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Ironman Louisville - Triathlon
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Louisville starts off with an upstream swim but the current isn’t too bad as it’s protected by an island. I had problems sighting due to some fog and didn’t swim as straight as I would have liked. Contact was minimal and I tried to just settle into a rhythm. I should have paid more attention to the number of buoys as I had no idea how far to swim against the current. It seems to take forever to reach the turn but once you do it’s a pretty straight shot back to Joe’s Crab Shack.
Lessons Learned - The water temp was around 73 degrees so I opted to go with my cheap sleeveless wetsuit. In hindsight, I probably would have been okay with my fancy Roka sleeved suit and it would have saved me 2-3 minutes (based on practice swim times). I had to pee but decided to wait until I got in the water to do so. Considering how wet the ramp to the dock was there really was no need for me to wait and I think it impacted my swim. I’ve never had problems peeing in my wetsuit before, but struggled to do so this time around. I even slowed down a few times to try and “break the seal” but didn’t have any luck. At times it felt like I was peeing but I couldn’t be sure, and yes, I know how weird that sounds. Based on the epic pee I took in transition I am going to go out on a limb and say I didn’t pee much during the swim. Overall I would say needing to pee cost me another 1-2 minutes on the swim.
One advantage with starting the swim early (and being a better than average swimmer) is that the changing tent wasn’t nearly as crowded as it was for some of my friends who started later. Unfortunately it’s still ass and balls as far as the eye can see, but at least I found a place to sit while I changed. I would have preferred a single piece of tri kit for the entire day but didn’t have one (long story) so I opted for a full change into cycling kit. I borrowed a towel from the hotel to dry off a bit and was able to change in a reasonably fast time. If you don’t understand why that’s impressive please try putting on some skintight lyrca next time you get out of the shower! I think I could find 2-3 minutes on the leaders with a 1 piece tri kit next time.
The Louisville bike course is considered a “lollipop” course – it’s basically a 20 mile stick, 2 laps around a 35 mile loop, and then 20 miles back to town. The loop contains most of the hills and I was able to pre-ride it Thursday afternoon when we got into town… it was one of the most depressing rides of my life. I tried to channel my inner Chris Froome and stare at my Garmin and ignore my friends, but I must have pushed a little harder than needed on the hills b/c I was cooked afterwards. I was told by a friend who rode the course in advance that the hills were similar to what we ride at home and that he rarely had to get out of the big ring. Lesson learned; don’t take course advice from skinny people who happen to be strong riders! The course features rolling hills, false flats, and a few hills that are longer than anything we ride at home (West Michigan). Pre-riding the loop was a great help as I was better prepared to handle the hills on race day (thanks Rich!). I was able to carry some momentum from one hill to the next, but rarely enough to get all the way to the top. I discovered a new pet peeve during the race … people who pass me on the uphill, get to the top, cut me off, and then coast so that I have to brake! Seriously? You’re making a big guy brake going uphill?!? I would then fly by them on the downhill only to go through the same thing on the next hill. It’s amazing how poorly people ride the hills!
My plan for race day was to take it easy on the 20 miles out of town (NP of 165-170) and the first loop (NP of 173-176), then pick it up on the 2nd loop (176-179) and back into town (179-181). The hardest part of my entire day was staying “in my box” and racing my own race, especially for the first 70 miles. It seemed like I was passed by just about everyone, including large old ladies on road bikes. To be honest, it was pretty demoralizing, but my goal was to pace the bike in such a way that I would be able to run (more on that later). I settled into a nice rhythm heading out of town and eventually started playing tag with a lovely lady named Channing. She would pass me on the uphills where gravity is my nemesis and I would fly by her on the downhills, where gravity is my BFF. She was kind of a big deal as she had a quite a few supporters out there. Riding with her made me feel like a rock star for short period of time. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and I dropped my chain on one of the first big hills and didn’t see her again until a few miles before the finish. I’m still not sure what happened as I was only changing my rear gearing. Regardless, it was operator error of some kind and the first thing to go wrong that day. After a minute or so of playing with my chain I was back up and rolling. Unfortunately my rear derailleur sounded like it was moments from dying for the remainder of the ride and there are few things I hate more than a noisy drivetrain! The rest of the first loop was uneventful, aside from getting passed by everyone and their grandmother and two bathroom stops. Do you remember the old Adam Sandler cd with the track “Longest Pee”… that’s how every pee stop feels during a race! After analyzing my data I can see that 3 pee stops (including special needs) and a dropped chain totaled a little over 6 minutes but I can tell you that every stop feels like it’s taking 6 minutes! Unfortunately I can’t bring myself to pee on the bike yet (yes, triathletes do this). Hopefully next year!
Around mile 55 you make a left hand turn for the second loop. My NP was a bit high on the first loop so I set out with the goal of keeping it the same or slightly less. I believe it was 188 for the first and 189 for the second, which is close enough for me. The two loops were within 70 seconds of each other, which is pretty damn close! Around this time my left ankle started bothering me. This was new and had never happened in training. It eventually got to the point where I was in significant pain every time I hit a bump or shifted. Towards the end of the 2nd loop I was worried about whether or not I could put any weight on the leg to start the run. I did my best to ignore it as I would deal with it when the time came and there was no point in worrying about something that I couldn’t control at this point. Aside from the ankle I was still feeling good and rolled into special needs for a bathroom stop and some chamois cream. Unfortunately they didn’t have my bag ready and it took a minute to find a volunteer to grab it. At the end of the day it’s not a huge deal, but it seems like the end of the world when you’re trying to race! Haste makes waste and in my hurry to get out of special needs I forgot my last concentrated bottle of Infinit (2nd thing to go wrong on the day). I didn’t realize it until I was a few miles out so I adapted and started taking in Gatorade instead of just water at the aid stations. It seemed to work as I had zero nutrition problems on the day. I was hoping to see my family in LaGrange on one of the loops as that seems to be the hotspot for spectators but rolled through town without any luck. Much to my surprise I saw Jillian and my dad just as I was leaving town. It’s amazing what those 5 seconds of seeing loved ones can do, plus Jillian always has good signs. Today’s was “If you finish you can eat these!” and she had taped Kit Kats to the sign.
I was feeling okay as I made the final left on the 2nd loop and began the 32 miles back into town. I knew this is where I should be able to make up some time if I paced the bike properly as it’s a net downhill and most people are beginning to fade from pushing too hard early in the bike… and I was right! I passed what seemed like hundreds of people at this point and even found my buddy Channing! It’s petty of me, but I take great joy in passing people on $5,000 - $10,000 bikes, especially the guys who blew by me up the hills earlier in the race. Ironman is all about not slowing down and it’s amazing how many people don’t understand that. I averaged over 20mph heading back.
Nutrition – 2 bottles of concentrated Infinit (450 calories each), a few stroopwaffels, and a bottle of Gatorade Endurance. Right around 1200 – 1300 calories or close to 200 calories per hour.
It was a long walk/jog with my bike from the dismount line to transition. After handing my bike off to a volunteer I grabbed my T2 bag and ran into the tent. It was definitely more crowded than T1, but I was still able to find a chair and get changed. Again, I went with a full change opting for comfort over speed as this was my first IM. I still ranked in the top third or so, despite the full change, so I’m happy with this. I think I can pick up another 2 minutes of free time here next year with the one piece kit. After changing I ran out for sunscreen (I knew that would make my wife happy) and ran into Angela volunteering… she’s an incredibly energetic person and seeing her gave me a boost heading out onto the run!
The run… oh the damn run! I’ve been battling my IT band for the better part of a year now and had no idea what to expect from myself. My plan was initially get my heart rate down into the low 140’s and then run from one aid station to the next, walking each for a minute or so grabbing what I needed in terms of nutrition. It’s a 2 loop course with an extra out and back section to see Churchill Downs so there were plenty of opportunities to see friends and teammates. The course is about as flat as you’ll find with the exception of one little dip in the road under a bridge. It’s not the most scenic course, but the finish line more than makes up for it.
(Side note, our friends drove down from Chicago just to watch me race! Somehow they managed to keep it a secret with Dawn for months… I was absolutely shocked when they walked into dinner Saturday night! Thanks again for coming down guys! Oh, one other thing, my nephew Luke was convinced that an Ironman consisted of me riding my bike into the water while wearing an Ironman costume… sounds like an epic shirt to me!).
I saw Jamie as I was heading out on the run which was great for a boost and a few hundred yards later Jo slapped my ass to let me know she was coming through! That would be the last I would see from her as she absolutely destroyed the run course! Next year Jo! I did a decent job of getting my heart rate down in the first mile and settled in for a long day. Unfortunately at mile 2 my IT band reared its ugly head. My initial response was to start walking more, which didn’t seem to help. For the next few miles I hobbled through with a bastardized version of a run/walk program and just tried to keep my pace to around 13 min/mile. Around mile 3 I started looking for my wife to have her talk to my coach so he could tell me what pace I needed to run in order to finish in time. Around mile 4 I had decided that my plans for another Ironman next year were shot and all of my friends doing Mont Tremblant could go to hell. By mile 5 I was never running again. By mile 6 I had mentally switched over to cycling and had entered Dirty Kanza (a 200 mile gravel bike race). As I approached the first turn around I started to see teammates heading the other direction. I knew my friend Nick was behind me so I started sending word back for him to hurry his ass up as I was walking and waiting for him. He was severely undertrained for this and I thought we might be able to walk it in together (I think he’ll admit that he was undertrained, but he still had a HUGE PR! Way to go Nick!). He caught me around mile 6 and encouraged me to run more. His feet were bothering him but felt better while running. Unfortunately my IT band felt better while walking. I started running more to keep up with him. We would leapfrog each other at the aid stations and kept that up for miles 6-13. Looking at my Garmin data I can see that I started to pick up the pace when Nick joined me and I owe him for that. There’s no way I would have had the run I did if it weren’t for Nick pushing me. The run course at Louisville is cruel in that the turn to head out for a second lap is only a hundred yards from the finish line! Turning right, away from the finish line was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I managed. Heading back out of town Nick ran into his fiancé and I saw Dawn and Jillian. I stopped for a few seconds for hugs and kisses (from Dawn and Jillian, not Nick) and was right back at it. I expected him to catch up with me as he had for the last 6 miles, but after a mile or so I looked back and didn’t see him. I didn’t want to change what I was doing as it was working so I just pushed on, hoping that he was all right. My pace really started to pick up here and I was able to run from aid station to aid station as planned. I tried Red Bull but that wasn’t for me. The chips and pretzels tasted great but it was hard to eat, chew, and run at the same time. Chicken broth and coke were definitely the answer for my nutritional needs on the run. I can see that my pace started to drop off around mile 16. I started drinking Coke and the effects were magical. I’m not convinced they didn’t lace the stuff with actual cocaine. My biggest regret is that I didn’t start drinking coke earlier! Unfortunately 2 out of the last 3 aid stations were out. That seems like a pretty big oversight considering there were people out there for hours more than I was.
I didn’t have much luck finding anyone to chat or run with after Nick and I split up. Most people seemed to be in their own little world and didn’t feel like signing or joking around. I did, however, take great joy in passing the skinny people who look like runners. Again, I realize I’m an ass for thinking this way, but anything that motivates you during an Ironman is welcome! These people looked like they should be running 6-8 minutes miles but had resorted to walking. Passing them inspired me as it meant I was still running, which meant I was executing my race plan properly. The key is to not slow down and my consistent 11:30 – 12:00 minute miles may have been slow to start, but they were much faster than walking, which many people had to do for the 2nd half.
I hit the turnaround near mile 19 and started heading back. All of my teammates were way ahead of me or done at this point with the exception of Nick so staying ahead of him became a goal. I saw he was less than a mile back at the turn around and used that to help push through the next aid station or two. At this point I start doing lots of creative mental math. An example… only 1 mile until you get to 20, and then it’s just a 10k to the finish line, so I’ll be halfway there in a mile! Believe me, it makes perfect sense after 12 hours on the course!
One of the aid stations was playing music (why don’t they all do that?) and Don’t Stop Believin’ came on… as a good Detroit Red Wings fan I yelled “born and raised in South Detroit!” as loud as I could… I think I frightened a few people, but it gave me some energy. I passed Churchill Down for the second time around mile 22, not that you’d notice it. There were two aid stations close together both playing loud music, which is awesome. Things started to hurt here but I kept pushing as I knew I was close to that final last 5k, and come on, it’s a 5k… anyone can run a 5k, right? I started running with a lady from the Air Force but she wasn’t very talkative… she actually apologized as she’s normally quite the talker. I told her I could talk enough for the both of us. Together we started picking up the pace and I began putting in my fastest miles yet. I noticed there is an inverse relationship to the speed of my feet and the speed of my mouth. As one speeds up, the other slows down! I stopped to walk the last aid station and she kept going. I had hoped to catch her but couldn’t reel her in. My final three miles were sub 11 minute pace and I negative split the marathon by a substantial margin (ran the 2nd half faster than the first). After that final cup of Coke I picked up the pace and soon I could hear the crowd at the finish line. I made the right turn onto 4th street and really started to pick it up… my last mile was my fastest of the day. The finish line at Louisville is like nothing I have ever experienced. It’s essentially a closed of street with two stories of bars and restaurants. People have been there all day drinking and are, shall we say, incredibly enthusiastic. I saw my family as I went flying down the finish. I timed it perfectly and had the finish line to myself. I couldn’t believe it… after just over 13 hours I WAS AN IRONMAN! My only regret is that I didn’t slow down and enjoy the finishers chute more with my family… oh well, next year!
Sunday, October 9th was an absolutely perfect day. Of course things didn’t go as planned, but I was able to adapt and execute the race plan that Scott and I had put together. As he so wisely told me, Ironman is about executing a race based on the fitness you have on that day and not slowing down. I did a great job of staying inside my box and only worrying about the present and the things I could control. When problems popped up, as they always do, I dealt with them and moved forward as best I could. I had a near perfect bike ride which allowed me to execute a near perfect run… I mean come on, how many people negative split their first Ironman marathon? I would be willing to bet not many.
The weather and volunteers were both amazing and Louisville was a nice place to hang out. I was without a car for most of the time I was there but never felt like I needed it as you can walk pretty much everywhere you want to go. Be sure to hit up the Louisville Slugger museum before you leave town. I had a custom bat made with my finish time. It’s an amazing souvenir that is specific to the area. I can’t wait to get home and hang it in my pain cave!
Last updated: 2016-10-12 12:00 AM
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I woke up at 3:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep so I got out of bed and started getting everything together. I had 3 rice cakes with almond butter and honey for breakfast along with a banana and coffee. I met Nick in the lobby at 4:45 and we made our way to transition, picking Jo up along the way. After a 15 minute wait we quickly made our way into transition and setup our bikes, added anything we needed to our transition bags, were bodymarked, and then made our way to the swim start. Louisville has a unique swim start in that everyone lines up and then jumps in two at a time. From what I’ve been told the line can be nearly a mile long, though they push everyone through in about 45 minutes, which is pretty amazing. We were towards the front and made it in the water 10 minutes after the first swimmer. After waiting for nearly 90 minutes and standing in a scary amount of liquids (considering it never rained), the line started to move. The nervous excitement in the air was truly amazing and something you need to experience in person to appreciate.
Waiting in line, jumping up and down to stay warm!