(I didn’t really “race” IMFL. I was just a participant. So I decided that this isn’t really a “race report” as it is a “participant perspective”  — kind of like my “volunteer perspective” from Lake Placid.)
We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and, following the rental car issue, went for something to eat. Eating in the lead-up to Ironman is one of the most stress inducing elements of the race. Not because I’m worried about what to eat but because Kel is so limited in what she can (or will) eat. I worry about finding a place that I think would be good only to watch her get upset because the food isn’t right, there isn’t something she can eat or some other hair-trigger issue.  One good thing about our condo rental was the proximity to Waffle House. Strangely, she is able to eat at WaHo and we ended up going there for 3 meals.
On race morning, I woke up around 3:15 to prep our meals. For an iron-distance, Kel takes in 3 cups of applesauce and I am supposed to eat 5 cups. (That is not a typo. That is a 5!) She downed her breakfast and went right back to sleep. It took me longer to consume mine so I was playing on Facebook or otherwise just trying to keep myself in a low key mental state.
We headed to transition around 5:30 and I started with Kel’s bike then prepped mine. After dropping special needs bags, we stood in line for what seemed like an eternity to use the port-a-potty. We got to the beach just as the pros were starting their race. I had hoped to see my mom or “Magical Friend” Mary Eggers before the race but couldn’t find either one. As we were getting ready to start, I selected a spot right in the middle and a bit up front.
Swim (1:17:19):
I was definitely in the meat of the pack at the start. I didn’t get clear water until the turn around to come back to the beach. I was getting smacked in the head. Arms draped all over me. So, I had no choice but to protect my own swim space.
In the pool, Kel usually laps me every 350 yds. In open water, we end up being relatively equal thanks to the corrective nature of the wetsuit. As I hit the beach at the end of the first loop, I see her about 15 yards in front of me, throwing elbows and running to start her second loop. As I started on the second loop, I decided to stay just inside of the buoys. That was the best decision I made that morning. It gave me clear water and steady swimming. I was able to just find my rhythm and swim.
As I came out of the water, I saw Kel still 20 yards in front of me. I thought about yelling to her but figured, if I did, it would be in her head that she was slow and take her off her game. So I just said “Go get ‘em, Kel” in a normal voice. It was one of those things that I say more for myself than to motivate her.
As I came through T1, I saw my mom standing on the balcony. I was about 10 minutes ahead of schedule and she wasn’t really looking for me at that point. I walked over almost under the balcony and yelled her name. She saw me and rang her cowbell then I turned to head into the transition area.
Bike (6:51:54):
I grabbed my bike and headed for the mount line. There were so many people going through transition at that point that we had to walk the bikes all the way out to the road before we could mount.
As we headed out Beach Drive, my hamstring was cold and I couldn’t seem to get comfortable. I saw a lot of people fully bundled up but I was sticking with my standard tri top and ghetto arm warmers (tube socks with the toes cut off). Besides, it was my leg that was cold, not my torso.
I started getting into my nutrition and settling in for a long day. My training was abysmal coming into the race so I knew this was just going to be a really long fight through the day. Molly had given me a good set of heart rates to follow but I was experiencing so much headwind that I couldn’t keep my HR down. I was supposed to stay in the 130s and didn’t get below 145 until we were all the way to mile 20 or so.
I wasn’t hammering at all. I was getting passed like crazy. One-sies. Two-sies. Twelve-sies. There was a double pace line that passed me around mile 25 that I actually had to turn and ask “It took you guys 25 miles to catch me. How fucking slow do you people swim?!”  Most of all, I was just getting tired of the headwind. I kept telling myself that everyone was handling the same wind but, after a while, that becomes little consolation. Turn after turn. Headwind. Mile after mile. Headwind.
At mile 40, I noticed that my seat was starting to get loose so I debated whether to stop and fix it there or wait until special needs. I decided to stop there and it was a good thing that I did. As we hit the long out-and-back to special needs, the pavement was horrid. Kathunk-pedal-kathunk-pedal-kathunk. It was that way for 4 miles in each direction. Talk about an ass breaker. Strewn all over the road were bottles, gels, spare tubes and even bottle cages.
Finally we got off the bad road and into a tailwind. Unfortunately, it didn’t last as long as I wanted, nor was it strong enough that could I just raise the main sail and get pushed by the wind.
Around mile 85, I made a deposit in the karma bank. (Is it bad karma to talk about karma deposits?) There was a racer on the side of the road holding her wheel. I stopped to see if she was okay. My original plan was to be the bike fairy for Kel in case of a problem but she was so far ahead of me that race tech would have gotten to her first so I stopped to help this person. Her name was Sandy and she was trying to change her tube. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get her valve extender off of her old tube and blew through two CO2 cartridges trying to inflate her tire. She was dead in the water. So, I dismounted, grabbed her wheel and old tube and went to work. It took a little wrestling but I got the extender off the old tube and onto the new one and used one of my cartridges to inflate her tire. She had been standing by the road for at least 10 minutes and I had her off in less than 5.
A few more miles up the road, I came up alongside a guy who had clearly gone down. He was scuffed up on his entire left side and was riding with a napkin on his hand. He had lost concentration at some point and found himself on the ground. We rode along for a few miles and, going through the next aid station, he asked for a gel after we had already passed the gel hand off. I turned to him and asked if he wanted a gel. He asked if I had a spare so I opened my bento box and read him off the smorgasbord of gel flavors I had available. (Throughout the ride, I had been grabbing extra gels at each aid station just in case I needed some extra. I kept thinking of Kel’s nutrition at IMLP bouncing out of her rear pocket and didn’t want to worry about something similar.)
I was wandering into the unknown at this point. I was farther than I had done in training and I had fought a headwind for the first 60 miles of the ride. Little did I know the most soul-sucking stretch of road was still lying in wait.  As I turned back onto Beach Drive, I just kept thinking that I was almost there. About half a mile later, I wondered just how long “almost there” was going to take. The wind had turned during the ride and I was now facing the strongest headwind of the day. The condos were creating a tunnel effect and concentrating the wind into massive strength. I felt like I was barely moving. I didn’t want to risk pushing and killing my legs before the run. It took FOR-EVER to make those final miles.  Finally, I got to back to transition and was more than happy to dismount.
Run (6:54:57):
This was what I had been waiting for. How would my legs feel coming off the bike? That was the million dollar question. In a change from each of my past IM experiences, they felt really good. I finished my banana before heading out to run and took my first few steps. Boing. Boing. Boing. I actually had some spring to my step. I was shocked. This was such a new experience for me; the ability to actually move my legs coming off the bike.
I was clicking off the miles and watching my HR to keep it in the proper zone. Then, around mile 6, something happened. My stomach shifted and I couldn’t handle the taste of gels any longer. I ran past one set of port-a-pots at mile 6 and realized a few hundred yards later that it had been a mistake. I was clenching through the next mile until I found another set.
After I came out, I started to run again. But this time it just didn’t feel strong. It felt labored. I tried to take in another shot block at the next mile and a cup of perform. I got 3 steps before I had to spit it out. I was done. I knew it. The wind had taken too much out of my legs. On the positive side, I made it almost 8 miles before I was done running. That is definitely a record for me. I don’t think I have gone more than a mile without walking in my previous IMs.
I started walking and gave it a couple of shots to run again but it wasn’t there. My heart wasn’t in it anymore. This was my fourth Ironman. This was my second time at IMFL. I wasn’t chasing a PR and I wasn’t enjoying the experience. I had nothing to prove. There was no glory for me in simply finishing. I’ve been there before, several times.
I got to the turn-around and couldn’t decide what to do. I wanted to stop. I just wanted to walk off the course. I knew I had at least 3 more hours to go and just didn’t want to do it anymore.
I grabbed my special needs bag and took out my arm warmers, headlamp and reflective vest. There is a bit of a back story to the choice of the reflective vest. If you are going to be on the course after dark, you are supposed to have reflective material on your body. Usually people wear a reflective belt or attach something to their race number. I chose something that covered my tri top. QT2 is known for pumping out smoking times and producing great runners. Their methodology is well proven to work (just look at Kel’s times). The problem is that I didn’t do the training and, quite frankly, didn’t feel I deserved to really wear the kit in the first place. I didn’t want to cross the finish line in the dark with my QT2 kit being visible. I didn’t want to do that kind of damage to Jesse’s brand. So I chose to wear a Fuel Belt reflective vest for the second loop of the run.
On the second loop, I found a good walking buddy and we kept each other entertained. We were holding a good walking pace and chatting the whole way. It made the last half marathon tolerable. Not great. Just tolerable.  We came out of the last turn and headed for Alvins Island. We were trying to figure out the proper spacing so that we would each be recognized in the finishing chute.
I tried to run it in but as soon as I started to stride, my right hamstring didn’t want to stretch. I ended up hobble-running through the finish and just stopped after the line. I was done.
Final Time: 15:23:36
I knew Kel had a great race and she was waiting for me at the finish line. She had time to get a shower, take a nap and catch a movie before seeing me finish. Thankfully, she had already picked up my bike and bags and stashed them in my mom’s hotel room before I was done so all I had to do was walk back to the hotel. Deep down, I knew it was the last time I would walk away from an Ironman finish line; at least for a long time.
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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

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