Molina and I discussed my strategy going into this race. We knew my feet had been a huge limiter all year, and the decision was made: I would treat IM Louisville as if it was my last ironman. My last ironman of the year, and quite possibly my last ironman ever. Every day I woke up and approached my preparation accordingly. I gave this race EVERYTHING!
TYR Swim: People told me this swim is crazy hot, gross and dirty. Wasn't too hot for me, and didn't feel nearly as dirty as other IM's (IMAz?!?!). Poor visibility did mean having to sight right from the start vs relying on the bubbles ahead. I didn't have much get up and go at the start and my feel for the water wasn't there. I knew this was simply the effect of only getting a 5min warm up so tried to calm down mentally. It was a mass pro start (men and women). I swam for the far buoy with 2 guys. Side note- I hope next year all IM races will give the men and women a separate start as Kona now does. Fair and clean, it's all we're after.
Once we rounded the buoy (2500m to go) I felt like we were swimming into a current again. Dang, this won't be a fast swim, or so I thought. Just then another girl who had been on my feet came up next to me. With around 1500m to go my engine turned on. Now that's how swimming should feel! My stroke lengthened, my pull strengthened, and my breathing switched back to bilateral. Decision time: do I try to jump up to the next pack or stay put? I lifted my head up and didn't think there was enough ground to close the gap. Head down, finish strong. I knew several girls got a good jump on me from my pathetic starting speed, so I turned my focus to a quick transition.
Scott/Vision Bike: Out of transition the time clock showed 54minutes. Holla!! My time goal for this race is in check. Time really doesn't matter, there were women ahead of me, and more behind me. Time to go. I felt great on the bike through mile 30. The rollers were fun and other than a quick mechanical (thanks bike tech for the moving allen wrench hand off) everything was clicking. The bike course is one stretch out to a 32mile loop that you do twice, and back. The wind was minimal, but the temps were soaring.
At mile 35 my feet started throbbing. No, no, NOOOOO God please not already! I stayed mentally calm and just tried to ignore it. Then shooting pain started in my right foot. I was however practically riding with one leg. Stay calm, eat, breath, it's a long day. Things remained the same until the end of loop one. Then just as the pain came on it was gone. Completely gone! I clearly remember this moment: "Thank you God, I promise I wouldn't take this for granted." I was off.
The roads were packed on the second loop. Age group athletes 4 wide. Some having conversations. I typically enjoy the company, but at times it got a bit dicey. I let out a few murderous yells along the way to get athletes to stay/move right (do age groupers not have/get blocking penalties?). I was flying by packs of athletes, and the only way around them was an oncoming car. Another penalty I'm not so sure all are aware of is crossing the middle of the road- yellow card. I got one at IM Wisco for trying to take the safe route around the herds. I turned the slight ciaos into a positive and remembered that this was better than riding completely solo without sight of another human being other than race refs. Around mile 75 the pain returned and I simply tried to manage. Why is this happening on the bike. I've been completely fine in the weeks leading up to the race. Stay positive, push on.
Oakley/Clif Run: Believe! I had a lot of ground to make up, and the race certainly got away from me on the bike, but this is an Ironman. Isn't over until mile 26.2 of this run. The run course is 2 times a long out and back. Crowds line the whole course, as did the sun and heat. The heat never got to me. Warm, cozy, and cramp free thanks to my assortment of Clif nutrition. Racing in this heat is easy compared to training in it. Catered service every mile! This is exactly why I chose to race here- hot and humid!
By mile 4 I had another reason to worry. Both feet were killing. Running on burning knives again. Complete disbelief. I really thought my running on the Alter-G and all the therapy I went through was enough. I did everything I could. I believed I came to this race ready to amaze myself. Mile after mile the dream died. By mile 7 I knew I'd only complete the first loop, find Kristin and go celebrate an amazing friendship instead of an amazing race. I was walking. By mile 11 tears filled my eyes. When I was running I was right on pace, but between those strong stretches were moments of slow moving/pitiful walking strides. This was devastating. Just then a team from IM Exec Challenge all jumped into the street behind me and yelled for me to get running. 2 blocks later, only 1/4 block before I would pull the plug, Patrick Evoe came cruising by on his way to take second behind Big Sexy. He reminded me that I'm not a quitter and forced me to start running. Thanks PE just what I needed. By the time I saw Kristin I was back at 7:15 miles.
"Caroline, you need to go after this race as if it is your last." Molina's voice rang through. I realized I wouldn't be running again for a while, so I might as well head back out for another 13. "Last Ironman...for the season...or maybe ever." It was enough to keep me moving forward.
The second loop wasn't pretty, but it was inspiring. I couldn't believe the number of people who knew me out there and took the time to keep me going. I was in a world of hurt. By now my quads were on fire. I hadn't run at full body weight in months, now I was running a marathon under the effect of full gravity. Athletes even took time to tell me to update my blog more often while I ran by (does this long post count as 2?). To each and every one of you that offered me encouragement- you own a piece of this finish. You kept me fighting!
The tears returned when I entered the finish shoot. Yes, I found the finish line, but I was devastated. No other word comes close to expressing how I felt. My entire DWIT mantra was centered around this race. I was over an hour off the time I know I'm capable of. Scott Molina has been an awesome coach, and even through this injury he prepared me to accomplish my goal and my dream. 9th place. I fell short, I fell VERY short.
After finishing a long line of volunteers each congratulated me and said good job. This wasn't a good job, but their words meant a lot to me. They exuded the spirit of Ironman - and with it, gave me a reason to smile. This is why I love this sport, and this distance of racing so much! It takes a village. A member of the medical staff came over to me with a wheel chair. I asked how far medical was and when he pointed way down the street I surrendered and took a seat. I am a strong, stubborn girl. Asking for help isn't something that comes natural to me. My sitting in that wheel chair was almost a metaphor for where things stand with this injury. It's time for me to accept it, sit down, rest AND ask for help.
Was this my last Ironman, my heart won't accept that. In fact, a piece of my heart remains in Louisville, and I really hope to get back there to reclaim it! The injury has been diagnosed as sesamoiditis. This isn't some crazy career ending injury in elite runners, and it won't be for me. It is however something that I need to rest and take time to figure out. "Time" isn't something I have a lot of in my daily life. Who does, right? I run from workout to work like my hair's on fire (even though it's usually still sopping wet). This has to become a priority. I will remain tenacious and will come back stronger. That last 13 miles provided all the inspiration I need to keep my DWIT attitude alive. I will have my day. To those who have and continue to support me along the way - I can't wait to thank you when my dream is realized! A bump in the road, but the journey continues. It's tough to write when it isn't all roses and sunshine, but injury is a reality in our sport. Ironman training demands that we beat the body down (to it's core), recover, and repeat. I've pushed hard, I will recover, and I will repeat. Next time in a far more dominating fashion!
My recovery started off in style. I left Louisville for a week at our family lake house. Thank you mom and dad for letting me be lazier than lazy!