Ironman Q&A

A behind-the-scenes look at Ironman Louisville, through the eyes of competitor Amy Ball.

Amy Ball is a certified triathlon coach and a personal trainer at Fitness Plus. On Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, she finished Ironman Louisville in 12:59:04. The Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race, followed by a regulation 26.2-mile marathon. Here’s a look at Amy’s Ironman Louisville experience.

What were you feeling when you crossed the finish line?
Of course this is the best part! Ironman Louisville has the best finish line ever. It is on Fourth Street Live and the crowd and vibe is fantastic! Cheering, music lots of energy. When I turned the corner to come into the finish chute I couldn’t help but smile big and choke up. The best feeling of accomplishment ever! My family was right there, but there are volunteers that “catch” the finishers, give them their medals, water, blanket, and make sure they are OK.

What did you eat after the Ironman?
I only drank some chocolate milk until about two hours later when I could stomach some crackers. It is very difficult to eat afterwards. But lots of food is offered to the finishers.

What else did you do that night?
My family and I went to our suite at the Galt House and had a little party. I just wanted to sit down, so we had some cheese and crackers and red wine, and laughed and celebrated.

How did you feel on Monday?
During the night Sunday I woke up feeling my legs. They were beginning to get sore. Monday morning my legs were quite sore, stairs were not fun. But otherwise I felt good. I was very hungry so we had a big breakfast.

How much did you work out the day before?
The day before (Saturday) I swam for 15 minutes in the Ohio River, ran 1.5 miles and rode my bike for 10 minutes. All of this is to just keep the muscles firing but not fatiguing them in any way. There was lots of walking during the entire weekend.

On Ironman day, how did you mentally prepare?
Mentally preparing for a race this long happens alongside the physical training. I was constantly visualizing race day: swimming in the river, biking along the horse farms, and running a marathon in downtown Louisville. Always analyzing my progress and staying positive. Never a negative thought in the head. Race day I only thought about small segments of the race at a time. If you think about the entire race and duration it can be overwhelming. I had followed my training plan and knew everything would fall into place. I was calm because there is no point in stressing about things that are out of my control.

What was it like getting in the water?
The race started at 7 a.m. The difference with this Ironman is the type of start. Normally it is a mass start, where all swimmers jump in the water and go at the same time. Louisville uses a time trial type start. This is where the athletes line up, first come first serve, and when the gun goes off the athletes jump in one by one. It is very fast and the line splits into two lines at the dock. 2,800 athletes went into the water in 45 minutes. I got in line at 5:10 and I went in at 7:19 a.m. There were a lot of swimmers and I got kicked, punched, my goggles were almost knocked off. Once I settled down I was able to get into my rhythm. We swim one third of the way upstream, then turn around and swim downstream the remaining distance. The water was 81 degrees and felt good because it was only 63° when we waited in line for the start.

What’s the difference between swimming in the Ohio River and a swimming pool?
A pool has a nice black line on the bottom to keep you swimming straight. In the river you can’t see your hand in front of your face. I had to do what is called sighting. Sighting is when you look forward or side to side during the swim stroke to see where you are by looking for a buoy or other type of landmark. This has to be practiced as part of your stroke or it can really slow you down.

Why do triathlons start with swimming, followed by biking, then running?
Because of safety. Swimming would not be good last because of fatigue and cramping. For the same reason biking would not be good when fatigued because of the possibility of wrecks. It’s tough to run at the end, but the ground isn’t so far away if you fall. It’s easy to just sit down.

During the competition, how did you change clothes and hand off the bike?
After I came out of the water I ran to the transition area. This is where the bikes, changing tents, and gear bags are. As I ran in I yelled out my race number and a volunteer grabbed my gear bag and I went into the ladies’ changing tent. I put my bike shoes, helmet, sunglasses, and bike shorts on, ran to my bike and headed out on the bike. After the bike I handed it off to a volunteer and ran towards the changing tents, yelled out my number again and a volunteer grabbed my other gear bag. I ran into the ladies’ changing tent, took off the helmet and bike shoes, and changed into running shorts, shoes and put a hat on. Off to the marathon. The volunteers are awesome!

How did your legs feel going from bike pedals to feet?
I had my personal best time on the bike (06:10:06)! I felt great, strong and never fatigued. When I came into the transition and dismounted the bike, my quad cramped a little. As a result I tried to start the run slow, just to get my legs back. The feeling is like running in mud or deep sand. After about 3 miles I felt better but just couldn’t get the legs moving any faster.

What was running through your head at any given point?
Almost always good thoughts, always positive. I love doing this and enjoy every moment. But there was a point on the run, about 15 miles in, where I wanted to just sit down and cry. My feet hurt, my stomach was bloated, my legs were tired. But I kept thinking about all the time and work that I put into preparing for this race and I was not going to quit! I also kept thinking about how wonderful the finish line would be.

Did you see anything funny or interesting along the way?
There is so much happening around me. I laugh at the spectators, the funny signs they make, I love the supportive family members and the look on the athletes’ faces during the race. The funniest thing I saw was a mother with her children waiting for their athlete (husband and dad) to come by. She had her hands full with the two young children, and dropped her husband’s cell phone. It shattered and she almost cried because it was the camera. I couldn’t help but chuckle. The worst thing I saw was a serious bike wreck, very bad. I was sad for him.

Is there any talking or interaction between competitors during Ironman?
One of the best things about doing this race is the camaraderie of the athletes. We talk before, to help ease the jitters. We give each other words of encouragement when we are weary, and then praises at the finish line. It is a wonderful group of athletes.

What is the easiest part of the whole day?
For me the easiest part of the day is the first 50 miles of the bike. I love the bike and have the best time.

What is the most challenging?
The first five miles of the run, the legs are wonky from the bike and I have a long run ahead of me.

What and when did you eat or drink during the race?
I had one GU Energy Gel per hour chased by water, sipped Ironman Perform, and ate bananas during the bike. There is an aide station approximately every 15 miles and they offer all that. I carried two bottles, one water, one Ironman Perform. I also carried several GUs. I would grab a half banana passing by the aide station and stop only when I needed to refill the bottles.

How did the 2013 triathlon compare with previous Ironman races?
I also did it in 2010 so this was my third one. 2010 was an experiment; it was the hottest year in Ironman Louisville history, 97° and high humidity. It took me 16 hours to finish, due to cramping legs on mile 2 of the run. I learned a lot that year. 2011 was the year of redemption—I had to beat this beast, I had to do better. I took three hours off my time and finished in 13 hours. This year my ultimate goal was 12 hours. I had a good swim, great bike, OK run, and as a result I beat my time from 2012 but didn’t make 12 hours.

Where did you train for Ironman?
I swam at LAC, ran in my neighborhood, and biked south of Lexington. Once a month I would do a training ride on the Ironman Louisville course with a group of people. There would be 100 to 150 of us from all over. My husband and another guy organized SAG stops, like an aide station; we would ride 50 to 100 miles. The best thing was my husband riding his bike with me while I did my long runs. My husband, Charlie, daughters Chaussy and Sharon, and my brother Andy were the best support crew anyone could ask for. I couldn’t have done this without them.

What did you learn about yourself throughout your training for 2013?
Doing Ironman has been one of the greatest things I have accomplished. I am in the best shape of my life. I have learned a lot about myself spending all the long hours alone with myself. I also learned that I like myself.

What advice do you have for someone who’s thinking about doing a triathlon?
Just have fun! It takes time, consistency, and total devotion to do well. A positive attitude and a love of the sport.

What was the most satisfying thing about your Ironman experience?
I am 51 years old. I am getting faster as I get older. I love knowing I can get better with age.

Interview questions compiled by Kathie Stamps.

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