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Race Result

Racer: Kevin Kunkel
Race: Ironman Louisville
Date: Sunday, August 31, 2008
Location: Louisville, KY
Race Type: Triathlon - Ironman
Age Group: Male 35 - 39
Time: 10:43:24
Overall Place: 79 / 1975
Age Group Place: 11 / 342
Comment: The "Kunkelian Quest" and Ironman Loo '08

Race Report:

Ironman Louisville í08 Race Report and the ďKunkelian QuestĒ

I guess itís about time to getting around to writing the IM-Loo race report. Initially after I finished the race I knew I needed to capture my thoughts carefully and comprehensively because from failure we learn far more than we do our successóat least thatís what I have always felt. I know what youíre thinking; a 10:43 isnít failure. I know. Itís a respectable time but if you had an appreciation of how hard I worked this year and how much effort I went into improving all 3 disciplines you may have a better idea of where Iím coming from.

Last year was a very successful year for my racing. It went way beyond all my expectations. I held the slimmest glimmer of hope at qualifying for Kona but honestly thought that was out of reach. I went into Louisville last year very carefree and relaxed. I had completed one Ironman before that so I knew what the distance was and had my head physically and mentally well wrapped around it. I took that race as it came to me but was very relaxed and confident. When I finished that race with a 5 minute PR on a harder course and in tougher conditions then my first Ironman I knew I could be proud of my efforts. When I got the Kona slot the next day it was simply icing on the cake.

This year I came in with some internal and external pressures on me. I knew I wanted to get back to Kona. I had set sub10 as the goal for the race which was both realistic and doable. At the same time, people expected me to really breakthrough with another incredible race. Although I donít think I felt that pressure leading up to the race it was most likely affecting my subconsciously; having said that, Iím usually quite good of staying within my own limits both mentally and physically.

Build up to Ironman Louisville

Build up for Loo was similar to last year, but with more volume, especially on the bike and run. This year I did two ďepicĒ camps. The big one was at Sherando lake again where I managed to bike about 600 miles and run 50 miles over 8 days (I couldnít get the necessary swims in due to some weed issues in the lake--Iíll be looking for another locale most likely for next years epic camp.), and a brief stint thanks to Kevin Shaw (host), Dave Cascio (riding partner), and Kyle Yost (course designer) up at Deep Creek Lake.

As is the case with most all of my Ironman prep I like to reduce volume three weeks out from the ďAĒ Ironman race and replace long weekend volume sessions with shorter race efforts. Dave Orton from the list gave it a name: the Kunkelian quest. What would that entail you ask:

ē Luray Triathlon on August 16th
ē Chicago Triathlon on August 24th
ē Ironman Louisville on August 31st
ē Reston Triathlon on September 7th
ē Nations Triathlon on September 14th

I know a lot of people will question the best case, wisdom, and worst case, sanity, of such a quest but it has seemed to work for me in the past. Luray was a very interesting race. Dave Glover did a great job as RD and the race seems to get better every year. I still consider the bike course one of the best test of overall cycling ability in the area.

I was then off with the family to combine my Kunkelian triathlon quest with that of visiting in the in-laws. That meant the Chicago Triathlon 7 days out from Loo. This is where Luray fell last year so I knew it was doable and worked well with my plan. To boot, I knew Chicago would give me a flat and fast course. The flattest oly distance tri race I had done previously would be Reston. Chicago had the best expo I have ever seen, many vendors with lots of freebies and good deals. I managed to have a good rather long conversation with Kiwi transplant and U.S. Olympic team member Matt Reed at the expo. He was still a little jet lagged and tired considering he had raced the Olympic Triathlon 11 time zones away just 4 days prior. He signed a CROCS poster for me so it was pretty cool.

Race day was nuts. I met up with fellow RAT Keith Jacobsen whose wife also happens to be from Chicagoland so we hung out for nearly 3 hours after transition closed before our 36th of 45 wave departed at 8:41AM. Thatís a long time to wait. I know Chicago is the largest triathlon in the world with nearly 9,000 competitors but I really donít know if thatís something for which the city with broad shoulders should be proud. The race went well. The swim seemed long but I exited the water with the exact same 1500M time I did the week before at Luray (24:17). Better than last year but not exactly where I want to be. They have a Ĺ mile shoeless run on concrete to the largest transition I have ever seen. The bike is 2 loops of Lake Shore Drive. I felt like I was suddenly launched into a video game. First, you ride to the left and pass on the right with a median to the inside and 2 lanes of traffic to the right. Essentially, everything is backwards. I was passing people like crazy. There were often places where there were 3 and 4 bikes wide. Going north had a stiff 15-20mph headwind and then you were riding in dead air going south. I fluctuated between 19 and 35 mphónot exactly what youíd expect on a flat course but you really do develop an appreciation of how wind can affect speed on a bike. The run was a tour of the Chicago museums and landmarks such as Grant Park, the Field museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium and Soldier Field. You pass directly in front of every one of these sites so it was certainly a scenic course. Only complaint, first 800 meters was on grass after that it was all concreteónot the most forgiving surface in the world. Again you were passing people on the left and right like crazy. Because of this you had no idea who you were racing. You have to go into this race thinking you are on an obstacle ridden pure time trial. The best part is that exactly when I finished (11AM) the pros were starting their race. I could follow along and recover while watching them finish: pretty cool indeed. I did pretty well considering all the obstacle dodging. I was 31st/4,103 overall, 8th/502 in my AG, splits (S 26:49 long run to transition, T1 1:57, B 1:02:37, T2 1:41, R 41:52) for a total time of 2:14:58.Lastly, only in Chicago the beer truck is the most popular area in the finish line area.

Race Week
After the race in Chicago there were a few days penance with the in-lawsójust kidding. I get along fine with themónow!

The family then moseyed on down to southern Illinois to visit all my extended family (where my parents are from), and then made our way to Louisville. Race week wasnít all that different than last other then I was probably the only RAT to race last year this year there were a bunch of RATS or other local triathletes I knew competing. Not only that, some fellow RATS were coming (Dave Cascio, Doug Steele, Craig Ellis, Brian Crow, Neva Fulkerson, Brett Dewitt, Jen Burg, and I know Iím leaving a few out) but there were even a few who going 600 miles just to watch (Reid and Mary Beth Kaiser, and the man the myth, Scott Baldwin)!

On Friday I did the usual packet pickup and check in as well as the carbo dinner. This time it was interesting because it happened to coincide with my 37th birthdayódamn Iím getting old. I didnít do any training and the same goes for Thursday. I usually take 2 full days off on the 3rd and 2nd day prior to an Ironman. I still felt pretty relaxed but unlike last year where I was just there to see what I could do, there were a lot of expectations placed on me not only by myself but others. Now it was are you going to qualify for Kona again? Are you going to break 10? Are you going to place in your AG? Normally setting lofty goals expectations raise my game and get me motivated to accomplish the primary task at hand. The pre-race carbo dinner got me all psyched up. They showed the ubiquitous, ďyou will do thisĒ video. If that canít get you up, nothing can. We headed back to the hotel, had a couple beers and slept pretty well.

Saturday started as the day before any ironman does for me. Make it down to the practice swim, get in about 10 minutes of swimming, followed by 15 minutes on the bike to make sure everything is working while getting in a couple good 10 second surges, and then cap it off with an easy 15 minutes of running with some striders to help loosen up the pre-race tension. During this brief workout I ran into just about everyone who made it out from our area to race. I racked my bike and headed back to olive garden for the never ending pasta bowl lunch. I surely filled up good there. I took the approach this year to go big at lunch with the objective of getting a light dinner so that I wonít spend the whole night before the race digesting food. This approach sounds good on paper but the only problem is that I have a pre-race routine of having Thai the night beforeówhich has served me well in the past mind you. Like last year I went to dinner with my old high school classmate and friend Art Siler who lives right across the river from Louisville in New Albany, Indiana. We did everything the same as last year, which is I overate. I think last year it wasnít a problem because I didnít have much in the way of lunch so I was pretty hungry. This year I was full before I even went to the restaurant--big mistake. As anyone who knows me and my voracious Thai eating acumen will attest, I cannot turn away a good Thai dish. There in lies the problem: I ate WAY, WAY too much the day before the race. This I believe constitutes my greatest mistake in underperforming at Ironman Loo. I know some of you are thinking, a 10:43 isnít bad, but according to my training and my recent race results this was about 45 minutes slower than I should have been able to do.

Race Day

Everything went smooth in the morning. I downed a couple Ensures, made my way to transition, put bottles on the bike, pumped up the tires, and walked the ĺ mile to the swim start in a pre-dawn haze. I felt cool and confident. This year when I got to the swim start you could tell people had been lining up very early for their seeded swim spot. This is something race organizers may want to look at closely in the future. I donít have a problem with the TT start and itís quite novel and takes a way a lot of anxiety for those who swimming isnít second nature, but it encourages people to improperly seed themselves in terms of speed. I heard that the first inline got there at 3:30AM! Thatís just nuts. I managed to spot Craig Ellis, Brian Crow and Neva Fulkerson already in line. I jumped in with them and had some familiar folks to pass the hour or so until the race started.

Swim (1:16:03 officially, my watch 1:14:52) OP 509th/1975, AG 98th/347:

The swim was like last year, not much of current and relatively clean water. Even though I lined up at about the same place this year I didnít get into the water until over 8 minutes after the first swimmers started. We headed up river between Towhead Island and the shore which has a bunch of boat slips. This is probably a 100ft wide corridor that makes sighting simple. The island also acts like a barrier to the sun as itís rising right on the water at 7AM. What seemed different was that it seemed to take FOREVER to get to the turnaround buoy beyond the island. I donít know if that was because of some current, or whether they had the course longer, or what. It just seemed to take forever.

Once you make the turnaround you head straight down river. For better of for worse you can monitor progress because there are 3 bridges between you and the finish. While sighting you can simply take a look up and see how you are doing. Itís at this point that many people take two approaches. At the pre-race meeting the very highly esteemed coach Lance Watson stated that at his clinic a month earlier he had two group swim the course. One took the near shore route, while the other headed toward the middle of the river where youíd benefit from a current, if present. He stated that his middle river group, although swimming an extra 200-300 meters were far ahead of the near-shore group. I decided I would go a little further out but not all the way to the middle of the river. I think on this day this did me a disservice. Seeing in retrospect that there really wasnít much current I simply ended up swimming farther than I needed to. Oh well, lesson learned.

Once again the swim seemed to take forever. Those who know me know that swimming is my biggest weakness and something that I have worked hard on over the winter and in the early season. If you look at my race times Iíve certainly improved. On average I have gone from a 26-27 minute 1500 meter swimmer to a 23-24 minute swimmer. Iíve gone from being in the top third in most events to the top 5thónot where I want to be eventually but a noticeable improvement nonetheless. I had estimated that since this was NOT a wetsuit swim I would still be 6-8 minutes slower than if it were. I figured that would put me in the 1:05-1:10 range which would be OK. Heck, I was 1:14 last year and thatís my best Ironman swim yet. That 1:14 was 8 minutes faster than my first Ironman swim where I was wearing a wetsuit, so as you can see I used to be an even crappier swimmer.

I managed to stay pretty strong and focus on good long strokes with lots of glide. I managed to pick up the pace over the last 200-300 meters as you van hear the crowd and announcers by then and I just wanted to get it over already. I exited the water and my watch said 1:14. I couldnít believe it. I knew I was swimming faster this year but the time was exactly the same as last. What I didnít know at the time is that everyone was a lot slower. Even the pros were 6-8 minutes slower than normal so in retrospect Iím pretty satisfied with the swim but at that time I knew it made accomplishing the sub-10 goal all that much harder.

T1 (2:58)

Uneventful transition other than the swim exit ramp was a little farther away from transition and they didnít have the hanging racks this year for the transition bags. It didnít matter; the volunteer staff had my bag and was waiting to give it to me. They shortened the transition a little this year. You didnít have to run with the bike all the way to River Rd. The mount/dismount line was right out side of transition. Nice improvement.

Bike (5:17:45) OP 98th/1975, AG 17th of 347

Now it was on to the race for me. The bike is where I usually do my damage. At this point the body felt pretty good. The conditions seemed as they were the previous yearóhumid with temps moving into the 90s. I trained in it, and I expected it. Going out toward the east on River Rd. is an almost imperceptible uphill. I was hitting it nice and strong with a 22-23 mph avg. which was a little better than the year before so all systems were go. This year like last I knew I was going to go with an all liquid diet. This time I put 20 gel servings in my down tube aero water bottle with water in the aerobar bottle. This would take care of me so long as I kept getting water and I took a gel every 15-20 minutes or 5-6 miles. The only problem I ran into and fellow RAT Doug Steele prepared me for is that I couldnít get the gel to come out of the bottle. I ended up having to unpop the top each time and simply take a swig. It was a little of a hassle but no biggie. Everything felt OK until about 20-30 miles. It was at this point that we start hitting some of the hills on the brief out and back portion of the course. I felt kind of bloated and heavy through the gut. At the time I didnít know what was to account for it. I thought maybe it was that I had a tight tuck in aero. I had felt this way before in the days leading up to an Ironman due to the limited amount of training whole really packing on the glycogen. I thought this is just a bad patch that everyone talks about, no big deal. In a way it was for me because in my previous three Ironmans I never really had any bad patches to speak of. I was still able to meet the necessary speeds but I never really got in my ďzone.Ē Itís hard to explain but when cycling I can sometimes just get locked in and motor along without a care or concern in the world. Itís almost as if nothing is going on a round me. I never really found that zone this time. I felt this way pretty much throughout the entire ride. At the beginning of the second loop of the bike we meet up with some of the slower cyclists. For the previous 30-40 miles cyclists were strung out about every 100 meters, now all of a sudden people are everywhere and letís just say some on the second loop are going considerably faster than those on their first. Iím at 60 miles and they are at 30. It was here that I had a minor mental breakdown. I took a second to see why my rear derailleur was handing up and the second I looked up I ran right into the back of a woman on a very nice carbon steed. Mind you were going uphill so I was probably doing 15 mph and she was doing 5 mph. The speed of the collision caused the rear of her bike to come up to the point that my aerobars actually got stuck in here rear Zipp 808. She was totally caught off guard as was I. It simply took me a couple seconds to get extricated and ask her if she was OK. She said all was good so I said no harm no foul. I felt bad but it was literally right after we made the turn from the second loop and I was used to riding in no mans land and all of a sudden there are cyclists everywhere.

The last 25-30 miles is with the wind and slightly downhill. I looked forward to this portion and knew that as of right then I was on the same pace as last year; thus, the bloating and lethargy was affecting me. I expected with my other race times and improvements in cycling fitness that I would go 10-15 minutes faster than the previous year, given similar conditions. The only thing different this year is that it was considerably windier and maybe that had more of a profound effect than I had previously considered during the race. I managed to take my avg. from 20.5 to over 21.5 by hammering those last 25-30 miles at about a 24+ mph avg. I ended up cruising into T2 at virtually the EXACT same time as the previous year. This left me mentally troubled more than physically. I knew as a swimmer and cyclist I had worked and trained very hard to improve, so to head into T2 with a cumulative time of 6:37 had me perplexed. I think this mental weight was on my subconscious through the rest of the day.

T2 (3:23)

I managed to get my running shoes on and I was out. I did get sprayed down with another coat of sun block on the exit.

Run (4:03:15) Final OP 79th of 1975, AG Final 11th of 342

Once again the transitions were a little shortened. With the run course being changed at the last minute so as to take us over the bridge and move from 3rd to 4th Street to avoid the Governors Cup football game between Louisville and Kentucky, I knew this run would be different. Coming out of transition we made our way to the big bridge that connects Louisville to Indiana. This first two miles took you nearly over the entire bridge only to do a 180. It was here on the out portion that I finally saw Jason Goyanko. He looked good and was able to hold me off on the bike so I knew he was having a good day. My early pace felt comfortable and relaxed and my first few mile splits said I was running about :30 a mile faster than last year! I knew at this point if I could keep that up Iíd come close to sub-10 but would surely get a PR. To do this I ran through the first few aid stations; in retrospect, this was probably a mistake. It was now 94 and I could tell much more humid than last year. This meant that instead of drinking 3-4 ounces in each cup as the other half is spilled all over yourself, I should have came to a walk for 10 seconds and simply drank as much as I needed. Thatís what I did in my 3 previous Ironmans and I should have stick to that plan. It was in one of these early aid stations coming off the bridge heading south on 3rd Street that I passed Jason. Weíd end up leapfrogging each other all day.

They had chip mats to take splits all over the course. At both 4 and 8 miles I was going around 7:30ish pace so all was well. My HR was in check and everything. I was starting to think that the bloating was assisted by simply being erect. One thing was bugging me was that I had some tightness in my lower back. I chalked that up to the fact that I was dumping ice at every aid station down the back of my jersey and the cold was tightening up the muscles. From then on I decided to start putting the ice down the side of my jersey to keep myself cool. Folks who know me know that Iím also a very heavy sweater. In these conditions I lose 2-3 liters of fluid per hour which makes it very hard to keep yourself hydrated. I alternated between Gatorade and water and each aid station. That gives me about 200 calories per hour which is about what I can consume on the run. I also take 4-5 Endurolyes each hour to keep from cramping up and keep my electrolytes in check. This worked until around mile 10. I started to get the GI distress again and this was accompanied by leg crampingóespecially in my quads and calves. I began to drink only water to avoid nausea and I didnít have any additional Endurolytes to take. I started to feel less nausea once I began consuming only water but then I started falling behind on necessary calories.

I did manage to see some folks during the run who cheered me up. I managed to see Scott Baldwin, and Reid and Mary Beth Kaiser cheer me on at the halfway point. That helped a lot. At about mile 15-16 when I headed back out on the second loop things started to fall apart and thatís where for the first time in an Ironman I had to walk. I began to walk and run alternatively. It was weird, when I could run I would go 7:00-7:30 pace, and then I would walk 15:00 miles. I ended up leap frogging with some guys who were consistently jogging. I had more than one of them say to me, ďman...when you run...you run!Ē I was thinking to myself why couldnít I just keep running. At about mile 20 I started to get sick. I ended up throwing up about every mile the rest of the way in. It was at this time I realized I was throwing up the previous nightís dinner. Now that Iíve had some time to think about it I realized that I simply overate the day before and combined with the very hot conditions my GI system just simply stopped working. So even though I didnít consume any solids during the race I still couldnít clear the system. Note to self, donít go nuts eating the day before the race. I managed to finally feel somewhat better around mile 25 and thatís probably more mentally than anything because I knew the race would be over soon. I realized that once I began to walk even a PR wouldnít be in the offing so I just did what I had to to get across the line. Interestingly enough I couldnít help but look at calves as they past me. I didnít see one person in my AG pass me but since we have the swim TT start this really didnít mean much to me at the time.

Conclusion, Commentary, and the Kona Roll Down

From mile 21-25 of the run I was simply angry. I was mad at how hard I trained for this day and that it was being wrecked like this. Now that Iíve had some time to think about it I realized one cannot have every Ironman go perfectly. We have to have a bad race so that we actually learn something about ourselves physically, but more importantly, mentally. How do we bounce back from something like this? What changes to we make so it doesnít happen again? What mental adjustments do we make so that when adversity is countenanced again, how do we blow right through it and march on? These are the questions Iím working on as I write this. One thing was very troubling for me was that I went over 4 hours for the marathon. I didnít even think about it at the time. If I had run just 3 minutes faster to go sub 4 I would have been going to Konaómore on that later.

I felt good crossing the finish line it was good to be done. I was immediately greeted by my family as well as the Kaisersí and Baldwinsí. They were probably the only ones who could appreciate that my 10:43 was very disappointing. I know Iím very hard on myself but thatís what keeps me focused on goals. I felt good for about 15 minutes and then all of a sudden I stated to feel very sick again. I knew I was very dehydrated so they took me to the med tent. There a nice Dr. decided to give me an IV and let me tell you it felt goodónow I know what all the fuss is about when heroin addicts get their fix. Oh man! In about 30 minutes I felt ten times better. I still didnít have to go pee until the next day. I must have really taxed my system.

I managed to catch up with training buddy Dave Cascio at the day after race brunch. He had a spectacular race and won his age group by an amazing 45 minutes. Thatís insane! In fact, heís ranked #1 in the nation right now in the USAT rankings. The man has really made it back from the brink with his recent knee injury. He claimed his spot and I knew that the chances of me getting a slot at the Kona roll down were minimal. Will Waskes had sent my wife text messages all day updating her exactly where I stood. She would then relay that information to me at transition and on the course. It really is helpful. During the early miles of the run I went from 17th in my AG all the way to 5th only to settle back to 11th after I got sick nearing the finish. Whatís amazing was that my race the year before I was 25 minutes faster and finished 10th in my AG and was 66th overall, this year 79th. The total number of races this year was increased by about 400 so I essentially finished at about the same place.

I know Kyle Yost is a student of the complexity and inequity of the Kona roll down process. Maybe heíd like to take a stab at this one. This year they had 45 slots, the same as last. Last year my AG had 297 starters. They managed to get 4 slots increased to 5. This year the same AG had 347 starters and only got 4 slots. I donít quite understand that one. Oh well. This was altered somewhat when the RD announced that is any of the older male AG slots werenít claimed than the slot would roll down to my AG. So in effect, there would possibly by 5 slots. Before they got to my AG I got to hear Jason Goyankoís. He managed to beat me by about 3 minutes I believe, although there was only one spot left available for his AG so he missed out. I think heís OK with it because the race was PR for him and so he was pretty happy. When they got to my AG it became clear that there were still 2 unclaimed spots ands they were going down through the names quickly. I said to Jason, ďthis is getting interesting.Ē Finally that 4th slot was claimed by the guy who finished in my spot from last yearó10th. So I missed it by one spot. I looked at my wife because she heard they say that my AG may get another slot so stay around. When they got to the older AG slot the man in his 70s claimed his spot. I didnít care, I felt good for him. Honestly, I didnít expect to go and really I shouldnít. I had a bad race. I underperformed so really I wasnít deserving enough. My good friend Eric Dempster sent me an e-mail telling me that the guy in his 70s actually did the race in 17:10 so he actually wasnít an official finisher but due to the TT start Louisville has it stated that you must complete the race 17 hours from when the last swimmer starts so he really lucked out. Eric told me I should take it up with the WTC but like I said before. I didnít deserve the honor and grandeur that is Kona. Thus, according to Dave Orton I cannot be called KonaKev until I earn the moniker back. I guess Iím letting the subscription lapse for a year. ;-)

All in all, the race was a disappointment in many ways but if in the end I learn something valuable about myself both physically and mentally I will chalk this up as a very valuable race. Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Craig Ellis for finishing his first ironman. Heís going back to Loo for more pain just like me. To Brian Crow for finally getting to PRógood thing you kept running, heh? Also, Neva Fulkerson, wow! She debuts in Ironman with a second place finish and is on her way to Kona. You go girl!

I have a couple surprises coming before the end of the season. The Kunkelian quest has been lengthened and Iím not done with Ironman this year yet!!!!