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.
CYCLING WITH IRONMEN AND IRONWOMEN
Last year, I finally managed to sneak in a frigid 40 mile ride with good friend Chris (aka Big Dog, aka Schmidty) Schmidt over Thanksgiving weekend in Marion County. Along that route, we discussed some of the different events we had each completed in 2012, with his toughest conquer being the Louisville Ironman competition, and mine being the Hincapie Gran Fondo. He stated that he would like to join me on some of my century rides this year, so when I called and invited him to the Redbud Ride in London in April, he showed up. On that ride, I told him about the Kentucky Century Cycling Challenge, and how he could get a free jersey if he completed three of the four designated events, and that I planned to do all 4. His good friend Toby Young (fellow Ironman) joined us at the second event, Horsey Hundred and now that Schmidty and I have completed the first 3 and earned our free jersey, we look forward to finishing the last with Toby so he can earn his.
Somewhere in the middle of my 114 mile ride this past Saturday, on the Louisville Ironman course, I mentioned to Schmidty that I had come a long way from that frozen 40 mile ride last November. This was my fifth century ride of the year and his last chance to review and recon the course before taking it on in the official race again in just a few weeks.
This would be my first ever bike ride in or around the great city of Louisville, KY and I took advantage of the situation by making it a weekend getaway. One part was the century ride, while the other part was a mini-vacation for my wife and I before the boys started back into school. As I rode to the start point from my downtown hotel to the yellow lot on the Ohio River, I saw numerous runners and cyclists and felt right at home. Then I spent about thirty minutes in the parking lot with friends, old and new, before rolling out around 9am. My closest friend Tim (aka the Renaissance Man) Stout was parked between Stephanie Allen (a strava friend and professional triathlete who I hope to race someday), and a couple of guys from Chicago. I also met Sam Dick (local news anchor at CBS in Lexington) and Mark Rucker (Lexington attorney) who has a heart-wrenching story of a DNF from last year’s event. Later, Courtney Greenlee (I first met on Presevation Pedal century ride and now see regularly at Bluegrass Cycling Club rides) joined the conversation as she came out of the river ready to ride 112 miles. Finally, my Columbia Century Crew (Chris and Toby) arrived for the pre-party.
I can’t say enough about how well this event was organized and supported, and it is all put on by primarily one gentleman. Excellent job “I Am Tri” guy!! Early observations from the ride included these various thoughts: the tri-bikes are wicked fast on the downhills, but slow going up; the first 9 or so miles go out along the Ohio River with beautiful and very flat scenery, and I thought to myself, I would be very glad to come back in this way later in the day; I was surprised by the number of women that were present, I would guess the male to female ratio at most cycling events I attend is about 15/1, and this event felt more like about 5/1.
I’ve learned over the years that the cycling sport is dominated by males, but it appears that there are plenty of female triathletes. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re red, black, white, green, male or female, if you ride a bike we’ve got something in common. And probably more in common than the bike. The Louisville Ironman cycling course is pretty challenging from a racing vantage point. Much of it is up and down, and several of the turns require nearly stopping to maneuver safely.
Probably the most obvious observation for me, despite the repeated arm twisting from Schmidty, Courtney, Toby, and Steph is that when I got finished riding, I sure was glad I didn’t have to go running! Good luck to all the triathletes that will be racing at Ironman Louisville in a few weeks. I have a true respect for the level of endurance and fitness it takes to complete the challenge. Who knows? Maybe I’ll join you one day …
Guest Post by Stephanie Allen
There are a million and one reasons why people step into the world of triathlons. Some for the physical challenge, others for the glory, but I’d say for many it is reasons very similar to my own… to find an arena that pushes you past everything you ever dared to dream possible. Four years ago if you would have told the 181 lbs. me I would complete two 140.6 full distance triathlons, myself, and everyone I know would have laughed in your face! Hell, if you would have told me I’d run a 5K I would have assured you no way unless I was being chased! Then something changed… this small little voice inside my head began to whisper to me that I was worthy of being healthy. My day one journey began with me having to stop and walk when trying to run a half-mile… Every day my goal was to just go a little further than the day before. The further I was able to run the louder that little voice of self worth became.
In my late 20’s I entered a new season of life, which put me back in my home-town. My father, desperate to reignite the spark in his seemingly vacant daughter put me in the saddle of a bike. Every morning we would spin our way along the dewy, foggy, tri-county triangle trail. It was there in those early mornings where my father brought me back to life and gave me a passion for a bike. One of these mornings as we were working our way along the trail I expressed to my dad, “ I think I should learn to swim… I mean hell, I run, I bike, why not tri.” Three short months later I entered my first sprint distance triathlon. Fun, yet crossing the finish line did not give me this rewarding moving experience I was hoping for. I felt, incomplete. I decided it was too short, that I need to skip this little stuff and do a full! A year after my first sprint I jumped in the water at the Cedar Point full REV3 on September 8, 2012. 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2 mile run. Lets just say this 140.6 was not the astonishing athletic performance I was hoping for! I came out of the water at 2:18:32, they disqualify you at 2:20:00! The bike was full of low cadence spinning and two flat tires! The run actually was not that lacking until about mile 18 when my knees, and kidneys both said, ENOUGH! I crossed the finish line 15:44:52 after entering the water. Most would have jumped for joy! However, the cloud of “incompletion” once again hovered over my head! . Perhaps it was due to my sub 16-hour finish time, or maybe it was because my friends and family were unable to be there to cheer me on. Either way, I resolved to set out on a mission. I wanted to finish a 140.6 triathlon in less than fourteen hours.
They say insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results, so I knew if I wanted to be better, everything about my training had to be better as well. I began a seek and destroy of all the major mistakes that happened at the Rev3. I was in the water a horrifying 2 hours 19 minutes (they disqualify you at 2:20). I was in desperate need of a swim coach! I found Kevin Ryan, a Lexington local Pro triathlete, who swam competitively at University of Kentucky. Kevin agreed to coach me in all three disciplines, swim, bike, and run, and on February 15, 2013 training for Ironman Louisville commenced!
Kevin had me spending, what most would consider “excessive” time in the water and on the bike, since that proved to be my weaker points. He also informed me that I was on a bike 4 sizes too big! I am 5’2” and I was riding a 56 bike! A visit to pedal power, and a proper fit with John landed me on a 2013 Cannondale Slice size 47. I lovingly named the bike Ricky Bobby, because, lets face it “I like to go fast”. I forced myself out of my toxic comfort zone and joined in on rides with cyclists that are at a performance level I strive to reach. I have learned one hard and true fact about cycling in Kentucky, and that is if you don’t LOVE hills, you better start!
The road to Ironman Louisville would be just 11 short months after the Rev3. Along the way I would stop at 1 marathon, 1 sprint distance tri, 2 Olympic distance tri, and Ironman Muncie 70.3. My times were getting better and better at every race along the way. My endurance proved to be holding up, and my recovery time seemed to be next to nothing. I was right on target with my training plan except for one dark cloud looming over me…”race weight”! I believe if you want to be at the peak of your performance level you must be the definition of health. I also believe that you can condition the body to do anything at any size… however when it comes to speed size really does mater. Louisville was here before I knew it and the extra pounds I picked up after the Rev3 was holding on as well. I decided that I had to mentally forget about race weight and demand my body give it all that I had
August 25, 2013 began with a 4am alarm. Transition opened at 4:45 and fearful of repeating last years swim I wanted to be as close to the front of the line as I could get! The current was strong in the Ohio River that morning. It was a strong pull to the first turn buoy when I was freed to swim with the current of the wonderfully clean Ohio. I broke from the pack and headed to the inside of the river where the current would be the strongest. I came out of the water with a personal record of 1 hour 25 minutes!! I even wiped the water off my watch to make sure I was reading it right. Quick transition to the bike, where I would settle into for the best part of the day. I had biked the IM Louisville bike course five times prior to the race. However, never with so many people, and so much heat and humidity! The pace was mentally set for me on the portion of the bike course known as “the out and back” located in the first 25 miles of the course. As I descended the first hill down I saw the flashing lights of the ambulance on the other side of the road. All cyclists were slowed to an almost stop. I saw blood first, and as I broke free past the ambulance was chilled at the sight of the non-responsive cyclist. The race continued, regardless of my state of mind. Just past Lagrange, I was lucky recipient of a yellow card for drafting, which landed me at the next penalty tent for a moment. A grueling 6 hours and 50 minutes later I was off the bike (my goal was to be off the bike in under 6:30). Free do to what I do best, RUN! And for a long time at that! I took off on the run feeling great, legs felt fine, head was right. Around mile 7 pain in my planter fascia set in, and by mile 13 I felt as if with every stride my left heal was coming down on glass. My boyfriend ran along side of me for a couple miles to distract me from the pain. Distraction in hand, I put my neck up and did my best to run tall as if there was no pain at all. I turned the corner heading in the last 4-mile home stretch and saw my brothers waiting on the sidewalk to run me home. My oldest brother looked at me and said “ hey we are all just out on a fun evening Sunday run with the brothers and sister, You got this!”. He was right! I looked at my watch and saw that my hopes of a sub 14 hour had not escaped me. I just had to hold on and maintain pace 4 more miles! I crossed the finish line at Ironman Louisville 13:52 after I entered the water. I was embraced by my family, and friends… Finely I had completed my incomplete completion. When I did my first triathlon, it was to prove to everyone else that I was able. When I did the Rev3 it was to prove to myself that I was able. Ironman Louisville was about KNOWING I was able and getting to bask in that joy.