“The BIG One”
Let’s start with a little background. My father, Volker Winkler, has carried a dream with him over the 25-30+ years that he has been doing triathlons - to do the Hawaii Ironman. Unfortunately, he has not been able to get a slot in a race, so last year (2013) decided to try the “Ironman Legacy Lottery” where those who have completed 12 Ironmans (and signed up for a 13th) are entered into their own separate lottery for Hawaii slots. To do so he had to complete 4 Ironmans last year - and he did (Texas, Cour d’Alene, Mount Tremblant, and Florida). He turned 62 this year (2014), and he got his slot through the lottery. Now, my father has been my coach, training partner, best friend, and inspiration since I began doing triathlons. I did my first Ironman with him (Florida in 2003) and when I was lucky enough to earn a slot to Hawaii he covered my race entry, travel expenses, and went with me to cheer as I did the race he dreamed of doing. I was SO excited when I heard he finally got his slot. My next immediate thought, of course, was “I want to do it with him”! Having already committed to a full summer of racing, I had to settle for an Ironman that was 1) still open 2) relatively close to home 3) convenient to the race schedule I already had. Louisville fit the bill. It was never an Ironman that was high on my list - but I had to give it a shot. Of course an Ironman is a long race, and anything could happen - no guarantees I would be lucky enough to get a slot - but if I didn’t at least try I would forever regret it.
So . . . August 24, 2014. Everything leading up to the race went as smoothly as possible. We (Jeff and the children of course!) drove to Louisville on Thursday, and stayed in the incredible Galt House Hotel. I have to admit I was pretty impressed with Louisville. I have driven by it on the interstate countless times, but never stopped. EVERYONE was SO friendly! Whole-heartedly supporting the Ironman, and the other competitors were also extremely friendly - I have never encountered so many waves and friendly words prior to a race before! My father and Bertha (a close family friend) drove in late Friday night and we all had breakfast together on Saturday morning. My friend Gwin Anderson and his girlfriend Tammy also came in Saturday evening - I have never had such a large cheer squad at a race either!
Ironman Louisville is rather unique in that it has a ‘rolling’ swim start - meaning athletes line up and jump in the river in that order. The line is a first come first serve type of deal, which meant getting up REALLY early to secure a spot towards the front of the line. I was (again) lucky enough to do so, and then it was just a matter of waiting the 2+ hours until the swim start.
The swim goes upstream, around an ‘island’ then turns back downstream to the swim exit. Having done the practice swim the day before, I knew that current was pretty strong, so my plan was to go hard until I turned back downstream, then recover while keeping a strong/steady swim to the exit. Felt pretty good through the swim, and was ready for the bike.
The bike was through the rolling Louisville countryside complete with hills and horse farms - very similar to my biking territory in TN. It was 2 loops, then back in to Louisville. As sometimes happens in a race like this, it was not my best bike. I just did not feel that great - not sure if it was nutrition, chance, or what, but it took me about 80 miles to find myself out there. I focused on nutrition, hydration, and kept turning the pedals until I started feeling better - and then all was good. Again the community was very supportive, lots of nice cheer stands and a whole town where they blockaded the road for us and announced who was going by on a loudspeaker. We were lucky with some cloud cover for the first part - but as the day wore on the sun came out - full force.
Off the bike - there were all my cheerers urging me on. Felt pretty good starting out the run, again it was 2 loops - right by the finish line - then a finish on the ‘4th street live’ section of downtown. Around mile 7-8 the sun was bearing down and my race started to be affected. If there was shade or a cloud, I could pick it up, when the sun came out, down I slowed. By the time I finished my first lap around mile 13 where all my supporters were, I was really suffering. My dad took one look at me and knew I was - but they all urged me on, I was still in the lead of my age group (although the next girl was gaining fast - ended up she got within 4 sec of me), and that helped me mentally. I was able to rally a little after that, kept focusing on hydrating and trying to get some nutrition in - and shuffling along as fast as I could. By the time I hit 20 miles I actually felt a lot better and continued to do so - shuffling along as fast as I could without my legs cramping. I was so excited to see Jeff, the kids, my dad and Bertha at the finish - I knew I had given it my all out there. On the back of my race bib I had written “4 My Papa” - and I flashed it at him as I ran towards the finish chute. I don’t know that you will ever find more energy than at the finish line of an Ironman race - it is truly magical. I soaked it all in - let me tell you!
End result - won my age group, 9th overall female (2nd overall amateur female), secured a Hawaii slot, and exceeded every expectation I had. Found many areas that need some fine-tuning prior to Hawaii, and am most inspired for the rest of the season.
So basically it cost an Ironman entry, hotel stay, food, days off work, a lot of sweat and physical/mental effort - but the opportunity to race in Hawaii with my father - priceless!