Well, I did it. And no joke, that was the hardest thing I have ever done. I knew it was going to be tough, but I wasn’t prepared for just how tough. That race scraped me raw and all that was left to cross the finish line was a bundle of nauseated nerves.
And that was on a day with perfect conditions. I can’t even imagine doing it on a day when it’s incredibly hot or windy or rainy (as has been the case for a lot of people lately – thanks climate change).
This is obviously going to be a long race report so get yourself a drink and maybe a snack, and settle in.
We got into Louisville Thursday night, along with Brian’s mother, father and brother, who was visiting from Colorado, and we went straight to our hotel, which was the Hyatt right by Fourth Street Live, where the finish line would be located. We’d selected that hotel because we knew we weren’t going to want to walk very far after we finished, and I will tell you right now that this was probably one of the smartest choices we made.
Here’s another smart choice we made: paying for the services of Premier Bike Transport. The service is similar to that of Tri Bike Transport, but Steve charges considerably less and he provided us with some really great individualized service. We opted to pay a little more so in addition to the bike transport service, he collected our bikes and our gear bags for us after the race as well. I cannot recommend Premier Bike Transport enough. If you’re local and you’re going to one of his races, you’ll want to use his service. I swear it’s worth it.
On Friday we did athlete check-in on the Great Lawn on the banks of the Ohio River, and then we did bike and gear check-in on Saturday. I’m used to dragging all my shit with me to race site early on the morning of the race, so this multi-part process was a whole new thing.
You have bags you put all your gear in and you drop them off in one part of transition, and you leave your bike overnight on the rack in another part of transition. I felt anxious about leaving all my gear in a field like that. That’s a lot of trust to put in the race organizers. One bag goes missing and your race is over.
On Friday night we met up with some of my Coeur Sports teammates for a team dinner at Birracibo. It was absolutely wonderful to spend some time with them, as they’re all smart, funny, awesome athletes, and now I have girl-crushes on all of them.
Plus it’s always fun to hang out with other people who love triathlon as much as I do. At one point Christie goes, “Did you hear what Rinny said about Daniela Ryf at Kona?” and we all lean in and go “Oooh, no, tell us!” That combination of words would probably make no sense to 99.9999% of the world’s population, so I relished the fact that I was among the 0.0001% who not only understood but were super into it.
After dinner ended Brian was like, “I can see why being part of this team means so much to you.”
The next day, we got up early to go take part in the practice swim in the Ohio River. Now, the day before the temperatures had reached the 80s, but a cold front moved in on Saturday and it got seriously cold that morning. Plus it was very, very windy. The last time I had been that cold was six months ago in Boston. Brian zipped me into my wetsuit and I stood there shivering until it was time to go into the water.
Everyone had warned us about the grossness of the Ohio River, and since last year there was a pretty serious algae bloom that put the race into question, I can understand why people were saying that. Also I heard others talk about how bad the water tasted, how it gave them upset stomachs, etc. I had psyched myself up for a plunge into a river of diesel-infused sewage.
But it wasn’t like that at all! Sure, the visibility was maybe about a half-inch, after which it faded in a haze of greenish-brown, but the water was 74 degrees and while I wasn’t exactly gulping it down, the little bit I did taste wasn’t all that bad. A little diesel smell, sure, but that’s to be expected on a major waterway.
Probably the thing that tweaked me out the most was the thought of what sort of creatures were living in the river – thanks to River Monsters all I could think of were massive catfish and prehistoric alligator gar – but I’ve gotten a lot better at shutting down that part of my monkey brain when I swim.
I swam upstream until I reached the last buoy that had been set up – and along the way realized that I was only one of a few who had opted to do that – and then I looked at my Garmin so I could get an idea of how much benefit I was going to get swimming downstream. I swam about a mile, and the first half took me four minutes longer than the last half. That’s a serious assist! I was pumped.
I came out of the water and found Brian, who was talking with Barbara, one of my Coeur teammates. We talked for a bit while drying ourselves off and getting dressed, then we parted ways so Brian and I could get our bikes. (The next time I saw Barbara, it was on the run course, where she was on her way to winning her age group. I told you Coeur ladies are badasses.)
We met up with Steve and got our bikes so we could take them on a quick safety ride. I was still in a damp tri kit and I was SO COLD, so I put on arm warmers and a hoodie and hoped my body could generate enough heat to warm me up.
Instead the opposite happened. The wind penetrated every layer of clothing, and within a mile my teeth were chattering. My fingers and toes went numb after two miles.
Fifteen years of life in Florida means my body’s tolerance for cold is virtually non-existent, and going from 90+ degree air to 50 degree air was a shock to my system I wasn’t anticipating.
We ended up shortening the ride because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I thawed out a bit during our two-mile shakeout run afterwards, but I was a little freaked out by how cold I got during that short bike ride.
I reassessed my clothing plan for the next day. I had planned to wear my team shorts and a sports bra under my wetsuit and then to pull on my aero top in T1, but I decided it wasn’t worth saving a couple of minutes in T1 if it meant possibly DNFing due to hypothermia on the bike. That would be the most annoying reason to DNF ever.
DNFing due to heat, I get. Injury, illness, exhaustion, bike mechanical? I get it. DNFing because things got a bit too nippy for my warm Florida blood? Nope.
So I decided instead to wear a different tri kit in the water and then change into the sports bra and tri shorts I wanted to wear for the rest of the race.
This is probably when I should have realized that racing in temperatures a full thirty degrees cooler than what I was used to racing in might have some effects on the way my body functions, but hey, live and learn, right? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Anyways, we spent the afternoon with some of Brian’s family who live in the area, then went back to our hotel room and watched the Kona live feed while we settled in for the night. I painted my nails, drank a Neuro Sleep and watched an episode of Gossip Girl on my Kindle Fire, then went to sleep.
I mostly slept well, although I did have one nightmare-y interlude, where I dreamed I went to go get my bike gear bag in T1 and I discovered my gear had been distributed to bags all over transition. I had to go track everything down like horcruxes before I was allowed to leave T1.
I woke up at 2:30 a.m. feeling totally stressed out by the fact that my brain had basically forced me to re-enact Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Fast-forward to 7:30 a.m. the next day. We’d been in line for the swim start for over an hour. I’d eaten my nutrition, peed a couple of times, talked with the people around us, and then finally put on my wetsuit. We heard the cannon fire and the trumpeter play “My Old Kentucky Home,” and the line started moving very quickly.
I cried for a couple of seconds, not out of fear or nerves but out of excitement. Like Kristen Bell crying about the sloth! I was excited because I was going to finally get to do this! All the hard work and the early mornings and the evening workouts when I would have rather been on the couch and missed opportunities to socialize with new friends and the weekends spent on my bike — it all came down to this day.
Fifteen minutes later, Brian and I gave each other a good luck kiss and we leapt from the dock into the water.
The first third of the swim course is upstream but it’s also mostly protected because it’s in this small channel between the riverside and Towhead Island. The river was much warmer than the air, so all this steam was rising off the water and it made everything seem rather ethereal and gorgeous.
That is, until some overexcited dink whacked me in the back of the head and knocked my goggles off. I yelled “What the fuck, dude?” and he apologized sheepishly.
I thought about trying to find some feet to draft off, but visibility was non-existent and besides, everyone was either going way faster or way slower than me, so I opted to just find some clean water and do my own thing. When I made the turn to go downriver, I started passing a ton of people.
I was really careful not to swim over anyone – I know a lot of people who do triathlon are basically white-knuckling it through the swim – so I just swam around them.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve really come to love open-water swimming, and it’s definitely one of the things I enjoy the most about triathlon. This swim was no different. I didn’t care that I was in a river everyone says is gross and that there were probably nine-foot-long catfish lurking beneath me and that I was swimming past industrial barges.
I loved every minute of it. It was easily the high point of the day for me, and I could have happily spent the next twelve hours paddling my way down that river.
I grabbed my bike gear bag and ran into the women’s change tent. If you’ve never been inside an Ironman change tent, let me tell you – it is something else. Everyone is trying to change clothes as quickly as possible and all of the attempts at modesty you normally see in women’s locker rooms, where you’re pulling your sports bra off under your t-shirt and facing a back corner so no one can see your boobs? NOT HAPPENING. And best of all, NO ONE CARES.
I dumped out my stuff, stripped down and pulled on my dry shorts. Because my skin was still damp, a very sweet volunteer helped me pull my sports bra down, then helped me wriggle into my aero top. I jammed my pockets full of nutrition, handed my bag to the volunteer and headed out to get my bike.
My transition was very slow, partly because of my full clothing change and partly because I refused to run. I wasn’t aiming for a Kona qualification spot so why waste the energy? If I do another Ironman, though, I’ll try to do better.
Transition 1: 12:45
Oh ye gods. Where do I begin? Where do I begin.
I knew the bike was going to be a challenge, and I tried my best to prepare, but real talk: nothing in Florida that could have prepared me for a bike course with 5,600 feet of climbing.
All these people were like “the hills are gentle and rolling!” and I was like, “yeah, maybe if you live in NEPAL.”
I certainly didn’t do myself any favors by riding a bike with gearing more suited to flatter terrain.
And here’s the other thing I was unprepared for: riding a bike course with thousands of other athletes, many of whom are extremely intense about triathlon.
The bike course is lollipop-shaped, and you take two loops around the lollipop before coming back down the stick into transition. The first loop was terrifying. I did my best to stick to the right side of the road and to hold a straight line, because guys were flying past me with mere inches of clearance, and I’m sure that did me no favors when it came to conserving energy because it had me totally flipping out.
There were so many other people on the bike course that I didn’t feel comfortable refilling my nutrition while riding and I actually had to pull off the road so I could do it without fear of being creamed by some guy in a skinsuit and a Dimond aiming for a sub-9:00 finish.
I spent the first couple of hours focused on keeping my pace manageable and not getting caught up in the race around me, and I also made sure to stick to my nutrition plan. I felt like things were going pretty well, all things considered.
Until mile 40. By this time I’d been on my bike for over two hours, but it felt much longer than that. I sensed a bunch of shitty thoughts lurking at the edges of my mind and I tried to distract myself by focusing on riding.
I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled for what felt like another two hours, and then I looked at my bike computer. I’d gone two miles.
Commence first meltdown of the day.
This is so fucking stupid. I have seventy miles to go. And then I have to run a damn marathon after that! I’m never doing this again!
Fuck everything. Fuck this bike, fuck these hills, fuck the person who decided you have to spend seven weeks on your bike in an Ironman, and fuck everyone else for just going along with it like it’s a great idea.
And worst of all, fuck me for thinking this was a good idea and double-fuck me for spend hundreds of dollars to do this. FUCK EVERYTHING!
And then I got mad at myself:
You spent all this time training – six months! all those hours on the bike! – and three hours into your race you want to quit?! Quit being such a baby.
I used this potent little stew of self-abasement and rage to power myself to the special needs stop at mile 60. I got off my bike, took a quick bathroom break, drank a Coke, ate some goldfish crackers and reloaded my pockets with nutrition. Then I got back on my bike and pedaled away.
By this time I had consumed two bottles of Infinit, two gels, a bottle of Boost and a bunch of pieces of Clif bar and pretzel. The lack of heat meant I wasn’t really struggling to take in nutrition, which I was happy about, but I also realized I had way too much nutrition with me. I could have left behind two bottles of Boost and a Clif bar and I still would have had too much nutrition. Again, another lesson learned.
I re-focused myself on getting through the next twenty miles. Fortunately the caffeine helped a lot and also there was a lot more space between the athletes, so I could actually enjoy this part of the bike ride. Sort of. Mostly I just couldn’t believe how long I’d been on the bike and how much longer I had to go.
But still, it wasn’t so bad. (That’s the highest praise I can muster.)
Granted, there were a couple of low points – like the two hills I had to walk up because my quads said “nope” and the time I nearly collided with a car, spilling sticky Infinit all over my arms and legs and giving myself one hell of a fright – but for the most part, miles 60 through 80 were pretty nice.
I was especially anxious to get to mile 80 because I’d heard that the last 30 miles of the course were a net downhill. Imagine my disappointment when I got to mile 80 and then 90 and then mile 100, and I had more and more climbing to do.
Cue meltdown No. 2.
Oh my god, really? How is this happening?! I will never get off my bike. I will be on this bike until I die. I’ll probably still be on my bike even after I die. I’ll be on my bike in the afterlife. I will never get off this bike. I will never get off this bike. I will never get off this bike.
The dumb thing is that I had actually cycled my fastest-ever century during all this time, but try telling that to my monkey brain, which just wanted to talk about how much everything sucked and how much of a loser I was.
Finally I was back on River Road and then a short while later, I was in transition. I unclipped and walked my bike over to a volunteer. Everyone was like “run! hurry!” but instead I calmly took off my bike shoes and walked, in my socks, through the grass to get my run gear bag. I had a long run ahead of me; I saw no reason to start now.
Another long transition. I was excited to run but I wanted to make sure I was ready to run, so I went pee, ate a gel and tried to wash the dried Infinit off my arms and legs. Then I headed out on the course.
Transition 2: 9:29
I was so pumped to start this run, y’all. After nearly seven hours of doing the triathlon thing I suck the most at, I was excited for the chance to do the triathlon thing I am best at. I made a major effort to reel myself in, because I know that irrational exuberance has a way of exacting a price down the road, but it just felt so damn good to be running that I almost wanted to cry.
I stuck to my run-walk plan, and for the first hour I felt great. I sipped water, drank Coke and Gatorade, and stayed even and steady. I saw Brian coming the other way, and we hugged and I told him everything was going well. I knew this was going to change in the near future, so I tried to enjoy it while it lasted.
What I didn’t expect was how drastically it was going to change, or how miserable I was going to be. I really didn’t expect that I was going to suddenly start feeling like I was going to poop myself.
I quickly realized I had taken in wayyyy too many calories on the bike. I’d been so excited because I was able to eat more than I used to when training in Florida, but I guess I overdid it. Oops.
I ran to the nearest portapotty and as soon as it opened up, I barged inside and handled my business. And then I felt fine for a half-mile before my stomach cramped again, and I had to stop in another portapotty.
This was how the next hour and a half of my Ironman proceeded: with me racing from portapotty to portapotty, trying desperately not to crap myself. How dignified.
There were a few awesome moments, like seeing my Coeur teammates on the course, being cheered on by the amazing volunteers or running past a pair of cops who were dancing to “Uptown Funk.” Mostly, though, I was seriously, seriously uncomfortable.
The run course is a double loop, and at the halfway point, you come within mere yards of the finish line. I gazed wistfully at the finish line as I made a right turn away from it, then said to no one in particular, “This is so rude.”
The downtown area is packed full of energetic spectators, though, and I accepted the highest of fives from a guy dressed like a taco and another guy in a kilt. That gave me another little boost that lasted for about, oh, three minutes.
At mile 16, I hit a seriously low spot. When this happened at the Keys 50, I’d given myself permission to just walk, so that’s what I did – I walked that whole mile. I’d stopped taking in calories because I’d clearly overloaded my body, but short of stopping entirely, I had no idea how to make myself feel better.
As I walked past the Base salt tent, one of the volunteers saw me clutching my stomach and he ran out with a tube of salt. “Eat too much on the bike?” he asked, and I nodded miserably. He asked if I’d used their products before, and I said only in the heat. So he told me to try putting a bit of the salt on my tongue and letting it dissolve, and doing that every mile. I had nothing left to lose, so I did.
And holy shit, it worked.
Within a couple of minutes, was able to run again. Granted it was not fast, but it was still recognizable as a run. From that moment on, I tried to stick to the salt schedule. Once I forgot to do it, and right on cue, my guts threw a hissy fit. Another lesson learned.
Around this time I saw Brian for the third time. “I’m so miserable!” I yelped as I hugged him. “I am too,” he told me. He said he no longer cared about trying to finish in a specific time, and he just wanted to cross the finish line with me. “I’m about three miles ahead of you, and I’m going to walk. Can you run to catch me?” I told him I would.
Suddenly I had focus. I had a purpose! That purpose was to catch Brian so we could finish together. I knew I needed to keep running – no more walking entire miles – if I wanted to make that happen.
During this time the sun was going down and it was getting chilly. The spectators were leaving, and it was just the athletes and the volunteers on the increasingly dark, quiet streets of Louisville. The aid stations started serving chicken broth, and I gulped it down gratefully. It sounds like a weird thing to have during a race, but really it’s amazing.
During my walk breaks, I commiserated with the other racers. Another first-timer told me he was not enjoying this as much everyone said he would, and I said, “Everyone said this would change my life, but I don’t think I need it changed in this way.”
I spoke briefly with another racer and he asked if I was on my second loop, and when I told him I was, he said, “Oh man, I’m so jealous!” That was the first time I realized that a lot of the people I was out there with still had a whole other 13-mile loop to go. I couldn’t even imagine what that would feel like. I left that conversation with renewed respect for back-of-the-packers.
I’d hoped to catch Brian by mile 22, but mile 22 came and went, and then mile 23 and mile 24. I was feeling desperate and raw.
I walked through an aid station that was playing music, and the opening piano chords of “Don’t Stop Believin'” came on. I started weeping. I wasn’t going to stop believing! I was going to do this! And I was going to find my husband!
I staggered through the streets, scanning the racers ahead of me for Brian’s green and black race kit.
Where is my husband? I want my husband! Where is he? I felt like Rocky screaming for Adrian after having the shit kicked out of me by Apollo Creed. Brian! Briiiii-aaaaan!
Or maybe I was like Tom Hanks screaming for Wilson.
I don’t know. All I know is that I felt like the heroine in a really bizarre romantic comedy, and also that I wanted nothing more than to find Brian.
Finally, at mile 25, I saw him. He’d turned around and was walking backwards, looking for me. I ran to him and flung my arms around him. We kissed and hugged, and after a brief walk, we started running, this time to finish this damn thing once and for all.
We ran the final blocks in downtown Louisville, then made the last turn — and there was the finish line in the distance. It was so brightly lit and so loud, and it beckoned to us with sweet, sweet promises of being able to stop.
I grabbed Brian’s hand and we ran down the chute together.
ETA: WordPress won’t let me embed the video and I don’t feel like figuring it out so you can just watch it here.
I didn’t even hear when the announcer called our names. It wasn’t until later when we watched the video that I heard him say “The Constantines are Ironmen!” I didn’t see the guy who got down on one knee to propose just as we crossed. I hugged Brian and kissed him, then deflated in the arms of the volunteer who caught me.
(The finish line photos are embarrassing. I look like a woman who is welcoming our alien overlords. Which, at that point, I very well could have been. I’m not saying it’s aliens, but it’s aliens.)
The volunteer helped me collect my medal and finisher’s shirt, and she gave me some water. I must have looked terrible because she kept asking me if I needed a wheelchair. Part of me really wanted to sit down in it, but mostly I wanted to be able to say I finished without medical attention, and sitting in a wheelchair seemed like it would have been accepting medical attention. Besides, I wasn’t that bad off.
We got our finishers photos, and then we left the finishers area and tried to find Brian’s family. As we stood there, though, I felt woozy and nauseated, so Brian deposited me in a chair while he looked for his family. A few minutes later he found them, and he came and got me. I hobbled over and tried to listen politely as they talked about the race, but I felt so wretched – like I was on the verge of puking – that I finally cut everyone off and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk, I need to go right now.”
Brian got me to our hotel room, then left to get our morning clothes and some food. I peeled my tri gear off and examined the damage. I was happy to see that I only had a couple of chafe marks on my shoulder blades (#noangrykitty!) and that I didn’t have any blisters on my feet at all.
The worst thing I’d suffered was a severe case of chapped lips, which made me think of the triathlete who’d been DQed after his wife gave him Chapstick (among other infractions). A bunch of people were like, “Who cares about Chapstick during an Ironman?” but after dealing with seven days of chapped lips after this race, I can confidently answer that question: “Me. I care about Chapstick during an Ironman.”
I stood in the shower and leaned against the wall, just letting the hot water run over me. My legs and arms hurt to the touch. Like, I don’t just mean when I used them to do things like walk or pick things up. I mean, when I touched them.
After ten minutes of standing under the water, I finished my shower and laid on the bed in my clean pajamas and felt sorry for myself. I was so disappointed in the race. I’d heard so many people say such wonderful things about their Ironman experiences and I’d wondered why that hadn’t been my experience at all.
Sure, I thought I’d have a better run, but mostly what I was bummed about was how quickly I’d started struggling and how unprepared I felt for all of it, despite all of the work I’d put into getting ready.
I felt even worse about how badly I’d handled the mental aspect of things. I didn’t expect to be sunshine and rainbows the whole race – low points happen and you deal with them and move on – but I was surprised by how easily I seemed to allow myself to slip into the spiral of suck.
Probably most disappointing of all – I’d hoped that maybe I could recapture the feeling I’d had after doing the Keys 50. It was this all-encompassing feeling of peacefulness and well-being and joy. I felt none of that. Instead, I just felt sort of…meh.
Brian finally returned with some Diet Coke and chicken burritos, and I ate my food while scrolling through my phone and reading all of the loving and positive messages that were left for me on social media. Once I had some food in my stomach and some love from my friends and family, I started feeling better. A little bit.
It’s been a week since the race, and I haven’t done much besides eat and sleep and swim a little bit. My body doesn’t hurt anymore, but I’m not sure how things will go the first time I go for a run or a bike ride. I remember it took Brian several months to feel normal again, and I’m sure that will be the case for me.
I’ve talked a lot with Brian and with other triathletes who have done Ironmans, mostly to try to process the feelings of deep ambivalence I have about the way this race went.
I think I may have been expecting too much out of myself, to think that I was going to be able to figure out how to do a huge, complex event like an Ironman on my first try.
(Brian said he thinks he did me a disservice by making it look so easy, to which I told him that was the biggest humblebrag I’ve ever heard in my entire life.)
I also think that I’ve gotten spoiled in recent years. I haven’t had a truly bad race in a while. I’ve set PRs at a lot of my races, and the first time I tried to BQ, I did it. I’ve stepped up a level and am now racing as a local elite, often ending up on the overall podium. This race was a thoroughly humbling experience. I guess I was overdue for that.
I’m thinking I probably will try again, just because I want to believe that there’s something in this distance for me, but for right now I’m just going to focus on shorter distances and getting stronger on the bike and trying some new things. I’ve got a long-distance open-water swim relay coming up that I’m super excited about. That’s the good thing about this sort of thing – there’s always something else to look forward to.
OK, that’s enough for now. Feel free to share stories about races you spent a lot of time preparing for, only to feel totally whelmed by the race itself. I’ve found hearing from other people who have similar stories goes a long way towards making me feel better about this whole thing.
Ooh I get the first comment! Girl, I AM SO PROUD OF YOU. Which might sound weird coming from a blog reader but whatevs. A lot of people will identify with you with overcoming your fears, getting caught in a suck-fest, being disappointed in the moment, but really from the outside, you are a freaking rock star. Your times are amazing. Your persistence and mental strength-even if you think it was hard during the race, but you got yourself through it-are admirable. Your marathon time in your IRONMAN was the same time as my one and only marathon, which was the biggest suck-fest I have ever sucked through, but I didn’t even have eight hours of activity before that race, just utter unpreparedness as my excuse. I definitely teared up a bit reading through your chase to find your husband and watching the video of you finishing together (and now my previous question of how your finish times were so close has been answered 😉 ). Seriously, how adorbs. “THE CONSTANTINES ARE IRONMEN!” Thank you for sharing your journey with us!
Thank you so much Anne! I appreciate your whole comment, and also your excitement over being FIRST! 😀 I’m slowly re-calibrating my feels about this whole thing and thinking I may have been excessively hard on myself.
Re: your first marathon – I have a feeling that underpreparedness for first marathons might be the norm! I ran my first in 4:55 (I think?) and I was totally NOT prepared for it at all. There’s nothing in training that can get you ready for the feelings that hit at mile 20 when you still have 6 miles to go! Ugh, anyways, thank you so much for your super-sweet comment. It means a lot to me.
First of all, I love all the gifs you add to your stories. They add another layer of humor. And being that .0001% makes this especially hilarious. Was sitting over here giggling while reading this and my fiancé was like, what are you laughing at? But he doesn’t do tris, so he doesn’t get it.
There’s a very dark part of me every single race which questions why I do this, and tells me that I could quit. Some races are better than others. In Texas this year, I spent 137.6 miles in that dark cave and only got out of it in the last 3 miles. Was telling myself how much I sucked and how terrible of a cyclist I was. Why do we beat ourselves up like that? But we are always hardest on ourselves.
I came out of transition from the bike and basically had a full fledged tantrum. My coach told me to go out there and run 8 miles, then come back and talk to him again. But I did it. And I kept going. And I finished. Try to take away some positives and think what you could do next time. There’s never a perfect race but there are good ones and bad ones.
Anyway, you’re pretty flipping amazing and did an incredible thing out here. It’s just amazing that we get the opportunity to do this. We are lucky! Thanks for sharing the experience. Looking forward to the next one!
Thank you so much Barbara! it’s remarkable to hear that you were going through the same sort of stuff during your race, because it would never occur to me that you would be feeling that way at all. I’m often torn between really wishing I wasn’t so hard on myself, and appreciating that being hard on myself is what helps keep me striving to attain my goals. It’s a tough balance to strike – at least I think so, as I’ve yet to actually strike it.
Hopefully we’ll meet again at another race in the future! I know you’ve got a lot coming up in the next year but fingers crossed, eh? At the very least I’m super excited to stalk you through Kona. 🙂
I don’t have a story to tell you to make you feel better, because I can’t even imagine doing something like this, much less doing it for more than 12 hours straight. But I am in awe of what you accomplished, as painful as it was, and I appreciate your being so brutally honest about what it was like. Congratulations !!!
Thank you so much! I felt like I owed it to the people who are kind enough to read my blog to be super honest about what it was like for me. As much as I would have liked to have come back and been “It was ~*~magical~*~” that wasn’t the case for me. Oh well, it’s just a race, and fortunately there are always other ones!
A) CONGRATS AGAIN!!
B) You are an incredible gif user. I seriously scroll carefully when reading your reports/posts so I don’t see any gifs before their corresponding part of the narrative. I don’t want to ruin the experience!
C) I honestly laughed, cried and everything in between reading this (I’m a little hormonal so the idea of you and Brian finding each other and crossing at the same time made me weep). What an emotional roller coaster! It sucks that you had a rough time but you’ll only do better from here. And even if it was rough, what an achievement! You’re officially a badass now. Already were, but it’s official now.
Thanks, my friend! I’m working on my gif skills – it’s definitely been fun to try to figure out how to use them in a way that enhances the storytelling. I’m glad you enjoy them! And thank you for the very sweet comment. #badassesunite
I am so supremely proud of you. You had a very solid first IRONMAN.
My eyes teared up at reading about you found Brian and you guys ran in together. It was utterly moving and I could feel how much love and support you two have for each other.
Thank you so much, Elle! it actually reminds me of when you and Ben were on Kilimanjaro, and you had that moment where you realized that no matter how hard things got, Ben was always going to be with you and would always be there to help you. I’m so happy we both have such wonderful dudes in our lives.
First, I love how honest your race report is.
Also, remember that you finished. I don’t want to be ‘that’ person. But finishing an ironman is a huge deal. Arizona will be my fourth (second this year) and I can tell you I have just as many low points. Mostly I am not a strong swimmer, so most of the time I’m like get me out of the F**king water so I can go on my bike.
Not sure there’s a point to me writing you, but, ironman suck. They hurt, they’re a massive battle between your Brain and Body and again, they freaking hurt. But they’re addictive, and the emotions, the steps you take and how much you learn about yourself is so fun. Plus, there’s nothing like the goosebumps feeling of not knowing what to expect and when you run down the finishing chute.
I hope you find the content in your race, you did a fantastic job. I also hope you aren’t upset with me for emailing you!
Just wanted you to know you’re not alone, and no one has a perfectly pretty ironman. Love your Coeur Sports Teammate, Lisa
On Sun, Oct 16, 2016 at 4:54 PM, Fit and Feminist wrote:
> Caitlin posted: ” Well, I did it. And no joke, that was the hardest thing > I have ever done. I knew it was going to be tough, but I wasn’t prepared > for just how tough. That race scraped me raw and all that was left to cross > the finish line was a bundle of nauseated nerves” >
Thank you so much, Lisa! I appreciate hearing that you’ve had your share of low points too. And don’t worry – you’re not being “that” person. Sometimes it helps to have some perspective about things, and to remember that just because my perspective is now one where I can actually do an Ironman and be disappointed in how it goes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the ONLY perspective out there, or even the correct one.
Thank you so much for this, and also for your sweet private messages. I look forward to cheering you on at IMAZ!
Loved reading this! Not a huge fan of race reports, but you have now set the standard.
Thanks, Ren! I figure if you’re going to do me the favor of reading them, I should at least try my best to make them interesting! 🙂
I’m sorry you had that experience and it didn’t go better – but thank you so much for writing about it in the way you did! A reminder that Ironman is not all wonderful stories of success through adversity – sometimes it is just really hard!
My own story – last year I spent months training for my first ever half Ironman. Training went really well – I was really dedicated, everything was getting much faster and at the time I felt the fittest I’d ever been. In the last month I had a few setbacks including getting ill and being knocked off my bike but I was raring to go on race day. I swallowed quite a lot of water on the swim and actually retched but was soon out on the bike, and the first 1/3 went really well. Then I started hiccupping. I couldn’t stop! Really hard to push into a headwind when you’re hiccupping so hard it hurts. I started to feel really nauseous and couldn’t eat anything, I got slower but was still enjoying myself as the scenery was so beautiful. But once I was in the run it all fell apart. I felt I was going to be sick every time I ran a step so resorted to walking miserably and trying to run in 30 second bursts. It was horrible. I tried to run the last little bit of the run especially as there were more spectators and I was now battling it out with another girl not to come actually last, and by this stage my hip, injured from being knocked off my bike a few weeks before, was in agony. I crossed the line and burst into tears. It was such a letdown after all my fantastic training and I am still not sure what went wrong! I’m going back next year to try again on the same course…
OMG that sounds positively brutal, especially in light of the fact that you’d had a bike accident just a few weeks earlier. Major props to you for sticking it out even though you were suffering so much. I think it’s great, though, that you’re training went so well! One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about is the process, and how I liked a lot of the training, and how none of that’s negated by the fact that my race didn’t go so well. I think the same could definitely be said for you.
And who knows? Now that you know what to expect – I don’t know about you but my first attempt at almost every distance has been a hot mess – maybe you’ll have a race you feel good about next year! I sure hope so. You deserve it after your first attempt!
You have pretty much exactly described my ironman experience. Except I didn’t have portaloos on the run course. Just stumbling behind a hedge every half hour. I’d imagined this euphoric finish, going out for dinner and champagne, and in fact I went home, ate two Weetabix, then basically passed out. My family were so worried about me they kept coming to check I hadn’t fallen unconscious in the bath and drowned. And it took about a week before I wasn’t having stomach cramps any more. I just had no idea how to process all of the weird emotions about something I was expecting to find difficult but ultimately satisfying, which was in reality disappointing, a bit humiliating (how to explain why the run leg took so long?!), and overall a grim and painful day out.
That was in 2014, and although it took me a long time to move past the bad feelings, I did eventually come round to recognising what an absolutely phenomenal achievement it really was. I’ve since changed my focus to cycling, and although I’m still pretty fit I marvel that at one time in my life I had the endurance to keep going for 13 hours. I also think back to a time many years ago when I first heard about the concept of an ironman triathlon. My reaction at the time was “what kind of superhuman could actually do that?!” and now I can think… Me! Well done for your fantastic result and thank you for writing such an honest description of it.
I LOLed at the fantasy you envisioned for yourself. I had the same. I was like, “We’re going out to eat, and I’m going to try some bourbon, and then we’re going to the finish line and cheering in the back of the packers!” Instead I was like “I can’t move” and I was asleep by 10 pm. Even what we did after our races was anti-climactic!
I’m so happy you were able to move on to something you really love to do. And your point about looking back and remembering the time when you were blown away by the very thought of an ironman is well taken. It’s definitely something I needed to hear. Thank you for that.
Congratulations! Even though the race wasn’t an enjoyable experience, you carried on, you endured. Even if you don’t take anything else away from the day, you found out what you’re made of – grit (and zen master gif skills!) 🙂
Thank you! It’s definitely all worth it if only for the opportunity to work on my gif game!
Incredible recap. You did it. You are an Ironman. Thank you so much for sharing all of this in a very humorous tone 🙂 It made my day!
Thank you! I’m so glad to hear that!
Congratulations! 12:53:00 is smokin’! There are many highs and lows during Ironman racing (just like training), so those “meltdowns” you mentioned are perfectly normal and part of the process. Resilience, grit, and determination got you to the finish line. Soak up your accomplishment and recover well! 🙂
Thank you so much, Kecia! I appreciate hearing the meltdowns are normal, because I seriously felt like I was the only one having them! 🙂
Second, I wonder if we, as a triathlon community, have put too much stock in Ironman as an ‘experience’. There are more people, more races, more coaches, more everything than when I did IM 8 years ago. Even the price has doubled since then!! Are we making IM into New Year’s Eve (you know, where we want this super fun night and it’s pretty much never as awesome as our imagination) and setting ourselves up for ambivalence?
I also wonder how much temperature and the code brown issues you had affected your view. What I mean is, I did one IM (and then went back down to half IM because it fits my training life better), but my one IM was that euphoric experience. Was it because I happened to have perfect weather and my nutrition plan was just right for the day and I could just focus on doing the sports? Would I, too, have been less enthusiastic if I was really cold or my stomach was upset or whatever? Or did I just not expect euphoria and happiness because I didn’t know what to expect at all and joy was just totally surprising? I don’t know.
In any case, I’m sorry it wasn’t the experience you’d wished for, and I hope that you feel good about it all in the end, and maybe you can escape the post-IM blues!!
OMG Code Brown issues – I am dying. Perfect way to describe it.
I think your first point is spot-on – there’s a lot of hype around Ironman, both from the athletes and the organization itself, and it definitely lends itself to the New Year’s Eve thing (perfect analogy btw). Plus there’s also the fact that you train for it for such a ridiculously long amount of time… I can see how it can be a recipe for disappointment.
I am so glad that your experience was so great! That must have been a wonderful feeling. 🙂
Caitlyn, congrats congrats congrats. Not just on finishing (with Brian!), but on coping with the harsh feelings this kind of race brings up. Like I said on FB before the race: you totally got this.
I have a piece of intel and a story.
Piece of intel: your ride split was 26.9km/hr or 16.7mph. Flat Florida rider you think OMG, that is SO SLOW. But 5900ft of climbing is HUGE. I did a comparable race in 2013 – London to Paris, about 450km – in 24 hours 14 minutes, which included 13,000 feet of climbing. I did that at roughly 20kph. Even accounting for the 7 rest stops and the fact I rode through the night, you’re still absolutely kicking ass at 26.9. Honestly: 27kph with a lot of climbing is amazing.
Story: at the end of the LtoP marathon, one of my teammates (a surgeon) revealed that he’d brought a bag with saline solution kits. He hooked us up in our hotel room (we decided this was totally legal and OK; we were in France!!), and I took a litre of saline water into my body directly. I cannot tell you how much of a difference that made to my ability to recover. By the next morning we were able to get on the subway, go to our fave bakery, buy ALL THE PASTRIES, walk to the Canal St Martin, and eat them. I was, like, pretty much ok.
SO two take-aways: #1, you ROCK THE BIKE. Just practice the hill stuff; it’s all mental once you are strong. #2, meet a surgeon and take her along on all rides. 😉 OR: focus on salt. Salt is the key. xx
Well that’s pretty much all the med tent does if you end up there after a race… so it’s probably fine 😉
WHOA, that ride sounds absolutely amazing and so hard and just…awesome. I bow in awe. Riding through the night, holy shit – that’s incredible. You rock.
Also re: saline – there’s a part of me that thinks I should have just accepted an IV, just so I could have felt better sooner. I was being very stubborn about not wanting medical attention but it probably would have done me some good to have accepted it. But next time I’ll definitely do salt. And also choose a flat course. 🙂 At least until I move some place with hills and can actually train on them.
This is probably one of the best and most entertaining race reports ever. 😀 Congrats!!
I once did a Birkie (a 55 kilometer cross country ski race) with food poisoning. Barfing every couple kilometers, thinking I was just sick, and then finding out at the finish that my brother had fed me very expired eggs in the morning. It was the most painful race ever, so shitty conditions aside (a frequent struggle at ski races), I consider them all better than that one. Last year was drizzling and the trail was slush – still better than bad eggs year.
OMGGGGG I can’t even imagine. Did that ruin eggs forever for you or what? And cross-country skiing, holy shit – talk about a tough sport! I bow in awe.
Great race report. I was looking forward to it so much. Thanks for the detailed report. Love that you and Brian crossed the finish line together. Congrats to both of you! You’re both totally impressive. As usual, a fantastic report. You’re such a good writer. Personally, I would have rather had more pics of you and fewer gifs (which made me feel kind of sick–I’m definitely getting old!).
Ahh sorry about that. I would have liked to have had more pics of me too but I didn’t have any from the race course that weren’t Finisher Pix, and I didn’t want to pay a ton of money just for photos for the blog. But I’m glad you enjoyed the words of the blog post! 🙂
I always love your race reports. 😊
I’ve been reading your blog for a while and never commented, but I wanted to come out of the woodwork because your race report really resonated with me. My first marathon felt similar – it was such a struggle that I didn’t feel any pride in my accomplishment for several weeks. I think we put so much of our hearts and souls into training for these events that we expect them to feel transcendent every single time, and when they don’t, it’s a shock. I hope that with a little time reflecting on the race, your feelings about it will change a little bit. Finishing an Ironman is incredible, but finishing an Ironman when you’re not having a great day is freaking unreal!
I also feel your pain on the digestive issues. I spent the last 10 miles of my second 50k walking all the downhills so I wouldn’t crap my shorts. I’d been having a great day up until that point and I just remember squatting in the bushes near the last aid station, 1.2 miles from the finish, cursing whatever it was that made my gut freak out so completely. I wish I had known that salt might have helped!
I feel so bad for laughing when I read about the end of that 50K. What a nightmare! That’s a long time to walk while fighting against the laws of biology/gravity.
And thank you for the rest of your comment. My feelings *are* starting to change a bit. My expectations were just way too high, and while high expectations are not necessarily a bad thing, in this case having them – and failing to meet them – had a negative effect on the way I thought about everything. It sounds like you totally understand.
Cue the meltdown. I love the way you describe it. #accurate. I had my first roller derby bout recently. And while I came away with a severe case of jamnesia, akin to Guy in Galaxy Quest, “I’m just jazzed about being on the show man,” I’m sure I’ll have a bout in my future that leaves me feeling low. But I keep coming back to this blog cuz you cool and you fun to read about. Thanks.
Thanks Q! Appreciate it. And congrats on your first roller derby bout! That’s so badass.
Thank you for sharing! I completely understand the meh feelings post-race – I still feel that way about the only marathon I have completed (last year). I didn’t do as well as I thought I would and I really just didn’t have fun. During some of the many half marathons I had done previously I would get feelings of accomplishment during or after the race, but I have never felt that about the marathon. I still don’t know if I will ever do another one. But seriously what an accomplishment to complete the training for and then the actual race of an Ironman! Congrats!
Thank you! And congratulations to you on your marathon! I think it’s great that you trained for and completed one, even if you don’t think you’ll do another one. I always figure it’s better to have tried something and not really liked it than to have never tried it and always wondered “what if.”
From a longtime reader and sometime commenter…I applaud your skill, dedication, training, and most of all chutzpah. Doing an Ironman isn’t even in the realm of possibility for me, and most people think I’m a “really fit” person.
I hope that as your body recovers, you’ll have a different perspective and be happier with your performance, although I totally understand your disappointment that it didn’t go as well as planned.
Finally, you talk about working on your bike skillz as you think about a second Ironman. Can you add mental training as a 4th leg to the swim/bike/run regimen? The mind needs training as much as the body for events like this.
Again, congratulations! It was awesome to experience an Ironman vicariously through you.
Thanks Amy! You know, part of the disappointing thing is that I feel like I have worked hard at mental toughness/training, and I’ve seen a lot of progress in that realm since I started running and triathlon. This race showed me that I’m not nearly where I thought I was. I’ll continue working at it though, not least of all because it’s the one aspect of endurance training that helps me with every other aspect of my life.
Also, this: “Doing an Ironman isn’t even in the realm of possibility for me” was me a couple of years ago. I’m not saying you have to do an IM (oh god, not at all), just that it’s pretty remarkable how our perspectives on our own abilities can change dramatically given time and persistence. 🙂
I’d love to see a post on how you have been training your mind, what kind of progress you’ve seen, and where you want to go with it. Re your second comment, I feel like a gift of my forties has been to have a clear view of my body and abilities and to be able to make decisions about health and fitness logically. At 43 with bad knees (not much cartilage left, which can’t really be fixed) I focus on things like biking, hiking, shorter runs, and most of all Oly and powerlifting. My activities bring me a lot of joy, which is what I focus on when I feel frustrated about my limitations.
First, enormous congrats on accomplishing something so freaking amazing and like, really crazy.
Have you seen that poster that says, “at mile 10 you wonder why you do this, but at mile 26 it becomes clear”. Yeah, no. Basically your post-Ironman feels were EXACTLY how I felt after I ran my first (and last…zero regrets on that decision) marathon- and for god’s sake it was NYC, I should have felt something! I get it, kind of. Kind of because you worked like 18 x harder on your Ironman journey, but I get it.
Now recover and rest.
Hahaha I haven’t seen it but can very much relate, both to the poster AND to your “yeah, no.” I’ve had some really amazing long-distance races where I was like “YES THIS IS WORTH IT” once I crossed the finish line, but not so much for this one.
Also props to you for trying marathons and deciding they’re not for you. Considering how much marathons are glamorized in running culture, it takes some guts to try it and go, “Nah, not for me.”
I have never done anything as immense as an Ironman, but how you felt afterwards is exactly how I felt about my first (and so far only) 50k. I totally got sucked into a mental downward spiral early on and was upset that it wasn’t magical, like I was expecting. I think that’s part of the challenge of these longer endurance events – you can prepare well, have a great training cycle, but still have a shitty race day. You persevered and there’s a lot to be said for that. Enjoy your break!
OMG so you know exactly what I’m talking about. I just couldn’t believe how early the spiral of suck opened up on me. I thought I was better prepared than that!
Congrats to you on doing a 50K by the way – that’s seriously impressive, even more so knowing you were fighting some mental stuff most of the way. Do you think you’ll try again?
Yeah, I also thought I was better prepared! I had some tough training runs leading up to the 50K too, including a trail marathon while I was recovering from a sinus infection! At the 50K, I started down the spiral of suck around mile 8. UGH, sooooo early. I managed to get a second wind around mile 25 and just make the cut off by 2 minutes. I think I will eventually do another 50K but I think I’ll have to be super motivated – whether it’s running with friends or on a really scenic course. And of course, there’s the fear of the “suck spiral” coming to get me again. It just stinks to have all of your training and hard work culminate into one big pile of poop.
The example you set on this blog is seriously inspiring to me. In terms of what discipline and effort actually is. Cheers to you.
*actually are, whatever
LOL! When fingers run amok. And thank you so much. I try to do the best I can and be honest about what that means for me, and so I really appreciate knowing that it’s helpful for you.
YOU DID IT!!! CONGRATS!!
I love the honesty of this race report. I love the gifs. I love that you found humour halfway through a really tough run. “Everyone said this would change my life, but I don’t think I need it changed in this way.”
A week and a half out, how are you feeling? I mean mentally. Emotionally. I don’t think you’re disappointed by a bad race – it sounds like you’re disappointed by your response to a bad (‘bad’…ahem hahahaha) race.
I hope you managed to give your lizard brain a whack and a ‘shoo’ and recognise the sheer amount of work it took to get to the start line. And the finish line. And I hope it’s sunk in emotionally!
And this – “Emotionally. I don’t think you’re disappointed by a bad race – it sounds like you’re disappointed by your response to a bad (‘bad’…ahem hahahaha) race.” – is dead on. I’ve been thinking a lot and I realized it’s not even about my time as much as it is about how quickly I feel like I crumbled mentally. I guess I thought I was tougher than that.
I do have a touch of the post-IM blues but I went swimming this AM and I’ve been doing some yoga, and I feel confident this will pass if I just give it some time. I watched the official IM Louisville video this morning, and that also helped a lot! ❤ ❤
What an epic race/race report loved it! Provided a lot of insight and comic relief as I train for my first full 140.6 Ironman next September IM Chattanooga!
I couldn’t do the water swims for the reasons you mention; what you can’t see beneath you.
Love all the meme gifs, they fit in perfectly.
I’m a sideline racer, admiring the dedication and training of the athletes pre-race. The way you’ve depicted your experience is informative; nutrition timing especially. Your emotional journey during the tri had me laughing along with your suffering, again with the gifs. We’ve all had the fuckity fuck moments in life, toughing it out beyond that is admirable.
Congrats on being a total badass. I’ve been there before with the “blah” post-race feeling when you thought it would mean so much more. It’s hard to celebrate it as the most amazing experience when so many parts of it were so miserable. You’re awesome for fighting through it all and still doing such a great job. I’ve read through this post a couple times now in order to really take it in, and as usual I love your honest and detailed recap. I get caught up in a lot of the logistical stuff, so I’m glad you described things like the changing tent and how all of that worked.
I can totally relate to your swearfest as you had a meltdown on the bike. I’m always stressed when people fly past me on the bike and I tell myself how slow I am, how bad I suck, etc. The longest I’ve raced is the Olympic distance, so that pales in comparison! Add in a bunch of hills when you’re used to riding flat…wow. You still ended up with a great time on the bike!
How frustrating to get to your strongest part of the race only to have your stomach ruin it. I do use a drink with 2x sodium, but I wasn’t aware that salt could help you the way it did. I will definitely have to keep that in mind.
I’m glad you were able to finish with Brian. After a lot of misery, I’m glad you got to experience an emotional finish together.
It sounds like you recognize how strong you became just through training alone. It’s not always all about race day, but also the journey to get there. Whether you decide to do another one or not, you pushed yourself to do something amazing and you DID it. It may not have felt amazing at the time and it might not feel like something you’re interested in doing again, but major props for all of the time and dedication it took to get there and get through it. A marathon alone is a huge accomplishment, but an Ironman is about as badass as it gets. 🙂
Wow, i have no intentions in participating in an iron man, but somehow, when I started reading your article, I simply couldn’t stop. Your story is amazing, you captured every step well, it read like a movie and i truly felt with you. You are an amazing human being and you can be extremely proud of yourself and your achievements.
And somehow you make me want to get out into the cold winter air to do a wee run across the fields after weeks of not having moved at all.
Hey Caitlin, what an awesome blog! This was a great read. You were amazing for a first Ironman. I have done a few 70.3s but from your report and many others I can see that the full is a whole different ball game. Props to you for sticking it out. It’s amazing how many ups and downs and different emotions you can have throughout such a long race. I’m planning to do one next summer/ fall, and hopefully I will come out of it alive. I will definitely try the salt! Love the gifs. 🙂
Thank you! And good luck! You’re right – the full is a whole different ballgame from the half. I was really not prepared for how much different – it was so hard! Which one are you thinking about doing?
Caitin, Great read, never under-estimate the mental side of ironman, I was on the Queen K this past october and said I was done with ironman as well…. until crossing the finish line and said I can do better not in time but in personnel, so we try to get back again.
WOW, congrats on finishing at Kona! Talk about a tough race. It’s funny, part of me thinks it would be great to race Kona but then when I think about the actual conditions – humidity, wind, heat, hills – I’m like, “…nah, I’m cool.” But still, congratulations!
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Big big congratulations on completing the Ironman (which is NO JOKE!). I am very inspired by your story and I’ll definitely use it to fuel my own training motivation.
Great report! I’m doing IMLou in 2017. I almost feel like I have already experienced it.
Good luck! I hope this race report helps you prep a bit. It’s a great race, but I wish I’d at the very least set myself up with a better cassette or something!