Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ironman Louisville: The Journey

I thought I would say a little about what led me to tomorrow's Ironman Louisville, speaking more metaphorically than literally. Plus, maybe it will keep me from freaking out a little bit longer, as the clock ticks down to the race start. Some of this might be old news to regular readers, but I'm pretty sure that's nobody.

Two years ago (almost exactly), when I did my first triathlon (actually the first race of any kind since college), I had no intention of attempting to become an Ironman. Heck, I barely knew anything about Ironman, let alone having a thought that I could do one. I just thought it might be fun, and it turned out that it was. I was hooked. From that first race in August 2010, I went on to do a half marathon in January 2011. I did more races after that, with increasing frequency. I did my first Olympic distance triathlon, on my birthday, in May 2011. After surviving that, I thought "well, maybe I can do a half Ironman," and signed up for Ironman 70.3 Austin. After surviving that in October 2011, I started to think I would try a full Ironman.

I considered doing Ironman Texas this year, but thought it was too soon, I wouldn't have enough time to properly train. I wanted to do either Ironman Arizona or Ironman Florida, later in the fall, but they both sold out in minutes. Eager to do an Ironman in 2012, and wanting to do one I could drive to, I signed up for the only one with open slots: Ironman Louisville. Cozumel could have been an option, but I didn't really want to fly to a race, and have to figure out the logistics of shipping my bike. I realized a race at the end of August would be hot, and training for it in Texas potentially even moreso. So, after committing to the race in November, I started training.

Before I committed to Ironman, however, I was in the midst of the Austin Distance Challenge, and already training for the Austin Marathon in February 2012. When I got injured during training, it was devastating. The reasons I went on and did the race anyway (at a walking pace) were 1) I had already paid 2) I wanted to finish the distance challenge and get the finisher's jacket and 3) I wanted to have done one marathon, no matter the pace, before Ironman.

The knee injury I had was actually somewhat good for me, in a way. I spent more time on the pool, certainly my weakest sport. I swam with a pull buoy most of the time, so I was totally focused on my stroke. It didn't help my weak kick, but that's less important for distance swimming. My stroke improved, and my times with it.

After seeing a podiatrist, who helped me by setting me up with over-the-counter orthotics, my knee got better. Once I started running again, I started running with a group from the gym again. We spent most of the summer at a middle school track near the gym. It being 300 meters was weird, but it was still a good way to work on speed. With tips and a workout plan from the coach, my run speed improved significantly. Just over a week ago, I ran a 6:14 mile, my quickest ever. I also ran on my own, almost every day. My long runs were typically on Sundays, by myself, alternating between the flat town lake trail and the hillier streets around my house.

I was only riding on the road one day a week, but supplementing that with a bike trainer in my living room, and the occasional spin class at the gym. I never worked with a coach per se, but the spin classes at least gave some guidance. My long rides were mostly Saturdays, with a group from the gym. They're a pretty good group of cyclists, but mostly road riders, so not always the best training partners. They kept me honest, and I didn't have to do much route planning, which was quite a help.

I've detailed in this blog all the races I've done in the last months and years. While I have been rather disappointed with my runs at the longer races, I think I've finally figured out that the main problem was that I wasn't drinking enough on the bike. Being a tech nerd, I think I've found a gadget that will help me with that. I'll see how that goes, and let you know, so to speak.

That's the gist of how, metaphorically, I wound up here in Louisville on the eve of the Ironman, so I'll give just a quick account of how I got here physically. I loaded most of my stuff in my car Tuesday night, after picking up my bike from getting a tune-up at the shop. I left the house at 6am Wednesday, and drove straight through, 16 hours and just over 1000 miles. I hadn't made any plans as to where to stay that night, I wasn't sure I would want to do the whole thing in one day. I thought about staying somewhere cheaper, outside of downtown Louisville, but it seemed worth whatever price difference to not have to unpack (no way I would leave my bike and gear in my car overnight), repack, and unpack again. Since I lost an hour somewhere along the way, it was around 11pm when I got to my hotel. I was exhausted, but wired. I didn't get to sleep until 1am.
I ate an enormous breakfast Thursday morning before getting checked into the event at 9am, right when they opened it up. I got a few things from the Ironman store, and checked out the other vendors. I was intrigued by a couple things, but didn't get them until the next day. I drove to a Harley shop because, why not a non-Ironman souvenir? I drove the run course on my way back, at least as best as I was able (there were one-way roads).
Friday I drove the bike course, through what at least used to be horse country. Now, it looks like most of the farms have been converted into high-end housing developments. There was one horse training facility, and I did eventually see a few horses, but that was just one place. Later in the afternoon I went for a short bike ride, mainly to make sure it was in proper working order, and a 3-mile run. I went to the banquet and course talk in the evening, and spent the rest of the evening getting my gear sorted and ready.
This morning was the practice swim. I didn't go quite as far as we were allowed, I only did ~800 meters of the 1200 they had "on offer." Most of the rest of the day was spent relaxing, other than taking my bike and gear over to transition. I had my traditional milkshake dinner, and I've been lying in bed with the TV on for hours. Now, I just hope I can get at least a little sleep between now and 4am...

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