Friday, September 2, 2011

Ironman Louisville Race Report

Warning- this is a long race report.  Why?  Because it was a freakin’ Ironman!

First, I have to say that completing an Ironman is one hell of a feeling. Even better, I got to share the experience with family and friends. I truly believe that this type of goal cannot be accomplished without the support and encouragement from family and friends. Bottom line- cannot be done.

My day started with a 4:15am wake up call. I have to say, I slept well and was fairly relaxed. I tried to throw down as much food as I could handle. Bagel with peanut butter and banana, a Mix1 and sipping on Ironman perform and coffee.

IMKY is unique with its time trial swim start, so I was planning on heading to transition at about 5:15 (15min walk from hotel).  Figured about 20 min in transition and then start the 1 mile walk to swim start. All went down according to plan except both valve extenders on my Zipp wheels closed up on me. Not being too Zipp savvy, I took my bike to the tech tent and had them check it out. Learned a cool trick if tube won't take air, just flip valve extender around, insert back in and open tube valve.

Amazingly there were only two or three athletes there so this only took about 5 minutes. No panicking. Took my bike back and racked it up. Was heading out and noticed the outdoor-crappers had no line. So I figured I might as well take advantage of the no lines (quick #1 :) ). Not many people were left in transition and it was around 6:10ish. This meant most people were in line or heading to the swim start line. I wasn’t too worried knowing the line would move pretty quickly.

Ironman transitions are much different than any other race. Your bike gear and run gear is bagged up just outside the changing tents. Very cool and organized. More about my lounging in T1 & T2 later.

So we head to the swim start. As we enter the area, we walk passed the line to try to find the end. We walk and walk and walk. “Holy hell this line goes forever!” Finally we find the end. Lots of relaxing and hanging out in line as we have about a 45 min wait. All of my support crew is there. They are nervous, excited, scared and anxious for me to start.

Finally, we hear the cannon go off!  Pros are gone @ 6:50. Ten min and the line moves. Very quickly we start to wrap around the line and make to the final straight shot. Speed suit is on, swim cap ready, goggles... check. There is definitely a calmness that comes over me as I try to remind myself that it is going to be a long day. I make it to the start shoot and take the turn down to the docks. I kiss Nicole and she gives me some last few words of encouragement. No looking back now... It is Ironman time!  What happened next will always be with me. The race director stops allowing athletes to jump into the water. The first time I thought maybe it was getting congested and they needed to control the course. It was tight in between the island. They allow another few in and stop athletes again. We see panic in some of the race staff and director. About 30 yards away from where they've stopped the athletes from entering the dock, a stretcher is heading towards us. I see paramedics and an athlete. As they get closer I notice the EMT performing chest compressions on the man. Turns out this 46 yr old wouldn’t make it. I would be lying if I said I was thinking, “this is how my day is going to start. Holy shit! I have a 2.4 mile swim to focus on and all I can think about is CPR being performed on this guy!”  My thoughts quickly shifted to, “I cannot imagine what his family is going to have to go through in the next few hours.”  His family was probably heading over to the swim exit, waiting for their husband, dad, brother, or friend to come out of the water. Instead they were getting a phone call from Ironman officials telling them to come back to the swim start. Horrible news would await them.

Ready or not athletes are heading back down to the start.  I turn the corner, take a breath and jump in.  No cannon ball or jack knife… just a simple two-leg entry.  As I hit the water, some jackass jumps right next to me and nailed my calf with his knee.  Hurt like hell but the pain quickly vanished as I realized I needed to start my 2.4 mile swim.  The first stretch runs between Toehead Island and Waterfront park area.  It was definitely congested and was much longer than I expected.  I can’t believe how many people breast stroke within the first 500 meters.  Come on… give me a break!  I hate swimming along and bumping into a manatee.  At least that’s what it feels like.  It breaks all focus and rhythm. 

I make my way to the turn around.  As I straighten out all I can see is bodies, buoys, and bridges… and lots of them! Fortunately we had the current with us.  A small one at best, but I’ll take it. I stayed with a comfortable stroke and settled in with bilateral breathing.  Felt great except for the Ohio River getting into my goggles and burning my eyeballs.  Literally felt like soap in the eye.  Nothing like a little gasoline, E.coli or fecal matter in the eye… yummy!

Finally, I exit the water.  Tons of fans everywhere!  Screaming and cheering!  Amazing! I take the short jog to transition; grab my T1 bag and head to the changing tent.  As I enter the tent I have flash backs from my high school football days. Bare asses and stank everywhere.  I grab a seat and throw my bike gear on.  A lot of people wore bike shorts on the bike and then transitioned into tri-shorts for the run. I chose to wear the same thing the entire race.  Nine plus minutes in T1… definitely took my sweet ass time but well worth it for my first Ironman.  I get everything; throw my swim stuff back in the bag and head for my bike.  I make a quick stop at the sunscreen ladies for a lube up.  As you can see from some of the photos, it was more of a smear than a rub in.  My shoulders looked like a bagel covered in cream cheese.  All good… no sun burn throughout the race. 

As I clip in and make my way to the exit I see my support team.  What a great feeling this is!  Knowing you have people out there waiting, cheering, and excited for you makes a world of difference. 

Now, with everyone going off at relatively the same time, of course the bike gets packed.  Drafting or group riding (sounds less illegal) is hard to avoid.  The pack of riders made the first 20 miles feel extremely smooth.  It was mostly flat.  A great warm up or flush from the swim.  The first turn is an out and back.  Fortunately Nicole and I drove and rode this section a couple of days before the race.  So, I knew there were going to be some monster downhills and some pretty good rollers.  This definitely made a difference.  I had a plan for the entire bike to stay smooth, in control and keep my HR in check.  I feel like I did a pretty good job at this throughout.

Make the turn back onto HWY 42 and head for the LaGrange loops.  Let me just say that this course is non-stop rollers, beautiful scenery and amazing fan support.  Every 10 miles or so there was an aid-station.  Again, volunteers and aid-station support was outstanding.  These guys and gals acted like they were getting paid for being out there.  The best part of the LaGrange loop is heading into downtown with thousands of people cheering and screaming!  I also got to see my support team which again, gives you a lift that is unbelievable. 

I conquered the first loop of the lollipop course.  Did I mention non-stop rollers? Oh yeah, it was hot and that damn wind!  The second loop went well. I get to hit my special needs bag during this time (around mile 65ish).  I roll up and stop.  A volunteer brings your bag over and holds it open for you.  Now, the way I pictured the special needs area was a lounge like area where I would get off my bike, put my feet up and enjoy each and every pringle I had.  Not the case.  It is a very rushed situation.  At least it felt like it.  Don’t get me wrong, you can take all the time in the world, but let’s be honest… this is a race against time.  So, I throw my pringles in my pocket.  My PB & J sandwich in my bento box and a few other misc items.  As I ride off I bite the top of my pringle container off (The 100 calorie pack, not the whole canister. J) and shove as many in my mouth as I can.  I looked like a damn hyena.  Toss the pack and start on my sandwich.  I can remember thinking, I needed to chew fast (I had a mouth full) because I was about to come around downtown again and would be passing by my support team.  Passing by with a mouth full and crap all over my face probably wouldn’t have been nice or made for great pics.

A few more miles and I make the turn back onto HWY42, the final leg back into Louisville.  Mentally I feel good.  I do notice some muscle cramping in my quads, TFL (spasm), and my hands.  Yeah my fingers started to do some weird things toward the end when I was popping salt tabs.  Shoulders and traps were a little tight from aero position and the swim.  I was ready to get off the bike!  Question was, was I ready to go run 26.2 miles?

I ride in near the Bike finish.  I see my team and it feels awesome! As I dismount and walk my bike, a volunteer takes it and racks it for me.  Badass!  Again, Ironman racing is fully catered to you.  Oh yeah, my quads locked up as soon as I get off the bike.  Thinking… not good.  However, I take a few steps and start jogging.  Hey… my legs work!  Sweet! 

A volunteer hands me my T2 bag and I head to the changing tent.  It’s controlled chaos inside.  I grab a chair and start peeling off bike gear.  Socks go on followed by compression, followed by my Newts.  This was the maiden voyage for these babies and I was excited to get them out there.  Grab my fuel belt and fill it up.  Doesn’t sound like this transition should have taken over ten minutes.  Ha!  I did take a few minutes to just relax and chill.  This did help me focus on changing mindsets from the bike to the run. 

Now, I have never ran a marathon before.  Some people thought I was crazy for not running a marathon before my Ironman.  An Ironman is about picking off miles.  26.2 of them. Never use the word marathon during your run.  Marathon just sounds long. 

I make my way outside the tent.  Stop off at the sunscreen ladies one more time (they need some love too J ) and head out.  I can quite honestly say, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel after a 112 mile bike ride.  I start running.  My legs work!  It was an amazing feeling to be able run and feel comfortable after the 112 ride.  The amount of confidence you get from this in the first few strides is crazy! I find my crew and I can tell they are pumped to see me out there.  I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, seeing these guys (especially my wife) gives you shiver down your spine.

Make the turn onto the bridge, an out and back with very little incline.  I notice a dude sitting down on the bridge just mentally drained.  I head for the turn around and pass mile marker 1.  As I come down the bridge, I see the same dude walking in the same direction as me, only on the other side where he should be running (or walking) to the turn around.  Instead, his day was done.  He was heading back to transition. 

My plan was to consume calories every 25 minutes and drink every mile.  Salt tabs every 30 or so.  I stuck with this as much as I can remember.  I truly believe your nutrition on the bike and the run must become automatic.  If you have to think about it out there, you are done. 

I hit mile 2 (still downtown Louisville) and see my team again.  These guys are crazy!  Remember, they have been up since 4:30 or 5AM and are still going strong.  Who am I kidding, they had time to nap twice and probably are a few beers deep at this point!  Either way, the support rocks! 

The run makes its way out of the city and on the out and back portion of the course.  From downtown it was 6 miles to the turnaround (approx. mile 8 on first lap).  The first time out takes forever.  Aid-stations are every mile with excellent support.  I do water and Ironman perform (with my own gels) for the first loop. I was very pleased and surprised how I felt at this point.  Don’t get me wrong, there was still pain with every stride, but I was ok.

Back home I knew people were watching online.  So, every time I hit a timing mat I knew people were keeping up.  This motivates you. It motivated me to want to do well for each of them.  It’s like you don’t want to disappoint anyone. 

I hit the turnaround at mile 8ish feeling pretty good.  Hamstrings were probably being the most difficult.  More like pissing me off.  It’s like I had a little kid following me around and poking me with a knife every other stride.  Not too deep, just enough to make you bleed.  Creed- manage the pain.  I lived by this the whole day. 

I pick off mile 9… then 10… then 11.  I make a slight turn and can see downtown again.  I knew I was going to see my peeps soon.  I needed it.  For the final two miles into the turn around there are people everywhere.  An amazing lift!  I make the turn onto 4th street.  This is the point which could be most deflating.  You see the finish line and you turn just before the shoot to make for your second lap.  I however had my support crew right at this point, so my thoughts quickly changed to excitement.  I pass close by them.  Close enough for my wife to smack me on the ass.  Emotionally I think I can speak for most that you are at the tipping point on the run.  You could go in any direction at any moment.  I saw my team and almost lost it.  I couldn’t say anything because crying burns calories and dehydrates you.  Calories and fluid I desperately needed.  At least this is something wanna-be tough guys say.  J

So, I make my way around and mentally get ready for another 13 miles.  It’s 6 to the turn around.  Get there! I knew after I reached the turnaround it would be all downhill.  The second loop mindset changed slightly.  My legs were still working but just not as well as the first loop.  So I decided to hit every aid station and walk through each.  It gave me a sense of reward.  Run one mile and you get to recover.  I hit mile 15 and then 16.  At his point gels taste like crap and Ironman Perform taste like piss.  I started on pretzels and oranges.  Not bad. I also started drinking coke around this time, although I didn’t feel much from it so I discontinued this at around mile 19. I hit 19 knowing I am just a mile from the turn around.  I am definitely slowing down but still moving/shuffling.

I know why people stop and walk.  The pain in your legs from the bike is great and constant.  Mentally, it is so easy to tell yourself to stop.  Every time I strike the ground my quads scream and as I lift that little kid slices me in the hammy again.  However, it is really amazing how you overcome this and keep striding. Plus, the longer you stop and walk the more painful it is to start back up. 

Mile 20.  I make the turn and know I have a few short miles and I will have finished an Ironman.  Now, I don’t have the total time on my watch.  I have only my run time but knowing my bike and swim time (kind of), I knew I was on pace to finish a sub 13 hour. You may be thinking, you only have 6 miles to go; of course you are going to do a sub-13.  Well, anything can happen in that six mile stretch. So, I ask someone at mile 22 what the total time was and when she got into the water so I could adjust to my total time.  It was around 11:30. I was at a 3:45 run with 4ish miles to go.  Mile 22 was about the point my legs stopped firing.  It was like they were no longer working with my brain.  My brain said, “Go”, but my legs said, “fuck you.”  It’s kind of funny because you have these out of body experiences throughout.  At one point, I wanted to stop, curl up on the sidewalk and take a nap. Seriously.  I had to talk myself out of it.  26.2 miles is a lot of time to think.

At mile 23 they have a huge screen with messages from your friends and family.  You cross the timing mat and your message comes up on the screen.  Meanwhile there is a semi-truck painted with Ironman with music blasting and girls dancing.  Do I watch the girls dancing or do I look for the words of encouragement from my family?  The first lap I must have chosen the girls because I can’t recall a huge screen.  The second lap must have been slower because I noticed the big screen.  I crossed the mat and saw, “Finish strong Lover!” Of course this was my wife.  Again, I am at an emotional tipping point and this just about did it.  However, the quote did give me a burst for about 100 yards which then caused too much pain and I was forced to walk for another 30 seconds.  I really wanted to start sprinting at that point and it sounded good in theory. 

I make my way to mile 24.  At this point you can see downtown and you know you are so close.  The pain subsides and you go for it.  At mile 25 the streets are packed.  I feel like I am running a 6 min mile. Of course it was more like a 9 but it felt like I was flying! 

I make the turn and see the shoot.  People everywhere! Music blasting!  Spectators yelling!  I enter the tunnel and head for home.  High five a few fans and hear the sweet sound of, “Nicholas, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”


Q:  Would you do another Ironman?
A:  Absolutely!

Q:  How did you feel the day or so after?
A:  Definite muscle pain and stiffness day after.  Felt great by Wednesday.  Recovery swim on Thursday. 

Q:  Favorite part of the race?
A:  The run.  Seeing all the athletes and spectators throughout was 26.2 miles of thrill!

Q:  Is there anything you would do different?
A:  I would have skipped the nap in T2.  A sub-12 was within my reach having looked back at everything now.  However, my goal was to enjoy every moment, which I did.  Now, I have a goal for #2.  J
Couple of other possibilities would be wearing bike shorts on the bike portion and then changing into trishorts for the run, and not wearing a fuelbelt.  The course is so well supported that I think you can get away without one.