Not bad, Rookie
I did my first-ever ironman triathlon on saturday, a nice way to finish my first season as a pro and probably the single most physically demanding thing i have ever done in my life.
18th Pro Men, 35th Overall
The Long Story
I’ve been pretty single-mindedly devoted to this one for the past few months, which is why you haven’t heard from me. I started school in September, and did two other races in the fall, but the focus was always on this race. I fiddled with different energy bars, gels, drinks, yoga, massage. I trained upwards of thirty hours a week and slept like it was my career. I adjusted my bike and tested my power output in a dozen different positions. I did bike workouts in my kitchen with the oven door open to prepare for Florida’s heat. In the first part of september, I rode my bike over 1000 miles without leaving the big chainring.
All the focus cut into other parts of my life. Forced inside by the cold weather, I twice answered the door in spandex, dripping with sweat. I used the phrase “after I Windex the pee off my bike” in normal conversation. I fell behind on my schoolwork, and I ate enough to sustain a small family.
And I reached new levels in training. Sunday runs that were previously done at a slow, steady pace shifted to end with five miles at six-minute pace. Weekday distance runs went from ten miles easy on the flats to fifteen miles steady in the hills. Weekday bike rides went from 70 miles to over 100. Sometimes I was so tired that I would just sit on my kitchen floor and cry. I got great advice from great coaches and great athletes, and I got a lot stronger.
Then, the tuesday before I left for Panama City, I was hit by a car while riding my bike to class in the morning. I wasn’t seriously hurt, but i was scraped and bruised, and a little shaken. In hindsight, I must have had some solid focus going, because the thought that it might affect my race never seriously occured to me. I did the only thing that seemed natural: went to the university health center for gauze bandages, voted (note: my guy lost anyway, but my team won the world series the weekend before, and you can’t win everything), and went back to class. I still have some angry road rash on my left hip as a souvenir, but the remaining soreness is mixed up with my post-race soreness so that’s kind of a crapshoot.
Flew to Florida on Wednesday and rested.
Thursday I picked up my number (57), took a short bike ride and a run, and swam briefly in six-foot surf in the gulf. Bodysurfed.
Friday was the same, 20 minutes swimming in diminishing surf, short bike and run. Then the pro meeting, where i suffered an extreme attack of the in-over-my-heads, and into bed at 8pm. woke up once, to turn off the ringer when my friend karen called (karen: sorry i didn’t answer the phone. i had a big race the next morning).
Then up at 4:15. Oatmeal. Coffee. My mom and I went to the start and i struggled into my wetsuit. I stretched and fidgeted, and my mom took many unflattering pictures of me, and diagonal pictures of the beach. And then, at 6:50 in the morning, the cannon went off and we had to start swimming….
Swim: 2.4 miles in 57:08
We started ten minutes ahead of the age groupers, which was a mixed blessing. On the plus side, I didn’t get pushed around. On the minus side, after 200 meters (which, I conservatively estimate, was covered in 1 minute 11 seconds) I swam completely alone. My best-case scenario on the swim was 57 minutes, which, like all my other time goals, was pulled totally out of thin air. So I soldiered on, occasionally turning left, until I got back to the beach. And that was a shock.
Imagine this – you are floating peacefully, with your head under warm water, for half an hour, hearing only the (mostly) rhythmic splash, splash, splash of your own arms and trying to remember to keep your elbows high. Then a wave crashes around you, you wash up on the beach, and 3000 people are there screaming. Big shock. For me, an even bigger shock when i see 26:55 on the clock and realize I am far, far ahead of pace. This is heartening but I worry about having gone out too fast. I decide to dial back the effort on lap two.
Back out into the water, alone. I have time to relax and am generally quite successful at slowing down. I try to stay positive. Rahter than dwelling on the fact that I have no draft, I distract myself by counting the orange buoys and looking for fish. Around the first turn buoy, my biggest theme of the day, peeing, begins to make itself apparent. I think I peed in my wetsuit three times on lap 2 of the swim alone. So, that was good. Lap 2 took me 30 minutes almost exactly, and I got out of the water feeling rested at 57:08. Whoo! Bang on my arbitrary best-case time goal!
Running up the beach, more people screaming. A man yells at me to lie down. He and a woman standing next to him rip my wetsuit off and hand it to me. Thanks, guys. I ran into the changing room, put on my socks, bike helmet, glasses, and ran out. People are directing me to the medical tent and I am confused. “But … I feel fine!” I yell to them. There is no convincing them. Not until I am in the tent do I realize that I have to run through it to get to my bike. Feel really smart.
Bike: 112 miles in 5:05
People talk a lot about making sure you take the bike out pretty easy, about feeling like you are going REALLY slow in the first 50 miles, etc. etc. etc.. This advice does not work well for me. I have to work pretty hard for the first couple of hours, then I can get into a groove and I feel pretty good after that. I was passed by nearly 2 dozen people, nearly all of them age-groupers (who had started ten minutes behind me, that was demoralizing), in the first 50 miles. I also peed in my shorts three times and ate a bunch of gu and powerbars. I kind of got into a groove after that.
Around sixty miles there is a short out and back section. There, I peed in my shorts again, and saw that there were two large packs of about 25 riders each about three minutes behind me. I decided I could not let them catch me, and this is probably what saved my bike ride. I knuckled down and started passing people. Not many, but I took back a few of the places I had given up in the early part of the ride.
So in retrospect I actually think I should have taken the bike out harder. My heart rate monitor didn’t start giving me real readings until right around the 50 mile mark. A strange thing that it does in windy weather is give ludicrously low readings. So according to my heart rate monitor I was below 100 beats per minute for the first 50 miles. And that was definitely wrong. But then my heart rate monitor started working well, and I got into my ride-drink-pee groove and got back into transition pretty strong. I missed my arbitrary time goal of 4:55, but what can you do? Ride faster next time, I guess.
Run: 26.2 miles in 3:15
Out onto the run I realized two things: I feel like crap, and I left my heart rate monitor attached to my bike. Damn. Immediately I shift my strategy from closely monitoring effort based on heart rate to Just Running. As if I have a choice.
I only actually remember a few things about the run. I took water at every aid station, and gu every so often. Stayed away from the Dreaded Orange Gatorade (yuck!), and remembered to dump ice into my shorts to stay cool. Just for the sake of consistency, I kept up the peeing in my shorts every five miles or so. This was actually the biggest challenge of the whole run, since the aid stations kept coming up every mile.
At the end of run lap 1, I got my time split – 1:35 for the first half. Not bad, and I dare to hope for a negative split since I feel pretty good and I have practiced all my long runs that way. I took my run special needs bag, and had the same realization I had with my bike needs bag – “What the hell am I going to do with this crap?” Dropped it. Kept running.
At the final turnaround two things happened that I remember:
1. A huge blister on the bottom of my left foot popped. This hurt like hell. For some reason, I was convinced that my shoe was filling up with blood. It turned out that it wasn’t, but it sure did hurt. Slowed down my last 10k considerably.
2. I dropped my number at the mile 20 aid station, and had to stop, bend down, and pick it up. Cramps shot up and down my legs and back and I screamed in pain. I heard from the aid station “Oh my god, he had to bend down to pick up his number” “Oh, ouch”.
I have heard a lot of people talk about how awesome the last couple miles of an Ironman is. Now that I have done it myself, I think these people are full of shit. I went through the last two miles with no clear idea of where I was or how much longer I had to run. I saw mile markers and was unable to deduce how much time it would take me to run to the end. Coming into the chute, I high-fived a few people, took off my hat and glasses, ran across the finish line, and burst into tears. Some nice volumteers helped me find my inhaler and dry clothes, and after a few minutes in medical with some hot chicken broth and several blankets I was fine.
It was four days before I could walk normally. I had chafe in the most unlikely places and the most uncomfortable places, deep chafe that would weep like road rash for nearly a week before it scabbed over.
I missed my arbitrary time goal of 9 hours, a time I chose in the first place because it was a nice round number, and my place goal of top 20 overall. I did get in the top half of the pros that started – top half of the pro finishers is another goal for another day.
It was nice to note some improvement over the course of the year – in April I was 17 minutes out of the top ten at ralphs half ironman, and in November I was 21 minutes out of the top ten at a race twice as long. Also of note: I was the 12th US finisher.
In summary, thanks for being with me this season.