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Posted by on Sep 3, 2010 in Biking, Cycling, FYI, Links, Nutrition, Race Report, Races, Shout Out, Swimming, Technique, Trials, Triathlon

2010 Ironman Louisville: Race Report Part 3 – The Race

Continued from: 2010 Ironman Louisville: Race Report Part 2 – Race Day

From the second I entered the water (and when I say the second, I mean right at that instant, not before and not after I began to swim) I got a cramp in an intercostal muscle on my right side just below my pectoral. I took a second and took a few long-ish strokes to stretch out that area. As soon as that cramp subsided, I felt my right quadriceps get a bit tight. From this point forward, I was dealing with some form of a cramp.

The swim itself began ok. I felt that the downstream current which had not been that noticeably present the day before at the practice swim, was about the same. I had worried a bit about this because the area in between Towhead Island and the shore could have caused the usually lazing current into something much more significant. There was quite a bit of people traffic to deal with, though it spread out fairly quickly and after the first half mile or so, I only occasionally came upon another racer.

Once I got to the turn-around point of the swim, which was about 1/3 of the way through, the course headed back downstream. The current did pretty much nothing for me (or anyone else that I noticed) in terms of speed. It was at this point however, that my cramping from earlier began to become a bit more regular. I was able to stave off the quadriceps cramp mainly by straightening my leg as needed. When I got to about the 300 meter to go point, my entire right leg seized. From gluteus, to toes was one big cramp. I compensated by using my left leg a bit more and by putting on the steam with my arms.

Since my right leg was essentially acting as a drag anchor, and due to the fact that my left leg was being worked a bit more, eventually, my left foot cramped up. As I approached the swim exit, I was truly unsure how I was going to get out of the water. As I came to the first volunteer on the steps, I said, \”Both my legs are cramped and I can\’t walk.\” She and another person assisted me out of the river and onto the steps. Fortunately, once I began moving my legs let go enough for me to jog/run into transition.

Once inside the changing tent and with everything else on, I sat down on a chair to put on my shoes. As I did this, BOTH my hip flexors cramped. I immediately sat stark upright in order to stop the cramping. It took a couple of tries, but I did eventually get my shoes on, and headed out the door.

About my mental state at this point; To say I was panicked would be incorrect. I was concerned and knew that something was going on with my body that I had not expected. Unlike Ironman Wisconsin in 2009 when I had simply made MASSIVE nutrition errors, this time I was completely lucid and thinking clearly. I knew that something must be off with my electrolytes and in turn, my hydration. So, my plan was to take in my first hours worth on my Infinit blend in the first thirty minutes. At the same time, I would be taking two bottles from each aid station; at the first station, 2 waters, at the second 1 water, 1 Ironman Perform. I would alternate that pattern as long as I could in an effort to get as many fluids absorbed as I could.

I picked up my bike, ran to the mount line and got on. My very first pedal stroke was met with a quad cramp. To be completely honest, I cannot remember as much of the bike as I would like to because all I could focus on was getting rid of my cramps.

The bike course, is a good one but hard. After the first few miles, the challenges of constant rollers came often. Scattered among the rollers were many hills that were pretty significant and caused the heart rate to rise. The aid stations that I saw were all well manned and had plenty of everything I needed. I did hear later that several of the stations began to run low on water, even to the point of running out, but I didn\’t experience this.

My goal for the bike was to maintain a speed of between 22 and 22.5 mph. This did not happen. For the first two bike splits, I held an average speed of barely under 21 mph. Every time I would ask more of my legs, they would cramp. My heart and lungs were feeling fine and were really itching to do some harder racing, but my legs simply would not let them. At about mile 70 of the bike, I began running over scenarios in my head of how to deal with the unrelenting cramps. At this point some part of my body was cramping at all times. Among the places that cramped were:

  • Forearms
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Intercostals
  • Hip Flexors
  • Fingers (Yep, fingers)
  • Jaw
  • Neck

I\’m fairly certain I even remember my eyelid doing a weird flutter/cramp thing at some point.

By the last twenty miles, I was a cramp. I mean that; I WAS a cramp. My energy was being sent fighting against my own body. My speed had dipped drastically to around 17 mph. Also at this time, the heat of the day was beginning to truly set in. The high temperature for the day turned out to be 96° F with 60% humidity. I wish I could blame the heat for what was going on with my body, but I cannot. I\’m sure it didn\’t help, but it was not the cause of my problems. I fought through the last stretch and after what seemed like forever, I made it to transition.

As soon as I dismounted and handed my bike off, I saw Trevor (@indianabackdoc). He and Kristine (@KGIRLTRIS) had volunteered to catch bikes from racers at the entrance of the second transition. Trevor recalls our conversation like this:

\”Brandon, you gotta go man.\”

\”Dude, I am done.\”

\”What?!?! No way man. You are doing this!\”

\” I have cramped since I jumped into the water.\”


\”Yeah, I think it\’s over.\”

\”No it\’s not, suck it up buttercup. Get your ass moving and finish the race. It\’s gametime man, nut up or shutup. It\’s go time.\”

I hobbled my way into transition and to the changing tent. I found a chair in the tent and sat down. As soon as I did, everything below my waist locked up. I took several deep breaths and tried stretching my legs as much as I could. My legs eventually went from being seized to just cramping constantly (I still don\’t know how to accurately define this, but the two are different). A volunteer came over and asked me what he could do to help me get changed. I asked him if he had a phone I could borrow, and he was so kind to bring me his.

I called Danielle is pieces and asked her to have Jeff call me back at that number. Jeff promptly called me. We went over and over and over again what was going on and it made no sense. Had the cramps begun somewhere on the bike or even after pushing hard on the swim it would make sense, but this did not. I was an absolute mess emotionally and mentally. None of what was going on made one ounce of sense. After much discussion and agonizing thought, Jeff advised to pull out. His main concern was that since these cramps were not exercise induced that if I continued, I could wind up in a serious medical emergency. In speaking with Laminator after the fact, he explained that out of control and persistent cramping like that can eventually spread to your diaphragm and then you have a medical emergency for real.

I asked the volunteer with the phone if he could help me to the medical tent as walking wasn\’t something I was very good at at that point. He helped me to the tent, reminding me that just because I was going to medical did not mean that my day was over. I was given a cot to lay on and my legs were rubbed out. I was also given ice (truthfully I was not that hot because I was unable to exert myself as hard as I wanted to) and a cold bottle of Ironman Perform. Jeff had told me to get and IV of fluids, but apparently if you do that, they are required to pull you out of the race on the spot, so being hard headed and stubborn and hoping that I would still be able to get up and move, I stuck with ice and drinks.

The medical staff was amazing in asking if I was ok every couple of minutes. I lay there allowing my legs to cramp over and over. To give you an idea what it looked like, imagine being able to see hundreds of bugs crawling under the surface of your skin; that\’s what I was seeing. It flt like each and ever muscle fiber was firing off at random non-stop.

As I lay there, many more people in the same shape as I was and worse were being brought into the tent. I eventually gave up my cot for a chair as there were many who needed it more than I did at that point. Sitting there, I began to take a hard mental and emotional look at the events. I will admit that I was at first extremely ashamed and embarrassed. However, that eventually gave way to acceptance and disappointment; not disappointment in myself, but for those (including me) that had given so much to see me have a good race that day.

After a while Trevor, who had been on the phone with Jeff off and on since he saw me come in, came over to the medical tent. We sat and discussed everything and I made the call. I hended Trevor my chip and he turned it in for me. My day was over. My first ever DNF.

To be continued…


  1. I am so sorry to hear how things turned out. I have been waiting for an update. As a marathoner who has had her share of not so great races, I can only imagine the disappointment. I have learned a lot from your posts. Keep your chin up. The next race will be fantastic.

    • Thank you so much Jami!

      • dude even though you had to pull out take solace in the fact what you endured to even make it to transition two is an accomplishment in itself hold your head up high sir 1st for making it to tran 2 2nd for having the will to pull out one of the hardest things for any athlete to do i salute you sir

  2. Brandon, I was so sorry to read your story about this very miserable day. The elements made for a tough day for so many. You will be back and better than ever.

    Drew Brees talk about “fear of failure” in his book, (which is a good read) something every athlete dreads. Being unable to compete is humiliating, esp. when none of it makes sense.
    He talks extensively about his shoulder injury, surgery, the Chargers, rehab, and wondering if he would ever be as good as he was….
    Well, we all know the rest of the story. We are all humbled for a reason, and there is usually something better ahead.
    Keeping everything in perspective, as I mentally prepared myself for a TOUGH IM with the temps, & hills, I came to the conclusion, that this is just a race….a hobby…and I still have a wonderful family, partner, & health. DNF is shattering temporarily, but something you will gain so much from in your bright future. IF you follow cycling, you may know that Lance Armstrong DNFed one of his early Tour de France.
    Character building experiences make more sense down the road. Be patient in your discoveries.
    I look forward to hearing more about your accomplishments in the upcoming years. You will be back and it will be awesome. Go drink another beer, and get back on that horse, tommorrow.

  3. I listend to ep 108 and it affected me. I was amazed that after training so hard and doing everything right that the body can still let you down. As Sting so aptply put it, “How fragile we are”. Good perspetive and attitude though.

  4. Brandon,

    Just wanted to say I was sorry man. There will be other races as I know you know. Your recap is a great read fwiw.

    • Thank you so much Steve. You are right though. At the end of the day it’s just a race and I am still here to do more!

  5. Brandon, I am so sorry. I had a DNF in my first one and it was medically valid (I had heat exhaustion) but still I cried for 3 months afterwards. Knowing there was nothing you could do to change it doesn’t change the heartbreak. But you made the right decision and you will be back out there. I hope they figure this out for you. So glad you have Jeff as a coach to help you make the decision in the end.

  6. Hey Brandon,

    I enjoyed reading your report ~ thank you for sharing the lessons you learned and what you took away from your experience in Louisville.

    I was out there that day too. And mannn was it a doozie.

    I wrote in my blog the following statement, which I hope gives you comfort:

    Through my Ironman experience and 16+ hour day on Sunday, August 29, 2010, I learned first-hand, that the maturity of an endurance athlete is defined by knowing when to say “when”.

    There’s a very fine line between digging deep and going for it ~ and listening to the very important things your body is trying to tell you. Many of us out on the course were all faced with incredibly hard decisions, and only we as individuals can decide whether they were the best for us. You walked away with an epic experience and memories of pushing yourself farther than you thought imaginable.

    As many have already said to you, take the time to rest, recover and get back out there and enjoy what you do, in training for your next event. And on the same token, embrace all this experience has brought you ~ for it only makes you tougher.

    If you’re at all interested, I posted my race report here:

    Take good care, and congratulations on all your hard work and making every moment of your race day count.


    • Thanks so much Maria. Congrats on getting it done! I think I’ve come full circle now and am really looking forward to what’s next. It’s going to be a fun ride!!

  7. I’m late to the party in reading this recap, but I just wanted to offer my congratulations to you. Regardless of the DNF, this race and all the training that led up to it is a major accomplishment.

    Our bodies can do amazing things, but we are not invincible. A lot of hard-core athletes (a category you belong in!) are stubborn, which can of course be a wonderful thing but in situations like this it can also get you into trouble. Like your coach told you, there was a very real possibility that you could have faced a serious medical emergency. And your friends/family/random fans from the Internet care much more about your safety than if you finished this race or not. Kudos on making the right decision, which is often difficult to do. And it just means you’ll kick that much more ass next time. :)


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