Warning: You may want to grab a coffee, beer, or beverage of choice and get comfy. This one’s a long one!
The week leading up to Ironman Louisville proved to be quite stressful. My hometown was hit with a freak rainstorm that lead to massive flooding and caused quite a bit of devastation. Between boiling water to drink, wondering if we would lose power or water services, and road closures because of damage to infrastructure, the idea of us even being able to get out of the city and up to Louisville was touch-and-go for a few days. Schools were closed, so no work meant plenty of time to hang around the house and let the nervous energy build. Luckily, later in the week things started clearing up a little and the roads we needed to head to L-ville were open, so the hubs and I loaded the car mid-day Thursday and headed out.
Even before the flooding occurred, we had planned to cut the trip in half to spare me an 8-hour trip of sitting and pissing off my back and piriformis muscle. Yes, I’m still working through THAT injury (see previous blog posts) and dealing with numbness in parts of my lower leg and foot. The goal was to make it to the ART tent in the Ironman Village with minimal damage from the trip up, in hopes that the doctors there could work their ART magic and I’d be good to go on race day.
After a stop in Knoxville, TN Thursday night, we finally arrived in Louisville around lunch time on Friday.
The weather….rainy and chilly. To be honest, it was reminiscent of the day before IMC, which didn’t help my confidence level. At all. We headed straight to athlete check-in and as soon as I had my little blue bracelet on, I made my way to the ART tent. I was in pain from all of the travel and that was playing on my mind as well. Luckily, one of the docs working the ART tent listened carefully as I explained my situation and he spent some good quality time working on me. When he was done, it was like I was a brand new woman. That ART stuff is legit, people. Legit.
Now that my pain had been relieved, that was one thing off of my list of worries. Next up, would we get to swim or would the swim portion be cancelled? See, in the weeks leading up to IMLOU, some sort of toxic algae had taken over the Ohio River, causing a recreational warning/ban to be placed in effect. As if the Ohio River isn’t already dirty enough, I now had some toxic algae to worry about that, from what I had read, had some pretty serious side-effects if one were to come in contact with it. Luckily, by early afternoon on Friday, word on social media had spread that the ban had been lifted and that the practice swim and swim portion of the race were still on.
After leaving Ironman Village, we headed to our hotel which was 4 or 5 blocks away. We ended up staying at the Marriott in Downtown Louisville, and I can honestly say that I have no complaints about this place. The staff was friendly and extremely helpful and the hotel was clean. Another thing I loved about this hotel was that noise was not a problem. The hotel had arranged to have all of the athletes on the same floors, knowing we’d all be going to bed around the same time and wanting some peace and quiet. Definitely recommend this hotel if you’re racing Louisville!
Saturday was a busy day. Practice swim, brunch with some awesome SOAS teammates, and bike/gear bag check-in. The hubs and I decided to chance it and go to the practice swim. Knowing that the water temperature would be cool and that we’d have to jump right in on race day, we both wanted to make sure we had a “feel” for the water. The outside temperature was quite cool, in the 50s I believe, which made it difficult to convince myself to go through with the swim. After all, I don’t do well in cold weather (see my Ironman Canada Race Recap for that saga). I sucked it up, got it done, and felt much better because of it.
After the practice swim, we hit the hotel for showers and then we were off to have brunch with some of my teammates. If you’ve been following me on social media or via my blog, you know that I’m a SOAS Racing Ambassador. Being a part of this team, in my opinion, is what has held me together throughout my injury-filled tri season this year. The women on this team are absolutely amazing. And humble, which makes them even more amazing, in my opinion. Sitting down with them and sharing stories and laughs was one of the first times on this trip that I actually felt some peace within.
After brunch, it was back to the hotel to pick up our bikes and gear bags ,and then we were off to T1 for check-in.
The rest of the afternoon was devoted to kicking the feet up and watching the Ironman World Championships. We had an early dinner, prepped nutrition bottles, and then lights out around 9 or so.
My alarm went off at 3:30 am. Surprisingly enough, I had slept through the entire night. Up and at ’em, I had some coffee and a GoMacro bar, got dressed, and headed out the door for T1. It was a cold walk down to transition; the temperature was in the upper 40s. I dressed for a blizzard so that the thought of getting cold didn’t play on my mind. My DNF from hypothermia at IMC has definitely left me scarred.
We made it to T1 just before it opened and the line to get in was LONG. So, we continued our walk to find the end of the line. Pretty sure we walked at least another quarter of a mile to get in line to enter transition. Once transition opened, the line moved quickly. I headed straight to my gear bags, dropped off some necessary (and some not so necessary) items, dropped off my special needs bags, and then headed over to my bike to add air to my tires and make sure that everything was ready to go. Once everything was set in T1, the hubs and I decided to make a quick stop at the porta-potties before making the trek down to the swim start (there never seems to be enough porta-potties at the swim start so this seemed like a smart decision). There weren’t any lines to wait in as everyone was eager to get to the swim start and get in line. We were in and out in no time and were on our 1-mile journey to the swim start.
Once we arrived at the swim start area, we got body-marked and then realized just how important it was to have a sherpa for this particular race. People were already in line for the swim and the line was super long, so the hubs and I knew that we’d have to go ahead and get in our wetsuits and drop our morning clothes bag off before we started on our, yet another lengthy walk, to find the end of the line. This meant I’d be walking around in socks (because I didn’t think to bring a pair of throw away shoes) and my wetsuit, which was not going to keep me very warm. If I kept my shoes on that I’d been wearing all morning, I’d have to ditch them in the trash on the way down to the swim start. $&^%!! Note to self: have a sherpa for this race who can wait in line near you and then turn in your morning clothes bag for you or plan ahead. Valuable lesson #1 – check. I reminded myself that this was an Ironman race and that I needed to suck it up. So, I did. I told the voices in my head that were telling me how cold it was to “shut up” and they actually listened. At least while I was walking around.
The walk to the end of the swim line was crazy long. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m pretty sure the hubs and I had to walk at least another mile to find the end of the swim line. That also meant that once the race started, I’d be walking another mile to make my way down to the docks. Without shoes. One would think this was my first time racing Louisville. Nope. Second time, but this time was totally different.
The canon fired at 7:30 (a later start than most IMs) and the line immediately started moving. Realizing that we were near the back of the line, I was interested in how long it would take me to actually make my way to the docks and get in the water. This would be time lost for me to make the midnight cut-off, but it also meant more time for me to shiver out in the cold. I swear I’m a pansy in the cold and my body shuts down quickly. As the line moved and stopped, moved and stopped, I realized I couldn’t feel my feet. I was ready to jump in the water, which was roughly about 21 degrees warmer than the outside air temp. After just over 30 minutes, I made my way to the dock to begin my day.
I’ll be honest. I prefer in-water starts, but the fact that Louisville is a time-trial start actually helps to spread out the pack, leaving a little more “clean” water than other races. As I jogged my way to the end of the back dock, I made one final adjustment to my goggles, hit the start button on my Garmin and jumped in. I swam a few strokes with my head out of the water to make sure I didn’t run over anyone and then it was “head down and get it done” time. I have to say, I’ve only raced two different IM races: Louisville and Canada (Whistler). I can tell you that Louisville is an easy swim. Sighting is pretty easy and for the most part, it’s only semi-crowded behind Towhead Island. Once you make your way to the main channel, you pretty much have all the space you want, depending on the line you take. I’m not a fast swimmer but I felt like my swim was going pretty well. I had managed to not have too much physical contact, which is always nice. Once I hit the main channel, I started to make my way to the middle of the river, where I’d been told the current was stronger. For some reason, though, I felt like I was going against the current and I was continuously being pulled inland so I just went with it. I’m not sure there was much of a current, and if there was, I definitely don’t think it was as strong as it was when the race was held in August. That or I just didn’t find it. By the time I swam under I-65, I was ready to be done! Swimming isn’t all that fun for me. I hope that changes, though. After an hour-twenty and some change, I hit the steps to the swim exit.
Swim Time: 1:22:10
I came out of the water ready to hustle. I ran through the wetsuit strippers and jogged all the way to my gear bag and then to the change tent. And it was there that I came to a screeching halt. The change tent was jam-packed. There were women outside of the tent getting ready, but I knew that I couldn’t stay outside of the tent because I was planning to completely change and put on a dry kit. This decision was made in part because I didn’t want to experience any cold going out on to the bike, which might bring back flash-backs of Ironman Canada. Not joking when I say I have been scarred by that race. I tried to squeeze my way in to the tent to find some space, even if on the ground, but that was also halted when I saw several women squatting and peeing in the tent where we were walking. Now…I get it. Some of these women were going for a KQ so they were cutting corners to save time. However, it still pissed me off to see women pissing all over the ground in the change tent where everyone was running in barefoot. Bitch session over. I finally found a little space, dumped my bag and started changing. I ran to my bike and all the way to the mount line, but still ended up with a ridiculously embarrassing T1 time.
I headed out on River Road and immediately starting making passes. A lot of people were taking their time and settling in but the bike was where I had my first big goal that I had set for myself, and I knew River Road, on the way out, was the time to hammer. Right away I got on my nutrition and started pushing the pedals, but made sure I stayed within my HR zone that would allow me to meet my goals. Yes, I use HR because I’m too poor and do not have a power meter. One day, though, one day.
River Road was crowded, but I knew from racing Louisville before that it would spread out once we hit the hills. At least that was what I was hoping for. Not long after being on the bike, I started to feel a lot of sinus pressure in my head. I have sensitive allergies and sometimes open water swims mess with my allergies. Usually, this goes away after I clear my nasal passages a few times, but on this day, my nasal passages never cleared and I developed a horrific headache. Pedal, pedal, snot rocket. Pedal, pedal, hack something up. This was the routine. All the while, I kept pushing the pedals and telling myself to stay focused on my pace and everything would clear up eventually. Reality was, though, that I just felt plain awful. My legs felt great but my head was throbbing and I was completely congested.
As I hit the right-hand turn at 1694, I was lucky enough to have put a little space between me and a few others. If there’s one road that you don’t want to be on with a herd of riders, it’s this one. There’s always carnage on this road. Bike and human carnage. I actually made it to the turn around by myself but on the way back out of 1694, I ended up with a large crowd of riders. Quite honestly, this became the theme of the day. The bike course was crowded, in my opinion, making it nearly impossible to put as much space in between riders as the drafting rule states. And on this particular day, there was tons of vehicular traffic, too.
I tried to stay focused on my riding as myself and several other riders played leap-frog for miles. Despite not feeling well, I hit 393 on the first loop with my average right where I had planned it. I will say, though, that I had forgotten just how tough 393 was and I tried to remain positive in my thinking as I reminded myself that I would revisit this road, yet again, on loop 2. After turning off of 393, I hit the part of the bike that is probably my favorite. It’s fairly flat for a few miles, which is a nice reprieve from the hills on 393. Unfortunately, this is where the car traffic really picked up. And, it became a choice of: stay behind the car and lose time, pass very far outside the yellow line on the left (technically against the rules at IM), or quickly squeeze by on the right. With tons of other riders backed up, too, the choice wasn’t always an easy one. I was faced with this choice several times throughout the day, which was not the case the first time I raced IMLOU.
After dealing with the traffic and still not feeling very good, I finally hit La Grange, where there were tons of people lining the streets cheering and ringing cowbells. It was just the mental boost I needed to prep me for Ballard School Rd. and Old Sligo. This was another section of the bike ride that I knew I wanted to separate myself from some of the other riders as Ballard School Rd. is narrow and has a few surprise hills that will bring you to a halt quick-like if you aren’t in the right gear. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get away so I knew I’d have to be on top of my game once we made the turn on to BS Rd. And, I was right. I watched a bike wreck unfold right in front of me on one of the first “surprise” hills. A girl, who wasn’t in the right gear came to a screeching halt on the hill, taking out two other riders with her. Luckily, I had enough room to maneuver around so I didn’t end up in the mess myself.
Before I knew it, I had made my way to 42 and I would soon be on my 2nd loop. By this point in the game, though, I was starting to lose it. Mentally lose it. My head was throbbing, my nose was congested, and quite frankly I wanted to be done with the bike. Slowly but surely, I watched my avg speed drop, not necessarily because of my biking ability but because of how crowded the bike course was and how many times I had to hit the brakes on downhills because the riders in front of me were bowing up and were blocking, making a pass impossible.
Fast forward several miles and I made it to special needs. I only needed to stop to pick up my extra nutrition bottle, so I should have been in and out in no time. However, because there were so many riders pulling in special needs at the same time, I had to wait a few minutes for my bag. I also needed to use the porta-potty, but lines were ridiculously long. I grabbed my nutrition bottle and jetted. My avg speed had dropped considerably, which played on me mentally. I wasn’t going to meet my bike goal, which was something I had worked on in my training.
After pulling out of special needs, I tried to focus on pushing my pace where I could and just saving myself on the hills. Eventually, that need to use the porta-potty became more intense. For the first time, I actually considered peeing on the bike, but I quickly let this idea go. I was going to have to stop and deal with the time damage later. Around mile 90, I stopped at an aid-station and hopped in line for the porta-potty. Time lost was considerable. My avg pace had dropped to 15.2, well below my goal of averaging over 16 to pull off my first sub-7 hour bike split and there were still some hills to contend with. My head was still throbbing and with every bump in the road that I hit, I felt a larger jolt of pain. Needless to say, I spent the remaining miles on the bike fighting the demons in my head that were telling me to give up because I’d never be able to make up the time lost.
I rolled in to T2 feeling thankful to be off the bike, but feeling quite defeated as well.
Bike: 7:04:21 (15.84 avg speed)
Not a lot to say here. I was feeling defeated and I was trying to pull it together as I geared up for the run.
T2: 11:36 (I have no idea what the hell I was doing in T2 that took me that long…embarrassing!)
The first few steps of the run didn’t feel as great as I had hoped. And yes, I was mentally shot to hell. I was still beating myself up over my bike split. Finally, I reminded myself that I had a run goal to focus on and if I didn’t get my ass in gear, that goal, too, would fly right out the window. My top priority was to run my first sub-6 hour marathon in an Ironman, specifically I was shooting for a 5:30. This was totally do-able based on what I had done in my training. My overall goal was to be at the finish line in 14:30, but I also knew that if I hit my goals, I’d be closer to the 14:10-14:15 mark. After blowing my bike split, I decided to just focus on hitting the finish line in 14:30. I kept my focus up until about mile 9 and then the negative voices came back in my head. And this time, I wasn’t mentally strong enough to fight them off. They won. I was somehow convinced that I would not reach any of my goals and that I should just give up. And I did. I just walked. And walked. And didn’t care that I was walking. Things even got so bad that I told myself that as long as I got to the finish line by midnight, it didn’t matter how slow my time was. I was a MESS. I had never been to such a low, dark place in a race before. Long story, short, I spent several miles going from not caring at all to “you can still pull off a PR” so get it together. I don’t remember what happened or what mile it was that I finally decided to get my head back in the game, but luckily I did.
While I missed nearly all of my goals, I still managed to shave 45 minutes off of my best IM time.
I’ve never been so happy to see a finish line in my life!!
Finishing Time: 14:43:51