It’s funny how a race that takes most athletes 12 or more hours can have so many urgent moments. Watching Ironman is the ultimate hurry up and wait scenario. It rattles your nerves, and even seasoned spectators flirt with exhaustion.
The entire day is like looking at a field of peacocks. A flow of visual distractions inject your mind like a with one powerful drug after another. The potential for obsession is endless, and after spending an entire Sunday in the throws of passion, I feel obligated to make a major confession: My name is Mike, and I’m an IronTrac-aholic.
Ironman has officially morphed into hand-held-crack. Hundreds of athletes, who have worked tirelessly to prepare for the race of a lifetime fly by on bikes while entire groups of spectators, young and old, are watching swim, bike, run progress on phones. One guy I talked to said he spent a good chunk of his day “watching” from inside a coffee shop.
But, Irontrac nearly flushed our drug down the toilet.
The night before the race we were trying to set up our IronTrac “watch list” and none of the competitors were showing up. We were freaking out. In a panic. Would we really just have to watch the race?? It appeared certain when IronTrac sent out this message on Facebook:
I have Good News and I have Bad News. Good News – the Athlete List is up and ready to go for Ironman Canada!! The Bad News – Ironman is testing out a COMPLETELY changed version of the Athlete Tracker for Ironman Louisville and unfortunately IronTrac will not work to track athletes racing tomorrow. This is what happens when you pull info from a ‘Giant’ and the ‘Giant’ doesn’t communicate with us. Thank you for your understanding and support. I will update you as we figure out things next week.
We stared at our phones in disbelief and passed consoling hugs around the room. Everything would be okay, we reassured ourselves, but the night before the race would be also be restless for spectators.
I was sharing a room with Robbie, who was racing, which added another level of anxiety to my night. I was quiet and trying to be respectful as possible, but the whole IronTrac thing had me on edge. Well, that, and the fact that I had some good friends racing in the morning.
I heard Robbie moving around at about 4 in the morning and could already feel the energy. The last two days he had a very calm focus on this this race. He coached us hard, but worked even harder. I knew he was ready to get last year out of his mind. As we walked to transition for a final check of the bike, he was as loose as I’d seen him and posed for an early morning picture in front of this . . . uh . . . novelty shop.
I watched Louisville last year and can’t tell you how much I love the swim start. The long winding trail of athletes filing down to the water is an electric sequence. I parked myself in the front row and texted back and forth to people who were with Robbie, Wasky, and Corey to find out when they crossed under the arch so I could get video of their plunge. It worked out perfectly and I caught each of them jumping in and swimming up the channel. (Though this is not a picture of that).
I watched for a little while longer, then we moved toward the Swim Exit about two miles down the river. I got a little sidetracked shooting video of the awesome scene unfolding in the Ohio River. The bridge backdrops were just spectacular and I lost track of time.
When I finally got to the Swim Exit, I realized I was trapped on the wrong side and didn’t have time to get around. I panicked and grabbed a perch about 100 yards away and thought I could catch them with my zoom lens, but it was a madhouse.
Robbie and Wasky started in the back of the line, but they are pretty fast swimmers so by the time they got to the exit, there were tons of people coming out at once. They were shouting names like rapid fire and I knew I was sunk.
Allison sent me a text message and said Robbie was out of the water in a blistering 55 minutes. I didn’t see him come up the ramp, so I ran to the other side of the changing tent, but his transition was less than four minutes and I missed the whole scene.
Then I ran back to catch Wasky and missed him, too. He was out of the water in 1:04 and I was running around like a wild chicken. I put my head down and ran to the street so see if I could catch his bike departure, and caught him as he blew out of town.
Corey was right behind them and I honestly can’t remember if I saw him at that point or not. The fast pace of an Ironman had my heart racing on the sidelines.
I walked back to my car and that’s when I realized IronTrac had fixed the problem. I was now a junkie on an all-day-tracking-bender that would start in LaGrange, KY.
I had genuine intentions of getting a bunch of good video and did manage to catch Robbie and Wasky go by on the bike the first time, but shortly after that I was ready to throw my camera in LaGrange’s community dumpster. It’s so hard to recognize anyone on a bike, and when you do, they are gone in three seconds. It’s fruitless. I put the camera away for the rest of the bike and simply enjoyed the festive atmosphere and cold $6 cheeseburgers.
After the guys came through the second time, it was back to Louisville for a nap. I figured I had around 2 hours to drive and rest for a few, but I may have slept 5 minutes before waking up in freak out because Robbie was rockin’ the bike and I suddenly had the feeling I may be underestimating his arrival time. I still thought I was cool, but two blocks from the Run Out, I got a text telling me Robbie was off the bike. Damn! I missed him again. Just then, I caught him for 5 seconds as he ran by me looking like a boxer headed to the ring. He was fired up, focused, and off the bike in 5:42.
I let Robbie go and stood at the Bike In and waited for Wasky, who was holding his 9 minute swim deficit to Robbie for most of the bike. He came in at 5:49 and gave me a thumbs up as he coasted into transition, which he cleared in just over 4 minutes. Here he is checking his watch before serving himself to the downtown furnace.
Now, it was time for Corey.
Corey and I met at the Rev 3 Knoxville in May. It was a brutal day in the opposite direction. Temperatures were in the upper 50’s and it was raining the whole race. The water temperature was 54 degrees and it was Corey’s first half. I felt bad that such a nice guy had to deal with those conditions as I slinked off after my Olympic.
Corey did a 6:30 that day, and logic would say you should at least double that time for a full Ironman, but Corey had other ideas.
He came off the bike with a huge smile in 6:06. You always want to say your friends looked great during a race, but he really did. I stood with his wife, Donna, waiting for him to come out of transition. Five minutes, six, seven . . . it was taking a while. His wife was getting anxious. “What’s he doing in there?” Eight minutes . . . then, just after 9 minutes, he came running out in his red and black top with the same grin. He was ready for his marathon.
This is where it gets dicey.
I walked with Corey’s wife to the halfway point of the marathon, which is also mile 1, 14, and 26. It’s a good spot to catch runners twice in about 10 minutes.
Robbie’s first run split was 7:24/mile at the 2.5 mile mark. He followed with a 7:38 over the next 3. He showed me his plan for the race and till this point he was dead on, all the way down to projected transition times.
Wasky started a little slower with an 8:45 first split, then came in at 10:16 for the next 3 miles.
Corey’s first 2.5 were at a 8:37 pace and he followed at 9:03 for the next 3 miles.
For an IronTrac junkie, this is heaven and hell. Refresh, refresh, refresh. It’s the perfect drug because it is often an illusion. You think you’re looking at pure information, but sometimes it’s cut with bad facts. You start doing math in your head and trying to rationalize what’s going on when you really don’t have a clue. They also give you weird split distances like 1.6 miles and 2.3 miles that are simply a pain in the ass to calculate. Then out of nowhere, you get another update.
Robbie’s next split average was 8:52 for 1.6 miles and while it seemed like a bad sign, you just never know if there was a hill or he was just backing off for a bit. But when the next one came in at 11:05, I knew something was up. All we could do was wait.
Wasky’s third split was a 12:41 pace and he followed it with a 12:51. I was with his parents and you could sense real concern in their body language. Mom and dad, standing helpless as their son is battling a war. It’s hard for anyone who hasn’t trained to this level to understand that it’s okay, even when it seems like it isn’t. Wasky was obviously in pain and he knew it was coming, just not so fast.
Corey also came in noticeably higher on his third split, 10:48, but followed it with a 9:45. It appeared Corey was settling in his groove, but Robbie and Wasky were waging war.
It took forever, but Robbie’s next split was 18:25 for 1.2 miles and, if IronTrac was right, I had a pretty good feeling his Achilles nightmare had returned. I know from experience your Achilles is not something to mess with and I pretty much figured he’d reached the end.
I’m still relatively new to Ironman and have always wondered why people wouldn’t just walk it in to get their medal. But, the more I learn, the more I realize it’s not about the medal. It’s about where this process of training takes you. And, especially if you’ve done multiple Ironmans, risky long term injury is a dumb idea, especially when you love to train and race like Robbie does.
By now, Corey had overtaken them both and came rolling through mile 13 like he was on a Sunday jog. You could just see it in his eyes, he had this thing. He swept around the block and came back through and nearly knocked me over with a high-five. He was strong.
Wasky was next, and he had that determined look I’ve come to know so well, but his legs were harboring a cramp fest. Every step was painful, but he kept moving. He came around the block and gave me a vicious high-five as well, then swaddled into the distance thinking about ways he could beat his legs.
I didn’t see Robbie until later, but I knew he had to be disappointed. So many hours. So much focus, ripped away by an injury. It can be a cruel day.
Now, Corey and Wasky were out on the second loop and all we spectators needed was patience. We charged our phones and refreshed IronTrac at ridiculous speeds. Corey’s splits stayed solid and we knew he was coming in soon. I took my place on top of the walkway and pointed my lens and waited.
Around 11:55 minutes after I shot him jumping in the river, I saw Corey’s red and black jersey in the distance. He had the same bounce in his step and was moving at at sub 9 clip. Not only would he finish his first Ironman, he would do it under 12 hours with an 11:57. A remarkable performance on a brutally hot day. Corey Coggins, You are an Ironman.
By looking at his pace, it was obvious Wasky was fighting cramps the entire second loop. I can’t imagine what he went through, but he was hovering around a 12 minute pace, so I knew that, regardless of the pain, he was still running. And even with an agonizing run that was surely below his goal, Wasky crossed his first Ironman finish line in 12:28. John Wasky, You are an Ironman.
I was super proud of all three of these guys. An amazing day on so many levels. I wish things could have turned out better for Robbie, but he’ll be back.
There were other great performances from people I know and/or train with:
Melissa Gomez 13:42
Lisa Kelley: 13:24
Ann Mallin: 13:14
Emily Ryan: 11:06 (5th in age group)
Daveed Jaime: 15:20 (Couch to Ironman in 3 months)
Rodney Bice: 13:30
Carrie Haapala: 13:58
Annapurna Slayman: 13:22
Paul Putnam: 15:27
And of course, Wil Emery, who I just met and realized is my neighbor: 9:26 (10th overall, 1st in age group, and Kona bound).
I have to admit, it was an incredible high, followed by a low the next morning. I’m past the point of being anxious for IMWI, now it’s just flat out impatience. I know the hardest part of these next 10 days will be calming my mind and beating off negative thoughts as I train less and sit around more. Clearly I am going to have to spend more time with IronTrac.