Ironman Louisville 2017 Race Report

As I thought about what I was going to say in this race report, I knew that I wanted to approach it from a different direction than those that I’ve done in the past. I felt that this race required more from me mentally than any race I’ve done up to this point. This may sound ridiculous, but I honestly feel like accomplishing the goals I had set in this race ended up being 75% mental and only 25% physical.

As with the Ironman races that I raced in 2013 and 2015, I followed the plan outlined in The Balanced Approach for the 36 weeks leading up to Ironman Louisville 2017. To my surprise, when I went back to Training Peaks and looked at my average training week, it was only 6 hours and 8 minutes this year…which is lower than in the past (it’s been right under 7 hours previously). I can’t imagine that there’s anyone else out there that completed the race in the time I did on less hours of training per week. This even more solidifies my thought that the mental side of racing an Ironman is just as, if not more critical, than the physical side.

So in my race preview I outlined my three goals. They were to set a personal record (PR), which would be anything under 11:32:58, complete the bike leg in under 6 hours and to just finish the race. With these goals in mind, I spent the days leading up to the race preparing myself mentally. I visualized every aspect of the race. Everything from picking up my race packet, to preparing my gear and special needs bags, to where I would park race morning. I intentionally thought about every detail that I could control (the weather is not one of them). What time would I wake up? What time would I leave the house? Where would I put myself in the self-seeding swim start line? What would I drink as I waited in line? Literally EVERY detail.

I also visualized the race. What did I want to think about during the swim (not crossing over, keeping a smooth stroke, drafting when possible, etc.)? What did I need to do in the transition tents? What order would I do things in transition to be as efficient as possible? You get the idea. This probably seems like overkill to most, but I have learned that I can eliminate almost all of the stress associated with race morning if I have everything planned out. I also have a much better chance of executing a good race if I have thought through as much of it as possible.


SWIM

Back to race morning. I knew that in order to set a PR, I would need to start off with a strong swim time. This was going to be a tall task considering I didn't get to swim with a Masters Team or a group this season. I felt like I was in a good rhythm during the swim, but I really didn’t know what pace I was on. I lined up in the 1:00:00 to 1:10:00 swim wave, and I had hoped to come out of the water somewhere between 1:05:00 and 1:10:00. In my mind, anything over 1:10 would set me behind for the rest of the day. I swam at a pace just slightly above easy, which I thought would be good enough to reach my goal. My sighting was good despite the croppy water. Needless to say, I was very excited to see 1:03 and some change on my watch when I stood up on the steps leading out of the Ohio River. This was the first big hurdle in the mental game that played out during the race.

2.4 Mile Swim

1:03:58 (1:39 / 100m pace)

There was an immediate shift in my psyche as I ran to transition from the water. I knew that this fast swim had set me up to meet my goals for the day. I went through transition as planned and got my bike. As I ran down the sidewalk toward the bike-mount line, I was carrying my bike shoes in my left hand and was guiding my bike with my right hand on the saddle. This works great as long as you keep moving forward. Unfortunately for me, someone cut right in front of me and I had to stop, causing my front wheel to turn to the left…immediately bringing my bike to a stop. I tripped over my frame and with my shoes in my hand, was not able to catch myself. My bike and I hit the ground hard. I got up and did a quick check on my bike. It was good. I was ok too. Dodged a bullet! I propped my bike up on the fence that lined the sidewalk and went ahead and put my bike shoes on. I ran the 20 feet or so left to the bike-mount line and started the 112 mile bike ride. It was at that point that I realized my top and bottom lip were bleeding. I think I hit my mouth on my bike as I went down.


BIKE

My positive mental state took a bit of a hit with the fall, but I quickly tried to regroup and spent the first few miles of the bike going over my plan for the ride. I would hold my power between 180 and 190 watts, being very careful not to let it spike above 290 or so on the hills. I had my Garmin set to auto-lap every 5 miles. So I was able to see total bike time, 3 second average power and cadence on my screen without constantly focusing on speed. I knew that if my time for each 5 mile split was around 15 minutes, that would put me at 20 miles per hour. I also knew that in order to break 6 hours, I needed to average 18.7 mph or better. My first few splits (with a nice tailwind) were 14:35 and 13:34, woo hoo! But once I made the right hand turn and the wind was no longer at my back, my splits were all over the place. I focused on riding my power, but the wind was relentless and I kept thinking about how tough that ride back into the wind was going to be during that last 30 miles. I also had a bit of a snafu regarding my nutrition. I had a 5-serving pack of almond butter that I had planned to take a “shot” of every hour on the bike. This had worked perfectly during my training ride. However, when I went to take the first hit, I realized that it was all oil. The butter had separated from the oil (typical for natural nut butters). I tried to knead the pouch as I rode, but the butter was a solid rock at the bottom and the oil was on top. There was no mixing the two at this point. I guess buying this 6 months ago and having it sit was not the best idea. Fortunately, after losing my nutrition at 70.3 Ohio, I had a back-up plan in place for this race. I had a single-serving almond butter in my bike bento box and I had put three more in my special needs bag just in case I somehow lost the 5-serving pouch. So while I fell a little behind on my calories early on, I was able to get them almost all back.

The last part of the bike was very hard mentally. Once I turned left onto US-42 to head back toward town, I knew I would be in for a battle with the wind. I decided to break the ride into segments. The first would be the 10 miles from Sligo to 393. I knew that I would have to try and stay down in my aero bars to negate the headwind as much as possible. The wind was coming from the northwest and was almost non-stop. The weather report for that time of day shows 20 mph sustained winds with gusts of 40 mph! It was crazy. I made it to 393 and told myself the next segment would be about another 10 miles to get me to the right turn off of 42 on to River Road. By this time, my lower back and neck were getting tight and I just wanted OFF THE BIKE! I made if to River Road and then the wind really picked up and it started raining a little bit. I was hit by a few flying branches off of trees and felt the wind blowing mist off of the river as I rode beside it. Seriously?! At this point, I had to break it down into even smaller segments in order to get myself to stay in aero and keep peddling hard. I really wanted to get it over with! The next segment was just 2 miles to Wolf Pen Branch Road. Then the 5 miles to Zorn Avenue. Then the final 3 or so miles to transition. With a few miles to go, I noticed that my goal of breaking 6 hours was possible, so this provided a little extra motivation to keep my cadence high and head down. Despite the head wind, I averaged 19.5 mph during the last 10 miles, which is why I was able to sneak in under 6 hours.

112 Mile Bike

5:57:26 (18.8 mph)

Nominal Power = 171 Watts

Avg Heart Rate = 115 bpm

Avg. Cadence = 77 rpm


RUN

I was feeling good about my overall race as I excited T2. With a new swim and bike PR, I knew that a solid run would put me in position to really do something special on this day. I had played the run over in my mind several times. Keep my cadence above 176 and my heart rate below 145. That was the plan. Don’t worry about pace. I knew that if I kept my cadence up, my pace would take care of itself. The first four miles went great. I was right on track.

The one issue was with my nutrition. I had my mix in two bottles on my fuel belt. I had practiced with this mix and digested it well. But for the first time ever in an Ironman race, I was having digestion issues. The first swig that I took at mile two almost came right back up! I spent the next few minutes belching and I knew that continuing to try and drink what I had on board was not an option. So I began to think about alternatives that were available at the aid stations. If you follow my blog or know me, you know that I don’t do artificial drinks or gels. So Gatorade, Coke, Gels, and Red Bull were not good ideas (I can only image how my gut would have reacted to any of those!). So at mile 5, I tried some water with a small bite of banana. I let it turn to mush in my mouth before swallowing it. But I knew quickly that “solid” food was not going to work. By miles 7, 8 and 9, my cadence had slowed to 174 and I was having trouble getting it back up. This is when my mental state started to go negative. I was telling myself that without my nutrition, there’s no way I could sustain my pace for a marathon. The negative thoughts were creeping in the more I ran. I had resorted to drinking water and sucking the juice from orange slices at each aid station.

My cadence slowed to 172 by mile 14 and I was struggling. My mile splits were progressively getting slower. I would get a little motivation from friends and family out on the course (my wife and kids, my parents, the BC Mafia, Louisville Landsharks, TriLoco's, and everyone else cheering along the course giving me encouragement), but I was already thinking that my goal of a race PR was lost. By mile 18, I was breaking down both physically and mentally. My cadence had dropped into the 160’s and every step hurt. My heart rate was dropping and my legs were toast. I was still running, but it was slow and ugly.

I passed my family at mile 22 and my middle son, who is 4, told me that I need to run faster. I laughed (as did other runners around me), but that little spark from my boy flipped a switch in my mind. Was this really as hard as I could push myself? What were all the early morning workouts for? Why did I go the last 100 days without sugar, grains or vegetable oils? Why all the sacrifices? This was it! Now was the time! This was the damn race! There was no coming back and trying again. It was all for right now! I went to a place in my mind where I hadn’t been before. I blocked out the pain from my body. I overroad the message my body was sending to my brain telling it that it was time to quit. I became laser-focused on the task at hand. Find something deep-down that would enable me to “run faster”. My cadence jumped back up into the low 170’s and my pace started to creep back down under 10 minute miles. My watch had been set just to show heart rate and cadence with the auto-lap on every mile. At the 23 mile mark, I scrolled over to see that my overall race time was just under 11 hours. What a minute? Was this right? Despite the crap-fest that was miles 18 through 22, I still had a chance, a GOOD chance, to set a PR! This was all I needed mentally to take things to the next level. I suddenly found another gear and ran the last three miles in 9:45, 9:27 and 8:40. The last 0.2 miles were at a 8:32 pace! I completely blocked out the pain and my surroundings as I pushed to the finish line. I bypassed the aid stations and everything went quiet. When I turned the last corner and saw the finish shoot, my senses came back to life. I heard the announcer calling out finishers names, I heard the music bumping from the finish line speakers. I heard the crowd at Fourth Street Live cheering wildly! I got cold chills all over my body. I had done it!

26.2 Mile Run

4:07:40 (9:27 min/mile)

Avg Heart Rate = 122 bpm

Avg. Cadence = 176 spm


There are lots of reasons for me to be proud of my performance on this day. I realize that 11 hours and 25 minutes isn’t fast compared to some and others might see it as inconceivably quick. The time isn’t what I’m most proud of. It’s the way I was able to push myself through some really hard spots during the bike and run. I’ve done this race four times now. I’ve raced when the temps were in the mid 90’s with high humidity. I raced when I thought there was wind (that was nothing compared to this year). But I’ve never had to go to the place mentally that it took for me to get to the finish line this time. I will use this race in the future when I need to push myself to do something uncomfortable. When I don’t think I’m capable of something, I will remind myself of what I’m capable of when I get my mind right. I’m constantly amazed by what the human body can accomplish, and this is yet another example of what can be done when you put mind over matter!

Total Time

11:25:42

75th out of 287 in 35-39 Age Group

450th Overall out of 2750

Nutrition Used:

Pre-Race - (1) Medium Sweet Potato and (1) packet of Justin's Almond Butter

Bike- 3 scoops Phat Fibre mix with 3/4 bottle coconut water mixed in (2) 20oz bottles

Justin's Almond Butter packets (4 total)

New Bottle of clear water at each aid station

Run - Water  and oranges at Aid stations

Gear used:


TYR Hurricane 5 wetsuit

Aqua Sphere Kayenne goggles​

Argon 18 E-112 Triathlon bike with Zipp wheel set (404 front, 808 back)​

Bike Javelin aero helmet​

Adidas Boost running shoes with Swiftwick socks​

Be sure and visit all of my sponsor’s websites. I sought out these companies because they provide great products and services.

Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,

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2 Responses to “Ironman Louisville 2017 Race Report”

  1. Bob Harlow October 20, 2017 at 7:53 PM #

    Luke – I am a friend of Mark Kull – great race and time! – I agree this IM Day was a real mental challenge because of the choppy river but mostly the difficult bike conditions of wind, dropping temperature and for me 30 minutes of rain at mile 95. Congrats on digging deep with a nice win.

    • Luke Powell November 8, 2017 at 1:29 PM #

      Thanks Bob. It was definitely a race that I will never forget (for lots of reasons). Congrats on your finish as well! Thanks for reading the blog.

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