Ironman Louisville – Oct 9th 2016 (2.4 mile swim; 112 mile bike; 26.2 mile run). Finishing time – 12:57
This was my 7th triathlon in 2 years; 2 Olympic, 3 Half Ironman and 2 Ironman. I began this journey 4 years ago when I trained and competed in my first 5K in January 2012.
Every event since that day, whether it was a 10K, 15K, half or full marathon, a duathlon or a triathlon, each had a special story to tell. Ironman Louisville however, topped them all and was by far my most enjoyable and fulfilling performance. I’m inspired each day the good Lord blesses me with air in my lungs. I always say out loud “life is short.” My best friend died in my arms 17 years ago after a night of partying before his wedding; yes…his bachelor party. That could have easily been me. For the next 10 years after that I chose to hide from that reality through the continued use of alcohol; I like to call it being a social alcoholic. In 2010 we put my father in a nursing home due to his Parkinson’s disease. A man who I like to call Tarzan when I was a kid, now mentally and physically crippled. Each day I went to visit him and I saw how he and the 100’s of others lived in this nursing home and said to myself, it’s time to make some serious changes in my life. So I replaced the alcohol with swim, bike and run. I LIVE TO TRI.
I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Louisville near Fourth Street Live downtown Louisville. The hotel is very nice and is conveniently located near the finish line and all of the festivities. It wasn’t very far from the Ironman Village and bike/run transition. It was super convenient to walk back (or should I say…hobble) to my hotel room after I crossed the finish line.
Game Day! I would recommend having someone with you that can drive you to transition at 5:30am which will allow you to prep your bike and drop off any special needs bags. Then have your driver take you to the swim start that’s about 1 mile down the street from transition. If you want to start the swim in front of the majority of the 2,700 – 3,000 competitors, it’s important to get in the swim line ASAP. The line will stretch, 2 by 2, about 1 mile long. By having someone drive you and drop you off, you will pass hundreds of people walking to the swim start.
I suggest you bring a blanket and something comfortable to sit/lay on that your driver can then take with them when you start your swim. Depending on the weather and your appetite, you may want to bring some warm clothes and food/drink. It was about 6am and 50 degrees out when we got in the swim line, and I didn’t wear socks, thinking that would look pretty stupid with flip flops. It was stupid not to because my feet were frozen! Lucky for me Erin was kind enough to sit on them. We were relatively close to the swim start and almost more importantly the port-o-potty. I stepped out of line to go to the bathroom and I should have kept track of where I was in line because when I was trying to find where Erin and I were standing, along with others in our party, I couldn’t and I almost started panicking. It was dark and people were everywhere. Everyone looked the same. I paced up and down the line until I finally found my party.
When they begin tightening the swim line, everything begins to move pretty fast. They play the national anthem, My Old Kentucky Home and the Kentucky Derby Trumpet Call. It’s very emotional! It’s another reason to get in line early because you can see everything at the start. Then…it’s 2 by 2 into the Ohio River. Erin an
d I jumped in and we forgot to start our Garmin watches. So it was like…GO! And then it was… let’s tread water to get our watches started. Ha! The beginning of the swim is between the mainland and an island. They say it’s an upstream start until you get around the island, but if it was upstream you couldn’t feel it. It was calm. Our biggest concern was getting around the island and how the chop of the waves were going to be because the day before at swim practice the chop was about 2 feet high in the river; pretty brutal. But the upstream swim portion wasn’t as bad as we suspected. However, it was longer! You think once you pass the island you can turn around it and head downstream…but no. You have to go to a marker a lot further than the end of the island. When Erin and I were swimming together I kept her on my right so she could always see me when she took a breath on her left. When we got near to the turnaround point of the island, I noticed swimmers getting up on a mud bar (like a sand bar in an ocean) and running…well…not quite running. They were up to their waste but they were standing and moving forward. Running in water seems counter productive. I was a little shocked it was happening. My first instinct was to tell Erin about it because she couldn’t see it. It was on her right side and she was too busy breathing to her left and spotting me. But I thought that would be to distracting and maybe tempting to do, so I didn’t show her what was going on. We finally turned the corner and the downstream current helped. You can’t feel it, but you can see yourself moving along the shoreline faster than normal. We stayed on the outside of where most swimmers were and then gradually worked our way in closer to the island because the current was quicker in that area. I took it all in, swimming under 3 bridges, looking at all the swimmers as the sun came up; all while protecting Erin from swimmer thugs. Yes….the swimmers that don’t spot and just swim wherever the hell they want to; across you and on top of you. For goodness sake, look up and see where you’re going! Near the end this big gorilla swimmer came on the right of Erin and brought his left arm straight down on top of her head and neck. It startled her and I grabbed her elbow to hold her up so she could compose herself. We could see the swim exit from a mile away based on landmarks but it felt a little like running down a stretching hallway in a scary movie (see Poltergeist I – the movie). As we began to bottleneck into the exit, there w
ere the dreaded exit stairs where the day before at swim practice I jammed my foot because you can’t see where the stairs begin in the water. So this time I was very careful, making sure Erin got on and the many volunteers helped us out of the water. Swim over! We made it together. I stood there and almost didn’t know what to do. I looked at Erin and gave her a fist bump and said….I’ll see you at the finish line!
If forgot I was even wearing a wetsuit so I started running up the ramp and there were the wetsuit strippers. Usually they are all over you to pull off your wetsuit. And they were….but there were about 4 volunteers pulling off one person’s wetsuit. I yelled…WETSUIT STRIPPER as I lay down on my back with both legs and arms in the air. I felt like a crying baby or an upside turtle and no one was paying attention to me. I felt pretty stupid. Finally someone took off my wetsuit.
When you run to grab your transition bag, make sure you have tagged it so you can recognize it amongst the sea of bags that all look the same. Erin gave me some yellow ribbon to put on mine. So as I ran into the sea of transition bags I yelled to the volunteer my number…..2353! 2353! The volunteer hands me a bag that says 2358! I noticed my yellow ribbons weren’t on it and looked down and there was my yellow ribbon bag.
So I ran into the entrance of the changing room and it was like hitting a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam on the highway; wall-to-wall men getting changed and not a pretty sight. I immediately looked to my left and there were a couple guys parked just inside the entrance changing; no chair…but there was a grassy spot available. Perfect! I dumped my bag out with a little trouble getting it open because the yellow ribbons were all tangled up. Ha! I wanted to tear the bag open but I knew I had to put all my swim gear, including wetsuit, back inside the bag so I could get it back later. It was still cold out so I put my arm sleeves on. Well….try putting arm sleeves on in a rush while you’re wet and crouched down on the grass. It’s what slowed me down. Plus trying to clean my feet off from the grass and dirt to put my socks on. I felt like I was taking forever, so I grabbed my helmet, but all my stuff in the bag, tied it and ran out the same spot I entered the tent, otherwise I would have had to jump over 100’s of naked men to get to the exit side of the tent. So I ran between the men’s tent and the women’s tent hurdling the stakes and ties that kept the tents tethered to the ground. Grabbed my bike and I was off running up the walkway with my bike and people cheering others and me on. That’s when I realized I forgot to put my sunglasses on! NO! Do I go back? Hell no Nick….it’s too late. Damn it that’s going to suck. Have you ever been in a moving vehicle or boat with your head exposed, it cold outside, and no glasses on? Yup. I knew my eyes would be trashed after the ride….but oh well.
The first 10 miles of the bike is relatively flat. I recommend you drive the course before you ride it. Erin and I did 2 days before hand and act
ually got out and rode a portion of the course that ended up arguably being the most challenging. That experience was priceless. So….the weather was perfect and I was jacked up to be on the bike. The roads were tight, congested for the first 56 miles and not hard to inadvertently draft other cyclists. You just need to be careful of officials and getting a penalty. I was averaging about 20 mph for the first 10 miles knowing that everything would slow down for the 70 miles after that. I really took it all in, enjoyed the moment and spoke to a lot of cyclists I passed. I remember my first Ironman when I was 3 hours into the bike and someone came up and spoke to me. It’s like being
on a deserted island; it’s lonely out there. A simple hello, you’re doing a great job, or hey I like your bike. It brings you back to like. So, now I was that guy, paying it forward hopefully to other cyclists. I was also that guy who yelled at a cyclist.
I couldn’t shake this 36-year-old woman. Fast on the flat portions of the road and slow on the climbs. Back and forth we went. She was pretty aggressive on the bike, meaning…she would cut hard in front of you and others and then lay back, almost slow down. Annoying to say the least…but still playing by the rules. When it got congested, she decided to pass athletes on their right side, which is a penalty and very dangerous to her and other cyclists. So I yelled to her, “You know you shouldn’t pass on the right side?” In a sharp tone of voice she said “Yea…but what am I supposed to do about it?” I said, “You could slow the fuck down and get in back and pass on the left like everyone else so you don’t kill yourself and all of us with you!” Leave it to me to educate the ignorant. Ask Erin about that during our training rides. Ha!
You come across all kinds of people; all shapes, sizes and ages. All athletes’ ages are on their calves so you start to size them up. Remember, you’re on a desert island so you’re trying to keep yourself entertained! There was a 64-year-old woman that looked amazing. Her gray hair peaked out from under her helmet and she had a body of a 30 year old. It was very impressive to see. Life goals!
While on the ride, I saw a lovely lady cheering on competitors and holding a sign up that said “If you peed on your bike already…smile.” I hadn’t…but I thought….huh…I’ve heard of cyclists doing that and you know what….I really have to pee and I don’t want to stop. So, when no one was around me…..yes…
I peed on the bike. Not easy mind you and quite humbling. I couldn’t get it all out the first time but it made me more comfortable. So, I think I peed another 3 times. I made sure each time I didn’t pee on my nutrition and each time grabbed a bottle of water from volunteers to clean myself off. Hey…..don’t judge me. I didn’t want to stop for 5 minutes. And you know what, my total Ironman time was 12:57. What if I had stopped? Just saying.
The bike ride, to me, was the most crucial part of this Ironman. Ironman advertised the elevation as 5,800 feet. We read blogs from others that put it at 3,500 feet. I can tell you, my Garmin at the end of the ride, had it at 5,500 feet. We trained hard all summer on big hills just to prepare for this. And, you can ask Erin, we were! The key was to feed on the bike and feed often. Take at least 70 carbs per hour. You’re going to need it on the run. Don’t forget you have to run a marathon after this. Don’t burn your legs out on the climbs! Keep an average speed you can live with. I went as slow as 7 mph up hills and as fast as 40 mph down them. Be very disciplined on the Bike and it will pay off on the run. Too many people kill it on the bike and are in agony on the run. It doesn’t make for a fun finish when you’re walking the last 10 miles of the marathon.
The ride was really fun. I like hills because it breaks up the monotony and it gives your leg muscles a good stretch. I didn’t squirm once on my bike and my neck didn’t hurt for the first time I could remember. Unbelievable! The only 2 issues I had were my eyes were blood red and out of focus, and breathing the cool air in my mouth for that long took a toll on my throat. The last 10 miles of the bike ride were fast. The horse was coming home to the barn and I was going downhill. The best feeling when you see the transition area is that the bike got you here and now you don’t have to worry about crashing or the bike breaking down. You can’t wait to run!
So, I hand my bike off to a volunteer, grab my run bag and back into the changing tent. Not a lot of franks and beans this time, so I was able to take a seat and put my running shoes on, grab my bib, a little something to eat, my hat and oh yea…..my SHADES! I didn’t want to scare people with my blood red eyes!
My legs felt great! Crazy right? I was eating on the way out knowing that food for the next 4 – 5 hours would be the last thing I wanted. The run course is flat, with a couple of gradual small hills. We didn’t ride the run course before the event, so I wasn’t totally sure what it was going to be like. I had to ask runners how many out and backs we were going to do and basically it was 2 loops, each about 13 miles.
I bumped into a guy named Cleveland, one mile into the run. We met on the bike and sparked up some conversation out there. He actually got penalized on the bike for drafting me! He came up after the official tagged him for drafting and asked me if they tagged him for drafting because they didn’t give him anything and he didn’t understand what they said. I told him to stop at the penalty tent just to be sure because if he didn’t he would be DQ’d. So, when we met on the run he thanked me for my advice because they did tag him and gave him a 5-minute penalty, but at least he wasn’t DQ’d. So as Cleveland ran ahead of me, at about mile 2 or 3 I ran up on Kyle Tolliver. Kyle and I sparked up a conversation and we were both running a pace of about 10:30. That was a pretty solid, but questionable, pace for me for a marathon in an Ironman. It’s a questionable pace for me in just doing a marathon! But I felt great so I just went with it. I was amazed that I was able to hold a comfortable conversation with Kyle. This was his first Ironman 140.6. he was laboring a hamstring but still fairly strong. I even said, don’t let me slow you down. He said, no, this pace is perfect. Let’s see if we can hold it. We kept each other going when we hit points where our bodies were shutting down.
I couldn’t eat anything and my stomach was nauseous. I forced cold chicken broth down my throat. My left knee was giving out like it did the year before at IMFL. My IT band on the left side of my leg pulls down by the knee after long endurance runs. But I prepared for that in my Special Needs bag for the run. Don’t underestimate the importance of this bag! Be prepared for the unknown or what you know from how you feel in training. The bag is waiting for you at mile 13 and you have 13 to go. I suggest pain relievers. I have Advil or Excedrin for my head and body and Flexall or Bio Freeze for my muscles. I also like to have a treat in the bag. I just happen to put a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup that was delicious. So, I stopped to grab my bag and Kyle waited for me. I rubbed Flexall on my knee and leg and put my knee brace on. It really saved me. We went back to our pace. Kyle was a great talker; he kept the conversation. By mile 15, I couldn’t answer him back much. I would just answer back “Yea.” With 2 miles left, I started picking it up. The horse was coming home! I told Kyle he is my brother for life and thanked him. He let me go ahead because he wanted to soak in the finishing stretch of Ironman, which is like nothing else; bright lights and a sea of people on either side cheering you on. It is incredibly emotional! I came across the finish line strong and together for the most part. A volunteer typically grabs you to make sure you are ok. I forget the name of the girl who escorted me through getting my medal and taking my timing chip off, but she was very nice. I was a little out of it. Like coming out of a sedative. Happy….but not totally with it. But with it enough to speak with her and give her a $5 gift card that Erin gave me to give to a volunteer along the way. She was shocked! She also escorted me to get my picture taken in front of the Ironman mantra. That’s where I saw Kyle again and embraced and congratulated him.