Ironman Louisville 2015: After Action Report

Going into IMLOU2015, I felt cautiously optimistic.

On the positive side:

(1) In spite of having so many difficulties learning to swim, that came together in mid-August. Prior to that, I had a strong chance of failing to make it out of the water.

But two weeks before IMLOU, I nailed a 2.4-mile open-water swim. In the weeks prior to that, I nailed several open-water swims in the Ohio River.

I felt ready for the swim at IMLOU. The only wildcard: water temperature. All of my practice swims had been in warmer water (76F and higher). At start time, the water temp was 68F.

(2) I had five rides of at least 100 miles, the last of which was 4 weeks before IMLOU.

(3) I had four training runs of at least 20 miles, the last of which was three weeks before IMLOU.

(4) I was well-tapered (3 weeks).

On the negative side:

(1) I had suffered two bike crashes during critical brick workouts. Both of those came 6 and 5 weeks, respectively, before IMLOU.

(2) In spite of my century rides, I still hadn’t logged a lot of miles on the bike. This was due to spending so much time on the swim out of necessity. (After all, I can be a 20mph biker and a sub-4 marathoner, but that means nothing if I can’t make it out of the water.)

Basically, I was forced to gamble on the premise that my century riding experience–10 in the last 2 years–would be enough to give me the legs going into the run portion of an Ironman triathlon.

(3) I had stomach problems that morning, probably due to a meal I had the day before.

——-

The swim:

When I cannonballed into the water, I had an initial shock: I could not breathe because the water felt so cold. Thankfully, I recovered quickly. Within ten yards I was in business.

My hard work on the swim paid off well. I focused on my race, staying very steady. I had no breathing problems. No panic issues. No fatigue. I felt very good going upstream in the Towhead Island channel. I had to stop to pee twice, but other than that, no issues whatsoever.

When I reached the turn buoy at 0.8 miles, I was elated. I was going to nail the swim. This was going to be a good day.

The rest of the swim was very nice going downstream. I finished comfortably and was all smiles coming into the swim finish.

In transition (T1), I fumbled a little bit trying to get my GPS tracker on, and had to make a pit stop due to my stomach issues, but I made it onto the bike by 10AM, which was my target.

Mission #1 accomplished.

The Bike

Because of my bike crashes, I decided to take it easy for the first 27 miles which included (a) some very nasty pavement on River Road and (b) a dangerous out-and-back on highway 1694. My mission: don’t crash!

River Road was horrible. Pavement was awful, but I avoided crashing. It is flat, but the horrible road quality made it difficult to ride.

The 1694 stretch was much better, given that it had recently been re-paved. But it was still dangerous, as it is narrow and you have bike traffic going both ways, often at high speeds. Tragically, there were several crashes, and I saw the aftermath of one: a woman was lying motionless in the road, her bike scattered on the other side of the road. (I learned she had broken her jaw and collarbone, and needed lots of stitches. Another cyclist had pulled right into her path.)

I took it very easy on 1694. I rode the brakes on the downhills, stayed aero on the flats, stayed away from other riders–we weren’t supposed to draft, but a lot of riders broker that rule, which is what caused many of the accidents–and tried to take it easy on the uphills. Sometimes, I went a little hard on the uphills, and I would pay for that later.

The next big stretch is a two-loop trip around La Grange. There are lots of hills in this section, particularly on 393 and Ballard School Road (also affectionately known as Bastard School Road). That loop was difficult, but I handled it well. My only problem: had to take a couple pit stops due to stomach issues.

The second La Grange loop seemed uneventful–I made the 3PM cutoff for the second loop with almost a half hour to spare–and I was feeling well except for the stomach problems.

When I made the final turn onto US-42 for the 30 mile trip to the bike finish, I felt great. Yes, there were hills, but it was mostly flat. The only problems: the headwinds–13 mph–and my stomach problems. But those seemed like low-grade nuisances. While my finishing time for the bike was a little higher than I wanted, my swim-bike split was close to my target.

The Run

Coming out of T2, I had 5:45 to do the marathon. This was well within my training limits.

Only one problem: my quads were hurting. This has not happened to me all year after a century ride. The swim would not have affected my legs much, because (a) I rely on my wetsuit to keep my lower body up, and (b) my swimming motion is core-driven, not leg or arm-driven.

The bike had trashed my quads!

This probably wasn’t helped by my nutrition deficit, due to my stomach problems.

Still, I started the marathon on a positive note. The course was flat; I was otherwise comfortable; my quad pain dissipated somewhat; I was getting food down; I had a fighting chance.

For the first 5 miles, I felt good.

Then things started slipping ever so slightly. I could feel my quads stiffening, and my splits started to slow. I responded by taking bananas and a small amount of chicken broth. Got some carbs down, but tried not to overeat. I also adjusted my stride to gain more comfort. This was working for the most part.

Then, at mile 12, the bottom fell out. I hit the wall very badly. My quads were all but dead.

While I made the 13.1 mile cutoff, I knew I was in trouble. There was an 11PM cutoff at the turnaround point (approximately mile 20), and, of course, the midnight cutoff at the finish line.

I needed a miracle to recover.

I went to my special needs bag. I had a banana and a peanut butter and honey bagel. I couldn’t keep the bagel down, so I went for the banana.

I kept walking, and taking in fluids and electrolytes and carbs. I figured I might just get the jump-start I needed to run.

That never arrived.

I had just finished mile 17 when the clock ran out on the 11PM cutoff.

I was pulled from the race.

DNF.

On the positive side:

(a) I had the swim of my life;

(b) I had a strong bike performance that set me up for the run I wanted;

(c) I did not quit.

While my stomach issues were a nuisance, I don’t think that had anything to do with the result. These things happen in ultra-endurance events. Chef Gordon Ramsay, an Ironman veteran who has finished Kona before, was DNFd on Saturday at Kona after vomiting throughout the run course.

Ultimately, I think this comes down to my bike crashes that ended my key brick workouts. I needed at least one of those. I got neither.

At the end of the day, I got killed on the margins.

I plan on attempting another Iron-distance race, but not next year. I don’t want to put MrsLarijani through the training chaos two years in a row.

Next time, my quads will be ready. Now that I have the swim down, I can spend a LOT more time on the bike. Can someone say HILL REPEATS???

I’m looking at either (a) Beach to Battleship, (b) Ironman Chattanooga, or (c) Ironman Louisville in 2017.

I’ll be ready for the rematch.