IRONMAN Louisville Bike Course Review: Big and relentless to small and mean
For those interested in the IRONMAN Louisville bike course, I got to ride the course with my loaner training husband on June 6th. He has completed Louisville twice and ridden the course on numerous occasions. Not many folks would voluntarily get up at 4:00 in the morning in time to leave for Louisville at 5:00 a.m. so you can get a 7:00 a.m. start, which is important because of (and it will get more discussion below) the traffic. So, I am super, super lucky. Thanks B!
We decided to do the main route (course map here, if you haven’t already bookmarked it!), but not repeat the LaGange loop, so the ride ended up being right around 80 miles (plus 2-3 that I added by leaving my phone in the car and needing to turn around and go get it after we started). His goal for me (which is not my coach’s, she didn’t give me that kind of goal!) was to average 17 mph over the ride. I thought that was entirely possible. I averaged about 17/18 on a 38 mile hilly course in Tennessee and 18.1 at Toughman Indiana. We ended up hitting 16.9 with a total peddling time of 4 hours and 51 minutes– but I was drafting (yes, I got to draft, and yes, it was fun! And yes, I realize I can’t do that during the race). Aaaaand, we had a few stops — A couple for navigation purposes. Two at gas stations for fueling and toilets, another random stop for food, one extended stop for a fire truck, and a last stop needed for sanity and relief from the traffic. We were out there close to 6 hours total.
We started from the Louisville Rowing Club on River Road, which is about 1.3 miles from the actual bike start at the Great Lawn.
Now, keep in mind that my perceptions of the course may have been affected by the fact that I did not go into this ride with exactly fresh legs, having done a 48 mile tri (Dickson Endurance), a marathon (Horse Capital), my first 82 mile ride (Horsey Hundred), and a half Iron distance tri (Toughman Indiana) in the 4 weekends before. Also keep in mind that it was windy. Really, really windy. I swear we had a headwind the entire time. I know that is not physically, meteorologically, or any other –ly possible, but that’s what it felt like. My training husband agreed and said he had never ridden that course with that much wind.
But my overall impression is that this is a hard, hard course. I have not ridden some of the IM courses that are known for being difficult (in fact, I haven’t ridden any other IM course!). But I do ride here in Kentucky, and we have some pretty big hills. To me, this course is in three parts: (1) big and relentless to (2) small and mean (which you get to do twice) to (3) fun fast rollers. On the bight side, you get the fun fast rollers at the end!
The Course Summary
So here are my thoughts on the course and tips from my loaner training husband and actual husband (who completed IM Louisville the first year in 2007) – please keep in mind that the mileage markers are close, but approximate. My bike computer was off by that extra 2 miles from the start, and I have tried to adjust based on the course map:
Miles 1-10, River Road 15.2 mph up to 18.8 mph
River road is flat and fast. I started in the small ring and built up to averaging 18.8 by the second 5 mile section. The pavement is very rough on the sides of the road and there are railroad tracks, so you will want to stay more toward the middle of the road if you can without blocking.
Miles 10-15 River Road to SR 42, average 16.3 mph
Past mile 10 you take a left on to SR 42, which is where the big and relentless starts, as you can tell from the drop in average. The uphills are long and big, and the downhills are long and big, and it just keeps undulating without any flat breaks.
Miles 15-20 SR 42 and into the “spur,” average 16.6 mph
Around Mile 18 or so, you take a hard right at Shiloh Baptist Church on to KY 1694. This spur is about 4 miles out and 4 miles back and it is a bugger. First, this is a dangerous part of the course. If you look at the elevation map, you will see two sharp spikes. That’s the big hill out and big hill back. Both my guys said that the faster folks crank it down those hills and it can get crowded and dangerous – watch for folks coming out down those hills – apparently they will move to the middle of the road and sometimes cross into oncoming cyclists while passing. There is also the second water stop – so watch for water bottles in the road and hit that stop on your way OUT. Both guys said that for the whole spur, just get over as far as you can on the right, take it easy, and let the gutsier (or crazier, depending on how you look at it) folk pass you. I agree. The hills are a bear and I felt like this part was a bit technical — I was never in the right gear to take the downhills, and they were steep enough that I was not comfortable riding them out in my aerobars. And watch the little bridge at the bottom of the hill.
Miles 20-25 KY-1694 spur, average 15.9 (still dropping!)
The big relentlessness continues.
Miles 25-30, average 15.5 mph
Leaving the KY 1694-spur, right on SR 42 and heading to the turn to LaGrange. The big relentlessness continues.
The LaGrange Loop (miles 30-60)
Miles 30-35 average 15.7 mph
Around mile 30/31 you turn right on to 393 to start the LaGrange Loop. This is still big and relentless. Around 35 there was a great gas station at the corner for the left turn onto 146. That’s where your special needs bag will be on the second loop. (We stopped there for a break, snack, and Gatorade! I needed it at that point.)
Miles 35-40 average 15.3 mph
Here’s where you turn left onto 146 and then head into LaGrange itself. That’s where the crowds will be, but it’s quick. You are in, and then right back out. I think the slow average here was from stoplights, versus terrain.
Miles 40-50/70-80 are where it is small and mean
These 10 miles seemed to take FOR-EVER.
Miles 40-45 average 16.2 mph
You keep going on 146 and then take a sharp left onto Ballard School Road, which is pretty short, and then you take a sharp right on Old Sligo Road – this is where it gets bad. The road is really narrow, not smooth, and there are two steep, short climbs that my legs were really not wanting to handle, and I can’t imagine how they would feel on the second lap. I was in my granny gear and had to stand up. I was regretting have any water, or indeed any extraneous equipment at all, on my bike.
Miles 45-50 average 13.8 mph
See above, and look at that drop in average. You do get off Old Sligo Road and turn left onto 153 – the only good part of this was finally turning left, that means you are getting to the top of the loop.
Miles 50-55 average 16.6 mph
This is when you finally get to turn left back onto SR 42 and you leave “small and mean” and get to fun and rolling (but you will be tired at the beginning of it and need some time to adjust after small and mean). (There’s a gas station at the mile 50 turn with BBQ and nice benches were we took a nice break!)
Miles 55-60 average 19.5 mph
As you can tell from the average, this is when you can finally do some nice riding. The only issue is . . .
When you hit mile 60/61,
This is where you would normally turn left and start the LaGrange Loop over again (all of the above). Argh!!!
When you hit the top of the LaGrange loop the second time, around Mile 80/81, and take that left turn back onto SR 42 for the second time, you will see a sign for “Louisville 33 Miles” – Thank gawd. Know that at that point, the course is manageable all the way in, other than dealing with traffic.
A repeat of the above.
Heading for Home
Miles 90-95 average 20.1 mph
20 miles to go. The worst part of this is that you are back on SR 42 – and all that big, relentlessness on the way out, is now slanted in your favor, BUT it will be later in the day. The road is not closed to traffic, the road does not have much of a shoulder at all, and the traffic was horrible when we were riding. I hope it is better on race day, but we were passed, closely, by many, many very large pickup trucks, mini vans, and several drivers who decided to play chicken when passing us with oncoming traffic and really didn’t care that I wore my red heart Pro Compression socks. There was really no cyclist love. I found this to be really stressful and kind of ruined the fact that the course was finally more rideable.
Miles 95-100 average 19.3 mph
Same as above. The traffic, if anything, got worse.
Miles 100-105 average 18.8 mph
You will move from SR 42 back to River Road in this segment. See my notes above about the condition of River Road. Traffic was better, but River Road is very narrow, so even a little traffic is no fun, especially with the condition of the side of the road.
Miles 105-110 average 19.4 mph
River Road was so rough and the traffic was so bad, 5 miles from finishing, I actually made us stop just so I could take a mental break from the stress of it.
Miles 110-16 average 18 mph
If you can avoid the rough pavement parts of River Road and traffic is closed off, this should be a nice, flat and fast cruise into transition.
On a practical note, I do NOT recommend riding the course on your own or riding the whole course like we did unless it is light enough that you can finish at least before noon or you ride during the workday. Traffic picked up substantially at 11:00 a.m. and made the last 20/25 miles really stressful – fast traffic, lots of it, and drivers that like to pass way closer than 3 feet. And River Road is really rough on the sides, so with the traffic you are stuck riding on the edges on pavement so rough that it felt like my teeth were going to rattle out of my jaw! If I go out there to train again, I will go to LaGrange and park, ride that loop and maybe head down to the KY-1694 spur to ride it again – about 50/55 miles total.
Let’s just say I am glad I still have over 4 months to train. That was humbling. Seriously humbling. My legs were so wobbly, I was having a hard time clipping in and out and keeping from falling over after that, and there was NO WAY I was doing a run at that point. So, I am definitely adjusting my expectations in a big way, and not just because I know I won’t be able to draft – darn.
Regarding nutrition, for those who are interested (I tend to think this is so individualized that it doesn’t help much to read what other folks eat), I had a Clif Builders Protein Bar (280 calories), Power Bar Cola Blasts (190 calories), Bolthouse C Boost vitamin C smoothie juice with water (120 calories) before. I ate a vanilla GU (100 calories), a PowerBar Peanut Butter Cookie protein bar (290 calories), a honey stinger waffle (160 calories), and drank at least 24 ounces of Gatorade, plus at least 30 ounces of water (156 calories), for about 1,470 calories total. Afterwards, I downed an ice cream sandwich, Wendy’s French Fries, and a small Coke.