I have been thinking about my race report for the past three days since I crossed the finish line at Ironman Louisville at 7:45pm on Sunday night. Usually, I start to write within a day and get it posted as soon as I can. But, this one was a little bit different for me. I had waited a long time for this race. It was years in the making. I trained for a long time for this race. It was on my mind as soon as I recovered from my surgery and I felt like it might be a challenge I could tackle. I prepared mentally for a long time for this race. I had to build up the self-confidence again to toe the start line feeling positive I could handle the distance and do it in a way of which I would be proud of my efforts. It was a fairly long journey to get to Louisville and once I was there, I was not going to let anything derail me from having the best day I could.
Leading into the race, there had been reports of extreme cases of toxic green algae in the Ohio River near Cincinnati and also in the downtown Louisville waterfront. This was in the back of my mind as I prepared for the race but I also knew that I had no control over this situation. I chose to focus on what was in my control- preparation of my body, my mind, my gear and my nutrition. I flew into Cincinnati on the Wednesday before the race and stayed with my Mom for the night. She had knee replacement surgery on September 25 and would not be able to make it down to the race. So, I was happy that I got some time with her before I drove down to Louisville. I arrived in Louisville on Thursday afternoon. On the drive down, I detoured through La Grange to drive the bike course and familiarize myself in person with the route which I had heard so much about and watched on You Tube during training. I decided it was going to be challenging with all of the rolling hills but was beautiful and completely the type of course I love. So, I felt good about the cycle portion of the race and felt well prepared for it. Upon arriving in downtown, Louisville, I stopped and picked my gear bag up from Wesley Smith, owner of Pro Bike Express, who transported my bike and gear from Denver to the race. Then, I easily walked right across the street and picked up my registration materials from the Ironman Expo. It was not very crowded at that time so it was stress free and efficient. I headed to my hotel, Embassy Suites, on 4th Street and also check in there. I was thrilled to see that my hotel was in the block adjacent to the IMLOU finish line! I knew that it was close but this was a fantastic scenario for me come race day. Also, my room was such a fantastic surprise- spacious and comfortable with everything I needed for the following three days heading into Sunday’s race.
On Thursday night, I walked down and met my team mate Karla at Galt House and we Ubered to meet some of our Cupcake Cartel team mates for dinner at Gamma Grassa. It was terrific to meet some of the Cupcake team in person and also chat with some of the local Louisville triathletes who have raced this course in the past. A big topic of discussion was the river and whether or not it would be safe for us to swim on Sunday. And, the weather, although perfect on Wednesday and Thursday was changing for the weekend and getting dramatically colder on Saturday and would start off chilly on race day as well. This meant more planning. We all had to have appropriate gear to keep us warm on the bike, especially if we did indeed swim and would be starting the ride with wet hair and colder bodies. Luckily, I had thought through all of this back at home as I was packing and looking at the extended forecast for Louisville. I had all of my cold weather gear with me. It was just a matter of deciding what I would need when, which gear bags would get what and how warm it would get by the afternoon for the run. In the end, I think I planned everything perfectly with the exception of wearing one of my nicer jackets on the bike and ultimately shedding that at an aid station and asking the volunteers to donate it to a local charity for me as I did not want to tie it around my waist for the rest of the bike. The great part though is that it would be given to someone in need. And, I have more than my fair share of jackets.
Friday morning came and I decided to head over to the YMCA which was just a few blocks from the hotel and do a swim. I had heard through the grapevine that Saturday’s practice swim was going to be canceled pending further water testing so I thought it best to get a swim in at the pool. I arrived early enough that I got a lane and finished 2000 yards before other triathletes started showing up. From the pool I headed to the treadmill for a quick 20 minute run and then back to the hotel. I grabbed some breakfast, changed into my cycling gear and headed down to the Ironman race venue at Waterfront Park. I was down at transition by 10am and grabbed my bike from Wes. The sky was starting to get darker and it looked like the rain was coming. I had expected rain but not until later in the day. I jumped on my bike for a quick ride around to check my gears and look at the run course. I did an out and back on River Road which was not only part of the bike course but also part of the run course. It was easy to get my 30 minute ride in while also checking out the swim start and the run course. I had seen photos of the toxic algae at the swim start and it did not look good. After checking the water conditions for myself from the swim start docks, I doubted we would be swimming after all. And, later that day, we did indeed get the official word from Ironman that the Kentucky Department of Water Safety had retested the water and it was not safe for us to swim. The upper limits of safe were a level 8 and the water tested at a level 60.
The rain started and I headed back to Wes to hand over my bike and get to the hotel to shower before I got too chilled. I was walking the mile back and was getting soaked- pouring rain at about 50 degrees. It made me think of the athletes who raced IMLOU in 2018. A full day of racing in these cold and rainy conditions. It was a tough day for them. I was grateful that even though we would not be swimming for our race at least our weather for the bike and run, although chilly to start, was suppose to be rain free and beautiful. I reminded myself my “Why” for racing IMLOU and refocused on making it the best experience possible given the race we were given and the weather to be expected. And, from that moment, I did not dwell on the “no swim”. I chose to look forward to everything I would be doing on Sunday as a first timer on the Ironman Louisville course. In my mind, I had a lot to be excited and proud of heading into race day and I did not want to ruin the experience by dwelling on the canceled swim.
I made a point of staying off of the social media pages for IMLOU in the day before the race. There was a lot of negativity out there after the swim cancelation was announced. The biggest topic was “Does IMLOU 2019 truly count as an Ironman experience if there is no swim?”. Yes, there are copious arguments that it does not constitute a full 140.6 mile Ironman race because the swim was canceled. But, please let me share my perspective. Although I did not race 140.6 miles on Sunday, I did complete the Ironman race that World Triathlon Corporation held as Ironman Louisville on October 13, 2019. I raced 138.2 miles on the bike and run as part of that course. On Saturday, knowing that I would not have the chance to swim officially on course, I chose to swim my 2.4 miles in the pool. I know in my heart that I did indeed complete the full distance in Louisville. Even if I had not done that pool swim, I would still feel very proud of what I accomplished training for and completing this race. No, it was not presented in the traditional swim/bike/run format but it was completed nonetheless and I trained for 10 months to be ready for the day. Ironman is a journey. Race day is the culmination of huge amounts of training and the sacrifices made by athletes and families all in the name of getting to that finish line. That journey changes people. It makes us stronger, we grow in self-confidence, it allows us to make new friendships, we learn to reach for goals we once thought unobtainable, we make sacrifices to balance our lives to make it all work. You don’t go through a year of developing that physical and mental fortitude and then discount all of that because the Ohio River is too polluted for athlete safety. That was beyond our control. That was not our decision. We did not skip the swim because we didn’t feel like doing it. All the athletes trained for that swim. Sure, perhaps a few might not have made the cut off time but the majority would have and then continued on to that finish line. So, yes, in my mind, I came to Louisville to become an Ironman and I completed the race I was given. I consider myself an Ironman based on this. That being said, I would love to complete another Ironman event so that I have the complete experience of the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run for which I trained. And, I plan to do so in 2021. I do not, however, feel like I must go out and race another Ironman event immediately to prove myself worthy of the title Ironman. Okay, moving on….
On Saturday morning, I did my 2.4 mile swim in the YMCA pool and then I headed down to do a final bike check before I racked my bike in transition and checked my run gear bag and special needs bags. Since there would be no swim and T1, I no longer needed to check my bike gear bag since I planned to go to the race start in my cycling clothes and bring my shoes and helmet with me from the hotel. Once everything was checked in, I had the afternoon free to spend time with my close friends who came in for the race and also my family who arrived that afternoon from Colorado. I was thrilled to have so much support! My husband and sons had each written me special notes to read before the race and brought other “good luck” items for me. It was thoughtful and planned out so well as a surprise. They spent the night with family in Louisville while one of my best friends from high school stayed with me in my hotel room. Tina kept me calm, grabbed me a sandwich for dinner, set her alarm as back up for race morning, made me laugh and together we managed to keep everything in perspective. My sister also came for the race and spent the evening with us so I had a lot of encouragement and support leading into the day. Surprisingly, I was not overly anxious. I knew I was ready. I was just a little bit worried about pacing and making sure that I took in the nutrition I needed. I had practiced everything in training but still felt a little unsure as to what race day might bring.
Fast forward to race morning and getting ready for the time trial bike start. It was COLD. I believe it was about 39 degrees at 7:15 am when I got to transition and you could see the steam rising off of the Ohio River since the water temperature was so much warmer than the air temperature. I was bundled up in my cycling gear, sweat pants and sweat jacket and my Team Cupcake Cartel puffer jacket. I was warm like that but knew I would be chilly once I stripped down for the bike start. At that moment, I was secretly very glad that we were not swimming. Getting out of the water and onto the bike with a cold body and wet hair would not have worked very well for me. I could have gotten it done. But, it would have been a hard start to the bike for me as I get cold easily and find it very hard to warm up. So, from this standpoint, the bike time trial was a better option. Warm bike clothes and jacket, dry hair, layers to remove as the day got warmer. The downside was that there was no physical race day “warm up” and as we got going on the bike, I needed to pace those efforts a bit more conservatively to make time to warm up my body. My knees were shaking but soon I got into a rhythm and found my power. The first ten miles on River Road are flat and I went out faster than I had anticipated due to the nature of the TT start. When I hit the first of the hills by mile 12, I decided I should dial back my effort a bit as I had 100 more miles to go and I was afraid of burning too many matches early on. The lower elevation definitely made cycling feel effortless to begin but I knew that this would be short lived if I did not stick to my race plan. And, so I did. I felt strong on the hill climbs. I train on the hills ( or mountains) at home in Colorado. I think the hardest part of the bike course for me was to try to keep an even effort for the ride. Once out in La Grange for the two loops of the course, it was predominantly a series of rolling hills. And, when not on those hills, I was on Route 42 which in theory could have been a fast part of the course except we had a headwind and it made for a real effort there. Nonetheless, I cruised into T2 after riding my 112 miles and almost 5357 feet of elevation gain in 5:55:29 by my watch with an average normalized power of 152 watts. With my two stops on the bike, my official bike split was 5:59. I had hoped to keep it under 6:00 and I succeeded at that. My husband and sons were at transition waiting for me. I gave everyone a hug and kiss and ran down to grab my run gear bag and head to the change tent.
My initial game plan going into the race was to wear my race kit for the entire bike and run. But, I changed my mind coming back down the last 10 miles of the bike course. I had told myself that I would stop when I had to pee and use the porta potty as I did not want to race all day in a gross, wet, cold, pee smelling race kit. For a 70.3 race, I rarely care as I am off the course pretty quickly. But, for a full 11+ hours on a chilly day, this did not sound appealing to me in the least. I did stop once on the bike to pee at an aid station and to remove some of my layers of clothing. And, then towards the end of the bike, I just kept telling myself- keep pedaling, keep going, just get to T2 and go there. But, alas, I had to go so badly, I just did not make it. It may sound gross to some but for us crazy triathletes, we pee on ourselves while racing a lot. So, not a big deal in my mind, but it did mean that I would be doing a complete change of clothing in T2 and I wanted to start the run in dry run shorts and top. This ended up being a great decision. It took me longer in transition – almost 8 minutes with the long run in and out (plus more hugs for my family)- but in the long run (pun intended…LOL), I did not have any chafing or issues. I felt great in those run clothes and the shorts especially (Roka brand) are my favorite! So comfortable! A longer transition but I was comfortable on the run and when I did have to stop to pee on the run it was super easy to go. No wet race kit stuck to me. In and out of the porta potty at the aid station “lickety split”.
Coming into the race, I knew that the 26.2 mile run off the bike was going to be my most challenging part of the day. I am a strong swimmer and cyclist. I have no worries about those disciplines. Since having pelvic surgery, I have been very conservative in my come back to running. Many women who have this surgery are told not to run as it puts so much pressure on the pelvic floor and increases the chance of a reoccurrence post repair. But, since I am a bit of a rebel, I decided that I wanted to try it anyway and see if I could accomplish a full Ironman without causing damage to my repairs. Call me stupid but it seems to have worked! My surgeon was supportive of this idea and I trained slowly and carefully all year long gradually building up my strength and stamina by using run/walk intervals in my long runs and doing strength work to reinforce my pelvic floor. The run had gone very well in training. I trained at an easy pace for the long runs and made sure I took longer walk breaks as needed to keep the intensity down and the pounding to a minimum. I was curious how this would translate to race day on the full course. The longest I had run was 20 miles. It knew it should be sufficient but I was still a little bit nervous as to how I would feel having brought the entire distance together at a greater intensity on race day.
Running out of T2, athletes came up a slight hill out onto the run course. I saw my family one more time as I headed out onto the three loop run and I was amazed at how good my legs felt. Yay! Training at altitude is so awesome!! The run course was a mix of road, sidewalk and trails along the waterfront in downtown Louisville. There is one portion of the course which is a little more remote, but all in all, I liked the fact that it was mostly along the river and very spectator friendly. There were a ton of people out there cheering. At the end of each loop, we once again ran around transition and down to an underpass where we were given a wrist band to help keep track of our mileage. My first 8.4 miles went amazingly. I stuck to my 5 minute run and 1 minute walk intervals and still averaged around 8:45 minute miles. I felt awesome. the walk intervals gave me time to reset my form, get my heart rate down and then pick up my pace again heading into another 5 minutes of running. Sometimes, I took 30 seconds if I was feeling good and then just walked through aid stations as needed. My favorite part of the course was running through the trails by the park where all the children were playing. It was lovely. I stayed strong through mile 15 and then I slowly felt my legs starting to slow down a bit. Nothing dramatic, but I could tell that I needed more fuel even though my stomach really did not feel like it could handle much more in it. I made sure I took some Coke and a Gu Roctane at the next few aid stations to stay on top of my nutrition. My Infinit custom blend had been on point on the bike so that had held strong for me in the beginning of the run. I had also been taking my salt tablets every few miles to make sure my electrolytes were in balance.
I finished my second loop and saw my husband and boys at mile 17. I stopped for more hugs and kisses and I was really (and I mean REALLY) happy to see them for encouragement at that point. I knew I was close enough to the finish that I would make it easily but I also needed some TLC to keep up my efforts and not let myself just start walking. So, I took off strong again for the next mile and kept up with my 5:1 interval plan. By the time I got to mile 21, I felt my tunny sloshing a bit and I took some salt. I was starting to feel a little bit off but I just kept telling myself, “Court, you are now only 5.2 miles away from that finish line. Greg and the boys are waiting for you. GET THIS DONE!”. It was the first moment on course that I had to talk myself into it. I had been ready for dark moments earlier in the run and I was so surprised and relieved that I only hit this one so late in the run. I knew that I just had to face it and that it would pass. By mile 22, I was in a porta potty with some GI issues. After that, I just dug deep and kept going. I took my salt and water. I ran as much as I could and then took walk breaks as needed. There were moments when I felt great in those last 4 miles. And, then, there were a few moments when I had to stop and walk to settle my stomach again. But, I knew two things. #1) That I was going to hit that finish line faster than I had ever hoped. and #2) That I had proved to myself that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to doing and that I am braver than I give myself credit. I made a note to myself at this moment to remind my friends and personal athletes of the same. You are stronger and braver than you give yourself credit for!
I rounded the bend at the underpass and was sent through to the final half mile to the finish. It takes us uphill on 3rd Street to Muhammad Ali Drive and then two right turns to the red carpet on 4th Street. It was a bit of a run/shuffle/short walk at moments up that hill and I was lucky enough to see two friends right there who reminded me that I was “SO CLOSE!” so I turned that shuffle into a run and booked it to see my family! I found them about half way down the finisher’s chute. I stopped to give each and every one of them hugs and kisses and then hit the bright lights amidst the most exciting finish line feels. Louisville has a fantastic finish line! And, my kids are loud! I hit that finish and I could hear them all screaming for me. It was such a wonderful feeling. I had done it. My run was 4:17 with a slow down at mile 22. I had hoped for 4:30 or below and I had met that goal. My total time for the day was 10:24 with a 17/130 AG finish. My whisper goal for this event was to come in under 12 hours. I usually swim the 2.4 miles in approximately 1:10 and with a river swim that goes down current, I expected it to be a little bit faster in Louisville. So, I really think I would have met this goal for myself if given the chance. Regardless, I am so proud of this effort and I am thrilled to finally hear the words, “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”.