Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ironman Louisville 2012: A Family Affair

It is quite hard at times to find the ability and words to put overwhelming feelings down on paper.  But this time that is not the case.  I will give you, my readers, a race report along with some personal feelings from my past experience with Ironman Louisville 2012.  This year's race was met with a completely different philosophy from the get go and I think it proved to be the right one.  To first understand my race report I want to give you some song lyrics to keep in mind that pulled me through my darkest hours. The song is by Egypt Central, titled "Kick Ass".  My theme song for 2012.

Now is the moment
I waited for
I can't be broken
I settled the score
I will not quit
So stand up, up, up
Conquer the weakness
Work through the pain
I can't be defeated
I will remain
I will not quit
So stand up, up, up

Stand up
Get your hands up
Are you ready to
Are you ready to...
Are you ready to kick ass

This year as you may or may not know I raced with my wife for the first time in a long time.  Many of my friends constantly asked and wondered how it would play out.  Was I going to wait, was I going to just race, what exactly were my plans?  Well for the most part I kept those cards close to me.  I knew I would finish with my wife, but I did not want to put any pressure on her as this was her first IM.

The swim for IM Louisville is in a river where you swim upstream for about 3/4 mile and then make the turn and swim back for the remaining 1 and 3/4 mile for a total of 2.4 miles. The water temperature was 84-85 so no wetsuit.  Kerrie and I hit the dock running and entered the water together off seperate docks in time trial fashion.  I was hoping to swim with her but it was a bit chaotic with negotiating around several hundred others that were already in the water. I saw her once before the turn but that was it.  My swim this year was phenomenal and uneventful.  I was relaxed and I did not puke! I pulled for about the first mile and a half then kicked into a stronger stroke for the remainder of the time.  I exited the water in 1 hour 14 min a 16 min PR from my first IM.

I came out of the water into transition just amped.  I asked my family if Kerrie had come out and they said not yet.  Kerrie and I had agreed that we would race our own races, but I still worried and wanted to ride with her.  I hit the changing tent.  Put on my bibs and tri jersey, filled up my pockets and headed out to get my steed. My plan was to go easy on the pedals for the first 50 miles or so. The course is very rolling but it is easy to get caught up in going too hard since the first 12 miles is dead flat and very fast.  I managed to hold back and kept my cadence high (90) which is my normal spin. There is an out and back section with a steep decline into a long climb and then back again.  On my return on this leg I saw Kerrie for the first time, she had the largest smile I could imagine and this set my mind at ease.  I was about 6 miles ahead of her at this time and I knew this was the last time I'd see her until the run. The ride went without any event.  The heat had kicked in and there was no relief from the sun.  The roads are smooth but the wind was noticeable.

I had gone through the bottles on my bike and all along I knew I was going to use my special needs bag.  This was the only planned stop I was going to make.  I had swtiched off my speed in order to focus on time for feeding etc.  It is a good thing I did this in hindsight because I would have pushed a bit harder to hit my goal of 20 mph average.  This would have caused some serious problems to occur earlier in the race.  As it was I finished the bike course of 112 miles in 5 hours and 41 mins. Averaging 19.8mph and a 45 min PR from my first IM.  Entering back into transition it was now time to start on my gameplan to finish with Kerrie, the looming question of how was going to be answered very quickly.

I had the same run plan as I did in my ultra.  My pace would be steady but slow.  I would try to maintain a low HR as best as possible at least and fuel constantly.  The IM Louisville run course is a two loop course that is very flat.  The only hills consist of running on a bridge to Indiana and back then running under two road bridges in the U of L area.  Other than that the run course offers no shade and is concrete/asphalt the entire way.  The temp again had risen to 94 degrees and visions of my first time here quickly returned. I had run the first three miles at an easy pace, walked the bridge and was feeling tired but ok.  I went through mile 6 when I started to feel the ominous "this is going to get ugly" feeling.

I began to walk but a quick enough pace to average 4.5 mph.  I knew I was on pace to shatter my first IM time, but I quickly reminded myself that was not why I was here this time.  At mile 10 I saw Kerrie again.  She was smiling still, running, and having a great race and at mile 4.  She asked me how I was, and I did not have enough filter to lie.  I said I am not well but we will finish. We shared a kiss and I told her not too worry and enjoy the moment, but not sure if she heard this.  As I continued to walk the world was growing dark, not because of clouds or shade or a tunnel, but because dehydration had set in with a fury.

There is a moment when you are severly dehydrated that you feel euphoric in a sense.  I must have appeared as a drunk man as I staggered from one side of the lane to the other.  My progress had slowed to a near crawl.  Doubts of a finish quickly began to fill my head and quitting became a real possibility.  I passed my family at mile 13 or so, and they knew I was not well.  I told them not too worry that I could fix was wrong somehow.  I walked past them a bit ashamed of my appearance and sad in the fact that I told my boys not to run along side of me because of how I felt. I told them mom was coming and they needed to be there for her.

About a mile down the road, for the first time ever in a race I stopped.  I sat on the curb and tried to contemplate what was wrong and how would I fix it.  Some fellow racers grabbed my hand helped me up and said that it was not time to rest yet.  I would thank them by name but I do not remember them.  One of them gave me some salt tablets which started my road to recovery.  I walked to the next aid station where again I sat, this time with a medic nearby.  I decided to take all the time I needed, and fortunately took a 10 or 15 minute nap in the grass.  When I woke I had some chicken broth which brought light back into my eyes.

I got up and thanks to Egypt Central and the will of me wanting my finish with Kerrie, I began to walk again.  I even began to run!  I ran to a cone then walked to a cone.  This really got my spirits up.  Thank goodness for Swanson Chicken Broth!!  My strength was returning and I had made the final turnaround to head back to the finish line.  At about 3/4 mile after the turnaround I saw my friend Amy, and shortly after Kerrie.  She looked amazing.  She was still smiling.  I hollared that I can't wait to finish with her and I'd see her soon.  I was soon joined by my friend Rusty, Amy's husband and he shared some pedal time as I walked.  It was great having him there for a bit.  I had fought through so much and really needed to chat at someone.  So a big thanks to him.

I approached the second to last turn before the finish and stopped.  It was here at mile 25.75 that I waited for Kerrie.  I knew she wasn't far behind and I couldn't wait for her so we could finish together.  It had taken 10 years to come to this point.  Kerrie got me started in triathlon many years ago, she had never beaten me.  This time she had beaten me.  No matter the time on the clocks, she deserved for this to be her day.  She nudged me at the line and we embraced following those words,"Jason & Kerrie Bernstein YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"
Kerrie's time - 14hrs 59 min 00 sec   My time - 14 hrs 59 min 03 secs
The day was long. The anticipation drove me crazy and every step I took was one with emotion and feeling.  We took this journey together.  From every run, ride, swim, babysitter, and everything in between we did this together.  I could not have been more proud of the final moment on 4th St.  Watching Kerrie hug our boys, seeing them look up at her and being so proud.  They sacrificed a lot this summer.  More than most boys should.  But in the end they were the ones that wore the medals. The lessons of Ironman don't just apply to training, nutrition, and race day execution.  They carry over to every facet of life.  Balance, communication, patience, love, and sacrifice.  There are so many feelings to describe the day, but it I can try to sum it up with "Be in the moment".  These were the words we worked and sacrificed by.

A heartfelt thanks goes to:
Connor & Cooper- the two best sons a dad could ask for, Mom & Dad Bernstein & Jessi & Brandon Cain (Sydney too) - you are our Iron Sherpas!
Kristy & Dustin- Always had a bottle of wine ready, and a phone close by.
Craig, Ellen, Tammy, Tammy, Joe, Brad, Amy, Tami, Brooke - Thanks for sharing some of the miles

And all of our friends that followed the journey and whispered or shouted support throughout the day.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

55.4 Miles of Pure Enjoyment

This past weekend was a mile marker in my career as an endurance athlete.  I am currently sponsored by a new organization called Worth the Hurt.  In agreeing to be sponsored by them I have dedicated my season to racing for the charity of my choice.  I chose A-T Children's Project, a charity I have worked with for the past 3 years.  Worth the Hurt, or WTH, asked me to come and run the inaugural ultra-marathon in San Francisco.  Ultimately we ran the San Francisco marathon from finish to start and back again, 52.4 miles of pure fun.  Now I know I titled this 55.4 miles of fun but I will get to that.

My wife and I had never been to San Francisco, so I figured what better way to see the city, right?  Kerrie accompanied me as my everything.  Officially she was a bike marshall on the course but she proved to be my biggest asset throughout the entire weekend.  I also had my mentor Tim Borland on my support crew. He has been truly invaluable to me for the experience he has given and he is the reason I got involved with WTH and AT Children's Project.

So I guess I can fastforward a bit. The Saturday morning of race day was interesting.  We had photo and media shoots, then a special panel discussion in which I got to speak to the crowd and share my story and sage wisdom when it comes to all things endurance.  Following the media session we had another photo shoot, then lunch.  The race was slated to start at midnight.  With the time change (going from CST to PST) and a quiet hotel room I was able to get to sleep around 4pm.

Both Kerrie and I rose about 9pm.  My prerace meal consisted of a hearty salad and water.  It neared 10:15pm and the fun was just about ready to begin.  Since Kerrie and Tim were bike marshalls they rode to the finish line where we were to start about 2 miles from the hotel.  I chose to ride a taxi versus Kerrie's handlebars.  I was at the WTH tent where most of the other runners were getting ready.  There was a true sense of comraderie and OMG in the air.  I prepped my Camelbak, fuel belt bottles, and had a cup of coffee.  I was pumped and ready to run, though I had no idea what to expect since I have never run this far in my life.

We did one more media shoot for one of our sponsors Celliant.  Then it was time to gather at the makeshift start line for the anthem and rules.  We were made aware prior to the event that our first marathon would be self supported, open course, run by headlamp and map, with four madatory check points.  It was dark, it was midnite, and it was about to get very real.

The start line
My plan as had been all along was to walk any hill, keep my heart rate below 130 for the first 26.2 miles, fuel every 5 minutes in some manner, and relax.  At the start line there was a lot of experience and only a couple of us(me included) that had never done what I was about to do.  At the sound GO, I began my trot.  The course started flat.  It was dark and about 50 degrees with a light mist. The first four miles were relatively uneventful.  We ran the coast a bit, turned and ran around McCovey Cove and Giant's Ballpark. Then turned inland.  This is where it got a bit interesting.
Did you know San Francisco is not flat.  I did know this but I did not know the severity of slope.  We began to work our way up into the hill that lasted about 2 miles at about a 28% incline. This was the most interesting two miles I have run/walked in a long time.  It was near closing time on the busiest bar strip (Haight Ashbury).  We went from gang territory, to gay bars, to gang, and back.  I only bumped into one drag queen, who was dressed quite eloquently.  Before I knew it I was at the top of the hill and about to enter an even darker area; Golden Gate Park.

For the next 6 miles or so we ran in the park, lost and unsure of which direction to go.  No lights, one map, and no road signs.  A corrections officer was overheard saying, "We should not be here".  But what is life without adventure?  Well I eventually found the way through the park with the asisstance of our random road crew and my wife manning the map.  We left the park and ran an out and back along the shore, where it got very cold and wet and all you heard was the sound of the crashing waves, couldn't really see them though, after all it was 3 am.  Following the shore line run and a missed turn around point, I hit check point 2 and told Kerrie let's go.  For the next two hours she and I were together, in San Francisco.  It was rather uneventful until the last 1/2 mile or so, when I knew we were close on time.  We were asked to be back to the start line by 5am because we were to start with 25,000 other runners on the second marathon. 
One done One to GO. Kerrie on the bike
I hit the gas, and started to part the standing around runners.  It was pretty cool to have people clearing the way ahead of you, I felt like a celebrity.  I got to the WTH tent with 5min to spare.  I was happy, pumped, and ready to go potty!  I was pretty ready to go right into run number 2.  I grabbed a bannana, restocked my Camelbak, fuel belt, and rolled out my muscles and started on run number two around 5:20am.  The second run was approached with the same run/walk plan.  Everything looked different.  Though on this run we ran an out and back across the Golden Gate Bridge.  The fog was pretty thick so no pictures were taken. 

I followed my plan well and was feeling strong, even to the point that I was running faster than my first marathon. I hit mile 19 (48 or so) and the wall hit again.  Yes AGAIN!  I had to slow which was not entirely bad.  Though I now faced the Haight Ashbury hill again only this time it went down.  I ended up walking the entire way.  My legs hurt, my feet hurt, and I did not want to fall and roll two miles to the bottom.  Once it flattened out I began my pacing and trotted in to a welcome finish line. Where yes I got the hug I had been waiting for for 10 hours.  As I said in my media shoots, my favorite part of any race is the hug that I get from my wife Kerrie.

Worth the Hurt Athletes
All in all this was an awesome event. Despite a couple of wrong turns that extended our run it was truly more mental than physical. I was very nervous having never run as far as I did.  The recovery sucks, but the run was amazing.  Having a purpose behind it meant even more.  I am racing for AT Children's Project and Worth the Hurt.  I have to thank Wendi Chapman and Allison Falk and their staff yes Gordon, Jenny, and Maddie too for taking care of me and making sure I got anything I needed.  Thanks to our sponsors CamelBak and Celliant.  Thank you to some amazing other runners that were sponsored along with me: Brian, Kevin, Meredith, Ashley, & Dan.  It was awesome finally meeting you and and an honor to have shared the time together.

Thanks to Tim for his insight, and confidence in my abilities.  He inspired me and encouraged me in every step I took and continue to take for AT.  Lastly Kerrie.  Without whom I would still be running trying to find Old Merchants Road.  I love you.  You are my rock and strength.  With you anything I do is impossible.  Ironman ain't got nothing on us baby. 
The best support crew ever.  Kerrie & Tim Borland

For those interested in the numbers:
1st marathon 29 miles:
4 hours 58 min
avg HR 133 burned 4501 calories

2nd marathon 26.2 miles:
4 hours 50 min
avg HR 144 burned 5060 calories

Second marathon, check!