I just wanted to share a quick (or not so quick) race report from my race at Ironman Louisville.
I woke up race morning at 5AM and headed down to the lobby to find some food. As I got on the elevator, there were already people leaving the hotel to get in line for the swim start. The unique thing about Louisville is that the swim is a time trial start beginning at 7:30AM. Everyone gets in line (first come, first serve) and two people enter the water at a time until everyone is in. So, the earlier you get up and in line, the sooner you start. I really had no idea on when the best time to start would be but I knew I didn’t want wake up extra early just to get a spot at the front of the line. Instead, I met Rich and Brad in the hotel lobby at 6:00 and we walked down to transition together. I added nutrition to my bike, pumped tires, and headed to the swim start line by 6:30 or so. The walk to the line wasn’t far as we were nearly the last people in line. And there we waited. And waited. And waited. At last the line finally started slowly moving at 7:30AM. As we walked along, we got our wetsuits on – water temp was 73*. The air temp was even cooler – probably under 60* so it was actually nice and warm in the wetsuit.
As we got closer to the docks – nearly a mile walk when all was said and done – it started to get real. You could feel the energy and nerves in the air. Also, the ground was noticeably wet despite the fact that it hadn’t rained at all. Just don’t think about why the ground was wet, but sometimes when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Finally at about 8:10 we were on the dock. We were so close to the end of the line that we could see the last person in line as we walked along the dock – so probably only 100 or so racers behind us. I crossed the timing mat, jumped in, and was off. I immediately got a little water in my goggles from jumping in (my biggest fear with this sort of start). I tried ignoring it but knowing how dirty/disgusting the river water was, I didn’t want to swim for an hour with it sloshing around. I swam up to a paddle board (only realize the water was shallow enough to stand) quickly adjusted them and was off again.
The swim course for Louisville starts going upstream in a narrow canal before making a left turn around the island and heading back downstream. The entire upstream portion of the race was very congested – primarily from starting so far back but also because it was just a narrow stretch of water. Eventually I reached the turn and it was time to head back downstream. At this point the river was much wider and I was able to get into a better rhythm. I just focused on long smooth strokes making sure I was starting with good hand entry into the water and using the full stroke rather than pulling my hand out early. I did have to stop twice more to dump water out of my goggles before I got a good seal.
In a matter of no time (thanks to a little push from the current), I was approaching the swim exit. Because it is a river exit, there isn’t much of a shoreline. Instead, they put a couple sets of temporary stairs in the water to climb out. This was pretty congested and I was probably 8-10 people back when I finally stopped swimming and had to wait to actually exit the water. I headed over to the strippers and they made short work of removing my wetsuit.
As worried as I was about swimming in the dirty Ohio River, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. While it was definitely no Versluis Lake, it wasn’t totally digusting. Nevertheless, I did throw away my contacts post race just in case.
Time: 1:00:54 (3min PR)
Holy crowded hot house. I’m used to mass swim starts and exiting near the the front of the pack which means T1 is generally pretty empty when I get there. Not this time. With 2000+ people starting the swim before me, it was a mad house. Bare asses and balls as far as the eye can see – some people prefer to do a full clothing change in T1 but I swim, bike, and run in the same kit. I finally found a seat near the exit, popped on my shoes and helmet, applied some chamois cream and ran to my bike stopping to get a spray of sunscreen on the way.
When I got to my bike, I saw that my Garmin was on the "Calibrate Power Meter" screen. Crap. I knew I forgot something that morning. I quickly dismissed that screen hoping that the previous calibration settings would be enough and then I was off. I ran to the mount line, hopped on, and was off. I switched my Garmin to the screen to show my power readings and it was blank. Double crap! I quickly tried to re-pair my power meter on the go but it never picked up. Oh well, it looked like I was going to have to do this ride based on feel (and HR data).
The Louisville bike course is a lollipop shape with a double loop – it is basically a 20 mile stretch out, 2 – 35 mile loops and then back. I did get a chance to ride a 20 mile portion of the loop on Friday, but other than that, I knew very little about the course other than what I was able to glean from some Youtube videos and previous race reports. I knew that for the first 20 miles I just had to focus on settling into a good pace without pushing it too hard. This turned out to be easier said than done. With so many other racers on the road, I found myself nearly continously passing people. While frustrating at times, this did benefit me to some degree as you get a bit of a legal draft off of other racers as you pass them.
20 miles in and I was out to to the loop – the meat of the course. The loops are where most of the hills are so you don’t want to burn yourself out on them. Because I was only familiar with part of the loop, I decided to take the first loop relatively controlled and then pick it up on the 2nd loop if possible. The interesting thing about this course is that while there were hills, they were more like valleys. Instead of climbing and then descending, it seemed like most of the time, I was descending and then climbing back up. This meant that I could carry some speed from the downhill into the following climb. The congestion on the course ebbed and flowed throughout the loop. At some points there were a ton of people with groups riding 3 wide and other times it really emptied out and I could just settle in. I eventually caught up to Nick, John, Johanna, and Jeff who all started the swim before me. It was great to see the Apex green out there!
For my nutrition, I basically replicated the same strategy that worked for me at MiTi. This meant carrying a single bottle with roughly 400 calories in it plus a gel flask with another 400 calories. I would swap these out with a 2nd bottle and flask at the halfway point. I supplemented with water bottles from each aid station and salt/electrolyte tablets every hour.
In no time I was at the halfway point of the ride and picking up my special needs bag to swap my nutrition bottle and flask. I peeked at my elapsed time for the first time and saw that I right where I wanted to be pace-wise. The 2nd lap was even less congested than the first loop. With one loop under my belt, I knew exactly where I could push it and where it was better to just settle in and spin.
As I rode through Lagrange, I somehow missed seeing Jennifer and Nate but did see JR and Ronda screaming their heads off. It kind of sucked that the big spectator area was on a slight downhill section so it was much harder to see people than if it were on an uphill section.
Once I got to mile 80, I knew that I was in great shape. From the 80 mile mark all the way back to transition it is a slight downhill with a bit of a tailwind. I checked my elapsed time once more and knew that I was in a position to PR the bike split. I continued to ride at a controlled effort for the next 30 miles. In the last 40 miles of the race, I managed to average a whopping 23+ mph – faster than any other split of the day.
Without my power meter to rely on, I just tried to keep my HR around 145bpm as much as I could – I ended up averaging 143bpm so I nailed it. Thankfully, I didn’t feel like I had to focus on my pace at all and it really just sort of came naturally. As much as I would have liked to have had the data, it was sort of nice to just ride without having to be focusing on the numbers. I may have actually rode a bit harder than I would have with my power meter to reign me in.
Time: 5:10:21 (8min PR)
I rolled into T2, handed off my bike to one of the awesome volunteers and headed off to the T2 tent. This time around the transition tent was much less crowded and I easily found a seat. I pulled on my compression socks and running shoes and swapped my helmet for my lucky ND hat. I hit the sunscreeners once more on the way out.
I hit the run course like I was on fire. I was feeling awesome. Within the first mile I saw Jennie and Nate for the first time. After missing them at both the swim exit and on the bike course, I was super excited to see them. The first 4 miles were sub-8 pace which I knew wasn’t sustainable. I slowly settled into an 8:00-8:30 pace for the rest of the first half of the course. My goal was to get through the first loop of the course without having to walk and then re-evaluate on the 2nd loop.
As I began the second loop, I knew that I was going to have to change things up a bit. The long day was catching up to me. I switched to a strategy of running between aid stations but then walking through the aid station to recover a bit and to make sure I was getting enough nutrition. Oddly, I was unable to drink and coke on run which is usually my saving grace. I tried it twice and both times my stomach flipped on me. Rather than take my chances, I stuck to water and Gatorade. I also took a couple cups of warm chicken broth once that was available.
The double out and back course was nice because it allowed me to see all of my friends and teammates out on the course a couple times. However, it did let me see how much Brad was gaining on me. Having someone you know chasing you is one of the best ways to dig deep and keeping pushing through the pain. It was close but I managed to stay ahead of him at the end. Thanks for the push Brad!
With a mile left, I picked up the pace and kicked it in for a strong finish. It was the best I have ever felt after an Ironman knowing that I had left it all on the course.
Time: 3:43:17 (3min PR)
Total Time: 10:05:43 (14min PR)