IRONMAN LOUISVILLE 2013: The Marathon is Always at the End

Oh, that run. That run. The thing about the Ironman run is that you are never not thinking about it; analyzing it; dreading it; anticipating it. And if you think you aren’t, it’s there in your subconscious. It’s all about the run. ALWAYS. It’s like an uber-sensitive gauge for any kind of weakness or deficiency. You could be like a fish in the water. Cycling could be your strength. But if you’re not 100% ready for that 26.2-mile conclusion, it will bite you in the heel like an asp in the desert. Like a scorpion to its unsuspecting prey, the marathon will sneak up on you and stab you in the face.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but it will be that way if you’re unprepared or underprepared. It will always hurt–and that part we know–but it’s a matter of how long and how much it will hurt. And therein lies the most common question posed to endurance athletes: “Why do you do it, if it’s as painful and awful as you say, why?” Because we can; humans can. Because I believe that deep within every one of us is a desire to test ourselves, and discover our limits. In some, it manifests itself in their artistic talents. In others, it’s expressed by scientific pursuits, business acumen or reasoning abilities. In still other individuals, that desire lies dormant or has yet to be awakened. And yet, it is there.

But I might be wrong. That’s why I do it anyway, generally speaking. Since I get this question or a variant of it quite often, rarely does a week go by that I don’t ponder it at some point. In endurance sports, the one who wins is the one who can suffer the most and push the hardest until the end. That’s what it comes down to when it’s all said and done. 

I didn’t want to get up from that chair. At that moment, it was the most comfortable object I could imagine to be sitting on. A volunteer helped me take off my bike shoes and slip on my Inov-8 runners. I decided to forgo my hat and just don my classic white sunglasses. My feet hurt. Like really hurt. I was hoping it was just the normal ache from being in hard bike shoes for six hours. I’m sure my feet had swelled somewhat as a result of the heat and in so doing, jammed against the inside of the hard shoes even more severely. The only hopeful thought was that they would loosen up as I started to jog.

My Transition 2 time was over 13-minutes. That should tell you all you need to know about how excited I was to start that run. I had a strong feeling that it was not going to be one of my fastest marathons but I don’t think I imagined in that moment how long it would actually take to finish.

I started out feeling like death warmed over, with the only bright spots being my family and some good friends who came to support me. The day was about as hot as it was going to get, which was close to 90 degrees, and it was humid with little wind just after 2:00 p.m. I’d forgotten what the run course map looked like but I knew it was around downtown and then straight out for a while. Despite feeling like a pile of manure, I maintained a positive outlook. I was in the middle of a grand experiment and racing an Ironman! I had had a great swim and decent bike with no mechanical issues or flats and was a mere 25 miles to go before the finish. I tried to only think about the next mile at a time and just getting to that marker. The crowd support was pretty decent for how hot of a day it was; I was having trouble understanding why quite a few people had told me that the Louisville residents really hated Ironman and how it disrupted their way of life for the few days before and during the race. I’d also read many reviews saying the same thing. Interesting, because there seemed to be nothing but love lining that entire course! Whenever I needed a little energy boost, I just stuck out me hand and got some great high-fives.

For that entire 26.2-mile run, I experienced the most horrible pain in my feet. I will try to describe that pain and what I think it resulted from as this particular detail highlighted my run (obviously not a good kind of highlight). As I briefly mentioned toward the end of my commentary on the bike leg, my feet started to ache around mile 85 and following. In training, you’ll remember that my longest ride had been 65 miles, equaling about 3.5-4 hours of saddle time. When my feet started to hurt during the race, it was right around 4.5-5 hours. This sensation caused me to have an “Ah-ha” moment as I remembered what it used to feel like when I’d been in bike shoes on my 6-7-hour training rides in years past or in previous Ironmans.

It felt like I was running in track spikes, only the shoes had been turned inside out and the spikes were pointed into the bottoms of my feet and stabbing me with each plodding step. I was speculating internally as to the cause of this severe pain during the run and have formed a rough theory over the past few weeks after the race. Since March, I’ve been reinventing my running form with the Pose method, which is a more efficient form of running that makes more sense, biomechanically-speaking. It involves 1) harnessing gravity to move across the ground by leaning forward, 2) pulling each foot off the ground by utilizing the hamstrings and 3) landing on the forefoot with each foot directly under the general center of mass (GCM). This is in contrast to the heel-strike/toe-push-off style that came into vogue during the ’70s running boom when Nike released their waffle plate shoe. This design encouraged runners to land on their heel and engage in a plethora of other cringe-worthy running techniques that have persisted to this day. Having so much padding in the shoe also weakens the foot muscles and lower leg muscles and then the arch supports and other foot remedies simply “put a cast” on the foot, instead of addressing the weaknesses and imbalances.

But I digress. To Pose run, one should gradually transition to a minimalist shoe. Minimalist shoes allow your feet to become stronger and to perform the function they were designed to perform. My feet have been getting stronger over the past five months and most likely gained a marginal amount of muscle, making them slightly wider. Wider feet + some swelling due to high temperatures + six hours in hard bike shoes + minimalist running shoes = SIX. HOUR. MARATHON. My finance background definitely helped me solve that equation!

What didn’t help the situation was the fact that the run course was a two loop out-and-back on the same road. 6.5-miles out, 6.5-miles back and then do it again. But before you hit the halfway point, they make you run straight at the finishing chute. It’s a hard slap in the face and I’ve never figured out why so many races insist on designing the courses this way. It would be so easy to route it a few blocks one way or the other and spare us the anguish of staring down the finishing straightaway with 13+ miles left to run! 

What always makes the the second lap better is knowing that it’s the last lap. But since you’ve already logged so many miles beforehand, it is so much harder to get through. I did get to see my family and friends at the turnaround and my friend, April, got an awesome shot of me going in for a high-five  (See Facebook). My dad ran a few miles with me on the second loop, which was so awesome. He’s run the last miles of my first two Ironmans with me and it was great to see him out there–even if I was in tremendous pain and didn’t act like it! I saw my friend, Sammy, out there, who was racing his first Ironman. My good buddy, Trey, who was in the Pepperdine Triathlon Club with me, was racing his first Ironman and he lapped me on the first run loop and ended up finishing in 10:03! Stellar performance for him and just missed qualifying for Kona by five spots. Last year, that kind of time would’ve gotten him there…

The second lap was just about getting there and triaging. Hopes for any of my time goals were gone and I just wanted to finish. Well, honestly, it was hard to even want to finish. I was partially joking with my dad as we were running together about why I do these things. I realized that it brings me such great joy to train for, plan and think about raceday and what my times will be based on certain training markers in each of the sports. I love it! And then when you get to the latter miles of the bike and especially the run, I’m just like, “What the heck?! What is wrong with me??” I was literally thinking about not finishing, The pain in my feet had me thinking that I might be causing some damage that just wouldn’t make the finish worth it. 

I’ve finished a couple of Ironmans before this one. I know that feeling of relief and elation when announcer Mike Reilly shouts over the loudspeaker, “Jonathan Hippensteel from Chicago, Illinois, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” It is one of the greatest feelings in the world. But I’ve felt that before. It was going to be my slowest Ironman by quite a bit, so I was struggling with the purpose of it all right then.

This one was different, though. I almost wanted to smack myself after I started thinking those thoughts of dropping out. After all the support my friends and family had given me and all the money we’d raised for the Louisville community, how could I even consider dropping out unless I was lying in the medical tent? I knew I could finish. It wouldn’t be pretty, but I was going to get this thing done for every last person who’d supported me and for every charity we were supporting together in Louisville. I was doing this for you.

I forced myself to start jogging with three miles to go and April was coming out to find me with two miles left. It’s much easier mentally, when you are that close to the end, to have a familiar face alongside. I probably ran 8-8:30/mile for the last few miles but it felt like an all out sprint. I crossed the line in 13:26:18, just before 8:30 p.m. The sun had set long before, but as the volunteer placed the finisher’s medal over my neck and I stumbled over to the smiling faces of Mom, Dad, Troy and Joelle, all I could hear in my mind were the last words of Mike Reilly as I stopped the clock by crossing that finish line: “Jonathan Hippensteel, from Chicago, Illinois, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.” 

And it was worth it. Thank you all for getting me through that one. I couldn’t have done it without you. 

The End…until the next one, that is.


About Jon Hipp

I have a passion for exploring the world and squeezing every last drop out of life: Every moment, every place and every interaction with every person is an adventure. Adventure is probably my favorite word of all time. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered."

Posted on October 1, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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