Ironman Louisville Race Report- 5th Overall, 8:26
My lead up to IMKY was less than ideal. Training had been going really well after a brief recovery post Placid, but a nasty sinus infection derailed my high hopes for Santa Cruz 70.3, knocked me out for a solid 8 days of training, and had me VERY stressed. Coach DTD did his best to calm me and tell me it wouldn’t matter, but I did not approach Louisville with the same confidence I did Lake Placid. The deep men's field and less than perfect build had me questioning whether LP was a fluke. Thankfully my body took over and shut my brain up.
I got healthy about two weeks out from KY, and DTD and I decided to hit it hard for a week and head in to the race with a 7 day taper. The weather forecast fluctuated like crazy during these last two weeks. I swear I saw forecasts with all sun and 80+ degree temps replaced by rain and highs in the 50s. A couple days out from raceday though, it was clear we were in for a tough forecast- stiff headwinds on the open roads, lots of gusts, storms rolling through, dropping temps, and rain.
I arrived in Louisville on Thursday and went for a course drive. While out checking the course, I got a call that my Airbnb was without wifi and hot water and that there was a water leak in the building. Thankfully I was able to switch to a hotel just down the street from transition. The rest of the week was super easy- pro meeting, practice swim in the river, registration, etc, all went off without a hitch.
Race morning went off smoothly. I had my normal breakfast, checked my bike and bags in, and made the long walk to swim start with my family. I arrived at the starting docks quite early so I wasn't stressing about warm up time, putting on my skinsuit (amateurs had a wetsuit legal swim but it was just a touch too warm for the pros), finding a bathroom, and so on. Given that it was pitch black still at 7:15am (we were supposed to start at 7:20), it was clear we weren't going to get to warm up in the water. Thanks to Ben Kessel of Priority Fitness though, I have a great pre-race routine that allows me to get focused, wake up the body, and get the brain set. I used my swim cables, stretched, got suited up, and made my way down to the line.
We started a couple minutes late (7:23am) because of the late sunrise, but it was still pitch black when the gun went off. Seriously. Through my tinted goggles I could see precisely nothing. I barely dodged a kayak paddle and then almost ran in to the first buoy and thought, “at least I’m on course!”. I was swimming pretty much solo for a lot of this swim. I have no clue where the main group was because I couldn’t see them. Around the turn buoy (1200 meters upriver) I saw Jon Fecik and figured I must be doing ok (Jon beat me out of the water at LP by 1:57). We hit the turn and started our 2400 meters downriver stretch. I worked a bit hard but smart in the early goings of the race so I could take advantage of positioning in the downriver portion, but I wasn’t anticipating the winds and chop! The river runs from East to West and the wind was coming at 15mph straight West to East. So while the water was fast, the surface chop meant I was guzzling the Ohio River. It made for a rough swim, but I felt good about this 2.4 miles for a change and am heading in the right direction with my swim. Unfortunately the main group was still just under 5 minutes up on me, and that would prove to be a pretty large difference by the end of the day.
Out of the water and through the LONG T1, I was feeling good and ready for my bike legs to show up. Robby told me there were a bunch of guys within 2:30 so I set out at good clip and started reeling guys in. The bike course at KY is pretty much constantly rolling. No huge hills but challenging for sure and not a lot of opportunities to just settle in and turn your brain off. Think of it as a big lollipop- you start with a relatively flat chunk (the "stick") which is 20 miles long, then do two loops (the lollipop) which are about 36 miles each. The toughest hills on the course come right in the middle of the lollipop.
I caught two guys that seemed to be riding well around the 10 mile mark and settled in with them. We rode together for a bit until one of the guys fell off the pace and me and the other guy went to work. We were picking off stragglers here and there and moving well, but given the nature of the course I didn’t know how much ground we were making up on the pack of 12 that swam low 51s. When I passed my family at mile 30, Rob told me we were just holding the gap. Huh, that’s not going to work, time to get tough.
I came through the guy I had been riding with and said “we’re closing the gap, let’s go”. I dug pretty hard for the hilly stretch in the middle of the lollipop loop and we picked off a couple more guys riding solo. When I came back through the spectator viewing area at La Grange on the second loop around mile 65, I was really hopeful we had made a dent in the group because my legs were hurting. Our little train had 3 people at this point and I was at the back, sitting a cautious 15-20m back (there were a LOT of amateurs on the course at this point that made for some sketchy riding).
When I came up on Rob, I honestly have no clue what she said to me but she was waiving her arms at me furiously as if to say “GOGOGOGOGOGO”. That was all the cue I needed! I went back to the front and went to work. We hit a very short (maybe a mile) out and back stretch and I could see 5 guys within 60 seconds of us. After catching and passing all of them in the next few miles, I decided that painful legs or not, my only hope was to make everyone else’s legs around me hurt worse.
So I stayed at the front, in the wind, and kept the pace as high as I could. Heart rate and power stayed high throughout and I felt strong until around mile 107. We picked up a couple guys along the way and the group grew a little, but given that no one wanted to take a turn at the front, I figured I wasn’t sucking. I started to cramp HARD with about 5 miles to go on the bike, but at this point I had already dug my grave so it was time to get comfortable. I couldn’t even do a flying dismount at T2 out of fear of my legs locking up and me eating it. But I rode a 4:27, which I hadn’t even considered doing in my dream scenario. Previous PR bike split was a 4:49.
When I got off the bike at LP and started running, I felt miraculously great. So I just kept telling myself to get out of T2 and my body will come around. My numb feet and cramping quads disagreed though, and I felt like garbage from the first step. Positions changed a ton in the first 5 miles, but for every guy that passed me, I passed another, so I left T2 in 10th and managed to just sit there, mile after mile. I wasn’t running all that slowly, but I wasn’t feeling my typical self and my outlook was about as gloomy as the weather. I was 10th at the 1.3 mile marker, 10th at the 3.6, 10th at the 7.8, 10th at the 10.3, 10th at the 13.6...noticing a theme here? The goal for Louisville was to get some valuable points toward Kona qualification for 2018, and 10th was not going to get that done at all. I was questioning my decision to ride so hard, questioning my build up, and definitely questioning my toughness. I passed Rob at mile 13 and told her I was in a really dark hole. I was basically just resigned to a good overall time and a big PR and doing the math for a 3:10 marathon, which would at least give me a number under 8:40.
My coach and I chat a lot about the mental game that is Ironman. I can be a total head case and have a talent for derailing my success with self-doubt. On Saturday before the race, David gave me a very simple cue- be patient, be wise, be ruthless. Up until this point, I had definitely been patient (despite how I was feeling, my numbers said I had biked within my ability), I thought I had been wise, but, at least on the run, I had been anything but ruthless. So when I came around the block to begin the second loop around mile 14, all it took for me to get my shit together was a quick word from Rob- “David texted and said you have to get ruthless”.
I hadn’t lived up to my end of the bargain, so I resolved to stop running and start racing until I simply couldn’t anymore. At mile 16.8 I was in 10th, at mile 20 I was in 8th, at mile 23.5 I was 6th, and somewhere around mile 25 I moved in to 5th. I think the splits tell the story better than I could:
Nothing changed except my brain and approach. I just started running hard and waited for a failure to come that never came. I ran the first 13.1 in 1:31 and closed with a 1:25. It definitely made for a painful marathon, as you can see from the photos and video, but gave me more confidence than ever in my ability to put out a big bike and follow it up with a solid run.
Swim: 55:59, 24th pro out of the water
Bike 4:27:10, 10th after the bike, 5th fastest bike
Run: 2:56:17, 4th fastest run
Final 8:26:24, 5th overall