FULL CIRCLE – 2011 to 2012
Last year I had one of the most disappointing experiences of my adult life, certainly the most in terms of triathlon. I had what I’d say was an overall horrific couple of weeks leading into Ironman Wisconsin, peaking with breaking up with a girlfriend two days before race day — then spending all of race day sick and stopping at every port-a-potty on the IMOO course. A swim in which I nailed my goal time led immediately to a bike and run far below my potential and goals. While I never really gave thought to quitting, I was a complete wreck mentally, emotionally and most of all digestively. Bananas, chicken broth and coke were my friends that day.
I was happy just to have my family there for comfort and comiserating back at the hotel. One decision I made that day was not to immediately sign up for IMOO 2012, wanting some time to think it over and process all the change happening in my life as well as how badly the race unfolded.
Fast forward to December and I was running a lot (more than ever before, actually) and decided I wanted another shot at Ironman, simply to prove to myself I could have a race more reflective of my ability.
After reviewing my race options, I signed up for Ironman Louisville 2012 and threw myself into training. I ran all of late fall and winter, fighting a nagging hamstring injury along the way. And I also swam more than ever before, pushing myself to swim longer in each workout and piling up yards in the pool. My plan was to basically maintain my bike fitness without focusing too much on it, so heading into the season I was honestly a bit concerned there — however a few training rides washed away the self-doubt and I felt confident.
The 2012 season brought me some successful moments, learning experiences (ouch) and a lot of fun along the way. The one main obstacle I had was back pain — both in the mid/upper region of my back and my lower back — which would not go away, despite massage, ART and physical therapy. An extensive series of x-rays and MRI’s revealed a few conditions I’ll have to deal with long-term and hopefully address during the offseason, the worst of which is a herniated disc (L5) and degenerating disc (L4) in my lower back. That said, the various massage, ART and PT sessions did provide a degree of relief and I am thankful for the help of some talented docs and therapists.
Heading into race weekend I was feeling strong, fit and ready . My overarching goal for race day was to truly enjoy the experience and have fun. A few weeks earlier, at the beginning of August, I set aside the splits and time goals that had bounced around in my head all year, put away any age group finish aspirations and forced myself to focus on the process alone. This led to coming up with a fairly simple mantra, which I repeated to myself (out loud) every morning, said to myself during my last few weeks of workouts and made sure to refer back to during the race…yes, actually saying out loud “I’m relaxed, my back feels good and my legs feel strong. Enjoy the day.” I got a couple emails from friends with some inspirational quotes, the most impactful being one phrase about expressing gratitude. Being grateful for the ability to be out there racing…a good addition to the mental ammo.
Saturday Practice Swim w Well-Fit Elite Teammates Marc and Scott
Louisville bike setup, pre-race
Race morning, I met my friend Marc down in the hotel lobby and we were picked up by his friends who drove us to transition. We stopped to pump up our tires and I dropped off my special needs bags, then hopped back in the car for a ride to the swim start. Louisville has a time trial start and people apparently began lining up at 3:45am. We arrived at about 6am and it seemed were fairly far back in the line, but MANY more people showed up after we did. Most of the time was spent sitting on the ground or standing and chatting with friends, as Karin was with us as were our ride (Amy and her sister) and Marc’s buddy Scott S., who was also racing. We exchanged chit chat with other athletes and finally the clock ticked over to 7am and the race started, so the line began to move as athletes were hurried into the water in groups of 6 every 2 seconds. As I jumped off the dock and pressed start on my watch, I noticed it also said 7:17am.
The swim start itself is two small boat docks where the long wait finally ends and athletes form two lines, jumping feet-first into the Ohio River. The swim is approx 1.5k upstream past a small “island” that shelters a marina, followed by hitting the only real turn buoy and swimming 2.3k “downstream” to the swim finish back at transition. The water was 85 degrees on race morning — basically bath water — and muddy enough that you couldn’t see the bottom of the river the entire way. That first 1500 meters through the marina and past the island had a fair amount of contact with other swimmers, but nothing crazy (and nothing like IMOO last year). My plan was to hop in and build my effort, rather than sprinting from the gun as I would in a mass start. So I followed the plan and as we all had speculated, it seemed that many of the folks who lined up to get in early were on the slower side. I was passing many people on both sides, but generally just tried to swim in the middle of the channel and not spend too much effort going to one side or the other for open water. After what felt like a while, we hit the turn buoy and things opened up quite a bit. At this point, I was near a pair of feet and after rounding the turn buoy, I was swimming side by side with a female athlete. That lasted for a while but I am terrible at drafting and we eventually just drifted apart, but I was not focused on much except maintain a long swim stroke and keeping my effort where I felt comfortable but not TOO easy. I finally hit the second and last turn buoy just a few yards from the swim exit stairs, pushed the effort a bit and climbed the stairs. I felt a bit discombobulated and hoped I hadn’t swallowed too much river water, but I was happy with the effort level and my back had held up. As I ran across the timing mat and toward transition, I saw 1:07 on my watch. The expectation I had going in was to swim around an hour flat, so my immediate reaction was that I felt a small surge of disappointment hitting me…but I reminded myself right away that the swim was just the warm up for the day and that it wasn’t at all a big deal. No wetsuit (new for me in a race) and warm water were probably factors, but I was relaxed and my back felt good. Success and a smile. The fans lining the chute were great and I rinsed my mouth with water just to be sure no river monsters were stowaways for a ride along the roads of Louisville.
SWIM — 1:07:24
Exiting the swim at IM Louisville
I didn’t rush through T1 as I stuffed my first round of Gatorade chews into my bike short pockets and composed myself. I grabbed my bike which was not too far from the bike out/in and got rolling. T1 time was around what I figured it would be (5 mins or under) given the run from the river to transition.
T1 — 5:04
IM Louisville Bike Out
I’d heard Ironman Louisville had a rolling and underrated, pretty bike course. I drove it on Saturday to get a sneak peek, so I knew what to expect. My plan was to take the first 30 minutes pretty easy, below my goal power. The first 10 miles were flat and we had a slight tailwind, so they went by quickly. I made a point of getting on top of my nutrition, but gave myself 20 minutes with only a small sip of Gatorade to let my stomach settle after the swim. Lesson learned and it was helpful as I felt really good. A few people stomped past me on that first 10 miles but I didn’t give it much thought…I repeated my mantra to myself, smiled and laughed out loud at how different (and better) I felt compared to last year. I definitely felt grateful.
A beautiful stretch of the IM Louisville bike course – rare bit of shade near the beginning!
Leaving Louisville – the first 10 miles out of town
The bike course is basically a lollipop shape, where you ride 30 miles out (the stick) which includes a small detour on the way out with the only notable climbs and descents on the course, do two 30 mile loops and then ride 30 miles back into town. The back 10 miles or so of each 30 mile loop was into a fairly strong headwind, meaning that the last 35-40 miles back to T2 would be into the wind.
I picked up a tip from reading a Jordan Rapp race report early in the year, which was to hit the lap button on my Garmin bike computer every 30 minutes (or in his case at specific points on the course, to be able to go back and review that point in his power file). Using this technique in training and my races this season enabled me to keep closer tabs on my average power for each 30 minute segment, but more importantly, it was my cue to eat and take in salt pills. Again, worked like a charm.
I knew it would get hotter on the second lap of the race as the sun would be high in the sky and my prerace scouting of the course revealed essentially no shade on the two loops and the ride back to town. Thus, I was conservative all day and stayed on the low end of my goal average power (knowing normalized power would be a bit higher). So I felt steady and strong most of the ride, with not too many mental or physical lows. I again relied on the mantra and those last couple of hours on the bike, I certainly focused on the third piece of it…I feel relaxed, my back feels good and my legs feel strong. My lower back was aching by this point, but I was still smiling, talking to and thanking volunteers and police blocking traffic and exchanging a few friendly words as I passed other racers. I was disappointed to see a few packs on the bike that were not being broken up my course marshals, but tried to let that emotional reaction roll off my back and not linger. My stop at bike special needs wasn’t long, but it was fun to kid around with the two women with my bag about how it wasn’t that hot out. They were cooking, as this part of the course was VERY hot and unshaded. By late morning the temps were up to the low-to-mid 90′s and pretty humid. Shortly after leaving bike special needs I saw Karin doing her long run, and she was shouting to get going. Always helps to see a friendly face out there and get some encouragement.
Shortly after leaving special needs on my bike, I had basically the only real negative interaction with another athlete during my entire race. An older guy who was what I would guess is a primarily a biker, was someone I passed within the mile before special needs. As I got back up to speed about 1/4 mile past special needs he passed me back. I finished drinking some fresh Gatorade and settled back into my effort and within a mile I repassed him, but he made a point of sitting within a bike length of my rear wheel. I didn’t notice until a couple miles down the road, but once I did, I gave him a few looks back. Now having someone drafting off me didn’t impact my race, but it did bother me. So after about two miles of me looking back a couple times and him not moving off my wheel, I turned and yelled back something more polite than I probably wanted, saying “COME ON MAN, EITHER PASS ME OR GET OFF MY WHEEL!” Surprisingly, he did drop back without a word and I didn’t see him again. I felt a little silly for even saying something, but the thought passed and I focused on my race.
Getting hot out there on the bike course
The last turn onto the main highway heading back to town was back into the anticipated headwind and it had gotten a little worse by this point, but nothing too ridiculous. I tried to keep my head down as much as possible and didn’t push the pedals too hard. It was here, around mile 60/90 of the bike course that I saw many, many people sidelined and messing with flat tires — both clincher and tubies. There were several guys (and a woman) that I noticed, all trying to wrestle tubular tires off their disc wheels and my two thoughts were: “that sucks, I know how frustrating that feels” and “please please please don’t go flat, tires!” There were many seams or parts of that stretch of road that were ground away, like construction crews had gone out to survey the road a bit but never started a project. I assumed these rough patches were causing the flats, but apparently someone had thrown tacks into the road and really screwed over a lot of athletes’ races. I don’t understand it but I was again grateful to avoid this problem.
Feeling good and having fun
The last 10 miles to T2 were the same flat stretch we took out of town, and I took them easier again to make sure my legs would feel good heading into the marathon. I was passed by one or two guys riding faster than I, while I went back and forth with a woman in a Nytro Racing kit a couple times, with us passing and repassing each other. I wasn’t altering my effort, so I guessed she was pushing it and the last time she passed me she looked to be working hard. I didn’t repass her that last time. I did take a few mental notes during the bike, wondering if a steady, conservative effort on the bike meant I’d see some of these people on the run. Overall, my bike split was not as fast as I’d anticipated (by a good 15 minutes), but again I was very happy because I felt like I was conservative and paced myself based on feel and the conditions (cautious in the heat). I didn’t want to push myself to ride a faster bike split only to pay for it and walk the run, so mission accomplished. More smiles.
BIKE — 5:38:36 / 19.85 mph / 209w normalized power (72.56% of 288w threshold)
I again took my time moving through T2, changing into run shorts and putting on socks. I also drank a Gatorade prime pouch to get a quick shot of calories. Finally, I unhooked the race belt and slid a small Fuel Belt pouch onto it, which contained salt pills, Gatorade chews and a few chewable Tums (just in case). I also had a handheld flask that contained Gatorade prime, rather than carrying much nutrition. T2 was a little slower than I wanted, but I walked and didn’t sprint through.
T2 – 7:11
Heading onto the run, I was aware that I would need to run just under 4 hours to break 11 total hours for the race. Based on training I was confident I could do this, but didn’t want to stray from my plan (which in the case of the run, was both based on perceived exertion and my splits at mile markers). Heading out of transition I got to see my parents and gave them a huge wave, smile and thumbs up. That really made me feel great, as I knew they’d been around all day but I had not seen them yet. They were incredibly supportive and it made me feel great to see them smiling too. I ran off with a big grin, reflecting some more on how it felt like night and day compared to IMOO 2011.
The goal pace in the back of my head was anywhere from 8:00 to 8:30 min/mile average for the marathon, but it was really hot and humid by this point. The first 1.5 miles is up onto a bridge that extends out over the Ohio River. We ran out just short of the Indiana/Ohio state line and turned back. My plan was to go out easy the first 3-4 miles below my goal pace and then assess how I felt. I jogged through the first couple aid stations without completely slowing to a walk and averaged just under 9 minute miles for the first 3.5 miles. I took sponges, ice under my hat and some water and sports drink.
Nearing the end of the bridge
Running with sponges under my hat
At this point I was on pace to just break 11 hours, but wanted to be sure to continue to feel strong as long as possible. I started to pick it up some around mile 4, but immediately felt my temp rise quickly…I went from feeling comfortable to “cooking” without much in between. I was walking the aid stations and running in between them. The next 5 miles came and went with my splits at each mile marker being just under 10 minute miles.
Advice from Coach Sharone was to continuously ask myself “if I keep doing what I’m doing right now, will I finish the way I want?” I did exactly that and focused on positive thoughts, knowing in the back of my head that a sub-11 race was creeping just a bit out of reach if I kept the same pace going. However, I truly did not feel let down or disappointed — I just wanted to keep moving and focus on not walking in between the aid stations, even if my RUN turned into a “run” pace. I saw Karin a couple more times on the run, we chatted and that was a nice lift. Despite feeling as good as can be expected through the middle and late stages of the marathon in an Ironman, my body was starting to hurt. Specifically my left foot was really getting sore and blistered. I wore socks and running shoes (not tri shoes), so while they were comfortable, when they got slightly wet (from the sponges and the occasional cup of water over my head) they became uncomfortable. I resisted the urge to stop to adjust my shoe, figuring my feet already hurt and it wasn’t going to matter or help much.
Just past the run turnaround. Puppies are distracting.
Along the way I saw friends including Marc, who was cruising along despite a season interrupted by neck surgery, Scott, Noelle, Erika, Tracy and a couple others. It was more of a stark contrast to my 2011 IM experience, as I was able to exchange encouraging words with other athletes all of whom were strangers. The heat and humidity were pretty stifling, but I tried my best to mentally refer back to some of the really hot training runs I’d done in temps in the mid-to-upper 90′s throughout a hot summer.
The last couple miles of the run
Finally, the mile markers started to shift into the low 20′s and I was in the home stretch. I started to feel a bit emotional at this point, knowing fairly closely around what time I would be finishing and that I was not going to blow up, fall apart or walk between the aid stations. It had been a long journey and I was very, very grateful to have enjoyed my second effort at Ironman so much more than the first. Coming into downtown Louisville, the crowds got larger and louder, especially entering the last 1/2 mile when people lined the barriers leading toward the actual finish chute. I took my time jogging down the cobblestone road of the finishing chute, really trying to soak up the happy feelings, cheers and positive vibes. I was feeling a real wave of emotion, which I’ve not really felt at a race since my first triathlon when I was just ecstatic to finish. I did cross the finish line with a huge smile, though my official finish line pic with the clock was, as usual, a clumsy goof-up. However the really cool photo after getting my medal made up for it, courtesy of Karin and Instagram…BAM!
RUN — 4:28:24 / 10:14 mins/mile pace
FINISH TIME — 11:26:39 / 40th in M30-34 age group / 266th overall
Ironman Louisville Finish
All in all, I’ve continued to feel very happy with my entire Ironman Louisville experience. While my swim, bike and run times were not as fast as I hoped (or believe I’m capable of), I am completely satisfied. My plan was to go out there and focus on the process and how I felt all day, while not feeling pressured by hitting specific time goals. I achieved this and know that when I tackle the challenge of Ironman next time, I will have the confidence of a well-executed and steady race under my belt.
I was already pretty certain prior to Louisville that I would not be doing an Ironman until 2014 at the earliest and I am even more sure of that now. Two weeks of rest and recovery have felt really good, as I’m just now beginning to do some training again without much of a goal but having fun and maintaining some fitness. I will be racing some cyclocross this fall for fun as part of the ChiCrossCup, for my 3rd season in a row with Iron Cycles, but this will be dictated most by how my back is responding. Regardless I will enjoy the fall with friends and my impending trip to Kona to spectate, cheer and soak in all the magic of Hawaii (my first trip)!
I’d be remiss not to include a thank you to some important folks: my parents and sister for their unconditional support; my non-triathlon friends who have also been supportive and understanding of my crazy work/training/racing schedule and priorities; Gatorade for their amazing products and support; Brandon and Iron Cycles for the bike, wrenching and answers to my endless questions; my home away from home in Madison -Krisa, Chris and Muiren – you guys rock; and finally, my coach Sharone Aharon, my teammates on the Well-Fit Elite team and friends within that group and the tri community, all of whom have at various times been sounding boards, shoulders to lean on and allowed me to do the same for them. It’s a special feeling to have so many good people in my life and I feel very lucky. Now, on to the offseason and some rest, relaxation and more fun!
A few highlights from my Ironman Louisville experience:
Dinner with Mom and Dad at Smoketown USA, Thursday before the race. My #1 fans!
Smoketown USA – great BBQ
Amazing beef ribs for dinner at Smoketown USA
My youngest fan! Future rockstar triathlete, Miss Muiren Urchell
Some fun exploring the bike course
Sweeping the bike course on Saturday. If I could have bought this guy a beer I would have done it.
- Shoe carnage I didn’t notice til after the race. Not sure how this happened, but both shoes tore open on the outer sides. They were destined for retirement after IMLou anyway.