I met Chris Schmidt at my first GABRAKY (Governor’s Autumn Bicycle Ride Across Kentucky) in 2006, and at our brunch stop at his place of work on the third and final day of the ride, I learned that he is married to one of my wife’s friend and softball teammate from high school. Chris is the Dean of Students at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, KY and is an avid cyclist with infamously massive calf muscles on his legs. Funny as it may seem, those are the two things that I related to Chris when we came in contact after that first ride across the state together: his wife and his calves.
I have gotten to know Chris a little more each year as he is the face of Lindsey Wilson as an annual partner and one of the main sponsors of the GABRAKY ride. He is an intelligent, hard working, genuine family man, that has a passion for cycling, and really has a way of connecting with people of all different sorts of cultures. As we follow each other on Twitter, I couldn’t help but notice some of his posts from early in the year mentioning some cross training in swimming, cycling, and running. He confirmed that he was training for the Ironman Competition that comes to Louisville, KY every August. I was a little surprised to learn of his intentions, because I had never pictured Chris as a marathon runner, especially after swimming and cycling another 114.4 miles! After all, they don’t call him “Big Dog” for nothing. One thing that didn’t surprise me though, was when he tweeted: “I did it. I am an Ironman!” on the evening of the annual competition in Louisville. A little over a week ago Chris was part of a team that ran over 200 miles across Kentucky in the annual Bourbon Chase Race Event, then turned around and just completed the annual bicycle ride across the bluegrass state in GABRAKY covering nearly 250 miles on the bike from Ohio to Tennessee. I was lucky enough to catch up with him at Buddy’s Pizza, a local restaurant in Frankfort and hear all about his Ironman experience. Now, I’ll share it with you.
Chris has been a road cyclist for years as both recreational and some competitive. As he was helping his wife attempt to get into cycling, she decided to try a sprint distance duathlon, so he also gave it a try. After one race in the triathlon format, he decided he liked it much better than the road rage he had experienced in the criterium road racing, and hence he was ready to go all out. So in a round-about way, his wife was the initial inspiration to try the Ironman event. The family affair didn’t stop there though, in fact, his wife Becca and son Cole, both were his main trainers and coaches. “The whole family made sacrifices financially, and with their time, menu, and physically, as they both helped me train. I also had two friends also training for the Ironman competition, Claude in western KY, and Toby here in Columbia with me, and it made all the difference having others to help,” claims Chris. He also received some genuine advice from a friend Lyn Bessette, a former pro female road cyclist, Olympian, and spouse to his long time friend Tim Johnson, also a pro cyclist in road and cross. She told him to always end EVERY training ride with a run, even if it was only a mile or two. So he did, every time he finished a ride on the bike, he immediately went out for a minimum 5K run, and in the end, he felt this advice to be very beneficial.
I mentioned the financial sacrifice, let me elaborate on some stuff I had never given a thought to. Chris saved every receipt he had relating to anything that had to do with his Ironman registration, training, and actual competition weekend, so he could reflect at the end and see just how much it actually cost to pull it off. Registration is just the beginning. The real expense comes from proper training. There’s cost to set up your bike, everything from wheels, to seats, to aero bars, to tubes and tires, then running. Especially for someone who was not previously a runner. There is shoes, and shoes, and more shoes, trying to find the right pair for his style of stride and stature, and don’t forget, those shoes have to run miles and miles and miles, to ensure he could cover 26.2 on the day it all mattered. Oh, let’s don’t forget swimming! Goggles, polar or tinted lens, etc.? And we haven’t even mentioned clothing, socks, nutrition, gels, bars, energy drinks, and so on, and so on … not sure if he kept the receipts in a shoe box, or a treasure chest. It certainly mattered what it cost to pull off this great feat, but it wasn’t something that Chris and his family were going to allow to be a road block, only a hurdle, as he admitted to gathering and selling some of his cycling gear he was no longer using.
When he arrived at the venue for the 2012 Ironman Louisville Competition, his vision of having the Ironman logo tattoo came to light in his mind as he witnessed all those already proud to display their achievement. “I was amazed at all the Ironman ink. Young, old, fit, or fat, it seemed like everyone had IM ink to immortalize their accomplishment,” says Chris. “Big Dog’s” ink is the IM logo on his right calf, so you can imagine how noticeable it is! Something else that amazed him was how well organized the event is. He says they dot all the i’s, cross all the t’s, to pull off an outstanding competition weekend. He commended the Ironman team for what an excellent job they do throughout the entire event. Unfortunately, their organization, brought up some of his more sad memories also. “When the clock strikes midnight, it’s over! They roll it up, close it down, it’s over. That realization didn’t quite hit me until I witnessed some competitors coming in as I was still in the streets, beaming with confidence from the feeling of what I had just achieved, only to see them comforted by loved ones for finishing, but not in time to receive a medal or acknowledgement from Ironman officially. Once that feeling of sadness I felt for them and their families and friends set in, it was nearly as tough as any emotion I experienced during the actual race. They finished, they were all Ironmen and Ironwomen in my book.”
Chris definitely thinks the mental aspect is more key to success than the physical. He said the whole event was an emotional roller coaster filled with highs and lows, and he doesn’t discount the physical aspect one bit, but he did mention seeing competitors he referred to as in much better physical condition than him laying on the side of the road, broke, done, finished but not completed. His plan had him committed to comfort and managing those emotions. Don’t let the highs get too high, likewise, don’t let a low, be too low. He placed simple items of comfort and happiness in his personal transition bags, and he contributes much of that tactic to his success. He even made a cycling sacrifice in training leading up to the competition and a running sacrifice on the fly in the actual race. Before the competition, he had his times checked and noticed he was laying down cycling time splits that rivaled the overall top 10 (yes this includes the pros) for half IM distances, and the top 5 for olympic and sprint distances. He dialed it back a little, to make sure he had enough gas to complete his first ever marathon run. Speaking of running, he had set out a plan to run four, walk one, and repeat until finished. As he approached the 10 mile mark of the run, he decided to change socks, since one foot was very sore and getting worse. This is when he found two toes that had blisters rubbed raw to the bone, so he altered his run plan to run six, walk one because it actually hurt worse to walk than run.
All of the pain was nowhere to be found as he saw the smiling faces of his wife and son waiting for him as he crossed the finish line and received his official Ironman medal! Chris is a very humble person, but he admitted confidently, that when he reflects on everything he went through to achieve the right to be called an Ironman, he feels like maybe his head is held just a little bit higher, and his chest stuck out just a little bit now. For those of you wondering about the total cost, how much all the receipts came up to when he got home, I offer this: “The second thing my wife told me after ‘Congratulations’ was that it didn’t matter what it had cost them, it was worth every penny they spent for him to accomplish what he did at that very moment! She was absolutely right. I went home and threw all those receipts in the trash and never once looked at them,” exclaimed Chris. In closing, he says that he is planning to do another Ironman competition next year. Not sure if it will be IM Louisville again or another venue, but now that I have the experience, I will set a lofty goal for my time, and set out to beat it! Congratulations Chris, you have always and continue to be an inspiration to me, both personally and physically. I don’t plan to join you in an Ironman any time soon, but I always look forward to you challenging me on the back roads of Kentucky on our road bikes.