Days Leading to the Race
Coming back to Louisville, where it all started for me, was very special. I haven’t really trained in Louisville since 2012, but coming back just made so many memories feel fresh and recent again. I loved being able to travel to a race and to know where everything was, where I could swim, bike and run without having to go on the course. I had two friends from Boulder that I showed around. Nick Jocelyn, he’s been training with me in Boulder. He also did IM Boulder with me and Nicole Valentine, a local pro, who trains with Nick’s team.
I took them to the University of Louisville Natatorium for a short swim, on Thursday and then we went downtown to check in. It was so easy and relaxed, not having to rush through anything. On Friday we drove the course in the morning, saving a little turtle in the process, watch the video until the end, it’s pretty funny.
That evening I went to a UofL Swimming Alumni dinner. It was amazing to meet all of the really fast swimmers that are and were on the team, including Kelsi Worrell, who is an Olympian and NCAA gold medalist, just in case you’ve been living under a rock and didn’t know who she was. Also Olympian Joao de Lucca, who is a Brazilian Olympic swimmer and swam at UofL.
Saturday, Day before the race
I had planned to do the practice swim in the river. I wanted to check the current to see how strong it was. Ironman had a 2 hour window to do the practice swim, from 8-10am. As usual we signed the girls up for the half and full mile Ironkids race. The half mile was supposed to start at 10, so my plan was to do the practice swim and then watch them. After their race, I was going to ride and run and finally check my bike in and go home to rest for the rest of the day.
My first mistake was not checking the schedule of events. I had forgotten that Ironman was going to hold a 5KM run before the Ironkids race and they closed a lot of streets downtown. Finding a parking spot took a lot longer that I had planned. Once we finally parked, it was 9:30am and they were closing the swim start at 9:40, so that they could have everyone out of the water by 9:40am. When I got to the swim area, I quickly changed and as I was running to get in the water at 9:39am, they stopped me and asked me where my chip was. I quickly went back to my bag and realized that I had forgotten to put it in. Obviously the swim didn’t end up happening, they won’t let you swim without your timing chip. I had seen that at Kona they required the same thing the day before, my own fault. I told myself that these were the mistakes for my race and that the race the next day would be mistake free.
A little mad at myself, I walked to the start of the race and watched both Emma and Sophie race, it’s always so much fun to watch them, they both did an awesome job.
After their run, I went for a quick bike and run. My legs felt pretty good and the day was beautiful. About 15 minutes before noon I was walking my bike to the transition area to hand it over. There was a long line already, but I was lucky to be waiting in the shade. There are some races that have AWA (All World Athlete) bike check in, not in Louisville, even the pros were waiting in line. After waiting for about 15 minutes, I checked my bike and transition bags. After that we went home and I had a really relaxing afternoon/evening. Had dinner around 6pm and was in bed by 8pm.
Since sunrise is not until 7:50am in October in Louisville, the race start was scheduled for 7:20am. This meant that I could “sleep in” until 4:30am. Woke up on my own before my alarm went off, got everything ready and had breakfast. By 5am we were driving downtown. I was going into the transition area around 5:30am to get my nutrition on my bike as well as in my transition bags.
Remembering that I had forgotten to put my nutrition in the run bag at Santa Cruz 70.3, a little over a month ago, I went over everything twice. When I was happy with my setup I joined back with my parents, Christelle and the girls, who had been waiting for me outside of the transition area.
If you have never done Louisville, the swim start is about ¾ of a mile up the river, so you have to walk from transition to the swim start. I had been texting with Nick and he had told me that there was already a line for the start.
This year they decided to do a self-seeded start, starting with the group that would swim under 1 hour and then in increments of 10 minutes, 1 hour, 1:10, etc. I found it very interesting that every group over 1:10 swim was waiting about a 5 minutes walk away from the swim start. After being told I had to go further, I finally made it to the line. Found Nick and just waited, we had at least 20 minutes before the pro’s start. During that time I talked with Christelle and Ryan, my friend who actually got me into this crazy sport. Maybe he is not such a good friend after all. He was able to stop after the Ironman we did in 2012, my first, his second. Here I am on my 5th one, so yeah, definitely not a good friend.
We were standing about 100 people deep, as usual I didn’t want to swim around people, so as soon as the pros left, I made my way to the front. I was able to squeeze my way almost to the front. I was about 8th back now, as soon as we started walking down the ramp, I made my way all the way up to second. I was so excited, just like in Santa Cruz I had gotten pretty lucky. The only person in front of me looked like a fast swimmer so I didn’t mind. A little tip though, they form two lines, always take the line to the right, they swim about 5 meters less as we go off 2 docks and the left line goes to the far away dock, which is the one I picked.
Since it had been so dark, they delayed the men start to 7:23am, the women to 7:25am and the amateurs to 7:35am. After we got to the starting area we had about 5 minutes until we got started. Luckily we were not in the water waiting, so I started talking to the guy in front of me. His name is Jacob Pearson, he was a long distance swimmer, that graduated in 2016 from a University in Oakland. I was so excited, I was standing in line behind someone I could actually draft. To the left of us there is a big area where spectators can hang out. It was pretty awesome to be able to see all of my family and friends there before the start.
The cannon went off and we got started, they told us about 3 different times not to dive. I wasn’t going to listen but as Jacob went off the dock feet first. I didn’t know what to do and ended up awkwardly jumping in the water feet first also, not to dive into him. As I popped out of the water, I could see that there were at least 20 people already in front of me, the ones that started from the other dock. Another disadvantage of starting from the second dock was that Ironman held our line to let about 5 people go in front of us, I have no idea who they were but we had to wait for them, they were not fast swimmers either as we immediately passed them.
It was really dark still, luckily I had a light tint of my Roka R1 goggles, so I could see pretty well. Not in the water, the water was super murky but at least when I lifted my head I could sight well. About 300 meters into the swim I found myself on Jacob’s feet, we had passed everyone except one other swimmer. I was so pumped up, that being on Jacob’s feet felt annoying and I ended up trying to swim around him. As soon as I was next to him, he picked up the pace and we started swimming next to each other. That is of course not smart as we are not helping each other. It got even worse, the other swimmer that was with us, had done the same thing to him on the other side, so now he was sandwiched between both of us.
We were pretty close to what I thought was the turn buoy, immediately after the island. I figured that we would get some separation as soon as we turned. I made the turn, took about 5 strokes and as I lifted my head to sight, almost ran into a kayak. The person on the Kayak, was pointing and yelling that I was going the wrong way. I had turned to early. I immediately corrected my trajectory and started swimming towards the next buoy. Jacob and the other guy of course were about 10 meters ahead already. I wanted to draft Jacob, at least for a little bit, so I swam hard to catch up to him, I caught him about 300 meters before the real turn buoy. The other guy decided that our line wasn’t straight enough, so he went far right and never saw him again until the swim exit.
As we made the turn to start swimming downstream, I immediately noticed that the water was choppy due to the wind. I knew we had a current but the wind made it a little more challenging. I smiled and hoped for stronger winds and choppier water. If I’m struggling a little, everyone else will struggle a lot, I thought. To my surprise I saw the first yellow swim cap, woman pro, we had caught her so quickly, I actually felt bad for her as she was about to get passed by a lot of amateurs. After the second buoy, going back, I started to lose Jacob, he picked up the pace and I really couldn’t stay with him without burying myself. Trying to figure out how many people we had behind us, I looked back and I actually couldn’t see anyone behind me, maybe because it was choppy, but all I could see was water. Knowing that other people were not going to swim over me I tried to relax and just stretch out my stroke. I wanted to save as much energy as possible on the swim.
My favorite part of the swim was swimming under the bridges, I know it’s dumb, but I loved it. I guess because I knew that I was close to finishing the swim. Also because at this point, I kept passing other yellow caps. They didn’t even try to get on my feet, they usually do. Maybe because they knew that I had a wetsuit and they didn’t and the probably wouldn’t get much of an advantage. What was strange was that I passed 3 male pros also and they didn’t try to get on my feet either. As I made it to the end of the swim I was just trying to stay long and relaxed, I had felt a couple of pulls on my left quads, almost as if I was going to cramp. I got mad at myself for a second, as I didn’t want my day to start with a cramp on the swim. I attempted not to kick at all and just use my arms. Eventually the cramp faded but this wasn’t until about 200 meters to the end and at that exact same moment, I saw the guy, who had went of course a little, he looked like he was sprinting. He came around me and I let him go, wished him well, and thought: “I’ll see you on the bike”.
As I made it to the exit stairs my hamstring cramped, I took my time coming out of the water as I knew that nobody was behind me. Having the volunteers there was incredible, I felt like they almost carried me out. As soon as I was out of the water the cramp went away. The crowd was so loud, but I was in a little of a daze and didn’t really hear all the noise until the wetsuit strippers had taken my wetsuit off. I can’t really remember them taking my wetsuit off, I just know that it took a little longer than I wanted. The run to the transition felt long. I could feel that my heart rate was elevated but it was so loud and people were cheering so much that it made that run seem to go by quickly.
Made it to the changing tent and saw the guy that had come out before me leaving the tent. As I was changing one of the volunteers started talking to me and he said: “I love your country, I’ve been to…” and named some lake, but it was definitely not in Spanish or in Guatemala and I wasn’t wearing anything from Guatemala. My kit has Boulder, Colorado all over. So, either I was so out of it, I heard country and he said something else, or he was the one that was delirious and thought I was from somewhere else.
As I came out of the changing tent, I had a bottle of nutrition that I chugged and started looking for my bike. As I grabbed my bike, I heard Kyle Hummel, a really fast triathlete and good friend, yell for me. He always says the best things when I’m racing. He got me so amped up. I knew that I still had a long way but just hearing your name and someone familiar cheering for you, is incredible.
After getting on my bike I was all alone for about 2 miles, then I saw the guy who had passed me, at the end of the swim, passed him pretty quickly and told him: “Nice job, keep it up”. I never really saw Jacob again eithee but I know that he came out of the water about 1 minute before me. He must have just taken his time in the transition area.
The first 10 miles of the course is flat and fast and we had a tail wind. I tucked in as much as I could, put my head down and just thought fast thoughts. I’ve been out of the water pretty early before, but never in front of so many male pros. I kept passing female pros, which felt really good, I always say good job, but I rarely get an answer back. After the first 10 miles we went into the first big hill. Right before the hill, I passed Nicole, I was excited to see her as I wasn’t expecting to see her so soon. Exchanged a quick hello and went up the hill. I got passed by 2 pro men around this point, didn’t even attempt to stay with them, but it was so nice not to see them disappear immediately, I kept riding behind them, for a while.
At around mile 25 I passed one male pro, I was shocked. It was definitely the best feeling ever. I expected him to pass me again, but I didn’t see him again until the run. Riding with the pros without anyone around is pretty amazing. It’s a different race. I was a little surprised that nobody had passed me, we were going into mile 45, close to where the 3rd aid station was. Up to that point I hadn’t looked back at all, I was just surprised and so happy. I was feeling great and hadn’t been passed by anyone except the two pros. I don’t know what made me look back right before we got to the aid station, but as I did I saw a group of guys pretty close to me. I have absolutely no idea how long they had been that close to me. As I made it to the aid station I grabbed water, put it in my back cage, grabbed Gatorade and started filling up my front bottle but the cap got stuck on the bottle. Right after the aid station you make a 180 degree turn. The guys were right there, I was scared of getting a blocking penalty so I left the Gatorade bottle stuck upside down in the aero bottle until we made the turn. 10 meters later, I got passed by a couple of the guys and as I tried to pull the Gatorade bottle out, it was so stuck that I took off and lost the cap of the aero bottle. I was so mad at myself. I thought about stopping and getting the cap, but I had the rest of group right on my back and I knew that if I stopped I would never be able to get any advantage of riding with them.
The Gatorade I had managed to get in the aero bottle was splashing all over, so I drank most of it so that it stopped plashing, so about 30oz down in 10 seconds. Right after that all 8 guys had passed me. 2 Germans, 2 EMJ guys and 4 other with random kits. I knew that one of the Germans, had gone 9 hours in Kona a couple of years before. I rode with them for about 10 miles. Riding with them made me ride harder that I wanted to, but at the same time it was a group so I figured that it could be beneficial. I stayed with the group until the end of the first lap, which is basically half way.
As soon as we started the second lap, the course got very crowded and I lost the group immediately. I settled back to my planned wattage. Having been by myself for 45 miles, made it very hard to get used to all the other athletes riding 2 sometimes 3 a breast on the road. I must have yelled: “On your left” at least 200 times. One thing that I wish other athletes would do is to be a little more aware. If you are being passed ride on the right, not in the middle of the lane, so the person passing you doesn’t have to go out very far to the left. If you are going to pass someone look back to see if someone else might be coming, sometimes a lot faster than you.
I really liked that Ironman has a designated viewing area on the bike course at around mile 30 and 65. Buses take spectators to La Grange, it was great to see my family twice during the bike course, both times I recognized my dad immediately as he was yelling for me. The rest of the second lap was just a matter of passing people, trying to get my nutrition from the aid stations without crashing and putting a bottle always in my kit, on my chest, as I couldn’t refill the front bottle anymore. It was uncomfortable but it worked, so I didn’t really care.
As I made the final turn at mile 80 to head back to Louisville, I noticed that the wind had picked up significantly and knew it was going to be a long way back. 10 of those miles are still part of the 2 lap course and I was still having to pass a ton of people. It had gotten so much more dangerous though, because the wind was so strong people were having issues controlling their bikes. I had to be extra careful passing them as their movements were very unpredictable. As soon as I passed the turning point, I was all by myself again. The wind felt so much stronger but I felt so much safer not having to pay so much attention of other people running into me. I could again get on aero position and just push my pedals.
The only person I saw for the last 20 miles was Lisa Roberts, who won the overall female race. I don’t remember passing her, but she passed me on one of the initial hills coming back, but on the big downhill I passed her again and she stayed behind me until 2 miles to transition. At that point another guy also caught up to us and said to me: “How about that wind? Brutal!” I yelled something back, I can’t remember what it was, but I do remember him laughing so it must have been funny. The three of us came into transition sort of together. I got behind both of them and just took my time, handed my bike to the volunteer and ran to the changing tent with my run bag. I grabbed everything out of the bag, paid a visit to the restroom to pee and headed out.
The transition area was so quiet though, there were very few people there. I felt great to know I was one of the first ones there. As we leave the tent, we run around where the bikes are and the bike area was pretty much completely empty still, great feeling. Coming out of transition, I did see my whole family and my friends, Ryan and Tim, which was amazing. My legs were feeling pretty good and I didn’t have anyone around me. The first 4 miles felt so lonely, I could barely see people in front of me and nobody was behind me, it almost felt as if the aid stations were not ready yet. My family and friends were all over the course, which was amazing. I saw them at the beginning of the run, then at mile 3, on campus at UofL and finally close to the turnaround point of course they were in the same places coming back. Louisville is a 2 lap, out and back course, very spectator friendly and very flat.
My goal was to run a 3:20-3:25 marathon, which means that I should have averaged anywhere between 7:40 and 7:50. I got to the first mile marker at 7:35, mile two 7:40, mile three 7:41 and feeling great. If I can just keep this up I’ll be in great shape, I though. The sun was out until I got to mile 6 and then it went away and the wind picked back up. It started to get really cold. I din’t want to cramp as I usually do, so my main goal was nutrition. I was taking two cups of Gatorade at every aid station. Taking so much Gatorade made me stop and pee at about mile 10. I looked back to see if someone was behind me, before I went into the porta-potty, empty. While in there it seemed to take me an eternity, but as I came out nobody had passed me. I was happy about that. The closer I got to downtown, the more people I started to see. Lesly Smith passed me right around this point, she was floating, she ended up getting second overall. I also saw Nicole closing up on me and I knew it was just a matter of time before she caught me. I saw Tim, Joe, Ryan and Lindsey again and they were telling me how great I was doing. I was still in second place in my age group at this point. I still felt good averaging 7:40s.
I got to the special needs bag, mile 13, took out the Hotshot I had in there and also some nutrition. As I downed the hotshot, I heard Kyle again, he was yelling some very encouraging words. I was still averaging 7:45s at this point so I was in a great mood. As soon as I started the second lap, something happened, my legs began to tighten up.
I was passing people on their first lap, but I noticed that my pace had dropped to closer to 8 minute/mile. I wanted to keep the same pace I had kept for the first half, so I tried to push to get back on pace, but my legs said: “No sir!” I started feeling cramps coming. I had to slow down to a pace that I wouldn’t cramp. I saw Christelle, my mom and the girls right about that point and it made me forget a little about the pain, that got me to the next aid station where I tried to get my HR to lower. Walked the aid station got my 2 cups of Gatorade, took a deep breath and started running again.
Each time I tried to run faster, my legs wouldn’t let me. I started also getting a tingling sensation on my fingers. I didn’t know if it was because of the cold, nutrition, my body shutting down or what, so I just kept trying to ignore it, but it was uncomfortable. At mile 16 I had to pee like a race horse again, I couldn’t believe it, I was mad that not only I was running slowly, but I had to stop again. I had never peed in an Ironman marathon before and this was essentially the third time? Frustrating for sure. This time, as I was in there, my legs were shaking, not a good sign.
As I came out of the porta-potty, I tried to push again and this is when I got my first real cramp. It really hurt, made me stop. I stretched it out, started to walk and then eventually run, or shuffle again. The miles seemed to keep getting longer and longer. This is where Nicole passed me, I managed to say something to her, which I can’t remember anymore what it was, but I was really happy to see that she was in third place. I was also being passed by too many people though and had absolutely no idea if they were in their first or second lap. Not that I could have done anything about it, but it still hurt every time someone passed me with ease.
As I made the final turn to head back, I knew I only had a 10K left. These were the longest 6 miles I can remember. I was still on track at this point to run a sub 3:30 if I could keep an 8 minute per mile pace, but my body simply didn’t let me. I was cramping every time I ran faster than 9:15 – 9:30am, I was just in pain. I saw my dad and he was telling me to think good thoughts and to keep my head up. All I wanted to do was to stop and not keep running, I kept trying to run and kept convincing myself that all I needed to do was make it to the next aid station so I could get nutrition in and walk through it.
I had been using salt for the run until the last 10K also. I had the same problem as I did at Boulder Ironman. I started feeling like I had something in my throat and when I would spit, my spit would be red. I was bleeding again from taking so much salt. I was so mad at myself, I had taken all my nutrition and all the salt and I was still cramping. I had no idea why and as I shuffled closer to the finish line, I kept trying to figure out why my body, even though it had been fed correctly, wasn’t letting me do what I had trained so hard to do. I got to the second to last aid station and they had Hotshot there, I grabbed one chugged it and thought: “Ok, the last 2 miles I’ll be able to run, now that I’ve had the Hotshot!” NOPE, it didn’t work, the last two miles were the slowest two miles of the whole marathon.
I just wanted to be done with the race, each step felt painful and I kept getting more frustrated. Saw mile marker 25 and felt so relieved, but 1 mile can still take a long time if you can’t really run. On top of that my fingers were still tingling, I was freezing as it had gotten colder and I was running so slowly. Finally I made the final turn, got passed by 3 guys, one of them for sure was in my AG. Couldn’t do anything about it, kept shuffling to the finishing chute.
I’ve never been to Kona, but the Louisville finishing area is absolutely incredible. Even though it was still light outside they had the lights turned on and it was so loud. People are banging against the panels and yelling, it felt absolutely amazing, I was so excited, I counted the steps I had to take. Usually I look back to see if there is someone behind me sprinting, I didn’t care this time. All I wanted was to cross the finish line. I thought I was smiling but I wasn’t, I saw the picture and I definitely wasn’t. As I realized I had crossed the finish line and heard my name, I took one, two, three steps towards the volunteers who were clapping and I went down, face first.
My legs completely gave out from under me. Luckily they were able to grab me before I hit the floor, before I had even hit the floor, both my legs, went into a full on cramp. I was cramping in my calves but also shins, my quads but also hamstrings, even my feet were cramping. I don’t remember ever being in that much pain. I was actually yelling because of the pain. They were asking me where I was cramping and I just kept saying “All over”. When they would stretch one part of my leg the other would cramp more, so they just elevated both my legs. This lasted about 2 minutes, but to me it felt like 10. Later I was told by my wife and friends, that saw me, that it was the most painful cramp that they had seen. Like my muscles wanted to jump out of my skin.
After the cramps went down enough for me to stop yelling, they brought a wheel chair and immediately wheeled me to the medical tent. I was also freezing I remember shivering and asking for a blanket. I don’t remember going to the medical tent, but once I was there I was given 1 liter of electrolytes through an IV. They wrapped me around with blankets like a burrito and I just laid there for about 45 minutes.
After coming out I was able to see my friends and family. It was amazing to have them there, I am so grateful to all of them and everyone that wrote me a note through text, Facebook, Instagram whatever. I had never gotten so many messages and it meant a lot. I was disappointed that I didn’t do better for so many people were cheering for me. At that point I still had no idea what place I had come in, but I didn’t really care, I had never been so glad to have been done with a race. I was happy as I knew, I couldn’t have gone 1 second faster as I pushed my body to its limit. I ended up swimming my fastest IM swim ever, due to the downstream swim and wetsuit with a time of 49:42, I biked a sub 5 hour 110.5 mile hilly course in 4:58 and ended up running/shuffling a 3:35 marathon for a total time of 9:35:40 good enough for 8th place in my Age group, not good enough to qualify for Kona.
Having said that I am very happy to have over a 20 minute personal record at an Ironman. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, the guidance of my coach Mike Ricci from D3 Multisport and of course of all the support from our sponsors: Colorado Multisport, BTC Elite, Felt, Castelli Triathlon, Roka, Newton Running, Tritats and Rudy Project. I really don’t know what I’ll do next, but I need to figure out what is wrong with my cramps as I know this time it wasn’t nutrition. This was the last race of the season, so until next season, I will be back! Thanks for reading.