Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Ironman Louisville 2011

Louisville was my third attempt at the Ironman distance, after a debut at Ironman Canada in 2008 in 10:39 and a DNF also in Canada in 2009.  In both the 2008 and 2009 races I went in with the goal of racing sub 10 and qualifying for Hawaii, but was pretty new to endurance racing and didn't know how much durability was required to put myself in a position to race those times.  In both races, I swam and rode too hard and paid the price on the run.  My overall placings in each sport in both 2008 and 2009:

2008: swim - 21st, bike - 545th, run - 191st
2009: swim - 25th, bike - 357th, run - DNF

After that 2009 race I committed to stay away from Ironman until I could take my weakness (the bike) and make it a strength.  2010 was spent focused on improving the bike, and I built on that fitness through 2011.  In February I made the decision to sign up for Louisville about an hour after having dinner with Mark Harrison, who'd just signed up for the race as his tenth (10!) Ironman.

Training went really well all year - no major injuries or sicknesses - just solid, consistent training.  Then ten days before the race I fell off my bike whilst commuting around the city, dislocating three ribs and putting a large dent into that confidence.  Cycling was fine, but both swimming and running hurt, as did sleeping and sometimes breathing.  Instead of a 'taper week', I shut it all down and hoped that the rest would have me OK to race on August 28th.

Phil Verk and I left Toronto on Wednesday night with a packed Ford Escape and an 'amazing' amount of baked goods from Bake Desserts ( - check it out, your stomach with thank you).  Highlights of the drive down included said baked goods, mocking the 'crazy storm' we were supposed to get that night, seeing probably the largest praying mantis in all of Ohio, consuming massive amounts of Louis CK stand-up, then enduring the wrath of the weather gods for mocking them and being forced off the road in Findlay, Ohio for the night. 

May or may not be the Praying Mantis we saw in Toledo
We stayed at the Galt House, which is the host hotel for the race, and it was great.  Everything was close by, staff was super helpful, and we could just focus on racing.  Within the hour of checking in, we see this car out front of the hotel:
Ironmen are a strange breed.
By Thursday I tested the ribs with a 5K run and it was manageable, did another short run on Friday and about 10 minutes of swimming on Saturday.  I wanted to feel super confident going into the race, but ended up being pretty nervous as my family and I had already booked flights and accomodation for a DNF would be the opposite of 'amazing'...maybe 'death before DNF' makes a bit more I still need to pay my VISA bill for the house in Hawaii if I'm deceased?

Our fan club (Team Imrie, Karen West and Shawn Patton) calmed us down over dinner, and Phil, Mark and myself were as ready as we could be ('as we could be' emphasis added for Mark, who had cycled exactly 105K in 2011 prior to the race, with 55K of that being part of the Muskoka Long Course triathlon...he was most definitely the least-trained participant heading into the race...getting married three weeks before an Ironman doesn't lend itself to being the most prepared triathlete).

Race Morning
Louisville is unique in the Ironman circuit as it has a time-trial swim start.  Check out this video (codename: 'Muppet Show') for a taste of what it's like:

In prior years, friends and family were allowed to 'save' athletes a spot in the swim-start line-up, which resulted in people camping out overnight. Ironman decided this was a bad idea ahead of a 17 hour day (it's a long day for the friends and family as well!) so the lineup didn't iopen until transition did at 4:45AM.  Being a smart cookie, not just a fantastic baker of cookies, Karen suggested  that Phil ride her bike from transition to the swim start, which was awesome and got us close to the start of the line. 

Support Crew 1
Support Crew 2
Time flies when you're having fun, suddenly it's 7:01 and we're in the Ohio River.

Swim - 55:10, 51st overall
The biggest benefit of the time-trial start is you don't have to sprint from the gun to get clear water.  Being nervous about how my ribs would hold up over the course of a 3.9K swim, I took it super easy during the first third of the swim.  Once we passed the island and turned around into the main channel, I found a good pace and eventually latched on to one of the guys who passed me going a reasonable speed.  I wore a blueseventy distance tri suit, going for simplicity in T1 over the potential time savings in the water of a speedsuit (which I find really tight and uncomfortable).

Finishing the swim with my draft partner.
T1 - 3:03, 24th overall
Smooth and efficient, only potential improvement would be getting shoes on faster.

Bike - 5:02:54, 24th overall
Rode ridiculously easy for the first 60 minutes as there was nobody around and wanted to keep my HR low.  Usually in training I can start a long ride around 135 BPM for my target power, but the combo of the swim and the race day excitement had me around 145 BPM for the same effort. 

Had a train of guys catch me on the out-and-back section, led by my friend Matt Barfoot who is a strong rider, so I jumped in with them.  We quickly dropped the majority of the guys until it was just three of us.  Going through La Grange the first time, we were caught by three guys going a touch faster than us - we hung on for a while but eventually they took off. 

By the start of lap two, it was just Matt and I...and a couple hundred of our closest friends who were on their first lap...a bit sketchy trying to pass people when you're rocking along at 40 KM/H on the flats.

Matt and I rode together until the last 25K of the ride where he pulled away.  My Garmin registered just under 1,300 metres of climbing, over the course of the ride I consumed 1 bottle of Infinit, 5 bottles of Ironman Perform, 6 GU Roctane gels and 3 SaltStick caps.  Garmin data:

T2 - 3:14, 66th overall
A few mistakes here, dismounted about 100 metres too early which made the run longer than it needed to be.  Also drank two cups while sitting in the tent, plus poured a bottle over my head instead of just getting ready to run and doing that on the go.  Leaving T2 to hit the run course I saw Phil coming in off his bike - he just SHREDDED the course, split sub 5 hours and had the 12th fastest bike split in the race.
Phil kicking ass and taking names
Run - 3:17:24, 21st overall
Heart rate was higher than I wanted to start the run, but pace felt easy - I backed off a bit after the first two miles to try and get the HR under 150.   

Reaching for salt pills on mile 2 of the run
Felt good for ten miles, rough for three, then good for four before the wheels fell off on the 19th mile.  Stopped to use the 'facilities', and walked each aid station from there on out.  Check out the encouragement Phil received from Top Gun out on the run course:

When your dog cheers you through farts, you're qualifying for Hawaii
After looking at my Garmin data post-race, mile 18 was only about 15-20 seconds slower than what I had been running, but mentally it was crushing and convinced me I was dying.  Need to push through that feeling next time.  Aid stations were great - threw two sponges in first, ice down the pants, one cup perform, one cup cola.  Had gels at miles 6 and 11, plus 12 SaltStick caps.  Garmin data:

Total: 9:21:43, 8th overall, 1st M30-34
Overall very happy with the result - nutrition plan was spot-on, resulting in strong energy levels all day.  Quads gave out later in the run which may have been due to biking a bit too hard during the second half of the ride, or due to the fact that my body just isn't durable enough yet to race for more than 9 hours.  Nice to see that my swim is now my WEAKNESS, will take advantage of my time in Hawaii before the race to try and get more pool time in to see if I can move that up a bit in October.

Quick celebration with Team Imrie, then off to medical for 2L of IV. Saw Phil come in a few minutes later, he rocked the course and had an almost 30 minute PB, and is also off to Hawaii.  We gorged on Kentucky BBQ post-race at the Frankfort Avenue Beer Depot and Smokehouse ( which was awesomely delicious.  Highly recommended! 

Strong race overall for the Ontario contingent - Phil (6th in M35-39), Matt (4th in M30-34) and Glen Flint (4th in M35-39) and myself are all off to Hawaii to do it again on October 8th...

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