This post is taking me entirely too long to complete, but I really wanted you guys to know all the details of one of the happiest days of my life. It also doesn’t help that this day started at 3:30am and ended well past my bedtime and past midnight!
3:30am – My alarm went off and I immediately got out of bed. On the day of big races I have a hard time sleeping for fear that I will over sleep or hit snooze and the snooze won’t work. I normally wake up around 4:30 but I was feeling that 3:30am wake-up call. Normally, I tell myself to get moving and that I could take a nap later. However, I knew there was no time for napping on this day.
I got dressed and immediately started to get my breakfast going. Oatmeal, banana, cereal bar, Gatorade and Nooma. I was feeling pretty nauseous and I knew it was just nerves; however, I had a hard time eating because I felt so sick. After struggling to get my oatmeal down, I was in the bathroom puking it right back up. This was not exactly how I planned on starting my day.
I think I made Ryan a little worried when he knew I was that nervous. Actually, I know he was nervous because he texted Francesca to keep him calm. I tried my best to keep down whatever breakfast I might still have in me and headed out as soon as I could. I was hoping that once I was at the race I would be calmed down.
I got to the transition area at 5am. I thought I would be one of the first people there since the race doesn’t officially start until 7am. However, it was packed. These Ironman people don’t mess around.
Although I had racked my bike and dropped off my transition bags the day before, I still had to get to my bike to put my water bottles and food on it. I also went to my gear bags to make sure that I didn’t forget anything. Then it was time to make the walk to the swim start. I am not kidding you when I say the transition area and the swim start were a mile apart.
As I got to the swim start area, I had to take off my layers of clothes to get my body marked. I get ridiculously excited about this. Oh, did I mention that the temperature was in the 40s!? I am the biggest freeze baby! They literally write your number on your arms and legs. I love it because if it doesn’t wash off, then everyone knows you raced that day. It’s the little things that make me happy.
As I kept walking, I saw the swim start and I saw the line. I was warned that people get in line really early for this race. I had no idea how early though. From the looks of it, some people were in line at 5am. As I began walking to find the end of the line, I started to get a little worried that I should have got in line sooner. The rule is, you get 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the swim from the time you get in the water. They have this crazy rolling start so that 2 hours and 20 minutes doesn’t start until you get in the water. However, you only get until midnight to finish the race, regardless of what time you actually start the whole thing. This made me pretty nervous because I didn’t know how much time I needed to finish the race as this was my first Ironman!
I finally met up with Anna and her parents who were already in line. I was still pretty nauseous at this point so I was hoping that being in line would make me feel better and I could get more food down. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. I sipped on some Gatorade but that was about it. As cold as it was outside and as early as we were in line, the time went by really quick and by 6:45 we were already taking layers off and putting wet suits on.
7:30am – The race started! However, with the rolling start, they start each athlete individually and they jump in the water. This is awesome because mass starts make me even more nervous. As far back as I was in line ( I’m talking hundreds of people back), the line moved extremely quickly and I was nearing the water fast. This probably helped with my nerves but it also made me tear up a couple times. I just kept thinking to myself “I can’t believe I am doing this!”
7:45am -ish – I started the race and without thinking, jumped in the water and started just started swimming. I normally have pretty bad water anxiety and I worked really hard to overcome it this summer. I tried to stay to the outside of the swimmers and immediately did the one thing that calms me down when swimming and that is to sing U Boj U Boj in my head. I don’t know why but that song calms me down every time I freak out.
I found my rhythm in the water and eventually moved towards the middle of the swim pack so that the turn would be a little easier. This was a bad idea because it was more congested and I ran into a lot of people. It was very frustrating to me every time someone got in my way. This was also the first time ever that I accidentally swam over someone!
I don’t know if I swim in a straight line or not but I assume I am all over the place and probably swim further than I actually need to. I started to feel the current a little bit as I was swimming into it, so I looked up to see how close I was to the turn buoy and I thought I was losing my mind as I saw people walking! I looked up again and apparently there was a sand bar (more like a mud bar) that you could walk on for a minute. I thought this was amazing. I used my time wisely to pee in the water at this point.
A little further past the sand bar was the turn buoy and then I knew I would be home free to swim to the finish with the current. However, after I made the turn, I didn’t really feel the current so I put a new song in my head, Po Prigorju, and picked a point in the distance to get me to the finish (If you are thinking that I listen to weird music then you are correct).
Although I didn’t feel the current, it must have been working because the second part of the race was flying by and I could see the finish! I almost had tears in my eyes because I was so excited. All I could think was “I did it! I swam 2.4 miles in open water!” There are stairs to help you out of the water, but with the current (that I suddenly now felt) I couldn’t get my legs on the stairs. Luckily there were volunteers nearby to help make sure I “found my legs” and got out of the water safely.
Official Swim Time: 1:27:12. My goal was between 1:30-2:00 so I was beyond happy.
Transition #1 – 16:41
The best part about T1 was that there were so many people out cheering at the swim exit that I didn’t even look for Ryan. But there he was screaming my name and taking pictures as I headed over to the wet suit strippers to get my wet suit off. I had the biggest smile on my face when I saw him. I just wanted to hug him and tell him “I’ve got this”.
I was hoping to keep my transition time under 15 minutes but there was a long run from the swim exit to the changing tent and then from the changing tent to the bike mount. The changing tent was also packed so it was extremely difficult to change…especially while wet.
9:28am- ish – I started the bike leg. This is the longest part of the event as it is 112 miles long but not only is it long, it’s very hilly. However, I biked A LOT this summer and I was ready. I had a plan that I was practicing all summer that included a solid nutrition plan and I had more Croatian songs in my head to pass the time.
The first 12 miles flew by and I was holding an awesome pace. I admit I am not a good cyclist; I’m just blessed with the ability to complete long distance events. So it was no surprise that the awesome pace did not stick around for long, especially once the hills started.
Unlike most people, I never had the chance to ride the course until race day. I had not driven it either so race day was my first look at the course (minus the YouTube video of the course). I had heard about an out and back section of the course that people complained about, but I thought maybe it was just a hilly section. As I neared this section I was in for a scary bike ride.
Not only is this out and back section hilly but there are cyclists going in both directions and there are crashes! Crashes were not something that I was prepared for when I trained. I figured if you crashed it was because you were going too fast. I never imagined that people would crash into each other or what that scene would look like, let alone what it would sound like.
I have nightmares now of the sound of bikes crashing together. It was so scary that I started praying on the bike that I didn’t care how long the bike leg took me as long as I didn’t crash. As people were flying down the hills, I was going super slow. I didn’t want to take any chances on crashing.
Many people ask “What did you do while on the bike for so long?” Oh you mean besides bike? I tried my best to distract myself. You are not allowed to have headphones of any kind so I sang to myself a lot. I’m not sure why but I sang the ABC’s a lot, especially while going up hills. I would try to guess how many times I could sing the ABC’s before I reached the top of the hill. When that got old I would count to 100… 3 times and I would quiz myself on some lyrics that I needed to memorize for an upcoming Zumbercani show.
So if it sounds like I kinda lost my mind, I probably did. I ate as much as I could on the bike (Powerbar fruit pouches, Slim Jims, lots of gels, Smuckers Uncrustables and lots of Gatorade) because you have to remember I threw up my breakfast and I was on the bike for hours. Whatever I ate on the bike had to be enough to fuel me for a marathon as well. I’m pretty much on the bike through most people’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yep, this is just sounding a little more crazy as we go here.
I had to pee after about 30 miles on the bike. However, I didn’t want to stop! A lot of people pee on the bike…like literally pee while riding. I decided I was going to do this too! However, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it. By mile 70, I decided I would just stop at one of the many aid stations but every time I got to an aid station, there was a line for the bathroom so I ended up holding it…for the entire bike ride.
I was hoping to finish the bike in under 7 hours. However, I was much, much slower than that. When I slowed down because of the scary steep down hills, I slowed down a little too much.
Official Bike Time: 7:50:39
Transition #2 – 11:22
This transition was all sorts of amazing. To start, I was done with the bike leg! And the next leg was my favorite…the run! I grabbed my run gear bag and headed to the changing tent to change into running clothes. Literally the first person I ran into was Mel from the Cleveland Tri Club. She is seriously just amazingly ridiculous. She came down from Cleveland just to volunteer at the event. While I was attempting to get changed and ready she helped to get everything out of my bag and ready to go so that I could have a fast transition. She also gave me a much needed hug as I headed out for the run. I also took a second to use the bathroom at this point. Phew, finally.
5:30/6PM? I have no idea at this point what time it was. I just knew it was time to run!
As I started the run I saw Ryan! He had his phone out and was taking pictures and I was telling him how happy I was to be running. He pointed to his shirt and I was like, “What is that”
Apparently, my company had shirts made for the event. The shirts had an Ironman head and a blonde pony tail (I work in the t-shirt industry so this is pretty easy for them to pull off). While I was running, Ryan informed me that there were people in Lakewood wearing these shirts and Euclid and Delfos and Aruba. As he said each city, I slowly realized that somehow my family and friends also had these shirts!
My first mile for the race was 9:29. I didn’t really have a pace goal in mind but I would be OK with running between a 4:30 and sub 5 hour marathon. This is well slower than my normal marathon time of 3:40s but my goal was to finish the Ironman, not to run a good marathon time.
My plan was to run the first 10 miles and then work in a run/walk. By mile 5, I saw so many people walking, cramping, passing out while running and crying that I decided to implement my run/walk plan early to ensure I make it to the finish line in without any issues. So my mile 7.3 split was still pretty good at a 9:33 pace.
The route for the run is a double loop course which I was OK with because I actually love double loops. It gives friends and family a chance to see you a couple of times on the course but it give me a chance to know what to expect on the second loop of the course. The first loop went by pretty quickly for me and I slowed down to a 11:17 per mile pace.
My plan for the second loop was to basically run to each aid station, walk the aid station, count to 100 and run to the next aid station. This actually worked really well for me. It gave me something to look forward to and at the aid stations I had a ton of different foods to choose from. Coke and grapes were my favorite things to grab. A couple of times I grabbed chips and pretzels but I had a really dry mouth so I had a hard time chewing them. I would have to throw some Gatorade, water or Coke in there to wash it down. It was about as gross as you could imagine but you do whatever you have to in order to finish an Ironman.
There are almost no hills on the run course in Louisville but with an October race, it got dark really quickly. I was happy that someone handed me a glow-in-the-dark necklace so that people could see me, even though the course is very well-lit.
As I passed the 20 mile marker, I teared up because I knew how close I was to finishing. From that point, it was only a 10K, 6.2 miles. I knew at that point that I could walk the last 6.2 miles and I would finish well below the cutoff time and close to my goal finish time. To be safe, I continued a run/walk strategy to mile 23. At mile 23, I picked up the pace and stopped my run/walk strategy. There were a ton of spectators on the course and they were encouraging me to keep going. With your name on your bib, it was nice to hear people yell my name.
Finally, I made a right turn and I could see 4th Street Live…I could see the finish line that I had been dreaming about for the last year. As I came down the finishers chute, I was high-fiving people in the crowd and trying my best to hold back the tears that were welling up in my eyes. I could hear the Cleveland Tri Club screaming my name but I couldn’t bear to look at them because I knew I couldn’t keep it together much longer.
After the longest endurance event of my life, I crossed the finish line after being on the course for 14 hours and 41 minutes. I threw my arms in the air and had the biggest happiest smile on my face.
Official Run Time: 4:55
“Jessica McCartney, You are an IRONMAN!”
I immediately broke down in tears and told the closest volunteer “I did it!” and she said, “You crushed it, I’m so proud of you.” I didn’t even know this woman but she put my finisher medal on me and walked with me through the finish area telling me how well I did.
(If you want to see me finish or just want to see me lose it when I finish, here is the video)
For me, I had one thing left to do and that was to get out of the finisher area as quickly as possible to give Ryan the biggest hug ever. Ryan was literally on his own for the entire day. I made him get up at 4 am and he followed my race as closely as possible for the entire day. He was not only by far my biggest fan out there but he made sure everyone at home knew where I was on the course the entire time. To say that Ryan is supportive is an understatement. I seriously don’t know what I would do without him.
I was the most sore I have ever been in my life almost immediately after this race. I could barely walk. However, I was totally OK with that as it was the perfect reminder of what my body had accomplished and the 140.6 miles that went with it.
For those of you who are wondering if I will do another one…you better believe it! However, I need a year or 2 off of Ironman training. The amount of training that went into this was A LOT. It’s also really expensive! I think my body and my bank account need to recover and rebound before we try to complete another one.
For those of you asking f I will get the tattoo…absolutely not! I think a million t-shirts and a necklace will do just fine.
For anyone on the fence about completing an endurance event of any kind, DO IT! You won’t regret it and you will be amazed at what your body can accomplish.