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IRONMAN LOUISVILLE 2013: 112 Miles Feels Even Longer in 90-Degree Heat and with 7,200′ of Elevation Gain

Once I was out of transition, I immediately started hydrating and sucking down my homemade coconut milk and whey protein race fuel concoction. It’s important to start eating and hydrating as soon as you get on the bike because you obviously weren’t able to eat during the swim. I was feeling great and keeping my cadence high on my FELT AR5 bicycle with brand new Profile Design Aeolus 80.5mm tubular wheels. I’d picked these up just in July when I was out in California and was really excited to use them for the first time. The guys (and girl, thank you, Larissa!) at Profile really helped me out with the wheels, a few hydration bottles and a FuelBelt for the run.

The bike course at Louisville is deceptively hilly. Even though there aren’t very many significant hills, the roads are almost never flat. The course is always up or down and it behooves you to constantly be shifting to maintain a higher cadence to rely more on turnover speed than burning up your legs with powerful pedal strokes. The layout resembles a stick figure with one arm and no legs. You ride up the body and take a right at a Y-fork for the arm, down a hill and then up to a turnaround. Come back down the arm and then do two loops around the stick-man’s head and finish back the way you started. 

The first part is actually pretty flat and then the descent down the arm gives you quite an adrenaline rush, which is always welcome. I was still feeling good as I finished coming back down the arm and took the right turn to go out for the two loops, just before mile 30. 

Miles 30-60 were probably the best miles of the day. I felt strong and the temperature hadn’t reached its peak yet. There was a Foster Grant straightaway in a middle-of-nowhere town that felt like somewhere because the whole half-mile to a mile stretch was lined with people on both sides. When I race, I like to interact with the fans on the side of the course and draw from their energy. We hit the Foster Grant section for the first time at about Mile 45 and I rallied the crowd and hit about 28 MPH, pumping my cranks like pistons firing. The second time through was close to Mile 75 and it felt like the only energy I had was coming from the crowd. 

That second loop is Miles 60-90.That’s when it really started to suck. My legs had been feeling good up until that point but at about Mile 65-70, I started to have thoughts of “Why do I do this again? I’ve raced two IMs before so I know what they feel like and how bad they hurt. It’s gonna be 90 degrees before too long and I’m barely into this race.” In the words of country music singer Dierks Bentley, “What was I thinkin’?” For those of you who have not raced an Ironman or any endurance event longer than a half marathon, Mile 70 of a 140.6-mile race is WAY too soon to be having those thoughts. It’s perfectly normal to be having those thoughts at around mile 15 or 16 on the run. It’s even OK to be saying, “The last thing I want to do is run a marathon right now!” when you come in off the bike. But if you’re legs are screaming at you by Mile 70-80, you’re in for a LONG day out there. Barring an act of God, your best case is “finishing” the race. Any aspirations you might’ve had of “racing” are out the window. Like super far out the window. Like so far out the window you can’t see them anymore. Like… Ok, ok I’ll stop now.

A brief aside: As I’ve mentioned before I trained for this Ironman solely using the CrossFit Endurance protocol. That basically can be summarized by 4-5 days a week of CrossFit, and about 2-3 days of each sport her week. Sometimes I did three days of a sport. Usually a short interval workout (50s or 100s in the pool, 100-400m repeats or less than 2-3-minute intervals of running, 1-mile or shorter repeats on the bike), a longer interval workout and then a Tempo or Time Trial workout in 2 or 3 of the sports. Also included were 2-3 days a week of Olympic lifting of varying rep schemes, usually a dynamic effort or max effort lift. For my time trial/tempo work, I built up to about a mile in the pool, 65-miles on the bike and a half marathon on the run. Other key swim workouts were 6x500yds and 3x1000yds. I did a 3×10-mile bike TT workout at one point and then my favorite was 3x5K run with 10-minute rest periods. 

Long story short, the main thought going through my mind was “Well, I guess that wasn’t quite enough.” What made it easier to take was the fact that I knew I was rolling the dice and experimenting with this one from the beginning. It’s a heck of a long distance to gamble on but the process of registering for an Ironman lowers a person’s IQ by at least 30-50 points. So when you see that “REGISTER NOW!” button, it beckons you to click it like a dog that’s ready for their walk so you say, “OK, fine I’ll do it!” And then you’re in and you fall in love with the idea of race day and lose your entire social life due to training, proper diet and rest/recovery. 

I finished the second loop at Mile 90 and 22 miles seemed doable. Right around this marker, I noticed that my feet were really starting to ache. The longest I’d been in my bike shoes in training for this race was about four hours. I was nearing five hours at this stage in the game and the stiff bike shoes were taking their toll. The constant hills weren’t helping much either; it’s a little known fact, but the Louisville course is actually hillier than IM Madison and was ranked the fourth toughest Ironman last year, behind St. George (which was canceled after a nearly 25% DNF rate in 2012). 

95 miles came and went and hitting 100 had never felt like such a relief. My dreams of a sub-5:30 bike time went up in smoke and even sub-6 seemed unrealistic. The temperature had risen to ~90-degrees at this point as the clock neared 2:00 p.m. Passing Mile 110 is about the distance when you feel relief with the knowledge that you will be off your bike in a couple miles, but simultaneous dread at the thought of RUNNING A MARATHON in a couple miles. RUNNING A MARATHON is in all caps, bolded and in bright red because that is the font that your mind uses for that thought. And it’s flashing like a warning light in your car. 

I unstrapped my shoes and slipped my feet out as I rolled down the transition chute into BIKE IN and dismounted at the line. My feet hit the ground and I forced myself to start jogging despite jarring pain with each footfall. There were a few good thoughts in my mind, like “My feet should loosen up as I start to run…” and “Maybe I’ll start to feel my legs soon,” and “The good news is that I’ve already swum 2.4-miles, biked 112-miles and my family and friends are here to support me.” I grabbed my Run Gear bag and headed into the change tent, desperately looking forward to sitting down on something larger than 3″x6″ (i.e. my bike seat).

To Be Continued in Part 3…