Ironman Louisville 2009: the run
Shoes on, shorts on, obnoxiously yellow Preachtree Tri Club visor on, I ran out of transition. I had been in motion for eight and a half hours at this point and I was ready to put this thing to bed. I also knew I’d be seeing my crew twice or more on the run and the support was welcome.
My legs were feeling okay because I was using different muscles to run with than I was using on the bike. I hoped this would help me not be in as bad shape, but I also knew that there were aid stations every mile of the run so I needed to eat bananas and salty stuff to try to fix whatever was wrong with my legs.
The run leaves transition and takes a right down a busy downtown street. It then goes up over a bridge across the Ohio river, does a 180 and comes back down the bridge, and then heads out on the big loop that you do twice. It was a really nice afternoon and the sun was just starting to get that orange tinge that means its thinking about sliding away until tomorrow.
On the bridge I got some cookies and some pretzels from a cute volunteer girl. It was the first solid food I had seen all day. I was so happy to see food that wasn’t oozing from a packet in a thick paste, I acted like a complete dork about it.
On the way down the bridge, I found myself running alongside an asian guy with some of the biggest feet I’d ever seen.
“Look at the feet on you!” I said.
“Yeah, only the feet are big though. I’m Chinese!” he conferred.
I hadn’t considered that I’d be confronted with Asian American fellow athletes alerting me to the size of their various parts, but I really had bigger fish to fry. The biggest of these would be the 24 or so miles I still had to run at that point.
I was running through the center of the city, scanning the crowd for my crew. I thought circumstances might warrant a kiss on my face. You know, the sort that a warrior might get in between battles. I guess logistically that might mean the battle would need to be near his home, or at least near wherever his girl lives, but I digress.
A few miles down the way I found them and I was properly kissed and fretted over. I ran on.
Now I was about six miles in. My legs started to twinge in the same way that they had on the bike, but worse. Now my whole leg locked up. Both of them. Disaster!
I staggered to a walk from my jog on stiff-as-board legs and massaged them, trying to keep moving. Soon I got them going again and was able to speed up from a walk to a jog, but they very shortly locked up painfully again. This process was repeated many times over.
I could not go any faster than a power walk and I had twenty miles to go to finish. Son of a bitch.
So, I power walked. I clocked myself with my heart rate monitor walking a mile and did some math. At the rate I was going I could finish around ten PM. No problem.
The miles came by with horrific lack of speed. I was going to be on the streets of Louisville for the rest of my living days, it was clear. Plod, plod, plod. Every now and then I would try again to run, but my ability to move faster than a walk never really returned.
All my fellow club racers passed me one by one during this time. They were all on their second loops of the run. I said hello to them and explained my situation as they came by.
The sun inched down the sky and finally it was clear that it really did intend to go down. About this time I had reached the halfway mark and was back in the city. My girl walked with me around the loop and we talked a bit.
“Ok babe,” I said.. “See you in a few hours.”
I walked and walked. And walked. I was cold and it was getting dark. Most of the other racers had finished by now, so the course was largely free of other people. I ate pretzels and drank water, but trying to run just made my legs explode into painful seizures. I ate all the electrolyte caps I had, probably six. No dice.
A guy on the course saw me struggling along and said “Keep going man, you’ll be an Ironman today.”
I don’t know what it was about that remark, whether it was the way he said it or the state of mind I was in, but it made me tear up. I had been working for all this for a year. Two workouts a day, no drinking, no partying with my friends, just staying the course. I just couldn’t do anything but keep going.
Sobbing like a four year old lost in a department store was outside of what I considered to be Ironman-like behavior so I got control of myself and just walked. I had ten miles to go and it was very, very lonely out in the Louisville neighborhoods. I thanked people who were still watching the race for staying up and watching. Most of the spectators had long since given up and gone to sleep.
I began to chant to myself with each step. “Ten miles to go, ten miles to go, ten miles to go”. Eventually I walked past the nine mile sign. “Nine miles to go, Nine miles to go”.
My pace had slowed a lot. I was timing myself with each mile marker to make sure I could make the midnight cutoff, but my energetic power walk of four hours previous had lost a lot of its steam. I had, after all, been in motion well over twelve hours at this point.
On into the night I walked and walked. The distance whittled down from nine miles to eight, from eight to seven. I tried to enter a zenlike state where my body would keep walking but my mind could rest a bit, but not being at all practiced in meditation I was cursed with razor-sharp consciousness. There was no refuge from the lonely miles walking stiffly in the street.
The city crawled toward me. Finally I at about three miles to go my friend Amy the marathoner appeared out of the night.
“Is that you, baby?” she called. She stayed a good distance away from me, but called to me and tried to get me to hurry up. Apparently there are rules about being running alongside athletes and encouraging them on the course. I did not know this.
She ran far in front of and away to the side of me, trying to cajole me at all times into picking up the pace.
Soon the city came into view. I made the last turn and my girl was there waiting for me. I pulled off the glowing plastic necklace I had been given at sundown and tossed it into a nearby dumpster.
My legs were shredded, and all the walking had rubbed up a pair of blisters on the balls of my feet that I would later learn were the size of credit cards. I could hear the people lining the chute at the finish cheering, the announcer yelling. The lights were so bright they were illuminating everything around the corner. All I had to do was run two blocks into the light and this bitch was sealed up. My girl was walking alongside me.
“Ok babe” I said, “I’m gonna run it in.”
I picked up the pace, and every tiny muscle in my body all leaped furiously for their respective red phones, ready to scream over the hotline to my brain. I rounded the last corner at that moment, though, and the full shine of the lights two blocks away lit me up. There seemed to be a general consensus among my body parts that we could go that far.
I had to hold up a bit for the person in front of me to finish so I wouldn’t have to share my finisher photo with anyone, but I looked like shit anyway it turned out. I have an 8×10 glossy of the photo that will very likely never be seen by anyone.
I finished in sixteen hours and thirty eight minutes, just 22 minutes short of being pulled off the course. Only a dozen or so people finished after me. I was given a medal and a space blanket to wrap up in. I found my dad and my girl and my sister and my friends and everyone congratulated me. It was pretty great. I was fretted over mightily. My girl held my hand. At last, I had weathered all the horrible loneliness and distance and I had made it into the dream.
My sister pressured me to get checked out by a doc, so I talked to one. He said if I was standing up I was probably ok. I considered that sound advice.
It turned out that my parking place was perfect. It was not even a block away from the finish. Unfortunately neither my girl nor Julie knew how to drive manual, so it was up to me to drive us back to the hotel. They had already collected my bike and transition bags and loaded them up though, so all I had to do was get in and drive us back.
I got in, finisher’s medal around my neck, and stuffed my space blanket into the plastic compartment in the drivers door where it still resides as I type this. I started up the car and headed off.
Back at the hotel I made a few calls to family members to tell them I was alive and I had completed the race without major injury or death. Someone ordered a pizza and I ate some of it and drank some soda. Normally I avoid soft drinks, but my heart rate monitor said I had burned 12,000 calories that day so I thought I could probably afford it calorie wise. I updated my facebook page to let my extended friends know I was ok.
Then I decided it was time to sleep a bit, and my dad and sister left the room.
I took a much needed shower, finding it hard to stand up with blisters on each foot the size of half a lemon. My girl poked her head in to ask if I needed anything. I told her I was an Ironman and I could damn well wash myself.
I toweled off, put on some clothes, and my girl and I folded up in the bed in our customary spoon arrangement. She flipped over and whispered to me over and over again “Congratulations, babe. You did it. Congratulations”
I kissed her and fell asleep.