Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ironman Louisville 2015

OCTOBER 11, 2015

SWIM - 1:02:53
T1 - 10:54
BIKE - 6:15:09
T2 - 5:54
RUN - 3:53:43
FINISH: 11:28:22
13/119 W30-34      57/788 Women      345/2573 Overall

Race Morning
I was awake at 4:30am with a plan to meet Theoden, Doug, and Lex  in front of the hotel at 5:15am and walk to transition.  I slept surprisingly well, got dressed, packed my last minute gear, ate a breakfast of rice cakes topped with peanut butter, banana, and honey, and sipped on hot tea on our walk.  

Race day also happened to be my birthday, but despite the multiple birthday wishes I was focused on nothing other than my race.  In transition I pumped my tires, double checked my wheels, put last minute items in my transition bags, dropped off my special needs bags, and then gathered with my parents and the boys to walk to the swim start.  

When we arrived at the start at 5:45am, the line was already more than a mile long.  By the time we were body marked, claimed our spot in line, went to the bathroom, walked back to our spot in the line, and put on our wetsuits, the starting gun went off and suddenly the line was moving.  I was bummed I never heard the National Anthem, but as it turns out they played "My Old Kentucky Home instead."  

Just prior to the start I sipped on a bottle of skratch and ate half of a bonk breaker.  The air temperature was a cool 48 degrees, which was cold even in a wetsuit, so I hung on to a fleece blanket until we were within site of the starting docks.  I said good-bye to my parents, fist-pumped the guys, soaked up some cheers from Charlotte friends, and then made the last walk down the boat ramp.  

Swim 1:02:53 (1:37/100m)
Approximately 25 minutes passed from the swim start until I jumped off the dock and into the 69 degree Ohio River.  In an ideal world, I would have been in the water much earlier to avoid the congestion, but it didn’t work out that way.  Having not worn my BlueSeventy wetsuit for more than a year, I immediately noticed the dramatic difference in buoyancy.   The first 1500 meters are “upriver” between an island and shore, but I can’t say I noticed any significant current.  In the scheme of things, it was a relatively clean swim, but I did a lot more sighting than average to zig-zag between slower swimmers.  As I passed the island, I noticed a large group of people standing up and walking in an area with a sandbar, but I opted to stay closer to the buoys and continue swimming.   Once we made the turn to swim downriver, I kept towards the main channel in hopes I might pick up some current and stay out of the congestion.  This worked well and I had fairly clean water until the second bridge when I found myself dodging lots of breast strokers and even a large log. 

I felt like my swim was taking an eternity and as my neck became sore from so much sighting, I wanted nothing more than to be out of the water.   Fortunately, thanks to ridiculous amounts of TriGlide borrowed from Theoden, I didn’t sense any chafing on my neck or arms.  Finally I caught site of the finishing stairs and made a direct line back to shore.  Volunteers were trying to help pull people out of the water, but it’s much harder than you would expect to find your footing on the carpeted stairs.  I caught a glimpse of my Garmin for the first time as I exited the water and was satisfied with 1:02, though hoping for less.  As it turns out, I should have been really please as that was the 10th fastest swim in my age group (top 6% of females, top 9% overall).  I made my way over to two wetsuit strippers who appeared confident in their abilities, and after a short struggle to pull the sleeve over my Garmin, they whipped that wetsuit off in a split second.  

T1 10:43

Unfortunately, the speed with which my wetsuit was removed would turn out to be the fastest portion of my transition.  I grabbed my bike bag and ran very cautiously toward the women’s changing tent.  I wish Ironman had taken the time to put carpeting down on this path, because it had turned into a dangerous slick muddy mess.  Once in the tent there were no volunteers available, so I took one of very few chairs, dumped out my bag, and got to work putting on my bike gear.   Another gripe I have was the very small size of the changing tent and too few volunteers, which were a big disappointment after having an abundance of both in Chattanooga last year.  Because of the anticipated cool temperatures on the bike, I had opted not to wear my tri jersey on the swim so that at least part of me would be dry.  Despite using a towel to quickly wipe off my arms, it turned into a giant struggle to get a tight fitting tri top, arm warmers, and gloves on over semi-wet skin with cold fingers.  At the time though I felt like the extra time would be worth the added warmth.  Once I accomplished that feat and repacked my bag, I made my way out of the tent only to be told by a volunteer that I had to take my bag back inside the tent and give it to a different volunteer.  Very frustrated, I simply told her that there were no free volunteers and that I was leaving my bag there, and that was precisely what I did.  The last portion of transition should be simple – grab your bike and go.  I, however, managed to make that difficult as well, dislodging my aero bottle when removing it from the rack.  This meant tightening the velcro strap (near impossible to do with my gloves on!), realizing the strap was twisted, taking the whole bottle out of the cage, re-fastening the Velcro, putting my gloves back on, and finally making my way out of transition.  I spent more than 10 minutes being sucked into the black hole of transition, and it is without a doubt the biggest disappointment I had in my race execution.  

Out of transition we ran a short distance to the road and the bike mount line.  The first 12 miles along River Road were completely flat and I settled in to my target power (160W) at a very comfortable effort.  As we made the right-hand turn onto 1694, I reminded myself to ride this section conservatively.  Everyone had warned me that the road was narrow, hills were steep, and there would be plenty of people riding recklessly.  I took the giant downhill up on my hoods and then shifted to my smallest gear to climb back out.  The worst part was when we had to turn around within a single lane of the road, so rather than risk crashing, I unclipped one foot and cautiously made the turn.  Just as I did, I caught site of a guy less than 50 feet behind me do a summersault over his bike and crash really hard.  It looked terrible, but fortunately there were medical staff stationed at that turn to assist.  Heading back out along 1694 was definitely more congested and perilous, and I was thankful to make it back to the main road.  My Garmin was beeping every 7 miles as a reminder to eat a square of bonk breaker and drink skratch (~250 calories/hour).  I mentally divided the course into three 35 mile sections (5 x 7 miles) plus the final 7 miles to guide nutrition and avoid focusing on all 112 miles.  

The early section of the loop passed quickly thanks to aid stations, abundant crowd support, and a Tour De France-like atmosphere in LaGrange.  If the ride through LaGrange was the highpoint of each loop, the next 20 miles were the lowest.  We first rode along a narrow back road with plenty of short steep climbs and then we made a left turn and hit a stout wind that seemed to shift between being into our faces and then from the side.  On a couple of occasions it caught my front tire and pushed me several feet across the road, so at that point I no longer was comfortable controlling my bike in aero.  The miles seemed to drag on, my neck and shoulders had already become very sore, my right foot had an odd pain, and for about 20 miles, I wanted nothing more than to call it a day and get off that bike.  Anyone who has raced this distance will tell you that you’ll play mental games with yourself all day, fighting the lows both mentally and physically, and that was without a doubt my lowest point that day.  

Finally we reached mile 60 (the start of the second loop) and mentally I checked back into the game.  The crowd support once again renewed my energy, and despite nagging neck pain that kept me upright rather than aero for nearly the entire rest of the bike, I knew my day was far from over.  The cheers of my Mom and several awesome Charlotte friends (Kelly, Kelli, and Nate) had me fired up for the second battle with the winds.  There really wasn’t much notable about the final 30+ miles.  I looked forward to each beep to indicate I could eat again, and easily tolerated all four bonk breakers, five bottles of scratch, and several licks of Base salt throughout the ride.  I had hoped to regain some speed in the final flat 10 miles, but my 22mph average on that outbound stretch was only 19 mph on the inbound stretch at the same power.  In the final miles I took a Gu Roctane in preparation for the run but instantly regretted it.  The taste was nauseating and suddenly I was adjusting my planned run nutrition.  Making the turn into downtown Louisville with cheering crowds and dismounting after 6 hours in the saddle is a great feeling and I was thrilled to be starting my run.  Final data for the bike was 6:15:09 (17.91mph), NP 156, VI 1.09, HR 143, and 5341 feet of elevation change. 22nd AG, 117th female, 682 overall.

If T1 was an epic disaster, than T2 was highly successful.  My legs felt good coming off the bike and there was even a volunteer to help me in the changing tent.  I traded my arm warmers and gloves for calf sleeves, changed shoes and socks, grabbed my nutrition (scratch fruit drops), and started my run.  Time 5:54.

My parents were cheering and Dad even ran along side to offer his encouragement as I headed out for a casual 26.2 mile run.  My run strategy was to run a strong and controlled first half-marathon, knowing that with a lingering hip injury and a longest run of 14 miles, there was a very real chance that I’d be doing a lot of walking during the last 10+ miles.  In typical fashion I went out fast, but settled my heart rate and found a good rhythm pretty quickly. 

Mile 1 – 7:22
Mile 2 – 7:43
Mile 3 – 9:06
Mile 4 – 8:31
Mile 5 – 8:37
Mile 6 – 8:58

My nutrition strategy was in evolution since I abandoned my gels.  I walked through each aid station (at every mile) and took two iced sponges (one squeezed over my head and another stuffed in my top) and a glass of liquid (alternating water and Gatorade) along with one scratch raspberry fruit drop.  I was also carrying a small bottle with skratch and sipped this throughout.  At the mile four aid station they had chocolate chip cookies and I soon found myself focused on getting back to that aid station (twice in each loop) for another bite of chocolaty goodness.   

Mile 7 – 8:44
Mile 8 – 8:55
Mile 9 – 8:56
Mile 10 – 8:47
Mile 11 – 8:36
Mile 12 – 8:43

Mile 13 – 9:06

It’s a major tease as you complete the first loop and run literally 100 yards from the finish line before making a right turn and heading back out for another 13 miles.  I caught sight of my parents again and Dad ran alongside asking how I was feeling.  I remember telling him I felt good (not sure that’s really the right word 127 miles into a race) and him telling me I was making great time.  My Garmin was showing my mile splits, but I otherwise just had total time running on my watch, so I had no idea what my run split was at that point.  Mentally, it’s tough to make the turn for the second loop and realize you still have another half-marathon to go, but I was feeling good and remained positive.

Mile 14 – 9:22
Mile 15 – 9:25
Mile 16 – 9:12
Mile 17 – 9:34
Mile 18 – 9:36
Mile 19 – 9:00

Mile 20 – 9:18

My right foot continued to hurt (I assume from whatever was bothering it on the bike), but amazingly my hip never hurt except for the first few steps I would take as I started running after each aid station.  I started taking coke at every other aid station beginning at mile nine, and together with fruit drops, cookies, water, and salt, my stomach continued to feel good with no signs of painful cramping that had plagued my run in Chattanooga.  The great part of an out and back course is that I was able to see lots of Ironman Foundation athletes as well as all of my Charlotte training buddies that were having great runs.  A simple cheer or high five go a really long way towards getting you down the road a bit further.  A friend’s husband was riding his bike to keep up with the action and biked alongside me off and on for the last 10k, providing a great distraction from my legs that were screaming to walk.  At this point, my pace was slowing, but I remained diligent about walking only during the aid stations.  I thought my chance at a sub-4 hour marathon (a surprising possibility after the first lap) was rapidly diminishing, but also thought that I could realistically have a PR race (11:48 in Chattanooga).

Mile 21 – 9:11
Mile 22 – 9:27
Mile 23 – 9:43
Mile 24 – 9:25
Mile 25 – 9:12

Mile 26 – 8:15

After the mile 24 aid station, I ran the rest of the way, recognizing that the shortest time between me and the finish was to run as fast as possible.  With a mile left to go I realized that sub 11:30 was looking good.  The crowds began to thicken and I made the left turn just a few blocks from the finish.  I remember having a huge smile on my face and realizing that suddenly my run was about to end and I was going to be an Ironman yet again.  I took off my sunglasses, turned my hat around, and soaked it all up.  After the last right turn, the finish line came into sight and the crowd support was incredible, echoing off the glass arch over 4th Street Live.  At the split, this time I stayed to the left of the cones and the Ironman red carpet was all mine.  I slowed to let a couple guys go ahead and then I had my Ironman moment in the setting sun.  Since I never heard my name announced last year, this time I paid close attention – “From Charlotte, North Carolina, Crystal Perkins.  It’s her birthday!  Happy Birthday Dr. Crystal!”  

And with that, I stopped moving for the first time in 11 hours and 28 minutes.  I get goose bumps just writing those last few sentences.  The “thing” that keeps me coming back to Ironman is the mix of emotions and accomplishment that fill me at that very moment. A volunteer placed a medal around my neck and wrapped me in a mylar blanket.  Mom and Dad were to my right and the volunteer took our picture and captured that wonderful moment.  I gathered my finisher shirt and hat and then walked for a few minutes to cool down.   We pulled up my results on the phone and I was shocked to see a marathon time of 3:53:43.  Seven weeks ago I ran one mile and questioned whether I’d ever be able to run (or walk) 26.2.  Femoral neck stress fracture to sub-4 hour marathon – that was the shock of the day! 

My final placements for the day were 13th F 30-34, 57th female, and 345th overall.  Over the course of a marathon, I had passed 9 people in my age group, 60 women, and 337 total people.  


I wandered toward the convention center with promises of a massage and food.  The soreness was kicking in and movement was slow.  I took a few sips of chocolate milk, but my stomach pretty quickly rejected that.  Lying down on the massage table was wonderful and the massage was equally good.  Getting up from the table, however, wasn’t so easy.  I took a few minutes to sit there, feeling for a brief period like I might pass out.  Eventually I walked through the food line (desserts, pizza, and chicken broth) and settled on the broth.  It tasted incredible!  Our hotel was perfectly positioned just a couple blocks away and I enjoyed a much-anticipated hot shower.   Dad was nice enough to go back to transition to pick up my bike and gear bags and then we all met back at the hotel.  After a long day for all of us, we had dinner in the restaurant in the hotel lobby.  French fries with ketchup were my meal of choice and settled my stomach.  As much as I had enjoyed the midnight finish line celebration in Chattanooga, I was much too sore and chilled to wander back down there that night.  Instead, I settled for my Normatec boots and a warm cozy bed.  My Ironman Louisville 31st birthday adventure was complete!  

I have so much more to write about my race, recovery, family birthday dinner, and off-season plans, but I think this novel is more than enough for today.  I'll be back with more later this week . . .

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ironman Louisville Goals and Pre-Race

Where do I even begin with summarizing my training for Ironman Louisville?  Is it possible to concisely describe 417 hours of training in the past 9 months? For those into numbers, that’s an average of 10.7 hours of  swimming, biking, and running per week.  Broken down, that's 311905 yards of swimming, 225 hours of biking, and 97 hours of running. 

Here’s the brief summary.  I had a great base season with consistent long runs of 14-15 miles, lots of power work on the bike, and three times weekly dates with the pool at 5am.  If the base season had a weakness it was my neglect of strength and core work, which happened once a week.  Things went really well until they didn’t.  Toward the very end of June, just as volume was building and my confidence was peaking, I was injured.   A stress fracture in my hip meant I was unable to run for 6 weeks.  Suddenly it was the middle of August and my run workouts consisted of 1-2 miles a few times per week.  I replaced the time pounding pavement with more time in the saddle (including four 100+ mile rides), hoping that at least my bike would be stronger.   Slowly I added back in a long run once per week (9, 10, 11, 13, and 14 miles), but each was followed with several days of nursing a sore hip.  In the final weeks, I was confident about my swimming and biking, but very nervous about my ability to run 26.2 miles.  On top of that, I hadn’t done any long runs off the bike to practice my run nutrition. 

My last week of training I ran 14 miles and felt the best I had in months.  Perhaps, just maybe, I could pull it together for a race day marathon.  Taper was rather uneventful and much better tolerated than last year.  I was patient, relaxed, and generally was pleased with how fresh my legs began to feel.  Our Charlotte Ironman training crew celebrated with a fun dinner at Cowfish.

Here are my race goals that I wrote down the week prior to the race:
Swim:  55-60 min based on pool swims of 4000 meters in 1:01 and wetsuit legal water temperatures
Bike:  6:05 – 6:15, average 160W, avoid spikes >FTP on hills
Run:  On a perfect day, I’d love to run sub-4 hours.  In reality I don’t think that’s possible.  I want a strong first 13 miles and then my hip will dictate the last 13.  If I have to walk because of hip pain, I will.  No quitting, regardless!

I told my friends and family to see my cross the finish line somewhere between 11 and 12 hours if things went according to plan.

I arrived in Atlanta from Charlotte on Thursday evening, and then together with my parents we made the 6 hour drive to Louisville on Friday.  En route we stopped at Crema in Nashville for a latte and fruit tartine.  It was so delicious we returned on our drive back home again on Monday.  

We stayed at the Marriott Louisville Downtown and I can’t say enough good things about the hotel.   Clean, quiet, centrally located, and  a great breakfast.  The walk to transition was less than a mile and the hotel was just 2 blocks from the finish line.   Friday activities included an Ironman Foundation lunch at El Camino (our team raised $210,000), race check-in, an athlete briefing, wandering through the expo (sadly, not very impressive), and some relaxation.

Louisville leaves much to be desired, but it was cool to see the original facades being left in place while the remainder of old buildings are being reconstructed

The appearance of the Ohio River was initially much better than I anticipated.  Just weeks before the race all water activities had been banned due to toxic algae blooms resulting from run off, lack of rain, and warmer than average temperatures.  Miraculously (and just a bit suspect), the few miles of river that Ironman needed to host their swim was suddenly declared safe for swimming the week of the race.  Meanwhile, the hundreds of miles of water on each side remained "toxic".

Just as I was starting to feel a little better about the polluted water we would be swimming in, I caught site of this gem near the swim finish.  Lovely.

Dinner on Friday night was at Volare, which had been recommended to me from a medical student from Louisville that was rotating in Charlotte.  It turned out to be a fantastic recommendation!  My meal consisted of eggplant rollitini around ricotta and topped with marinara and a balsamic drizzle, and a vegetable side of broccoli, roasted beats, and polenta. 

In celebration of Mom and I’s birthdays, they brought out two desserts and I broke my “no dessert for 2 weeks before Ironman” rule and had a few bites of vanilla bean crème brulee.  It was totally worth it!

Another year older and another year that Mom and I celebrate our birthdays together!

Friday night I slept really well and woke up ready for my pre-race bike and run.  I rode 35 minutes along River Road and then ran two miles with Dad.  After seemingly endless rain in Charlotte, it was nice to finally ride outside.  Breakfast that morning was in the concierge lounge at the Marriott, and included hearty portions of eggs, potatoes, granola topped with blueberries, and cantaloupe.  In a quest to check out local coffee spots, we grabbed a maple latte from Please andThank You.  Their chocolate chip cookies were advertised as the best in Louisville, but I harnessed some mental strength and avoided the temptation.  

Our next stop was Churchill Downs to explore the Kentucky Derby Museum and tour the grounds.  As easy as it would have been to kick my feet up and spend the day relaxing, I’m glad I was able to take in some culture of the city.  

I learned lots about the horse breeding, training, and racing that gave me a whole new appreciation for the Kentucky Derby.  

We learned that the ticket prices for the Kentucky Derby range from a few hundred dollars for standing room only in the center of the track, to a few thousand for for track level seats, to undisclosable amounts for the elevated seats in "millionaire's row".  I guess we'll stick to watching the race on TV in the comfort of our own home.

Lunch at Wiltshire Café was a meal that would make any vegetarian’s stomach very happy.  It was a cozy bakery and café with just a few tables, but the food was phenomenal.  I had the hippie bowl (quinoa, lentils, brown rice, black beans, sweet potatoes, smoked tofu, sprouts, avocado, sriracha, lemon vinaigrette) and a slice of white bean hummus multigrain toast (avocado, herbs, lemon vinaigrette).  

Before I knew it, it was already mid-afternoon and time for bike check-in.  We walked the mile from the hotel to transition and I dropped off my transition bags and my bike, and did a walk through to understand the routes in and out of the transition maze.

Prior to dinner I did some last minute organization of the seemingly massive amounts of gear and nutrition required for race day and then spent an hour in my Normatec boots.  

Dinner at Harvest was a bit on the early side after a late lunch, and combined with my blunted appetite from taper and race nerves, I really wasn’t hungry.  Nonetheless, I managed to stomach a bowl of butternut squash soup, some crackers, and okra while watching the end of the GA v TN football game. 

I was in bed Saturday night about 8pm and spent some additional time in my boots, watched a refresher on changing a flat tire (fingers crossed that I can continue my luck with only one flat tire ever!), and then rehearsed my race plan before falling asleep a little before 10pm.  In a few short hours it’s go time!