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Ironman Louisville Course Review

 Hi Y’all! Thanks for checking in on the Coeur Sports review of Ironman Louisville or “IMLV” as it is known. This race has a special place in Kebby’s heart since this was where she got her first Kona slot. Plus, the city and the people are just fantastic. If you know where to look, you’ll find very nice public parks and great places to eat. Before we get into the details, we need to remind you that through 2014 Ironman Louisville is in the summer. In other words, it can be hot and humid, so be prepared. The race moves to Oct. in 2015, so the temperature should be fantastic.

Where to stay

If you want convenience, you might consider the Galt House. The Galt House is an historic hotel who has welcomed presidents, writers and entertainers since the 1800’s. The hotel is big with around 1,300 rooms and we’ve found the rates to fairly reasonable. Expect something in the $165 to $180 per night unless you’ve waited a bit too long to book and it’s getting full. The Galt House is usually the host hotel and it is located close to the swim start and the famous Fourth Street Live finish area. When Kebby raced IMLV, the registration was in one of the ball rooms.

If you don’t want to stay in the host hotel, there are VRBO rentals available.   They range from quaint two bedroom Carriage Houses to five or six bedroom mini-mansions. We like the house rental idea since you have your own kitchen and can really control your food pre-race. One thing to keep in mind is that Louisville is used to people coming to town for events and prices for rentals do tend to go up around race week.

Ok, let’s talk about the actual race.

The Swim

We’ve got to be “real” with you on the swim. There are good parts and there are, well…other parts. Let’s get the other stuff out of the way first. It’s in the Ohio River. As in the very busy, commercially important waterway called the Ohio River. Because the river is basically a wet highway, they usually limit the practice swims. When Kebby did the race in 2010, they only had one practice swim. Also, the water can be a bit murky and you might see an occasional piece of industrial debris floating by. There, got that out of the way. And to be clear, we trust that the fine folks from Ironman wouldn’t let us swim if the water wasn’t safe, so don’t get too nervous about the water quality. A little nervous..yes. Just not overly nervous.

Ironman Louisville's swim start is a time trial start. This is different than most Ironman races.   If you want to get in the water early you will need to arrive at the swim start 2-3 hours before the official start time at 7am because the line gets looong. If you aren't worried about being in front, the line goes fairly quickly with the last athletes getting in the water around 40 minutes after the official start. You might consider bringing some snacks and maybe some toilet paper in case they run out in the few porta-potties available.

It is a point-to-point swim that begins a good half mile or more up from the transition area. If you have a support team with you, we’d suggest having them drive you up to the start. Typically, the water is quite warm, so save the space in your bags and don’t worry about a wetsuit.

The swim out through the channel is fairly narrow, which is why probably why they use a time trial format. Towhead island will be on your left. Be aware the water is sometimes quite shallow and grassy if you get too close to the island. For a faster swim try to keep 5-10 meters away from the island. Also during this part of the swim you are swimming against the current. It will feel slower, take your time and don't panic. Once you make it around the island and enter the official Ohio River you will be swimming with the current and should see faster swim times.

Once you exit the channel and get around the Towhead island buoy you will have a fairly straight and fast swim with the current to the exit point. It's about 1.8 miles from the turn-around buoy to the exit.

Due to the fact that it is a commercial water way, you may taste or smell diesel or gasoline fumes. If you have trouble seeing the buoys just look towards the horizon and pick a pillar from the big Four Bridge. It's about 8/10th of a mile straight ahead.

By the time you hit the bridge, the swimmers are very spread out so you should have open water. Again use the buoys for sighting, or your next bridge on the horizon (JFK memorial bridge) which is only about .3 tenths of a mile ahead. At this point you should be to clearly see a bright orange roof at the swim exit (Joes Crab Shack). If you can see it, swim straight towards it! It's your exit point.

Swim exit

Once you see the exit swim towards it and climb up the ladders. You have nice walkway to walk or jog to the transition tent

By the way, both times when Kebby has raced Ironman Louisville, she felt like it was a fast swim but her times were very consistent with other races.

The Bike

The two loop IMLV bike is beautiful. It passes through horse country and has rolling hills and other aesthetic gems that help keep your interest through 112 miles.  The first (and last) stretch is fast and flat and it has rolling hills in the middle.   Spectators come out in force especially in La Grange which you will go through twice on the top of the course.

Keep in mind that it is traffic near the course, so be careful.

The Run

For the most part, the run is a fairly flat out-and-back, with a few turns thrown in to keep you from seeing the entire course at once. The only hills are a climb just past the top of a bridge over the Ohio River along with a small incline after a decent under an overhead train bridge on the way out to Churchill Downs. A highlight of the run, in our opinion, is seeing Churchill Downs which is home to the Kentucky Derby.

When you complete the first lap, you'll make a quick left, then a right, running close to the finishing chute before making a u-turn and heading back out for lap number two. It can be tough coming this close to the finish only to head out again but rest assured, the party will still be there when you get back.

The Finish

 Perhaps the biggest out and out party on the entire circuit. The finish is on the famous Fourth Street Live and it is lined with bars and restaurants.  You’ll feel like an absolute rock star as you run down to the arches.

A few random tips

To the extent these are helpful, here are a few tips that might be somewhat helpful.

  • The “S” in Louisville is silent. So it’s pronounced something like Loo-ah-vull.
  • Interstate 265 goes by a couple of names. It was once the “Jefferson Freeway” and it was apparently re-named the Gene Snyder Freeway. So I-265, The Jefferson Freeway and the Gene Snyder Freeway are all the same road. If we recall correctly, locals call it the “Snyder”.
  • In general, the locals do not tolerate tail gating. If you get too close, you might get a surprise when the driver in front of you hits the brakes for no apparent reason.


So there you have it. That’s Coeur’s review of Ironman Louisville. We hope you have great race and as always, if you see someone wearing Coeur, say hello and/or make the heart symbol with your hands! Who knows it could be one of us.