The Core Diet Blog

The following content was provided by Registered Dietitian, Rachel Baker.

When I signed up for Louisville back in September of last year I knew exactly what I was getting into. I live with an Ironman, I've worked with Ironman athletes, and I've been a spectator at three Ironman events.

Early in February of 2010, while training for the Boston Marathon, a nagging pain developed in my left tibia... but I continued to run. I had qualified to run Boston and this was the last year to use my qualifying time. Come race day I had few expectations. Part of me wasn't sure if I'd even be able to finish. I've never been so calm before the start of a race. Having struggled with race anxiety my entire life, the calmness was unfamiliar, yet soothing. I remember very little of the race - the pain was so intense. Just flashes of smiling faces, medical tents, and the burning question of whether or not I should stop. But I kept going. When I start something, I finish it. I didn't stop, I didn't walk, and eventually, I crossed the finish line. The very next day I went to the doctor, diagnosis - stress fracture. I had been booted and was out for the season.

As I pushed "submit" for Louisville race registration I could still feel the pain in my left tibia. I was barely able to run for more than five minutes at a time. Recovery was a slow and steady process, but I knew if I could run a marathon in such excruciating pain, an Ironman was possible. Anything was.

Having missed my second season of triathlon, I had my work cut out for me. We were starting from scratch. To my surprise I enjoyed the training. I focused on improving my body position in the water and became a much more efficient swimmer. Having moved from Boston to Pittsburgh at the end of last summer, the hills and rolling terrain were a challenge, but only made me a stronger cyclist. Tri-bike purchased, I realized being on a bike for hours on end didn't have to feel uncomfortable. The pain from my stress fracture eventually subsided, and by April I was running pain free.

The summer went by in a flash - the 5+ hour training rides I'd been dreading all spring had come and gone. 4000-yard open water swims were no big deal, and 3 hours runs in heat and humidity the morning after a 100-mile bike ride were done and done. With a positive attitude I headed into the final weeks of training and began taper more excited than I'd been all season. I was ready to race!

Before I knew it, it was race weekend. I was in Louisville; the weather was gorgeous (unseasonably cool with low humidity), and I was just another goofy triathlete wearing compression socks. Unlike many first timers, the nervous anticipation was absent. I felt different. I felt prepared. I thank so many of my athletes for this - those who have come before me and those who continue to inspire me. You've taught me more than you will ever know. You've taught me it can be done, and it will be done. No anxiety here!

Day before race day - enormous carb load breakfast with friends and family, check! If ever in Louisville, you MUST visitLynn's Paradise Café. It's been featured on The Food Network a number of times and IS AWESOME. Back to the hotel - feet up, pretzels, Powerbars, and sports drinks, till I couldn't focus. Holy carb coma! 4pm time to check the bike, grab some dinner, and get last minute items for race day organized. 8:30 and I'm in bed.

4am wake up call and I feel like it's just another day. Um, hello Rachel! Are you going to get excited about this AT ALL? For goodness sake, you better start freaking out soon - you need to poop! Sorry for the details folks, but you've gotta clear the pipes before the start of a race! Had some breakfast, grabbed my gear, and we were off to transition. It was about a ¾ mile walk there… saw some porta pots with no line, and thankfully, made some progressJChecked on my bike, dropped my special needs bags off, hit the porta pots with no line AGAIN (booya!), and made some more progressJ

The walk to the swim start was about a mile from transition. My sister and her good friend from college had volunteered to body mark, so I scored a sweet smiley face on my calf! They gave me hugs, wished me luck and it was time to find the end of the swim line (another ½ mile walk I'd guess). I made some friends in the line - it their first IM too. No expectations, just excitement. At 6:50 we heard the gun go off as the pros started and by 7am, the line began to move. The closer we got, the louder it got. I saw my sister before heading down to the dock and (apparently) gave her a look of terror, but it wasn't. It was the "OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING!" look. I ran across the timing mat, heard that familiar "beep" and (not so) gracefully jumped in the water. I was off! I was swimming in my first Ironman!!

The water had poor visibility and was HOT - 85 degrees hot! Kinda like swimming in chocolate milk. I knew I needed to get into a groove, but the people backstroking 100 yards into the swim WERE NOT HELPING. I had to crawl over a few folks and swallowed a good bit of the Ohio River, but eventually started making some progress. The first 600 yards of the swim are against the current and boy could you tell. Just pick the buoys off, one at a time. I thought I was going crazy when I saw people running (??) alongside me! The water became very shallow just before the turn into the proper part of the river, and yes, people were running. Their running resulted in tons of mud getting kicked up. This, in turn, caused complete darkness when I put my face in the water - gross. With that, we headed into the main part of the Ohio, the current, now in our favor. Buoy after buoy I got closer and closer to the swim finish. I could see transition to my left, heard blaring music, and before I knew it, someone was grabbing my arms to lift me from the water and up the stairs. 2.4-mile swim - check!

My goodness, the transition area was far from the swim exit! Got my bag, and sat down in the changing tent to put on some socks and bike shoes. Slather me up with sunscreen (volunteers rule!) and off I go to search for my bike. Look for the hot pink seat!! I was on the wrong side of the rack so ended up doing a sweet limbo to boot! Saw my sister, her friend, and my boyfriend Josh on the way out and thus it began - the epic bike.

Keep it cool. Time and time again I've heard from friends and coaches alike "take the first half slow, check your ego at the door, and let people pass you". "Save your legs for the run" - is what I've been telling myself all season. I'm a strong runner and the plan was to wait it out on the bike, slow and steady, and keep enough in the tank to RUN the entire run. So off I went and was passed, and passed, and passed some more. But I felt good, I felt strong, and I was happy. Down the hill, up the hill, and turn around at the out and back. As I started my first of two loops the speed demons were approaching. Not even the pros, but age groupers were starting their second loop. As they blew past me, I kept focused. As much I wanted to push myself, I knew I didn't have the choice if I wanted to run well. My pacing was consistent and as I began my second thirty mile loop, the passing began. I still felt strong, my nutrition was spot on and I'd been hydrating (and peeing!) like nobodies business. I picked up the pace as I knew the end was near. When I got to the 100-mile mark, I cheered out, "100 miles! We're almost there!" The rider I had been battling the last few miles out with apparently did not find this as exciting as I did. So I took off.

Wahoo! It was mostly downhill to transition. Mind you, it still took awhile to get there. I couldn't believe how long I'd been on the bike! Thankfully it didn't feel that long and my legs still felt like they had enough in them to… run?! Oh right, I still had to run a marathon. BRING IT. Those final few miles on the bike I couldn't wait to start the run. I just hope it wasn't going to be as torturous as the NBC coverage of Ironman events make it out to be…

So I roll into transition and dismount from the bike. HOLY TIGHNTNESS IN MY INNER THIGHS! Wow, didn't expect that. As I attempted to "run" through transition and pass all those who were sauntering to their T2 bags (Um, hello? This is a race!), I was hoping the tightness would pass. None of my runs post long bike rides had been all that pleasant, but they certainly hadn't felt like this. Mile 114.4 was where my race began! Legs don't fail me now! Into the change tent I went and with a quick switcheroo and I was running. I was RUNNING! Thank you legs! Onto the marathon and all smiles!

I was instructed to run no faster than 9:10. It was hard to hold back the first few miles; occasionally I'd glance at my Garmin to see an 8:40, but backed off and held my pace. Legs still felt good! Having had enough Ironman Perform on the bike (10 bottles!), I was all about ice water on the run. I took a swig at every aid station; some sponges to keep cool, and kept on trucking. No stopping here (or there)! I was on a mission. The further away from the city we ran, the quieter it became. I thanked the few spectators I saw and finally hit the first turn around. I knew my special needs bag was coming and couldn't wait to grab a new flavor of Clif Blocks. Oh the little things…

Loop two started dangerously close to the finish line. Basically, you run to the finishing chute… and bank right. Ugh, what a tease! The crowd was going crazy! I wish the entire course looked like that. Alas, it did not and I was headed into no mans land once again…

Back out I went, the course less densely populated this time. Still sticking to my 9:10 per mile pace I passed runner after runner. Or should I say "walker". I find it so amazing to see so many fit athletes walk the run. At what point in the day do things go so terribly wrong? Dehydration? Pacing? Fatigue? Nutrition? If you're smart about training and practice your nutrition plan from day one, it should never be an issue come race day. What better circumstances can one possibly have for an Ironman? Other than weather throwing a wrench into your plans, you are supplied from start to finish with nutrition and hydration every ten miles on the bike and every mile on the run. You have special needs bags for food/drink not offered on the course. Do you drink coke, eat pretzels, or whole pieces of fruit during training runs? Why start now? I stuck to my nutrition plan from start to finish. Not once did I feel fatigued, cramped, nauseous, or hungry. No GI issues, not one. As I like to spell it out for my athletes, "practice for race day and don't mess with success". Alright, I'll get off my soapbox…

Almost to the second out and back! Spectators and volunteers were cheering my name, "Go Rachel, you look awesome!", "You make it look easy!" Josh was riding his bike and met me a number of times on the final stretch of the run. "You're looking great, keep smiling". "You're pacing is amazing". Wonderful words of encouragement. At mile 20 he reminded me I was minutes off his PR IM marathon time, it was time to pick it up. He told me he'd meet me at the finish line, and took off. But alas, little by little, I slowed down. 9:30 pace, 9:38, 9:48, 10, 10:10… I wouldn't let myself slow down beyond that.

Instead of equating distance left, I started thinking in terms of minutes. I knew if I was holding a 10 minutes pace, I had 40 minutes to go… 40 minutes!! Time becomes so distorted when you're racing. And the minutes passed quickly. Before I knew it I had 20 minutes to go. My knees felt a bit stiff, but why stop now? On I pushed. It was nearing dark and volunteers were handing out glow in the dark necklaces to the folks heading out of town. The lights of the city were growing brighter and the sound of the crowd, louder. Mile 25, mile 26… I rounded the corner and flood lights blinded me. I high fived some spectators, my feet touched the carpet, and I was there. Arms held high and the brightest smile across my face. I was an Ironman! Official chip time, 13:15:10. No collapsing at the finish line, just smiles. Got my medal, and a water (I was all set with Ironman Perform for at least 2 months), had a finishers pictures taken, and it was over. The moment, so surreal.

As overwhelming as the training can be at times, it's all worth it in the end. I was beyond ready - physically, mentally, and emotionally. My goal was to finish strong and I went beyond that. I bettered my goal for the swim by 10 minutes. My bike… well, my bike could use some work. Not where I wanted to be, but not far off the plan. There is only room for improvement - and I intend to improve. I was hoping to go under four hours on the run, but ended up with a 4:12 marathon. Was I disappointed? Not in the least - I didn't stop once, passed 800 people (and a TON of men!!) on the run, and felt fantastic from start to finish. Truly an amazing experience - I couldn't be happier.

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