Kevin Smets' Ironman Race Progress Page
Aug 13, 2010 by Kevin Smets
I DID IT! I am now an IRONMAN!
Wow. The Ironman race. As my friend told me a few nights ago upon hearing of my accomplishment, "everything you do in life from here on out, will be just a little better - elevated"...
The race took a different meaning for me on May 8th 2010. Up until then, I was raising money for blood cancer research and pushing myself farther than I had ever gone before, but on that day, just a week after Wildflower, I lost my stepmom Corinne almost overnight to a deadly blood infection. At her bedside, her passing was inevitable, and while she was still conscious, I responded verbally to her text she had sent me a few days earlier asking how WF went, and then, with tears in my eyes, I told her I'd be racing Vineman for her – in her honor. From that moment forward, it became bigger for me. I still strived to challenge myself. I still had Leukemia and Lymphoma patients and loved ones on my mind, but I also added Corinne's memory to my motivation. And for my Dad, I knew this would be important too.
When you lose someone so suddenly, it sometimes doesn'tallow you to process it all. I strongly felt, because my Dad was going to originally be there with Corinne cheering me on, I strongly felt that him coming with his brother, and having that July 31st date on the calendar, something to look forward to, something to let settle in, and knowing that I dedicated the race to her and was going to wear an armband with her picture during the race, I knew it would be a healing weekend for both of us. Not necessarily to say 'goodbye' – but something that we came together for, and had her on our hearts and mind every stroke, pedal, and step of the way. A date on thecalendar that we were both PREPARED for this time. Fitting she loved wine, as obviously the course travels through quite a few wineries. So in the end across the finish line I pointed up to the sky, thanking her for her strength, as it really did help me when I sought her out during those final very tough miles in the dark. Thank you C.
But the race itself, that's what this report is about. So let's back up – about six or seven weeks before the big day. We had yet to do our first Century ride, but we were in Westlake, slated to do a solid 6 or 7 hour bike ride, or 90 miles. I had gotten lost on the third loop, and it made my ride much longer than anticipated. I grew frustrated during the last 5 miles, because of the headwind, I was out of nutrition, I knew the whole team was waiting on me because I got lost, and I kept getting EVERY red light on Lindero Canyon Road. I mean every single red light. All of them, or so it felt. I cursed at the lights. At my bike. At the cars. At myself. At the person who stole the Ironteam sign with the arrow telling me where to go. Well I finally arrived, having gone an extra 10 miles or so I shouldn't have gone. I expressed to Paul and Big Carlos how I lost my cool on the way back, and they both had told me, "this is good practice for you then, because not everything is going to go right on raceday. It's how you handle these setbacks which will define your race. Better to lose it now and not on July 31st"... I remembered those words.
Raceday. I had a lot of firsts. First Ironman, obviously. But I had a few other firsts that day as well, and it brought me back to that day of getting lost in Westlake. That was the theme of my Vineman race.
First, the swim – I had never felt nervous about it as it was always my strongest skillset in the trio of Ironman sections. Paul and Rad told me the night before, to not overdo it, or show off my prowess in the water, that they'd be happy with me finishing the swim in 1 hour 20 minutes, rather than 1:10 and totally gutted. Well during the swim the first of my firsts happened. NOT ONCE all season long did I ever get a cramp in the water. Race morning I even had two bananas and a solid breakfast, and a shot of Gatorade from the Vineman peeps before my wave start. And now I can admit to my coaches, once or twice (ok maybe three times) I swam the Ironman distance in the pool, with no problems. Sorry guys, I had forgotten my workout log :) But even then, never any cramps. But during the second out (swim was two loops), suddenly BOTH my legs /calves cramped up. I was concerned, because, in my head, when I'd get a cramp in the middle of the night, I would limp the next day. All day. So I feared when I rose out of the water I'd be limping, and there'd be my race. Over before it really started. So for about the second out until the final turnaround, I swam with ONLY my arms, barely kicking. Usually I have a slow and not too hard kick rhythm that keeps my pace up. But it halted for that second out. But I didn't want to hurt myself for the rest of the race. Mentally, I was okay, those words Paul and Carlos told me in Westlake helped me through it. This whole day was going to be a mental challenge. So I pushed through, and was out of the water in 1:20 exactly. At least Paul and Rad wouldn't think I pushed it too hard, I thought to myself. :)
Coming out of the water I had my friends and family there but didn't really see them. I think if I did it again I'd enjoy my run out of the water instead of trying to look all bad-ass tearing my suit off mid run. Haha, regardless, just before that first hill up when you click your bike shoes in and start the journey on the bike, I saw my roommate and his gf, and then were cheering me on. It was great because I hadn't seen them pre-race so it was a nice send off.
For the bike, I had a little higher expectations for myself. But another first happened that day. I think I was so concerned about getting my nutrition in, that maybe I was a half bottle ahead of myself. Regardless, during most training weekends I'd rarely have to stop and use the facilities (no.1 not no.2 to be clear!) but on this day it was a different story. I finished my first loop without using the restroom. I was at special needs within I think 3:35 minutes, setting me on pace for maybe 7 hours, 10 minutes or so, as my email to my friends and family tried to predict. But that second loop, I had to use the restroom . FOUR times. And each time there were people at the reststops, so there were waits. Lines! They need more facilities for future races I think. And as much as I tried to channel the power of Carlos Pineda on the bike and go right there in the saddle, I could not muster it! And I also didn't want to get DQ'd. In my mental madness during the run, I came up with the process of faking pouring water on my head and then going on the bike so it looked like the water from the bottle, was running down my leg, but it was too late by then. Maybe next time :) So my bike was wayyyy slower than anticipated, by almost 30 or so minutes. Which, I can tell you, was a solid estimation of my special needs stop and four restroom breaks. But again, what would have frustrated me earlier in the season I shrugged it off – because I knew I had to, plus – at this point, I was thinking of the main goal, FINISHING the race.
At the end of the bike, I had another realization, that Carlos P had when he had done this a year earlier. Even though I have a marathon to run – the BIKE is over! The only part of the race where if something mechanically could go wrong with your bike, it could end your day, even if you know you can do it physically. That kept me up many a night in the weeks leading up to the race. Not really knowing if I'd ever do this again, I was so worried that my bike would go like those cars in the Goofy cartoons – you know,it would fall apart, where suddenly goofy is sitting on the ground with just the steering wheel in his hand. I would be shattered if after all this training, and hard work, that the race would be over by something out of my control. Thankfully it did not, and I was finally on the run! I KNEW no matter what, I'd be an Ironman! Now all I gotta do is run this marathon. :)
The running portion of the day was where it all came together as one surreal experience. That first loop, I vowed not to walk at all, just slow and steady no matter what the pace, and I was able to do so. Throughout the run seeing my teammates back and forth really helped, From Foof who I always liked running with – we ran together for a bit at WF too – to Eric Becker who we started out the run pretty much around the same time, to Gordie who was just an inspiration. Can't forget Lily who I hugged when I realized she made the cut off and was going to finish, Rachel, out there too pushing through, telling me "She's looking down" referring to Corinne (though at the time I thought she was advising me to look down to breathe easier) :) – and Terry – my Vineman roommate, who, in the madness of the race, we still managed to say our schtick "I'm not your guy buddy, I'm not your buddy friend" even through the grueling race! I mean, I don't want to leave anyone out so instead of listing names I'll say that each Vineman teammate motivated me and inspired me during that day. I can tell you how when I see each of you – but I do mean that. Every single one.
My second loop was a little faster than my first, as I finally got my legs under me. But due to the minor hiccups on my bike, I knew I wouldn't be finishing before sundown. So that last loop – that's where the mental challenge began. Now I knew I would finish, but my personal goal of under 15 hours was slipping away, I had run out of salt tabs – which, when I would take one, worked like spinach with Popeye, I'd have pain free running for ten minutes or so... and it was getting dark. On mile 22, longer than I had ever run, which was also mile 136 overall – every step hurt. I still refused to walk, though my run was probably the 'ironman shuffle" as Paul would call it. But every step hurt. It was very difficult to push the pain out of my mind... In that surreal loop where you're all alone, a lot of thoughts pop in your head. "Can I do this" "Will I finish" – but of course, you just keep going. If I walked or stopped, it was more painful then pressing on, albeit slowly.
Before I forget thanks to Carlos P and Rich (as Pikarich or whatever he goes by), giving me that pep talk as I embarked on the final loop ...was just what I needed. They had just done a tough training day on the bike themselves, but were still running with a lot of us down Reiman Road. Same for Paul who was on his bike, making sure I took the final loop to reflect on the whole season. And Rizzi who ran with me for a bit as well as I lifted off for the final 9 miles – your words of encouragement meant a lot to me. I remember you telling me you were proud of me. It brought me back to days of training I'd miss because of work and you'd text me "where were you dude!" – it was a nice full circle moment for me. I didn't want to let you down seeing as you brought me in to the fold.
During those last nine miles, I also used my mom as a source of motivation, who has had to endure three surgeries in less than three years –who wanted to be there for my race but due to her rehabilitation could not be so she was watching from afar, thanks to twitter updates and my Dad's and Kelsey's updates. I knew the pain she has had to endure for years and I had to think to myself, this is nothing. SHE'S the ironwoman – really. :) Anyway I said to myself she deals with pain on a day to day basis and for me? Just a few more hours. I prayed for her and her recovery... and kept going. No walking.
On mile 22 when every step was pain, both mental and physical, I reached out to Corinne, who was an avid runner. I looked at her armband and I simply said, "run these last few miles with me C, please, this is so hard" –and I swear, you can believe it or not, I know it gets to be delirium out there– but I swear I heard her say "You can do it Kev, keep up"... and she did have a distinctive voice. And I picked up my pace as much as I could in the darkness, using the headlamp I had to avoid the ankle-rolling cracks and bumps in the extremely uneven roads.
I managed to sprint (well, ironman-sprint) the final halfmile, charging down the finish chute I pointed at my friends Greg, Kelsey, Matt and Angel, I heard my Dad and Uncle's cheers, saw Rizzi and my teammates and finally, at around 15 hours, 14 minutes, I became an Ironman! In a day that Paul and Carlos had predicted nearly seven weeks prior, I had a few setbacks but this time I was prepared for it. And with all the focus and determination to finish this for my family and myself – I used that strength to do what I once thought was impossible.
Thank you to the coaches, support staff (you know I love you Rachel), Rizzi who got me to join the team... my friends who put up with my 8pm Friday night curfews for 9 months, and of course my friends who made it up for the race – in what is not a very spectator friendly event. I think I saw them for like 50 seconds total all race long! And of course my family – you were all a source of my inspiration and determination to get the thing done.
The race now over, I will never forget the barriers I broke that day and the challenges that I overcame. I will use this knowledge and apply it to other avenues in my life. I now know how far I can really push myself, and that applies to EVERYTHING else in my life that may come my way. In my mind nothing's impossible for me anymore... any future challenges that come my way, in life, family, career, love, or whatever comes my way... BRING IT – after all, I did an Ironman. :)
I love you all!
Hey everyone, it's Kevin... thanks for taking the time to check out my website... this is my official Team in Training progress page, to track my intense training for the upcoming Ironman race. I am doing this for a wonderful cause... to raise money and awareness for the continued research and efforts to find a cure for the many forms of blood cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma... and prevent them from taking more lives.
Earlier this month I lost my amazing and beautiful stepmother Corinne to a blood infection. Though not exactly what we as Team in Training fight against, as TNT is focused on the many types of blood cancers... still, I saw first hand what can happen when something goes wrong with the blood… Her infection in the blood led to Sepsis, or Toxic Shock, and it took this 54 year old, who looks younger than ME, who just four days prior ran her routine Daily 5 mile run, took her from her health to her passing. She was an avid runner, and though my focus has not changed and I still will race the Ironman Vineman in honor of our cause and our honored teammates, I am also doing it in honor of my amazing friend and stepmom Corinne, who was to be there supporting me on the sidelines, but now will be with me for every step of the 140.6 miles.
For those who are not aware, the Ironman race is a challenging 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26 mile run (a marathon), all on the same day! Well I'm doing it for a reason...
I'm a member of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's (LLS) Team In Training program. I am completing in the Ironman race event in honor of all individuals who are currently battling blood cancers, and those who have unfortunately lost the battle. These people are the real heroes on our team, and we need your support to cross the ultimate finish line - a cure!
As the hefty part of our training gets underway, I plan on providing updates to how I am doing, what my training entails and how I'm progressing along, as well as provide information and resources as to what TNT is, what The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is all about, and how you can help the cause.
Please make a donation to support my participation in Team In Training and help advance LLS's mission. The money I raise for LLS will go toward cancer research, finding a cure, as well as patient services for those already stricken with the many forms of the disease.
Feel free to pass this along to your friends and family. And MOST importantly, if you have a friend or family member you'd like me to run in honor or memory of, please contact me and tell me their story - I will pin their name on my race day jersey, to remind me of why and who I am doing this for. I have already found that many people I know have unfortunately known or lost loved ones to this deadly disease, and it further reinforces why I want to do this and help the cause.
Be sure to check back frequently to see my progress, I'll be making an effort to keep all of you as up to date as possible as my jounrey towards this race, which commences at the end of July, continues... Thanks for your support!
Important info: 75% of my pledged amount goes to LLS and their mission to cure blood cancers, and the organization prides itself in having an expense ratio of no more than 25%; this earning them a rating by Money Magazine as one of the top ten charities in terms of its funds going directly to the cause.
All donations are 100% tax deductible, the tax ID is 13-5644916. Also, you can check to see if your company has a matching gifts program... many do, and it's an easy way to double your donation!
You can donate here on this website, or send a check made payable to "The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society" to the following address:
Kevin Smets c/o LLS
215 W. 6th St. #1201
Los Angeles, CA. 90014
Thanks so much for your support... and helping to make a difference.