Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ironman Louisville Race Report 2016: Lucky #7

This time last year, I was happily registered for Vineman 2016 and had talked Trent into doing the same. When I won the Norseman lottery last November, plans had to change: Vineman is held a week before Norseman, so it would be impossible to do both races. For the second year in a row I found myself taking advantage of the WTC race transfer program. Ironman Louisville, held 2 months after Norseman, made the most sense, so last Thursday, Trent and I loaded up the car and made the 16-hour drive to Kentucky to race.

Note: Having done both, I can confidently say that I would rather spend 16 hours completing an ironman than sitting in a car for the same amount of time. Then, I realized that's exactly what my Norseman crew did during my race two months ago, and I'm filled with additional love and appreciation for the effort and discomfort that that took. Ouch.

Lucky #7
At dinner one night, Trent and I sat next to a mother and daughter who were also there for the race. As we chatted, I was asked if this was my first ironman, and I replied that it was my 7th. The response was "Oh my god, that's crazy. Two or three I could understand, but SEVEN!? Why do you keep doing it?"

The answer is simple: because I can. Sometimes when you're tired from all the training, or you're suffering during a race, you can forget to be grateful for the ability to do these things. We are lucky to be able to do what we do: swim, bike, run, train, race.

I've had the opportunity for 7 attempts at this distance, from the first one (DNF after bike crash at Arizona), and then 5 subsequent races (Texas, Norseman, Texas, Tahoe, and Norseman), and now Louisville. Each race was a unique experience; each one taught me lessons that extended beyond the sport and allowed me to grow as an athlete and as a human being. This is why I love what I do.

Two months ago, for the first time, I considered that there might be a finite number of ironman races in my future. At Norseman, the pain in my back both during and after the race scared me into wondering how many more of these I have in me. It took a few weeks to recover, and my confidence was shaken. I did what I could in the time I had to build some core strength and prepare for Louisville. But I had no idea how race day would go. I knew I'd be grateful to finish smiling and (relatively) pain-free.

My race goals for Louisville were to focus on the process and smile. Specifically: swim strong and steady and find fast feet. Waste no time in transition. Bike within your ability. Run the whole marathon, and stay mentally tough (nobody else will know if you gave up, but you'll know). I've written a lot here about smiling and being positive and enjoying the process. Although these things have been easy to learn, they're also easy to forget.

Race Day
This race has a unique time trial start. 2500 participants get into a single-file line and then jump in one after another to start the swim. Trent has raced here before, so he knew that it was important to line up early for the swim to avoid crowds on the bike course later in the day. We drove to transition to be there when it opened (5:15) and found a huge line of people waiting to get in. Once we were in, we put air in our tires, loaded our drink bottles onto our bikes, and hurried to the swim start, a mile away.

We got pretty close to the front of the line and settled in with a couple of our Big Sexy Racing teammates to wait an hour and a half for the race to start. At 7:00 the line started moving forward, and at 7:30 the race started. Trent had gone off in search for a replacement for a lost swim cap, and at 7:39 when I approached the start line, he hadn't returned. I didn't know if he was ahead of me or behind me, but I jumped off the pier and settled into my own race. It took until at least 8:10 to get all the athletes in the water, so hurrying to the swim start had been a smart move.

Swim start in perfect temps: 50 degrees outside and 72 degrees in the river.
It's easy to sight using landmarks in the Ohio River. First you travel upstream for .8 of a mile, around an island, and then back down, past the swim start, under 2 bridges to transition. The water was 72 degrees and I felt strong and powerful swimming in my fullsleeve wetsuit, something I'd been nervous about after a bad swim at Norseman. I ran out of the water with a 2-minute swim PR: 1:08. Yippee!

After a long run out of transition with our bikes, we were out onto the gorgeous bike course. You ride out of town along River Road, then start the first of two hilly loops. When I say hilly, I mean that rolling hills come relentlessly at you for two loops, from mile 15 until mile 90, when you begin the return back into town. You ride past countless green fields and barns and horses, and twice through the town of La Grange where it seems like the entire community has come out to cheer. There are more spectators on this bike course than any I've experienced except maybe Mont Tremblant, and they're screaming at you Tour de France style, urging you to get up each hill. It's awesome.

People have said that we don't have hills like these to train on here in San Antonio, and I agree. They're not the short, steep climbs of Amman Road or Boerne. You can't settle into spinning up these like you might in Vanderpool, because they're not long enough for that. They're just long enough that you don't have momentum to get up and over the next one, so there's lots of shifting and difficulty finding a rhythm.

I made errors with nutrition that I tried to make up for, but I ended up taking in less fuel than I needed. I was happy with a 6:16 for the bike split because although it's not my fastest ironman time, it's my strongest yet. I held exactly the watts and heart rate that I wanted - trusting the process was working!

I never saw Trent on the bike. I always expect to swim faster than him, and then I wait to see how far I can get before he passes me. But we didn't start together and I didn't know where he was. My thought process on the bike went like this: "Maybe he started first and swam faster than me. He's probably winning the race! Or, maybe he had trouble on the swim and never made it to the bike, but surely they would have found me as his emergency contact...?" I saw one of our teammates spectating as I ran out of transition to the run course, and while Matt was yelling "Way to go Kris!" I was begging him to tell me if he'd seen Trent. "Yes," he replied, looking confused, as if Trent had gone by hours ago. I felt relieved and happy to focus on my run.

The run is where I gave up at Norseman. On the Louisville run, more than anything, I wanted to be strong, both physically and mentally, and not give up when I got tired. The run course heads up into town from the river, two loops, pretty much pancake flat, out and back. You run right past the finish line on your way out for the second loop. Today, it was a perfect 70 degrees with plenty of shade to run through.

Relentless smiling. It works!
I might have looked like a crazy person smiling so much on my way out on the first loop. Seeing Trent running by the other way and stopping for a quick kiss (swoon) got my legs moving a little faster for a while. I got interviewed by a videographer on a motorcycle, made a few new friends, cheered for my Big Sexy teammates and generally enjoyed myself for the first 13 miles. Although I wasn't running as fast as I'd like to, I was keeping a steady pace, around 10:20 min/mile. It gets dark earlier in Kentucky, and as the sun went down, I started taking advantage of the chicken broth served at every aid station. It was delicious and welcome after all the sweet snacks earlier in the day.

With 6 miles left on my way back in on the second loop, I knew I could get a new PR if I hustled. But each aid station allowed me to walk a little bit more, and I had to reset myself a few times and remind myself to keep running. Emily had told me that if I was "in a race" at mile 24, then I needed to "race," but otherwise to stay steady and take care of myself. This instruction was what I needed. By mile 24, I was in a race with myself. I ran as fast as I could to the finish line, bypassing aid stations and running around everyone in front of me.

Finally, I saw the lights and heard the crowds of the most energetic finish line I have ever crossed. I ran up to the line through what seemed like the longest finisher's chute I've ever been in, with crowds cheering on both sides, and was rewarded with a couple of new personal best times: 4:37 for the marathon, and 12:15 for the entire day. An ironman distance PR by about 4 minutes, and a day that I spent smiling and feeling grateful. Goals met...time to celebrate!

World's loudest finish line led by the world's greatest BSR cheering squad!
Big Sexy Racing
I've been a part of the Big Sexy Racing team for a year, and it's been a great experience. I've met, trained, and raced with some awesome teammates here in Texas, and our team is in daily communication on a Facebook page, encouraging each other, sharing advice and training tips, and generally being a fun and entertaining triathlon support system for 200+ like-minded people.

Louisville is a special race for our team. Chris "Big Sexy" McDonald, our team's fearless leader, has won the professional race here 4 times: the last time in 2014 was the most inspiring sprint-to-the-finish victory that I've ever seen at an ironman. We had 25 teammates racing this weekend, and several others who had come in to cheer and support. Hands down, my favorite part of this race was sharing it with the folks on my team. To race with teammates makes it fun, and to hear countless people yelling "Go Big Sexy!" and "Stay Sexy!" gives that extra boost of energy that you need, especially in the last 6 miles of the marathon.

Big Sexies everywhere, and so many spectators! Here's Trent running in with one of our teammates.
We met so many great people from our team from all over the country at a team barbecue on Friday night hosted by awesome teammates Hannah and Bryan who live in Louisville. And after the race, many of us came back for the midnight finish to cheer in the final finishers. It was an amazing, uplifting experience that made me proud to be a member of this team. Go Big Sexy!

Thank You, 2016
It's been a really different kind of year for me with changes in my personal life and career taking some priority over triathlon training. I'm grateful to still be chipping away at my triathlon goals while being distracted (in a good way) by life. Since my season is over for the year, I want to take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has given me so much love and support: my friends who let me go on and on about this sport that I love; Mom and Dad who helped me get to Norseman one more time; Trent, who always encourages me to be my best; Emily, my coach, who has helped me adapt to the changes in life and worked to fit my triathlon goals in - thank you! To Matt, Greg, and the guys at Bicycle Heaven, thank you for keeping the Slicey in good order year after year. To the Big Sexy Racing team and all our sponsors, in particular, Blueseventy, Cobb Cycling, and Newton Running, thank you for the support and inspiration. As always, thank you for reading. Here's to a great off season and a fabulous 2017!