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Race Result

Racer: Kevin Kunkel
Race: Ironman Louisville
Date: Sunday, August 26, 2007
Location: Louisville, KY
Race Type: Triathlon - Ironman
Age Group: Male 35 - 39
Time: 10:18:27
Overall Place: 66 / 1580
Age Group Place: 10 / 299
Comment: Louisville = Kona

Race Report:

So I decided to take a week before I tackled THE race report of the year for me, or at least I thought at the time. I’ve had some time to reflect on what went right, and wrong, and to get over the pain that this race caused. I’ve also had more time to think of things that happened with a more thoughtful perspective; because of this I’ll warn you the report is long.


I probably didn’t have the most suitable taper or lead up to the race in the 3-4 days before. As many of you already know I left with the family for the drive to Louisville directly from the RATS SavageMan fundraiser at Uno’s (which by the way was more successful than I could have imagined). That night seemed to go on forever because Shawn had to do so many urination breaks due to high his level of inebriation and loud talking as he served as auctioneer. I didn’t manage to get out of there until around 10:00PM and then we had to stop by the house to pick up the bikes (yes mine and two others that I ferried to and from the race).

As anyone who has kids knows, especially young ones, driving at night is best for all concerned. No pee breaks and no having to hear, “are we there yet?” a thousand times. The only problem is that my wife who would normally share some driving duties can’t because she tends to nod off after a while: not good. So I ended up driving the whole night getting into Louisville around 10:00AM. Did I go to sleep then considering the biggest race of the year was less than 96 hours away? Heck no. I stayed up until 11:30 that night but boy did I sleep well.

In the couple days leading up to the race I managed to hang out with Eric Dempster from Winchester and meet up with a high school buddy who now lives across the Ohio River in New Albany. Leading up to the race he said to me, “I can’t believe you are going to swim in the Ohio…people go in there to never be seen again…last time I drove across that river I saw a dead cow floating by.” Not the things you want to hear going into the race. I managed to get my night before carbo feast on with the help of one of the few Thai restaurants in Louisville.

Race Morning

The morning was uneventful except when I exited my truck I forgot my bag full of all my liquids for the day. It was no biggie to go back for it because there was ample parking adjacent to the transition. This surprised me in a way but I guess since so many of the competitors were from other areas they were able to walk the couple blocks to transition. I had to drive in from my hotel that was about 8 miles east of town.
Swim (1:14:49 non-wetsuit, 688th place exiting the water)
I along with the other 1800+ competitors knew that the course had been changed over the last 72 hours. Most were OK with it. It was done in the name of safety. The upper Midwest had been hit with a deluge of water and by Friday there was an 8 knot current moving down the river. They were obviously going to have to go to a backup plan. I was surprised that after they turned to plan “B” how smoothly everything went. We walked about ¾ mile in twilight to the Tumbleweed restaurant where they had ample porta-johns and excitement. We got to watch the pro introductions and I got a quick fist with Glover as he headed to the start. There they have about 10 boat slips. They set the timing mats up at the end of the first slip. The pros had an in-water start but 10 minutes later at 7AM we had the bugler from the Kentucky Derby lead off the waves that were mass diving off the end of the dock. I would estimate 5 people per second were going in. I self placed myself somewhere right in the middle. I managed to enter the water about 5 minutes after the gun start.

You immediately begin swimming upstream between Towhead Island which I would say was about a 1/3 of a mile long and the shore. I would say it was about 30 meters wide. Even though there wasn’t a mass start most were trying to stay closest to the shore of the island which would be protected from any downstream current. It got a little congested here but nothing worse than the local triathlon. As you make it beyond the island (which seemed to take forever) you then make a slight left toward the middle of the river. I would say the river is about a ¼ mile wide at this point. There were buoys about every 200 meters. They weren’t plentiful, but sufficient. After you make the 180 degree left turn to head downriver (which by Sunday was without a pronounced current) you see three bridges. The swim exit is after the second and right before the third. This gives you a good sense where you are all along. The only drawback is that this can be a distraction as you continue to spy how far you have left to go.
I know there were a lot of concerns about the pollution factor of the river. I didn’t find it dirty at all. It didn’t smell like an unnamed lake in Reston. You even had a few feet visibility in the water. The only thing to watch out for was small pieces of driftwood, not nearly as bad as the numerous jellyfish of the Choptank River.

All and all I never really felt right during the swim. I rarely do but this was worse than most. As for explanations, maybe because I wasn’t wearing my wetsuit, or it could have been I was wearing the Norman Stadler special Blue Seventy zero.3 skinsuit for the first time in a race, and only the second time total for that matter. Whatever it was I knew I wasn’t swimming as fast as I had been lately. I never really got fatigued. In training this year I did some over distance swimming for the first time. I think this helped me from getting too fatigued. When I did ChessyMan Will thought I looked like I was dead when I exited the swim. I didn’t want that to happen this time. I accomplished that. I exited up the aluminum stairs to the roar of a large crown. I check the watch at it was at 1:14. Slow but not as slow as my 1:23 at ChessyMan—granted that time I was swimming against a current. So in the end this was a total wash (gotta like the pun).


As you exit the water there is a ramp up made of concrete that was lined 5 deep with spectators. It would appear that the Great Lawn and the dock used here were made to host an Ironman. After you proceed up this 100m ramp you run over a beautiful spillway lined with modern art down to the Great Lawn. The lawn is bordered by rows of Kentucky limestone and concrete that forms a grandstand for spectators. It was perfect for friends and family to follow events. The only drawback of the transition is the 200 meters or so to transition and another 300 meters to where you mount the bike. This would account for my rather slow transition because I didn’t stop for more than 10-15 seconds in the changing tent. Since there was a long run I wanted my bike shoes mounted to the bike but they wouldn’t let you get back into your gear bags. Lesson learned; keep your bike shoes with you until race morning.

Bike (5:17:11, 117th place entering T2)

At the welcome dinner Friday night Ben Fertic, the CEO of the WTC, said that the bike course here in terms of “…topography and heat is the closest of any Ironman course to that of Kona.” I thought this was an intriguing assessment. Due to having family in town and all I never managed to get out and survey the bike course before race day (I know…I know, cardinal mistake of a well prepared triathlete). I had heard that the first 30 would be the hardest and the last 30 the easiest with two virtually identical 25+ mile loops in the middle. Now having had a week to collect my opinions on the course I would say it’s a fair course similar to the Kinetic courses used around Lake Anna. The first and last 30 were very flat other than one out and back portion that contained the most difficult climb of the race. I wouldn’t describe it as anything major. I would say it was a similar climb to what you’d experience on Skyline drive (6% grade) but this only went on for somewhere around a ½ mile and because it was an out and back you got to go down it again. This was one of the most congested parts of the race for two reasons, not only was it early on in the bike, but you had the whole two lane road closed with bikes going both directions. You could hear people everywhere shouting out at their mates when they saw them coming in the other direction. This out and back totaled somewhere around 5-10 miles but it was some of the prettiest. You made your way down to a creek in a deeply wooded and shaded tunnel.

Once you got past this portion you made your way to the two loops which take you through endless rolling Kentucky blue grass horse plantations. I saw many horse and stables along the way. If you love horses you’ll love this race. The course was exactly what you conjure up when you think of Kentucky, and I don’t mean the dueling banjos of Deliverance (if you haven’t seen this movie, it’s a must see) and pre-adolescent kids walking around in the nude with webbed fingers and toes. I managed to see many people sitting in lawn chairs out in front of the homes drinking Champagne or mint julips. They would wave and ring cow bells. I was thoroughly shocked by the support of the locals for the race. I don’t know if this will wear off in years but I would say that locals enthusiastically supported the race to the point they introduce themselves on the street and welcome you to LooAvul (phonetic spelling)
Obviously one of the most important aspects of an Ironman bike leg is your nutrition. I decided to use the same strategy that worked so well for me at ChessyMan last September: all fluids, all the time. I find this to be highly effective, especially when you know you are going to have a really hot day out there. You need as little of blood as possible making your GI tract work and if you add solids to the mix blood will be diverted from your working muscles or your skin which is cooling you off. [WARNIING: graphic information of a disgusting nature to follow] I was just hoping that one side benefit of it being about 20 degrees warmer for this race is that I could possible reduce my 9 urination stops from a year ago. This time I managed to cut it down to 4 so I was pretty happy with this. The only drawback is that since it’s a crowded M-dot race I couldn’t just whip it out and let it fly. Suffice it to say, you may never want to handle my right tri bike shoe—EVER. I started with about 50 ounces on-board of Accelerade which is fine but I felt a little burpy/gassy in the first 30-40 miles. I then switched over to Hammer gels. I consumed 12 servings over the course of the rest of the bike with lots and lots of water. I probably went through about 6-8 20 ounce bottles. Tip: one can never replace all the calories you are burning, trying to do so will surely steer you into GI troubles. Going in to the race, I weighed 165 lbs so I can easily stomach (pun intended) about 350 calories an hour which is about ½ what I’m burning. So for the majority of the race my consuming a gel serving every 15 minutes with 6-8 ounces of water was ideal. Just about everyone has about 2500-3000 calories of stored glycogen in your muscles and liver, and another 30,000-50,000 of stored fats—they are just a lot more painful to burn.

The reason why it was easier on the way back was the tailwind which obviously was the headwind on the way out. I think this may not be the norm because the prevailing winds were out of the east. I can’t think that is the norm. The WTC managed to take 5 splits on the bike and run. I thought that was exceptional and the results were relayed in real time (more on that later). On the last split I avg. over 23+ mpg, on the first 4 I was a little over 20 mph. I guess this surge at the end can be called the “Glover” strategy.


Like T1 there is a LONG walk of the bike back to transition. I had a few numb toes when running barefoot on the concrete but generally the legs felt pretty good and I was happy to be done with the bike. I had my own volunteer in the tent ask me if I needed anything. I just needed to get my running shoes and go. Some nice volunteers sprayed me down with Kineysis Sunblock as I exited the tent.

Run (3:35:49, 66th place overall at the finish)

I was just happy to be off the bike but I noticed within a couple minutes the dreaded heat was going to be an issue. I saw the thermometer at a bank after the first mile which was a little after 1 PM and it read 93. When compared to the days leading up to the race this was downright cool. We had had days with heat indices in the 105-110 range in the preceding 3 days. In the first mile we were completely exposed to the elements as we made a little out and back nearly to the swim start. I got a split on the first mile and I went 6:49. Well I knew I wasn’t going for a sub 3 marathon so this was way too fast. I guess I was just a little too excited. I eased the paced back and fell into my metronomic training pace of 8:00 miles. I can do these just about anywhere, anytime, on any terrain and never be off by more than two seconds. I guess I’m just consistent. My friend Eric Dempster likes to call me, “the machine.” At about the same time, I see my wife again after the short out and back. Apparently Will had called her and found out that I was in 14th in my AG entering the run. I knew I needed to get around 10th to have a shot at Kona. So my mission lay in front of me: pass at least four guys.

Since it was hot the goal was to consume another 12 Endurolytes over the course of the run which is exactly what I consumed ion the bike. I keep my pills in these little coin pouched that Hammer sells. They are very convenient and an excellent way to dispense the pills on the go. I also knew due to the heat that I would walk through every aid station and drink at least 4 ounces of either Gatorade or coke with an equal amount of water. They also were handing out plentiful amount of ice which I would pour down the back of my jersey and they had my favorite ice cold sponges that I would use to wipe my face and the squeeze out over my visor covered noggin. This seemed to really help me get from aid station to aid station. And that’s exactly what I did. I would run my 8:00 mile, be hot again, walk for 15 seconds while I did what I just described and then I was off again. I did this exact same thing for all 26 miles. The only thing that changed was that from about mile 15 on it felt as if someone was hitting my quads with the Louisville sluggers that are made just a couple blocks away. And from about mile 20 on I could tell the 15 Endurolyes weren’t enough as I started to cramp in the sides of my lower legs. After about mile 23 I stated picking up unstopped on Endurolytes that were scattered all over the ground. It’s not sanitary but at this point who cares. I steadily felt worse which I never did at ChessyMan where now I believe I was just too conservative. This time I was properly doling out the effort that I would need for 26+ miles. I never felt a true “bonk” hit but I was definitely wearing down.

As for the course, it’s very flat and wide open. There’s only one slight hill just before the turnaround which you do twice due to the 2 13 mile loops. On both loops I could make out that RATS jersey in the distance so I yelled out, “GLOVER!” We managed to gives fives to each other as we passed. I think Glover thought I looked good because I couldn’t stop smiling. The only other real moments of not was at about mile 24 another guy in my AG that I had just passed decided he would blow by me as I stopped at the next aid station. I thought to myself. It’s hot. There’s another couple miles. Knock yourself out. I resumed running and no more than another ½ mile did this guy implode and begin to walk. I pretty much knew then it was my day.

At about a mile to go I saw family and I began to get pumped and I really flew into the finish, I kind of regret that I didn’t savor the moment. At this point finishers are separated by a minute or two. As you came into the atrium enclosure that it “4th Street Live” you could literally feel and hear the roar. It made you feel like a rock star. I got distracted and as I crossed the line I immediately stopped and did the infamous “”Kunkel two-step. That’s where you projectile vomit everything in your stomach. The cheering from the crow because a collective, “oooohhhhh” as they all turned away. A volunteer grabbed me and said, “that must have been 30 ounces.” Another volunteer yelled out, “medic…we need a medic.” They threw me in a wheelchair and the next thing I know I’m on a gurney with my legs elevated being asked by a doctor, “do you want some chicken soup?” I said sure. It was either that or they would be giving me an IV. I really didn’t need any more pain.

I started to feel better quickly and met up with my mate Eric Dempster who also happened to be put in the medic area. I also met a guy who just moved to Alexandria who went 9:51. After about a ½ hour they let me out and I went for my massage. I then started to become my old garrulous self and began talking to everyone. I met up with my family and I said let’s go get a steak I haven’t eaten anything today. A couple hours later at Logan’s steakhouse I tried to eat and I couldn’t. My body was repulsed by solid food. OK, maybe steak wasn’t the best idea. I at least got some post-race protein nutrition to help with the impending and necessary recovery.

Final Time (10:18:27, 10th of 299 in 35-39 AG)

Race Analysis & Commentary

What I found impressive about it as opposed to other race directors who tend to meander once they go off the script, it was as if the crew in charge here had a plan B ready to go. And if that didn’t work they’d go to a plan C. I couldn’t have been more impressed by the organization and the general handling of all race matters. I know when this race was announced there were a number of people on the RATS list-serve who were quite skeptical of the WTC handling a race other than Kona. Graham Frasier and Ironman NA weren’t to be involved so many thought that organization would suffer. This couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Post-Race: The next day and the “Kona” Issue

As we already know I finished 10th of 299 in my AG. It’s funny, this is where I confided to Will and my wife that I would place if all went well. I have a weird way of knowing how I’ll do even when compared to others. Apparently they were some inquiring minds back in Reston following the proceedings, some ever closer than I. Will Waskes called me to inform me that Reid Kiser had found that 2 of the 9 in front of me for my AG had already qualified. This meant that since my AG which happened to be the largest managed to get 6 of the 45 slots that only 2 had to decline for me to make it to Hawaii.
Before the race I thought I had a 10% chance of qualifying. I thought with only 45 slots I’d have to break 10 hours. That was my goal all year. So I was pleased with my time considering the effort I put in I didn’t think immediately after the finish it would be good enough. So that morning before I went to the awards thinking that my chances were 50/50 at best. Speaking of the awards ceremony, as I was about to sit down with my whole family someone from WTC came and said, “you look like a nice family, follow me.” He took up to the head table below the podium beyond the draped VIP area. Why? I have no idea. We ended up having our own table next to the pros. Heather Gollnick, Nina Kraft (doper), and Chris MacDonald were sitting at the next table. I overheard Heather say that she couldn’t eat anything the night before, so I wasn’t alone. During the presentation of the awards I was amazed how the award winners just bound up the stairs to the stage. I couldn’t even walk. Hell, I couldn’t even bend my knees for three days!

I also realized at the awards ceremony that if I could swim with a commensurate ability to my bike and run I would have brought home hardware by finishing in the top 5. That leaves me with what I really need to work on in the offseason. I’m going to get serious this winter with some real swim coaching. Katie? Calling Katie?

Right after the awards ceremony I made it over to the roll down room. I found out that only 2 of the 6 slots had been claimed and that roll call was about to commence. They started at the top and gave everyone about 5 seconds to claim their spot. They immediately call three names: no one claimed. Eric Dempster started screaming out, “Kev…you're in man!” Then the next two guys claimed their spots right away. Then they called my name. I did my best Kirk Gibson (baseball reference and a Dodger for that matter—Yuck) impression and ran up to claim my spot. I had kept a blank check in my wallet for the last 8 months for this to keep me motivated. Now I actually got to take it out and write the one I had wanted since I was 11 when I saw Julie Moss crawl across the line on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. They called 11th and he didn’t take it so the last spot rolled to 12th place which was a 10:24. So I finished with a 6 minute cushion so to speak. I guess these roll downs are really a free for all. I’m ecstatic but honestly it didn’t really sink in until my drive home. People kept calling and congratulating me. It felt awesome and I love all you guys.

A special thanks go out to: Reid for being there on some of the tough days and keeping me honest and pretending to like Podcasts; Shawn for making me laugh; Stacy and Dave G. for allowing me to dream; Dave O. for telling me to go for it; Will for always being there as my best friend; and so many others I can’t even get into it, but most importantly to my loving wife and two beautiful sons. Without you guys there would be no reason for me to pursue this crazy thing called Ironman.
I'm going to Kona and yes it's going to break the bank. At least I have a roommate in Stacy and the support of all you RATS back in Reston. I haven't decided what my approach will be. You'll have to read that in my Kona report. 