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Ironman Louisville Race Report: Never Give Up

By Scott Simpson

September 1, 2010

Pre-race recap:

First Ironman: Wisconsin 2004. Sick heading into the race. Couldn't consume calories or fluids during. Woke up in the back of an ambulance after I passed out half way through the bike. Later diagnosed with parasitic infection.

Second Ironman: Wisconsin 2005. Very, very rough day but managed to stave off unconsciousness to get to the finish 11 minutes before the midnight cutoff. I am an Ironman.

This Ironman: Missed 5 weeks of training this spring due to undiagnosed illness. Missed another week completely in June plus another couple of weeks of reduced training. Same reason.

Was not racing with a watch. Did not want pressure of time goals. The day was going to be hot, humid, and um, hot. Getting to the finish was job number one.

Not having access to my medicinal cookies to alleviate the side effects of my medications was a concern. It was going to make a challenging day more so. Spelled 'POZ' with the reflective tape on the back of my race shirt.

If nothing went wrong -- like oppressive heat and humidity -- and absolutely everything went right, then I thought 12 hours was possible. But really, getting to the finish line was the primary goal. At all costs.

I was only going to leave the Ironman course across the finish line or by ambulance. Quitting was not an option.

Giddy up, Buttercup.


Pretty much according to plan. Just swam easy. Executed my planned mantra for the entire day: 'Hold back. Relax. Focus on form.'

Time trial swim start meant not getting punched in the head even once during the 3.8 k / 2.4 mi swim. Nice.


What doesn't kill you…

Did not push the pace at all. Even though it was not yet 9 am it was hot. And humid. A lot of guys passed me in the first 40 km / 25 miles. I didn't care. I was going my own 'easy-does-it' pace.

Couldn't consume solid food anymore around mile 65 / 100 km. Only gels would go down. Hmmm…that never happened it training. Must be the heat.

A few athletes walking their bikes up the hills during the second loop. Others are lying on the side of the road. Starting to feel less then stellar myself. Heat really starting to kick in.

The guys that were kind of riding at my pace have disappeared behind me. Fewer guys are passing me. I'm going easy, holding back. Want to make sure I get to the finish line.

Self care is paramount and I'm doing it: calories, water, electrolytes. Cold water in the helmet. Hold back. Relax. Focus on form.

The last 40 km / 25 mi I start feeling a little rougher. I back off the pace a wee bit more just to make sure I'm feeling the love for the run.

Guys stop passing me. I'm starting to catch and pass some people. I ask if they notice that it's kind of hot.

Oh yeah, it was humid. And hot. Did I mention that?


Some bad patches. Some ugly patches.

I took my medications, the ones that keep me from certain death, during the second transition. As I swallowed them I thought: 'Dream as if you will live forever. Live as if you will die today'.

Coming out of transition I did not feel my usual perky self. Running 26.2 miles did not seem appealing.

I thought it was hot when I was biking. Now there was no wind chill factor. Things were going south in a big, big hurry.

The heat was oppressive: 96 F / 35.5 C. The humidity offensive: well into the 90's. Making it feel well over 100 F / 37.7 C.

I slowly jogged about 200 metres before walking. I was not feeling well. At all. It crossed my mind that a marathon is a long way to walk.

In what will become a repeating pattern at every aid station, I put ice in a zip lock baggy under my hat. Ice down my shirt. Cold, wet sponges tucked under my shirt on my shoulders and back of neck. Fill my water bottle. More electrolytes. More calories from gels.

I feel a wee bit better and am able to start running. By mile 2 I'm feeling absolutely wonderful. Only 24 miles to go. I'm thinking that I can do this. I'm over that bad patch. Just the same, easy does it. Don't want to count your chickens.

By mile 4 I've lost that lovin' feeling. By mile 5 I'm walking again. But so is almost every one else at times. I tell myself that I can manage my body by just walking the rest of the way.

By mile 6 I'm lying on the side of the road. Time is distorted. The aid station volunteers keep checking on me: 'Do I need medical assistance?'

A little voice in my head says 'Suck it up, Buttercup'. I slowly get up and start walking. And then running. As I go through mile 8 I reach around and give myself a little pat on the back: 'Good job, Scott'.

I run a few more miles before things deteriorate again. More walking. More athletes lying on the side of the road. 'That was me' I think. I run some more.

I stop sweating. I know this is not a good sign. Somewhere around mile 15 I crumple to the grass.

I hear someone say 'Don't worry guys, an ambulance is on the way.' Guys? Plural? I open my eyes to look around and see two other guys lying on the grass.

I'm not done yet. I struggle to my feet. Lazarus rises again. I have to get out of here before the paramedics arrive. I'm scared they'll want to make me quit.

Some guy asks if I'm sure I should continue. I take a quick glance at the 2 guys lying on the grass and mumble weakly, more to myself then him, 'never give up'.

Walk. Run. Walk. Run. With the occasional dry heave thrown in for good measure.

I thought of my good friend and training partner, Matt, who died 50 weeks ago after crossing the finish line in a local triathlon. I choke up. I miss him. I took a moment to appreciate being alive. And healthy enough to try to do this crazy shit.

Some uber fit guy, looking dazed and confused, asks me where it all went wrong. I said that I thought it was the heat. Or maybe the humidity.

As I approach mile 24 I decide I'm not going to stop running until I get to the finish line. I'm going to empty the tank. I start digging in to run faster. Sweating returns.

At mile 25 I pick up the pace again. Now I'm really starting to hurt. But I'm passing loads of people and that feeds me emotionally. The mantra has become: Dig in. Ignore the pain. Empty the tank.

I turn the final corner and can see lights illuminating the finish line in the distance. Cheering crowds line the street. There are still a few more people I can catch in the last 400 metres. I dig in again. I am emptying the tank.

200 metres to go and there is one more guy between me and the finish. I dig in one last time and go by him fast.

50 metres to the finish and my sun glasses fall off. I stop, turn around and pick them up. He runs past me. Fuck! I sprint all out, the world starts spinning, and pass him again with 5 metres to go.

I cross the finish line at full speed into the arms of medics. They want to put in a wheel chair. I want to walk. I win, and we walk for a couple of minutes. I think I'm going to be okay.

Then things got ugly.

I recognized the signs of impending unconsciousness and knew I needed to get horizontal. Immediately. A medic told me to keep my eyes open, not pass out. She kept tapping my arm.

They put on a gurney. They are running me through the crowd. Yelling at people to get out of the way. Every bump makes my head ache. Every twist and turn more nauseous. Blackness creeps into my peripheral vision.

We arrive within the air conditioned medical center. I am immediately cold and start shaking uncontrollably. People are pulling off my clothes. I'm being wrapped in blankets and those silver cape things.

A needle is stuck into my arm and I'm hooked up to an intravenous bag of saline. My legs, back and abdomen are cramping. They give me some anti-nausea medication. I continue to shake uncontrollably.

After the second saline bag I start to come around. One of the medics asks if I'm coming back to race again next year. I'll decide after both my big toe nails fall off in the next few days.

I am an Ironman.

Time splits:

Swim: 1:13:19

Bike: 5:54:50

Run: 5:56:13

Total time: 13:17:05

76th of 284 men in my 45-49 age group.

To all my friends and strangers that supported me on this journey and sent good vibes my way: thank you, thank you, thank you. You've helped more then you know in making it about the process and not the outcome.

And to that guy who bitchily commented on one of my previous blog entry's that I wouldn't / couldn't succeed and finish an Ironman: I've got a finisher's medal you can suck on. Meow.

And because life is too short not to follow one's passions, and because I want to, I have registered for Ironman Canada 2011.

Til I drop.

See Also
Ask a Question About Exercise at The Body's "Ask the Experts" Forums
Ten Things You Can Do to Improve Your Physical Fitness
More Personal Accounts on Exercise and HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Triguy (TX) Sun., Nov. 7, 2010 at 8:43 pm UTC
Will be competing in my first Full IM. Thanks for posting your story. It really is inspiring hearing others talk about their experiences at these races.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Scott Simpson (toronto) Thu., Sep. 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm UTC
Thanks so much for all the supportive replies and sharing plans to conquer your own challenges. Very inspirational and will get me out the door for a run on this rainy day!

Ryan: Rock on! Continue to prove the naysayers wrong!
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Kirk (Dallas) Tue., Sep. 14, 2010 at 2:19 am UTC
Great job Scott! I am so inspired that you kept at it. It is true, life is too short to not chase after your goals. Thanks for encouraging me to begin my marathon training. I will and I can!
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Eddie (Houston, Tx) Mon., Sep. 13, 2010 at 4:12 pm UTC
Marathons maybe best defined as "20 miles of hope and 6 miles of truth." I refer Ironman competitions as: "Patience,patience,patience...before you get to the IV room." You did great man! Did you have a light?
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Comment by: Mary (Memphis, TN) Mon., Sep. 13, 2010 at 9:34 am UTC
Congrats!! Job well done!!
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Comment by: Ryan (San Jose, Ca) Fri., Sep. 10, 2010 at 9:49 am UTC
Scott - you kicked ass! Nice job out there in IMKY. That was my first Ironman and what a great experience it was. I was quite a bit slower than you were and had to fight my way to the finish line with a 7:17 marathon.

Many people told me I wouldnt be able to do it a year ago. They said it was too much too soon. They too can suck on my finisher medal.

Keep racing!

Reply to this comment

Comment by: Johan (South Africa) Fri., Sep. 10, 2010 at 5:41 am UTC
Way to go people and there comments are totally uninformed that should spend more time doing research before passing comment as they respond through there ingnorence.
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Comment by: AJ (Victoria Australia) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 9:29 pm UTC
Great work Scott!! Loved reading the process leading up and during and post the event. I love to hear and read stories of these achievements by HIV people they are inspiring and show that if someone has a passion it is a hard fire to put out. I wish you well for 2011!

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Comment by: dabomb (chicago, IL) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm UTC
Oh, Scott, I am so worried about you. I have been where you are: HIV-positive, doing Ironman. Proudly positive, but ultimately denying the realities of my status. I know how awesome it is to feel so "kick ass," but ultimately it's extremely unhealthy and you should stop.
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Comment by: Mark Wagener-Perkins (Minneapolis, MN) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 4:23 pm UTC
Way to go that is awesome.. Always good to prove you can do these things for yourself and to inspire others
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Comment by: Jamespaul (San Francisco, CA) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 4:00 pm UTC
Bravo! Congrats & best wishes for next year.
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Comment by: rg (north carolina) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 3:50 pm UTC
rock on my man!
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Comment by: Philip (New York City) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm UTC
Congratulations...You're an Inspiration !!
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Comment by: Phillip R (Panama City, Fla) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm UTC
You go big guy, I am proud of you and proud for you!
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Comment by: Bill (St. Louis) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:20 pm UTC
Kudos Scott! Thanks for shareing your story. I'll be rooting for you in Canada 2011.
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Comment by: Barry (Houston) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:03 pm UTC
This is very cool. I'm a hemophiliac/30-year HIV/hepC survivor and have done many 100-mile bike rides in Texas heat, so I know something of what it means to do an Ironman. There are many healthy people who wouldn't even dream of it.
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Comment by: Lori (New York) Thu., Sep. 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm UTC

U go man and show the world what your made of! What an inspiring blog and story, nothing in life is impossible to achieve as long as we desire, be determined and put our heart and soul into it :-)
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Scott Simpson (Toronto) Wed., Sep. 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm UTC
Thanks guys!
Congrats Jim! What an introduction to IM. Sick.
All I can think is that the next one will seem like a walk in the park compared to that!
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Comment by: Dennis (San Francisco, CA) Wed., Sep. 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm UTC
Your story is truly inspiring. Congratulations on a great finish!
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Comment by: Jim (Cary, NC) Wed., Sep. 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm UTC
Scott. Great job, I was out there as well suffering through my first and finished shortly after you. Definitely not as much fun as I hoped because of the heat and humidity, but a great experience none the less.
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HIV+ Triathlete: Til I Drop

Scott Simpson

Scott Simpson

Scott Simpson is an HIV+ triathlete, student and inspirational speaker avoiding real work so he can find more time to train and learn. A former party boy, Scott has gone from the fictional national drinking team to the real Canadian national triathlon team and is current provincial long course champion in his age group. Scott is also founder of, and inspiration for, the Race for Dignity, which is both an annual spinathon in Toronto and annual school campus events coordinated by Dignitas Youth chapters. Cumulatively, they have raised almost a million dollars for the medical humanitarian NGO Dignitas International, contributing to over 11,000 people living with HIV/AIDS gaining access to ARVs in Malawi. Scott is currently training for Ironman Louisville 2010.

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