Having gone to Ironman Louisville the past two years and with a local group of friends and athletes, myself included, planning to race in 2018, we wanted to share some helpful tips we picked up on the last few years at the race!
Pre-race is relatively smooth with an outdoor expo. We highly suggest going to a race briefing on Friday or Saturday. Your questions can be answered and nerves can be calmed.
We found it ironic a cold front hit the weekend of Ironman Louisville the past two years. In 2016 the front came in on the Saturday before the race, making race morning very cold. In 2017, that front came in mid-afternoon as athletes were finishing up with their ride and starting the run. The whole evening was very cold. We will include tips throughout the blog on how to prepare for this.
Race Morning, Swim Start, and Swim
The last two years we have had no problem finding parking between the transition and swim start for $10. There are a few very big lots that offer parking about two blocks down from the Louisville Slugger's stadium. This was convenient as we could go see athletes in transition and easily walk down to the swim start. IMPORTANT: There are porta potties by the swim start. So don't think you have to have your last porta potty run before leaving transition. There are even a few real bathrooms that were pretty quiet until closer to the race start.
Up until last year, the swim start race morning consisted of lining up in a first come first serve basis. The line got very long, but everyone entered the water relatively quickly. In 2017, however, a time trial start was introduced. Unfortunately, it was not very formal as volunteers instructed folks to head closer to the water if they thought they'd swim under 1:10. Then there were volunteers with signs for each 10-minute increment beyond 1:10. While watching the athletes enter the water it became very clear the 1:10 group was extremely large. After talking with athletes, it was evident the majority of people lined up in the 1:10 group without expectations to swim anywhere close. I am hoping this is fixed for the 2018 race.
The swim in 2017 was wetsuit legal. The swim start was very dark. I even looked at Drew and said there was no way they would let the pros start in the dark. I was sure the race would be delayed but it was not. We would suggest non-tinted, slightly smoked goggle lens. This will allow the athlete a better view in the dark while not being blinded by the sun when it does rise.
The swim is current aided. As one of our athletes said, "You may not feel the current while you're out there, but you WILL see it in your swim time!"
The swim start was great from a spectator's perspective. There was a set of concrete steps that allowed us to see the athletes as they entered the water. We were right in on the action. I can't wait to see Drew, my parents, our Crew, and the SVTC gang here next year. Talk about easy motivation for early morning swims!
After seeing your athlete jump into the water, you can take a nice walk along the river back to transition. There is a sidewalk, and a crowd of people, that will flow back to T1. From here you have two options. There's a large set on concrete steps where you can watch the athletes come out of the water and run through transition. Or you can walk to bike out, where the athletes run their bikes out of T1.
The swim has been wetsuit legal the last two years. This means you will have westsuit strippers to help you out of your wetsuit. Use them! This is a long transition area, so take your time. If you don't need to change you do not have to enter the tent. Instead, you can just use the grass outside, which allows for a lot more room. Also, the bike out portion is very long before the athletes are able to mount their bikes. Decide before the race if you plan to run this in your shoes or not. It looked like most folks ran in their shoes.
As we mentioned earlier, the temperature started to drop while the athletes were on the bike. If you're anything like me and find the cold unfavorable, considering bringing arm sleeves that you put on or take off as you please throughout the ride. Packing extra clothing in the bikes special needs bag is also a good idea.
Once our athletes were safely on their bikes, we went to our favorite Louisville coffee shop, Please and Thank You. It was about a twenty-minute wait for breakfast, coffee, and likely the best chocolate chip cookies on the planet. It did begin to rain, and though we stayed out of town, an athlete of ours gave us her room key. She was at the Hilton right on 4th Street Live where the finish line is. We stopped at my Jeep and got the single speed bikes we use for spectating, our backpacks, and headed to the Hilton. This allowed us to get a few hours of work in while the athletes rode. From a spectator perspective, we highly recommend staying in the city or grabbing a room key off of a racing athlete so you can relax.
You may also take a shuttle to La Grange to watch your athlete on the bike. These shuttles are provided by Ironman. You will get to see your athlete twice, around mile 29 and 64. Pickup begins at 8:30 am and the last bus leaves La Grange to come back to Louisville at 3:30.
Another long transition area. About 8 hours into the race is where the temperature really started to drop. We noticed one of our athletes changed out of her tri shorts and into running capris. This was VERY smart of her. Don't forget, the special needs bag is option #2 for warm marathon clothes if they aren't appropriate for you coming out of T2.
Again, the most important thing we picked up on was the consistently dropping temperature. If you opt out of putting on more layers in T2, pack some in the specials needs bag you'll receive approximately halfway through the marathon. Do note, however, you don't typically get these items back. So if you don't use them, you'll likely lose them.
One block over from 4th Street Live you can see your athlete at approximately mile 1.5 and as they finish up their first lap. Again, they'll pass this spot again to begin their second loop. Though we suggest being at the finish line as they complete their race, they will pass the area a fourth time as they head to the carpet. This is a good spot to hang out as there is music and it feels like one big party.
In 2016 before Ironman Louisville, we purchased single speed bikes which were perfect for the double out and back run course IMLOU has to offer. The athletes will run out to Churchill Downs before making their way back. It was fun to be able to encourage our friends and athletes at dark spots in their race where there isn't much fan support. Lastly, remember, it got COLD! Pack accordingly using a comfortable backpack and dress in layers.
We hope this is helpful in your Ironman Louisville experience whether racing or spectating. If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to reach out to Crew Racing!