Monday, September 3, 2012

IMLOU 2012 Race Report

My first Ironman story still feels so unbelievably surreal. The entire weekend was one long celebration of hard work. My goal was simple: Finish and smile all day long. Both of those goals were met and surpassed. I’ve been living on Cloud 9 ever since.

I was strangely calm all weekend about the biggest athletic event in my life. On Saturday, Cheryl & I went to lunch with Scott, Gene and his wife, Teri. At lunch Gene said, “You are unbelievably calm. You seem calmer than I am.” In response, I said, “I decided a long time ago that God was going to give me the day that He was going to give me and stressing about it was not going to make a bit of difference.” And so I didn’t stress. I did not worry. I felt completely, 100% calm. If I was going to get knocked out in the swim, it would be. If I was going to have a flat, it would be. If I was going to hit the wall in the marathon, it would be. If I was going to have the best day of my life, it would be. 

Being the Professional Facebooker that I am, I updated my Facebook status Saturday night:
Feeling strangely calm & serene. No matter what tomorrow brings I know that I have prepared, fought, pushed & pounded my body & mind for this one day. I leave it now in God's hands to show me the path tomorrow. Either way I know I have an Iron heart & will celebrate with my T3 comrades as each and every one completes their journey. Good luck my friends!
I stayed with Cheryl Saturday night so I wouldn’t have to tip toe around my dear husband and three children in the morning. Cheryl & I usually bond before races by talking about how stupid this is and asking why we do this to ourselves. The alarm went off at 3:15 am. I slowly started moving my body and thought about the strange dreams that I had the previous night. Dreams about forgetting aero bottle. Dreams about my age group starting at 11:46 am and wondering how I was going to get this all done by midnight. Dreams about body marking. Don’t even ask about that one.

As we were getting ready, Cheryl said: "I'm kind of freaking out that we're not freaking out! That's just not us."  Haha so true. I was still feeling strangely calm about the day, not worried, not stressing. I wanted to enjoy every single moment of it.

Walking from transition to the swim start
I met my family down in the lounge around 4:30 am. Everything I needed for the day was in my Morning Clothes bag…more pre-race food, goggles, cap, nutrition for bike and water bottles. We arrived at transition a few minutes early. Once opened, I went directly to my bike to put my aero bottle on my bike plus 2 water bottles from CVS. I wanted to make sure I started the day off with plenty of water. I tried to use my neighbor’s bike pump, but I couldn’t get it to close over my bike stem. I was beginning to feel rattled. I wanted my bike set up quickly so I could move on to the Swim Start. I grabbed my Special Needs bags and dropped them off and then grabbed Cheryl’s Special Needs bags as well while she pumped her tires. As I made my way back to my bike, I had about 3 people try to hijack the tire pump, but there was no way I was stopping until my own tires were taken care of. I was a little stressed about still being in transition. I wanted to head over to the swim start. I saw a few T3 members in transition: Kathy, Ann, Gene and Ed, but it was quick hellos as I was trying to get moving.

Finally, I was done with my tires and started to walk to the swim start. I was anxious about getting my spot in the swim line. As we are walking, I mentally pictured my bike and realized I didn’t put my nutrition sack on my bike. Panic set in. Holy shit. Jeff being the calm logical person that he is grabbed my snack sack and took off running to transition. I didn’t know if I should go back to transition or keep walking. I said a prayer that someone would let him in transition to put it on my bike or at least put the nutrition with my bike. If I didn’t have that nutrition, I was setting myself up for a quick failure. All plans out the window. Luckily, my family kept me calm as I tried not to worry about whether or not Jeff would be able to get it taken care of.
Waiting for the swim start. Chatting as usual

When we got the swim start, there were a ton of people available for body marking. No wait. Quickly done. Yes! Time to walk down and get in line. The line was extremely long already. I felt as if we were the last people to get in line, but I soon learned there were many more behind us. We got in line and started chatting with two guys behind us. One was from Colorado doing his 3rd IM in 5 months trying to break 10 hours. Oh dear Lord. So way out of my league. The other man was of Indian descent from ND where “there is only one hill”. Oh boy, was he in for a surprise today.

The athletes were all in one line closest to the river, but the family members could stand on the other side of the sidewalk and keep you company. I asked Tiffany to call Jeff and ask for a report on my bike nutrition. He said my nutrition was taken care of. I felt a huge sigh of relief. When Jeff finally made it back to our position in the line, he said a volunteer was putting it on my bike and I should be good to go. He said he also ran into Ed who forgot his nutrition back at the hotel – across the river! Knowing how stressed I felt about my own situation I couldn’t imagine trying to call and wake up my spouse and get them across the river before starting the race. I said a little prayer for him. We stayed in line for a while and then decided we should use the porta-potties. As went got in line, we ran into Gene who said he had left his bike special needs bags with nutrition for 2nd half of bike back at the hotel. All of the sudden I wasn’t feeling so alone now knowing at least 3 of us had suffered a misstep already.

The line for the porta-potties was crazy long. We waited for 45 minutes while the swim line kept moving forward as 7 am drew near. We were praying that our family was moving our stuff up and that the guys in line were as nice as they seemed to be and would move our stuff up. While I was standing in potty line, I finally saw Ed get in line for the swim. He didn’t look happy, but I figured it was a good sign that he had his nutrition under control.

I finally made it back to the swim line where I ate my protein bar and then felt a little twinge of panic when they sang the National Anthem. I heard the gun go off for the pros. I took off my shorts, put on my cap and then heard the gun go off for the age groupers. Adrenaline rush. The line started moving forward, but I was relaxed again. I can’t explain why but I was not worried. I guess I knew I was prepared and everything would be as it should be.

When I got down to the docks, I heard the music. It was just what I needed to distract me. I started moving to the beat and felt my heart rate starting to accelerate. I spit in goggles, put them in place and started the jog down to the dock. Cheryl jumped in. I waited for clearance…and I jumped in.  I had a moment of brief panic when I realized I didn’t grab my goggles but fortunately they didn’t move. I immediately started talking to myself…relax, relax, relax, count strokes, relax. Slow down. Your pace. Your race.
At the beginning of the swim

I stayed to the right. Only a few jostles. By the first 200 yards my goggles were pretty fogged up and I could only see out of the corner of my right goggle. I continued with my stroke, staying relaxed, but a little uneasy that I couldn’t see much out of my goggles. I was afraid to clear my goggle lens and then end up with a leak so I continued to swim with foggy goggles instead. My goal was to relax for the first half of the swim and if I felt a strong current as I came back downstream, dig in and have a strong back half of the swim. As we cleared Towhead Island, I moved to the left figuring it was time to turn downstream. I finally took a minute to clear my goggles only to discover I was inside the buoy and I still had a way to go before starting to turn. One of the canoe lifeguards politely said, “You are off course, ma’am.” Hahah yah. All I could do was chuckle and swim. Only problem was that now I was on the inside line when we finally made the turn. I had a tough time moving my arms let alone my body forward. One man tried to break his elbow on my hard head. Not a good idea, dude. I’m pretty hard headed. I finally turned and relaxed again. I moved to the right again. At one point, I felt a bump on my Garmin and had a moment of panic thinking I had lost my watch. I checked – it was still there and saw my time 1:15. OK…not bad….still had a way to go, but thought I was on track. As we headed into the final couple of hundred yards, I started to feel the squeeze and all I could do was laugh. A verse from a song rang through my head: “Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to my right. Here I am stuck in the middle with you.” That’s exactly how I felt. Stuck in the middle.

Swim Exit
I finally approached the stairs to exit the river. I was so happy to grab the volunteer’s hand and step out of the water. Tiffany and Dera were right at the water exit and I was so happy to hear their words of encouragement as I walked up to transition. As I crossed the bridge over to the Great Lawn, I heard cheers to my right and turned to see my husband and kids waving at me. Those moments will be forever engraved in my memory.

I grabbed my bag and got to T1. I loved having a volunteer there to help you make the transition. She was extremely helpful and wonderful even though I found it a little strange to have her help me put my bra on. Oh well. It was all good. I think she was surprised I was so chatty. She was trying to be quick and efficient and I was like chill…I’ve got time. After a stop at the porta-potty (yes, I drink a lot of water when I swim), I was off on the bike. Oh wait….nutrition. Yes the volunteer was wonderful and put it on my bike. I forgot to check before I jumped on my bike, but I noticed it immediately. She put the sack on the bike stem and my legs were hitting it every turn. As a result, I had to stop before hitting Whitherspoon and move the snack sack to the front bar, but I was ever so thankful to have my nutrition with me.
Dolce & I....112 miles of business ahead

I started off on the bike….JRA (just riding along). Relaxing – getting legs moving again. After 10 minutes, I decided I needed Endurolytes and I was ready for nutrition. I wanted something solid in my stomach early in the day so I was planning on having a bagel and peanut butter on my bike. I took 2 Endurolytes and Tylenol (just in case). As I was trying to swallow all of the pills, my bagel and peanut butter fell out of my jersey pocket…ugh. No stopping…just kept going.  I decided a Stinger -Waffle would have to do instead.

I took a gel as we took the turn on 42. They had the far left lane closed and then we had to cross traffic about 300 yards up. The line of cars was unbelievable. I made a comment that I felt sorry for the drivers having to wait today and they probably hated us. Another biker laughed and said the drivers probably feel sorry for us. Touché

Before 1694, I said a prayer for all athletes, but especially my T3 comrades, knowing how dangerous the downhills could be on this segment. On the uphill, the devil and grim reaper said  “13 – that’s my favorite number”. Dude, seriously, T3, but you don’t argue with the devil so I just kept pedaling! I saw marshalls on 1694 who were warning people about drafting. Superman was out there as well. He gave me a fist pump and tried to transfer his super powers to me. Heck, I think it worked!!!

On 1694, I saw Mark, Glen, Cheryl on the way out…on the way back, I saw Mike stopped at an aid station and Gene on his way up the hill. Dang!!!  I knew it wouldn’t be long before Gene passed me…probably the last uphill on 1694. In my usual manner, I was still chatting with the other bikers about the joys of the hills. As I was heading up a hill, I saw a woman in the ditch laying down, eyes closed, looking out of it…2 bikers stopped with her. That’s the best part of triathletes. They are willing to help others. And then as expected, Gene passed me on the last long hill. Go Gene! So excited for him.  

I was so happy when I got off of 1694 and knew I didn’t have to see that part of the road again. The next few rollers weren’t bad. I was already mentally preparing for 393. Amazingly the hills flew by. I saw the Pflederer family at the intersection of 393 and 53. It was so great to hear them cheering, encouraging me along.  I continued to feel relaxed, putting minimal pressure on my feet. I flew over the relatively flat section leading to LaGrange. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going to see my family in La Grange. They were just past the 4 way stop but I didn’t see them in time to stop. I blew them a kiss and kept pedaling. Seeing them there though made me smile even brighter. I passed the section where Cheryl lost her chain on our first trip to Lou. I was glad to put that memory in the past and keep riding by.

Blowing a kiss to my family
I turned on to Ballard School Road, the road I dreaded most.  As we were going up the first hill I passed another lady and said something to her about the delights of hills and she shouted out a warning about the next hill being a blind one saying it was where I’d likely drop a chain. I laughed. Yep, that’s exactly what I did the first time.  There was a gentleman standing at the end of his driveway on the long sloping hill on Ballard School who gave me a reason to smile. He said, “I know this hill doesn’t look like much but it can kick you in the rear if you aren’t careful.” I chatted with other riders about what was coming…the downhill and 90 degree turn into the uphill. After riding the loop twice already, I was prepared and dropped to the small chain ring before the turn and kept up a decent pace up the hill. The toughest part is not being able to gain momentum before you have another small climb. Usually it’s a small part of the road where I actually have to stand up on my pedals, but today it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, I did have the distraction of a truck pulling a trailer on Sligo Road and having to maneuver around it as well as the other bikers. Oh well.

I tried to take the time to appreciate the beautiful scenery. The landscape on the bike route is absolutely breathtaking. Beautiful horse farms. Grand homes. Wonderful people sitting in their front lawns cheering you on. I saw the Pflederer’s and Bob Davis at the turn onto Pendleton Rd. Hearing Bob yell “You are looking strong.” felt great. It’s amazing how the smallest words of encouragement can carry you a long time. The smile on my face just kept glowing. I turned on to 42 and knew I had to be patient. I always seem to think 393 should come up quicker than it does. On 42, Stacey passed me. I was glad to see her since I knew she was worried about the swim cutoff. It was so nice to see everyone having successes and facing their fears. I turned on to 393 again…..passed the 60 mile marker way before the cutoff. A mini-celebration for me. I wasn’t really worried about that cutoff time, but I was just relieved to have that one behind me.

I started having this nagging thought that I was going to be that person who had a great bike split, but had to walk the run. But really I kept checking myself….light pressure on the feet, hydration going well, eating consistently. All is good. I said a prayer of thanks. I made my first stop at the aid station before turning onto 53 where an awesome volunteer held my bike as I went to the bathroom. Haha – no peeing on the bike for me.  I turned on 53 and stopped at special needs to get my nutrition. I had another bagel and peanut butter in there, but the thought of solid food sounded way too heavy.  I dumped my first Perpeteum into my aero bottle and took off. Again when I got to La Grange, I didn’t see my family until I was right on them. I was afraid to stop quickly and cause an accident so I kept going. As I pulled out of La Grange, I teared up and said a little prayer that they would make their way down to Pendleton Rd this time. It sure would be nice to see them. Suddenly the song “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to….” started ringing through my head. I made the final turn on to Ballard School Road and again I was chatting it up with the bikers.

My beautiful daughters
I can’t believe how relaxed I felt. My shoulders didn’t feel tense. I was feeling great. When I finally made my way to the turn onto Pendleton Rd, I scanned the crowd and saw the most beautiful sight…my family waiting, cheering for me. No question in my mind. I stop and gave them all hugs and kisses. As we are talking, Abby kept saying how my arms are all sweaty. It didn’t occur to me until I took off again that she was feeling the water I had poured on my arm coolers and that’s why they seemed so sweaty. Pendleton Road was the last stop I made on the bike. Dolce and I turned toward Louisville and never stopped again. I remember passing boys on Cervelos and thinking “Huh, guess me and my road bike are doing ok.” And who told me I needed a tri bike? Yah, no thank you. I still have $2,000+ in my pocket.

I remember a sense of fear as my 112 miles came to an end. A fear of hitting the wall in the marathon. I was sure the run was going to hurt. I came into transition and remembered comments from other Ironman athletes saying how they hated their bike and couldn’t wait to give it to the volunteer, but after about 5 miles on the run you wished you had it back. I wasn’t ready to get off of my bike.  We had bonded together out there in Oldham County and I was frankly afraid of the lactic acid which I was sure was going to take over my body soon.

I got to transition, grabbed my bag and headed into the tent. As soon as I walked in, I saw the most beautiful sight: Cheryl. She was sitting in a chair next to Stacey with an empty in between. I plopped my butt right down, sat back into that comfortable chair and started chatting it up with my girls. We were swapping stories and having a good time. Eventually I decided I needed to start getting changed. I took a moment to test my blood sugars….218, which seemed reasonable to me since I was still eating and drinking Perform on the bike. I had told myself that if it was over 300, I would simply start walking and go from there. I was happy to see that I didn’t have to alter my initial race plan. Cheryl, Stacey & I discussed how nice it was to be at this point and know we could walk the marathon and still finish the day as an Ironman. Big relief for all of us.  I finally got dressed – without a volunteer. I did have a volunteer bring me water to drink as well as to wash the sticky muck off my hands.  After a quick stop at the porta-potty, we set off to run.

The best part was walking through transition with Cheryl. We were still chucking it up, laughing, nice and relaxed. We stopped to get hugs from our families. We even took some pictures. Tiffany took a series of shots of Cheryl & I walking out of transition. Cheryl tried to take a drink and wound up with Perform up her nose while I am talking very animatedly with my arms. Tiff got some fantastic pictures at that time. Best moments of the day!!! Hence, my T2 was 27 minutes…and Cheryl’s was 37. BUT IT WAS WORTH IT!!!!!!

As soon as we left transition, we started a slow jog. I told Cheryl she did not have to wait for me. I wanted her to have her day. She said “No matter what we are each going to have our own moment at the finish line.” That Cheryl, she’s a smart cookie. Almost immediately Cheryl said she didn’t feel well. Something wasn’t right. I wasn’t too concerned yet. She’s had some problems with dehydration in the past and I thought if we got her some fluids she would recover quickly enough. I know she’s one tough chic. We stopped at the first aid station on the bridge, grabbed some ice and Perform. As soon as we were done taking in our fluids, we started a slow jog again. Again she said she didn’t feel well. I asked her what her heart rate was and it was 167. Probably a little high for our pace, but not alarming considering the amount of stress our bodies were undergoing today. As we stopped at the 2nd aid station, we grabbed some grapes and  more ice, more fluids.  We started jogging again. Cheryl still didn’t feel well and I just said that’s ok I’m going to make you slow down and run at my pace. 12 minute miles was my plan for the first 6 miles.

Tiffany, Cheryl, me & Dera at T2
As we were getting off the bridge, I saw Brian turning on to it. I told Cheryl “That just made my day.” Knowing Brian had struggled with some OWS issues, he was going to be on my mind until I know if he made it out of the water. Seeing him on the run course made my heart a little bit lighter. At about the 3rd mile, Cheryl said I was going to have to continue without her. She needed to walk. I asked her what was wrong and she said she felt like she had a weight on her chest. ALARM BELLS WENT OFF. She just couldn’t take a deep breath. The effort made everything feel tight, tired. I reminded Cheryl that we had said we could walk the marathon and still get done on time. I asked her if she was going to be ok and begged her to please listen to her body. This was definitely the only moment I did not smile. I was scared, worried. I didn’t know if I should leave her. I wished I had a cell phone to call my husband or sister, but I had nothing and just had to wait until I saw them on the run course.  I said a prayer for Cheryl as I watched her start her walk.

My run plan was a 12 minute pace for the first 6 miles. However, while in downtown, my watch had a hard time getting a consistent reading. It was jumping from 10 minutes to 14 minutes. So really I had no idea what pace I was going at. I just tried to keep it consistent and GO!

I had this nagging thought that I was going to bonk or hit the wall throughout the run. So I kept hydrating, kept throwing ice down my bra and pants. Don’t laugh. It feels really good. I ate light foods: gels, pretzels, lots of chicken broth. I couldn’t quite do the coke though. It still tasted too sugary to me.

The best T2 ever. Worth 27 minutes!
The run was long and boring. The route was an out and back which you looped 2x. The best part? Getting to see T3 members 4 times. Sometimes I missed the people who weren’t wearing T3 gear. I tried to keep track in my head who I saw in what order so I could keep looking for them…it also helped me to have something to focus on. Mark, Aaron, Glen, Kathy, Pat, Gene, Ed, Chris, James…repeat. On my way back, I saw Christy, Stacey, Cheryl, Brian, Ann & Joe. I finally got to see Cassie kicking some butt, as well as Joan. I gave a shout out and/or hug to each and every one of them every time we passed. So much fun to see them doing well and achieving their dreams. Miles 6-18 were supposed to be an 11:32 pace with a 30 step walk. I kept close to that plan. I was a little slower overall on my pace. I was still fearing the wall and if I needed more than 30 steps to finish my chicken broth or pretzels I took it. Again, my goal was not to kick ass, but to finish and enjoy every single moment. Nothing was going to deter me from that goal.

A kiss from my support crew
I got to see my family about mile 15. They didn’t know yet what was going on with Cheryl. I asked them to remind her that she could still make it even if she walked the entire way. I know how negative thinking can set in and destroy your motivation. A kiss from my husband, hug from everyone else (yuk – I was pretty gross by this point) and yes, I was off again. Coming into the finish area, seeing the line was a lot of fun. The crowd was going crazy and I was smiling at all of the madness. People were cheering me on “You’ve got this. You’re almost there.” Then I had to laugh because I realized they thought I was smiling because I was almost done. Haha not so. 12 more miles to go!

On my 2nd loop, I stopped to give Gene a big hug. Of course, he talks to everyone on the course and when another spectator saw my T3 uniform, she asked, “Did you guys leave anyone back in your small little town?” Haha. Probably not. And as I found out later, if they were home, they were probably attached to their computer or phone checking on everyone’s progress. I saw Chris & James one last time. Just as I shouted “Keep it going boys” I heard James say to Chris “See you at the finish”. They didn’t hear me at all and later asked what happened to me. All in my master plan….

The miles were counting down. 10 to go. 8. 6 miles left. I was waiting for that wall to hit. Finally, mile 25….I felt great. No lactic acid build up. I didn’t feel tired. I was fired up.
Still smiling!!!

In the last half mile or so, a gentleman told me there were two big guys in those same “13” uniforms just two minutes ahead. I increased my speed.  As I hit the first corner, two girls sitting on the sidewalk said those boys had just passed by. I took off. If they were really that close, it was time to kick it in gear and see if I could catch them. Then I saw the finisher’s chute. The lights. The crowd. My smile could not be stopped. This was the moment I was waiting for. I started throwing my hands up in celebration. I could not believe I was here. The Ironman Finish Line. I heard them mispronounce my name “Carla Lieber”. Whatever!! I came across the line, arms raised celebrating 9 months of long, hard work. A culmination of everything that I had dreamed it would be. As I stepped beyond the finisher line and received my medal, I stopped, did a dance shaking what the good Lord gave me, and did a split kick for good measure. I felt no pain. I was on top of the world.

I crossed the line to see Lynn and Bob handing out hats, had my picture taken and was greeted by some T3 members outside of the finisher chute. It sure was nice to see them and to celebrate with them.

Again, I updated my Facebook status:
I planned my work. I worked my plan. Now you can call me an Ironman.
Oh, baby, that felt good! I am an Ironman. Wow. 
However, I didn’t have much time to waste. I wanted to walk back up about a half mile to help give Cheryl the celebration she deserved after a long hard day. We both reached our goals. We can now say we have accomplished the impossible. 

15 hrs, 9 min, 56 seconds of smiles
 Unless you were there, you probably won’t believe me, but I can honestly say I smiled the entire time…….15 hours, 9 minutes, 56 seconds of pure joy on my part. I cannot express how good it feels to test your body and feel it respond, to have it step up to the podium and end the day with the feeling that you can do anything.

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