As most already know, the days prior to Ironman Louisville were full of change and uncertainty. Before we even arrived in the area, it was already determined that both the swim course and the swim start would be changed. In addition, it was questionable whether wetsuits would be allowed. With fast currents in the river and water temps ranging from 83F to 87F, we faced uncertain swim conditions.
I took the days prior to the race to do all those things participants must do, rest, meet with other bloggers, and get in some practice swims. Those practice swims have been pretty well covered, and it’s sufficient to say they were challenging. On Saturday’s swim, I covered the out portion of the swim, about 750 yards, in about 20 minutes. The return took about 3 minutes. That was a common story as people completed their swims.
Between Gatorade swims and Friday’s dinner, I met up with Duane, Dying Water Buffalo, Go Mom Go, Mary Sunshine, Geek Girl and her Sweet Baboo, and Waddler 26.2. Everyone was truly awesome and it was great to see the support that everyone gave each other.
By Saturday night, we knew that wetsuits would be prohibited. We also knew we would have to hike about three-quarters of a mile upriver to reach the new swim start. After a slightly later than planned dinner, we got the kids into Grandma and Grandpa’s hotel room, and I went to bed around 9 p.m. I slept well and was up at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday ready to face the day.
After a quick breakfast, I made sure my wife and father-in-law were awake and ready, and we headed for transition around 4:45. Once there, I checked tires, taped gels onto the bike, loaded bottles, and got body marked. I dropped a few items off with my wife, turned in special needed, and chatted with Waddler and Go Mom Go. Soon enough, it was 6:30 and time to head for the swim start.
I arrived at swim start to find there was already a long line for the time trial start. Event staff figured they would average one swimmer in the water every second, meaning it would still be roughly 30 minutes before the final swimmer hit the water. It was fairly calm in line as we waited for the race to begin. Just before 7 a.m. we heard the cannon sound for the pro start (the 30 or so professionals had a mass start). A short while later we heard the cannon sound for the age group start. Soon enough, the line began moving, and we quickly found ourselves on the pier where we would start the race.
A few minutes before hitting that point, the full realization of what was coming hit me, and I felt the first twinge of real nerves. I focused on my goggles, swim cap, and earplugs, and simply entered the water the way I entered the race in the first place. Feet first.
I quickly found a rhythm and drew upon the benefits from past races. Sighting was easy enough, and I was unconcerned with water clarity. I focused my attention on long smooth strokes, the bubbles from exhaling, and the trees I could see when breathing. I took the swim buoy by buoy and soon found myself moving past the head of the island. After that, it was a bit more challenging until I saw the police (or fire) boat that was at the turn-around point. After the turn, I focused on exaggerated strokes until I realized the current was less pronounced as close as we were to the island. Shifting back to a standard stroke, I turned my attention to swimming as straight a line as possible toward the swim finish.
Just over 90 minutes later, I exited the water and headed toward transition. I found my wife and father-in-law on the 150 yard run, reminded her to call Tri Daddy, and let her know the swim went as well as I could have hoped. After a quick change to cycling gear, I grabbed my back and headed out for the ride.
I hit the bike with the initial goal of getting my heart rate under control. It was at this point that the true effectiveness of Coach Mike’s swim focus became apparent. After 2.4 miles in the river, much of it upstream, it took only a couple minutes to get into zone two. After 15 minutes, I started my nutrition and hydration plan, and settled in for the long ride.
Soon enough, it became apparent that “slightly rolling hills” and “easier than IM Wisconsin’s course” might have been slight understatements. We experienced some significant hills as we headed toward the out and back spur that came before the LaGrange loop. On that out and back stretch, we rode down and then out of two valleys. On the first, I hit 44 miles per hour and kept thinking, “I have to bike back up that hill.” After reaching the bottom, we headed back up, only to see riders coming the other way who were easily doing 35 mph. We would do that a second time, as we descended into and climbed out of another valley. At the top of the second big climb, we hit an aid station and then the turn-around point.
After going through those valleys a second time, it was time to make the two circuits of the LaGrange Loop. This part of the course was indeed beautiful, and we passed through a couple areas that were packed with spectators. The city of LaGrange turned out a wonderful group that lined the streets cheering on the riders. And the aid stations were staffed by wonderful volunteers who obviously paid attention in the briefings as they went above and beyond to assist the racers.
The biggest challenge of the two loop course was the relentless nature of the hills. While thousand-yard, 12% grades were absent, the hills were non-stop. We spent the entire 112 miles of the course going up one hill and down another. There were few chances to take on nutrition on a flat section. And even the downhill stretches quickly turned back into uphill sections. Finding a rhythm was nearly impossible.
Still, I made it through the entire course with few issues. I didn’t flat out at all, I made it through most of my nutrition plan, and the four pit stops to relieve my bladder proved I was staying hydrated. A short 6 hours and 20 minutes later, I hopped off the bike and headed into T2. After another quick change, I loaded up my Amphipod bottles with Gatorade and water and headed out for a few loops up and down Louisville’s Third Street.
The biggest guidance Coach Mike had for the run was to really focus on going out slow. After spending hours on the bike, it is too easy to take off on the run and click off a bunch of fast miles, only to blow up a short way into the marathon. After a 9 minute first mile, I reigned in the pace even more, and fell into a fairly steady rhythm of 10 minute miles. That kept my heart rate in the 140 range, right where I wanted it.
At every aid station I grabbed cups of water for cooling. Most of my hydration came from the bottles I carried. When they were empty, I would fill them up at the next aid station. I noticed, however, that my stomach was a bit bloated, and I knew that the hills on the bike had seriously limited my body’s ability to process the calories I was taking in. Around mile 5, I ate what would be my only Gu of the marathon.
I kept putting the miles behind me, and was feeling good until mile 14. That was where things unraveled for a bit. Unable to really take in more food or drink, I was running low of energy, and I wanted to avoid a serious bonk. I eased off the pace and started walking for what would end up being five miles. That was also where I saw my wife, kids, and in-laws. Getting to see my kids provided a good boost, and I managed to run a bit with B-Boy. He wanted to run the rest of the race with me, and it took some time to convince him that 12 miles might be a bit much for him.
Just into that stretch of walking, participant number 1641, Rebecca Roan of Effingham, Illinois caught up with me. She started talking to me, and we walked and talked, motivating each other to continue toward the end. That time allowed my body to clear some of the food stuck in my gut, as well as a bit more I managed to eat. The conversation also took my mind off the condition of my body and focused it on more important issues such as my family, how well I was doing, and what strength I did have left.
At mile 19, I thanked Rebecca for pushing me along and headed out on my own. I figured that if I could find a way to get back somewhere near those 10-minute miles, I could finish with a pretty good marathon time and get pretty close to 13 hours for the race.
I continued to take on what fluids I could, balancing Gatorade with water. As the sun went down, I found myself heading back into town with only a few miles left. I started thinking about all the people who had given their support and everyone who was watching my progress, both on the course and on the computer.
Shortly (though nowhere near soon enough), I made the turn that signaled the end was very near. Up one block and a right turn onto Fourth Street and I would be an Ironman. As I made the final turn, I saw the split that had been so hard to take the first time around. This time, I knew I would get to take the “Finish” path and enter the finisher’s chute. I barely heard anything. If music was playing, I couldn’t hear it. I know they announced my name, but only because others told me they did. All my attention was focused on the finish arch, looking for my family, and somehow staying upright. I didn’t see the family I knew was there, and crossed the finish line with my arms in the air, just the way I teach my kids to triumph in personal victories. That was five hours and two minutes after I started running.
Two catchers grabbed my arms, congratulated me, and started guiding me through the finish line process. They kept asking if I was alright, and I kept assuring them I was fine. After seeing a picture my father-in-law took, I realized why they kept asking. My understanding of their question was “Do you need medical attention?” I saw no need for an IV or other medical assistance, so told them I was okay. I think their question was more on the lines of “If we were to let go of you, right now, would you fall on your face?” And the answer to that would have been a resounding “Yes.” That much is obvious from the pictures we have. And after 13 hours and 12 minutes, I guess exhausted is a reasonable state in which to be.
Soon enough, though, I regained a bit of balance and was able to move along on my own. After rejoining my wife and father-in-law, I remembered to stop my watch. I grabbed a phone to make a few important phone calls, though most of it was a fog. I let Tri Daddy know I was finished so he could make the final post. I called my mom who let me know that she watched me finish on Ironman Live. And I called Coach Mike to tell him how well things went.
Believe it or not, this is the short version of the race report. There is so much to cover that there will be other posts coming. I’ll try to cover some of the more detailed points of each leg of the race, including a few humorous post-race details. Those posts will also give me a chance to reflect on a few of the more philosophical moments of the race. Or maybe they’ll just give me a chance to be even more long-winded about the course.