Before I met my wife, Grace, I didn’t even know how to swim. Finishing an Ironman was not even a consideration. Nevertheless, love makes a man do some crazy things. So, here’s a little story about one of those crazy things.
I Am Not an Exceptional Athlete
I’ll be honest, I had zero desire to complete an Ironman. I thought that I was done with my endurance sports phase of life. I raced bikes, climbed the latter to Cat 1 (the highest level of amateur cycling, which is in many respects equivalent to racing Pro), and had the opportunity to race professionally. I accomplished everything that I wanted to and more.
Exceptional athletes are typically identified early on during their teenage years, and I was anything but an exceptional athlete. I played basketball and football in high school, but I was literally the bench warmer in one of the worst redneck teams in Pennsylvania. During football games, I was only allowed to play during the last 15 seconds of the game, and only if our team was losing by more than 50 points with no chance of winning. During basketball games, I was only allowed to stand on the court when the rest of our team was in foul trouble. What I mean by this is that I was simply a body on the basketball court, and I was not supposed to touch the ball, unless I got a rebound. Concisely, I was not a gifted athlete.
In college, I discovered cycling. I loved to ride my bike, and after entering my first collegiate race, I realized that I had some potential. After college, I determined to prove myself as an athlete, and I accomplished this by winning bike races and ascending to Cat 1. When I had the opportunity to race pro, I decided that I accomplished everything and more than I wanted to with cycling, and that it was time for me to focus on my career. Unlike athletics, I was an exceptional student in high school and college, so it seemed appropriate for me to focus on academic and career goals for the long-term. Hence, I was grateful for everything that I learned from cycling, and I was satisfied with my athletic career. I was going to focus on my career, and I couldn’t see myself spending 15+ hours per week training anymore.
But then I met my wife, Grace. Grace’s background was swimming, she had already completed one Ironman 70.3, and she was registered to compete in a full Ironman 140.6. I assured her that I was not interested in doing an Ironman. Like I mentioned earlier, I was content with what I had already accomplished through cycling. Plus, I didn’t even know how to swim!
Ironman? Not a chance.
Breaking My Pre-Conceived Notion of Winning
I was under the impression that if I was going to do something, then I was going to do it right, and I was going to win. When I entered bike races, I entered each race with the intention of winning. Every single training ride was focused and planned to achieve that goal. Therefore, if I entered an Ironman, I wanted to race and know that I was capable of placing on the podium.
I think that this notion of racing to win began to break when I started to train for a marathon. I don’t know why I decided to enter a marathon. But I registered for the San Antonio Rock N’ Roll marathon, and I believed that I would be able to place on the podium. Given my endurance background in cycling, I figured that I would be a be able to run a sub 3-hour marathon. However, after a few weeks of training, I realized that Krouses were not made to run. I was slow, I sweated a lot, and I hated it. But since I was already registered for the marathon, I kept training and modified my goal to be 3.5 hours. With some training, I was able to run 20 miles at a 7:30 minute/mile pace, so I was pretty confident that I would be able to complete the marathon in 3.0 – 3.5 hours. However, on race day, I hydrated poorly and had to walk the last 8 miles of my race, finishing in a very disappointing 4.5 hours. I was extremely disappointed, but I think this race made me feel more comfortable with simply finishing an event.
At some point, I agreed to complete the Ironman with Grace, and I started watching YouTube videos about how to swim. I made it clear that my goal was to finish with Grace, and that I would not be racing for myself. I knew that finishing an Ironman was a big goal for Grace, and that doing it together would be extra special for her. Therefore, my motivation for training and learning how to swim was knowing how much it would mean to my wife. I also know how much she values pictures, especially photographs of special occasions, and that a photo of us crossing the Ironman finish line together would be an amazing gift to her. I knew that once I was committed, I could not disappoint her. I had to get that photo of us finishing an Ironman together.
Training: Cycling and Running
To be honest, most of the cycling and running training was easy. I was accustomed to training 15-25 hours per week on the bike, and I had just completed training for a marathon. I was significantly faster than my wife while cycling and running, and since my goal was to finish with her, I just needed to make sure that I could maintain her pace during the Ironman. Therefore, it wasn’t a big deal if I missed a few hours of training or didn’t hit my target numbers.
Also, many of my workouts were completed with Grace. These were wonderful moments for us to bond with each other. Days that we cycled or ran together were relatively easy training days for me.
Swimming was a nightmare. I was not good. Every time that I got in the pool, I was afraid of drowning. Grandmas and 8-year-old girls in the lanes next to me were faster. However, my wife was a huge encouragement. She wrote workout sets for me, took videos of me, and offered pointers.
Transitioning from the pool to the open water was another disaster. I felt like I was learning to swim from scratch again. But Grace continued to encourage me and accompany me on open water swims. She kayaked next to me while I attempted to swim in the open water, and she bought me a buoy that I could hold onto in the open water if I needed to rest. I didn’t practice as much in the open water as I wanted to, and I was extremely worried about the swim during the race.
Ironman Texas: The Night Before
The night before our Ironman race, and much to the amusement of our friends, I watched several more YouTube videos about swimming in open water. I was nervous. And, there’s no better time to learn than last-minute, right?
Ironman Texas: 2.4 Mile Swim
Race day morning went pretty much as expected. And before I was ready for it, it was time to cross the start line and begin the swim. The start of the swim was brutal. The water was choppy from so many people, and I didn’t feel comfortable. About 400 meters into the swim, I stopped at a paddle board (thanks, Michelle!) to catch my breath and compose myself. I figured worst case scenario would be that I needed to stop every 400 meters to catch my breath. If I did this, I still anticipated that I would be able to finish before the 2-hour 20-minute swim cut-off time.
Much to my surprise, I was able to compose myself after the paddle board stop and settle into a comfortable rhythm. I discovered that swimming a little bit outside of the main group was less choppy, and that I felt more comfortable. I was able so swim and sight without swallowing water. Swimming outside of the main group meant that I would be swimming farther than the intended 2.4 miles, however, I was ok with that. My goal was simply to finish the swim before the cut-off time, and I was willing to swim the extra distance if it meant that I felt more comfortable and able to finish.
The swim went smoothly for roughly the next 2500 meters, and I didn’t need to stop at any paddle boards, kayaks, or buoys to catch my breath. But when we turned into the canal, the water became choppy again from all of the swimmers, and there wasn’t any room to swim outside of the main pack. The canal was too narrow.
With the increased choppiness, I swallowed a big mouthful of water and began coughing. Immediately in panic, I began looking around for a kayak or something to save me. When I stopped to tread water and look for help, much to my surprise, I discovered that my feet touched the bottom of the canal! With huge relief, I stood in the canal for several minutes (maybe seconds – I had no track of time), coughing and wheezing. I stood still and made sure not to make any forward progress, because I didn’t want to risk receiving a DNF.
Once I recovered, I continued swimming and finished without any further issues. Actually, I was surprised by how many people I was able to pass in the canal. I passed many more people than passed me, which made me realize that there are many athletes who are slower swimmers than me (maybe they should have watched some YouTube videos the night before too). However, I don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t able to stand in the canal during my coughing fit.
Ironman Texas: 112 Mile Bike
When I got out of the water, I received notice that I was only 10 minutes behind Grace. I was pumped! I had just finished the longest open water swim in my life, and I was only 10 minutes behind my wife. I knew that I could easily make up 10 minutes on the bike.
I was so excited about my swim that I enjoyed a cookie in transition and took my time, because I anticipated that I would easily close a 10-minute gap. In my original race plan, I expected that I would be 30+ minutes behind Grace. Therefore, I was well ahead of my anticipated time!
The bike course starts with several 90-degree turns before reaching the highway. Since I was using my standard road bike for the Ironman, I was able to rail the turns and blow by all of the triathletes on their tri bikes. I had a blast flying past folks on the bike. I wonder what they thought seeing a roadie race by them?
At mile 36, I caught Grace, and we rode together for the rest of the bike ride. For me, the bike ride was easy. For Grace, she struggled with the 20mph headwind section. Nevertheless, we completed the bike in a very respectable time, and we were fortunate that we didn’t have any mechanical issues.
Ironman Texas: 26.2 Mile Run
Grace and I did the entire run together. I anticipated that we would be walking the last few miles of the marathon. But much to my surprise, we were able to maintain run/walk intervals for the full marathon. I felt great for most of the marathon, but at about mile 21, my condition deteriorated quickly. Grace, on the other hand, was really pushing herself and struggling for most of the run, but when we started to see friends and family during the last few miles, she perked up and was able to push me while I was struggling. It was encouraging and enjoyable to stay together for the entire marathon. I think it helped both of us during the dark moments.
Because we were able to maintain consistent walk/run intervals, we finished the marathon faster than I expected. Our overall finish time was approximately 13 hours and 40 minutes.
A Priceless Accomplishment
I’m very proud that we were able to finish the Ironman together. It was a special experience that not many couples get to do. I don’t think that I’ll ever do an Ironman again (I can’t speak for Grace though). I have accomplished everything that I ever wanted to with endurance sports, and right now, I can’t think of anything better than finishing an Ironman with my wife. It was the first Ironman for both of. So many things could have happened during the race that would have prevented us from finishing: poor nutrition, poor hydration, inadequate electrolytes, bike mechanical, not making the cut-off times, or drowning on the swim. Yet, we managed all of these risks and emerged successful.
Grace and I finished Ironman Texas together. And I’m very proud of this accomplishment. It means more to me than I originally thought it would. We committed a lot of time and money towards completing this event. We spent countless hours planning, training together, and encouraging each other. The time that we spent together, and working towards achieving this shared goal, was priceless.
Thank you, Grace, for all of your time, love, and encouragement, and for finishing the Ironman with me. It was an unforgettable and priceless experience. I love you.
Here is your picture <3