The most incredible experience – Ironman Louisville

The most incredible experience – Ironman Louisville

by Jill S.

To understand my story, you need to know a little about me to start.  Growing up, I was never an athletic kid, I was more on the academic side and interested in music.  I was always trying to find a way out of gym class.  There were some sports, but it was a small town, and those were more of social aspects of school than expressing any athletic talent.

Early in my 30’s, there was a job change which required me to travel a fair amount.  During this time, I gained quite a bit of weight, didn’t really “feel” great, and wasn’t headed down a good path.  After a while, a lightbulb went on and I realized I had to make a change.  I started running.  A few blocks to start.  Then I registered for my first 5k.  Then 8k.  Then 10k.  I started to see improvements. Yup, I was hooked.

While I was establishing running as a sport, a good friend was doing triathlons. The thought popped up of “Well that looks like fun, I already like swimming and running.  Soooo.  Biking… maybe I can learn to like biking.”  This was the fall of 2010, and I decided to set a goal of a triathlon in 2011.  After several months of training, I completed my first sprint triathlon and I was addicted.  Since then, I have completed 22 triathlons of different distances.  Most recently was Ironman Louisville on October 15, 2017.

We all have that favorite power song on our run playlist.  For the past month of running, I have had that song on repeat.  It was the song that was playing as I crossed the finish line at Ironman Louisville.  And during each run, no matter how long or how short, that song brings back the emotion and the memories of that weekend.

While the official training had started 8 months prior to the race, this had been gearing up for six years.   In the years leading up to this, there were some decent races, good races and great races.  There was never a bad race, which always makes me nervous.  Is there going to be a mechanical issue?  A flat?  GI issues?  I wasn’t about to let my nerves set in already.  This was supposed to be fun and challenging.

Training was fun and exciting, but it also kicked my butt at times.  But even on the hardest days, I never lost sight of why I was doing it and kept my motivation close at hand.  As the race drew nearer, the excitement built as well as a few nerves.  Coach Joe of ET Personal Coaching Services was able to walk me through all of the questions I had about the race and minimize the nerves.

Once I got to Louisville, the nerves vanished and it was pure excitement.  I couldn’t contain myself.  Over Friday and Saturday, my friends and family started arriving to cheer me on.  Sixteen in total!  We all met up for dinner on Saturday night.  I was bouncing off the walls during the entire meal.  I was like a 4 year old on Christmas Eve waiting to open that present and find that finisher’s medal along with all the amazing experiences to go along with it!

Race day did not disappoint.  My friends and husband cheerfully joined me at the start while they chugged their caffeine as they knew they were going to have a long day of chasing me around.  There was no caffeine needed on my side as I was already wired.  After checking in on the bike and dropping the special needs bags, we all meandered up to the swim start area.  While I am completely comfortable in water, I am not fast, so I seeded myself appropriately, chatted with my friends and fellow athletes.  Many of the others were nervous so I found myself passing along positive vibes to them.  All along, not wiping a huge smile off my face.  About 35 minutes after the first athletes entered the water, I could see the river.  Not an ounce of nerves, but I found that my face was starting to hurt since I had been smiling all morning.  At that point, the line moved very fast and before I knew it I was a few feet away from jumping in.

The swim was beautiful.  The water was warm, a little chop to keep things interesting, and optimal buoy views for sighting.  Other swimmers were spread out so there was very little contact.  I did take a couple of seconds during the swim to do breaststroke so I could take in the views.  The swim was over much quicker than I had anticipated and into T1.

T1 was crazy busy so I didn’t even go into the tent since I wasn’t changing clothes here.  Grabbed the bike and here was the first time during the race I saw my cheering squad.  They weren’t expecting me that early, but quickly realized I was there.

The bike gave us all sorts of weather.  It started out warm with a decent wind.  Then by the second loop, the temps were dropping, the clouds were rolling in and the winds were getting rough.  And then it finally decided to rain.  The winds had gotten so strong, it was knocking bikers over, causing accidents, causing us to shift across the entire lane of the road.  It was a little nerve racking.  There was about 60 seconds that I started to think “this sucks.”  The instant that thought came to mind, I pulled over and stopped, asked myself “Why am I here?”  After a brief conversation with myself, I told myself to get back on the bike and continue having fun.  I had already seen my friends and family twice on the ride at this point which was very uplifting.  So I wanted to pass that along to others that were struggling.  While there could have been lots of penalties handed out the last bit of the bike for drafting or blocking, it was more of the finding the safest time to pass and during those times, allowing us to have a conversation with the biker ahead of or behind you, something that rarely happens in races.

Finally rolling into T2, I see my crew completely bundled up in their winter coats and hats and I realize that I am quite chilly.  Luckily, the changing tent is warm and the volunteers are amazing.  As I exit T2, I have a ton of people I have to give high fives to and they were such a welcome sight.

The run did not seem like 26.2 miles.  Maybe because I was lucky enough to always be running various segments with someone new that I met on the course.  The more people I met and talked to the less it felt like I was running.  So many different stories were out on the course, I just wish I had the opportunity to hear them all.  And to also help me along were my friends and family.  They were at several different points, including one time playing the 5-gallon buckets like drums, then blasting “Go Cubs Go” and having a dance party (along with some athletes too!).  I really think I had the best support crew out there!

And then came the finish line.  There was no sprint happening there.  I was going to take it slow and take in everything I could, give high fives and enjoy every moment of it.  It did not go by as a blur but as a slow motion video as the smile that was plastered on my face all day broadened.  And I kept my ears peeled to hear it… And I can still hear those magic words today.

Started the day with a smile.  Ended the day with an even bigger smile.  And was filled with love, happiness and friendship the entire day.

Will I do it again?  Nope.  There is no way I could top this overall experience.  I want to be able to cherish these memories forever.


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