Race Site (Host City, Hotel):
First of all, Louisville, Kentucky, probably isn't on the top of many people's lists of places to visit. I had only been to Louisville once before this visit and my memories were nothing spectacular. It had been over 12 years since my last visit so I was pretty sure the area had changed quite a bit. Overall I really enjoyed the city the five days we were there for the race. We didn't really explore too much as far as tourist attractions go, but there are a few really cool options for family members who are interested : Churchill Downs, Muhammad Ali museum, and Louisville Slugger museum. Luckily, I flew to Louisville on Thursday morning before the race and my parents drove from Oklahoma the same day. It worked out really well for gear transport. I sent all of my gear, food, and essential items with my parents and I took my other clothes on the flight with me. It helped remove one of the big stresses of traveling to a race. I didn't have to worry about my bag getting lost, my bike being damaged, or weight limits in my bags. I probably ended up taking a lot more than necessary, but it was nice to have options when I was packing my gear and special needs bags. I also opted to stay at the host hotel, the Galt House, so I didn't have to worry about transportation to and from the race site. The cost was manageable since we only booked one room, but as we all know, host hotels are never cheap. One thing I will note is that most rooms do not have a microwave. I ended up packing my own meals (pasta, marinara, etc) so I didn't have to eat out and risk stomach issues. Not having a microwave was a minor inconvenience, but the hotel allowed athletes to use the microwave of one of the restaurants on site which was very nice. The Galt House was central to everything you needed on race weekend except a grocery store. I'd recommend hitting one before you get downtown if you need to pick up anything like water, snacks, etc. I ended up taking a trolley from downtown to the theater district and then walked a few blocks to get to a Kroger grocery store on Thursday so I could pick up some fruit, milk, water, and plastic utensils so I could be self-sufficient for meals leading up to the race. The transition area, finish line, swim course, run course, and banquets are all located within a short walk of the Galt House. I'd recommend it as a home base for this race. I do think there may be better options nearby if you want to find somewhere with a small kitchen, but if you just want a room that's close to everything it's a good spot.
Swim: 2.4 miles in 1:19:17
IM Louisville is unique because it's a time-trial start instead of the usual chaotic mass start. One of the reasons I felt Louisville was appealing was because of this fact. The downside of the time-trial start is the anticipation and build-up as you are waiting in line prior to the swim. The line is first-come, first-served so you just line up as you get to the swim area and that's your spot in the starting corral. I wasn't overly concerned about getting in the front of the line so I took my time getting up and around in the morning. It allowed me to sleep in a little longer and not rush around trying to get to the transition area right when it opened. After making my way through transition to load up my bike with my nutrition, I made the walk down to the swim area. From transition, it's about a 1/2 mile walk to the swim start area. Once I got to the swim area, I got my body marked with my race numbers and then made my way to the snaking line of athletes waiting for the start of the race. This is where I made the first of a couple of rookie mistakes during the day. Once I found the end of the line, I set my morning clothes bag down and left to go join the line waiting for the port-a-potties. In my bag was my swim cap, goggles, ear plugs, GU, and a few other miscellaneous items I thought might be handy while I was waiting for the swim start. As I waited in line, I heard someone shout over the loud speaker that they were trying to condense the line and asked for everyone to start moving closer to the start area. Keep in mind, that the area was dark and I didn't really pay attention to who was around me when I set my bag down. I just asked the guy next to me to watch my stuff for me while I was gone. In a panic, I saw the line start moving and realized I had no idea who was next to me in the swim line. I knew roughly the location of where my bag was dropped, but since it was dark I couldn't see many details. I decided to wait out the bathroom line since I was almost to the front and then I made my way back to the area where I thought I had dropped my bag. When I got back to that spot, my bag was nowhere to be found. Panic began to creep in. I couldn't do the swim without goggles and my swim cap. I knew I could get another swim cap, but the possibility of finding a pair of goggles that fit was probably pretty slim. I started to make my way up and down the line hoping someone would recognize me as the dumb guy who left his bag next to them in line. Person after person went by and no one knew where my bag was until a sweet voice rang in my ear with the words, "Hey, I think this is yours." Crisis averted. I thanked the girl over and over for grabbing my bag. She said she debated whether or not to grab it, but noticed the race number had fallen off the bag so she decided to take it with her because she was afraid a volunteer might take it and I'd never get it back. I know I could have made it work without my cap and goggles, but it was not the way I wanted to start my first Ironman adventure.
The next 30-45 minutes were spent chit-chatting with the athletes around me. Most of us were first timers so we shared the anxiety and nerves leading up to the big moment. The minutes seemed to crawl by as we waited for the gun to go off for the pro start. Finally, off in the distance we could hear the national anthem and then the gun for the start of an amazing day. The time trial start made for an interesting sensation leading up to the swim. It felt like you were walking the plank. We just kept getting shuffled forward as athletes entered the water. I couldn't decide when to put my goggles on and when to put my ear plugs in. As we got closer to the start, a couple of paramedics rushed to the water and the organizers stopped us as I was about to cross the timing mat to make my entry into the water. They delayed us about 5-10 minutes as they worked on a guy who had a heart attack about 2 minutes into his swim. At the time they didn't tell us what was going on, but a local newspaper reported that he passed away. Very sad news. At least he was doing something he loved. After the delay, I made my final walk off the plank into the murky Ohio River. Instantly my right goggle started leaking. Crap. I initially tried to ignore the water in my goggles but after 10 minutes or so I decided to grab a kayak and try to fix the situation. I tried to dump the water out and create a tighter seal, but it immediately started leaking again so I decided I'd just have to deal with it and move on. The first part of the swim was upstream in a relatively narrow channel between an island and the river bank. The current isn't strong, but my legs did feel like they were dragging behind me more than normal. Despite the time-trial start, I still had to deal with some very physical swimmers. It still baffles me how triathletes think it's OK to swim over someone, grab someone, or hit someone. I guess I'm not cutthroat enough to participate. I had several frustrating moments with my fellow triathletes in the water, but ultimately I tried to stay positive. As I made the turn around the island and into the main body of water, I immediately started sighting off two big bridges over the river. I knew from the practice swim the day prior that once I hit the second bridge I was basically finished. Not shockingly, it felt like the bridges weren't getting any closer. I felt fairly decent in the water, but my eye started burning from all the river water in my goggle and my legs began to drop in the water as my core got tired. I definitely slowed down a lot towards the end of the swim and had to stop completely because a guy swam across my body and pushed me under the water. One of us was swimming in the wrong direction and I'm pretty sure it was him. After getting my bearings after being dunked, I looked up and noticed I was finally underneath the second bridge. Home sweet home was only about 400 meters away. As I got to the dock, I really expected my time to be somewhere in the 1 hour and 30 minute range. It felt like I had been in the water a long time. I was shocked to see 1:19:17 on my Garmin when I made my way to transition. This was the sign of a really good day ahead.
Bike: 112 miles in 6:18:26
My whole goal for the bike was to not overcook myself the first 2 hours. I talked to several people before the race and everyone told me to take it easy on the bike. I drove the course with my parents on Friday before the race so I was pretty familiar with the layout and felt confident in my bike training. I knew I had put in the miles on the bike, the key was staying on top of my nutrition and not going out too fast. As I made my way out of the transition area, I made sure my bike was in my small chain ring and I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't even think about going to my big ring until I hit the 2 hour mark. The first mile or two out of the transition was pretty congested since I left with the middle of the pack in the swim. I settled into my aero position until I felt something hit my leg. I looked down and didn't really notice anything different so I kept moving. A minute or two later I felt something else hit my leg. I looked down just in time to see my food laying on the ground as I pedaled on down the road. Crap again! I immediately reached into the side pockets of my tri top and noticed I had lost all my food out of my pockets. Thankfully I had a bento box on my bike that housed my gels, but all of my Honey Stinger Waffles were now littered across the first 3 or 4 miles of the Ironman Louisville bike course. Mentally I was in a really good state of mind this whole day. The minute I realized I was without solid food I just started making an alternate nutrition plan in my head. I decided to up my gel intake until I could get to my special needs bag and then I'd grab some food there to replenish my supply. I also decided I'd try to grab a piece of banana or power bar at a couple of the aid stations as a supplement. Crisis averted again.
After the food situation was put aside, I then just settled into a groove and tried to just focus on staying aero, staying comfortable, and staying confident. The swim time definitely carried over to my mental psyche on the bike. I felt strong on the bike and I knew I had a good day ahead of me if I stayed focused. I kept up my end of the bargain and didn't touch my front gear until after about 35 miles. It was then that I decided I could finally open up the legs a bit and start being a little more aggressive. I religiously was taking in calories and never once felt like I had screwed up my plan. I grabbed a banana from time-to-time and took in a gel every 20-30 minutes. Along the course, I was also able to see my parents twice in the city of Lagrange which was really cool. Each time I felt really good and I think my body language was comforting. On the second loop of the course I made a pit stop for my special needs bag at mile 65 to grab my back-up food that I had packed just in case. I picked up a few Honey Stinger Waffles, a few more gels, applied some more chamois butter, took a bathroom break, reapplied some sunscreen, and then went on my way. Overall I probably burned about 10 minutes, but in the grand scheme of things it was time well spent. I felt fresher than ever after my stop and figured I'd try to pick up some more time on the last part of the bike. The course was a little breezy, but nothing compared to Oklahoma wind so I used my battle-tested wind expertise to pass quite a few people on the back side of the bike course. It was comforting to know how great I was still feeling. It gave me confidence that the run was going to be ok. I did start to have some stomach discomfort the last 10-12 miles of the bike, but a quick bathroom break in T2 helped calm the situation. The only other real issue I had was my right foot coming off the bike. It had fallen asleep on the bike and as it "woke up" I had a really bad pressure point pain on the bottom of my foot. It took about a mile or two on the run to work it out completely and even then it reappeared late in the run when my lack of run training began to manifest itself. Overall it was a really great ride for me. I felt like I rode comfortable and controlled all day. My goal was to be fresh going into the run. Mission accomplished. I felt great coming off the bike.
I thoroughly enjoyed this bike course. The first and last 12 miles were flat as a pancake. The course followed the Ohio River for that stretch and then veered off into the horse farm country. The course is a lollipop type with a two-loop segment after you get outside of Louisville proper. There is also one out-and-back section you do once on your way out of town before you hit the looped section. The out and back is about 20 miles into the course and probably is the steepest grade you'll encounter all day. It's a section of the course where you go down into a creek bed and up the other side. You hit the turn around and do it all over again. Both times you are able to get up a ton of speed going downhill and have to throw your bike into the easiest gear to grind up the hill on the other side. The great thing about this course is that it always keeps you involved. Besides the first and last 12 miles, you are constantly shifting, analyzing, and surveying the road in front of you. I felt like it kept me engaged all day long and I never got bored. I don't think I'd enjoy a pancake flat course where all you did was hammer away. I liked the fact I had to stay mentally alert and plan my nutrition intake properly and shift my way up and down hills. The course is definitely a rolling course. You never really encounter any excruciating climbs or hair-raising descents. It's just a nice, moderately challenging bike ride. The roads were in really good shape throughout the course and traffic was fairly light. Overall a great Ironman distance bike course.
Run: 26.2 miles in 4:44:56
This was definitely the shocker for the day. Going into this race, my longest run had been 14 miles at the first of June. Due to achilles issues that showed up after Kansas 70.3, I basically had to shut down my running from mid-June until race day. I went into this run fully expecting having to walk a lot. I was prepared to be on the course for a LONG time. Thankfully, the day went really well for me all the way around. Coming off the bike, I knew I had a lot of energy left in me. I was feeling really great. My achilles was only moderately sore and I was finally going to get to run! I had missed running a lot. It's the part of triathlon that I love. It's always going to be my favorite discipline. Finally being able to lace up my shoes and pound the pavement on race day was a huge blessing. I felt like I was in my element again. I started my run with the strategy to run to each aid station and then walk through the station to make sure I was taking in enough fluids and calories. I had packed enough GUs for me to take one every 45 minutes for a 6 hour stretch. Yes, I thought I might actually be out there 6 hours.
The course makes you do a quick out-and-back halfway over the Ohio River on one of the bridges near downtown and then you go south toward the University of Louisville and Churchill Downs. The course is flat and very well stocked with aid stations and volunteers. Each aid station was a mile apart so it allowed me to settle into a really nice pattern of running for about 9 minutes and walking for 1-2 minutes. Each aid station I tried to take in Perform and water every time. I also grabbed ice to put in my shorts/shirt/hat and used a couple of sponges filled with cold water to cool off every mile. Temperatures were manageable in the upper 80s, but it was still warm enough that I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to overheat or dehydrate.
The first half of my run went really well. I grabbed my special needs bag at mile 13.2 and used the body glide I had in it to try to help with the chafing that was becoming an issue because of all the salt dried to my tri shorts. It was like sandpaper in my groin area. I also checked my shoes to make sure I didn't have something in the bottom of my right one because the ball of my foot was hurting pretty bad. Once I realized there wasn't anything in my shoe, it dawned on me it was because of the bike. I knew at that point I would just have to deal with it and hope it wouldn't get worse. Luckily my achilles stayed pretty calm. It started to hurt about mile 10, but it never got to a point where I felt like I needed to stop running. It was sore, but there wasn't any stabbing pain. I decided to soldier on ahead until something in my body told me otherwise. About mile 14, you get dangerously close to the finish line and it gives you a rush knowing that you'll be back again to see it yourself in 12 more miles. I also saw my parents at this point which helped give me another added boost as I started the 2nd loop of my run. It wasn't until about mile 15 that I could tell I hadn't been running much. My legs started to get really heavy, the bottom of my feet hurt, and my legs got harder to get going again when I stopped to walk through the aid stations. Luckily I never really had any extremely dark moments where I questioned why I was doing this and whether or not I'd finish. I stayed pretty calm throughout the run and as the miles added up I started to realize I had a sub-13 hour finish within my site. A week or two before the race, I would have never guessed I'd finish in sub-13 due to the lack of run training. The fact that it was still within site about 18 miles into the marathon was very motivating. I began to calculate in my head what I'd need to do the rest of the way to make sure I made it to the finish before the 13 hour mark. It was then that my legs started to remind me that I hadn't been running for a couple of months. Each step started to hurt a little more and each time I walked through an aid station it got a little tougher to get going again. I started to allow myself to walk past an aid station for a minute or two and then I'd run for 8 or 9 minutes to the next stop. As I got to mile 23, I told myself I couldn't stop anymore. I knew at that point that I wasn't going to be able to get back to running if I stopped again. My hips were tight, my legs ached, my feet hurt, and my body was ready to be done. I knew I was close though and the thought of seeing that finish line was what kept me running. No stopping. No aid stations. Just running. My body hurt but my face didn't show it. I began to smile more and more as each step got me closer to the end. I could hear the crowd. I could hear the music. I could hear Mike Reilly bringing home my fellow athletes. That moment was about to be mine. I was about to become an Ironman. As I turned the corner and saw the finishing chute in front of me, I began to tear up. I got choked up as I saw all of the people around me cheering. It was one of the most amazing and indescribable feelings I've ever felt. I will never forget those last few moments. The joy. The pain. The pride. As I made my way into the finishing chute, I saw my parents off to the side. I immediately veered directly towards them and gave them the biggest, wettest, stinkiest hug they've ever had in their lifetime. Sharing that moment with them was priceless. The joy on their faces was something I'll never forget. They were both smiling ear-to-ear. My mom was screaming with joy. My dad was telling me I did it. It was an unbelievably emotional moment for me. The fact I could share the last few seconds of my Ironman with them was worth all of time and effort put into it. That's a moment we'll be talking about when we're old together. That's a moment I'll remember until I die. That's a moment I wish everyone could experience. This picture is my favorite picture from that day. This was taken by my mom as I left their side to cross the finish line. Priceless moment. "Lights will guide you home...."
Ironman Louisville 2011 Finisher: 12:45:53
I'd like to end this blog post with a special thank you to my parents. My parents have been my biggest fan for the last 29 years. They've shown me unconditional love, regardless of the circumstance. They've been a rock for me to lean on when I've needed guidance. They've always believed in me. They played a huge part in my success at Ironman Louisville. They hauled my gear. They heated up my meals. They catered to my every need. They fought the crowds. They battled the sun. They were on their feet all day long standing and waiting to see me for a few seconds at a time. They took pictures. They cheered loudly. They went and picked up my bike while I was still competing. They made sure I was comfortable after the race. They gave up their time and money to help make my dream come true. I'll never be able to say thank you enough for all they did that weekend. I am truly blessed to have parents who care so much. I love you Mom and Dad.