Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 IRONMAN Louisville Race Report

 Finish Line: 4th Street Live! 11:28 pm
5,375 feet of elevation gain on the bike.

That is what I anticipated all summer. My previous IRONMAN finish in Florida last November had only 991 feet of elevation gain by comparison. A flat bike. That would not be the case on August 24, 2014 in Louisville, KY. Thankfully, the bike leg turned out to be the most enjoyable part, though I had feared it the most. 

I had a compact crank installed on my bike the week of the race. I had not tested it on a long ride, but it turned out to be the key to an enjoyable 112 mile bike ride. On one of the most difficult climbs of the race, I overheard a fellow triathlete I was (slowly) passing say to himself (so I could hear): "What?" How are you passing me? Oh. You have a compact crank." He was grinding out the hill with a standard crank. I felt so lucky! That, however, would not be the case at the start of the swim.

There's nothing quite like the moment you begin a 140.6 mile triathlon, because the moment you jump off the dock into the water, you realize that you will not stop for the next 16+ hours. Living in the moment is a necessity, and there's plenty to do, so the feeling doesn't last long, and usually I just say: "Here we go!"


It always takes me about 20 minutes to settle down into a comfortable breathing rhythm when I start swimming, but there were a couple of instances when I feared not finishing at the very start. The current of the river stunned me and the swinging arms and kicking legs of faster swimmers didn't help! It felt like there was no escape, and that was pretty much the case for about the first 1/2 mile of the swim. The beginning of the Ohio River swim, unlike the Gulf of Mexico, is very narrow because Towhead Island is only a 100 or so feet from the shoreline where 2300 athletes were previously lined up on a concrete river walk.

Upstream Swim for .7 miles
Till you get to the end of the island the swim was a test of survival symbolized by one kayak pilot asking me if I was okay when I thought I was swimming well. Great! I'm still not calmed down, I'm fighting this current, and now a kayak pilot tells the next pilot upstream standing on his vessel to watch out for me! Not encouraging.

The second symbol of my survival 14 minutes into this suffer fest occurred when I saw Laura on the shoreline looking for me. I was next to the island so there was virtually no chance. I raised my right arm waving at her and calling out her name. Guess what the swimmer behind me thought? Yep. This guy is calling for help.

Exiting the Ohio River
So, she called to the nearest pilot, "Hey, this guy needs help!" Paranoia has officially set in at this point. Time to swim-or fight-which was pretty much the same thing at that point. Thankfully, by now, the end of the island was at hand, and the twenty minutes I need to calm down have passed and my main problem is how slow I'm swimming compared to a great practice swim I had only a week earlier. Not a good time to realize I needed lower expectations.

It took me an hour to swim the 7/10 of a mile to the red turnaround buoy. That's only 1/3 of the swim, but thankfully the last 2/3 were downstream. That was definitely a plus, but didn't seem to help me as much as it did others. In fact, a difficult aspect of swimming downstream was that it carried me to the wrong side of the yellow buoys. After 2 or 3 course corrections I foolishly asked one pilot, "Are these things moving?" To which he replied, of course, "No." I knew that, but what would this swim be without another negative feeling? Swallowing my pride, I finish the swim in 1:53:39. 29 minutes slower than my 2.4 mile practice swim in the Tennessee River a week earlier of 1:24:42. Oh, well, on to the bike!