Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ironman Louisville!

So here we go... the longest day of my life!

My alarm went off at 4:30, and I jumped up, ate a Clif Bar, downed a bottle of Gatorade, got dressed, and met my dad (AKA Sherpa Extraordinaire) in the next room.   I was no longer nervous, just ready to get this show on the road!

My original plan was to get in line early enough for the swim that I would not be last in the water, but I discovered right before the transition area closed last night that I had a spoke that needed some TLC from the bike tent.  So my dad and I got there super early and I stood in line for almost an hour -- I didn't leave transition til about 6:15.  Then I had to use the restroom, and by the time I got in the swim line I was pretty much dead last.  There were maybe 50 people behind me out of the 2700 or so that raced.  Oh well -- it is what it is.  It was the longest line I have ever seen in my life - it had to be about three quarters of a mile long.  I think I got in the water somewhere around 7:35.  


Slowest. Swim. Ever.  First of all, I could not spot the buoys for my life.  There were two sets... something about a safety lane? ... and it felt like people were swimming all over the place.  Also the sun was rising in the direction we were headed at the beginning... I was so disoriented.  I also found it really hard to keep good form because every time I put my head down, I would start going off course.  Thirdly, my top was  too big and had a parachute effect with every stroke - I'm not sure if that made any difference but it sure was annoying. I had been concerned about being bored on the swim, but I preoccupied with figuring out where I was supposed to go.  This is a point to point swim, and the turn around the island came fast enough.  Then we go under two bridges.  I was pretty sure the first bridge was never going to come.  And then the second one also felt like an eternity.  And THEN the finish -- seriously I thought I was done once I got through that second bridge, but oh no.. I still had like 15 minutes of swimming to do.  So when I entered this race I was told that the majority of the swim was downstream so "faster swim times can be expected."  Whatever.  I am consistently 1:30 in the pool and I was 1:41 on this swim.  I was pretty disappointed but hey, I guess 10 minutes off my expected time isn't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.  


I wasn't trying to set any records as I figured it was better to get it right than to get it fast.  My volunteer was fanstastic.  I headed to Dora, my bike, and set off for the ride.


I felt great at the beginning.  The temperatures were still in the low 80s, and it start out flat and fast.  I was passing people like crazy, and averaging about 18-19mph.  My heart rate was in the 140s, which was on the high end of the Ironman window, but I felt pretty good so I ignored it.  Rookie mistake.

About 12 miles in we make our first big climb - it isn't too steep but it goes on for quite a distance and it's the only so-called "category 5" hill on the course.  I didn't think much of it, though I did notice my heartate climbing out of my window and into the150s.  Soon we hit the rolling hills and then my favorite part, the out and back.  It has two steep hills that I flew down at close to 40 miles an hour.  Then of course I had to climb them at 8 miles an hour, but I love that section of the course, and I still had plenty of energy.  I had been warned that this section always has crashes, and on the way back to the loop I was sad to see a woman lying by the side of the road at the bottom of the first hill with another athlete stabilizing her and he shouted to me to have the next bike marshall or police officer radio for an ambulance.  Scary stuff.

Soon I was back on the loop and headed towards LaGrange where my family was waiting for me.  They are amazing and I would get to see them twice since the course loops through there again around the 70th mile.
I smiled at them and then headed towards Ballard School Road, which I find to be the prettiest but also toughest part of the course.  The rollers are relentless, and the temperature was heating up.  I was still feeling pretty good, but my lower back was starting to hurt and we were only at mile 40.  That was not a good sign -- I've been great about staying aero for 100+ mile training rides and had no back discomfort throughout this whole summer.  Back pain this early into the day worried me.

When I got to the end of Ballard School Road, I remembered how in June when we rode the course, my chain dropped right at that point.  Just as that thought went through my head, my chain dropped.  Seriously.  I tried to back pedal and fix it, but I started to topple over so I clipped out and pulled over to the side. I fixed it in the grass and then tried to figure out how I was going to get back on the road.  I was on a steep hill, there was a steady stream of cyclists on the far right hand side, and there was no way I could just hop on my bike and ride without starting out downhill.  I had no idea what to do so I finally just crossed the center line, made a U-Turn, and got back on the course.  In retrospect I probably should have gotten a red penalty card for that... thank goodness there were no course marshalls around.

At the next aid station, I had my first "I never want to see Gu or Perform again" feeling.  I had promised myself I'd load up with calories and electrolytes like crazy on the bike so I didn't crash on the run, but everything was starting to gross me out.  The only thing I wanted was plain water, so I drank half a bottle and then dumped it on my head.  It was getting really hot.  I already wanted to be off the bike, and I could feel my pace slowing down.  The miles were starting to feel long, unlike in the beginning when 12 miles flew by.  I just concentrated on making it to the halfway point.  I was very disappointed to see my time was already over 3:15 -- slower than my first Half Iron ride in 2010 and over 20 minutes slower than the Half Iron I did five weeks ago.  My original goal for this ride was 6:30, but that was no longer a possibility.  I knew I had that category 5 downhill and then a flat section and figured I could make up some time there. The air was like a furnace, and the temperature was continuing to rise. I concentrated on getting back to my family.   Seeing them at the 70 mile marker was really the last positive part of my biking experience that day.     My back was killing me, and it was so, so hot.  Everything at the aid stations made me want to vomit.  I kept thinking "When I get to 80 miles, it's a net downhill, then I get to fly down to River Road, and then it's flat.  And then it's DONE!"

I made the turn at the Exxon at the 80 mile marker and thought "This is where I got my flat tire when I rode the practice course."  And luckily I didn't get one, but I started seeing rider after rider changing flats by the side of the road.  Apparently someone had scattered carpet tacks on the course.  Classy!  Glad I didn't fall victim, but I felt horrible for the guys changing tires -- one had a double flat.

So back in May I blogged "Why do the last 20 miles of a century ride feel like eternity?  Does that mean the last 32 miles of an Ironman will feel the same way?"  Why yes it does!  Although it was a net downhill, there were still rollers and I was dying on the uphills.  I was wishing I hadn't worn the aerohelmet because it was cooking my head.  My back hurt too much to stay aero so it wasn't helping me much anyhow.  I stopped at an aid station and poured water on myself.  I hadn't gone to the bathroom yet that day but the line was enormous so I got back on Dora and said "Let's get 'er done."

I should not have ridden over my heart rate window in the first third of the ride.  Let me repeat that.  I should not have ridden over my heart rate window in the first third of the ride.  I had nothing left.  I hit the final descent and I so wanted to hammer it.  Instead, I gave my legs a rest and stopped pedaling.  I stood up and stretched my back, enjoyed that long downhill, and made the final turn into town -- right into a strong headwind.  Are you kidding me?!?!  I had so looked forward to that nice flat section, and I could not get the pace much above 14 miles an hour.  Those 12 miles were torture.  At least I knew the road well enough to think of the different landmarks coming up.  I played bike fartlek for the remainder of the ride, making myself keep pace to the Islamic center...then the marina... then the golf course.. then the railroad tracks...I convinced myself that I could make my secondary goal of under 7 hours if I kept the pace at 15mph.  I saw transition and had to slow down for some sharp turns and a huge bump.  Crossed the timing mat at 7:01.  Bummer.  And how in the world was I supposed to run at all, let alone a marathon?  Oh yeah, and it was 94 degrees.  Just to make it more fun.


A lovely volunteer grabbed Dora (the bike.)  I said "Thank you very much.  I don't really care what you do with her because I never want to see her again.  Thanks for your help."  I headed for the bathroom, which I hadn't used all day - AH that was a relief.  Then I went to the changing tent.  Another lovely volunteer grabbed my fuel belt and tried to put it on me.  I said "NO!  I don't want anything in that fuel belt.  In fact, I am not running.  I am sitting.  Oh, and thank you for all your help!"  I sat down in a chair and closed my eyes.  She looked at me and said "How can I help you?  Can I wash the salt off your body and get you some sunscreen?"  I looked at my arms and legs.  They were caked in salt.  I nodded but I didn't get up.  She washed me off with a sponge, sprayed on my sunscreen, and then asked me what I wanted to do next.  I told her I wanted to sleep.  She asked me if I wanted her to take off my cleats and put on my running shoes.  I said sure.  Once the shoes were on I figured it was either stay there and get a DNF, or suck it up and run.  I chose run.  I was pretty sure my transition was 25 minutes long but apparently it was only 8 and change.


So my original run goal was 4:30.  I knew the second I stepped over the timing mat that it was not going to happen.  There would be no pushing myself hard on this run, because I did not want to end up collapsing and in an ambulance, as happened to many many athletes on the 2010 course when the temperatures were even higher.  I revised my goal to 5 hours.

I only looked at heart rate on my watch in the first mile.  I walked the first minute, then ran to the mile marker.  I checked my Garmin.  12 minutes.  It was going to be a long marathon.  I took a slog of Perform and a Gu packet, both of which made me nauseated.  I made myself run the next two miles and they came in around 10:30.

Then I hit the miracle aid station.  A volunteer was opening up a can of chicken broth.  I had read somewhere that you have to try the chicken broth.  The thought of anything with sugar was just revolting, so I downed 3 entire cups. And I felt like a new person.

For the next four miles I would run to each aid station like it was the entrance to heaven, and then I'd walk to the chicken broth table and stop and drink three cups, walk to the ice and stick handfulls down my shirt so I could pretend it was not 94 degrees outside, and then dump a few cups of water on my head.  I made myself take a GU packet every 3rd station (in retrospect, I should have gone with bananas.)  By the eighth mile I could drink and run at the same time, and I was feeling really good.  I ran (easy run pace, keeping my heart rate around 115- 120) all the way to the 18th mile.  So many people were not running anymore, but I was feeling good.  I could have run faster but I was afraid my body might revolt later, so I kept my heart rate in the lower end of the window.  But I was still running, and passing lots of people.  I even passed a pro,  (and a pro from AUSTRALIA no less!)  And then the 18th mile came and I NEEDED A BATHROOM.  Amazingly enough there was one available.  Sorry to be graphic but let's just say that anything I had taken in along the last few aid stations was no longer in my body.

Hydration became an issue.  My body was refusing to accept it, and I still had 8 miles to go.  I figured I could run a little faster which would get me to the finish line faster... the sun was setting and it was really cooling off.  I started to book it and the next mile was about 9 minutes... and then I started feeling dizzy, seeing dancing lights and having double vision.  Everything was spinning.  I realized I wasn't sweating.  I pulled into the next aid station and tried to eat some pretzels, but I had no moisture in my mouth and had to spit them out.  I drank a cup of water and a cup of broth and decided I was going to have to walk for awhile.  The last thing I wanted was for the past 13 hours to end with me in an ambulance.  My legs said "Yes, you can run!" and mentally I was totally there, but the vertigo, obvious dehydration and apparent shutdown of my digestive system scared me.  I walked until I could see clearly, so probably about 15 minutes.  Then I allowed myself to run 3 minutes/ walk a minute to til I hit the 25th mile.  I could run the final stretch.  I promised myself I'd stop if the world started spinning again.

But it didn't.  And finally I could see Fourth Street Live.  I could hear the crowds.  I knew I was going to make it across that line.  I saw my dad, then I saw Jamie and Susanna.  Susie screamed "Go Mommy!" and I remembered her the day before when she saw the finish line at the Ironkids race, just minutes after she cried that she didn't think she could go the whole mile, and then she sprinted to the end.  I was so proud of her, and that image was my inspiration.  I wanted to make her proud!  I raised my hands over my head and I ran through the finish chute in 4:59:42.  Hey at least I met one of my (secondary) time goals.

"Gretchen Liechty Lynch, from Fairfax, Virginia, a first time finisher, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN"
(And, as a bonus, he pronounced my name correctly!)

Check it out:

Overall time was 13:56:55 -- My goal was 13:30 - 14:00 so I just made it!

Sure, as soon as I got my finishers medal I started shaking and they got me a wheelchair and hauled me off to medical where I spent the next hour and half getting intravenous fluids.

Sure, my first thought after I got my medal was "Why would anyone in their right mind do an Ironman?"

Sure, as I lay there in the medical tent shivering I thought "I am never doing one of these again."

Sure, two days later I started to think that maybe Cedar Point would be a good second Ironman for me.


  1. You did fantastic. It was great being able to track you. I watched your splits on the bike and if I was reading them correctly you were getting faster. Your AG placement went up in each event too. I can't imagine doing what you did, and in the heat! Nothing short of amazing. Well done Ironman.

  2. You are amazing!!! Going through all of that and still finishing in less than 14 hours is incredible. I loved reading all of this and it is so helpful for me as I start to get into the meat of training and what I may face in 80 days! Thank you for sharing and congratulations!!!!

  3. What a good, detailed account. On Sunday, I was with my writers' group all afternoon, and I kept thinking about you. Beautiful job, Gretchen!