OCTOBER 11, 2015
SWIM - 1:02:53
T1 - 10:54
BIKE - 6:15:09
T2 - 5:54
RUN - 3:53:43
13/119 W30-34 57/788 Women 345/2573 Overall
I was awake at 4:30am with a plan to meet Theoden, Doug, and Lex in front of the hotel at 5:15am and walk to transition. I slept surprisingly well, got dressed, packed my last minute gear, ate a breakfast of rice cakes topped with peanut butter, banana, and honey, and sipped on hot tea on our walk.
Race day also happened to be my birthday, but despite the multiple birthday wishes I was focused on nothing other than my race. In transition I pumped my tires, double checked my wheels, put last minute items in my transition bags, dropped off my special needs bags, and then gathered with my parents and the boys to walk to the swim start.
When we arrived at the start at 5:45am, the line was already more than a mile long. By the time we were body marked, claimed our spot in line, went to the bathroom, walked back to our spot in the line, and put on our wetsuits, the starting gun went off and suddenly the line was moving. I was bummed I never heard the National Anthem, but as it turns out they played "My Old Kentucky Home instead."
Just prior to the start I sipped on a bottle of skratch and ate half of a bonk breaker. The air temperature was a cool 48 degrees, which was cold even in a wetsuit, so I hung on to a fleece blanket until we were within site of the starting docks. I said good-bye to my parents, fist-pumped the guys, soaked up some cheers from Charlotte friends, and then made the last walk down the boat ramp.
Swim 1:02:53 (1:37/100m)
Approximately 25 minutes passed from the swim start until I jumped off the dock and into the 69 degree Ohio River. In an ideal world, I would have been in the water much earlier to avoid the congestion, but it didn’t work out that way. Having not worn my BlueSeventy wetsuit for more than a year, I immediately noticed the dramatic difference in buoyancy. The first 1500 meters are “upriver” between an island and shore, but I can’t say I noticed any significant current. In the scheme of things, it was a relatively clean swim, but I did a lot more sighting than average to zig-zag between slower swimmers. As I passed the island, I noticed a large group of people standing up and walking in an area with a sandbar, but I opted to stay closer to the buoys and continue swimming. Once we made the turn to swim downriver, I kept towards the main channel in hopes I might pick up some current and stay out of the congestion. This worked well and I had fairly clean water until the second bridge when I found myself dodging lots of breast strokers and even a large log.
I felt like my swim was taking an eternity and as my neck became sore from so much sighting, I wanted nothing more than to be out of the water. Fortunately, thanks to ridiculous amounts of TriGlide borrowed from Theoden, I didn’t sense any chafing on my neck or arms. Finally I caught site of the finishing stairs and made a direct line back to shore. Volunteers were trying to help pull people out of the water, but it’s much harder than you would expect to find your footing on the carpeted stairs. I caught a glimpse of my Garmin for the first time as I exited the water and was satisfied with 1:02, though hoping for less. As it turns out, I should have been really please as that was the 10th fastest swim in my age group (top 6% of females, top 9% overall). I made my way over to two wetsuit strippers who appeared confident in their abilities, and after a short struggle to pull the sleeve over my Garmin, they whipped that wetsuit off in a split second.
Unfortunately, the speed with which my wetsuit was removed would turn out to be the fastest portion of my transition. I grabbed my bike bag and ran very cautiously toward the women’s changing tent. I wish Ironman had taken the time to put carpeting down on this path, because it had turned into a dangerous slick muddy mess. Once in the tent there were no volunteers available, so I took one of very few chairs, dumped out my bag, and got to work putting on my bike gear. Another gripe I have was the very small size of the changing tent and too few volunteers, which were a big disappointment after having an abundance of both in Chattanooga last year. Because of the anticipated cool temperatures on the bike, I had opted not to wear my tri jersey on the swim so that at least part of me would be dry. Despite using a towel to quickly wipe off my arms, it turned into a giant struggle to get a tight fitting tri top, arm warmers, and gloves on over semi-wet skin with cold fingers. At the time though I felt like the extra time would be worth the added warmth. Once I accomplished that feat and repacked my bag, I made my way out of the tent only to be told by a volunteer that I had to take my bag back inside the tent and give it to a different volunteer. Very frustrated, I simply told her that there were no free volunteers and that I was leaving my bag there, and that was precisely what I did. The last portion of transition should be simple – grab your bike and go. I, however, managed to make that difficult as well, dislodging my aero bottle when removing it from the rack. This meant tightening the velcro strap (near impossible to do with my gloves on!), realizing the strap was twisted, taking the whole bottle out of the cage, re-fastening the Velcro, putting my gloves back on, and finally making my way out of transition. I spent more than 10 minutes being sucked into the black hole of transition, and it is without a doubt the biggest disappointment I had in my race execution.
Out of transition we ran a short distance to the road and the bike mount line. The first 12 miles along River Road were completely flat and I settled in to my target power (160W) at a very comfortable effort. As we made the right-hand turn onto 1694, I reminded myself to ride this section conservatively. Everyone had warned me that the road was narrow, hills were steep, and there would be plenty of people riding recklessly. I took the giant downhill up on my hoods and then shifted to my smallest gear to climb back out. The worst part was when we had to turn around within a single lane of the road, so rather than risk crashing, I unclipped one foot and cautiously made the turn. Just as I did, I caught site of a guy less than 50 feet behind me do a summersault over his bike and crash really hard. It looked terrible, but fortunately there were medical staff stationed at that turn to assist. Heading back out along 1694 was definitely more congested and perilous, and I was thankful to make it back to the main road. My Garmin was beeping every 7 miles as a reminder to eat a square of bonk breaker and drink skratch (~250 calories/hour). I mentally divided the course into three 35 mile sections (5 x 7 miles) plus the final 7 miles to guide nutrition and avoid focusing on all 112 miles.
The early section of the loop passed quickly thanks to aid stations, abundant crowd support, and a Tour De France-like atmosphere in LaGrange. If the ride through LaGrange was the highpoint of each loop, the next 20 miles were the lowest. We first rode along a narrow back road with plenty of short steep climbs and then we made a left turn and hit a stout wind that seemed to shift between being into our faces and then from the side. On a couple of occasions it caught my front tire and pushed me several feet across the road, so at that point I no longer was comfortable controlling my bike in aero. The miles seemed to drag on, my neck and shoulders had already become very sore, my right foot had an odd pain, and for about 20 miles, I wanted nothing more than to call it a day and get off that bike. Anyone who has raced this distance will tell you that you’ll play mental games with yourself all day, fighting the lows both mentally and physically, and that was without a doubt my lowest point that day.
Finally we reached mile 60 (the start of the second loop) and mentally I checked back into the game. The crowd support once again renewed my energy, and despite nagging neck pain that kept me upright rather than aero for nearly the entire rest of the bike, I knew my day was far from over. The cheers of my Mom and several awesome Charlotte friends (Kelly, Kelli, and Nate) had me fired up for the second battle with the winds. There really wasn’t much notable about the final 30+ miles. I looked forward to each beep to indicate I could eat again, and easily tolerated all four bonk breakers, five bottles of scratch, and several licks of Base salt throughout the ride. I had hoped to regain some speed in the final flat 10 miles, but my 22mph average on that outbound stretch was only 19 mph on the inbound stretch at the same power. In the final miles I took a Gu Roctane in preparation for the run but instantly regretted it. The taste was nauseating and suddenly I was adjusting my planned run nutrition. Making the turn into downtown Louisville with cheering crowds and dismounting after 6 hours in the saddle is a great feeling and I was thrilled to be starting my run. Final data for the bike was 6:15:09 (17.91mph), NP 156, VI 1.09, HR 143, and 5341 feet of elevation change. 22nd AG, 117th female, 682 overall.
If T1 was an epic disaster, than T2 was highly successful. My legs felt good coming off the bike and there was even a volunteer to help me in the changing tent. I traded my arm warmers and gloves for calf sleeves, changed shoes and socks, grabbed my nutrition (scratch fruit drops), and started my run. Time 5:54.
My parents were cheering and Dad even ran along side to offer his encouragement as I headed out for a casual 26.2 mile run. My run strategy was to run a strong and controlled first half-marathon, knowing that with a lingering hip injury and a longest run of 14 miles, there was a very real chance that I’d be doing a lot of walking during the last 10+ miles. In typical fashion I went out fast, but settled my heart rate and found a good rhythm pretty quickly.
Mile 1 – 7:22
Mile 2 – 7:43
Mile 3 – 9:06
Mile 4 – 8:31
Mile 5 – 8:37
Mile 6 – 8:58
My nutrition strategy was in evolution since I abandoned my gels. I walked through each aid station (at every mile) and took two iced sponges (one squeezed over my head and another stuffed in my top) and a glass of liquid (alternating water and Gatorade) along with one scratch raspberry fruit drop. I was also carrying a small bottle with skratch and sipped this throughout. At the mile four aid station they had chocolate chip cookies and I soon found myself focused on getting back to that aid station (twice in each loop) for another bite of chocolaty goodness.
Mile 7 – 8:44
Mile 8 – 8:55
Mile 9 – 8:56
Mile 10 – 8:47
Mile 11 – 8:36
Mile 12 – 8:43
Mile 13 – 9:06
It’s a major tease as you complete the first loop and run literally 100 yards from the finish line before making a right turn and heading back out for another 13 miles. I caught sight of my parents again and Dad ran alongside asking how I was feeling. I remember telling him I felt good (not sure that’s really the right word 127 miles into a race) and him telling me I was making great time. My Garmin was showing my mile splits, but I otherwise just had total time running on my watch, so I had no idea what my run split was at that point. Mentally, it’s tough to make the turn for the second loop and realize you still have another half-marathon to go, but I was feeling good and remained positive.
Mile 14 – 9:22
Mile 15 – 9:25
Mile 16 – 9:12
Mile 17 – 9:34
Mile 18 – 9:36
Mile 19 – 9:00
Mile 20 – 9:18
My right foot continued to hurt (I assume from whatever was bothering it on the bike), but amazingly my hip never hurt except for the first few steps I would take as I started running after each aid station. I started taking coke at every other aid station beginning at mile nine, and together with fruit drops, cookies, water, and salt, my stomach continued to feel good with no signs of painful cramping that had plagued my run in Chattanooga. The great part of an out and back course is that I was able to see lots of Ironman Foundation athletes as well as all of my Charlotte training buddies that were having great runs. A simple cheer or high five go a really long way towards getting you down the road a bit further. A friend’s husband was riding his bike to keep up with the action and biked alongside me off and on for the last 10k, providing a great distraction from my legs that were screaming to walk. At this point, my pace was slowing, but I remained diligent about walking only during the aid stations. I thought my chance at a sub-4 hour marathon (a surprising possibility after the first lap) was rapidly diminishing, but also thought that I could realistically have a PR race (11:48 in Chattanooga).
Mile 21 – 9:11
Mile 22 – 9:27
Mile 23 – 9:43
Mile 24 – 9:25
Mile 25 – 9:12
Mile 26 – 8:15
After the mile 24 aid station, I ran the rest of the way, recognizing that the shortest time between me and the finish was to run as fast as possible. With a mile left to go I realized that sub 11:30 was looking good. The crowds began to thicken and I made the left turn just a few blocks from the finish. I remember having a huge smile on my face and realizing that suddenly my run was about to end and I was going to be an Ironman yet again. I took off my sunglasses, turned my hat around, and soaked it all up. After the last right turn, the finish line came into sight and the crowd support was incredible, echoing off the glass arch over 4th Street Live. At the split, this time I stayed to the left of the cones and the Ironman red carpet was all mine. I slowed to let a couple guys go ahead and then I had my Ironman moment in the setting sun. Since I never heard my name announced last year, this time I paid close attention – “From Charlotte, North Carolina, Crystal Perkins. It’s her birthday! Happy Birthday Dr. Crystal!”
And with that, I stopped moving for the first time in 11 hours and 28 minutes. I get goose bumps just writing those last few sentences. The “thing” that keeps me coming back to Ironman is the mix of emotions and accomplishment that fill me at that very moment. A volunteer placed a medal around my neck and wrapped me in a mylar blanket. Mom and Dad were to my right and the volunteer took our picture and captured that wonderful moment. I gathered my finisher shirt and hat and then walked for a few minutes to cool down. We pulled up my results on the phone and I was shocked to see a marathon time of 3:53:43. Seven weeks ago I ran one mile and questioned whether I’d ever be able to run (or walk) 26.2. Femoral neck stress fracture to sub-4 hour marathon – that was the shock of the day!
My final placements for the day were 13th F 30-34, 57th female, and 345th overall. Over the course of a marathon, I had passed 9 people in my age group, 60 women, and 337 total people.
I wandered toward the convention center with promises of a massage and food. The soreness was kicking in and movement was slow. I took a few sips of chocolate milk, but my stomach pretty quickly rejected that. Lying down on the massage table was wonderful and the massage was equally good. Getting up from the table, however, wasn’t so easy. I took a few minutes to sit there, feeling for a brief period like I might pass out. Eventually I walked through the food line (desserts, pizza, and chicken broth) and settled on the broth. It tasted incredible! Our hotel was perfectly positioned just a couple blocks away and I enjoyed a much-anticipated hot shower. Dad was nice enough to go back to transition to pick up my bike and gear bags and then we all met back at the hotel. After a long day for all of us, we had dinner in the restaurant in the hotel lobby. French fries with ketchup were my meal of choice and settled my stomach. As much as I had enjoyed the midnight finish line celebration in Chattanooga, I was much too sore and chilled to wander back down there that night. Instead, I settled for my Normatec boots and a warm cozy bed. My Ironman Louisville 31st birthday adventure was complete!
I have so much more to write about my race, recovery, family birthday dinner, and off-season plans, but I think this novel is more than enough for today. I'll be back with more later this week . . .