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Ironman Louisville: Tami’s Third Time is Not a Charm

by Pro Triathlete Tami

Tami Ritchie's fire burns hotter after Ironman LouisvilleIronman Louisville was my third Ironman race, and still not the proverbial “charm.” Again, a major (and a minor) bike issue cost me time on the side of the road and an indeterminable amount of time lost during the bike and consequentially the run.

The race stated at 6:50 a.m. in the Ohio River. The water seems clearer once you are in it, than it does from ashore. I was still wondering if perhaps I should have brought some prophylactic antibiotics.

For roughly the first half of the race I snuggled in nicely right behind a group of eight or so. The group keep speeding up, slowing down, swimming wide, and just generally pissing me off. So at about halfway, when they started to veer wide, I swam the buoy line. We met back up again right before the slight turn to exit. Swim time was 48:58.

Bike (Troubles)

TamibikeT1 was simple with no issues. Out onto the road. I was feeling great, holding watts above planned, but feeling like I was putting in 50% effort. I also heard a slight whoosh or sweep sound with every revolution of my rear wheel. Not good, but I also needed to wait until the right time to fix that.

At the top of a hill about 16 miles in, I did find the right time. A tech guy was right there and it was at the top of the hill. He helped me to identify the right brake as the source of the sound, and fix it.

Then I was stopping a mile later because the bike was shifting incorrectly. The tech guy tried to help me again, but the bike still didn’t shift quite right. Not good, not good at all on a hilly course. Other than the first and last 10 or so miles, the Ironman Louisville course is always going either up or down. Shifting trouble continued as I tried to decide if it would be more costly to stop a third time to try and fix it or to just keep riding with finicky shifting.

Then around mile 45 I had my answer. Dropped my chain on the inside. Dropped it good, stuck in a you-need-Hercules-strength-to-pull-that-bad-boy-out kind of dropped. I tried and tried. Hold the bike this way, that way. Pull from here, from there. Rock my body to get some leverage, and try one more time, but please just don’t cry.

The chain was not budging. I heard some people cheering up the road (which of course, was also up one of the steeper hills of the race) so I started walking to them figuring if nothing else they could help call someone so I could be picked up. A good number of guys asked if I was alright or what happened, but only one was kind enough to stop and help.

If you ever lose faith in humanity, just head to an Ironman or any triathlon. In a competitive individual sport, where seconds can matter, you will find generous people. People willing to help you out before, during, and after a race. People who really care about other people in what really can be a very selfish sport.

But back to the chain. He tried a few times with normal strength to no avail. Then he finally summoned his Hercules strength and success! The chain was out. I was good to go! Sort of. By the way, I did not cry (yet).

The chain was out but the shifting was awful. I tried two more times to try to fix that. I was never able to get it to shift to the smallest gear or the biggest gear. And had to pick which gears in the middle I wanted to work. I had to go with it being able to go on the second one so I had a chance in heck of finishing the hilly course. It never went into the third one, the fourth was picky, the fifth worked, and maybe one more. And even between the ones that worked the shifting was as smooth as a 15-year-old driving a manual transmission car for the first time.

Dark Spot in Ironman Louisville

For the next 15 miles I was pissed off and sad, wondering “why me, why can’t I just have a race with no major issues,” especially since I was headed into Ironman Louisville feeling confident, ready, tapered, the most race prepared I had felt in a long time. But then I turned to do the second loop around mile 60 and said either just ride or stop. I decided since I was out there I might as well keep riding and if nothing else, get a good training day out of it. The shifting was piss poor but I had learned how to best manage it, so I could ride the 112 miles and use it as a training day if I decided not to do the run, or I could finish the race and look for the positives and build towards the next race.

More Hills

So more hills it was. Things were really starting to warm up out there. Things were also getting crowded. Bikes and cars, and a few close calls. All the roads were just two lane highways. Quite adequate if it were just bikers. But this was not a closed course, and the motorists either did not know what to do around bicyclists, or just didn’t care. There were a couple times a car would pull out from the left onto the road close in front of me, and then I would have to pass them on the left because they were behind a slower cyclist.

bikecourseThe bike course is beautiful and wonderful, and could possibly be one of my favorites if it were a closed course.

Total time on the bike was over 6 hours. Ouch. Moving time was closer to 5:50. Fewer than half my gears, including the loss of the biggest and smallest—one of the worst courses for this to happen on. Let’s not forget the brake rubbing for 16 miles. So, taking all that into consideration, my coach and I both agree that I most likely would have been right where I wanted to be had things gone better. So I’m pissed, but also happy. Happy that my biking is improving. It probably is where I want it to be. My nutrition and hydration plan worked to a T, and I handled the heat well.


T2 was alright, then out to the run. I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was pretty certain I was too far back to catch anyone, even if I had a great run and everyone else came down with a major case of diarrhea.

Either I would run half way and call it a great training day, or finish to again find more positives to carry over for Cozumel (and maybe partly because I’m stubborn). I saw my coach during the first mile and asked him what to do. He said just run for now, so I told him we would talk at mile 13.

The run was going great until about mile 14. My quads were feeling the effects of smashing up the hills in the improper gears. By this time I had forgotten about my plan to decide if it was worth it to keep going or not. I was too focused on how my stomach hurt and how my legs were screaming and trying to find a way to push through. In the end, I’m glad I finished.

The run probably also would have been right where we wanted it to be if I hadn’t had to smash my legs for 60+ miles on a bike course beforehand. But with a 3:36 in the 90° heat and humidity, after what felt like 3508 squats with a 1000 pound bar, I can’t complain too much.

Looking Forward

It is probably better that I finished this race and can recover and get back to training to get a better build into Cozumel than I did for Ironman Louisville. For a while I had danced around the idea of Wisconsin, but that would take at least three weeks away from training for Cozumel. Instead, this has just made the fire burn hotter, making the goals even higher. If I had stopped at mile 13 of the run, I would probably be trying to do another race to prove to myself that I have a great race in me right now, but it would be at the cost of other future races.

A huge thank you to everyone that makes this possible for me, and especially to the guy who helped me unstick my chain. Thank you to DiscountTriSupply.com, Kyle’s Bikes, Krueger Chiropractic, the Sanders family, my coach for coming down to watch something so pitiful, my parents, the volunteers, and everyone who had encouraging words for me leading up to, during, and after the race. It means so much to me just to know there are people that care.


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Katherine is our Content Champion. She has done triathlons in the past, and now focuses on mountain biking and long-distance gravel riding. She still has a soft spot in her heart for weird multi-sport events like indoor triathlon and aquabike. She also teaches indoor cycling.

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  • katheriner

    I wonder if we have all had races like that—where finishing is winning.

    The same day you were in Louisville, I had a mountain bike race here in Iowa. Sounds like we had the same heat and humidity. A couple things went wrong for me before and at the beginning of the race, and then the thing just became became a long, hot, slog on a rough course.

    Out of contact with the leaders, I had my moments of thinking, "I could quit at the end of this lap." But each time through, I just kept going. And I finished.