August 25th, the night prior to IM Louisville was interesting. In order for my family to attend church, dinner was scheduled a bit later than I might have preferred. To compensate for that, they took the kids with them, allowing me to catch a short nap.
Other than noticing every blue band in the building, dinner was fairly normal. By "normal" I mean that one of my kids blew a fuse and I had to spend a good deal of time outside the restaurant trying to calm Monster Girl down. Luckily, she calmed down when food entered the picture, and we were able to eat without too many challenges.
When we got back to the hotel, the kids went right to the grandparent's room, where they would spend the night. My father-in-law would stay in our room, and my wife would stay with the kids. We figured this set-up would provide the best opportunity for me to catch some sleep before the race. As I went to bed around nine, I was only slightly anxious, mostly about how well I would sleep. Other things were outside my control, so I was unconcerned.
Oddly enough, sleep wasn't an issue. Whatever it is that keeps others awake ignored me. I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow, and I slept straight through until my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. When I got up, I experienced none of the nerves I've heard people discuss. I went through my normal routine of a bagel with peanut butter and a bottle of Gatorade. I had a bit of time until my father-in-law wanted his wake up, so I read my book.
After waking him, I got dressed and ready to go. Business as usual. This was just another race day. In fact, I started wondering when the nerves would hit causing me to freak out. It wasn't during the ride over, and it wasn't when I got to transition.
As we walked toward transition, we discussed where I might be at given times in the day, and when I might be at the finish line. It was pretty relaxed, and remained "just another day." Once we arrived at transition, I headed straight to my bike to set up my nutrition for the day and inflate my tires. A couple other racers were there, and we discussed the empty spots on the rack as my pump made the rounds, saving several people the trip to the bike support tent. We spread our bikes out, and after ensuring my bike was set, I took the excess gear to my wife.
After kissing her and telling her I'd see her after the swim, I hit body marking and ran into a few members from the team of a bike shop in my home area. That helped support my feeling this was "just another race." Nothing more than a bunch of local triathletes hanging out before a race. And don't worry about all those professional camera crews. Their probably just doing some "feel good" news story.
After dropping off my special needs bags, it was time to head to the swim start. The walk took about 15 minutes, and I hit the porta-johns after dropping off my morning gear bag. Then, it was the long walk to the end of the swim start line. That definitely didn't do anything to raise my anxiety level, because Ironman races don't start with a big line of people waiting to jump into the water. It was surreal sitting there when the cannon sounded just before 7 a.m. We all joked about how anti-climactic the whole thing was.
About 10 minutes later, we heard the cannon sound, again. Shortly after that, everyone stood up. And then stood around. It took several minutes before we actually started moving, and a few minutes after that we were really moving along. Soon enough, about 25 minutes after the race start, we found ourselves on the docks leading to the actual swim start point.
As I made the turn onto the pier from which we would jump into the water, I actually felt a bit of anxiety. I think it was mostly from the fact that we were doing a jumping start, and I was concerned about losing either my goggles or ear plugs.
I crossed the timing mat and had little time to worry about either. And it would have been wasted worry, as neither my goggles nor my ear plugs were lost. I jumped into the channel and started swimming to get out of the next person's way. It was just after that when I remembered I was wearing a watch designed to track my time. I hit the start button and started swimming in earnest. Chalk one time trial start up for my triathlon career.
The first part of the swim was in a channel between an island and the mainland. About 50 yards wide, this was quite similar to swimming in a pool, sans the lane lines. They were exchanged for the distinct smell and flavor of gasoline. With the trees overhead, sighting was a breeze, and I was able to concentrate on swimming.
The huge benefit of the time trial start was the notable lack of physical contact. I didn't receive a single punch or kick to the head. Nobody attempted to make headway by grabbing my feet. My goggles were safe from flailing arms. We swam. We avoided the need to wrestle. I simply went from bouy to bouy, and felt I was making reasonable time. At least the shoreline was changing.
Soon enough, we left the protection of the channel, and hit the one section where the current was distinct and noticeable. Though we only had perhaps 500 yards, the current made this the toughest part of the race. It took quite a bit of work to get to the police boat that marked the turn around. As I swam by this section, I wondered where the Ford bouys were located. I had looked forward to swimming by them. At least the police boat was cool.
As we made the turn, we headed downriver toward the finish. This was the longest stretch of the swim, but it was either out of the current, or slightly with it. A couple of stops for sighting confirmed that it was primarily calm. While we weren't fighting the current, we weren't being carried downriver by it, either. Which meant we actually had to swim.
Still, I think the first portion of the swim, roughly 0.8 miles, took about 35 minutes. If I saw my watch right, that means the other 1.6 miles took about 55 minutes. So I was getting something back from the river.
More quickly than I might have expected, I passed by the bottom of the island and started heading toward the bouys leading to the swim finish. It was really cool swimming under the various bridges, and sighting was very easy despite having the bouys on the wrong side for my breathing pattern.
As I approached finish, a quick time check confirmed I was coming in right around 90 minutes. When I hit the ladder out of the water, a volunteer grabbed my hand and helped me up the steps. They were awesome given the lack of a need to strip wetsuits. I hit my lap counter as I crossed the timing mat, and grabbed a cup of water as I headed toward transition.
I saw my wife and father-in-law snapping away with the cameras. I stopped to give my wife a kiss, told her everything was going great, and reminded her to call Tri-Daddy with an update.
I did take a few things away from the swim. First, just because the swim course gets changed, don't rely on an "easy" swim. It's still 2.4 miles. And the race directors obviously put a lot of thought into just HOW to change the course so it would still be challenging. It was far easier than the original course would have been. Of course, the original route would have left at least half the field unable to finish the swim.
Second, swimming in the Ohio River is nasty, though for different reasons than I normally experience. Were I to ever do this race again, I would leave my wetsuit at home. My goggles are trash. My swim cap, garbage. My tri shorts barely survived the ordeal. Everything came out of the water smelling like gasoline. After a great deal of rinsing, my goggles still smell that way. There is no way I would put my wetsuit in that water, now.
Finally, dedicating a great deal of training to improving the swim CAN achieve the desired result of getting out of the water feeling strong. When I completed the swim, I didn't feel as though I had just gone 4224 yards. I felt more like I'd done 1000 yards in the pool. Coach Mike later told me that was his goal all along. He had told me before that speed was not his primary concern, he just wanted me fresh after the swim. All I can say is that his plans worked like a charm. If you struggle with energy on the bike and run, evaluate how you feel coming out of the water. A little extra attention to the swim might pay huge dividends later in the day.