Ironman Louisville was both my last race of 2016 and my last chance to qualify for Kona before the end of my self-imposed two year deadline. It’s also a special race because Hector proposed there before racing last year (seriously, the man cannot be trusted during taper), so I figured that had to bring some good luck or at least some positive vibes for the race. We even had perfect weather. What could go wrong? (Ha, it’s Ironman racing, you know better than that!)
Logistics are a little interesting at Ironman Louisville for a few reasons:
- It is a point-to-point-to-point race where the swim start, transition and finish line are all about 2km apart.
- The swim is a two-by-two rolling start, based on when you show up rather than self-seeded swim time.
- It takes about 45 minutes to get everyone in the water, so you never have any idea how you are placing relative to others in your age group.
Nonetheless, it’s a race I would do again and probably my favourite Ironman so far (at least now that Muskoka has been cancelled).
The Swim (3.8km)
In order to get a good starting position, I decided to skip transition the morning of the race and head straight to the line up at 5:40am. I got some jealous looks for having brought my long puffy winter jacket to wear while we waited for 2 hours in the dark! The starting gun went off at 7:30 and I jumped in the water four minutes later.
Finding people to draft was going to be easy since the swim gets pretty strung out, but it turns out the water was so murky I couldn’t stay on anyone’s toes anyways! I focused on my own swim, and got into a good strong rhythm. I also really appreciated all the 4k swims I did in training, because I wasn’t intimidated by the distance at all – it just felt like a nice start to a long day.
I’ve let disappointing swim times get in my head before, so I purposely avoided checking my watch when I got out of the water. I found out later that I had finished in a solid 1:07:45 (1:45/100m) and 26th place, which is a little slower than I was hoping for given the river current, but generally reflective of my training.
The Bike (180km)
The water may have been nice and cozy, but the air was a very chilly 11 degrees! I spent the first 20 minutes warming up my legs at an easier pace and getting some calories in, then gradually picked up the power as we started climbing towards the two rolling loops. It was shortly after starting the first loop that I realized I was having some issues.
I’ll be honest, I still don’t know exactly what the problem is. I don’t even know if it’s physiological or all in my head, but my legs started feeling weak and unresponsive, and the frustration at this ended up spiraling me into a very negative mindset. (For those who want the numbers: my Ironman race power is 162-173W. I started out around 140W and worked my way up to about 150-155W over the course of the first hour or so, but ended up unable to hold more than about 130W for the remainder of the bike.) This has happened before, and although I thought I had figured it out, it appears I need to do some more investigating.
Just like at Ironman Texas, I could feel Kona slipping out of my reach… but this time I didn’t give up on pushing myself to ride as hard as I could. I looked down at my slowly dwindling average speed and realized how lucky I was to be halfway through an Ironman and still riding over 30km/hr on what was, for me, a bad day. I also thought of all the people who were struggling just to make the bike cutoff (including my friend Arelys who was doing her first Ironman that day), and realized that I had better start appreciating what I was capable of. So I stopped looking at my power and the numbers on the calves of those who passed me, and tried my best to look around and enjoy the ride.
At times I was convinced that I was so done with Ironman and would never race again; every time, I managed to pull through and keep riding hard. The last few kilometers plain sucked, but I was really proud to pull into T2 in a time of 5:56:04 for a 16-minute personal best at this distance. I had also moved up 13 spots, to 13th place in my age group!
The Run (42.2km)
At the dismout line, I jumped off my bike and immediately panicked: there was an excruciating pain in my left foot every time it hit the ground, and after a few steps it had reduced me to a hobble. I slowly limped into transition, handed off my bike and was crying as I sat down in the change tent. Praying that it would resolve itself if I started running, I pulled on my shoes.
All the negative thoughts from the bike disappeared along with my mysterious pain as soon as I left transition, and the first few kilometers were exactly on my target pace of 5:30/km. I was in my element now, and focused on a new goal: I had seen my total time in T2 and knew that I could still break 11 hours with a 3:45 marathon. At that point it felt like I wanted that 3:45 more than I had ever wanted Kona.
Once I could feel that I was running well, it was time to stop holding back. My pace was aggressive but in control, and I knew I could hold it as long as I kept getting my nutrition in. At every aid station I would follow the same routine: grab some water and pour it over my head, walk and drink as much Coke as I could, then pour ice down my shirt and sip another water as I left. A gel every 45 minutes rounded out my nutrition.
For the first half of the marathon I felt great, and then as expected, it got more and more difficult as I made my way towards the last turnaround. In my long runs I know that I can run for about 10km after I think I’m done, and in a race I figured I could push that to 15km, and just barely make it to the finish line. The goal was to leave everything out on the course and crawl across the finish if I had to.
The last few miles were agonizing as each muscle slowly gave up, making every step an uncoordinated stagger. I found a final push through the last turn towards the finish line, but I don’t remember hearing the words “You are an IRONMAN” before crumpling to the ground under the finishing arch. Volunteers carried me to a wheelchair, and I tried to stay upright as they wheeled me to medical.
I didn’t know it until later, but I had run a 3:52 marathon (5:29/km), the fourth fastest in my Age Group and 19 minutes faster than my personal best. I’d also passed another 6 people to finish 7th in a total time of 11:08:16.
Kona and What’s Next?
Going to the slot allocation the next day was really difficult, because I knew a 7th place wouldn’t be enough. On the other hand, I knew I would never forgive myself if it rolled down and I missed it. As with every other Ironman I have done, Kona never rolled down even a single spot in my age group. However, having read the race report of the woman who took the spot, I have to say she deserved it.
A special thank you to my coach Paolina Allan of Ignition Fitness for helping me get in the best shape of my life. Big thanks as well to Skechers Performance, xact NUTRITION, Beet-it Sport Canada, Multisport Canada, and 3Sixty5 Cycling for your ongoing support.
And finally, Hector: I could not have done this without your unwavering support of my dreams. You help me push through the hard days, believe in myself and celebrate when everything just clicks. Thank you and I love you.
As for what’s next…well, I’m honestly not sure. I think that’s another blog post altogether.