Now I know what considering a DNF feels like. The worst part was it wasn’t the wall, it wasn’t my body reaching its limit…I knew exactly what it was: it was bad decision making during the first half of the run. And now I’m here, almost at mile 17, dizzy, nauseous and too tired to think straight. Your mind wants it, your legs are ready to do it, but a part of your body just won’t cooperate and you start considering the worst case scenario…
Knowing Louisville was going to be hot, I did everything I could to prepare for the heat. I consumed electrolytes and sodium in the days up to the race, added salt tabs to my bike nutrition, decided to drink mostly Perform on the bike and I added salt heavy GUs and Clif Shot Blocks to my run nutrition. I had a plan, I had practiced it, and I was prepared.
But an Ironman is all about having a plan, yet being ready for just about anything…
No matter how much you train, you can’t simulate the exact race day conditions. I can’t tell where exactly things went wrong. I know it wasn’t on the bike. I stuck to my nutrition plan to a tee and I felt solid coming off the bike. I took a Salted Watermelon GU in transition, this was also something I had practiced, so I knew it worked for me. Then I headed out on the run and stuck to my 5:1 run/walk and felt great…until around mile 13.
I’m not going to pretend I remember exactly what I did at each aid station. There were about 15 aid stations between when I started the run and when I sat down on the sidewalk…somewhere along those aid stations mistakes happened.
I know it was about 43 minutes into the run when I realized I hadn’t had any nutrition yet. I quickly took my Margarita Shot Blocks. At my pace, 43 minutes meant I had passed at least 3 aid stations and I think I had consumed water, and maybe coke once, at those stations. Both liquids, both low in electrolytes and sodium…both bad decisions.
I tried to stick to my nutrition from this point on: GUs every 30 min, salt tabs every time my watch beeped (I can’t remember the time interval). I think I had my nutrition right, but I was diluting it with too much liquid. I honestly don’t know why I kept picking up water….
It was soooo hot by this time, so I was picking up ice to put in my hat and my shirt, but why did I keep drinking it? The plan was Perform or chicken broth at each station, unless it was time for a gel in which case I’d take water, yet, I can remember taking in water and chewing on ice for much of the first half of the run.
By mile 14 I was lightheaded, so I decided I’d just walk for a while. I’m a fast walker and I knew I could finish within 15.5 hrs if I just walked the rest, so I settled for that. I walked a few miles with 2 Ironman Veterans one of whom was a featured athlete at the Ironman Banquet. She was struck by lightning during a training ride. It sucks to walk and feel sick during a race, but walking with her was inspiring and definitely kept me moving.
By mile 16, I couldn’t keep up with them and right before mile 17, I stopped. The lightheadedness switched to dizziness and I realized I was seeing double. I took my hat off. I needed air. Some guy handed me a drink. I tasted it, but it was warm and I couldn’t drink it. I was too nauseous. He handed me a small container of salt and told me to lick it and I’d feel better.
What the heck I thought. Nothing new on race day, but what do I have to loose now. I licked the salt and kept moving, but of course it doesn’t work in 5 seconds, so the dizziness continued and I plopped down on the sidewalk next to a spectator who was cheering on her friend’s mom. I can’t remember her name, but I remember that she put ice down my shirt and told me she was so impressed with me. I thanked her.
I had every intention of getting back up, but I was also scared. Thoughts of the medics finding me and pulling me off the course crossed my mind. My brain told me, you can walk with sore muscles, but seeing double, how will you do that?
I had 9.2 miles of 140.6 left.
I had covered 131.4 miles.
I was not going to quit here, no matter what.
I contemplated a walk/crawl. It was about 7:30pm, so I had 4.5 hours left. I can walk/crawl 2 miles an hour.
But a walk/crawl would not be necessary, because I seriously could not have dropped at a better place!
The guy, Tony, who had handed me the salt, ran over with the drink I had refused. It’s hot and gross I told him, so the spectator added ice. I felt extremely nauseous at this point on the verge of throwing up and I remember Tony making a comment about avoiding his shoes.
Nothing came up.
Then, the Base Salts, which I had been licking consistently, started to work. My hands and mouth started tingling and it freaked me out, but the nausea was subsiding. Tony convinced me to just lick the salt and drink the drink.
I grabbed my sister-in-law Cecilia’s letter and read it. I cried. I kept repeating “I have to finish. I’ve come too far to quit now.” Both Tony and the spectator kept telling me that I was going to finish and I kept repeating “I have to, I just have to.”
I thought about my parents who would be wondering why I hadn’t made it to the next checkpoint yet. I knew my mom would be freaking out.
Slowly I felt normal again. I got up. Too soon. The dizziness was still there. I sat back down and read some more notes. I found my cousin’s. She had jam packed it with quotes and as I read them and kept licking salt and drinking Base Amino, I felt better. I read my momentum wrap “Dig Deep. I cried some more, but this time I was smiling. I knew I was going to make it.
I got up. Thanked them and started walking.
From that point on, I avoided water. I took Base Amino and then took Perform at every aid station, licking salt all the way to the finish line.
I wasn’t the only one suffering. Considering that this happened to the pro who won the race, you can see how I might have struggled with the heat too:
On the 2nd loop of the run I saw at least 15 people pass out on the side of the road. As I saw them sitting or laying there, I knew what they were feeling and I wanted to help, but I let the medics do their jobs, focusing instead on finishing my Ironman.
I did help one girl, Liz. When I started walking, she was sucking on a pretzel and licking salt from the little Base container. I handed her some of my Base Performance drink and we walked together for 2 miles. A gentleman, who was on Ironman #19 joined us, and we chatted about our reasons for walking and his experiences at previous Ironman races.
I felt good enough to run at 18, but didn’t want to push myself too hard. It had gotten dark, so it cooled down a tiny bit and at mile 19 I left my walking partners (I found Liz later at the massage tent, so I know she finished!) I picked up my run/walk routine and returned to my pre-wipeout pace. I felt renewed and I held on to the hope I might make my 15 hour time goal. I didn’t, but honestly that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I got back up and finished!
Advice for anyone racing (an Ironman) on a brutally hot day:
1. Hydrate, but avoid hydrating with water. Instead go for an electrolyte drink like Perform or Base Performance.
2. Take the chicken broth sooner! There’s a reason it’s on the course.
3. If salt tabs work for you, awesome. If you need something faster, carry Base Salts, I know I will!
Note: I was not sponsored by Base Performance. My review of their Base Salt and Base Amino is purely based on my experience at Ironman Louisville. The fact that I went from walking 3 miles and then sitting on the sidewalk barely walking for ~15 min to run/walking the last 7 miles is proof enough for me that their product works. I'm buying some of it and testing it for Marine Corps Marathon, so stay tuned!