My Ironman Journey

My Ironman Journey

by Kevin M.

Last year was a big year for me!  I decided to do my first triathlon longer than a sprint.  In December ’09, my sister said, “I signed you up for the October 17th Austin, TX 70.3 Half Ironman!  You’ll have over 10 months to train for it.”  Of course I said, “Ok, I’ll do it.”  My first thought at the time was to sign up for a marathon to get some serious run training for my upcoming 70.3.  Rockford 26.2, here I come!  I googled marathon training plans, picked one and started running.  About a month later, I realized that running six days a week left me little time for swimming and biking.  I needed help putting a race schedule and training plan together to have a successful race year!

That’s when I made my best decision of the year.  I called Coach Joe and asked him to help me get to the 70.3 finish line.  I did.  In fact, I got to five finish lines: my first marathon in Rockford, my first Olympic distance at Evergreen, Naperville Sprint, the Chicago Half Marathon, and my first 70.3 Half Ironman in Austin, TX.  It was a big year for me!  The year wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful as it was if it weren’t for Coach Joe and his detailed training plan.  Absolutely the best decision of the year for me.  Thanks, Coach Joe!

Fast forward two months.  I’m doing an off season training ride at X-Sport and Jamie (one of the Tri-Sisters) tells me about one of the personal trainers at X-Sport that walked over half of the marathon at Ironman Wisconsin.  That’s when I told Jamie that I could do an Ironman.  Less than a month later I got another call from my sister, saying she was doing the relay at the Iron distance race called the Vineman in Guerneville, CA on July 30th 2011.  I signed up the next day.

Again, I turned to my trusted coach, Coach Joe, and asked him to get me to the finish line one more time!  Again, he said yes, if I follow his advice and training regimen.  Coach Joe developed a foolproof plan for me to follow all the way to the finish line.  Part of this plan was to meet with Laurie Schubert, ET’s Team Dietitian, to develop a nutrition plan as well.  Coach told me over and over, “Slow and Steady will get you to the finish line! Quick and fast will get you a DNF!” (Did Not Finish)

The Race:  The Vineman Iron Distance, 140.6 miles.  Two days before I was to fly out to San Francisco with my mother, she got a call from my stepfather.  He checked himself into the Hospital in Tucson, AZ, with possible heart problems.  My mother flew back to Tucson.  My on-site support crew just got smaller.  My anxiety just started going up the meter.  As it turned out his heart issues were a false alarm, thank God!!!  I flew in to S.F., drove up the coast to Guerneville and had the day to myself.  I got a nice pre-race massage from a local massage therapist and she told me about the California State Redwood Forest less than two miles away.  As I had over four hours to kill before my mother and sister drove in, I went hiking!  The trail through the Redwood Forest was beautiful.  The Redwoods were over 100’ tall and up to 6’ in diameter at the base.  The trail went up and up and up.  I made it close to the top and I was wondering why I was doing this less than two days before my first Ironman race.  Spectacular views were the obvious answer.  That’s when I felt a piercing feeling on the side of my foot!  Holy F-ing Shiza, what just happened!  I looked at my foot, found the little pungiestick, and decided it was time to find a doctor!  Walking back down the trail, my foot didn’t really hurt.  I attributed that to the sudden adrenaline rush I was feeling!  The local doctor’s office was closed for a meeting so I went to the pharmacist at Safeway.  He told me to use some anti-biotic ointment and liquid skin and I would be hopefully as good as new for the race.  More pre-race anxiety, as if I didn’t have enough already!

Race morning came dark and early at 3:45 AM.  For my breakfast, I had five scrambled eggs with cheese and a big glass of Diet Mountain Dew!  Thanks, Laurie, for putting up with my breakfast quirks and telling me everything will be fine.  Follow the nutrition plan and you’ll be just fine all the way to the finish line!  The five of us gathered outside the hotel and started heading to transition, body marking and so forth.  I quickly realized that my bike was in the wrong chain ring for the hill at the bike mount line.  I changed the gears and the chain dropped off the bike.  I figured that I would fix it in about 100 yards when I racked my bike in transition.  As I racked my bike, I quickly realized I was in trouble.  My chain had completely looped around the crank. I spent two minutes trying to fix it, but only making it worse.  I added another loop in my chain!  Now with two loops in my chain and 45 minutes until my wave start, I headed back through the flow of racers.  I went out of transition with my bike in hand, back up the hill to the bike repair station.  Totally freaking out, I pleaded for help!  They said, “No Problem!”  True to their word, 25 minutes later I was heading back down to rerack my bike.  My anxiety was soaring, close to off the charts.  I racked my bike, grabbed my swim cap and goggles, zipped up my wetsuit and made my way to the swim start.  Two waves had already gone off and I had less than six minutes until my wave started.  I found my family, got in a few pictures and well wishes.  “Have a great race, remember to enjoy it!” was their mantra.  Finally I had about three minutes to relax and enjoy the race start!

The swim course was a two loop out and back in the Russian River.  The start was in about six feet of water and the turn around point was in about 20” of water.  I was able to swim the whole way, passing people who were walking the shallow sections of the river.  My calves cramped up three different times.  This normally happens to me when I go out too fast.  I made it out of the river in 1:08, sixth in my age group!!!  Next up the transition.  Apparently I was in no hurry to get out on the bike as my T1 time was almost nine minutes.  I jumped on my bike and took off for T2.  Again the goal was slow and steady. Yes, Coach, I had listened to your advice on our six plus hour training rides this summer!  Thank you again for all the pep talks and encouragement you provided me, it was a real blessing and gave me the confidence to get to the finish line. When the first hill came, I went to change into the smaller chain ring and of course my chain dropped off!  No panic, I stopped the bike and put the chain back on thinking nothing of it.  The next hill came and the exact same thing happened all over again.  This time as I got off the bike to fix the chain I realized that my derailer was probably bent and now I had to be more careful every time I needed to go into the smaller chain ring.  About 60 miles into the 112 mile, two loop course, I was looking at my front wheel thru the aero-bars and I realized that my headset was off center.  Not wanting to risk an accident, I pulled over and reattached the headset nice and straight.  It was 11:30 AM, about five hours into the race.  The weather had been cool, about 60 degrees and total fog, no sun — perfect race weather.  That was about to change.  By noon, the fog burned off, the temp started rising and with it the wind came at us from the west.  After 6:35 on the bike, T2!

I changed into running shorts, borrowed some body glide and away I went over ten minutes later.  Wow, was that slow!  Now for the three loop, out and back, 26.2 mile run course.  As planned, I walked every water station but the last two.  More on that later.  About two miles in, the first hill came into sight and I knew right away that I was in for a real test.  There were three or four hills in a row with no down hill recoveries and I knew I had to do them three times!  At least I also knew that I had three to four down hills on the return trip three times.  I felt really good all day.  I knew I was going to finish the race but would I be able to beat my sister’s IM Panama time?  My real incentive: 13:30.  I walked every hill and every water station as planned.  I stopped twice because the small hole in my foot was bothering me somewhat.  I sat down at one of the water stations and reapplied a bandage and checked for small pebbles or twigs inside my shoe or sock.  Not finding anything off, I went again.  Two miles later I had to stop again and realized that the fuzz in my sock was the pebble and that the thread holding the sock together was the twig.  I removed them both and was off one more time.  The last bit of excitement during the race was at mileage point 19.66 according to my Garmin FR60, which somehow paused.  About five minutes later, I checked my distance again and again it said 19.66 miles.  What the frigg!  With just over three miles to go, I realized that I needed to start running the rest of the way because I had forty minutes to finish 3.2 miles and come in under 13:30:00.  Off I went, running (I’m using that term loosely) every step of the way.  I ran to the water stations, grabbed water and Gatorade, drank them both and started running to the next one until the finish.  Arms raised, the tape broke at 13:39:48.  Yes, I am an Ironman!!!

I want to thank all the ET athletes that supported me throughout this year and especially the text with the sign from the ET Summer Training Camp!!  It really made my day!!!  Thanks so much!!  Last but not least to Cathy and my kids for putting up with all my crazy hours and eating habits.  I love you and finally I have more time to enjoy our lives together.

Next up: Miami, FL on October 30th for the 70.3 Half Ironman!!!!

Share this post

  • Congrats again Kevin on getting to that most famous of all finish lines!  You ARE an Ironman!!  I’m humbled by your journey and proud to have you on our team my friend.

  • Anonymous

    Way to go Kevin!! I love the story. I could feel my anxiety soaring while I read it and I knew the ending!! It is great training with you and I’m looking forward reaching and sharing new goals and accomplishments!!

  • Cathy Obordo

    What a story, Kevin!  You’re a trooper getting through all those stresses before and during the race.  Your hard work and diligence has paid off this summer and I’m so happy for your accomplishment.  And I love your tattoo! 

  • Jeff P.

    Very proud of you, Kevin! Welcome to the club! Did you enjoy some of the wines from the Russian River valley? Thanks for the great story.

  • Drew Repoza

    Kevin, congratulations again on such a huge accomplishment!  It’s really impressive how you set such a challenging goal and achieved it.  Very inspiring!

  • Sarah F

    Wow kevin–what an exciting story …from a hospitalized family member, to the hole in your foot to the repeated dropped chain on your bike..overcoming those crazy obstacles would have made for a major accomplishment alone…but tacking on a 1.2 mi swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run on top of that just makes for one heck of a great feat! awesome, inspiring job!! 🙂

  • Jim Riga

    Congrats Kevin on becoming an Ironman, you always have a way to make everything sound like and fun and this story was no exception.