by Jennifer Johnson
Total Race Time: 13h 32m 19s
Overall Place = 858/2,076
Age Group = Female 25-29
Overall Female Place = 155/494
Age Group Place = 20/42
“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.”
Pre-race for me began about 6 years ago after being diagnosed with a rare bone disease in my right knee that would require a bone transplant to replace the 2 inch hole in my femur. I had all intentions of playing college basketball, but the injury stripped me of the dream. Six knee surgeries later, doctors told me I would never run again. The road to recovery was a long and hard one for me – I was bedridden for months, struggled with depression and addiction to pain pills, and grew restless with the fact that I would never be able to compete again. After years of physical therapy, I discovered the sport of triathlon and proved the doctors wrong. After my first sprint race last summer, I had officially fallen in love with the sport of triathlon! With the support of my family, coach and doctor, I registered for Ironman Louisville. Without having ever done an Oly, 70.3 or even a marathon, I knew that the journey would require a lot of hard work, but I was excited to work towards my goal of becoming an Ironman and overcoming my injury. Dream big, right?!
The night before the race included a family dinner in attempts of carbo-loading and an early bedtime. The alarm went off at 3am on race morning, and I snuck away for some quiet time to reflect on the day and to eat a hearty breakfast of bagel with peanut butter and honey, banana, and bottle of Ironman Perform. We loaded the car and made the journey to the race site. We arrived to transition at 4:30am, and I was able to fix up my bike and began the long walk to the swim start. Louisville is unique in the fact that the swim is a wave start, which is first come first serve basis, so my goal was to get in line as soon as possible. By the time I settled in, I figured I was probably in the middle of the pack and would be in the water around 7:15am. I got comfortable, ate a bonk breaker and Powerade, and chatted it up with some fellow racers in line. At 6:50am, the gun for the pros went off and our line began moving and my heart began racing. Here it was, the day I had been waiting for.
In preparation for Ironman Louisville, my coach also encouraged me to memorize Psalm 18 as a way to keep my focus on Him throughout the day. As the line made its way to the docks, I began reciting this in my head to settle my mind and my heart.
Swim (2.4 miles): 1h 15m 44s
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
“Go, go, go!!!” Once on the docks, the volunteers were yelling at the athletes to jump into the water as quickly as possible. The line moved fast once on the dock so I was glad I was pre-warned about the high energy swim start. When jumping in, I was sure to go feet first and held my goggles so that they did not fall off when getting in the river. After having just learned to swim 10 months ago (literally, I was an anchor before I took swim lessons with Coach Tracy Palmer at The Sport Factory in October), my goal for the swim was to stay CALM on the docks and then to PACE myself once in the water.
The first third of the swim was actually upstream, against the current. The first few buoys were within a barrier island so the current wasn’t too bad. I stayed to the left, near the barrier island, in order to avoid the stronger current on the right. The swim upstream was very congested so bumping into people was a bit of a nuisance. Once we passed the barrier island, the current picked up a bit. I also found it a little hard to sight at this point. Upon reaching the turnaround point, I fought my way around the buoy and began the homestretch to the swim finish. I was glad to see that the congestion of swimmers dissipated on the way downstream, and I was able to use the current to my advantage. The swim finish was at the Crab Shack Restaurant so it was super easy to sight on the blue roof of the building.
Before I knew it, I was finally at the swim finish! Getting out of the river was a bit tough because the exit was on a steel staircase with just a couple of volunteers helping swimmers out of the water. My only word of caution is to be careful here. People are shoving each other and anxious to exit so don’t get caught up in the madness.
After analyzing my Garmin data, I found it took me about 42 minutes to go the first 1/3 of the swim course upstream and just 33 minutes to go the last 2/3 of the swim course downstream.
T1: 13m 11s
There was about a 2-minute walk/run from the swim exit to the transition area. The fans (including my friends and family) were cheering all the athletes on so I was able to get re-energized on the way to T1. I didn’t really know what to expect in transition, but the tents were definitely a madhouse. I was able to strip out of the swim skin, put on my ATC tri kit, and head out the door with all of my bike equipment.
Bike (112 miles): 6h 50m 06s (16.39 mph)
“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd. You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.”
The name of the game on the bike was to PACE myself! My goal was to just get settled in and not to get too stressed out if the roads were crowded. I knew the first 10 miles along River Road would be fast and flat so I was able to get my legs spinning. Around mile 3, I had heard that there would be a BAD set of railroad tracks, and sure enough, there were several riders already there changing flats so I took it really slow across the tracks. Around mile 20, we turned right for a down and back stretch. This was brutal! There were two very steep and long climbs with a TON of riders. I paced myself on the uphills and worked the downhills as best as possible. I did a lot of training in Cartersville so I was pretty stoked to see that all of those hilly rides paid off. After the down and back, we completed two loops which also had a couple of pretty steep climbs and rolling hills all along the way.
Around 9am, the sun began creeping out from the clouds, and the temperatures began rising. My goal was to drink one aero bottle (32 oz) of water every hour, one bottle of IM Perform every hour, and one salt tab every 30 minutes. Louisville’s high DNF rate is often attributed to dehydration so I was determined to not let it get the best of me. I began refueling about 15 minutes into the ride with a Powerbar the first hour and a deliciously warm Gu gel every 30 minutes after that. At the halfway mark of the bike, I was able to put down another PowerBar and a banana before I began yet another regime of one Gu gel every 30 minutes.
The last 10 miles along River Road were once again fast and flat so I was able to push it with a high cadence in order to get my running legs going. Be warned, though, River Road (especially coming back) is very rough with a ton of potholes! My overall bike average was 16.39 mph so I was very happy with that. In fact, I finished the bike almost 40 minutes faster than what I had anticipated. You may attribute that to the Zipp 404/808 race wheels I put on the bike, but I would like to think my training had paid off too J I averaged between 18-19 mph on the in/out along River Road and more around 15-16 mph on the remaining hilly portions of the bike course. In the end, I felt amazingly strong getting off the bike so I was glad to know that I hadn’t pushed myself too hard, despite finishing a lot quicker than what I had planned.
T2: 12m 39s
After dismounting the bike, we once again had a good little walk back to T2. The walk was kind of frustrating because it seemed like it was a lot of wasted time, but my family and friends followed me along the fence talking, smiling, and encouraging me, which was definitely the motivation I needed before heading out on the longest run of my life, literally. Once in the transition tent, I was able to change my bike gear for my running gear and headed out for the run in the 100 plus heat index.
Run (6.2 miles): 5h 0m 39s (11:28 pace)
“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great. You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.”
My goal for the run was to start SLOW! So slow, in fact, that I wanted my first couple of miles to be my slowest splits of the day. Within just a short mile, I was able to find my running legs and settle into a nice pace of about 11:00/mile. My strategy was to run every mile and to walk through the aid stations as I refueled.
I didn’t really feel myself ever hit the “wall,” but after analyzing my splits, I definitely hit it around mile 18 where my splits jumped from 11:00/mile to 12:00+/mile. The heat was just flat out excruciating, and the aid stations were very limited on wet towels (if they even had any at all). In an effort to keep my body temp down, I shoved ice everywhere I could (pants, bra, hat, on wrists, you name it). As I progressed in the run, I quickly realized that my cardio endurance wasn’t going to be what slowed me down. Instead, I could feel my glutes and quads screaming at me. They were done, and I still had a long run ahead of me. That’s when I knew this was going to be mind over matter.
As the miles trekked away, I could definitely feel the dehydration and nutrition catching up to me. The coke seemed to work okay, but the chicken broth came up as fast as it went down. Nothing appealed to me so I tried to shove any nutrition I could down the hatchet at each aid station. In the end, I think my haphazard efforts of nutrition were a huge reason why I bonked near the end of the run. My original goal was to do 8oz of water and one Gu gel plus one salt tab every 30 minutes (every 3rd aid station) and IM Perform/coke at the other aid stations. The heat messing with my stomach and my mind led me to not really being consistent or precise with what I was putting in my body. I definitely will need to work at managing my running nutrition better during my next Ironman.
With the sun setting, I finally reached the finish line at 4th Street Live and heard those words I had been training so hard to hear, “Jennifer Johnson, You are an Ironman!”
“He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing love to his anointed, to David and to his descendants forever.”
After taking pictures with friends and family, I went to collect my morning bag, grab some pizza, and hopped on the shuttle to pickup my bike. In transition, I ran into the Crossmans, and as we chatted, I felt the dehydration quickly catching up to me. So, it was back to the medical tent I went. After blacking out, the doctors hooked me up to some IVs for a couple of hours. After several bags of fluids and even more bottles of chocolate milk later, I was finally released and headed back to the hotel around 1am. The next day we loaded the car and made the long long drive back home to begin the recovery process.
- Be more methodical with run nutrition in order to prevent hitting that “wall” later in the run.
- Get an IV of fluids for hotter races, even if you don’t think you need it immediately.
- Be more assertive with the volunteers in the transition tents. I lost a LOT of time in transition because the volunteers just slowed me down.
- Visit the entire swim course before the race in order to get a better idea of sighting. I only visited the swim finish so I struggled finding buoys to sight off of at the beginning of the race.
- Hard work and faithfulness pay off! Thank you God for the opportunity to compete again! Pslam 18:29b, “With my God, I can scale a wall!”