The road to Ironman was long and full of potholes. It is hard enough to train for a day including a journey of 140.6 miles. Add in young children, a career, and two self-run businesses and it is even more difficult. Many logistical and emotional obstacles existed, but after everything, I found the support and rock that I needed in my Sherpa and large support system of family, friends, and fellow teammates.
There was a lot of anxiety about several things going into this race. All of the normal things like worrying about finishing and worrying about a bike crash or stomach issues, etc. The special worry unique to this race was ALGAE. Rare, toxic blue-green algae had overrun the Ohio River just weeks before the race was to take place. Oh, and E. Coli. So if the algae wasn’t enough, it was quite literally full of sh–, too. The KY water people had been testing the water and just moments after the Athlete Meeting I attended on Friday morning they announced the swim would be a go. This was great news for everyone. Blue-green algae and E. Coli aside, we all trained so very hard for the past several months to a year and invested way too much time and money to not have the chance to become “real” IRONMAN finishers. Of course I had already thought through what would happen if the swim was canceled…I’d go to IRONMAN Texas in May and earn my IRONMAN status. Thank goodness I got out of that one!
Another worry that ran over many participant’s minds was the fact that unlike most other IRONMAN races, IMLou started a ½ hour later in the morning and still had a midnight cut off. So, even if you were the very first person in the water, you only have 16 ½ hours instead of 17 to finish. IMLou is also a “rolling” swim start, meaning that instead of several l people starting at once together, people jump off docks one-by-one. This means some will start right at 7:30 am and others may not start until 8:30 am, giving those last starters only 15 ½ hours to finish by midnight. The worry rang true for many as there was a considerable amount of participants still on course when the clock struck midnight. Up to about 12:30 am they were still able to cross the finish line—and with a lot of fan encouragement, I might add—and were still called an IRONMAN and received their medal, t-shirt, and hat. However, their results will show as a DNF (did not finish) when it comes to official criteria. To me, you did the distance, you’re a stinkin’ IRONMAN. However, I do understand cutoffs and requiring criteria. There has to be a cutoff at some point. It has to be hard. The hard is what makes it awesome.
I lined up for the swim and was close to the front with some of my awesome teammates from PCS Multisport. I tell ya—these are some amazing people to know. So very encouraging and inspirational. Two of the team members are a married couple and completed the race, together the entire time, as a way to celebrate their wedding anniversary. How freaking awesome is that?! I gave Jeff one last kiss and he gave me one of the “big squeezes” hugs that we normally do with the kids and said it was from the kids. I lost it. But I also knew I needed to this for them. I started thinking of them. They’re watching. They need to know that you do what you say you will. They need to know you won’t give up when it gets difficult. So, it was time to get it together and MOVE.
We got in the water one minute and 30 something seconds after the canon start. I had a few freak out moments, realizing what my day was about to entail, but I didn’t have a choice but to MOVE as there was a VERY long line of 3000+ of my closest friends ready to do the same thing. I jumped in and started swimming. It was DARK and I had chosen to wear my mirrored amber-color ROKA goggles, so I was unable to see ANYTHING until the sun came out more. Then, the most BEAUTIFUL setting was before me: the sunrise over Towhead Island with thousands of swimmers and with a fog over the top of the water. It was an amazing sight and I paused swimming for a just moment just to take it in.
Even though it was a rolling start, the swim was just as—if not more—brutal than any other triathlon swim in which I’ve been involved. I got ran over by men three times my size. My foot got cut by someone’s toenails (ick). The best part was getting pretty much punched by another large man and having my left goggle seal broken only ¼ the way into it. I ended up swimming the rest of the way with a water-filled goggle and trying to keep my left eye closed. That sucked.
The swim seemed to never end. It was LONG. I had a very difficult time sighting because of broken seal issue and my eyes were quite irritated from the water. I ended up using the bridge up ahead by the swim exit to sight off of and figured if I swam toward it, surely I’d end up in the right spot. I was able to see the buoys once I got closer to them, so I finally made it back. There were absolutely amazing volunteers right at the swim exit and one basically picked me straight up out of the water and set me on the stairs to get out. I was a little wobbly coming out of the swim, but another volunteer helped me over to get the wetsuit off. I had just wore a TYR training bikini under my wetsuit. And it was 48⁰. I laid down on the mat and someone literally yanked my wetsuit off in one good pull. Then I was frozen.
I did my best to shuffle my way over to the transition area to get my Bike Needs bag and head into the changing tent. After a long training ride in my tri kit, I had decided the smartest thing to do would be to wear my cycling kit for the bike portion. It seemed like a long walk to the transition area. Another seemingly long walk to the changing tent. I got in there and it was crowded and with lots of scrambling, naked girls. I took my time to make sure everything was on correctly and that I hadn’t forgotten anything. I had it. Everything was in its place and I was ready to grab my bike. I also took the time to stop at the restroom. Everything was done in the aim of having as comfortable of a ride as possible. I grabbed my bike and took another seemingly forever-long walk to the mount line.
I mounted the bike and headed out for my 112 mile journey. If anyone ever tells you the IMLou bike course is “easy”, they’re either a complete badass or a liar. I had ridden the course with Coach Brant a couple of weeks prior so I knew what I was up against. The course is absolutely beautiful. Nice rolling hills. A few steep climbs and some screaming descents. The most dangerous portion of the course is known as the “Out N Back”. It is a section of road, about 10 miles total of the course, that has hills and puts you in a situation of people going on both lanes of the road (some going out, some coming back). Triathletes certainly aren’t known for stellar bike handling and this was glaringly apparent. People were warned about the area and told to slow down and not ride all bunched up. Of course there were still people trying to fly down in their aero bars at 40+ mph and trying to pass riders that were 2-3 wide. Some even took the risk of passing over the center line. So, the road itself is not scary, the irresponsible riders are. There were SEVERAL crashes.
There were also several dropped chains on the hills. Gearing properly is highly important for this type of course. Flat tires were also a common occurrence. While I didn’t see anything in particular that caused this to be so common, it seemed to happen on the bumpy portions where maybe a landing was too hard. So many things can happen to make a tire go flat, but another common thing is for tire pressure to be too high in the morning and heating up and expanding throughout the day of riding and increased air temperature.
My game plan for the day was to be slow and steady. I spun in my “granny gear” up the hills and coasted down them. It was certainly not my best bike split by any means, but doing this allowed me to avoid unnecessary added pain and save some “matches” for my run. It was a tad chilly still when I headed out on the bike, about 55⁰, so I wore arm warmers, thin gloves, socks (I don’t normally wear any with my tri cycling shoes), and my fleece headband to cover my ears. All things I could remove as I warmed up and as the air temp increased.
I had planned out my nutrition and brought several options with me as well as packing additional into my Special Needs bag. About 10 miles in and after sipping slowly on some water, I decided to munch on my ProBar. It tasted amazing at the time and I was starving after the swim, so I got the whole thing down. I had a lemonade Huma Gel about every 15-20 miles. I had also grabbed a couple of half-bananas from the aid stations. I had packed some salty fingerling potatoes and ate those around mile 60. I decided to use the on-course liquid nutrition of Gatorade Endurance, despite my feelings about its taste and ingredients. This made it easy to only have to worry about the Torpedo bottle up front. I kept water in the bladder on the Shiv and just sipped on both as much as possible.
The route was a few miles out from the city, one path on the “out n back”, then two loops through an area called La Grange and back to the city. The crowd support and the aid station volunteers were absolutely amazing. It was nice to see some familiar faces in La Grange via my SBM teammates.
Before the race, I had had issues with my back and right hip tensing up. 112 miles on the bike proved to make that a lot worse. I had to stand and stretch every chance I could get. Special Needs was at about mile 70. I had packed additional Button Hole chamois cream, a PayDay bar, and some Honey Stinger gummies. It was nice to hop off the bike for a moment and use the restroom and “freshen up” a bit with the additional chamois cream. I headed back out and ate my PayDay—which tasted extra amazing—and went back to it. The miles were ticking away and I knew once I hit 100 miles, it was “downhill” both literally and figuratively from there. I stopped at the last aid station for another potty break and I noticed my big toe on my right foot hurt quite a bit. It was red, but otherwise looked fine. Apparently I was climbing all those hills with my toe.
I made it back to transition and to the dismount line. There were a ton of volunteers ready to take my bike back to its spot so I could head on my way to get my Run Gear bag. As expected, I was more than ready to be off that bike. However, the choice to wear the cycling kit proved to be a good one as I wasn’t overly uncomfortable. I headed over to get my Run Gear bag and went back into the changing tent. This time it was even more crowded with even more naked, scrambling ladies running around. It was also impressively stinky. With the nagging issues I’ve had with my right foot arch and peroneal tendon, I took the time to clean well with alcohol spray and a towel I had packed and tape with KT tape.
I changed out of my cycling kit and into my nice and dry tri kit. It felt nice to change into fresh clothes and was well worth the time. I went through to make sure I had gotten everything. Hat? Check. Shoes? Check. Timing chip? Oh crap. Luckily. I looked down and the Velcro from it was stuck to my shorts! I had taken it off to tape my leg and almost lost it! The distance to the running start from transition seemed like forever. I saw Jeff again and stopped for a quick hug and kiss and moved along.
I headed out for the run with the plan of taking it easy and walking the aid stations. I had packed my Nathan belt with one bottle full of 7 lemonade Huma Gels thinned slightly with water, one bottle of concentrated Gatorade Endurance, and two water bottles. I also brought along 3 Honey Stingers. I felt impressively decent the first couple of miles on the run. I attribute that to taking it easy on the bike. With my drastic increase in mileage over the past year, I’ve ended up with splayed out 5th metatarsals (pinky toe bones) on both feet (aka Tailor’s bunions). It’s only painful if I don’t have properly stretched/fitted shoes. About a week before the race, I got a new version of my very worn Newton Fates and had yet to get them “just right”. I started to feel the pain around mile 3 and prayed for the endorphins to kick in so I could attempt to run without having to walk too often. The run course was mostly flat with just a couple slight inclines.
As the rest of the day, the volunteers and crowd support were phenomenal. Two things got me through that run: chicken broth and orange slices. I got to the first run turn around and was feeling DONE. I knew the loop would take me merely FEET from the finish line before sending me back out for another half marathon. Sure enough, I yearned so badly to be finished with the day. But, I knew I needed to put in the distance to earn the finish line.
I picked up my special needs bag at the half way point. I had packed another PayDay bar, a ProBar, and some Honey Stinger gummies. Neither the ProBar nor the Honey Stingers looked or sounded good so around mile 15 I went to toss them in a trash can. A kind bystander tried to grab them from me and I felt horrible, but I had to say that I couldn’t give them to him and went over the trash can myself. IRONMAN has rules about receiving outside support (handing things to outside people is considered support) and you can receive anything from a time penalty to a disqualification for not abiding by these rules.
After mile 17 the miles seemed longer and longer. The time ticked away slower and slower. My body got stiffer and stiffer. I finally made it to the second turn around about mile 19 and could visualize the finish line. I decided I was going to minimize the walking and potty breaks I had been taking at the aid stations and not stop running until I got to that dang finish line. Again, chicken broth was my savior.
Mile 20 came and went.
21, 22, 23…
Each one feeling much longer than the last.
Some awesome crowd support including Coach Brant and members of the PCS Multisport team got me through those last grueling miles. Once I hit mile marker 24, I was GONE. My pace picked up from around 11 minutes per mile to about 8:30. I could hear the music. I could hear the people banging on the signs. I could hear the cheering.
Only 1.2 miles to go in my 140.6 mile journey.
I had given up any notions I previously held about time. I missed a small chunk of training due to what we will just call “life”. I was exhausted. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day to make it all happen. I was pulling 8-10 hour work days, driving 1-2 hours each way with traffic, taking care of the kids, and doing work on the photography and salsa business. Oh, and sleep? What’s that? I made sure to do my best to get the long, key workouts in, but I missed the mark on many of the shorter, building workouts.
I spent a lot of extra time just enjoying the day, instead. I spent time in transition just watching others and the focus and determination. I spent a lot of time helping other athletes when they needed it. I used my bike as a guard for someone who had wrecked, provided extra nutrition to someone in need in between aid stations, provided CO2 to someone in need, and did my best to provide the extra encouragement to someone on the verge of giving up, helping them to keep making forward progress. I was so grateful for the volunteers, crowd support, my coach, and fellow team members from Swim Bike Mom and PCS Multisport who provided that encouragement to me when I needed it most.
I knew my IRONMAN dream was finally going to come true.
It was getting louder and louder.
The bright lights were getting closer and closer.
Then the red carpet.
I was coming HOME.
I was becoming an IRONMAN.
I had planned to take my time and walk the red carpet and soak in the glory of the moment. That plan backfired. I couldn’t stop moving. I had such momentum going and there was simply no stopping. I was numb and feeling everything all at the same time. I hit that carpet and tears just began to stream. I had the biggest, goofiest grin that I think I’ve ever had.
Then I heard it.
“First-timer, Rebecca Dobbins from Indiana: YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
I did it. I freaking DID it.
I finished around 10:10pm. Someone handed me my medal and I got my finisher’s shirt, hat, and photo. As I exited the chute, I was immediately greeted by my awesome Swim Bike Mom Ambassador Team members, followed by Coach Brant, then my awesome friends from PCS Multisport.
Jeff finally made his way through the crowd to me and I don’t know who had more tears. He had the honors of putting the medal on me. I tried to walk around a bit but it was mostly stumbling. I made my way into the Athlete Food area, but food was the last thing that sounded good. I saw the sign for the free post-race massage. Now THAT sounded good.
I signed in there and headed over to get some food while I waited. I downed a piece of pizza, some pretzels, and a Rice Krispy treat like it was nothing. I tried to follow it up with as much water as I could find, but I was shoving way too much down way too fast. Jeff had already retrieved my bike and gear from the transition area and had it all in the hotel room. It was definitely nice to not have to worry about walking 1 ½ miles back over there to get it after the race.
We went back over to the finish line around 11pm to watch the final finishers. It felt amazing to be a part of such energy. People weren’t lying when they said the Fourth Street Live finish line is beyond belief with energy. Finisher after finisher came in. “You are an Ironman” was said over and over, each time with more emotion.
I had one last teammate to bring in. Jason was missing! I knew he had it in him to finish. His tracker wasn’t picking up, or at least not updating online. It said he was 6 miles out and it was already 11:15 pm. We found his wife and son and we all stood in suspense. Then we heard it… “Jason Mitchell: YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” He made it!!! Seeing the look on his son’s face when Jeff lifted him up to see his daddy finish was beyond words. So proud!
Time was closing in on midnight. A solemn feeling came over the crowd as the realization was made that several participants were still out on course and would not make the midnight cutoff. 11:58… 11:59… One last finisher! Let’s bring him in. We cheered. We tried. He tried. It just wasn’t enough. He came in about 25 seconds over. It was devastating. We cheered for about 15 more that came in after cutoff.
They were still greeted in and still were told “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. They still got their medal, finisher shirt, hat, and photo. However, their results will show as “DNF” (did not finish). For some, that matters. For others, it doesn’t. They did the distance. They completed the course.
Around 12:30 am we decided to attempt to walk back to the hotel 3 blocks away. Then it hit me. I was stumbling a bit and my vision was getting blurry. I was dehydrated. My pee was dark brown. I was getting kind of confused and slurring my speech. Had I not just completed an IRONMAN, I’m sure someone would’ve thought I was drunk. So, we veered off to the medical tent.
I laid down on the cot and my peripheral vision was diminishing. Some kind nurse volunteers came and started an IV. A liter of saline does wonders after an IRONMAN. However, the shivers had also set in. I didn’t feel cold, but I couldn’t stop shaking.
We hung out while I got the IV until they were closing, then we headed back to the hotel. I walked/shuffled/leaned on Jeff and we finally made it up to the hotel. I downed some water and tried to go to sleep. Mentally, I was WIRED. Physically, I could do nothing more that resembled movement.
I finally fell asleep around 2:30 am only to wake up early to my alarm at 6:00 am. I had to get to the Merchandise Tent! They didn’t open until 7am but crazy people had lined up at 4:30 am to make sure they got a Finisher’s jacket. Apparently, IRONMAN only makes a certain number of them.
At the end of the weekend that was the culmination of the past year, I had spent thousands of dollars in sponsorship discounts, my own money, a few thousand training miles, hundreds of training hours, and 14 hours and 40 minutes of pain for a t-shirt, hat, medal, photo, and a $150 Finisher jacket. And you know what?
It was totally worth it.
I AM AN IRONMAN.