Race morning came quick. It was 4 am and I was up before any of the 3 alarms that I set went off. Get it done! I told myself and then began with my pre race routine shower, PB & J sandwich and some coffee.
I was feeling good about my race the weather had been good the entire week that I was in Louisville and I had scoped out the course so I knew what to expect. I grabbed my swim cap, goggles and woke Mina up to let her know I was off she said she loved me wished me luck and that she would be there to see me come out of the water.
I made my way to the transition area which was a half mile walk from the hotel to set up my bike and nutrtion. The walk was quiet even though there were hundreds of triathletes and spectators on the narrow road along the river. Everyone looked focused and serious. I tried to smile strike up a few conversations but nobody was really wanting to have small talk.
Finally I made my way into transition found my bike checked the tire pressure and added my race day nutrition then walked another mile to the swim start.
The swim start is different than any other Ironman it's not a mass start rather you line up single file and jump off a boat dock one at a time, last year it took about 45 minutes to get all the athletes in the water, so they encourage the slow swimmers to line up as early as possible. I heard of some athletes arriving at 1 am to stand in line but I didn't think that I needed the extra time so I decided to take a risk get some extra sleep and try to arrive at the swim start by 5:30 am hoping to end up somewhere in the middle.
When I got to the swim start the line was really long and I was starting to get a lil discouraged because I didn't want to be the last person in line. I made my way towards the back of the line and was trying to count how many people were in front of me so that I could get an idea of were I was. Then finally I reached the end of the line, a sigh of relief, my risk worked I had positioned myself in a good spot. While I was standing in line, I saw Lito walking by and it was great to finally see a familiar face. "hey Lito buenos dias man let me get out of line y me espero con togo" I spoke span english to Lito. I met Lito while dinning at the hotel he had a short build to him looked very athletic and had a heavy accent he was from Puerto Rico and was here to complete his first Ironman. We had shared a few meals together and talked about our journeys his home and the Ironman course. So I got out of my position in line and walked maybe about 20 yards to the end to stand in line with Lito. It was about 6 am and the start was about an hour away.
Because of how far away my position was from the swim start it was hard to hear any announcements. I remember thinking this kinds sucks I won't hear the national anthem or any of the morning opening ceremonies. Then I heard a loud BOOOOM! the sound of the start connon and Ironman Louisville had officially started. The line was moving pretty quick and as I approached the swim start I looked over at Lito and gave him a high five and said "lets kick some ass" he replied "lets get it done man." As I approached the dock the music was playing and the crowd was gathered around the athletes making their way towards the jump off spot. I felt like a fighter making my way into the ring with the crowd lining the path and the other athletes as my entourage. Then finally I jogged down the walk way towards the end of the doc and jumped into the warm Ohio River.
The water felt warm at 82 degrees and as I was slowly resurfacing after my jump…..Bam! Someone had jumped on top of me and pushed me back down. It caught me off guard and I began to panic as I fought my way back to the top of the river to get some air. When I finally resurfaced I gasped for oxygen and caught my breath. My neck and back were not feeling good and I was a lil shook up. But I just started to swim. I remember doing breathing drills during my swim workouts and I just treated this as a breathing drill till I could compose myself and get into a groove. About 500 yards into my swim I looked at my garmin and I was moving super slow. It was discouraging. But then I realized that I was swimming up river and that when I hit the turnaround spot my splits would get better as I would be swimming down stream. The swim went ok the rest of the way. My neck and back were in pain from getting jumped on but I was able to just get it done.
Finally, I arrived at the swim finish and exited the water made the short jog over to the transition area and glanced into the crowd looking for my lil Mina but didn't see her. I grabbed my gear bag made my way into the tent, changed, grabbed my bike and off I went on my 112 mile journey. The bike ride has a lot of rolling hills and a few climbs. However, the first 10 miles are pretty flat. I felt good but decided to not push hard rather just take it easy and get into my cycling groove.
About an hour into the bike ride I made it to the first climb and was doing good staying on top of my nutrient and my hydration. Wasn't going for a bike PR rather just a smooth ride and my focus was to have a good marathon. At about mile 20 I came up to the first aid station cooled myself, the heat was starting to raise and so was the humidity, got fresh water and gatoraid and kept riding. Shortly after while descending I hit a pot hole on and my water went flying and there was no way that I was going to be able to get it back. This was not good because I was probably about 45 minutes to the next aid station. So i conserved my gatoraid and used it to hydrate. I made it to the next aid station and filled up with water and continued on. But my stomach was starting to feel funny because of the gatoraid and I could not get any food down. I decided to just focus and hydrating and evaluating my digestive system at the next aid station.
At about mile 56 I finally started to feel caught up on my fluids and my stomach started to settle to the point were I could get some food down. I got through the next 14 miles pretty smooth and I was starting to relax and settle into a groove.
Before I could get comfortable a really sharp pain started on my left foot and felt as if the side of my foot was about to snap off. I could not tolerate my foot inside my cycling shoe. Somehow the clips shifted forcing my foot sideways and I was using the side of my foot to push down on the pedals. I had no choice but to pull over and try to figure out what was going on. I could not bear any weight on my left foot. So I decided to ride with my foot outside my shoe and try to power through to see if the pain would subside. It was a slow push. The heat and humidity of Louisville were slowly creeping up on me as well.
I made a decision to stop and try to regroup because I also started to feel dehydrated, fatigued and I was still a distance from another aid station. After a few minutes I just decided to try and pedal through the pain and keep moving forward. The only way to continue was to start taking it one minute at a time sometimes 15 seconds "ok just tolerate this pain for 15 seconds and you can pull over" "Ok I can hang another 15 seconds" "give me another mile" I kept talking myself through the pain the fatigue and the thirst. Because I had spent so much time focusing on my foot I had run low on my hydration and nutrition. Finally at about mile 80 I made it to an aid station and pulled over to try and regroup. I felt like shit I was limping and could not put any weight on my left foot. I knew that I also had to hydrate and get some food down.
Then I began to doubt myself and gave myself an out: I thought you can give up there is no way your going to run a marathon with your foot feeling this way why finish up the bike just tap out. I began to cry and then I thought of a quote by Eric Thomas " don't cry to give up keep going! don't cry to quiet! Your already in pain get a reward from it!" I wiped the tears and got on that bike and rode.
My foot was hurting really bad but I had hydrated enough and ate enough at that aid station that I was no longer fighting dehydration and fatigue just foot pain. I began to again take it minutes and seconds at a time and before I knew it I was at mile 90. Only 22 miles till the bike finish and again the heat and humidity had sucked the water right out of me and the fatigued made it difficult to pedal up the short rolling hills. But I kept going and pushing through the Ironman war zone. I could see the casualties on the side of the rode laying next to their bike tapped out done for the day. I kept asking "you Ok" and I would get a nod or a thumbs up. I just kept fighting. I fought for every inch and every pedal stroke and again I would take it minutes even seconds at a time. "ok ride for 15 seconds and you can pull over and lie down if you want" "come on get it done! get it done!" and just like that mile 110 came up and I began to sob. . I had been broken down so much mentally and physically and pulled through it that I was overcome with so much emotion.
As I rode into transition I saw Mina standing on the side of the rode by herself. Her face lit up and she was so happy to finally see me. "OMG dad where have you? Ive been trying to find you all day" as she ran along the rode trying to snap a picture. It felt good to finally see her too. She had no idea what I just went thorough and seeing her was my reward. of course I began to cry. With tears running down my face I pulled into transition and the volunteer grabbing my bike said "don't cry your in a good position you didn't miss the bike cut off and you have plenty of time to finish" I replied " I almost gave up out there it was a fight to get here and I just saw my daughter I'm just overcome with emotion right now." he high fived me and told me to keep going.
Getting of the bike felt so good they could of told me that they were dumping the bike in the garbage and I would of been ok with that. I slowly made my way to the changing tent and my left foot was throbbing really bad. I could barley walk. I thought how the french Im i going to run a marathon like this, changed into my running gear and made my way out to the run course. Lil Mina was standing at the run start. I think she could see the look on my face that I was thinking of throwing in the towel because she didn't even give me a chance to say anything to her. She said "dad if you only knew what I went through today to try and see you on the bike! Ill see you at mile 13 ok dad bye" and off she went. So she didn't leave me with any other options other than to at least make it to mile 13. The first mile was painful feeling defeated and I had 25.2 to go.
How could I finish in time walking a 17 min mile pace and the clock was not on my side. Cross the finish line in under 17 hours or it doesn't count. I had about 6 hours and 40 minutes to get it done. Then I thought about fireman Rob. He walks these marathons in full turnouts and moves quickly. I remember watching him walk in Arizona so I knew that walking a marathon at a good pace was possible. So I just started to walk fast. I looked at my garmin and it was reading 4.4 miles per hour. I figured if I kept this pace id be able to make the cut off. My foot was still in pain and I was fatigued from the bike ride but I kept walking.
The marathon is a 2 looped course 8 miles out the first loop then back 6 out 6 back 6. When I made it to mile 4 I saw Lito walking back on the other side. "hey Lito" I was happy to see him I thought he had a great day and was on his last lap heading to the finish area. He had this look on his face as if he was in pain he looked at me and said "it hurts man" I told him "dale dale sige moviendote!" go go keep on moving. Seeing a familiar face gave me some inspiration and I kept moving forward as well at a fast walk. At mile 8 I heard the beep from the tracking device and I thought of everyone at home fallowing me how they probably were on the edge of their seats cheering me on. I was at the first turnaround and I was heading back towards mile 13. I tried to run but it aggravated the blisters on my feet. So i just kept walking fast.
Finally made it to mile 13 and Mina was there to great me with a sign and a smile. "Hey dad smile" as she took a picture. "Dad do you need anything can I get you a coke?" "no honey I'm good" I replied. "Ok dad see you on the other side" and I kept walking I knew that I was racing the clock and that I didn't have much time to talk. At this pace If I continued Id be able to make the cutoff and finish. At about mile 16 the blisters on my feet were so bad and painful that I started to slow down. I could not hold that fast walk anymore. Then the doubt came back. Well this is it your done then I saw Lito I thought oh man that last loop was his first loop he is also having a tough time. He said something but I couldn't hear him and I yelled at him "just keep moving" again he gave me some motivation and I refused to give up not after what I conquered on that bike ride.
So i began to fight. "ok walk for 15 seconds and you can take a break" then I knew I had to start running to make up some of the lost time from walking to slow. Ok run a quarter mile then you can walk slow. Inch by inch I fought and fought and made it to mile 20. It was dark out and all you could see were neon lights that athletes had around their neck and I was no longer looking at a marathon ahead of me. All that was between me and that finish line was a 10k and I had 90 minutes to get it done. I felt that I could finally take a gamble and just run. So I started to run. Id run for about half mile then walk a quarter mile then run half a mile till I made it to mile 24.
I couldn't believe that I had made it this far. I thought "I'm gonna get it done" At this point I started to jog and I felt like everyone who was watching me at home, were on the side of the lonely streets of downtown Louisville cheering me on bringing me home. I could see your faces it was a surreal experience.
When I turned the corner and I could see the bright lights and hear the crowd. . I had reached my destination and I began to cry because I thought of the time 2 years ago when I was 310 pounds, couldn't stop drinking and wanted to end my life. I was so happy that I chose to live that I chose to change my lifestyle most importantly I had realized that even though life growing up wasn't the greatest I had one of the greatest blessing in the world my lil Mina and I couldn't wait to see her at the finish line. I made my way down the shoot and enjoyed the crowed. It was loud and high fives everywhere. When I crossed the finish line, I took a bow because it was a great performance and pointed to everyone at home watching me to thank them for the support and I raised my arms up in victory!
"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious.