It should've been Josh's day.
For an entire year we've looked forward to this. For an entire year I've watched him spend countless hours training, giving up his mornings, evenings, and weekends to swim, bike, or run. For an entire year he has read numerous books by experts in endurance racing. And to prepare for an IronMan properly, you really do need that entire year... how else could you ever prepare to complete a 2.1 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run (all in a row!) under 17 hours??
|Look closely... swimmers in the distance|
On the spectating end, my sisters and I hit the road before six to make the trip over to Louisville and see the start. I had been fighting off strep throat and even that could not keep me away from being out there all day to cheer on my favorite guy, as well as a few others we knew participating. We were wearing matching t-shirts that we designed for this special day and had a car full of snacks and signs to encourage the athletes. We arrived, parked, and got there in time to see the competitors jump off the docks and into the Ohio River and watched as they swam downstream, like tiny little buoys all in a line. And then we walked over to the first transition area and celebrated with the masses as they came out of the water, sometimes one-by-one and at times in droves, some smiling and cheering, others not looking so happy to be there. And then up and out came Josh, looking like a ball of energy, an ear-to-ear grin plastered on his face... as if the 2-mile swim had been a walk in the park.
Us girls piled back in the car and headed east to Oldham County High School, which ended up being such a great place to watch the bikers zoom by! We found a shady driveway and set up camp right across the street from a water/nutrition station, which would allow us to see them come by at around mile 35 and 65. Bikers typically slow down to pick up what they need from the volunteers at these stations, so it made it a little easier to spot our athletes from down the road. We knew approximately what time to expect them all, so as those times drew near we'd really focus and pay attention to who was riding by, trying to remember what color their bikes, helmets, and shirts were. It may sound crazy, but it was seriously mentally draining to search for the four riders we knew amongs the thousands out there! Three out of four of them passed us on loop one looking strong. In fact, Josh was enjoying his day so much that he even stopped and chatted with us for a few minutes, letting us know that he was feeling strong and pacing himself before zooming off again. Our fourth rider, already a two-time IronMan, was not feeling like he could go the full distance this time around and decided to stop and spectate with us for the rest of the day instead of making himself miserable (and potentially sick) to see how far he could get. I think it takes a lot of guts to make that decision and we are all proud of him for being humble enough to listen to his body. We had a view of a medic tent not too far from us and we saw many that apparently did not do this and ended up with IV's in their arms after overheating and dehydrating. The event is gruelling to say the least, and the 90+ degree heat did not help.
After a couple of hours (yes hours!) we estimated that it was time to see our three riders again. The first came by as expected, then the second, and I knew that Josh should be about twenty minutes behind him. So we waited and watched... and waited and watched... and waited... and waited. I had my sister check her phone to see if any new times at check-points had been posted but she had nothing to offer. I tried not to get nervous as another twenty, then thirty, then forty minutes passed. At one point the entire group even swore we saw him come up the road, pull over, get off his bike, and our guess was that he was using the port-a-potty. Then two of us were pretty sure we saw him walking around without his helmet on... near the medic tent. I ran over there to check on "him" and this mysterious look-a-like was nowhere to be found! Feeling even more nervous by then, I joined the rest of the group and was relieved when they started pointing at someone coming down the road. I turned around and to my relief he was coming up the road, flashing a number two with his fingers. He pulled over just to quickly tell us that he had already changed two flats due to tacks in the road. Apparently (according to the stories he heard as he changed his tires) some locals did not like that they closed the roads for the day and came by throwing tacks to pop the tires of the bikers- and Josh fell victim twice in 100 yards. If you've ever done any kind of distance race or changed a bike tube for that matter (which is a challenge in itself), you know that mentally this could completely derail you. I was pretty impressed to see that even though he was clearly frustrated, he was still in pretty good spirits and determined to push through. We watched him ride away and were all completely stunned by what had happened- who would ever do something like that? Actually, who would ever even come up with something like that? I didn't know whether I was outraged, sad, mad, or disgusted, but my heart hurt for Josh. More than that, I was so proud that he had kept going. Feeling a little deflated ourselves (and being tired and hot didn't help), we packed up the car and headed back down to the river for the next transition.
After a sandwich and a bathroom break at Subway, the group perked up again and we all headed back out to start watching for our racers come in on their bikes. Friends of ours from Lexington had called to say that they were there and I left the others and went to meet up with them for a few, telling them about the day so far, talking about how awesome the whole event was, and cheering on the bikers that we didn't know as they came by. And then my phone rang and a Louisville number showed up on my screen. I don't think I expected it to be Josh, but that's who I heard on the other end, telling me that he was out of the race after snapping a shifter cable, probably due to it weakening during the multiple tire changes. I seriously could not believe it- still can't two days later- and tried to hold it together, letting him know that I was proud of him and would be waiting for him at the transition area while he caught a shuttle back. I then spent the next twenty minutes calling all of our friends from Lexington who had been planning to come down for the finish as well as the families watching our children, letting them know the news. We saw our other two racers come through and I mustered up a little bit of enthusiasm as they passed by. Then we just sat and waited.
It was almost another hour before Josh met up with us again, and once he was with us we got more of the story. He said that in about a 50 yard stretch, there were about 25 bikers changing flats. The tacks were not just tiny thumb-tacks, but large enough to also take out three sherriff cars and an ambulance, which had someone in it. When his blew the second time, the man next to him had his blow at the same time, lost control, ran off the road, flipped and broke his collar bone... so I consider us lucky. Josh rode back in a shuttle full of mostly dehyrdrated athletes on IV's, and one other victim of bike issues, but he was out after his fourth flat tire due to the tacks! It was just unlucky.
I have to hand it to Josh... he was clearly disappointed and even admitted to throwing himself a little pity party before coming back and joining the group, but he wanted to walk over to the finish with us, grab some dinner, and hang out a little before heading back. He told us stories from his day and even said that the Louisville police officers were fantastic, offering up apologies and telling him that they hoped this did not reflect on the entire city's attitude toward the triathletes and really hoped he'd come participate again next year. Something tells me the cops are a little more interested in who did this now that many of their own were affected as well! We didn't stay to see our other two guys finish since we had two little ones to get home to, but we did receive a text message around 11pm that they were both now IronMen!
So our day didn't go quite the way we had planned, but that really is the beauty of this race. Whether it's a story of triumph, defeat, or in our case, disappointment due to circumstances out of our control, the course and the race takes on a life of its own. Every athlete at the end of the day has a story to tell, and all are distinctly different. We saw some finishers walking around downtown smiling proudly with their medals around their necks and others being held up by friends, barely able to walk. We watched a woman sob on the neck of a volunteer after she crossed the line, a man jump across wearing a superman cape,and others who practically collapsed after finishing. I knew going in that it would be an emotional day, but had no idea it would translate into what it did, but that's our unique story this time around. There will be another one down the road whether it's in a month or a year, and my husband will earn that medal that will hang around his neck. But to me, he's already an IronMan, and I could not be more proud.
And not that any of the tack-throwers are reading this, but I just want to clarify something. A triathlete, or any endurance athlete for that matter, and especially those tackling a challenge this big, are a special kind of people. Sure we spend thousands of dollars and give up sleep and time with family to have the right equipment, travel to events, and train properly, but that's only a tiny part of it for us. What you don't understand is that there is a really special spirit of victory that lives within us- one that won't give up no matter what the odds, one that keeps fighting after we're knocked down. Yes, you ruined our race this time around, but it won't stop us from getting back out there and trying again. It's an unfair thing that happened, but even more upsetting is how dangerous something like this is- those tacks nearly killed at least one man, and it's not just a harmless prank at that point. I honestly just feel sorry for whoever would do this as they obviously do not understand the potential danger that they cause and hope that the race officials can figure out a way to deter this behavior in the future. But at the end of the day, we're fighters and we bounce back. If anything, you've just fanned the fire of a future IronMan, and his day will be even sweeter when it comes.
For Josh's take on the race, you can check out his blog post here and for more information about the IronMan Louisville incidents, it's showing up on several message boards if you just do a Google search, and keep in mind that all kinds of crazy opinions are posted on a message board!