I knew early on I wanted to drive to the Ironman event. I had so much to take with me and thought flying for my first full distance wasn’t practical for me. I left from my home in Douglas, Ma on Wednesday, August 21st and drove about 10 hours to Mansfield, OH. I drove the last four hours on Thursday morning the 22nd. Before I left Mansfield I got in a short three mile run on the treadmill. I thought it was important just to loosen the legs. I knew what I did this last week to ten days would have no impact on race day but keeping loose and doing short workouts gives me confidence.
I arrived in Louisville around 2 PM and checked into the Galt House Hotel. This was considered the athletes hotel and primary location for what was going on. From the moment I arrived you could feel the energy from others arriving. Everyone looked to be in amazing shape. Everywhere you looked you saw tri-bikes that cost $4,000+. Wheels that easily cost over a $1,000 a set. Waiting inline to check-in I immediately saw people with the M-Dot tattoo. A sign of a veteran to the full distance as well as immediate respect. I expected to feel some competitiveness from others but I never felt that once all weekend. I would later learn this weekend was about survival and not competing.
After I checked into the hotel I went to the Ironman expo to get all my race stuff. You are given a bracelet to wear all weekend, swimming cap, race bibs, and your five transition bags (Race morning bag which isn’t needed if you have family, Bike transition bag, Bike Special needs which is given to you at about mile 65, Run transition bag, & Run special needs bag which you receive at the 1/2 way point) . We received a nice Ironman Louisville backpack as well. This whole process took about 10-15 minutes because the lines were small. For a Sunday race checking in mid-day Thursday is recommended if you want to avoid lines and getting a room on lower floor. The expo was nice. I expected it to be a bit larger for an event like this but I was pleased overall. The Ironman store was loaded with items but if you never completed an Ironman before I felt it was pointless and superstitious until after the event. This is similar to being a hockey player and you don’t touch the Stanley Cup unless you have won it. As my friend says the Ironman is earned never given. So don’t buy or touch the Ironman schwag until it’s earned. :).
On Friday morning August, 23rd we had an optional relaxing 9 AM 20 mile bike ride. About 100 people showed up to this event. It was a lot of fun. This part of the course was very flat but you got to see if your bike needs any last minute tweaks. I learned quickly my water bottle cages that were attached to my seat weren’t working correctly. It works fine for a normal water bottle. But I had a Poland Spring plastic bottle, similar to what would be on the course and that wasn’t holding. I lost a bottle early on so I had to go to the expo to buy special bottle holders. They are a little smaller and have an elastic around them. They are called X Lab P- Cage kit. It cost’s me $50 and it came with another pouch to carry an extra tire. I decided I would carry 2 tubes and have another one in my special needs bag.
The rest of Friday is mostly relaxing. My parents arrived in the afternoon and we checked out the Louisville Slugger museum which I highly recommend since it’s close to the hotel and the tour is only an hour. I spent about 30 minutes to one hour loading up my special needs bags. I recommend putting everything on top of the bags first to be sure you don’t forget anything. For a rookie I had a lot of items in my bags. Friday evening there was an athlete dinner and a mandatory race briefing. The acoustics in the hall where they had this was terrible. You couldn’t hear a thing. It echoed everywhere.
Schedule of events can be found here…
On Saturday there was an optional swim from 8-10. I went for a quick 15 minute dip. You had to wear your race chip and race cap. I didn’t have my race chip on tight enough so during the whole swim it bothered me that it would fall off. I was told it would float but that didn’t make a difference. Saturday late morning we went to the Jim Beam distillery about 30 minutes away. The tour was great and it’s a good way to kill some time.
Saturday afternoon you have to turn in your bike to be left overnight and your race bags. You had from 12-5 to do this. I recommend going after 2 PM. By the time we got there it was easy in and easy out. You really need a second person to carry your bags. If you are doing this alone you will need to make a second trip. You do have access to your bags on race morning but they want them the day before.
After I turned in my bike I decided to get some food up by the finish line. I had Lasagna at The Sports and Social Club. The food cost about $7.00 and it was amazing. I ended up going back there for a second meal a few hours later. I met a guy named Howard Glass. He is in his early 70’s and already qualified for Kona in October. We talked for about 20 minutes and is someone I will now always follow. He ended up winning his age group on Sunday again. Saturday night I got to bed about 9 PM.
I decided to wake up about 3:50 AM. Transition opened up 4:45 AM but I had no intention of getting there until about 5:15. I ate 1 1/2 bagels along with a protein bar. I did a last minute post to FB to thank so many people who have inspired me along the way. I took a nice hot shower as well to relax the muscles. I never felt nervous. I knew it was going to be a long day and was ready to get started. Before leaving my room I put on my bathing suit and put on my Calumet 2012 Reach The Beach shirt. I brought a backpack that had my timing chip, swim goggles, goggle anti-fog spray, water bottles, Bike computer, and bike pump. My parents arrived at my room at 5 AM. I got down to my bike about 5:15. Only athletes are allowed in the transition area. If you bring your own pump people will ask to borrow yours. This is the one thing that can slow up your time in transition.
We then headed down to the swim start. It’s about 8/10’s of a mile walk from the transition area. Once there you get body marked. Numbers on each arm(1815) and your age as of 12/31 of current year on your calf. On the other calf I had my sons initials. Then I got inline for the rest room. It took about 15 minutes to get through. They don’t have enough bathrooms here so be prepared to wait in line. After that we got in line. The swim line was about another 1/2 mile walk. Athletes are on one side of the sidewalk and families on the other. I believe I got in line about 6:30. Pros start at 6:50 and age groupers start at 7:00. I got into the water at 7:31.
As you are walking down to the start your family will walk beside you. You are with them until about the last 100 feet when you make the turn to the docks. If you have a GPS watch be sure to turn it on a few minutes before this so the satellites can find you. Once you make this turn it’s time to put on your swim cap,goggles and say a little prayer. There are two docks. I jumped from the first one. You are required to jump in feet first. My plan was once I hit the water I would do the side stroke until I could lower my heart rate. Immediately my heart rate was low so I was able to do the crawl. It’s upriver for the first .8 miles. I was on the outside closer to shore and I had a hard time sighting. I didn’t have that many people around me but wasn’t swimming as straight as I could. I recommend if you can go to the inside and follow the buoys. I made the turn at 38 minutes. It was slower than I am use to. If I do this race again I would swim harder during this section because down river you are cruising. Once I made that turn I sighted the buoys. I was able to swim much faster. The last .3 miles I was a little bit tired and was thinking my breathing wasn’t going well. Something I was in fear of the whole day. Before I got out of water I tried to pee but don’t think I had much luck since I used the restroom in transition. I did the swim in 1:21. I was very happy with this.
Things that went well:
- My swim time.
- I stayed within myself.
- I sighted well the last 1.6 miles.
Things to improve on:
- Swim harder up river.
- Do a better job at sighting.
I really took my time from getting out of the water to the start of the swim. In total it took about 10 minutes. Most of it was walking from the end of the swim to the transition tent. Just outside of the transition tent they hand you your bike transition bag. Since I was putting on my cycling shorts over my swim suit I had no reason to go in the tent and it was over 100 degrees in there anyway. Even though I was wearing a cycling bib I didn’t put it over my shoulders because I was going to wear the same jersey for the run. I put on my heart rate monitor, socks, shoes, jersey, helmet, and gloves. I hit the restroom before I walked over to my bike. While walking over to my bike I ate some oranges. Oranges is quick and easy and helps to reduce being nauseous.
The first 10+ miles of the bike it’s completely flat. I took my time and warmed up. I really wasn’t going fast because I was trying to get more food and liquids into me. I feel I road scared all day. I was so nervous about not being able to breath that I never pushed it at all. My max heart rate on the bike was 155 while my average was just 127. Normally it should be an average of about 150-155 and max would be in the 165-170 range. I used my inhaler every hour and after about 5 hours on the bike I took it every 30 minutes or so. Did it help? I think so but again looking back I never seemed to have the guts to push it. On a few hills I did push it I was passing people left and right. But I never gave myself a chance to ride a sub 6:30 time. I am a B to B+ rider but road like I was a C+ to B- rider.
After about mile 60 I did seem to fade a bit. I ate the whole time on the bike but the nutrition wasn’t right. By mile 90 I was starting to hurt. There was no shade at all on the course. The sun was beating down on you from 9 AM to 4 PM. I felt I drank enough liquids but after being on the course for almost 7 hours it’s tough.
Things that went well:
- I stayed relaxed
- I stayed within myself.
- I didn’t crash or have any close calls.
Things to improve on:
- Bike harder.
- Work on the nutrition.
I again took my time. I told myself I was going to walk the marathon. I had thoughts at this time even about quitting. I had plenty of time to complete it but really was feeling fatigued and mentally beat up from being in the sun all day. I again got dressed outside of the tent and this time changed my socks. I grabbed my oranges and headed to the restroom.
Once I got out of transition I began to jog. My legs from the bike weren’t tired at all. Mostly because I didn’t push it all and the other was because I was fairly forward in my bike to handle the stress. My watch seemed to fail once I was out of the transition. I tried to get it to work and it didn’t seem to respond so I stopped it and reset it to run mode only. It worked after about a 1/2 mile.
I was running about 9 minute miles for the first 6 or so. I really felt I was taking my time but I felt great at this point. Normally when I start to fade on a run it goes down about a minute a mile until I am at about 12 minute miles. This time it happened very quickly. I pulled up to an aide station, grabbed some water and food, and then felt sick. I made it another few hundred yards and threw up. I was there a few minutes before a volunteer named Bill came over to offer assistance. They wanted to get me an ambulance but I refused and I asked him to walk with me. He walked with me about another mile and I could tell I was very weak.
About mile 8ish I threw up again. This time I had thoughts about quitting but kept moving. This was the worst I felt all day. At mile 6 is when the race began. At mile 8 is where I had to find it within myself to recover. I couldn’t walk this slow the rest of the way. I was averaging about 19 minute miles and needed to be closer to 15. Puke and rally is a term used when your out drinking with your friends. Puke and rally exists in triathlons as well. Your brain is foggy, you have no will to continue, your hungry, and everything hurts. But YOU have to find a way to recover(rally). At the next aid station I started to eat again. This time it was pretzels. I wasn’t going to recover quickly and it really took until about mile 18/19 where I was feeling better.
At the 1/2 marathon point I saw my parents. It perked me up. I handed them my Fuel Belt and told them it’s going to be another 3+ hours because I had been sick. I wanted to walk the rest of the way because I was afraid if I ran I wouldn’t make it and get sick again. Right after I saw my parents I met someone I would walk with for the next 12 miles. Her name was Heather and she wasn’t feeling good either. She was much stronger than I was at this point so I had a hard time holding on for a while but I am glad she pushed me. I continued to eat pretzels and became strong as the miles ticked off. I was responsible for keeping the pace while she watched the clock to make sure we made it before midnight. We knew we were fine but we wanted to be done before 11.
At around the mile 25 marker she decided to run. I took a few steps and didn’t have it in me. I did end up running the last 3/10’s of a mile. My legs hurt but I realized I had it in me to run the last few miles. I will explain more later. While going down the finish line chute it was surreal. I had that piece of paper out showing everyone who inspired me and who I was dedicating this to. I then heard my name…..William Smith ‘You Are An Ironman’. Next to getting married or having a child this was the third most important day of my life and I finished what I set out to do. I finished the Ironman in 15:02.
15:02 won’t be on my headstone someday. It will say ?X -Time Ironman. 15:02 is what will drive me to my next Ironman. Walking the last 19+ miles of a 140.6 race isn’t something to be ashamed of if you learn from it. In marathon races you normally bonk somewhere around mile 18-22 and then just walk it in. For an Ironman you can bonk, recover, and then run again. I didn’t know this. It took my first Ironman to see what I can do. I recovered by mile 18 or 19 and realized now I should have tried to run at about a 10-12 minute per mile pace. I think Heather may have been able to run as well. She seemed stronger than me the whole time we walked together.
Things that went well:
- I ran the first 6 miles.
- I recovered.
- I finished!
Things to improve on:
- I should have ran again when I felt better.
- Work on the nutrition.
I got my medal, my finishing t-shirt, and my picture taken. My parents were there to assist me. I am forever grateful for them coming help me and take care of me. They picked up my bike while I was on my second lap of the marathon and brought it to my room. This is why you need someone there to help you with things like this. After I got out of the finish line chute I changed my shirt, put on flip flops, and walked back to the room. My legs actually felt ok to walk. It was the bottom of my feet that were hurting. I developed a few blisters but didn’t feel them on the marathon.
I got back to my room about 11 PM and took a shower. I had every intention of going right to bed but stayed up to check my email and text messages. I was in complete shock and awe at how many people were rooting for me and following me. I had tears in my eyes. I thought a few would be following me but it felt like hundreds. My cousin even took a picture of me crossing the finishing line online and posted it. With such a crazy week that I have had since Ironman I still haven’t thanked everyone individually for their dedication.
The one thing people keep asking me after my Ironman is will there be another one? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is which one? Stay tuned for my next topic on “My Next Ironman”.