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.
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.
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.
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.