If you follow my blog or have been around me much the last month, you no doubt know that I’ve been suffering from ITBS. The IT Band in my left knee has been very tight and in the six weeks leading up to Ironman, I hadn’t run more than a few miles. To say that I was nervous about running a full marathon is an understatement! I figured that since I hadn’t run in several weeks, I would at least be able to get a few miles in before I had to walk because of the pain. Controlling the physical aspect of this injury was something that I had been doing for over a month now, there was nothing else I could do on that front. The mental aspect however, was a different story. I refused to let my brain get in the way of my completing an Ironman. As I started the run, I decided to only focus on the first 5 miles. I would run for the first five and then reevaluate the situation. I felt great coming out of T2, but I knew that I had to resist the urge to run fast. I had to keep my HR in the 140’s.
The five mile mark came somewhere around the University of Louisville. My first five mile splits were 9:03, 9:16, 9:57, 10:16 and 10:41…see a trend? By the time I got to mile five I was starting to feel some pain in my left knee. I played around with it and realized that the slower I ran, the less it hurt. I also noticed that my HR was staying in the low 130’s and I felt like I had plenty of energy left…so I was just going to have to increase my pace and deal with the pain. I started the run with my fuel belt full of Perpetuem. I like to drink this mix as long as possible because it’s the most complete fuel available. However, I knew that there would come a point where my stomach could no longer break down this more complex carbohydrate and I would have to switch to something else. I was only about an hour into the run when my stomach gave me a warning cramp…telling me that I better quit drinking the Perpetuem. At the next aid station, I dumped both bottles out and filled them with clear water.
I picked up the pace for miles 6, 7 & 8. My splits were 10:14, 10:06 and 9:55 for these three miles. I knew that my parents were going to be at Woodlawn and Southern Parkway, which is around mile 7.5. I was excited to see them and I was very surprised to find not only my parents waiting there, but a full cheering section! My wife Jessica, good friends Bridgette and her daughter Aleah, along with Kelly, Jen and Brooklyn. It’s an awesome feeling to see that many people there to support you. For a moment, I forgot all about the knee pain. I had decided before the race that I would walk every aid station and drink water. Even though I didn’t feel too hot at this point in the run, I was also taking two ice-cold sponges at every station and stuffing them down my tri shirt to keep my core cool. At the next aid station, I would swap them with some fresh ones. Since the Perpetuem was no longer an option, I decided to try some gels. I grabbed my first one at the aid station at mile 6. Once I cleared the aid station and started running again, I ripped it open and shoved a mouthful in. Yuck! I looked at the package…”Double Latte”. What the %&$*! I hate coffee and anything coffee flavored. This was the only point during the entire day that I almost vomited. Lesson learned…look at the flavor before eating a gel!
The turnaround at the end of Southern Parkway is at mile 8.5. After making to to the 5 mile mark, then to see my support crew at Woodlawn, I decided to make my next goal the turnaround. I would keep running until then and once again reevaluate. My knee was still hurting and as I continued to try different things to ease the pain, I found that running in the middle of the street helped. The road slopes down on each side and even this very small slope caused my left foot to hit the ground slightly below my right food. This small difference caused some pain. So from this point forward, I ran the entire race smack dab in the middle of the street.
After the turnaround, it was just another mile back to Woodlawn. I decided to keep running at least until I saw everyone again. I was also starting to pass a lot of people walking by this point. My confidence was soaring because I was feeling good from a fitness standpoint. My heart rate was low and I knew that I had a lot left, the only thing that would lead to me walking was pain in my knee. By this time, I was running with a gel (Raspberry Creme flavor) in each hand as a reminder to not clench my fists. Focusing on keeping loose is key during an endurance event. I made sure that I wasn’t holding any tension in my face, arms or hands…all of my energy needed to be going to my legs! I sucked down a gel about every half hour or so. I didn’t particulalry like the flavor, but it was better than the other option (Double Latte)!
Miles 10 through 13 were tough. My socks were complete soaked by the water from the sponges running down my legs. Not only was I still dealing with knee pain, but I could feel a blister forming on the ball of my right foot. I was still chugging along, but my miles were slowing down…I just wanted to get to the Special Needs Bag at the 14 mile mark and get some dry socks and some BioFreeze! My splits for miles 9 through 13 were 10:18, 10:15, 10:39, 10:50, 10:54.
Finally made it to Special Needs. They grabbed my bag and I sat in a chair. As I opened my bag a volunteer came over to see what I needed help with. I told her that I was ok and I started to take my shoes off. She said “you putting on fresh socks?” I told her I was and she immediately squatted down in front of me and said “let me do it”. Huh? This total stranger was going to take off my sweaty socks and put new ones on for me? “It’s ok, I’ll do it”, I told her. “This is what I’m here for”, she responded. I didn’t have the energy to argue, so I let her do it. She was then kind enough to open my sample pack of BioFreeze for me. She helped me clean it off of my hands after I rubbed it on too! I was, and still am, amazed by the generosity of this person. I’ve volunteered at Ironman the last two years, so I know what they ask you to do…but what she did for me was above and beyond what is expected. I wish I would have caught her name. Either way, I’m sending an email to the Volunteer Director to let him know about my experience!
Much like my three stops on the bike, this time at Special Needs added several minutes to my run time, minutes where the clock was running, but I wasn’t. Changing socks and numbing the knee pain were necessary for me at this point in the race though. Mile 14 is probably the hardest on the course. You are back downtown at this point and you literally come within 200 feet of the finish line before having to turn around and do the whole course again. I remember seeing Nancy, one of my swim coaches, on the sidewalk cheering people on. I also remember telling her that “this is torture!”. I was referring to the fact that I could see the finish line, but still had over 12 miles to go…she probably thought that I meant the race in general was torture. Well…that too!
By the time I made it to the University of Louisville again, I was on mile 17. By this point, I was beginning to think that I was going to be able to run through the pain and complete the whole marathon without walking. It wasn’t a given yet, but the positive thoughts were there. I was getting hot now and my stomach had started to reject the gels, so I had to switch to an even more simple carbohydrate…Coke (it was actually Sam’s Choice Cola brand from Walmart – I saw the 2 liter bottles). For those of you that know me, it seems ridiculous for me to drink Coke. It’s literally been years since any form of soda passed my lips. I know that you are not supposed to try anything in a race that you haven’t practiced during training, but I was out of options. I needed the calories and my stomach wasn’t doing well with anything else. So I started taking a drink or two of Coke at every aid station. It’s really weird. I would feel a little boost about 30 seconds after drinking it…then it would fade after only a minute or two. So every mile or so, I would get a brief jolt of energy. I felt like a junkie, I needed my Coke fix!
Mile 20 was my third pass by the intersection of Woodlawn and Southern Parkway. Mentally, I was gone at this point. I had been eagerly awaiting seeing my family and friends again for miles. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to get to where they were. When I got close to the spot where they had been on my first loop, I didn’t see them. I have to admit, I was upset. At this point in an Ironman, it’s almost all mental. Seeing that they were not there, I had a brief mental lapse and considered walking until I got to the next aid station. This was the first time in 19 miles that this thought crossed my mind. Just as I began to have an argument with myself about walking, I saw my parents. They had moved! They were just a few blocks further south. They were joined this time by my brother John and his wife Kira. I stopped when I made it to them and slapped on my final coat of BioFreeze. I decided at this point that I was going to throw caution to the wind and see if I could up the pace for the remaining 6 miles. My splits for miles 14 through 20 were 12:10 (2 minute stop at Special Needs), 10:31, 10:52, 10:39, 10:45, 10:34, 11:17 (stop to put on BioFreeze).
At the 23 mile mark I decide that I would stop walking though the aid stations. The increased pace over the three previous miles had led to some more intense knee pain, and while the walking was a temporary relief, I wanted to leave it all on the course. I had switched my watch off of heart rate mode, so I was no longer trying to keep my HR below 150. My average HR for the run ended up being 131 bpm. My splits for miles 21-22 were 10:04 & 10:05.
I scrolled though my watch to find my total time for the entire day. At this point, mile 23 of the marathon, I was sitting at 11 hours and 40 minutes. This was the first time that I realized I was going to be close to finishing at 12 hours, which was my original goal when I started training back in December. I did some quick math and realized that getting to the finish line under the 12 hour mark was going to be tough. I would need to run 8 minute miles for the rest of the race. I didn’t know what I had left, but I decided to find out. I ran mile 23 in 9:06, mile 24 in 8:57…yes, my fastest mile of the day came at mile 24! When I reached mile 25 I hit the wall. I was pushing as hard as I could, my breathing was so far out of control that I couldn’t even take in a drink of water. I could tell that my form was a mess. I was using my entire body to try and propel my legs forward. I knew that 12 hours was out of the question, so I set a new goal of finishing under 12:10:00. I ran mile 25 in 9:31. I saw a friend, Chip, and his family somewhere around mile 25, but all I had enough energy to do was give a slight wave, really just and extension of my fingers.
That last 1.2 miles seemed like 5 miles. I felt like I was running at a 6 minute pace, turns out it was closer to a 10 minute pace. I was mentally and physically spent. I ran the mile 26 in 10:03.
As I made that final right hand turn onto 4th Street, I could see the finish line. I dug deep and pushed it down the finish shoot and heard Mike Reilly say “Luke Powell, you are an Ironman!”. Running down the finish shoot is kind of a blurr. If it weren’t for the photo’s and video, I doubt I would be able to tell you what I did after hearing Mike say my name. Apparently I extended both arms into the sky and pointed (see picture to the left), then I decided to do a double flex before putting my arms down as I crossed the finish line. It was all emotion at that point! It was official, I WAS AN IRONMAN!!
….to be continued…