It is impossible to describe the feeling when crossing the finish line of your first IRONMAN. The sense of accomplishment is obvious, along with the overwhelming joy of finishing a race. There is also a sadness in that your long-time (almost a year) commitment of training for this one day… and it has now come to fruition. Since my audience consists of 12-15 people which is split between immediate family (who think I’m insane) and fellow triathletes who may or may not have completed a Full 140.6 triathlon, I hope to have something interesting to describe and keep everyone entertain on this post. So sit down, get your Nuun and Stringer gels ready, then buckle-up for a long “Full” Race Report post of IRONMAN Louisville 2017.

I kept that I was doing IRONMAN Louisville (IMLOU) in the dark for quite some time due to job insecurities which would make the costs irresponsible. I had technically started planning for IMLOU in December of 2016 when I sat down with my Coach (Josh) to discuss 2017 race plans. The goal was to focus on sprints early in the season to get fitness up and work on speed, then at some point cut off sprint training and dig into long distance training for a early October Full Distance triathlon. There were two options in October: 1) Virginia Anvil in Lake Anna, VA or 2) IMLOU. I received the wise advise of “If you are going to do your first Full… you better do an IRONMAN”.

Once my last sprint race was done in July, I worked with Josh on building my long distance endurance. Here is a few key items that I had to overcome and are noteworthy:

  • 2.4 Mile swim is needed for a FULL. I’ve never swam more than 1.2 in Open Water… and never swam more than 3000 in the pool for the past year.
  • 112 mile Bike is needed for a FULL. I’ve never biked more that 56 miles which was needed for Kinetic
  • Marathon? HA! Never ran more than 13 miles which was required for Kinetic as well.

As you can see I was greatly short on ALL THREE disciplines so I had a lot of work ahead of me for the next several months.

IMLOU PRE-Race events

Thursday

I drove in Louisville, KY on Thursday knowing that the drive was going to take about nine hours to complete. I’ve never been to Louisville, nor have I ever done an IRONMAN event so I didn’t know what to expect in terms of event formalities and the location. I arrived in Louisville around 3:00 pm which provided me enough time to unload my truck at the hotel and quickly walk over to the Athlete Check-in tent so I could pickup my race numbers and swag bag. I was lucky to have fellow SpeedSherpa teammate Matt escort me around as he had already been through check-in earlier that morning, and he is an IRONMAN veteran for both Half (70.3) and Full 140.6 races. After I collected my packet, Matt and myself decided this would be a great time to preview the bike course as most of the race participants have not arrived; which would leave the roads relatively non-congested. We hopped into Matt’s car and drove the entire route. We may have been hyper sensitive to the number of undulating hills that we covered as we heard the bike course description as being “rolling hills”… which to us means you gain enough momentum on the downhill section to nearly cover going up without expending too much energy. This was not the case. It looked (and felt) that the hills were slightly steeper than imagined which causes us a little anxiety.

The rest of the day was used to soak in the good vibes of the race finish line, which was right next to my hotel. Pro-tip, being next to the finish line is the ONLY way to do an IRONMAN. Not only do you get a chance to experience all the fun events that IRONMAN will provide (night time parties, local restaurant discounts, and the mass collection of your newest 3000 friends), but after the race you will applicate having to only wobble back to your room that is one block away.

Friday

Friday I was able to finally see more SpeedSherpa teammates and a few non-Sherpa friends that I have come to know through the numerous training sessions in Virginia. Having everyone there as a group made the event even more memorable as we all suffered together through training, and now we can see each other complete our goals in the next couple of days.

I decided that Friday was going to be my brick workout day where I was going to ride the bike course for about an hour and then do a light job. The weather was getting cloudy, so I decided to wear my new bright yellow Wattie ShipWreck (pirate) kit (that I just received from my family the prior week for my birthday) to make sure I would be seen by any traffic as the roads were not closed off yet. I knew the bike section I was riding was mostly flat from yesterday’s preview, which was perfect as I didn’t want to exert any stress… just getting the legs to remember what it feels like to peddle on my TT bike and feel the road. It also allows me feel and visualize the begging and the end of the course as those will be the to primary times that I need to “think” and make sure I complete the ride (vs. the rest of the ride where you just keep spinning your legs and follow everyone else). After my ride I listened to the Athlete briefing to make sure I received all the “pro-tips” from the race director. Nothing too exciting if you done a triathlon before, and the rest of the new stuff specific to IRONMAN (like drop bags) was already described to me during our SpeedSherpa team review a couple of weeks ago.

Later that evening, Matt and I also decided to “run to Indiana”! Pretty easy accomplishment as we only had to run across the bridge from Louisville, KY to Jeffersonville, IN; which was about a mile each way. It was a lot of fun to be “back home again in Indiana”, even if it was to take a quick selfie picture against the Jeffersonville wall.

Friday night dinner was CARB NIGHT!!! Oh yeah… start to shove food all the food in my face (there may be a common theme for the rest of this post). Was able to enjoy a large serving of Breaded Chicken Parmesan, butter rich linguine noodles, and a nice Louisville Kentucky local Goodwood Bourbon Barrel Stout. We went to bed relatively early (10:00 pm) as everyone knew the next night we will not get enough sleep.

Saturday

Here it comes, Open Water Swim (OWS) Practice in the Ohio River! My swim has greatly improved of the year due to the great help from Freedom Center Master Swim class. I had finished a nice OWS in VA last week where I almost completed 4200 yards in a nice calm lake. But IMLOU is going to be in a River and Saturday provided my first opportunity to see how I would handle battling against a current. I didn’t want to exert too much energy, again it was less than 24 hours for race day, so the main goal was to just get the feel of the water so it wouldn’t be surprised the next morning. Water temperatures were 72° with zero wind. I did a quick out and back by turning around the first buoy so I could feel swimming against the current and with the current. The secondary goal is to get used to exiting the water as I have never dealt with a swim exit that wasn’t a sandy beach. The quick loop went so well that I decided to go out again for a second loop with a focus on targeting the stairs directly vs. swinging out wide (a mistake I did the first time from siting on the wrong object).

It was amazing. I have never felt so calm and under control in a body of open water, that I completely felt at ease and relaxed for the rest of the day.

After the swim practice was complete, I returned to the hotel to begin preparing my bike and being packing the four IRONMAN bags for the bike and run. I’m used to drop bags for orienteering races, but having four bags for specific reasons was new. They were:

  • Bike Transition Bag: You just finished the swim! You need to put all the items you need to ride your bike such as:
    • Socks
    • Shoes
    • Lube (the more the better)
    • Helmet
    • Nutrition

      On race day, shove your wetsuit in this bag so you can get it back later that day.

  • Bike “Special Needs”: At some point you cross the 50% mark. You may need something… I chose the other half of my nutrition so I wouldn’t look like a pack mule during the first half of the ride.
  • Run Transition Bag: You just finished the bike! You need to put all the items you need to run such as:
    • Shoes
    • Fresh socks are nice
    • Bib (race belt)
    • Visor
    • Sunglasses

      On race day, shove your helmet and shoes back in this bag so you can get them later that day.

  • Run “Special Needs”: At some point you cross the 50% mark on the run. You’re almost there… anything else you need? Is it getting cold? Need some more food for your sensitive tummy… yes please.

I was able to get to transition and drop off my bike (slightly cried leaving my baby), bike transition bag, and run transition bag off, realizing with every passing milestone of the past couple of days… there are no more steps left other than to actually race. We did have a quick SpeedSherpa team recap meeting at the hotel for final questions… but in really it was a way to see everyone one last time before we all separated for our own personal time to reflect and mentally get ready. The thing was… I was already ready.

Sunday Race Breakdown

Swim

Race morning his here!!! I set the alarm for 5am (didn’t need it), to get a quick bite to eat (microwave oatmeal without a spoon, Honeystinger Bar, and banana) and began “the march of the athletes” down 4th street with teammates shoulder-to-shoulder ready to battle the day1. We first headed off to transition to drop off our Bike/Run Special Needs bags and some last checks on the bike after sitting outside overnight. Then, we began the long walk to the Swim start.

From the athlete guide and racing briefing we learned that new for 2017 swim start participants would be allowed to insert themselves into their own swim group based on the swim time you believed you would finish. This was perfect for me as all year, Rev3 Sprint races have adopted this format to allow individuals to seed themselves in what they feel will be their correct swim group in hopes to prevent any congestion.

Unfortunately, our SpeedSherpa group did not pay attention to our Coach’s advise (sorry Josh) and seeded ourselves too far back, however, the last couple of minutes with the team to support each other was greatly appreciated… especially trying to find the last porta-john rid the last couple of “butterflies”. As we slowly walked down the sidewalk I tried to keep a positive upbeat vibe, but once we got towards the final steps I turned around… said my last good luck to the rest of the team and started to pick up my pace to get into the water. It was go time, I’m on the last stretch of sidewalk which is now wet and nowhere near water (yup… you know what that is… triathletes are disgusting), and I was ready to GO!

Jumping into the water was similar to Saturday’s practice swim, however, the winds were now beginning to pick up which created some mild choppy water. The first 500 feet I was feeling relaxed… but I noticed that people to my left near the island were going slightly faster than myself. My goggles were also beginning to fog up from the temperature difference between the cool waters and my hot head, so I decided to grab a kayak to quickly spit in my goggles to clear the fog and found out that the closer you are to the island the less upstream current will effect you. I thanked they kayaker for the tip and set off again. Once I was in line on the right path, I began to noticed that I was running into people in front of me… all from placing myself too far back (as previously mentioned). This was the beginning of constant sighting challenges as not only was I having issues seeing the next buoy, but also had to find a way around the next swimmer that I would approach. Finally getting to the upstream turnaround buoy, I thought to myself that things would instantly become easier as I would be going with the current… but I was wrong. Being further out into the Ohio River provided a stronger current that was inconsistent in behavior, pushing me towards the side where I would correct, but then discover I actually over-corrected and was now wondering towards the middle of the river. It took a lot longer than expected to get used to the chop, and the boat wake section, vs my previous assumption where I would have an easy time swimming with the current pushing me down the river.

Exiting the swim I checked my watch and was happily surprised to see an elapse time of 1:06! I couldn’t believe it! I was happy in what I was able to accomplished, but I knew what was next… NO NOT the bike… the STRIPPERS! In seriousness, it is hard for me to remember such a fun group of volunteers than the group that was in charge of stripping athletes out of their wetsuit to make the travel to transition smooth and fast. I quickly ran by Josh (see the picture on the left), picked up my Bike Transition bag and headed to the changing tent.

I just want to make sure everyone knew that when you enter the changing tent… this is not private tent. This is a large 40x100ft square room that is being held together with bubble gum and has no chance against wind… but that is OK if you just walk down the middle as you’ll be protected by the wind from WALL TO WALL MAN ASS (see the picture on the right… you can now craft that mental image… you are welcome). Most of athletes were getting out of their swim suits that they were wearing underneath their wetsuit and changing into their bike kits for the long 112 mile ride2. I chose to wear my Wattie speedsuit so I didn’t need to change, which also accounts for my (relatively) fast transition times.

Strava Swim Activity

Bike

YES! Time to get on this horse and ride! For the past couple of months the most popular question on the IMLOU Facebook page was weather. I had been tracking the weather for about a week and there were signs that it may rain with some wind that would average around 12-15mph. I normally do not take my bike out for winds greater than 10mph since I have giant wind sails for wheels as I ride ZIPP 808s on both front and back. These wheels plus a slightly larger bike frame, are all for cutting wind as you are going foward… they don’t do much for cross wind and the course route looked like a lollipop (where you get to lick the outside loop twice). I did bring my extra set of wheels in case if I felt like removing the ZIPP and use the Mavic wheels that originally came with my Argon 18 E-118 Next to eliminate any crosswind concerns, however, I decided to not switch as I haven’t used those wheels in over a year and I didn’t want to try something new on race day. Plus the ZIPPs and Mavic use different tubes so I would have to somehow carry two spares, and there isn’t that much room on the bike.

I pushed my bike to the mount point and started to ride. Once stable, I started my Wahoo BOLT so I could easily keep an eye on my key metrics (Watts and Hart Rate) while on the bike. This is when I noticed that even though I made an effort to push the transition button on my Garmin just before finding my stripper (giggle) it did not register. I quickly pushed the transition button a second time and it was then set to record the bike segment. This is why when you are looking at my Strava links you’ll see that it looks like swam an extra 500y (which was really me running through transition) and the bike is short of the full 112 miles.

I felt comfortable and under control. There were people that were passing me at the beginning but that was OK. I had my race plan from my coach to hit a target number for the average number of watts based on a 28 mile “lap”, and burning matches at the begging was NOT the plan. The route is mostly flat for the first 13.5 miles, but after that you start hitting the lovely Kentucky hills. I’m was happy to come to the realization that my concerns while driving the route were exaggerated and the hills were very manageable. I rate hills on two factors:

  • Dropping all gears down to the easiest possible settings for a long slow grind (good hill)
  • Getting out of my seat because I need the extra leverage to climb this beast (BIG hill).

I never got out of the saddle except for once, and that was due to traffic with other cyclists taking it a little too slow on the second loop and I needed to get away from them.

Just after the half way point I was able to stop and pick up my Bike Special Needs bag (extra food) and a pee break3. It was at this point I began to notice the weather was beginning to change as the clouds were becoming darker. I knew the forecast had some scattered rain and convinced myself to welcome any rain as it keep me cool. What I didn’t expect is the 20 degree temperature drop starting at 2pm through 5pm. This dramatic change also brought in unbelievable winds. On the same IMLOU Facebook page previously mentioned, someone recorded the extremes:

The high was 80, the low was 55 (at 11:59pm).

It felt colder on the run because of the wind, but with temps above 50 that won’t register on any “wind chill” calculation.

Average wind for the 24-hrs was 13.8mph, but that number was pulled down by lighter winds before the race. Most of the day was a solid 20 mph with frequent 30+ gusts, max sustained 32 mph and peak gust 45 mph. Strongest winds happened after the cold front, which made it a dead crosswind coming back on the bike.

Race start was 71F with 12 mph wind… and it was tailwind on the outbound part of the bike course.

If that wasn’t enough… check out this video!

I was on the final 30 miles when the wind gusts starting to take over the race course. That is when I witness a horrible accident where a 6-7ft tree branch was detached from the tree and was flung across into the road and actually HIT an athlete! I was trying to stop to make sure they were OK, but that gust was also pushing me so far to the left that I was now headed toward oncoming traffic. I wasn’t able to stop. I couldn’t. I didn’t know if there was going to be another gust that would pushing me over or if more debris was coming from the fields. I don’t recommend having to bike with a 5° lean to the right while watching for any hazards, but it did take my mind off how many more miles I needed to complete.

Getting back to the flat section of the course on River, RD… I soon could hear music playing and the crowd cheering for athletes that were returning. I had just completed the longest bike ride in my life… and now to start my first marathon.

Strava Bike Activity

Run

I have never ran a marathon. I have never ran more than 18 miles during my training sessions so going the extra eight miles pounding pavement had me concerned… but I was determined to overcome the pain with a positive mindset and to have fun.

I now have a new requirement for long distance races… the run has to be flat! I love hills on the bike, but hills on the run simply crush you (I know from couple of Reston triathlons I’ve done in the past). I felt really good at the beginning (a little too good with a sub 8 min/mi pace), and quickly started on my plan:

  • Stop at every aid station for a couple of sips of water
  • every five miles eat something

Pretty simple and basic plan. This is the exactly what I did for ALL my long training runs the previous two months and I knew it was going to work. At this point I knew I was ahead of my other teammates and was looking forward for a friendly face. That is when I found our wonderful support crew of friends at mile 3! After mile nine, it was a stream of teammates faces which instantly brought a smile to my face every single time. I was even able to run with a couple of teammates as they were starting on their first loop and I was on my second loop. I try to give words of encouragement and empathy as we were suffering.

Not sure why it took so long, but around mile 22 the realizations finally hit that I was going to finish. I was hurting. My quads and calves were screaming. Occasionally the mind demons found a spot in my head making me worry that something was going to fall apart and I would have to walk the rest last four miles, but I pushed them right back out to keep my focus on my form… keep my focus on running. And then, I made my last turn towards the finish line.

Strava Run Activity

Finish line

THE NOISE! For all of those people that were standing outside cheering on random strangers, THANK YOU. When you come around the last turn the “wall of sound” that is emanating from the finish line is WONDERFUL! As you get closer the emotions begin to rise, the final last amounts of strength begin to build so you naturally appear strong, and then you touch the red carpet.

IMLOU has an unbelievable finish. The music is blaring at full volume, but it still cannot overcome the crowd noise. You hear the announcer calling out peoples names in front of you and you know any second, your name is next. The lights in front of you are shining so bright it is almost blinding and you you know the finish line is merely feet away. And then you cross… and then you hear “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”.

At this point you’re exhausted and tired, and the support staff knows it. You are instantly provided with a medal and taken by your arm to make sure you have the strength to stand up. The support staff also begins to ask you a bunch of questions to make sure you don’t need any immediate medical attention as you walk down to get your finisher photo. My conversation went something like this:

SS: Hey you did great! How are you doing? ME: Hungry

SS: That is good. We’re going to take you this way ME: Great, do you have pizza

SS: Hehe… yes. Do you have any friends or family here ME: Yeah. some food would be great too

My hunger was overwhelming… but when you burn about 7000 calories and only take in about 4000 over the entire day… it will catch up. For the rest of the night, I stood by the sidelines and tried to record everyone crossing the finish line to capture their moment in time and welcome them after completing such an amazing effort.

Post Race Thoughts

Three of us one the SpeedSherpa team were already calling it “one and done”. We love racing. We love doing triathlons. But the time commitment was hard and we were not sure if we would want to train like that again. After finishing the race, I’ve changed my mind. I am not “one and done”. I haven’t signed up for anything nor plan on it for the next couple of months, but if there was another large group of teammates that were planning on doing another 140.6 I would take that into serious consideration. The time spent training, the few days before the race, and then out on the course was amazing and worth the experience. It has been three days since I cross the finish line and I’m still feeling the emotional rush and happiness. That deep of an emotion is addictive and I know I’ll want to experience it again in the future. But for now, I can proudly place that 140.6 sticker on the back of my truck and smile.

At this point I need to give out a few thanks:

  • First my family. You haven’t suffered with me during my training, you have suffered without me being at home. I know I’ve been missing and greatly appreciate your patience and understanding. It was not lost on how much this takes a toll on everyone and want to make sure I say thanks.
  • Second my coach, Josh. You kept things positive and you had unwavering confidence in my ability since December… even with two injuries this season (just before camp and two weeks before IMLOU). Greatly appreciate your guidance and friendship.
  • A couple of local shout outs to:
    • Coach Abi at Freedom Aquatic Center Master Team. You improved my swim so much this year, and is what made it possible for me to complete the 2.4 mile swim.
    • Dr. John and the entire staff at Haymarket Physical Therapy in Bristow. I came in TWICE this year of “I have pain in my leg, and I’m racing in 10 days”. Your expertise has a long time customer and advocate of your services.
    • Kur at VeloFit. You were able to dial me in to ensure I can stay in aero for the entire bike segment.
    • Haymarket Bicycles Fit Studio for doing a final tune of the bike.
    • My employer for being so understanding in letting me have a flexible work schedule so I can be productive yet train in the early mornings.
  • And lastly to my IMLOU SpeedSherpa teammates and fellow SpeedSherpa crew. Training with you for the past couple of months has been wonderful, and seeing everyone cross the finish was a true gift in itself. You catered to my crazy questions as I was the only one that had not done an IRONMAN event before, I would be lost without everyone’s help. The SpeedSherpa crew, it was wonderful to see everyone’s comments on Facebook (or by direct message) of confidence and encouragement. Thanks for strong virtual support! It was wonderful to read your comments and discussion with each other while the SS IMLOU racers were out on the course.

Race Results

Rankings

  • Overall: Placed 495th out of 2,750 (top 18%).
  • Gender: Placed 404th out of 1862 (top 22%).
  • Male 40-44: Placed 85th out of 342 (top 25%).

Among the Male 40-44 category there were 342 athletes.

  • Swim: Ranked 101 (top 30%)
  • Bike: Ranked 167 (top 50%)
  • Run: Ranked 72 (top 21%)

Splits

IMLOU 2.4 Mile Swim T1 112 Mile Bike T2 26.2 Mile Run Total
Necessary   FINISH OR DIE    
Soft Goal Time 1:25:00 0:10:00 6:45:00 0:10:00 4:30:00 13:00:00
Stretch Goal Time 1:10:00 0:10:00 6:00:00 0:10:00 4:00:00 11:30:00
Actual Times4 01:06:40 0:07:21 06:05:39 0:06:58 4:05:49 11:32:27

Footnotes

  1. This is a lame attempt correlating LotR March of the Ents to the beginning of a triathlon. Sorry it was so lost on you that you clicked on this footnote. 

  2. Ladies… I know you are no better in your tents. Don’t even pretend you are any different. 

  3. You will hear about some riders have the ability to pee on the bike to save them time from stopping. I do not have that ability. 

  4. Official Race Results available at EVENT Results page