Donna Does Not Fail!

18 09 2009

Ironman Louisville 2009  “A day to remember’ –Donna Mitchell

So being a very experienced triathlete (one sprint and the bike leg for a relay), somehow I found myself in a training program for the Ironman.  It was actually an wonderful program filled with just great people.  Though the training was ‘well training’ , it was fun because of my training partners.   I had successfully stayed healthy and injury free, until the taper.   Ten days before, I became ill with some type virus and found myself barely surviving a day at work, let alone a day of Ironman, getting Iv fluids x 3 days and really getting worried that I would feel well enough to compete.  Ultimately, even arriving in Louisville, I still felt really bad, not eating well, and really concerned that I would get to start the race.  The good news is that by race morning with some drug therapeutics, I felt decent.  My head still really hurt but it was tolerable.

Race Day

We got up early, changed, ate a little bit (but ultimately the stomach really didn’t want food) took a Pepcid & meds and headed down to check the bikes and get in line as early as possible so to have as much of the 17 hours as possible to finish.  The morning was cool, and the high was to be in the low 80’s.  I kept thinking that this ‘totally abnormal’ August weather, must be a sign, an omen that it was going to be a good day! The waiting was the worst part, but with all of my F4 teammates around, somehow I had an inner calm.  Maybe it was because, I had repeated the mantra “I have trained enough’ (thank you Scott G) for the last 10 days and I also knew that I have spent a lifetime working 36 hours straight.  I knew I had endurance and could pace.  I was also happy that I felt well enough to compete.  It would have been a sad, very sad plane flight back to Colorado, to sit with 2 Ironmen and be an Ironman want-a-be.

“The Swim: did I bank enough good karma with the water gods?”

The hardest part of the whole day was that first leap into the river.   I found the swim to be actually good (a comment from someone who just started swimming freestyle one year before, so what do I know).  I liked the fact that it was easy to site and the water was warm. Other than getting beat up by some aggressive swimmers, I kept my goggles on and stayed in my bubble.  I wanted to check my watch, but kept hearing Michael’s words in my head (you can only lose in the swim}.  I kept my nice, steady pace (albeit slow).   When I got out and looked at my watch, my time was pretty much on target 1:52:19.   I survived the swim.  I knew in my heart that baring any major problems;  I would be an Ironman at the end of the day.  Life is good!

Transition I

I have decided that the Ironman is awesome, because they give you helpers and a tent to change.  Screw that little towel!  There, greeting me was daughter, Jessica and Lida who were volunteering.  Their hugs and smiles, made me feel so good.  Swimsuit off and bike attire on, I was now a cyclist.  I spent an extra couple of minutes to eat an oatmeal cookie and really cover myself with sunscreen.  Then off to the bike.  (Why don’t they let you run through a shower, as you come out of the water????)

The BIKE (How many tubes and CO2 cartridges will I use???)

I was familiar with the bike route, especially the part along the river.  We used to ride this a lot when we lived in Louisville.  I had a chart taped to my bike to help me stay on target (primarily, to make sure that I made the appropriate bike time cuts).  My plan was to bike conservatively the first 60 miles and then made the appropriate adjustments.  Most importantly, I was not going to ‘eat the paste’.  My bubble was set.  We had a whole lot of family/friends staked out on Hwy 393 at the high school.  They were great inspiration and I did take a few minutes to stop and give hugs and chat with them.  My sister had printed up T-shirts and they were all wearing the “Team Mitchell’ shirts.  Just awesome!   The turn at mile 60 to start the second loop came well in advance of the cutoff.  I kept my pace, stopped briefly with family for the last time on the bike then grabbed my special needs bag.  Took out my two York Peppermint patties, re-medicated myself, bathroom break,  re-applied the ‘butt butter’ (something you should never forget to do) and prepared a bottle of  Sustained Energy.  I knew I was 20 minutes off my pace, and I got a little panicky since I was starting into the last 50 miles.  I knew I still could make the cut off but didn’t want it to be at all close.  I pulled myself out of the river that morning, and therefore refused to not finish because of the bike segment.  Overall, I felt good and decided I could pick up the pace.   The new pace was fine, and as I rolled into T2 , I had made up my time and more.   8:03:01   I realized that I probably could have ridden the entire way at the faster pace.  I was very excited that I came in with time to spare for the cut off and with almost 7 hours to do the run.  Amazingly, no flats!  Life is good and maybe getting better!

Transition 2

Once again that wonderful tent!.  Off with the bike clothes.  Wet ones to wipe down the face and arms.  Clean running clothes and socks. AAAH!  The simple pleasures of a ‘Ironman to be”. Then off I went for the run.


My plan had been to walk the bridge and get my legs moving again in a different plane of motion.  When I got back into the city, it was time to run.  I fell forward and let my feet catch me and off I went.  I found a pace that was sustainable and it was really amazing how quickly most of the aide stations came.  I walked them, drank coke and took additional salt tablets.  It was fun seeing other F4 runners along the way.  My family and friends were cheering from close to the turnaround.  It was exciting to know that I would see them soon.  I saw Stephen and Doug, hugs and kisses exchanged, and I continued to run.  Saw my family (including my parents now) and made the first turn.  Hugs to the family and then I continued back into town.  I was nearing the turn when I heard Lida screaming my name.  She saw me coming.  I made the turn towards the finish/turn around.  People are cheering, giving high 5s thinking I am finishing- but I had to make that right hand turn and head back out.  It was just getting dark, the lights on the mall were on and I told myself I would be back to finish.  To my right was Jen, she ran with me for a few moments and then off I went into the night.  It is interesting where we find some of our best moments.  Oddly, I had always presumed that I would walk a substantial part of the 26.2 miles, but I was running and it was actually feeling good.  Miles clipped by.  I saw Stephen, first.  We crossed the center-line and with a hug and a kiss told him to ‘go become an Ironman’.  A little later, I did the same thing with Doug.  More coke, an occasional gel and keep pacing.  I kept waiting for the ‘wall’ or the ‘line’ or the self-doubt.  It didn’t come.  I knew that after I made the turn and saw my family, I was 7 miles and heading home. My sister, Pam ran along the road with me.  We were talking and chatting about Ironman, the day, how cool to finish will be and time flew by quicker.  I thanked all the volunteers and tried to encourage all those who were struggling as I passed them.  I am slow, steady and most people pass me.  So it was incredibly enjoyable to be finishing an Ironman and passing anybody.  I passed 50 more  people, but  worried that they would not finish before the midnight hour.


During that last ½ mile, my mind was a frenzy with thoughts.  What completing the Ironman meant for me, what incredible coaching had allowed me to complete this goal, how many times Scott Gurst’s comments about mental toughness and believing in yourself had gone through my head that day, that I ‘did eat the paste’, that I was proud of myself, that I had finally learned to swim, that coming back to my hometown to do an Ironman was extra special, that my family and friends were awesome,  that my kids were at the finish,  that I got the opportunity to train and do an Ironman with Stephen, that I didn’t fail.

I hugged my sister and gave her my ‘light necklace’ so it wouldn’t mess up the photo and slowly turned the corner allowing her to run through the crowd to the finish.  I wanted to take this moment in, the people, the music, the lights.  I glanced to my right and saw two Team Mitchell shirts,  worn by Doug’s sister  & brother -in-law and went to give them a very big and sweaty hug.


I then continued down the cobblestone path, people were banging on the advertisement boards, the neon lights were brilliant and their geometric design led you in.  Extended hands everywhere asking for a gentle slap of mine as I continued to the finish.  Arms in the air and I was across!   Life is really good!

All I can say is that it is as cool as you can imagine.  There is no way that you can’t smile and feel incredibly accomplished.  As I crossed the line, there was Stephen, Doug and Scott.  Stephen placed my medal over my head and made me an Ironman.  What a memory!  I looked left and saw my dad, standing there with tears streaming down his face.  What a day this has been!  Surrounded by F4 teammates (there is a plus to coming in last), family and friends, it was a grand celebration.   Run time, a very consistent 13:40 pace for 5:58:07.

Total length of my call day:  16:25:12

Overall, I felt great!  It had been a good, correction great day, an awesome day!  Ultimately, I wouldn’t really change a thing.  Well maybe I would have biked a little less conservatively, but who knows, it may have meant I would have done a lot of walking.   I was actually the proudest of my run, only 39 minutes slower than my marathon PR.  As for my long call day, well I don’t think I could have done the ENTIRE day better!  Ultimately, it was a perfect day, a day to remember!

Important points!

Definitely put your times on your bike to keep you on task.

Sustained Energy (unflavored) totally rocks!!!  You get so tired of ‘sweet”

There is nothing better than Coke on the run.  Go caffeine!

Butt Butter always makes a long ride better!

All of that time in the Union and Boulder Res, makes for a better open water swim!

Nothing is better than training with your friends at F4!

There is no ‘race day magic’ so stay within your ‘bubble’, but race day can be magical if you do.

Changing into different clothes adds time, but makes you so much more comfortable for that segment of the day!  You got a tent and helpers, so why not?

Mental preparation is important to keep the Dementers (see Harry Potter) from sucking the ‘life breath’ from you.

Ironman registration $550; new tri-bike, F4 attire $3500; Ironman medal around neck with family looking on::::::PRICELESS




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