If you had asked me at the beginning of this season if I would race an Ironman, I likely would have laughed and said hell no. It wasn’t even on my high-level plan for 2019. However, as the season went on, the thought slowly crept into my mind that maybe I would race one at the end of 2019. After a year of racing where things just seemed to never go right, September finally rolls around and my last triathlon of the year was supposed to be Trifest for MS. I ended up racing really well there and was very happy with the result. The next weekend, I raced a local 10k that Kansas City Running Company owns called Plaza 10k and out of nowhere, I set a new lifetime PR of 32:39. After the race, I just kept thinking there is no way I can end my season. I’m fit, I’m having fun, I have to keep racing. I looked around at all potential races (triathlon, running, local, travel to, etc), but racing a triathlon made more sense to me than a road race. I felt I basically needed a triathlon that was within the next month or so (mid October at the latest) and my only option was IM Louisville. I talked to my family, friends and Ritch (owner of Every Man Jack brand and triathlon team) and they all thought it was worth a shot. Nothing like signing up for a full IM just 4 weeks prior to the race. My expectations going into the race were low, but I was oddly excited and hopeful that my current fitness level, while not IM specific, would carry me through the race. I knew the required work, primarily on the bike, just was not there. This race wasn’t on my radar, so I never did long rides during the summer. In fact, in the last two years (so since Kona 2016) I’ve ridden my triathlon bike 70 miles or more (~3.5 hours) just three times. I have ridden road or gravel bike 70 miles or more five times over the past two years, but the position on the bike isn’t the same. This isn’t to make excuses either because (spoiler) I’m really happy with my race.
I lined up in the front quarter of the sub 60-minute self-seeding swim corral. As the start of the race neared, they announced that the current was too strong and they were going to change the course and have us swim all down current and only 0.9 miles. After a 35-minute delay for them to get the new modified course set up and personnel in place, we finally got to start our day.
Holy cow was that current fast!! I averaged 0:48/100 yards despite the fact that I’ve broken 60 second in an all-out 100 in the pool just once in my life. I was definitely disappointed that Ironman shortened and changed the swim, but I do feel they made the correct call. I passed quite a few people during the swim but other than that it was uneventful. Stephen Patterson (Every Man Jack teammate also racing) told me before the race to sight the KFC Yum! Center as it stood out and was right in line with swim exit. That was a great tip and much appreciated. This made sighting very easy, the course wasn’t congested, and it was only 13 minutes long so not much can happen when the current is literally pushing you to the finish line.
I quickly got out of my Roka wetsuit and dried off my feet before putting on my socks and shoes (couldn’t have them clipped onto the pedals of bike, which I don’t get why we couldn’t), and tried putting on my thermal long sleeve jersey. I took a little extra time in T1 to make sure to put on layers because I don’t do well when cold. The sleeves got stuck on my arms since they were wet and I had to have a volunteer help get the sleeves up into the correct position. I put on my gloves while running to my bike and the moment I stepped outside of the changing tent I felt the cool air (upper 40s, wind chill mid 40s) and rain hitting me and knew it would be a wild ride.
My legs felt really good early on the bike, which was a little surprising because usually (and especially in cold weather) it takes me a while to find good cycling legs. Within a few miles, my legs had already turned red from the wind chill and rain and I looked down and laughed because I knew this was going to be a battle all day for me to stay warm. The first 10 miles are flat and fast, but after that the rest of the course is continuously rolling hills. Around 19 miles, I took the right turn to start the first of two 35 (ish) mile loops. There is immediately a big downhill where I touched 40 miles per hour. Prior to this, I was cold but not overly cold and managing it well. However, after flying down this hill, just under 1 hour into the race, I started teeth chattering shivering, which also made me tense up. I tried to warm up a little by riding some of the rolling hills out of the saddle and pushing a bit harder than I should be. After a few of those I knew it was stupid, but I was literally trying to do anything I could to keep from shivering and being cold. I knew my dad would be in La Grange where there was spectator viewing, so I just focused on trying to get to him. He (smartly) positioned himself on the uphill of one of the rollers where I was going slower and I told him I was so cold and I think I heard him say, “just hang in there”. At this point in the race, a little less than 90 minutes into the bike, I was seriously contemplating if I’d be able to make it through this bike ride. I still had at least another 3.5 hours of riding, which I assumed I would be freezing for most if not all of it. My initial thought was to just try and make it to 45 miles. I knew at this point I would get the wind at my back (more or less the entire first 45 miles had a headwind), and I hoped that would make me feel warmer. I also remembered that the rain was eventually supposed to ease up and be spotty for the rest of the day after 10 or 11 am, which I also associated with happening at mile 45. So, I just kept thinking get to 45. The next two thoughts (with a bit of a can-do attitude) were: I paid $847 to do this race, I’m not stopping. And if I stop, I’m just going to be pissed off, sitting somewhere waiting for a ride back to Louisville, and I’d STILL be wet and cold (and likely shivering). Surely biking in this is warmer than that. So, here I am, biking out in the rain and cold, talking to myself saying get to 45, oh time to eat, get to 45 get to 45, I gotta pee, get to 45 get to 45. Coincidently or not, after getting the wind at my back around mile 45, I did stop teeth chattering shivering shortly thereafter. I was definitely still cold (that never went away the entire bike ride), but at least the shivering stopped! The second loop was a bit crowded, but nothing unmanageable. The fast, downhill descent that I did on loop one made me start shivering again, but fortunately it was short lived and went away. I saw my dad again in La Grange, which again was a very welcomed sight on a quite miserable day in the saddle. Shortly after La Grange around 3 hours into the bike, I started noticing my hip flexors were very sore. I guess that is what I get for not doing any long bike rides on my Felt triathlon bike prior to race day. By four hours in, I was ready to be done. My legs were just trashed and so tired. I had no power in my pedal strokes and was doing everything I could to get over some of these rolling hills. The tailwind for the last 30 miles was very nice. Had that been a headwind, I might have been in major trouble.
Quickly took off my socks, gloves and thermal cycling jersey and put on fresh socks and my run shoes. My fingers were so cold that the volunteer had to tie my shoes.
Right away my legs felt fantastic. I think it’s so odd (and awesome) that my legs can be so trashed on the bike, yet the moment I start running it’s like I didn’t even bike at all. About a half mile into the run, I checked my watch and saw 6:40 pace and was very excited. Obviously a bit quick, but I felt like I was holding myself back and chopping my strides. I saw my dad early on the run and he told me I was 4th in my AG. I knew there were only two slots for Kona, but I didn’t care at this point, I was done with that bike ride and just going to enjoy this as much as I could and try to run steady the entire time and be smart. My Garmin watch never buzzed after the first mile and I figured the auto lap feature was turned off on the multisport activity. After mile 2, I decided I wanted to know my splits so I went through the settings and turned it on and I ran the first 2.16 miles in 6:50 pace (14:46). Now all my mile splits would be at X.16, but I didn’t care as long as I could see how each mile was going. Around this same time, I started noticing a weird feeling on the heel of my feet or in my shoe and figured I must have stepped on some mud with rocks or something before putting my shoe on in T2. Right as that thought ended, I chuckled and realized what it was, I have felt this feeling before. It was the tingling/needle like feeling when your foot is trying to thaw out. Sure enough, by 3 to 3.5 miles I had all feeling in my feet again. The first 10 miles went by really quickly and couldn’t have gone any smoother (14:46 (6:50 pace) then 6:57, 7:10, 7:07, 6:57, 6:57, 6:59, 6:56 and 6:56). I was staying on top of hydration and nutrition thus far. My plan was to take in a gel every 20-25 minutes and get a cup of water and cup of Gatorade at all aid stations, combine them since they’re half full at best and drink the entire cup or as much as I could. With it not being hot out (it was a muggy with 99 or 100% humidity, but only in the low 50s), I wasn’t overly concerned about hydration issues. In fact, I had to stop and go pee 3 times during the marathon, which still just baffles me how and why. Mile 11 included one of the stops and slowed my low 7 min pace to a 7:36 mile, but I was right back on pace for 12 and 13 in 7:03 and 7:09. Half way through the marathon and I was still feeling good. Not as fresh as mile one, obviously, but up to this point, the only pain I was having were my hip flexors that started aching around 5 miles into the run. Starting the second loop made tracking who was in front of me much harder, but also provided welcomed company. I looked down after mile 13 (since it was 13.16 on my watch) and saw 1:32:39. I’d definitely take a 3:05 marathon. The thought that my second half would be slower than my first never crossed my mind. I came into the race quite confident in my run and knew that while it would be painful, I was capable of running a 3:05 marathon (or faster) on this course. I also saw that my pace for mile 14 was at 8:40, which didn’t make any sense as I had not noticeably changed my pace at all. I assumed the tall buildings of downtown Louisville messed with satellite, so I didn’t worry. I did run a 7:28 for mile 14 and 7:21 for 15. The first time I really struggled during the run was after mile 15. My longest run in training prior to IM Louisville was 15 miles, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this is when I first started to really feel it in the race. I made my second stop during mile 16 with the hopes that it would reset my stride and I’d feel better. I didn’t care that my watch told me I just ran a 7:48 mile, what I did care about was that I was starting to feel a bit better. I ran 17-19 in 7:27, 7:18, 7:15. Unfortunately, during mile 19 I made a crucial mistake. I ended up passing an aid station without taking a gel and only drank my cup of half water half Gatorade. I last took a gel right at 2 hours. At this point I was around 2:15 and thought I’d be able to make it back to this same aid station before needing another gel. I was also getting quite tired of gels and my stomach was starting to feel a bit full, so it wasn’t hard to convince myself to skip the gel at 19 and take it around 21 and have that be my last gel of the race. Unfortunately for me, I bonked and hit the wall hard during the second half of mile 20, which was 7:44. Mile 21 was just awful. All energy and life felt like it was sucked out of me and I was painfully shuffling my feet to an 8:19 mile. At 21, I took a gel, salt, and my half cup water/Gatorade and just waited for it to kick in as I kept shuffling my way toward the finish line. I stopped for the last time shortly after this aid station. I definitely could have held this one, but since I was hurting I figured why not and maybe it would help with feeling full considering I just took in more calories. By the end of 22 I was able to start to pick up the pace again and even though I ran an 8:08 mile, I was encouraged because my pace was dropping. Almost immediately I started feeling really good. Stupid bonk! It’s crazy that I was likely just one gel away from running a quite steady and consistent marathon since this (in theory) slowed my pace down about 2 minutes over that stretch. But that’s racing! I ended up running really strong the last four miles in 7:18, 7:12, 6:58 and 6:35.
Overall: 8:47:25. 13th amateur, 4th in 25-29.
I couldn’t be more proud or happy with my race. Yeah, I didn’t qualify for Kona, but that was one of the most soul-searching bike rides of my life and I backed it up with a 3:07 marathon; my first marathon where I didn’t have to walk at any point during the run (unless you count in and out of porta potty). I came into the race vastly under prepared, but mentally ready to battle and see what I could do. I didn’t have a full year or summer of IM specific training under my belt, but I was mentally fresh and excited and I really do believe that played a massive role in keeping me going throughout the race because there were some very dark moments on that bike course. Oddly enough, this is the first time after my, now, four full IM races that I haven’t finished and said what a stupid idea, never again. This race showed me that I have some glaring holes that I need to work on, which excites me. I’m already planning next year and going to actually prepare for one properly (or so that’s at least the plan).
I cannot say enough good things about IM Louisville and the volunteers. The volunteers braved the same conditions all the racers did, and the town was very welcoming to the athletes. The course is a good, honest course and I would love to come back and race it again someday, preferably with better weather. Thank you to my dad for spending his weekend supporting me. The encouragement and knowing you were out there was a good motivator to keep me going. Major shout out to my fellow Every Man Jack teammates and especially the three racing with me; Brian, Stephen, and Nathan. The support before, during, and after the race was tremendous and much appreciated. Thank you to Greg Grosicki for the 4-week lead up to the race and nutrition advise. Without you, I likely would have gone from under prepared to greatly over trained in just 4 weeks as I would have likely crammed way too much training in to prepare for race day. And lastly to Every Man Jack (use KDENNY18 for 25% off online orders) and all our amazing team sponsors.