2011 Ironman Louisville Race Report

       Rarely do I walk away completely satisfied from a race. Normally, I pick apart my race and end up with a punch-list of items for improvements or that didn’t sit well with me. I can honestly say that sitting here a few days after the race, I’m the most satisfied I’ve been with a performance as long as I can remember. Sure, not everything went absolutely perfectly, there are always areas for improvement, but there’s nothing glaring at me from the weekend leaving me uneasy in any way. That’s how I know I put in my best and met my own, sometimes too high, expectations.

     I finished the day at Ironman Louisville in 2nd place, about three minutes behind the winner Chris McDonald, and also sharing the podium with Justin Daerr, both of whom are friends. I had a new personal best time at the Ironman distance, taking another couple minutes off of my Ironman Texas time from May. The highlight of the race for me was that I had a new personal best run of 2:52, after both a solid swim and bike. This was my third time at Ironman Louisville (2007 - 5th, 2010 - 4th) and this time I was 29 minutes faster than in 2007 and 21 minutes faster than last year. I walk away from this race very happy with my year-over-year improvements.

Another small and fun personal mental victory for me is that Louisville is the home for the corporate headquarters for Pappa Johns Pizza and Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell). So it felt good to come into the home town of Little Caesars competition and have a great showing, bringing out the orange, and having a Little Caesar himself strutting around at the finish! All I need now is for Dominos to put on a race and I'll be there to throw down.



     We really lucked out with the weather on race day. The hurricane on the east coast ushered in a "cold" front that brought the normal mid-90s temps down into the mid-80s. It was humid as always, but the fact that it didn’t really feel warm until the end of the bike meant that we started the run less dehydrated than last year when the temperature was hovering around 96 degrees. My parents drove down from Detroit as well as my Aunt, Uncle, and cousin, so we had the entire Evoe clan out on the course. Having my family there always makes the race experience that much better. Just like last year, the Little Caesars Louisville franchisee family, the Michalaks brought their entire family out in force to cheer on the course.

     Race morning was nothing out of the ordinary. Jumping into the Ohio river in the dark is always a strange feeling. It was dark enough that the lead kayak had a strobe light on the back for us to follow. This year, the Ohio was hot, and I mean hot. It’s always been a toasty swim, but this year it was the warmest water I’ve ever raced. The water readings the day before the race were 86 degrees. For those of you who aren’t familiar with water temps, here are some comparisons. Keep in mind that 1-2 degrees of water temp changes are much much much more noticeable on your body than air temperature changes. Kona is considered a warm swim and that water’s about 80 degrees. Most good swimming pools for training are about 79-80 degrees. FINA competition temperatures for swimming are usually around 77-78 degrees so the competitors don’t over heat. Those stuffy YMCA pools where the senior citizens do aqua aerobics and the temps are kept really high so they don’t get cold are around 84 degrees. So when I saw the water temp was 86, I knew it was going to be uncomfortably hot!




Pre-race Press Conference - Photo from Ironmanlive.com

     When the start cannon blew, I tried my best to get in with the main group. After a little jostling and shifting around, I found myself quickly off the back of the group. It happened much sooner than I was hoping, but I’ve learned with my history of swimming that I no longer let that bother me. My breathing felt controlled, which I really do attribute to coming down from altitude. I was the first swimmer behind the main group, which normally means there’s a group sitting on my feet, but I didn’t feel anyone behind me and a quick look back confirmed that I was swimming solo between two groups. I decided that rather than dropping back to the group, to keep digging and then maybe someone would drop off the front group for me to swim with. When they had about 100 yards on me, I saw a swim cap drop back from the group. Now I had my rabbit. For about 40 minutes, I tried to reel this girl back in. At the swim exit stairs I had clawed my way back to about 5 seconds behind her. Although I didn’t have a draft, she was a good carrot for me to keep focusing on keeping my pace high. Had I not had her swim cap as motivation to chase, I probably would have slacked off my pace 2/3 of the way through the swim.

     I exited the swim feeling good. I saw that my time was 54 minutes, which was a minute improvement over my swim there last year, so I was overall satisfied with my swim, especially since I swam alone and last year I had a draft on feet the whole swim. I had been a little stressed in the couple weeks before the race because I hadn’t had a bike ride where I felt good for the entire taper. Even the day before the race, I had felt “off” and it had felt very hard to bring the bike up to race pace. I tried to trust the taper, but I have to admit that I was kind of doubting my cycling legs going into race day.

     Exiting T1, as soon as I got down into the aero-position, everything clicked and I could tell my cycling legs were “on” right away. I looked up the road and within a about 5 minutes, I saw a rider. As I got closer, I could tell it was Justin. Then I knew I had a better swim than I thought because at Ironman Texas, Justin had been quite a bit further up the road at the start. I caught up with Justin and we started working together. Our best chance to make up time on the lead group was to work together. He said that Chris had about 2 minutes on him at transition, so I thought that if we really hooked it for the first hour, maybe we had a chance to make contact.  Justin and I had biked most of Ironman Texas together, so I knew we could set a good pace and worked well together. For that first 8 miles we traded off the lead. I was feeling really good and it felt like it was taking more energy to trade off and pass each other every few minutes than to ride a steady strong pace. The other thing I like about Justin is that he and I both ride fair and legal (10 meters gap). I never mind riding with someone who will do work on the front and rides legal. There are a lot of guys out there who will just sit back and suck your wheel, doing no work.
  
     On one turn at the front, I looked back and Justin had dropped back further than 10 meters. After a few more minutes, I looked back again and he was further back. I took it that he wasn’t game for that pace, so I went on alone. I felt really solid on all aspects of the ride, strong on the hills, steady on the flats, fast in the turns. Everything was just clicking. My nutrition and hydration on the bike seemed to be right on. The only real snafu I had on the bike was that the back section of road on each loop was insanely bumpy. The pavement was jarring at times. So much so, that by the second loop, my rear water bottle cage sheared off at the welds and just snapped off. It took my spare tire, CO2s, and inflator with it. I don’t know where it happened, but I saw my shadow at about mile 75 and noticed that part of my bike was missing. I was just hoping for the last 35 miles not to get a flat.


Mom gives me time splits in LaGrange - 3rd place (left hand) is 5 minutes up (right hand).

     I was getting splits to the front from my parents when I passed them the two times in LaGrange. A couple race officials were giving me periodic time splits, so I knew I was keeping pace with the front group pretty well on my own. I never faded towards the end of the bike. My energy level was pretty even. I rode hard, but still felt like I had legs at the end. I rolled into transition with a bike split of 4:39, which was 9 minutes faster than my time on the same course last year! I will attribute the summer training in Boulder to a good chunk of that gain. The terrain there and the guys I’ve been riding with have really been making training fun and challenging. I had started the bike in 5th place and came into transition in 3rd. I had caught Romain about 8 miles out of town and he told me his day was done. 

      Starting the run, my legs felt horrible, actually worse than the last few races. The first two miles was the only time in the day I really questioned if I could hold it together. A few blocks out of transition, we run up a bridge and over to Indiana, then turn back. It’s the first out-n-back of the run and first opportunity to see where everyone’s at and how they look. I saw Chris and Paul Ambrose, still within 10 or 15 seconds of each other heading back. They had about 6 minutes on me. As I made the turn to head back across the bridge, I saw Justin and it looked like I had about 3:30 over him. My parents were at the base of the bridge and confirmed all the splits to Chris, Paul, and Justin. Then we headed straight out for about 6 miles across town. About the third mile, my legs loosened up and I could feel my stride coming back. I’ve been working on my running form all summer, really trying to prevent my overstriding and trying to get my foot placement under the center-mass of my body. When I get fatigued in races, I overstride and then my feet slap the ground. Richie calls it the “baby elephant” when he starts hearing the slapping on our hard runs. I know that it’s not good. Each slap is putting the brakes on and slowing me down. By the end of the Ironman, each of those foot slaps builds up to create extra fatigue in my hip flexors and quads. I attribute this issue with my form to why I’ve really faded badly in the last 6 miles of my Ironmans over the last few years. Eveyone slows down, but I have been REALLY slowing down and getting passed in every race right around mile 22-24.

       So, I’ve been working on it in training. I thought I had really made improvements, but as soon as I started the run, I could hear the baby elephant. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t fix it while I was running. So I just focused on trying to keep my stride short and up the tempo of my turn over. I think it helped a little, but there was some loud foot slapping in this race. I’ll have to go back to the running drills, barefoot running on grass, and focusing on fixing my stride for the future.


Running down the bridge at mile 1.5. Still not feeling good on the run yet. Stop that over-striding!

     Through the first 7 miles I was getting time splits to Chris and Paul. I wasn’t picking up any time to Chris, still about 6 minutes, but Paul was slowly coming back. After the turn around, even though he was still 2 minutes up, I could see Paul’s lead biker up in the distance. It always helps when you can see the man in front of you. It took me the next 5-6 miles to bring back Paul. As I came through town after loop 1, I had moved into 2nd. Chris still looked strong and I had brought back a little time on him, not enough though. Justin was behind me and he still looked strong as ever. He had come back a bit on me from last turn-around where I had about 4 minutes (I think).


Running by the Michalak family (see the orange shirts). This is honestly the first picture I've ever seen of myself where I think my run form looks decent. Usually I'm picking myself apart. Now, if only I my form looked like this in every picture....


     I knew it would take something big to catch Chris. I was already maxed out, but holding pretty steady. Things were going well, I was taking 5 seconds here and there on Chris. Then around mile 19 I had a rough patch for 2 miles. My pace dropped by about 15-20 seconds per mile. In the past, I've really struggled around this point and my pace had usually dropped into the 7 minute range. At the last turn around at about mile 20.5 I had seen Chris. He still looked strong, not like a man about to walk. I was still taking time out of him, but he still had about 4.5 minutes or so. Coming back, I started my watch so I could know how far back Justin was running. I was mentally ready to shut it down and hold steady back the last 5.5 miles. I thought if I had 4 minutes still on Justin, I’d just have to maintain and I’d be okay. As he came back the other way, I looked down to see that I only had 2:27 over him and he looked fast and strong. I had a moment of panic thinking he for sure would catch me and we’d have a repeat of Texas where he passed me late in the run. For some reason, I got some fight back in me. My pace went from about 6:52 for the previous 2 miles back to 6:30-ish. I’ve never been able to drop the pace after mile 20 of any Ironman in my life. I couldn’t believe I had more.

     In the last couple miles, I definitely had a few looks back to see if I could see Justin’s lead bike. I was running scared for a few miles. One last look as I entered town and I knew I could ease up to enjoy the finish line. It was very satisfying. Having my family at the race made it all the better. Also, having the entire Michalak family, the Little Caesars franchisees for Louisville, come out to the race, added to the enjoyment. Not only did they come out and cheer, but they got involved with the race with the finish line food AND they brought Little Caesar himself (see pics). Hats off to Chris and Justin. Both put in great days out there. I know the three of us are going to have more great battles in the future.


Happy finish-line picture with Little Caesar. I wish Ironman let you run across the finish with family, I would have totally run with him!


Had to get a picture with the big winner, Chris, with our mascot


The Michalak family and I at the finish. I really appreciate them bringing out the entire family out to support and cheer. They were a sea of orange out on the course, giving me splits, chanting, and cheering.


Mom, Dad, and I at awards.


Awards ceremony

     Again, I couldn’t be happier with the day. Now it’s vacation time for a week in Michigan before I head back to Boulder to start preparing for the later part of my season.


I wonder if these two were really that friendly? I personally think they had a punch-up right after the picture was taken.

     I really want to thank Little Caesars Pizza for their support of me and my racing. Their belief in me is so important for me be able to do what I'm doing in this sport. I'd also like to thank RecoveryPump for their support. RecoveryPump has been a critical aspect of my training and recovery this year and I truely believe the product has helped to take my training to the next level. Jack and Adam's Bicycles in Austin are always there to help support me and my racing. I want to thank Felt Bicycles for putting me on such an amazing bike, the 2011 Felt DA. Champion System Clothing has provided me with the best race and training clothing that you see in my pictures. Xterra Wetsuits is providing me with the best wetsuits and speedsuits in the sport and Advanced Rehabilitation in Austin helps to keep me healthy for training and racing. Hill Country Running Company is a great help with my running equipment. PowerBar and SBR Sports Inc's products are also a great help for racing and training. Also I want to thank my family and friends for their unending support for me. Without these people and sponsors, I would not be able to pursue this dream.



I have no idea who this dog belongs to? I just love the picture. How often do you see a pug being held by a giant foam Little Caesar?

Thank you,
Pat

 
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