First I want to say how blown away I was by the virtual cheering that went on while I was slogging way across the Kentucky Hills. I'm overwhelmed by it all. Thank you so much!
Second, I've never seen such enthusiastic volunteers in any race. They treat you like royalty. The race is also well-organized and well-run.
Here now, what I can remember about the swim and the bike.
2.4 Mile Swim
This was a great way to start off my experience. Due to the increased flow of the river they had moved the swim start to a more protected inlet next to "toehead island" and the type of start to a first-come, first served seeded start. There is a map of the swim here, which will open in a new window.
The race director had said at the pre-race briefing that the course and cutoffs would be adjusted to when the last swimmer went into the water, so if you're a slower triathlete you'd be better served by being one of the first in the water. That was all the encouragement I needed; I was the eighth one in!
At the beginning of the swim, after the pros went off, the official Kentucky Derby bugler played their "first call" signature song (http://www.fmaalumni.org/qt/_firstcall.wav) marking the beginning of a sporting event and then they seeded us off rapid-fire by running us over the timing mat and off the end of the dock in rapid-fire, "Go! Go! Go!" much like I would expect skhydivers to be fed out of a plane.
I hit the water running and started swimming against a little bit of current up the island, out past the islend into the river current, and then eventually up and around the two buoys at the end, and then down river. I had a pretty good swim, about 1:31. I was pretty motivated to bank as much time as possible for what I knew was going to be a long day on the bike.
I came up out of the water, and there were people there to haul you up. They had been trained to help you with your wetsuit, so since it wasn't wetsuit legal they just unzipped the back of my fast-skin. I was on surprisingly steady legs right away and ran up the chute and down the other side to where my swim-to-bike transition bag was hanging on a numbered peg (we wen't allowed to have items at our bike) and ran into the woman's changing tent.
I had placed my bike shoes on the aerobars of my bike because there was so little room in the bag they gave me with the hydration pack already in there, and the ground, which meant I was going to be putting them on over wet feet. I was hoping they'd dry off in my shoes, forgetting that nothing ever seems to dry when you're this close to a larg body of water. Things just kind of stay damp all the time.
When I entered the changing tent, one person assigned herself to me and helped me on and off with things, putting my swim stuff back into the back I had just vacated and asking how she could help me more. It was the closest I've come to being treated like a pro. I was still damp and so getting dressed in spandex biking clothes was hard. I grappled with my hydration pack and put that on as well, and when finally dressed and ready ran out into the bike racks, where I was surprised to see a lot of bikes still left. I grabbed my bike shoes and put them, my helmet, and ran my bike up the long exit shoot and out onto the road.
112 mile Bike
This is what nearly broke me. Here is a map of the bike, which will open in a new window. We traveled out 42 via River Road, and then there was a short out-and-back returning to 42 before you entered the "LaGrange Loop" which you did twice, before returning to 42 and heading back into LouAville.
The bike was every bit as hilly as the bike profile imagines, and it feels like you're in the Sierras. Long screaming downhills are great but eventually I stopped enjoying them because I knew, I always knew, there'd be a long steep uphill on the other side. Toward the end, when I would crest a hill, I was in tears because my quads hurt so bad, and I had run out of ways to sit comfortably on the saddle.
There was just no end to the hills. I have it on good authority from someone who asked to be nameless that actually, the new bike course at Couer d'Arlen was much easier than this; this was actually what one might expect from Kona. The sun defied the weather prediction and was present most of the day, blasting down on us so that when pedaling uphill in my small chain ring my face was blazing hot.
I also sweated like crazy. I abandoned may nutrition plan and instead just drank solid gatorade all day, making sure to take calories every hour form my Carbo-pro and occasionally drinking plain water with that. Each aid station had a bottle dump as you came in; you would toss your old bottles and then grab a bottle from a waiting voluteer. When you grabbed the Gatorade endurance formula, they had already taken off the seals and opened it for you, and then you stuck it in your bottle cage.
The water was always cold. They also offered bananas and all manner of foods but I was largely focused on the gatorade because it was so hot. I munched on some pringles and fig newtons from time to time, but I estimate that in addition to the 64 ounces of accelerade in my back that I drank 6-8 bottles of gatorade and 2-3 bottles of plain water. I would also occasionally pour some of the plain cold water over my head and back.
It was a long and difficult day. Between mile 40 and 80 my bike computer stopped working, so I had no idea how fast I was going or my average speed. My resolve, and my energy level, were dropping dramatically. Emotionally, I was in bad spirits and much less invested in finishing what had now, in my mind, become "this stupid race." I had been passed by nearly every person in the race, including going up hills, and at this point, I. Hated. Everyone.
At mile 60 I finally pulled over, went to the bathroom, and got my "special needs bag" and had a coke, which lit a fire under my ass for the next 25 miles or so, but the hills got to me, sure they did.
Eventually, as the day went on, I trying not to cry and was really wishing for mechanical failure, so that I could leave the course with dignity. There was just no end to the hills. There were few flats or places where you could just lay in your aero bars and fewer chances to get up out of the saddle and stretch. Eventually I just started screaming my favorite curse words at the next hills, but as my energy flagged I just muttered, MOTHERF$%&R whenever I saw the next hill.
As I passed through the LaGrange loop, I had to smile - people were out and screaming like crazy. They rang cowbells and honked horns. More than one an SUV pulled up next to me out in the country and someone honked and rang a cowbell, which I'm sure was meant well but scared the hell out of me at the time! People were in the front yards, in front of churches, in front of elementary schools with signs and pleanty of cheer, and it only slightly abated as late as 3 in the afternon. There was some serious cheer love in LaGrange Kentucky yesterday!
Men argued with wives as they were going into church, according to Baboo, who heard at least one argument about how "we can go to chuch any time; there's this sporting even going on, and we need to cheer for the people in it!"
In the last 25 miles I was hauling ass to make it to transition before the bike cutoff, plus I was angry. Angry at my weak legs and those damned, unending hills. In the middle part of the course, my desire to leave the course with mechanical failure was thwarted by ever-present and helpful bike mechanics who seemed to almost pop out of the bushes.
I wished ferverently for my crank to fall off. They checked it and found it tight. I said that my tires felt soft. They said they were fine. They fixed my bike computer and I realized how much the hills were taking out of my time. I started pedaling like crazy, ignoring the growing pain in my right foot, my ass, my hoo-hoo, and the clear signs that I was pretty-badly sunburned on my back. I passed one woman who had simply pulled over and was standing there, motionless, with her head in her hands, fifteen miles from the finish.
At the same time, beginning about mile 70, I was wishing someone would come and pull my chip. Oh, how I wanted that to happen! In my fantasy, I would be all dramatic and sink to my knees, being all like, "no! No! I wanted to finish!" while secretly being relieved and wandering down to the finish line to drink cool drinks and wait for Baboo to come in. In another fantasy, I simply walked into transition and handed them my chip and said, "Fuck Kentucky. Fuck Ironman."
But that never happened. I hauled ass in, averaging 16-17 mph on the last 20 miles, and they nodded at me all the way to the end, and shut down the bike course about 5 minutes after I arrived. As I ran through the "bike in" entrance a volunteer asked me, "can I take your bike?"
Fuck yeah, buddy. You can take my bike. Take it away. I don't ever want to see it again, or its evil seat. My right foot hurt like hell; for the past 30 miles my middle toe felt like someone was hitting it with a hammer; I don't know what that was all about. My feet were white on the bottom from having been in wet socks all day. My ass felt like I'd been spanked continuously for 9 hours. Which, of course, I had. I'd been spanked by Kentucky and it's "rolling hills."
Note to the viewer: do not put "sore butt" or "spanking" into the Google image search. Just. Don't.
later: The run, part 1 and the run, part 2 (and finish)
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