By Eric Gonzalez-Pons
- Hotel near transition/finish line well worthy!
- Go to athlete check in early!
- Run special needs bag: Dry shirt for run after dark
Pre-Race day: Arrived Thursday three days before race day. Thursday I did my athlete check-in and got familiar with logistics of walking from transition to hotel and such (8-minute walk, awesome!) Friday was a rest day that involved Netflix binging in the morning and walking a little bit in the afternoon near the hotel followed by lots of pizza! Saturday, I woke up early to go to swim practice (10 minutes). It was a really windy day so the water was really choppy, everyone was having a hard time swimming! Afterwards, I ran (10 minutes) and biked (20 minutes) — mainly just to make sure my bike was functioning properly. After that Kwynn arrived in Louisville and we checked in my race bags and also my bike into transition (around 2 p.m.). The line was crazy 15 minutes after we got there.
Race day: Day started early, woke up at 4 a.m. to have breakfast (IM Louisville starts at 7:40 a.m.) so I didn’t think I needed to wake up earlier than 4 a.m. After having breakfast, Kwynn and I left the hotel to walk to transition. We arrived at 6:25 a.m., and I put the water bottles in my bike and checked that my bike tires were still inflated. (I brought my own pump). After couple minutes we left transition and we started walking to the swim start, little we know that everyone would have the same idea of getting there “early” to start the line for the swim start (Louisville start is first come, first serve). It did not seemed like we waited in line too long, at least to me (I knew I had a long day ahead of me so waiting over 1 hour was acceptable) While we were in line people started putting their wetsuits on and after 1hr the line started moving, we started walking the 1mile walk from transition to the swim start. Once the race starts the line moves fairly quick.
Kwynn was the best Sherpa I could’ve asked for, she never complained about how early I wanted to wake up, how cold it was, or how much crap I needed her to help me carry around.
We hugged and kiss and then athletes and family were separated by a barricade. I kept walking, following the path and before I knew, it was my time to jump in the water. I was really excited when I jumped in the water because I knew that the adventure had just begun. The start of the swim was “crazy”, we swam up the river first and there was not too much room to swim, swimmers were everywhere. I thought of it as a game and to try to avoid being hit as much as possible. I did get hit twice on my goggles and one kick straight to the rib cage, but it was all part of the fun. I really enjoyed the swim part of the race; sighting was really easy with the buoys and the suspension bridges across the river. I focused on each buoy at the time so the swim seemed really short. Before I knew it, I started seeing transition and the swim exit arrived really quickly (special thanks to the Ohio River downward current!) I couldn’t find Kwynn at the swim exit because I had told her I was going to swim around 1:20. I timed it wrong by 14 minutes. I peeled off my wetsuit and walked to grab my bike gear bag, I figured why run in transition if I have six hours to ride. What are two more minutes walking? It was my first time being in those changing tents and it was crowded in there, I found a corner and started getting my bike stuff on. I rode with socks because the temp was near the 55-60s. I grabbed my bike and off I went. I am not sure if the drafting rule was not applied since the course was really hilly and people would accumulate going uphill but, I think it is safe to assume that 80% of the competitors drafted at some point.
The first 10 miles were flat, and on the very first hill I saw two competitors crash and one of them broke their back erailleur. I remember literally telling my bike “I will take care of you if you take care of me” I made sure not to put a lot of power on the pedals when switching gears and also select the appropriate gear to keep my power stable and prevent it from spiking up. There were up, downs, twists, everything. The scenery was really nice; at one point my Garmin recorded me going 41 mph. I had never gone that fast on two wheels, a jersey and some bike shorts. I thought to myself, this would be a bad way to end the race. For some downhills I admit that I had to brake. My goal was to finish the race walking the finish line and not airlifted from the course. (A competitor had to get airlifted after he crashed onto another guy and both went to the side rail. Their bikes were destroyed). I took a piece of banana and Gatorade on every aid station. Also, I took my salt pills and Clif Blocks religiously. I saw Kwynn on the bike course around mile 26-30ish and that really lift up my energy mood! It’s incredible how much energy family brings to this events, I am really thankful for that!
Bike loop one, went smooth, second loop I kept reminding myself to not gear out on the uphills and to keep my average power low since the next event was where the race started. After every hill on the second loop I would tell myself “that is the last time riding that hill”. Mile 90 came, then 100 and anything after that was one more pedal stroke from the longest I have ridden my bike. Yes, first time riding over 100 miles! I made it back to town and dismounted my bike and changed my socks and put my running shoes. Saw Kwynn and my cousin at the transition exit. Again I got an energy boost from them! I remember being excited that there was only a “marathon” between me and the finish line.
My plan for the run started with 9min run with 1min walk. The first two miles were a little faster than what I wanted to run. But, I made myself go slower and stick to the 9/1. That plan got a little harder at mile 10. As the miles kept passing (Slowly!) it was harder to keep that 9min run on. I told myself that if I made it to half marathon point, then my reward for the next half marathon would be run 4min/walk 1min. It sounded so appealing back then that it was enough motivation to push from mile 10 to the 13.1 turn around. I saw Kwynn and my family there and I remember giving Kwynn a hug and thinking “man I could stay here, but I have to keep going,” so I started my way for the next 13 miles out and back. I was able to keep the 4/1 until mile 16.
Everything after mile 16 turned harder, I had moments where I prayed, I had feelings of pain, energy bursts from hearing my name at the finish line, seeing Kwynn, getting dry clothes, every possible thought came to my mind. At this point also the sun went down and the temperature started cooling down. It was where I did most of my walking and no running. For the run I had my hydration bottle with Accelerade and that is what I was drinking. After dark, I swap to broth and coke, every aid station was a challenge and after taking the broth and coke, they tasted so good that it was enough to keep me moving forward for the next aid station! (Lesson learned: should’ve put a dry shirt or a long sleeve shirt on my special needs bag, just to run more comfortable) After mile 20, I was cold and ready to get it done so I told myself to stick with 3min run and 2min walk and soon enough I would hit an aid station with broth and coke and also the finish! Not sure how, but I regain the strength to start running back again. Near the finish line there was a left turn and then a right turn to the finish line, I remember hitting that left turn and my legs felt “fresh” I was more concern about finding Kwynn than the pain of my muscles. (I ran without glasses or contacts, so it made it quite difficult). I high-fived a lot of people and finally I saw Kwynn near the finish line! I hugged her and not sure where the energy came from, but I remember jumping of joy and happiness! I was few steps of becoming an Ironman and I know Kwynn was as happy as I was. After a long hug and celebration I crossed the line! Best day EVER!
Thanks to Kwynn for putting up with the sacrifices of the long training hours, for extending the IM journey from May in Texas to October in Louisville, and or being the best support crew, Sherpa and wife! Thanks to her supporting and cheering I was able to keep pushing. Thanks to everyone in the team, I truly believe that triathlon is as much an individual sport as it is a group one. It’s definitely easier to workout around y’all. And, also thanks to Coach Mike, Coach Paul and Coach Sondra for preparing me for this amazing day!
Not excited to go back to work!