Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: bike, special events, workout

The morning started VERY early. Very dark. Very chilly.

We made it down to Doc’s Cantina where the queue for the Swim Start was already beginning to form. We got there about 4:45 in the morning. I wanted an early start for the swim to give me as much time as possible for the day ahead. So we sat in line. Nervously chatted. Met other athletes. Took a couple little naps.Ate. Hydrated… and tried not to freak out about  the day ahead. Oddly enough, I had a surprising calmness about me. Not too many jitters. At this point you’ve trained as much as you could. Years of biking & step classes… hoping that it all pays off. Sure, maybe I should have earned how to swim before this, but it’s only 2.4 miles, right?

After waiting nearly two and a half hours, suddenly the place came to life and it was race time before you knew it. Time to put on the wetsuit. Time to get this show on the road. The official time clock counting down to 7:30am! Okay, now it’s getting real.

A few minutes before, they marched us down to the docks. Lines of nervous athletes excited about the adventure each was about to begin.

After the National Anthem, some last minute instructions, and a bugle revelry… it was time to start. On with the swim cap. On with the goggles. Up with the adrenaline! The long line was divided into two… one for each pier. I was in the lane for the far pier. TUrns out I was the THIRD person to jump in off that pier!!! Guess my plan to start early worked out.

So you start swimming upstream past the docks, along the shore, between a long island. You can finally see the end of the island and you “think” that you get to turn around the island and head back. WRONG!!! There are still three more buoys to swim past before you turn around. Not an easy feat as people are swimming over you, kicking you, grabbing you and pushing you out of the way as they are trying to get to the end of the swim. Not for the squeamish if you haven’t been in that situation before. Plus, this easily felt like my biggest body of open water swim ever… when I swim in Lake Michigan, it’s usually along the shoreline. This time we were in the Ohio RIver – which is about as wide as the Great Mississippi River at this point.

So you keep swimming. Keep breathing. Keep looking for the finish.
Keep looking for Joe’s Crab Shack off in the distance. Knowing that we get to finally climb out of the river just before we get to Joe’s.

It felt SO AMAZING to finally finish my swim and get out of the water!!! And to see Pammy & Chris waiting for me on the sidelines cheering me on!!! I was so pleasantly surprised when they told me I was close to two hours!!!… I had about 20 minutes to spare! Whew!!!

I will say that my legs were done. And I had a weird little muscle “issue” going on in my left knee. Nothing shooting or jabbing. But more like muscles screaming at me… yep, “that muscle” that I never use because I don’t swim?!!! Still… felt GREAT to be out of the water!!!

So then it was back in to the Transition Area. Pick up your Bike Gear Bag and head to the changing tent. Picture a large white tent filled with sweaty men, smelling like river, changing closes in a very steamy & smelly tent. Switching from wetsuits to bike clothes. It was NOT a pretty sight. But you suck it up and do what you need to do. Dry off. Switch clothes. Put on your shoes & helmet. Pack your wetsuit & goggles back into you Bike Gear bag… and head out. A quick stop for sunscreen… and the porta-potties… and you’re headed to the Bike Out arch.

Looking for Chris and Pammy in the sea of spectators … ah ha, there they are!!!

Ready to set off on my bike… a mere 112 miles to go…
with the promise of some “rolling hills.”

The bike portion of the race was tougher than I expected. I wasn’t prepared to find out that I had no muscle or power left in my legs after the two-hour swim. I was depleted and not quite ready for the road ahead. But I kept pedaling. I kept eating more energy foods. Gels. Clif Bars. Bananas. Gatorade. Whatever it took. Plus that little twinge in my left knee was still there?  After the first few miles it started to feel better. But the hills were still tougher than I expected.

Ten miles or so into the race, my derailleur stopped working and I was stuck in the big chain ring. Good for speed… not so good for riding the hills. I was pedaling a LOT harder than I should have been. When I got to the first bike tech tent, I pulled in to have them look at my bike. He fiddled with it for awhile and finally got it to shift back & forth. He said I was good to go… and I did… after about 20 minutes of waiting. By then I was feeling better and getting some strength back in my legs. Pedal on!!!

Part way through the course we rolled through the town of LaGrange… a fun little town where there were a lot of  spectators cheering us on. They even had a shuttle system worked out for family, friends and support crew to get back & forth. It was great to see Chris on the sidelines cheering me on as I cruised through the town!!! And shooting photos for me along the way… she just barely caught me as cruised through.

This was also the first triathlon that I’ve ever done where the roads weren’t totally closed. The police did a great job of keeping us safe and blocking most of the traffic at intersections. However there were quite a few cars that made it through on the road that kept getting in the way. Especially tough to maneuver around cars on the hills as you’re trying to power up… and there’s a car in the way in your lane and traffic coming in the other direction. Not ideal conditions for a race.

The course had a large loop on it. So you had to ride the loop twice before heading back to Transition. Along the way you got to stop off for your Bike Special Needs bag… for a quick “lunch” break. And then it was back on the bike after a few minutes… and back through LaGrange again… howdy Chris!!!

After a hundred and twelve long & grueling miles, you finally head back into Lousiville. It was great to see the bridges on your right. The beacon town Downtown. All good signs that you’re getting closer to the Transition Area again. So great to see Chris waiting for me at the end of the bike route!!! Both of us thought my bike time would be quicker… neither of us realizing how tough the hills would be. Neither of us realizing how many cars would be on the road. How my bike would need technical help along the way. And how my legs would be so wiped out after the swim!!! Or how that little twinge on the side of my left knee, and now in my left achilles too, would be there. Still nothing too painful, just enough to make you more cautious and careful not to make it worse. All good though… I made it back… time to run!!!

So again it’s back tot he Transition Area. You hand your bike off to one of the many volunteers. You continue back to the rows & rows of nags. A volunteer gets your bag for you and hands it off as you pass through. Back into the hot, steamy & smelly changing tent. Switch from bike clothes, shows & helmet into running shorts, tank top, and running shoes. Eat some food. Drink some water. Was that just lunch? Throw your bike clothes into your Run Gear bag and head out… past the Sunscreen Station again… and the porta-potties… and off onto the Run Course.

Okay, sure I’ll admit tat it doesn’t feel good when you switch from bike to run. I might say it feels like your hips are turned out the wrong way. Little painful to get a running stride into place. And yet so fun to know that you’re two parts done, only one more leg to go!!!

And still smiling…

So you leave the Transition Area and head out into the downtown streets… slowly…

So great to see Pammy waiting for me on the sidelines… sitting in her chair…
broken foot and all… still cheering. Still encouraging me onwards!!!

So the Run Course takes you quickly through Downtown Louisville and off into the surrounding area. At times it was residential, then small neighborhoods. The route took us past the University, some cool Art Museum and even past Churchill Downs!!! The run is another big loop. So when I finally got to the halfway point, it was already dark. And to make matters worse… a LOT of runners were already crossing the Finish Line. But not me. Instead, the course takes you ONE BLOCK away from the actual Finish Line. You can see it. You can hear it. And then you turn right one block short of crossing. The Run Special Needs Bags are right there… as were Chris, Pam and Jeff. Great friends waiting for me. Cheering me on… broken foot and all.

So you head back out for another half marathon! Another full thirteen miles in darkness. It’s the same loop as last time, except now it’s dark, there are a LOT fewer runners out there and they’re handing out glow sticks!!! This second loop was so much tougher than the first. And let’s just say for the record, I’m not the greatest runner in the first place. But by this point my “jog” was getting down to more like a “shuffle.” A times I began to wonder if I would be able to walk faster than I was shuffling?! Knowing the whole time that all I need to do is cross the Finiah Line. And that it’s not worth killing myself, blowing out my achilles, or injuring myself in any way. Better to be slow & strong, than fast & injured. So I continued to “shuffle” and walked through the aid stations. I’m still not good at running, drinking & eating all at the same time.

The last six miles or so are pretty rough. Darkness. Fatigue. Fewer people out there keeping you going. Fewer runners. Fewer spectators. Plus after a day of Gatorade, bananas, goo, gel, Clif Bars and snacks… my stomach was done too. I was saturated with energy goop. Water only for me for the last few hours. And apparently I wasn’t the only one as you start to see a LOT of runners vomiting along the sides as the miles tick down. And to make matters worse, apparently I was an “over-achiever” in the hydration category. Because the last half was also needed quite a few stops to pee at the rest stations. Much better than the other alternatives, but still not so good for my race time?!

Eventually you get back into the Downtown area. We made a couple turns through the city streets. This time when we made the turn onto Fourth Street… we knew we finally got to go straight through and actually make it through the Finish Line!!! So exciting to finally see the end. To know that you are indeed going to make it. To hear the crowd cheering you on. To hear the announcer proclaim those six words you’ve worked so long & hard to hear…


So I made it through the Finish Line and felt surprisingly great. I know… adrenaline… endorphins… I get it. But I felt surprisingly good. I did my best IRONMAN “shuffle” across the Finish Line. After crossing amongst the camera flashes and cheering crowds, they whisk you through the finish zone. Your Volunteer Escort gives you your Finisher’s Medal. A quick stop at the Finisher’s step & repeat for your official Finisher’s Photo. They get you a bottle of water. Food if you need it. A mylar blanket for hypothermia if you need it… I didn’t. Your official Finisher’s hat & t-shirt. Eventually, when you’ve made it through the Finish Line “gauntele”… you’re released to find your Support Crew.

My favorite Sherpa Chris was there taking as many pictures as she could. Pammy and her husband were there too. I still can’t quite fathom that Pam came down to Louisville with her broken foot. But that’s what good friends do… and I love ‘em!!!

After the Finish Line gauntlet, we all walked back to our hotel. I’m sure it was “therapeutic” to keep walking. Of course we stopped a few times… for Pam, not me!!! But I didn’t care. I felt great. Still riding high after finishing my first IRONMAN!!!

Back at the hotel, I opened my swag. Love my new hat… and even more…

It wasn’t until I took my shoes & socks off that I found out why my left foot hurt a bit. It sure looked worse than it feels. But I felt great that this “little” red blister was the my only injury after a full IRONMAN!!!

Chris and I sat up and talked for a little while. She ran me a cold bath and filled it with ice. I tried my best to soak in the freezing water… standing in it was fine. But when I sat down all the way it sent shivers through my body. How do professional athletes do these ice baths all the time?!!! Not me. Also, as a fellow IRONMAN, Pammy knew that I would be starving at some point… maybe 3:00 in the morning… so she ordered me a pizza for when the hunger hit. And it did.

Eventually, Chris and I finally went to sleep.
We set the alarm for an early morning at the Finisher’s Expo Tent.
My feet & ankles were already sore… and I was fearing how they would feel in the morning.
But I needed to sleep… so a couple Advils and I was down for the count.

Happy to know that I am now an IRONMAN !!!












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