August 30, 2009. Louisville, Kentucky. Ohio River. Rural Kentucky Counties. University of Louisville. Churchill Downs. Fourth Street Live. 2,352 people with a dream.
Overview, 140.6 miles: 14:58:07
Race day was an unexpected beauty. After two years when Ironman Louisville saw temperatures in the 90's with high humidity, the third running of IML caught a break with highs in the mid-70's, low humidity, light winds and clear skies. All those weeks of waiting until mid-day to head out for long training rides and runs, to catch the hottest part of the day to prepare for the inevitable heat, turned out to be good heat training that was not needed. Big crowds in Louisville and La Grange (which the bike route passed through, twice), and smaller concentrations along the course, were great boosters for everyone who passed through. Volunteers were fantastic all the way, with the occasional exception of some on the marathon route toward the end of the evening. They were understandably weary after a long day, themselves.
Swim, 2.4 miles: 1:49:33
IML has a unique swim. Rather than a mass start, where everyone is either in the water or on the beach, and all start at once, IML uses a time trial format, with athletes jumping off a dock one at a time to enter the backwaters of the Ohio River behind Towhead Island. But back up: to stage the swim start, athletes line up, first-come, first-in, with the line stretching for what must have been a mile along a parking lot and road. Once the cannon fired, the line moved fast, like jogging fast, onto the dock and into the water. After swimming upstream (although there was no discernible current) past Towhead, the course turns out into the main body of the Ohio and then downstream for the main part of the swim.
Although it's a major river, the Ohio does in fact taste better than the Hudson in NYC, even though you can't see your fingers at the start of your swim stroke.
Based on swim splits at Eagleman and Rhode Island 70.3, in June and July, I had expected a swim time of 1:20 to 1:30. So I was disappointed when I glanced at my watch a bit before the half-way point in the swim and saw that I was significantly off my expected pace. But knowing that pushing harder than my aerobic pace in the swim would mean losing time to fatigue later in the day, I stuck with the plan and crawled on.
I came out of the water for the transition from swim to bike, glad to be out of the water and ready to make up time on the bike. Nancy and Ben were there for encouragement. Ran into transition, a volunteer handed over my bike equipment bag, and I ran into the men's changing tent. Ironman has separate changing tents for good reason - maybe because some folks do a total costume change, maybe because what people look like in the tent is just not pretty.
Pulled on my bike shorts over my tri shorts - I like the extra cushion over 112 miles on the bike. Also socks for comfort, bike shoes, helmet, race belt with bib, sunscreen, sunglasses, and ran out the tent. I had to get my bike from the rack - often volunteers have the bike off the rack and ready, but when a hundred people are emerging each minute, they can't serve everyone. This is why, even in a well-supported event, it always pays to know exactly where your bike is, and to practice getting to it before the race.
Bike, 112 miles: 7:19:12
Oy. I felt fine on the bike, but my time does not show it. Coming out of T1, the bike starts with a few flat miles before leaving the Ohio River bed and into the rolling hills of Kentucky. This is a great opportunity to get settled into the aero bars, start taking on nutrition and hydration, and get ready for a nice, long ride.
The goal on the bike was to stay in my aerobic heart rate zone as much as possible, and to not let my heart rate climb too high going up the hills. The first hill was a good test - steep enough to force the heart rate higher, and long enough to keep it there. The bike course has one long descent into a creek bed in an out-and-back section, which was great for a sustained "yee-haw" 40-plus mph down to the bridge, and then a good climb back out - twice. The downhills gave me a great chance to see the advantage of the aerodynamic wheels and helmet: coasting downhill I was screaming past heavier people (think about the effects of gravity on bodies with more mass), and loving it. That image helped me as I churned along the flats and rollers, realizing that my aero-gear was making me faster than if I had standard wheels and helmet. Even so, the first two hours were frustratingly slow at exactly 15 mph. I got a bit faster after that, but still well below my expected speed of 17 - 18 mph. That's where the training and plan again probably saved me from an even worse finish: had I panicked and pushed harder, beyond my aerobic heart rate zone, I may well have had a melt down during the bike.
Passing through La Grange at mile 31 on the bike, I saw the sign our friend's son had made for me, and was able to pull over for 30 seconds to give Nancy a smooch. Definitely worth it. Wife & son, along with good friends from a former life and their boys, were in La Grange for both bike loops, and it was great to see them there, even though it was just for a few seconds each time.
The last 40 miles on the bike were much faster, capped off by returning to the flat road along the river to start getting ready for the run.
Although I wasn't sure if I could pull it off, I did a nice rolling dismount from the bike into the transition from bike to run. A volunteer took my bike to replace it on the rack, and I ran to the volunteer who handed over my run bag, and then back into the men's changing tent. In T1, there's a lot of chatter about the water, how people did on the swim, what the bike's going to be like. In T2, not. Bike shorts, helmet, socks off. Compression socks, hat, running shoes on. Gels in tri shorts pockets, race belt rotated so bib is in front. More sunscreen. Ready to roll.
Run, 26.2 miles: 5:37:24
In the most disappointing segment of the race, my run was 30 minutes slower than my Ironman Florida run, even after posting my best half-iron run in July at Rhode Island 70.3. I felt fine coming out of T2, pumped by the adrenaline, the change of movement, and the great crowd. Out of the chute and into the streets of downtown Louisville before turning onto a bridge over the Ohio. The bridge was just a bit of a climb, and the only real rise on the run course. I ran the first three miles in a comfortable pace of 9:43/mile in my aerobic zone, which I felt like I could carry forever. But after mile three I started slowing, despite my push to keep the pace. I ran through mile 14 and the turn around for loop two, just yards from the finish line with a huge crowd. After that, took several walking breaks. Although I felt well fueled and hydrated, my right knee and hip were complaining and I gave in to the urge to give them a rest. Or several rests.
Sundown hit at about mile 21. Take a few hundred tired runners in the last few miles of an Ironman, when there's not much in the way of sustained conversation, and add a bit of darkness, and you find out how to get solitude in the middle of a city. As I was counting down the miles, I knew I had enough time to walk the rest of the marathon and still finish under the 17 hour end at midnight. But I kept running most of the way, with walking breaks as needed, along with just about everyone else still on the course.
At mile 25, I forced myself to put it in gear and keep it there until the end. I could hear the announcer calling each finisher's name as she or he crossed the line, and I could begin to hear the finish line crowd. "Finish strong," is an endurance sport mantra, and it can be a powerful drug after struggling to finish an Ironman.
Turning the last corner, just a few blocks before Fourth Street Live
and the finish line, all the pain left, all the fatigue faded, and all the frustration washed away in the bright lights of the finish chute and line. "Run toward the light!" Cheering crowds, hands outstretched to high-five runners in the last yards of their day, music blasting, and then a lone voice booming through the din: "Kevin Peter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"
Total Time, 140.6 miles: 14:58:07