Ironman Coeur d’Alene: Course Review

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Beginning of the AG swim.

This post offers a detailed Ironman Coeur d’Alene course review. Based on my experience racing there in 2014, I give you my perspective of the swim, bike, and run, as well as some tips for racing.

If you aren’t interested in the intricacies of the IMCDA course, no need to read any further :). But, if you are planning on racing or even thinking about racing IMCDA, please read on!

If you are interested in reading my race report of my experience at IMCdA 2014, you can click here to read it.

The Swim

Lake Coeur d’Alene is a beautiful clear body of water that is typically cold with average water temps in the high 50s to low 60s for race day. In 2014, the water temp was 61 degrees on race day, although warmer temps were reported in the days leading up to the race (around 63-64 degrees). Thanks to several days of rain, it brought the temperature down a few notches. All of this is to say: don’t take the water temperatures in the days and weeks leading up to the race to mean much. It will change.

I’m warm blooded so I didn’t find 61 degrees to be a problem at all – despite the fact that I have Raynaud’s. I wore a neoprene cap, which I’m not sure I needed, but I was happier to have it than to not have it. I did not wear booties or gloves, nor did I feel like I needed them at any point. My suggestion: get in the lake in the days leading up to the race to see what you will need to be comfortable, and to give your body some time to adjust to the cold.

The swim is a two-loop rectangle. After the first loop, you must get out of the water and cross the timing mat on the beach before you start the second loop. For this swim, in addition to the cold water, you should also expect some chop. From what I hear, the chop we had in 2014 was not typical (with reports of 2-3′ swells and ample whitecaps), but it’s highly unlikely that the lake will be flat.

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This image shows the choppier-than-typical conditions of the 2014 race. Some kayakers reported swells around 2 feet out in the middle of the lake. Oy!

IMCdA is part of the swim start initiative, so they use a rolling start method, which I absolutely love (and I wrote about last year when I did Ironman Lake Placid). Corrals are set up, starting with those projecting under 1 hour for total swim time, and then +15 minute increments after that. While there is still contact during the swim portion (not sure you can ever get rid of that), I think it is significantly less contact than a mass start with almost 3,000 people, especially for swims that begin in a small area, such as Coeur d’Alene, Lake Placid or Mont Tremblant. For swims with a wider area, such as Cozumel or Kona, a staggered start may not be as important for the swim portion. But, it does help with the congestion on the early portion of the bike.

The race directors provide an area for a swim warm up or acclimation prior to the start, and it’s accessible from the corrals. Give yourself time to get there as it can get crowded with all of the bodies, making forward progress toward the beach a little slow. After you exit the warm up area, you can just wait until your corral comes around – unless you plan on swimming 1:15 or less, then you can walk up the beach to your corral. Read the rest of this entry »

Last Chances and Lost Causes: 2014 Ironman Louisville

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This is what happens when you drown your sorrows in Fireball. Be careful…

*Note: This is a race report about my experience with IMLou in 2014. If you are looking for a course overview of Ironman Louisville, please click here.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

In the 24 hours after I finished Ironman Coeur d’Alene, narrowly missing a Kona slot by 90 seconds, I hastily decided that I was swearing off Ironman for at least a year. I didn’t want to take the sting of another defeat if it didn’t work out. Again. Again. Again.

Three near misses were starting to shake my confidence. And, sitting through three sets of slot allocations was pure torture, feeling like my heart was being torn from my chest as I watched others celebrate their dreams come true. At IMCdA, it was downright depressing, struggling not to cry, trying to pretend that it was okay.

Nope. I didn’t think my heart could take it again. I wanted to keep believing, but my heart was broken. Again. Again. Again.

Here’s the email I sent to Vince the day after the IMCdA (sorry in advance about the cussing):

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Wow. I sound PATHETIC, a whining little baby. Then, I regrouped and sent him this email, the next day:

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Okay, back to determined, don’t stop believin’ and all that jazz.

Then, there was another email to Vince a few days later, after I tried to see if I could get a charity slot or endurance sports travel slot for IMMT. More cussing:

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His response to that email brought me to tears with what he said and the support he gave me. So, a funny thing happened on the internet about a little over a week after that, the results of which I sent in an email to Vince and John, with more cussing, of course:

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 9.30.33 AM Read the rest of this entry »

Superfood is Superbad, Carbs are Good & Other Nutrition Pet Peeves

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Grilled veggies. Yum!

The food we eat (or don’t eat) is personal, pulling from our individual, social and cultural values. Our life experiences are often tied up with our eating experiences, and food can be an important and fulfilling part of our lives.

In short: Food is important to us. It’s yummy, and it makes us feel good.

But, there are other aspects of the relationship with food, which might not be so healthy and harmounious. Particularly in the fitness community, this relationship may confuse “skinny” or “thin” for “healthy” and “fit,” leading to a variety of approaches to food that don’t necessarily put good nutrition first.

While some aspects of nutrition are individual, there are a few current trends and assertions about food that I find problematic because they are promoted as “healthy” or “fit”, when the science just doesn’t support those claims.

Among those assertions, here the top 5 that have been bugging me lately.

#1. Carbs are bad for you. 

The claim that carbohydrates are “bad” is too simplistic and misses the important nuances of the role of carbohydrates, especially for endurance athletes.

Carbohydrates are an important fuel source. Even though long course athletes want to be more efficient with burning fat for fuel, we (and our glucose-loving brains) still need carbohydrates as well. And, when it comes time for recovery, nothing will restore those glycogen starved muscles except for carbohydrates.

Want to get up the next day and get after it again? Well, eat your carbs. Wonder why your recovery is lagging? Maybe it’s your sagging glycogen stores.

Fruit and berry spinach salad - chock full of nutrient-dense carbohydrates. I know what you are thinking: Aren’t some sources of carbohydrates problematic?

Yes!

The processed or refined carbs are problematic when they are a mainstay of the typical diet. It’s these types of foods that give whole food carbs a bad rap.

Luckily for our glucose loving brain and muscles, carbohydrates do come in a nutrient-dense, healthy and whole food variant.

Vegetables, which should be the focus of every meal we eat, have a nutrient dense supply of carbohydrates. And, many vegetables also come with grams of protein and sometimes fat. Yes, vegetables have protein. In fact, some vegetables have a higher percentage of protein per serving than meat-based sources of protein! Those poor vegetarians are saved. ;) Read the rest of this entry »

Age is a just a number & sex is just a division

Unless you consume absolutely no mainstream or social media of any type, it’s very likely you’ve seen this incredible feat by Kacy Catanzaro, the first woman to finish the American Ninja Warrior finals course.

It’s incredible. It’s inspiring. And, it made me weep, thinking of how accomplished, how fulfilled this woman must feel.

But, the more I thought about it, the more there was something about the response to her achievement that irked me. The tone in the announcer’s voices, the amazement on the faces of the spectators, the proclamations of utter surprise all about the social webs–including myself at first.

salmonladderThe more I thought about Catanzaro’s accomplishment, the more I asked myself: what is so unbelievable or surprising about a fierce woman doing powerful things?

Women have the capacity to give birth to human life. Pretty sure the salmon ladder pales in comparison. #justsayin’

Can every woman person complete the American Ninja Warrior course in similar BAMF fashion? Of course not! This woman (and others who finish the course) have a special mix of talent, grit, motivation, and work ethic.

There can be no doubt that it’s inspirational to watch these athletes work the course. But, it’s not unbelievable.

It takes a special kind of athlete willing to do a great deal of hard work in order to make a dream become reality–whether that’s the American Ninja Warrior, a first-time 5k, or well, sure, an Ironman.

Yet, I think that accomplishment has so much less to do with the body’s reproductive plumbing than it does with mental and physical training and preparation.

Catanzaro beasted that course because she believed she could, and because she worked hard to make it happen.

More recently on American Ninja Warrior (okay, yes, we watch the show just a little bit), there were similar oohs and aahs about 52-year-old Jon Stewart (not of Daily Show fame), who is the oldest man to have completed the American Ninja Warrior finals course.

I was pumped to see him do it. Again, it’s 100% inspirational. It’s evidence that we can do what set out to achieve if we believe and we put in the work. But, just as with the response to Catanzaro, I found myself irked with the tone: what’s so unbelievable about continuing to push the body past perceived limits – regardless of age or sex? Regardless of other aspects of the self that we may have constructed as limitations?

While the national TV audience is getting a glimpse of this amazeballment of women and older men defying stereotypes, this is something those of us in the endurance sport community see pretty much all of the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond the White Line: Ironman Lake Placid Spec-Train-Teering Weekend

Ironman Lake Placid

Run turnaround for the 2014 IMLP marathon on River Road.

In 2009, I was a volunteer at Ironman Lake Placid. It was the first time I saw an Ironman live, up close, and personal. What I saw that day amazed me.

A H. M A Z E .B A L L S.

There is absolutely nothing like the first time you spectate an Ironman. Personal. Physical. Primal. The energy permeates everything. So does the smell.

If you have never watched an iron-distance race, put it on your list of things to do. It will change how you think about the human body and mind.

That day in 2009, I had only finished a handful of sprint triathlons and one olympic distance. I hadn’t even done my first half iron distance race, which didn’t stop me from signing up for IMLP 2010, of course.

My amazement bordered on disbelief – how could people do this? How would I do this?!?

Now, 6 Ironmans later, I understand how people could and would do this – but I am no less amazed, awed and inspired by what our bodies and our minds can accomplish. In fact, I’m even more in amazeballment now that I’ve been through the challenges of training and racing Ironman.

It’s such an important day in the lives of the athletes and their families. So much build up. So much preparation. So much much much.

“It’s YOUR day!!” I cheered to a group of the athletes this year as they passed by me. “MAKE IT COUNT!”

I’ve been a participant or a volunteer at Ironman Lake Placid every year since that first experience. I love the race and I want to be a part of it – whether that means racing it, or being a spectator-training-volunteer (spec-train-teer, for short).

This year (2014), we continued the tradition. I, along with John and our friend Tim (who will do his first IM in Lake Placid next year!), traveled to Lake Placid to spec-train-teer. We knew about a dozen friends out on the course, and I was eager to be good support for them, as well as everyone else out there, working through their big day.

whitelineroadWhen I’m racing, I mostly see only what is directly in front of me. I may take temporary notice of someone yelling my name, or someone in a costume, or the passing scenery. But, really, it’s just me, the effort, and the white line in the road.

So, spec-train-teering offers a perspective that stretches well beyond that line. It’s an experience that is different from racing, but equally enjoyable.

You can see the energy in the athletes’ eyes pre-race: anticipation, uncertainty, excitement, and yes, maybe a little fear.

“Race day is celebration day,” I tell athletes who are about to race. “You’ve put the hard work in – now it’s time to celebrate that hard work!”

There are the experienced folk who are calm, focused, and fearless. They know what the day will bring, and they are ready to bring.it.on. Their confidence is not arrogance. It’s rooted in a strong belief and the will to win.

Then, there are the Robo-Cops, who walk around too cool for school, and mistake arrogance for confidence. I prefer to avoid their energy in the days prior to racing.

The pre-race energy of the experienced athlete emanates differently from the first-timer, who bustles about like an excited child, ready to find out what the first time at DisneyWorld will be like.

The energy of a first-timer, oh man. I just love it. It’s intoxicating. I want to bottle it up and suck it in. I’ve been chasing the high of my first-time finish line ever since. The closest I can get is to suck off the fumes from others who are having their first time finish line experience. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Stop Believing: 2014 Ironman Coeur d’Alene Race Report

I woke up in the darkness of the early morning (or perhaps late night to some), and I could hear the trees rustling as I pushed down my race day breakfast. Once daylight began to creep into the clouds, the visual confirmed the audio: the wind, a whirling bully, browbeat the trees, with branches bending over, powerless against the force.

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What that sign says…

Wind is in ample supply in Southern New Jersey, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. I’ve had my fair share of rain, wind, chop, heat and cold. With that experience comes the knowledge that weather doesn’t change a damn thing: you go out there and you do what you came here to do.

The weather would not necessitate a fundamental change to the plan: swim hard, bike strong, and run like my a$$ was on fire. I’m pretty sure that was the in-depth race strategy my coach Vince gave me.

I set a goal back in 2011 to work my way into qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona. At that time, it was an unlikely goal for a girl who had only achieved a 12:51 IM best time. But, it was my BHAG goal, and I had a two-year plan to get there. In 2013, I came just 2 slots and minutes shy of achieving the dream at both IMLP and IMLou.

Unfortunately, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

I couldn’t stop believing in my goal, and my ability to reach it. So, 2014 would have to be my year right?

In the training leading up to this day, I worked harder than I’ve ever worked. I sweat more stink than a skunk, climbed more hills than a billy goat, and ran so hard I’ve only got a few toenails left.

It was time to find out if I was fast enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Ironman Louisville Course Overview & Tips for Racing It

Ironman Louisville

Louisville is the hometown of Muhammed Ali. Float like a butterfly, sting like a be, baby!

I raced Ironman Louisville in 2013 and 2014, when the race was held in August. What follows is my detailed overview of the course and conditions. Please note, however, that since the race date will be October for 2015, my notes about the heat may or may not be relevant. (If you would like to read the race reports about my experience racing IMLou, please click here for the 2013 IMLou report, or here for the 2014 IMLou report, when I qualified for Kona for the first time.)

Overall: I like this race and the city a lot – plenty of friendly people and good places to eat. And, it’s the hometown of Muhammed Ali – what better place to find your inner champion? The race features a warm-water swim, a rolling bike course, and a pancake flat run. The finish line at Fourth Street Live is everything you’d expect from an Ironman.

Want more details about the Ironman Louisville course? Okay, then read on.

Pre-race

All of the race prep and pick up is in the middle of the city, so logistically this can get a little tricky if you aren’t staying in the center of things. John and I stayed at the Hyatt on 4th Street, which was one block from the finish line, and about a half of a mile from the Galt House (where packet pickup was headquartered), and about a mile from the swim exit, which is also where the practice swim was the day before the race.

I found a great rate for the Hyatt using hotels.com, booking only a few weeks before the race. Tip: when you book a room, be sure to ask if they have a refrigerator in the room. If there isn’t, ask if they can bring you one when you make the reservation.

Another option is to stay at the Galt House, but I’m glad we didn’t because it was Ironman-Central, and all of that activity makes me too anxious. I’ve learned that I have to remove myself from the hub-bub, keeping my arousal level at a 4 out of 10. I’m sure you could also use VRBO to find a house to rent a little ways out of the city. As long as you get into the city EARLY on race morning, you should be able to find parking. As we walked to transition about 4:30 a.m. on race morning, I could see that the parking lot was filling up, but there were still spots. If you are going to drive in race morning, be prepared to come EARLY or have your sherpas drop you off. Transition opens at 4:45 a.m.

For pre-race workouts, it’s easy enough to run along the river. But riding options are a little limited. River Road is okay, but it’s very busy by my standards, with almost no shoulder and crappy road conditions. A better option is to drive out to the loop section of the course (see bike route below) and ride part of that, as that is much less trafficked.

Ironman Louisville Course Overview

Dinner from Bistro 301 – salad and vegetable risotto. Delicious!

For swimming, you’ll be limited to the day before the race if you want an open water option. They hold a practice swim, and I strongly advise you to take advantage of it to get a feel for the river and the current. It also allows you to get a sense of sighting – at least for the last bit of the course. There is a great YMCA on south 2nd Street if you want to a pool option.

There are ample restaurants in the surrounding area, and we used Yelp to find most of the places we ate. The reviews are usually dead-on. John and I are vegetarians, so that influence our decision making for restaurants.

For lunches, there is Zoup or Panera, both of which are on Fourth Street and both of which have vegetarian options. Chipotle was right next to the hotel, but it was always packed to the gills every time we passed by, so we never ate there.

On race eve, we ate dinner at Dish on Market in 2013, which had a race-eve pasta special that was well-priced and tasted good. In 2014, we ate at the hotel, which had a pasta buffet. It was pricey, but I was going for convenience. We also ate at the hotel restaurant’s breakfast buffet, which I really love. All you can eat pancakes – how can you go wrong?

Other places we ate for dinner include:

  • Gordon Biersch Brewery. This was okay. It was close to the hotel and we ate there the night we got into town. They had flatbread pizzas and beer. Who can be sad about that?
  • Bistro 301, which was a very cool little place that had a good atmosphere, and vegetarian options, including a nightly vegetable special. They serve locally-brewed beers in cool glasses.
  • Hillbilly Tea, which has ample vegetarian options (and meat-eater options as well!). This is a restaurant with a hippie-meets-hipster-ambiance. We thought it was expensive for the portions, which are definitely not Ironman-sized. We left a little hungry :(. Taste-wise? Yeah, it was delicious.
  • Bluegrass Brewing Company (BBC) on Third Street. They had a surprising number of options for vegetarians, and the food tasted good. It was bar food, but with an upscale flair. And, the beer is good!

The swim

The swim starts a little over a mile down from the transition area and swim exit. As you can see from the course map below, you will swim up-river for about one-third of the distance behind Towhead Island, which mostly protects you from the current (but not completely, especially once you pass the top of the island). You swim a few hundred yards past the top of Towhead, and then you turn and swim downriver for the remaining portion of the swim.

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Image from: http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/events/americas/ironman/louisville/athletes/course.aspx#axzz355VxgQtr

The swim start is a time-trial start, and you will get in line on a first-come, first-served basis. I don’t think you need to be in line at 5 a.m., but you also don’t want to dawdle. The first year, we were advised that it didn’t really matter when you got in line. So, in 2013, we didn’t rush, and we were in line by 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. But, this turned out to be a mistake.

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Image of the Ironman Louisville swim start. Original available at http://www.everymantri.com/.a/6a00d83451b18a69e2015434eff28b970c-pi.

Now, to be clear: getting in line this late didn’t make much difference at all for the swim. In fact, Ironman Louisville was the least contact-intensive of any larger triathlon swim I’ve done–both years. That’s not to say there wasn’t any contact, but most of it was constrained to the opening section as we swam up behind the island.

But, for the bike, it absolutely matters how late you get in line. I spent most of the first 30 miles picking my way through hordes of people that first time. My recommendation: get in line earlier, rather than later.

For 2014, I was in line by 5:15 a.m., in the water 7 minutes later, and had the bike course to myself for the first 30 or so miles. It was awesome.

You can bring your morning clothes bag with you in line, and volunteers will grab it from you right before you get in the water. This was super convenient, as it allowed us to keep our water bottles, pre-race gel and other items with us until the start. The bag was safely waiting for us when we finished. Very helpful service! As with any Ironman, the volunteers make the race work.

To enter the water, you will simply step off the dock and your time starts as soon as you cross the timing lines along the dock. They advise you to jump feet first – NOT DIVE – and I have to agree. Diving will only cause a potential crash into the back of another athlete. That’s not cool. Be sure to hold your goggles to your face when you jump, so they don’t come flying off.

As you head out to the turnaround past Towhead island, there may be some sun glare depending on what time you enter the water. This may make it hard to sight some of the buoys, even with polarized, tinted goggles.

I recommend swimming close to the island and staying right on the buoy line. You will get the smallest impact from the current there. Some reporting debris when you swim close to the island, but I didn’t have a problem with that at all.

First several hundred yards of the swim, behind Towhead Island, right after you jump from the dock.

First several hundred yards of the swim, behind Towhead Island, right after you jump from the dock.

When you are behind the island, you won’t really feel the pull of the current that much (and this is dependent upon how the river is running in any given year), but as you clear the island, you will feel it – at least I did. There could be a little bit of chop, and sighting the turnaround buoy (about 400 yards past the top of the island) may be tricky depending on the glare, which is was in 2013, but not in 2014.

After the turnaround, you are now in the open river, and swimming with the current. Whhhhheeeeeeeee!!!. I swam right along the buoy line, and also found it very easy to sight off bridges and buildings in the distance. The big marker is the KFC Yum Center, which is right near the exit.

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In a sea of similar looking bags, I couldn’t miss mine :)

If you read other reviews across the web, there is some talk about swimming further out in the river to reap the full benefit of the current. In my experience, I find it best to swim as close to the buoy line as possible. That is the most direct way to the exit. Given the nature of the swim, you can easily swim the buoy line without any contact from other swimmers. So, there aren’t many draft opportunities, as you might find in a lake swim, but you do have the current.

If you swim too far out from the buoy line, you do risk being whisked away in the channel and/or missing the swim exit.

I thought the water was fine as far as cleanliness. It’s not clear, but I didn’t find it dirty, despite some reports I had read that said it was. It’s not exactly snorkeling conditions, but it’s certainly not the grossest body of water I’ve ever swam in. (Low bar, I know.) The cleanliness factor may differ on a year-by-year basis, depending on weather, boat traffic, currents, etc.

The first year, I didn’t feel like I got much of an overall boost in swim time due to the current. But, in 2014, I did feel like the current was more advantageous for a fast swim. But, you need to be prepared to work into the current for the first part: quicker stroke rate is key. Long gliding strokes will have you swimming backwards. When you make the turn into the current, you can lengthen out your stroke a bit.

Transition

Transition bags are lined along the ground and you will run past them prior to getting to the changing tent. My advice: put a brightly colored bow on your bags so you can find them easily amid a lawn of similar looking bags. The bike and run bags are in the same location.

Bike

I really liked this bike course. It’s a lollipop-style course, with a 15 mile section out, then you do the lollilop-loop two times, and then you return on the 15 mile section back to transition (i.e., “the stick”), as you can see in the overview below. My Garmin puts the course at 3,000 feet of climbing, and the official Ironman elevation profile puts it at 5,375 feet of climbing – so that’s a bit of a discrepancy. I’m more apt to go with my Garmin, as I find most of the official IM elevation profiles over-shoot the gain I get on my Garmin.

In terms of wind, you will get a bit of everything: headwind, tailwind and crosswind. But, given the heat of the day, this wind is actually quite welcome. When you have a tailwind, you can notice the difference in terms of feeling warmer. So, don’t curse the wind – be grateful for it. It’s keeping you from catching on fire ;). There will be time enough for that on the run.

If you’ve read my previous course overviews, then you know I like to break the routes into manageable parts. So, here are the parts, as I see them, for IMLOU:

  • Part 1 – Riding Out of Town (~17 miles)
  • Part 2 – The out and back/to the loop (~14 miles)
  • Part 3 – The Loop: Part 1 to the turn onto route 42 (~19 miles)
  • Part 4 – The Loop: Part 2 (Route 42) (~11 miles)
  • Part 5 – Redo Part #3 (~19 miles)
  • Part 6 – Redo Part #4 (~11 miles)
  • Part 7 – Bring it home (~20 miles)
Ironman Louisville Bike Course

Image from: http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/events/americas/ironman/louisville/athletes/course.aspx#axzz355VxgQtr.

Part 1: Riding Out of Town,  ~17 miles

This is the first segment of the ride along River Road/Route 42, just until you get to the turn onto KY-1694 for the out and back section, for a total of about 17 miles, and about 380 feet of climbing, most of which comes after the first 10 miles, which is flat.

If you get in the swim line late, this is where you are going to have to pick through hundreds of bikers, Holy congested!! There are a great deal of first-time cyclists at Ironman Louisville, so you need to be mindful of what you are doing and don’t expect others to follow the rules. They don’t – whether that is because of willful negligence or lack of knowledge, I can’t say.

Additionally, the road conditions along this stretch are terrible. There are lots of cracks in the road, just waiting for your wheels to get stuck. They do sweep the course, but even still, there is a lot of debris that you will want to look out for.

There is an aid station about 6 miles in, and I recommend topping off fluids, even though it’s unlikely that you will need much. This is a hot day on a hot course and you want your water supply at top levels at all times.

Part 2: The Out and Back, ~14 miles

In this section, I am including the out and back along KY-1694, as well as the return back to 42 which will take you to you start on the lollipop loop. All told, you are looking at about 14 miles.

The out and back section is 10 miles, with 470 feet of climbing. It features a road that is narrower than I would like with two-way bike traffic, with bikes taking up the totality of each lane. The turnaround is at then end of a fairly steep and winding downhill so be cautious! In fact, be cautious for this entire section. It’s tight and a wrong move can spell disaster, which was the case with at least one other racer that I passed on the way out in 2013. Let’s just say he was down and there was a lot of blood. Be smart – ride safe and look out for each other out there.

At the end of the out and back, you’ll turn right back on to 42 and head toward the lollipop, with gently rolling terrain.

IMLou

Iconic image of the rolling hills and fields of the Ironman Louisville bike course. Photo from: http://www.everymantri.com/.a/6a00d83451b18a69e2015434eff28b970c-pi.

Part #3 & #5, The Loop, Part 1, ~19 miles per part

This section includes your journey along 393, 146, and 153 (to the 50 mile mark for the first loop, or the 81 mile mark the second loop). This section is roughly 19 miles, with a little over 800 feet of rolling hills. This section has the bulk of the climbing for the loop.

On Ballard School Road into Old Sligo Road, there are a few short but sharply steep rollers. At the end of Ballard there is a fast descent that goes into a very sharp right turn on to OId Sligo and right up a steep (but very short) hill. I went from 30mph to 9 mph in about 30 seconds. The most important thing here is to be proactive with your gearing or you will get stuck and risk overshooting your effort, dropping or worse yet popping your chain. Don’t fear the small ring :)

During this section, you’ll come into LaGrange, where they have spectator stands set up. It’s a great boost at about mile 39 for the first loop and mile 70 for the second go round. Other than that, you are mostly out in the country with little to no spectator support. I like that just fine, as I can get into a rhythm and work my effort. But, when you are feeling low, nothing beats the sounds and sights of other humans happily cheering on your lunatic mission.

Part 4 & 6, The Loop: Part 2, ~11 miles per part
The second half of the lollipop returns you to 42, and is about 11 miles in length, with about 232 feet of climbing. This section isn’t as hilly as the other part of the loop, and it’s overall a slight net decline, but that comes in the form of gently loping and sloping rolling hills. So, don’t expect any long, extended descents (or ascents) – there simply aren’t any hills like that on this course.

It’s very easy to sit in aero, in the big ring, and just cruise. Many of the rollers allow you to use momentum from the downhill to make it up the downhill. Look ahead so you can take full advantage of this as much as possible.

Part 7, Bring it home, ~20 miles
After you finish the lollipop for the second time, you’ll head back on the “stick” for the final 20 miles back to transition. You will NOT do the out and back on KY 1694 again – that’s only on the way out.

You’ve been on this terrain before, and the first 10 miles will roll, but with an overall net decline, and then the course will will flatten out. There’s about 150 feet of climbing to 428 feet of descending in this section.

If you’ve paced well, you should be able to stay steady and focused in this section. Stay aero – no matter how badly you want to sit up. You’ll start to see the carnage of people who hammered the rollers too hard – don’t be that person. Be smart in the first half, so you can bring it home strong in the second half.

General Notes

Overall, a key to your success on this course is working the rollers at a consistent effort – don’t over-power up the hills. Stay in your limits and stay consistent. I think a power meter is pretty helpful for this course to keep those efforts in check, since most of these hills are so short your HR won’t fully register how much work you are doing – until you hit the second half, that is.

Most of the hills are gradual enough that you won’t even need to come out of aero. If you work them correctly, you should also be able to take advantage of momentum of the downhill to get you up and over the uphill.

Be sure to stop up on fluids at every single aid station. Proper hydration on the bike is your key for a successful run. Be sure to drink the water with some type of electrolyte replacement. I like Nuun tabs, but whatever works for you should be part of the fueling plan. If you aren’t peeing within the first half, you are in trouble. Drink up!

Run

Ironman Louisville Course Overview

Surface of the sun, people. Surface of the m’f’ing sun. As you can see in this picture from 2013, I’m soaked through from pouring water on my head and keeping ice in my bra. I’m also holding ice cubes in this picture, as you can see my cupped hands.

To sum up the run: hot.

I bet you never heard this one about Louisville, right? But, seriously, take what you think is hot, and then make it about two-times hotter, with humidity you can cut with a knife. Then, you’ve got the Ironman Louisville run.

In your training, be sure to acclimate as much as you can. Part of this acclimation is learning to hydrate properly on the bike, so you aren’t super low when you start the run.

As a southern NJ gal, I didn’t find the humidity of Louisville to be significantly more than what I am used to, but the temperature was definitely higher–about 90 degrees. In 2014, the heat index topped 100 degrees. It was awful. Comparing the two years, 2014 was definitely more carnage and slower going on that run course.

The combination of the heat, humidity and limited shade makes for a sweltering run. If you can train in humid conditions, do it. If that’s not an option, then train indoors with a long sleep t-shirt a few times.

The run is an out and back loop that you do twice. Part of it is through the city, but the bulk of it is in a residential area. I thought it was kinda boring, but not because of a lack of spectators. There is a fair amount of people lining the course. So, if you like spectators, I think there are plenty on this run – definitely more than there is along River Road in Lake Placid or on the trail sections in Mont Tremblant.

But, there really just isn’t that much that is interesting to look at. I love the Ironman Lake Placid Course, as it runs along the babbling river, and then the lake. It’s naturally scenic. Same with Ironman Mont Tremblant and Ironman Coeur d’Alene. But, Louisville is just a run through a urban-suburban neighborhood. Eh. It’s just not my thing.

In the past, the race ran across a bridge over the river, and I was sad that part has been taken out. Without it, I felt like I was running through my neighborhood – or any neighborhood for that matter. Of course, any neighborhood that’s clearly on the surface of the sun. This run is every bit as hot as it is claimed to be. It’s like that the move to October for 2015 will fix this issue – but you never know. There can be some hot fall days for sure.

Take in ice, and pour cold water on yourself at EVERY aid station. Put the ice in every single place it will stay to get you to the next aid station. Hold it in your hands. Be nice to the ice. Love the ice. Let the ice love you.

Because the run is an out and back loop that you do twice, the easiest way to break it up is: first time out, first time back, second time out, second time back. When you come back to start your second loop, you will pass the finish line. This is a cruel trick played by every Ironman race I’ve done so far. It sucks, but let it fuel your fire and help you to get the job done.

The run is mostly flat, although on the way out of town, along the Southern Parkway section (which is the mostly residential section), it feels like a slight tug upward, and then a slight push downward when you head back toward town. But really, it’s almost imperceptible.

Crossing the finish line in 2014, on my way to my first ever Kona Qualification.

Crossing the finish line in 2014, on my way to my first ever Kona Qualification.

On the way back in, there is a little out and back section that takes near Churchhill Downs. I found this very short section infuriating when I was running, and it’s only saving grace was the fact that there was an aid station after the turnaround. Why did it bother me? I don’t know – I was hot, it was sunny, and it felt like a lot of effort to turn left, then make a u-turn, then turn left again.

At the end of the second loop, you will turn on to Fourth Street and select the magical chute that says: “To the Finish.” This is a long enough stretch that allows you to enjoy the glory of the finish, as the fans cheer you onward, and then you finish right under the roof of Fourth Street Live. It’s a pretty cool finish line. :)

Take the time to soak it in – don’t rush it (unless of course a time goal or a Kona slot is on the line!).

Post Race

After the race, you have to walk about two blocks to the Convention Center, which feels like an eternity away, but it’s a big space where your family and friends can meet up with you.

If you are doing Louisville this year, or plan to do it in the future, you are in for a great race. I definitely recommend it, as I felt it had a different feel from the mountain races I’m used to doing. The friendly people and the beautiful bike course make it a race worth doing!

If you have any questions, please contact me! If you have anything to add to what I’ve written here, please leave a comment! 

Life is an Adventure Made for an Adventurer

In 2010, John and I were training for our first Ironman in Lake Placid. During that training season, I was thrown off the road by a car, and it shook me. I remember being so afraid to ride my bike outside. In fact, that crash affected my cycling confidence for at least 2 years. (I’m not quick to recover from sliding across the road at almost 20 mph. Call me a sissy if you must.)

A few weeks after that crash back in 2010, John and I went for a ride in the New Hope, PA area, using a cue sheet we downloaded from MapMyRide.com. We were looking for some hills (notice the recurring theme in my blog?), and we had heard from friends that area was perfect for finding them.

The ride that day was hard, and the course itself was way too technical for my budding cycling skills – or lack thereof. (Hmmm, another theme?)

monster3

Image credit: Culture Cycles, original post: http://www.culturecycles.com/2011/01/h-e-l-l-helping-everyone-live-longer/.

And, I was scared – not only of the cars (of which there were ample on various sections of the route), but also of the twisting and turning descents, with blind corners and unknown scary monsters up ahead. Okay, maybe there weren’t any actual monsters, but I had plenty of scary monsters in my head.

As we were headed down one particularly narrow and twisting stretch of descent, I started singing to myself as a way to keep calm.

“Life is an adventure, made for an adventurer, made just for the girl who can grow up strong and be Ironman.”

Okay, yes, I changed the lyrics from this classic Violent Femmes song. But, you have to adapt them to your circumstances, right?

As John and I continued through the ride that day, with me scared out of my mind for most of the ride, and he enjoying the adventure, I soothed myself to these lyrics from the Violent Femmes. By the end of the ride, I had almost convinced myself that it was a grand adventure. And, now, with the benefit of time, I’m convinced it was a grand adventure.

Me, scared? NEVER!

Last weekend, I was reminded of this day when John and I went to Pittsfield, Vermont for a Spec-Training adventure. Our plan was a hilly ride on Saturday, and then a hilly run on Sunday. In between the training, we would head to the Peaks Ultra to cheer on some people we knew who were running the 500 mile race. Yes, I said running, and yes, I said 500 miles – in 10 days, with 120,000 feet of climbing.

Life is an adventure, for sure. Read the rest of this entry »

(No) Room for Doubt: Lake Raystown Triathlon Race Report

Doubt is a stubborn presence. While I’ve worked hard physically, mentally and emotionally to keep my doubting voices quiet, they are persistent. I’ve learned that I need to be more persistent, more stubborn than the doubt. I have the Lake Raystown Triathlon to thank for this important reminder:

The mental work of endurance is harder than the physical work. 

lake raystown triathlon

Overview of the swim at Lake Raystown.

John and I were looking for an early season half iron race with plenty of hills, which is hard to find in the Northeast U.S. given the cool spring temps. But, the inaugural Lake Raystown Triathlon, held on May 18, 2014, seemed to meet our needs for an Ironman Couer d’Alene prep-race, featuring hills, challenge, and a new adventure.

Fierce Bits 

After finding a place for my gear in the first-come, first-served transition area, I placed my bike on the rack, and as usual, the front tire swung in mid-air, several inches from any hope of touching the ground. I put my transition bag underneath the front tire so it wouldn’t swing into someone else’s bike.

Lake Raystown triathlon

John and I getting ready in transition before the race. Just when you think you might look cool, just get a look at your butt in a wetsuit.

The other racers around me laughed. “That’s a mini-bike.”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “I’m a little bit. My bike never makes it to the ground.”

One of the women said, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” You can always count on Shakespeare, can’t you?

I smiled. I appreciated the support, but I wasn’t feeling particularly fierce. The stubborn presence of doubt was hawking over me, as much as I tried to push it away.

My mind was murky with questions and concerns about the unknowns, making it hard to focus on my race plan.

The lake was cold, just like CDA will be. How will I do in the cold water? What if I panic?

How tricky would the bike course be? The day before, other racers who had driven the bike course were buzzing with rumors and reports: lots of hills, technical turns, blazing descents with hairpin turns at the end.

Ooooh. Pinch me!

It had been a while since I felt doubts like these, and I had to work to keep the fear from overcoming my thoughts. As I set myself up in transition, I re-routed my thinking to consider the positive possibilities of a new experience. But those doubts didn’t leave me completely. Read the rest of this entry »

Post-Race Analysis: Next Time I’ll Be Bulletproof

Ironman Lake Placid

Distorted view of the ski jumps heading back into town.

The final 10k of Ironman Lake Placid 2013 haunts me.

After almost a year, I finally did the type of post-race analysis that I recommend for my athletes. Sadly, I confirmed what I had guessed to be true for the past year: if I had I stayed on the pace I ran for the first 18 miles of the marathon, I would have run from 11th place off the bike into 4th place in the final mile or two, and the Kona slot would have been mine. Instead, I finished in 6th place, and a little under 5 minutes from the glory spot.

So. Close.

But, as my father always used to say: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Over the past year, I’ve known in my gut what I’ve only recently allowed the numbers to confirm: I just missed nabbing the final Kona slot in the final hour of an 11 hour day during what is supposed to be my strength. But, until today, I had been unwilling to allow the numbers to confirm that gut feeling. Those numbers tell a hard truth. (If you want to read the race report from that day, you can find it by clicking here.)

But, it was time for me to face those numbers. A thorough post-race analysis is a key tool to continued progress.

Ironman Coeur d’Alene is a little over 6 weeks away, and playing Ostrich with my head in the sand isn’t going to help me turn around the result I’m looking for this year. I need to accept the hard truth, and run a different race this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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