Ironman Louisville Week – Course Preview

Living here in Louisville gives me the advantage of getting familiar with the course over the last year years of training. I’ve been able to spend lots of time in the river, on the bike course and I’ve actually run the majority of the marathon route several times over the last 10-12 years….so yeah, it’s familiar!
SWIM (2.4 miles)
Unlike most Ironman races that take place in a lake or ocean, the IMLOU swim happens in a river…a big one. Because of this, it’s not possible for everyone to start on a beach and go charging into the water together like most Ironman races start. IMLOU starts with everyone lined up single file and then jumping into the river. The line breaks into two at the very end, meaning that two (or more) people are jumping in at a time. You cross the timing mat right before jumping in, so your official time starts when you enter the water. From the video’s posted online and talking with people, it goes pretty fast. The last person will be in the water 20-30 minutes after the first person gets wet.
Once in the water, you will swim upstream between Towhead Island and the shore. You go out past the end of the island and veer towards the middle of the river. The turn-around buoy is approximately 8/10ths of a mile from the start. Once making this left-hand turn around at the buoy, you will swim downstream the remaining 1.6 miles – finishing at Waterfront Park. There are about 5 or 6 steps that you have to climb up to exit the water, but there are volunteers everywhere to help you navigate these.
After exiting the water, you will have to run several hundred feet to get to the transitions area. This is never easy after being horizontal for over an hour. You will be given your T1 bags and then head into the tent to change into your bike gear. Most triathlons have transitions that are out in the open and you put on all of your bike gear while standing next to you bike. Ironman races are different. You are not allowed to sit anything on the ground next to your bike, so everything goes in a bag and you put it all on in a tent and then run out to your bike. As a volunteer the last two years I’ve been in this tent…it’s not a pleasant place! I’ll be in and out of there as fast as possible!
BIKE (112 miles)
The 112 mile bike course starts out heading east out of downtown Louisville on River Road. The first 8-9 miles are flat and it’s tough to hold back. Coming off of two weeks of easy workouts, my legs are going to be fresh…and my adrenaline is going to be sky high. Going too fast at the start of the bike would lead to big problems later, so I’ll make a conscious effort to keep my heart rate and speed under control here. Once you turn left onto US-42 off of River Road, the hills start. The first one at mile 10 is a monster. It’s a very steep hill followed by some longer climbs. From mile 10 to 18 you will climb 280 feet. 
Then you’ll take a right onto KY-1694. This is the out and back portion of the course and is only 5 miles out and 5 miles back but it’s exciting! You go straight down a hill, then up a hill to the turn-around…then do it all going the other way – down, then up. These downhills are very fast and the course is still pretty congested at this point, so getting up to the speed I normally do might not be the best idea…but I probably will anyway (Flash likes to go fast)! 
Once you turn right back onto US-42, there’s a couple of rolling hills before starting the loop portion of the course. This starts with a right turn onto KY-393, then a left onto KY-146. The next 10 miles is almost all uphill. This portion includes going through the small town of LaGrange. They have a huge festival set up and there will be people on both sides of the street cheering and ringing their cowbells. Going through here will be fun. After getting through LaGrange, you hit a nice downhill portion before turning left onto Ballard School Road. Ballard School Road sucks. No other way to put it. It’s a narrow road and you spend most of it moving from standing, back to sitting, then standing again. Once you finally hit a good downhill, you have to ride the brakes because you make a hard right hand turn at the bottom of the hill.
At the end of Ballard School Road, you turn right onto Old Sligo Road. You only spend about two miles on Old Sligo (mostly downhill, except for a very steep, short hill) before taking a left onto L’Esprit Pkwy. This is another tough stretch. While it’s only 3 miles long, it’s all uphill and there is no crowd support. At the end of L’Esprit, you will take a left onto Pendleton Road for a just a few miles before turning left back into US-42.
Once onto US-42, you will finally see some sustained downhill action. The turn onto US-42 is around mile 50 and you don’t start on the second loop until mile 61 or so…the majority of this 11 mile section is downhill. The bad news is that once you get back to KY-393, you take a left and do the whole 393, 146, Ballard School, Old Sligo, L-Esprit, Pendleton loop a second time. 
Once you hit US-42 again on the second loop, you are at mile 81 and you are over 400 feet above the elevation where the bike course ends…so it’s pretty much all downhill the last 30 miles. There are a few climbs, but nothing that will require you to get out of the big chain ring. Going back down River Road to the finish is a good feeling, but even the flats feel like hills at this point!
It’s going to be cool to hop off the bike and just hand it to someone. Ironman has “bike catchers” that will take your bike from you as you come into T2. Once you hand your bike off, you run down and grab your T2 bag before heading back into the tent. A quick change into your running gear and you’re off to complete the final leg of the race!
RUN (26.2 miles)
The toughest part (other than the last 24 miles) of the run is the first 2 miles. You exit T2, then after a short run on Main Street, you climb the on-ramp to the 2nd Street bridge…run across the bridge and back. For the most part, this is the only hill you will encounter. The run heads south out of downtown, past the University of Louisville, Churchill Downs and out to Iroquois Park. Thankfully, the course turns around at the park entrance and doesn’t torture us with the massive hills hiding in there. After turning around at mile 8.5, you run back up the same route into downtown. Here’s where the course designers decided to play mind games. At mile 14 you come up 4th Street and you can literally see the finish line ahead of you. When you get about 100 feet from the finish line, you turn right and do the whole thing again! I’m sure that I will be struggling at this point and seeing the finish line will either inspire me or piss me off.
The main chunk of the run is on 3rd Street and Southern Parkway. I grew up in the south end of town and I’ve run on Southern Parkway more times than I can count. I know every cross street and every landmark. You could literally drop me anywhere on this street and I would know exactly where I was. I’m hoping that this will help me mentally during the race. The familiarity of the course will keep me from having to figure out where I am and what lies ahead.
Seems like everyone that I know who is volunteering at an aid station will be on the run course. The support will be critical at this stage…I just hope that I’m able to recognize everyone, no telling what physical/mental state I will be in!
The finish shoot is the place where dreams come true…and IMLOU has one of the best in the business! Other than the World Championship finish in Kona, Hawaii, the finish shoot at 4th Street Live! is second to none. The background of this blog shows a picture of what triathletes will see right before crossing the finish line and hearing Mike Reilly say “…you are an Ironman!”. It will all be worth it at this moment!

3 Responses to “Ironman Louisville Week – Course Preview”

  1. Matthew Smith August 24, 2011 at 8:32 PM #

    It’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait to hear about it. I’ll try to follow you on Sunday.

  2. Ryan August 24, 2011 at 10:28 PM #

    Have a great day in the Lou… I’ll be on the course training and watching. Be strong and enjoy the moments you feel good and push through the bad times until you feel good again.

  3. James Hoagland August 25, 2011 at 11:53 AM #

    You have prepared as well as anybody for this and we know you will do great. Keep that image of the finish line in mind at all times and you will get there. Have fun Luke. You WILL be and Ironman next time we talk!

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