2012 Ironman Louisville Race Report


Photo by Ali Engin
IRONMAN LOUISVILLE CHAMPION

     It’s been a few days since the race, so I’ve had some time to let the entire weekend sink in. It was a very surreal experience to say the least. To win my first Ironman, with my family and girlfriend there, and at the race where I had my first top-5 finish as a professional in 2007 made it all a very special event indeed. I couldn’t be happier taking home the win, especially after the first part of this year had left me so frustrated. I’ll be completely honest, it was not my fastest race I’ve done, but I did what needed to be done for the win. I made some mistakes and took some risks on race day and they panned out. When asked by the media what this race means to me, I had two thoughts. The most important Ironman to an athlete is his/her first, now I know that the first win is just as special. Second, the win to me is an affirmation of the rewards for hard work, persistence, and determination. As I wrestled with injuries and self-doubt all winter this year, there were many times I was ready to give up on myself and the sport. I just kept plugging forward, putting in the miles and the sessions, hoping that things would eventually turn around; and they did. This has been a great lesson for me in patience and sticking with it even when things aren’t going as planned as happened to me this season.

      I was also very happy to share the podium with my friend and former 2x winner of Ironman Louisville, Chris McDonald. Chris and I have had several good battles over the last year and I know he and I will have many more to come. Chris was extremely gracious and said very kind things about me publicly after the race. He is truly a class act and I am happy we were on the podium together.

     The final days before the race were pretty typical. I spoke at a pro Q&A session for a Louisville charity Angels in Disguise for Down Syndrome. Events like that help to ease the race nerves for me. Even though we are talking about racing, training, and nutrition, it reminds me that this sport means a lot of things to a lot of different people. It’s not all about the pro race, so that helps me keep things in perspective and ease my nerves. The rest of the pre-race routine went on as planned. The final two weeks of my taper, I followed my taper plan exactly from this race last year. My body really started feeling good around Thursday before the race and felt better with each day. On race morning, when I went for my warm-up jog, my legs felt the best they had in months, helping my confidence over the morning nerves.

    
Everything was going perfectly that morning, until I started to put on my TYR Torque speed suit before the swim. I looked in my bag and saw a full water bottle. I had forgotten to fill my front aero-bottle on my bike. It was only about 10 minutes before the pros were to get in the water. Because of the river swim, we had walked almost a mile from transition to the swim start. I had already done my run warm-up so running back and forth almost an extra 2 miles to transition to fill up my bottle wasn’t an option. On my bike, my plan was to carry 2 water bottles. One, on my downtube, contains about 1500 calories of a highly concentrated carbohydrate drink. Then on the aerobars, I have an aero-bottle full of water. At aid stations, I pick up plain water, fill that bottle, then sip from it throughout the ride. I drink the concentrated calories from the downtube bottle, then water it down by drinking my plain water. Now, I knew I wouldn’t have any water until the first aid station on the bike. The swim water temp was 85 degrees, so I knew I would sweat a lot during the swim. Usually, I use the first 30-45 minutes of the bike to drink fluids to rehydrate after the swim. But now I knew I wouldn’t have any fluids for a while on the bike. I was really mad at myself for making such a simple mistake that could have huge consequences during the race. When I was thinking my problem through before I jumped in the water, my race nerves went from about a level-5 to level-10. I told myself that Ironman is a long day and if I was smart and disciplined, I could make up for my early mistake.

    
When the gun sounded, I started hard right away. One of the things that I love about training at altitude is that when I race at sea level, I can go so much harder during the swim starts. I kept with a group for a while. I found myself on the feet of a bigger guy wearing the same speed suit as Chris McDonald. I thought “yes, I’m on his feet, game on.” The group started to pull away from us, but I thought if I was on Chris’ feet, I didn’t care what everyone else was doing. After a minute or so, I thought the pace was a little easy. I decided to go around “Chris”. When I pulled up along side him, we both breathed towards each other and I realized it was Jason Shortis. Looking up, I saw that the group had pulled away from us. A little frustrated, I thought, just work on staying strong. I sat about 20 meters behind two swimmers the entire rest of the swim. I could feel one person behind me periodically. Otherwise, the rest of the swim, I just tried to hold a strong and steady pace. Because the area has had almost no rain this year, the river had no flow. The “down current” section really didn’t help anyone this year so most people swam 2-3 minutes slower than past years. Luckily, getting out of the water I didn’t see the race clock, or I would have been frustrated with my swim time. The last two years here, I’d swum 55:08 and 54:14. This time I was over 58 minutes. I thought I was in good swimming shape, but now a few days out from the race, as I analyze my performance, I am less than happy with my swim.



     Normally, I don’t grab fluids from the aid station running through transition. This time, I made sure to slow down and grab two cups of water because of my water bottle problem. Leaving transition, my parents, girlfriend, sister, and niece were all there. Their job is to give me information they think I need to know. My mom yelled to me that I was in 10th place (counting the girls too out of the water) and my dad yelled that Chris was only 2 minutes up. Last year, Chris had a 3.5 min gap on me starting the bike. Instantly, my frustrations with my swim subsided. I was 1.5 minutes closer to the race leader than last year. Getting on the bike with that information, I decided to take a gamble. Rather than easing into the race (which is the convention approach to an Ironman bike), I decided to drill the first 20 miles and see if I could make up some of that 2 minutes. My legs really didn’t feel good for the first 10 miles, but I still pushed as hard as I could. The first aid station was at mile 8, after missing the first 3 water bottles the volunteers held up, I brought my bike almost to a stop to grab the very last bottle. I’d raced almost 1.5 hours and had only gotten a few gulps of water from the cups in transition. The bottle didn’t fill my aero-drink very well. It kept crinkling up and I was well past the “garbage drop” point with a ref on a motorbike by me, so I tossed the bottle before I got to a point where I’d get a penalty. I really only got about ½ the bottle poured out. I was nervous about my hydration, but kept telling myself to stay calm and just slow more than usual for each aid station to ensure I get a bottle. It took me to mile 30 of the bike before I got caught up on having enough water.


Photo by Ali Engin

     Around mile 15, I could see a couple guys up the road. As I got closer, I realized it was Chris and Tom Gerlach. My gamble had paid off. I was with the race favorite. At the turn around, I could see we were about to pass the leader. The three of us then stuck together. I can say we rode clean because for the next 50 miles we had the lead draft marshal on a motorbike riding right behind us watching every second. We traded off the lead keeping a good solid tempo. I knew my family would be standing in the town of Lagrange around mile 30, so I made sure to take the lead before going through town. I wanted them to see me in the lead of an Ironman for the first time in my life. As we biked by them, I gave them a smile to let them know I felt good. I really did feel solid on the bike. I stayed seated on most of the hills and spun up most of them. I tried to test the guys a couple times by pushing a little harder, but they responded every time. I decided they were too strong early in the bike to break away, so I’d take my turns at the front and bide my time.


Photo by Ali Engin

       Starting the second loop of the bike, we mixed into the age groupers. That’s when it suddenly turns into crazy town. They’re all over the road, cutting in front of you, and many are completely oblivious to the race around them. You have to be on high alert the entire time. I took the lead for the first stretch, yelling to clear the way. By the end of the bike, my voice was horse from yelling to clear a path. We then swapped turns moving through the agegroup field. As we approached special needs pick up around mile 60 or 65 I slowed way down to get my bag. The guys put a few hundred yards into me, but I knew I needed the extra sugar and caffeine from my special needs hand up. I pushed to catch up with the guys as we biked through the town of Lagrange the second time. I wanted my family to see I was still in the mix with the boys. I gave the caffeine about 15 minutes to kick in. As we left Lagrange, I started to feel really good. When I took my turn on the front around mile 70, I pushed a little harder on a longer, less steep hill. I looked back and the normal 10 meter gap behind had gone to about 20 meters.


Photo by Ali Engin

     At that moment, something in my head said “go, just go.” I can’t tell you if it was sugar, caffeine, sub conscious, or some other voice. But the voice told me to go. I put my head down and started pushing. I looked back a few minutes later and that 20 meters was closer to 75. We came to a narrow, winding road. I know how out-of-sight-out-of-mind works. If the guys can’t see you, they can’t visually pace off of you. Around every turn, I sprinted, to try to get a couple more seconds when they couldn’t see me. By the end of that stretch I asked a motor bike how far back the guys were and he responded “a fair bit.” I couldn’t see when I looked back, because we were mixed into hundreds of age groupers. So I just kept pushing. I felt great. I think that’s the strongest I’ve felt on the bike in an Ironman. Everything felt smooth. In my self-talk, I kept telling myself “this is mine, make them come try to take it from me.” I had no idea of the time gaps. The last 8 miles on River Road were into a head wind. I was feeling the fatigue, but I knew they had the same wind to cope with. For the first time in my professional career, I led the bike into second transition. I actually felt good off the bike. I wasn’t as tight as usual running to change. Running out of transition, I kept telling myself it was time to make it happen.


Photo by Ali Engin

 
     Starting the run, I kept listening for the announcer to yell when the second biker was coming in. I never heard anything. I saw my family and girlfriend about a half mile in before we turned up the bridge. As I ran by, they said no one else had left transition. We had about a mile out-n-back on the bridge, so I’d be able to see how far back the guys were. Coming back, I saw Tom was almost 5 min back. I never saw Chris before I turned off the bridge, so I knew I had more than 9 min on him. I felt the best on the entire run during the first 2.5 miles. Then I had horrible side stitches. That’s an understatement, it was my entire abdominal wall cramping at mile 3. I slowed down and focused on deep belly breathing. Stitches are usually your diaphragm cramping like any other muscle. So by deep belly breathing, you can stretch that muscle out. It took me two miles before the stabbing pains went away. I felt alright for the next few miles, so I focused on staying steady and keeping the feet ticking over. I kept telling myself that I wanted the biggest gap possible when I got to the turn-around at mile 8. I told myself I wanted the guys to think they didn’t have a chance to catch me. Around the turn, I started my watch, I wasn’t feeling great, but I made sure to fake like I was strong when the guys ran past. My lead had stretched to 9 minutes. I told myself that every mile I kept up made it harder for them to make up ground.


Photo by Larry Rosa from LavaMagazine.com

 

 

     I noticed in the 9-10 mile range that my feet were starting to slap. This is what my training buddy Richie Cunningham calls my “baby elephant”, my stride gets sloppy and my feet slap the ground hard. It’s bad because all of that impact goes right into my quads and fatigues them faster. In training, I’ve been working hard on it and I hadn’t heard the baby elephant in a long time. But he was there this time, and earlier than usual. I knew that wasn’t good. If my form was falling apart by mile 9, I was in trouble. The rest of the run was excruciating as usual. With the temps in the low-mid 90s, I was having a hard time staying cool. I could feel my face flushed the entire run. I saw my family and girlfriend at miles 13 and 14. I felt terrible but I wanted to let them know I was in control. Heading out on the second loop, I didn’t get a time split back to the other guys, but I could see that I’d put more time into them. From mile 15 through the end, I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish without walking. My quads hurt more and more. I stopped taking mile pace splits because my pace was continuing to slow. At mile 20.5 was the last turn before heading home. I started my watch, if the guys were under 5 min behind, I didn’t know if I could hold them off. I was fading fast. My calf cramped hard, almost like I pulled it. Chris had moved into second and I saw that I had 12:15 on him. I said to myself, “okay, in 5 miles, 12 minutes is almost impossible to make up as long as I don’t walk.” “Every mile I make it farther, the 12 minutes are harder to make up.” I was swearing so much at myself that last 30 minutes. I just kept yelling at myself to not walk. I think that last mile was the longest of my life. It seemed like it took forever. I really think I ran about a 9 min mile. My quads couldn’t go any more. I didn’t want to believe I had won until I saw the finish. I had visions of Chris Legh in Kona collapsing 100 meters from the finish. I knew I was in rough shape.


 
Photo by Ali Engin
 


Photo by Ali Engin

 
     Coming into the finish area at 4th Street Live was surreal. In the pictures, I kept holding my hands over my mouth, I think because I didn’t believe what was happening. At that point I didn’t care about my time, so I took an extra minute to enjoy the finish chute. I stopped to hug and kiss my family and girlfriend. I’d always wanted to win, so I was going to take my time. I think the entirety of the race really took a couple days to sink in. I was in total disbelief for a few hours. All I can say is that having my Mom, Dad, girlfriend, niece, nephew, sister, and brother-in-law all there to share the moment is what made it really special. I remember thinking that it would have been an empty feeling to cross that line alone. Yes, this has been a long time dream and goal for me, but it was also a stark reminder to me of the most important things in life.

 


Sharing a moment at the finish with my parents and girlfriend. Photo by Adam Hilpp

 

My niece Katherine showing her Little Caesars pride at the finish line. Photo by Adam Hilpp


My girlfriend and I share a tearfilled kiss at the finish. Photo by Adam Hilpp




Photo by Larry Rosa from LavaMagazine.com  


Opening the morning paper in Louisville, I thought there may be a small story, I didn't expect this!

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. TYR Sports is providing me with the best wetsuits and speedsuits in the sport. PowerBar's nutrition products have been a key part in my training and racing. I'd also like to thank RecoveryPump for their support. RecoveryPump has been a critical aspect of my training and recovery 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 2012 Felt DA. HED Cycling has provided me with the best wheels and aerobars on the market. Champion System Clothing has provided me with the race and training clothing that you see in my pictures. 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. 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.

   


Mom, Dad, Sister, and Niece, all in full Caesar gear


My sister, Denna, with her support sign


My niece and nephew, Katherine and Aaron with Little Caesar himself!

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