“Waiting on this for a while now, paying my dues to the dirt…”

Officially, Ironman Louisville 2019 had been on my calendar since I registered for the race in the Fall of 2018.  Unofficially, I’d been thinking about Ironman #3 since I crossed the finish line of Ironman #2 in Chattanooga in 2017.  After Chattanooga, I promised my wife that I’d take a year off from the full distance.  The race itself is certainly a big endeavor, but the training that goes into it is the real issue.  I do train year round, but there’s a block of about three months leading up to a full that takes things up several notches.  After a little begging, borrowing and stealing, however, I finally got Leigh Anne’s blessing to register for Louisville.  Oh, and I had to promise that the family would go to Disney World again in 2020, so there’s that.

Having Louisville on my calendar was a huge motivator for me, and my training over the Winter and Spring of 2018/2019 went great.  My FTP kept increasing on the bike and I was the most-injury free that I’d been in a long time.  Once the Spring tri season began, I made my age group podium in every race, with the lone exception being Ironman Virginia 70.3.  Still, in that race I PR’ed by about 21 minutes and flirted with going sub-5 hours until I succumbed to the humidity on the second loop of the run.  After winning my age group at the OBX Half-Iron triathlon in September, I felt like I was in peak form and ready to try to go sub-11 hours in Louisville.

As the bumper sticker says though, “shit happens.”  My shit happening manifested itself in the form of a bike crash on my last century ride three weeks before the race.  My bike was damaged, but fixable, but my left side was pretty beaten up, particularly my left elbow.  Thus, when I left for Louisville on Thursday, October 10th, I was still unable to ride in my aerobars since doing so caused a sharp pain in my elbow.  I did feel like I was very close to being able to do so though, but it was coming down to the wire.

Ironman required all athletes to check in by Friday at 5:00 p.m., and since its about a nine hour drive from my house to Louisville, I didn’t want to tempt fate by leaving on Friday morning.  My dad and I left on Thursday, but I was actually able to check in Thursday night a few minutes before they closed Ironman Village.

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Since I hadn’t ridden outside since my crash, I decided to do a short ride on Friday morning to try to get back into the swing of things.  I took off down River Road on the beginning part of the bike course, and I’ll just say that I was on “high alert” while riding.  Every pothole or groove in the road caught my attention, so the crash was definitely messing with my head a bit.  On the upside, I was able to lay in aero for the first time in weeks, even if there was some residual pain in my elbow with the pressure that it brought.  I rode a few miles and then called it a day.

My next order of business was to drive the bike course to see what I was in for on Sunday.  I knew the course was hilly based upon the elevation profile, but it was much worse when seeing it in person.  The first 11 and last 11 miles were flat, but everything else was up and down.  The course description called for “rolling hills,” but I call B.S. on that.  There were long grinders, short soul crushers and everything in between.  To make matters worse, there were a lot of hills that followed 90 degree turns, so you couldn’t carry any speed into them.  Don’t get me wrong, I like riding hills.  Mountains even.  I was just surprised by the hills on the course.  Chattanooga was hilly and had a similar elevation gain, but the Louisville course put it to shame.  I knew then that my stretch goal of 11 hours was going to have to be adjusted.

After finishing the course inspection, my dad dropped me off at the Ironman Village and I hit up one of the athlete briefings.  To my dismay, we were informed that the swim had been cancelled due to toxic algae in the Ohio River.  Algae almost cancelled the swim in 2015, but the swimming ban was magically lifted on race day and then promptly reinstated.  I’d been following the algae issue for several weeks and knew that it was going to be a close call, but I was sorely disappointed by the cancellation.  This was my third swim cancellation in a row for 2019, so I’m starting to think that I’m a swim curse.

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There was a mandatory bike check in on Saturday, and then I tried to do as little as possible for the rest of the day.  My dad and I got dinner around 5:00 p.m. and then went back to the hotel to try to get to bed early.  Since the swim was cancelled, there would be a time trial start on the bike starting at 9 a.m.  I could sleep in a bit longer without the swim, but I still wanted to get to sleep as early as possible since it was still going to be a long day.

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As I laid in bed waiting to fall asleep, I was feeling way more melancholy than I should have.  I’d been waiting for this race for two years, and I’d poured myself into getting ready for it.  Still, I hadn’t fully gotten my mind right from my bike crash a few weeks back, and the swim cancellation was a giant punch to the gut.  Maybe I was just being pessimistic, or maybe I had a premonition about how the next day was about to go down.  Either way, when I finally did drift off to sleep, it was with a sense of unease unlike any I’d felt before a triathlon in the past.

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“Pink ribbon scars that never forget…”

September 21, 2019 – The weekend after the OBX Half-Iron Triathlon was pegged for my last century ride before Ironman Louisville.  I’d done a self-supported century ride (mostly) on the Capital Trail on August 31st, and that is my preferred site for long outdoor rides since it keeps me out of traffic.  Still, since Louisville has a hilly bike course, I needed more elevation gain than the Capital Trail would provide.  I also wanted a tougher ride since my original plan to do three pre-Ironman century rides went out the window when I came back from vacation and promptly caught strep throat.  I wasn’t happy about it, but two would have to do.

Jillian’s travel soccer had begun having games on Saturdays, and I wasn’t going to miss her game just to get in a long ride.  She was playing at Striker Park in the West End in the afternoon, so I figured that I’d just bike to the game and then ride home with the family from there.  It took me quite a while to map out a route, but I finally managed to put together 100 miles that ended at Striker Park.  I’d be heading south towards Petersburg, then northwest to Powhatan, north through Goochland, and then back east to finish up.  There were a lot of turns, so I put together a cheat sheet just in case.

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I didn’t plan to push the pace too hard in the beginning, and figured that I would build a little bit over the course of the ride.  Everything started off well, and I eventually hit some pretty steep climbs in the Woodlake area.  There were some more good hills to the west, and then I missed my right turn at Genito and had to pull over to get my bearings.  I took that opportunity to take in some calories and refill my aero bottle from my extra bottle on the back.  I’d have to stop once during the ride to buy more water, and planned to do so once I got to Goochland.

I turned onto 522 north after passing through Powhatan, and immediately realized that it wasn’t the best road for riding.  The traffic was pretty heavy, and the rumble strip in the middle of the road was a bit disconcerting to hear as cars passed.  522 merged with Route 6 in Maidens, and I turned left to head north through Goochland.  All in all, I’d had a fairly good ride up until that point.

522 is one lane in each direction as you approach the Goochland Courthouse, and it was slightly uphill.  I was riding pretty close to the right fog line, and there was at most, a foot of pavement to the right of the line.  I was aware of traffic behind me, and then a large truck passed me to my left.  I caught some wind from the truck, and even though it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, I began to track to my right.  I guess the wind from the truck got me leaning in that direction.  Before I could correct myself, my wheels went off the pavement onto the grassy shoulder.  That’s happened before, and while it can be pretty nerve racking, its never caused me to crash.  This time was different.

As I corrected myself, my front wheel went back to the left towards the lip of the pavement and caught it instead of climbing over it.  That caused my wheels to shoot off to the right, with my body falling off to the left – back into the travel lane.  There wasn’t enough time to do anything about it, only enough time to realize that things were about to suck.  I landed on my left elbow, my left hip and my left thigh and slid across the pavement.  Thankfully, the elderly couple in the car behind me stopped without running me over, or things would have been a bit more serious.

It took me a few seconds of lying in the road to sort myself out and to try to figure out if anything was broken.  I was bleeding in multiple spots, but was hopeful that my bike wasn’t damaged since I (largely) broke its fall.  After a bit, I was able to get up and plop myself into the ditch with my bike, and the elderly couple pulled over in front of me and came back to help.  By that time, I didn’t think that anything was broken (on me), but hadn’t yet begun to look over my bike.  My aero bottle had been ejected, which the couple picked up and handed to me.

As best I could tell, there was nothing obviously broken on my bike, and despite the couple’s repeated offer to take me somewhere, I told them that I would ride up the convenience store where I’d already planned to stop.  My left elbow was very painful and bloody, and there was no way I could lay in aero so I had to sit up.  Thankfully, it was only about a mile to the store, and I made it there and then went inside to try to clean myself up.  The poor clerk saw all of the blood and just about panicked I think.

After collecting myself some more, I was on the fence about whether I was going to try to finish the ride.  I still had about 38 miles to go, and I was already upset about only doing two century rides before Louisville.  If I didn’t finish, I’d only have done one.  After some soul searching, I finally decided that finishing would be a bad idea.  With my adrenaline still pumping, I thought I could push through the pain, but I really didn’t know if there was damage to my bike that I couldn’t see.  That turned out to be a good decision because my front wheel was actually damaged beyond repair and could have collapsed if I kept riding.  The left brake lever was also bent and scraped, but my bike mechanic (later) assured me that those were merely cosmetic blemishes.

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Since Busher only lived a few miles away from the store, I called him and he came to my rescue.  We went back to his house, where his wife tended to my wounds.  Leigh Anne and the kids then came and got me and then we went to Striker Park for Jillian’s game.  After the adrenaline finally wore off, my left hip began hurting pretty bad.  I wondered if I needed an x-ray, but ultimately decided against it.  When we finally got home from the soccer game I was so pissed about crashing and not finishing the 100 miles that I put my bike on the trainer and went upstairs to do the equivalent of the remaining 38 miles in the bonus room.  Leigh Anne found out what I was up to though, and with some stern words, convinced me to forego any more riding for the day.  In actuality, she mostly just told me that I was being stupid.  Mostly.

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The worst injury, by far was my left elbow.  I could move it fine after a few days, but I couldn’t put any pressure on it and it took forever to scab over.  Since I had a nice open wound, I was forced to wrap it in waterproof bandages order to get into the pool.  Quite frankly, I probably shouldn’t have been swimming at all, and I always hid my elbow under a towel as I got in and out of the pool.  The bloody wound was visible due to the clear bandages, and I’m pretty sure that the lifeguards and other swimmers would have been grossed out by it if they saw it.  Hence, the towel.

The bigger problem was that I was only three weeks out from Louisville, and I was completely unable to ride in aero due to my elbow pain.  Every time I put it on the aero pad there was a sharp pain.  I wasn’t really feeling like riding outside anyways, but all of my trainer rides in the bonus room were done sitting up.  Thus, I was in a race against time to recover before the Ironman event that I’d been training for for the past twelve months.  A lot of blood, sweat and tears had gone into that training, and I was concerned that it was about to be wasted.  Even assuming that I physically recovered enough to race to my potential, I was still wondering how my wounded psyche would react once I got back out on the road again.  At least I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.