I ran in socks. I peed and got sunscreen and took off on the run.
The run went according to plan for the first 10 miles. I was holding between 8-9 minute miles and was on pace to run yet another sub 4 hour marathon and finish in daylight like a rock star. Every aid station I was doing my usual ritual of taking coke, water, sponges, and ice. I was passing a lot of people and was feeling amazing. I passed Christine at the 6 mile mark and made a comment along the lines of “ Hi I’m Rob from CT you may remember from such horror films as “You again” and You again the sequel.” “ She laughed and made a comment that I was flying and at this point I was feeling pretty damn good. In the words of Macca “ The nice music was kicking in and I was dancing through the lava fields.” feeling a Kona slot might be within reach.
The big toe on my left foot started acting up around mile 9 with a pressurized ripping, pinching kind of pain. Like my toe nail was rubbing against the toe of my shoe. At mile 12 the pain became too much to run. I figured I would walk to the next aid station to patch my foot up and then I could continue my run and still keep my daylight finish streak alive. Well the next aid station didn’t have a first aid station so I figured walk to the turn around, get patched up and leave this two mile speed bump behind me. I had tried to run walk but I could only go maybe 100-200 feet before the pressure on the balls of my feet became too much. I grabbed my salt tabs from my special needs bag and wolfed down 3 of the five in my pack. On the turnaround I hit a pot hole and my feet still hurt the pressure on the big toe had spread to the big toe to my other foot. I took my shoes off and walked half a mile to the next aid station. It helped as it relieved the pressure. I stopped at the aid station after the turn around and asked for a band aid and some tape as my left toe hurt a lot worse than my right ( which was a manageable annoying throbbing instead of the “I think my toenail is going to explode out of the mesh at any second” kind of pain on my left toe. ) The volunteers at this aid station were wonderful. I munched down some pretzels as I patched my surprisingly not bloody toe. One of the volunteers noticed my socks were soaked from my sponge, ice, water, routine when I was going mach 1, so she gave me the socks off her feet and got me back on the road. I started feeling a little better and figured maybe I could run again. I picked it up and started to hit my stride again taking pretzels and coke at the aid stations. I was beginning to think that I might be able to salvage a 12:30 Ironman. After three miles I started feeling woozy and light headed like I was going to faint. Stopped at a port o let and peed: it was clear, no sodium I thought to myself. My foot felt a little better and I tried to run again, I got even more light headed and the road seemed to spin for a second. I slowed down and decided to walk to the aid station. I got to the aid station at about mile 19 and asked if they were giving out chicken broth. One of the volunteers nodded. I asked if I could sit for a bit. A couple of the Volunteers sat me down on the pavement and brought some of the broth over. I downed 6-7 cups of the stuff, as well as two cups of pretzels while I tried to get my bearings back. I must have been there for half an hour. The aid station captain came over and asked if I was on my first or second loop. I told him my second and he was like “you still have plenty of time to finish take what you need.” A passing athlete gave me a salt tab as I sucked it down with another cup of chicken broth. After a couple more minutes I stood up and started walking with another athlete. He gave me a salt tab and told me he was on his first loop. We walked for about half a mile before he started to run and began to haul ass so he could make the cut off. I continued to walk my marathon feeling like Rutger Beke in the 2007 Ironman, my feet hurt too much to run and at every aid station I was still peeing crystal clear. So I was taking Coke, Sports Drink and two cups of broth and pretzels. I continued to walk trying to run every so often for a few feet here and there, and occasionally stopping to stretch. Occasionally an athlete would come along side and we would chat for a while then they would start to jog or their walking pace would get faster than my waddle and they would disappear into the night. As the sun set I began to take it in stride. Joking with one guy, “The good thing about walking the marathon is I can actually enjoy the cookies.” I said at one aid station. One guy wearing a glow stick walked by “ Man I’m jealous I want one.” I said as he ran past with a chuckle. I tried to kick up my pace for a few hundred feet while I ran past the motivational mile. My legs still felt good but my feet felt like they were balloons full of fluid. It became clear that it was going to be a miracle to even run up the finish chute. But onward I went each mile ticking down as downtown came into sight. Athletes still came by one woman encouraged me to run with her. “my feet are too swollen” I told her. I came toward downtown and the crowds started to grow. Words of encouragement started to come from every direction. I made if to the last couple of corners. I started to jog and caught a couple of runners “I’ll back off and let you get some distance as I’m planning to log roll.” I told one lady “Thanks hun but I’m still on my first lap I was the last off the bike and they’re going to pull me off at the turnaround, but thanks for the heads up.” I jogged up the finish chute high fiving spectators on both sides of the barriers. 14:25- 14:30 it didn’t make a difference at this point I was going to finish. I dropped down and did a picture perfect log roll. I could now appreciate the sentiment of finishing the Ironman, of having the attitude of the finish is all that matters and that DNF was not an option. I could now appreciate what Jon Blais went through in his Ironman, going through tremendous pain most of it exponentially worse than mine to make it to the finish.
My official marathon time was 6:50:30, 20 minutes slower than my bike split. My slowest ever for the distance. My official finish time was 14:28:04 my time in medical was roughly 1hour 45 minutes, and for once I didn’t make it back to the finish line to see the last people cross, but I did get to see and feel just how hard it is to make it to that finish line.
As for my future in Ironman I’m hoping in the next couple of weeks to get the cash together to make another assault on Louisville, I’ve got some unfinished business with that run course as I see it the course owes me a 3:45 marathon and a Kona slot, and this time I’m bringing my A-game…and a couple of bottles of salt tablets.