I never really know where to start things like this. For a race this big and this important how can I possibly say all the things that I need to say? I guess I'll just have to accept it as an impossibility and move on, sigh...
It's amazing how much your perspective can shift in as little as a year. I remember when I was getting ready for, racing, and reminiscing about my two half-ironmans in April and May I was pretty sure those were the most painful experiences of my life (good pain...the suffering kind). Up to that point they really were. I had done something that most people don't even consider attempting to try; they think triathletes (and long course triathletes in particular) are a little crazy. They are not wrong. Why would a person willfully subject themselves to the things that we must undergo during training and racing? What is really in it for us? I guess that's up to each individual to decide but some general examples are:
Nick/Lisska/Pros: Make money and satisfy sponsors
Me: Be the fastest Freshman (or only Freshman...)
Cummins: Talk constant smack
Woodbury: Hold on the the title of "Fastest Fat Triathlete"
Behme: Nobody really knows
Watkins: To see how much over 30 hours/week he can go before he literally dies
Colleen: Everyone has seen those calves. Gotta keep those babies up and running
Carrie: So she can be Lady Gaga for Halloween and nobody really questions it because she's already crazy...
Ashley: So he's not bored all the time
I mean I could go on and on with some of the reasons why my training partners do it but really, nobody cares.
I signed up for this race back in late August completely on a whim. I had been training with the guys doing IM Louisville 2009 and consequently had several 18-20 mile runs and 100+ mile bike rides in my legs and after bumping into Ashley one day at the pool and him suggesting I sign up (I think he might have been joking...) I went ahead and did it. That decision led to a re-assessment of my yearly plans. I had to take some time off before building back up to IM level training because my body was completely fried and a little over trained. I had dug a pretty deep hole and tossed myself in so I needed to step back, recover, and rebuild for B2B.
My IM build - as created by J Behme - essentially started the first week in September. The first month was pretty easy and then it picked up big time. Unfortunately my body didn't want me to run as much as I wanted it to and crapped out on me a little bit in October with a couple of injuries forcing my running volume to be way, way lower than I wanted it to be. In the 6 weeks leading up to the race I only averaged 13-15 miles a week; not ideal when you're training for a marathon.
Other than the lack of running, my training went really well. My bike strength grew exponentially and I responded really well to the long rides and my swimming is as good as it has ever been.
I've posted this in the past, but my goals for this race were ambitious to say the least. I took a lot of heat for that but like I've said before, why aim low? Anybody with low expectations when it comes to their own abilities is never going to go very far.
On a perfect day I hoped to swim a 53-55, bike a 4:58-5:03, and run a 3:25-3:35 (if I remember correctly and I think I do). The run, as I stated before, was going to be the BIG question mark. As with any long-course race the run is where you make your money and I had a feeling that I'd be coming out pretty poor because of my sporadic run training. But oh well, it is what it is. At the start line, there was nothing I could do about it.
I'm gonna skip most of the pre-race stuff because let's be honest, not too many people care about it. Staying with Ashley, Lori and Jason at Lori's parents beach house was outstanding and very relaxing, which is key. I'm not sure any of us were nervous (well Lori might have been but I couldn't really tell!), just anxious to get to race day and put the pedal to the metal.
Alarm goes off at 3:30am. Shower, put on as many layers as possible, eat breakfast and drink some coffee. Out the door by 4:30 for the ~1hr drive to T1. The drive was uneventful...I think we weren't fully awake and that was not helped by the music I was playing. I'm not sure I've ever listened to Disturbed at 4:30 in the morning!
Ashley and I had both set up our bikes the day before - as required - minus the water bottles and our T1, Special needs and swim bags; that we planned on doing race morning. Pumped up the tires, dropped off the bags, and looked for the line to get on the trolleys to swim start. Guess what, they were unbelievably long; we both said screw that and called Lori and Jason to see if they could drive us to the swim start. We hopped in the car and got to the start but not without drama as Lori almost took out a trolley on the way over there.
We both made one last (and very important) porto stop before beginning the process of body marking and putting on our wetsuits. Luckily by that point Jim Bertrand (2XU Rep) was there so he helped me with my 2xU wetsuit so that the fit was perfect. Well, as perfect as a skin tight layer of rubber and neoprene can be. I looked GOOD. Watkins let me borrow his booties, which would prove invaluable on the run to T1, so I got to wear those even though the water wasn't that cold (68-69 degrees). We all walked to swim start and got ready for the horn.
Swim: 2.4 miles in 49:11 (31st)
At the sound of the gun I jogged into the water, did a couple of dolphin dives and started the swim. My immediate impressions were that the water was extremely salty but other than that it was perfect. No chop to speak of (at first...) and the temperature, while being cold at first, was absolutely perfect for a full sleeved wetsuit. I tried to stay wide around the first right-turn buoy as I didn't want to get caught up in the maelstrom that was likely to develop as a couple hundred people tried to take the same line. Took a perfect outside line and the next mile+ was a straight shot down the channel and with an awesome current. When I saw awesome I really do mean awesome. It wasn't river strong (Augusta 70.3) but I bet it was at least 10-15 minutes fast. My swim time was only the 31st fastest swim time, which is crazy. In a true "IM" race my normal swim would be 15+ minutes behind the leader but today it was half that. The current negates a lot of the advantages that strong swimmers have and I was more than happy to have that on my side today... I didn't find any feet for the first 2/3 of the swim but as we approached the left turn I did manage to find a little pack (that I had either caught up to or strategically cut the corner - no turn buoy - to merge with them) and settled in for the last part of the swim. I was really just concentrating on expending as little energy as possible and I totally accomplished that. As I pulled myself out of the water and up onto the dock I felt no soreness in my lats which I normally do after a hard swim so I was especially pleased with this time (although I didn't have a watch so I had no idea what my swim time was). I got stripped of my wetsuit and began the long run to T1. Along the way I heard someone yelling my name but it took a second to find who it was; Behme was yelling at me telling me that I was 4 minutes down on Ashley. I figured that was too much of a gap to intentionally try and make up on the bike so I just decided to go ahead and race my own race no the bike. I kept running (it was a longgg run) and grabbed my swim-to-bike transition bag and headed for the changing tent, plopped down in a chair and began to change.
I had put a towel in my bag so I could at least superficially dry off so I grabbed that, toweled off as best I could and began to put on my clothes for the bike. Short sleeve jersey, long sleeve jersey (that was a GREAT purchase the week of the race...I'm applauding myself for that one), gloves in a pocket (I had already put all my food in my pockets while it was in the bag), socks, shoes all went on as quickly as possible while trying to rush. I put all my swim stuff back in the bag, handed it to a volunteer and began the run to my bike. Threw on the sunglasses, helmet and grabbed the bike and ran it out of transition to the mount line and off I went. Lori missed me until after I had passed (a trend that was likely to continue although I'm not surprised as she's biased towards her husband...)
Bike: 112 miles in 5:00:52 (4th - I am 2nd in the results but that's because they don't have a couple of guys' splits, 2 of whom I know were faster than me)
I hopped on my bike and within the first pedal strokes I could tell I felt really, really good. I knew the game-plan was to go easy the first 30 miles but it was tough considering how good my legs felt... The first mile or two of the course was very technical as we had to get up onto a bridge and head over to the mainland. Once we got into more open roads I settled down in my aerobars and prepared for a long, steady bike ride. In the first 10 miles I kept passing people and then we got to I-40 (or I-140 I can't remember) and the only guy to pass me the entire race crept up from behind and slowly went by; his leg number was 27 so I knew he was in my age group but I had to go my own pace and just hope he'd come back to me or be a bad runner (he was neither unfortunately, although his run split was only 15 minutes better than mine; he must have biked his face off). For the next 20 or so miles he was always within sight but once we got into the real country it was me, myself, and I. I tried to stay focused on getting down all the fuel I needed and drinking enough water.
Around mile 30 my back actually felt some signs of fatigue and that was a little worrisome since I still had another 82 to go!! I tried to keep it as loose as possible by standing up out of my saddle every once in a while and for the most part that kept most of the pressure off the lower back. At about mile 50 I was starting to feel the overpowering need to pee. I had actually heard the call before the swim start and tried to pee in my wetsuit but we were listening to the national anthem and I somehow felt that would be...wrong. Plus, the people next to me would probably think it's a little weird. Suffice it to say, I didn't take care of the pee problem and it was becoming overwhelming. I didn't want to come to a complete stop so I focused as hard as I could on peeing, stood out of my saddle, and... Well you know the rest. Needless to say, it felt amazing. I sprayed some of my water bottle to clear the damage and settled back into my aerobars. For whatever reason that actually took a little bit of the pressure off my back!
All I could look forward to the next 10 miles was the special needs station coming up around mile 60 (at least, that's what we were told...). Mile 60 rolled around, then 61, 62 and 63 before I finally saw the guy who relayed numbers up the road to the aid station. I came around the corner and saw two girls holding water bottles so I grabbed one and came to a stop beside the guy holding my bag. I took out a mountain dew and a snickers bar while guy said "Mountain Dew man, that's the stuff." I replied back with "Yea dude I've been waiting for this moment for 4 hours." He laughed and said "Yea...cool." He totally doesn't respect the power of the Dew.
I got back on the road but withheld from drinking the Dew because I wanted to savor it around mile 80. So the next hour was again uneventful for the most part. Around mile 70-75 I saw a police car up ahead and then three bikers taking a right turn onto the road I was on (coming out of an out-back section). Ashley was in the front of the group so that got me a little excited but I didn't know how long the out-back was so I made the turn and got back into the bars only to realize that it was literally only 1/4 mile out and 1/4 mile back. That got me even more pumped up so I turned around, turned right and headed out to slowly reel in the three guys ahead of me, who were also the first racers I had seen for around 3 hours!!
At mile 80 I made the fateful right turn onto HWY 421 and immediately felt the soft headwind. "Crap." I knew we'd be taking this road the rest of the way in and felt no surprise, only sadness when I saw the sign that said "Wilmington - 38mi." I could see the little group up ahead but realized someone had fallen off the back and I was catching up to him a little more rapidly... After a little longer I realized it was Ashley. I kept working up to him and came up beside him and asked how he was doing. He said he had missed the special needs bag so I offered him some Mtn Dew which he turned down (unsurprising given my glaring case of cooties) so I kept the pass going. I sort of expected the two of us to rotate together the rest of the way but I looked back and he was drifting back so I settled on for the long (and miserable) last 30+ miles into T2.
My back was becoming more and more of an issue and I was getting up out of the saddle to stand up on the pedals much more often at this point. Along this stretch I passed Lori, Jason and her parents a couple of times so that was a nice boost; also got made fun of and cheered for by Watkins and Behme which was another nice boost (and by a nice boost I mean they scared me into riding faster because I literally thought Watkins might try and eat me) and passed the two guys that had been with Ashley. They sat on my pace for the rest of the ride. We started catching the half-iron participants and to the finish it was pretty much a constant stream of those guys.
If you notice in the past 30 miles I stopped talking about eating and that's because I stopped thinking about nutrition. Note to self: that is dumb. I said after the race that I never thought about the 'next step' until I was just about to start it and was wondering whether it was a good or bad thing but this makes it seem like it's a bad thing. I should have been thinking about nothing OTHER than the run for the last hour or so; taking in all the calories I would need and drinking lots and lots and lots of water. Oh well, learn by experience.
Coming into T2 was fun as I came in right with Peter Kotland (that was cool and not cool because I know that he can probably go a lot, LOT further at that pace and that he was about to rip off a fast marathon) and we handed our bikes off to volunteers and ran towards the changing tent and T2. This woman shouted in my face with a bagel half in and half out of her mouth that my bag was over there and pointed me in a different direction so I had to veer off to the left to get it and then sit down in a chair to begin the changing process.
The short sleeve and long sleeve jerseys came off along with my helmet, cycling socks and shoes and on went the compression socks, brooks shoes (a bad choice as they were flats...) and off I went after a cup of water.
Run: 26.2 miles in 4:11 (ouch)
As soon as the run started I knew I was in for a long day. My legs felt ok but my mouth was parched and it felt really hot. The course was a 6.55 mile out, 6.55 mile back done twice. Beforehand I was thankful for this because my standard run loop at home is 6.5 miles so I hoped that I could break it down easier in my head because I was so familiar with that distance.
Miles one and two both took you over two big over pass bridges, the second of which had a metal grating at the top for about 50 yards. Over the course of the four crossings of that bridge my feet became more and more attuned to each individual ridge on the bridge. Painful, to say the least and another reminder of why most people don't choose flats for an IM.
Once you crossed the second bridge there was a slight downhill into the most populated section of the run course on Water St. This section was mostly brick and cobblestone and was definitely the most 'fun' part of the course. Running by it the first time was pretty nice because I got to see everybody again and tell them "I feel fine, just tired." Tired was an understatement haha; it was all I could do to speak. This was one of the only truly flat sections of the course so I tried to enjoy it as much as I could. I kept taking solely water at aid stations, something that I think - in hindsight - was stupid. I didn't realize it at the time but I was pretty much bonked on energy. The lack of calorie intake in the last hour to hour and a half of the bike ride really put me in a hole during the beginning of the run and I struggled to claw my way out of that.
Once past the crowded Water St it was through some city streets and then into a park, which I felt was the most boring section of the course. Running along the path and over some wooden bridges was mostly uninteresting. I had been passed by a couple of full-distance guys and I was just focused on putting one foot in front of the other when I heard some remarkably fast steps coming up behind me. At this point I knew there was nobody fast left in the half ironman so this had to be someone from the full. This guy came up beside me and asked how I was feeling and I realized it was Ashley. He was slaying it for that first half. I watched him gallop away from me and I felt a little sorry for myself. Just a little bit though. I knew I wasn't in the same kind of shape he was so I just stuck to trying to run my own race.
After the turnaround the way back definitely started dragging a lot more. I found myself walking through aid stations to get a couple of cups of water. At the mile 10 or 11 aid station I took my first handful of pretzels and cup of coke. They tasted AMAZING. I literally punched myself in the face for not thinking to do that earlier. The punch may have been my hand trying to find my mouth... At the halfway turnaround a bunch of volunteers yelled at me to turn my bib number around but I didn't and they kept yelling at me so I just figured instead of wasting the energy to explain to them I was going around again I'd just do it and they'd get the point. They did. Right after the turnaround was the special needs bag section. This one lady volunteer screamed in my face "What number are you??" I responded back with "I don't have any special needs." She said, in the ultimate elitist voice that you can think of, "Oh he doesn't haaaaave a special needs bag." I wanted to punch her in the face, but I managed to hold back.
Back over the bridges again. Miserable again. Through water street. Keep taking pretzels and coke. Walk a little bit. Run some more. Take a little 'me' time. Get to the park. Oh look there's a wedding. Can't turn head 90 degrees to see if the bride is hot or not. Continue looking forward. 5 feet in front of me, ironman face on. Take a little more 'me' time. Get to the turnaround. Get passed by some more people. Go back past the wedding. Still can't tell about that damn bride. Oh well. Take some more coke. Start to feel a little bit better. Run a little faster. That was too fast ok slow down. Drink water. Focus on the ground. Where did this hill come from? Oh god I'm so sore. This feels ok, run a little bit faster. Oh god. Bad idea. See Watkins and Behme. Don't remember what we talked about. Walk up last hill with 5 other guys and watch 48 year old woman run up the hills. Feel sorry for myself. Run over the metal grate bridge. Wow, thank god that's over. Wait, I'm less than 2 miles from the finish. Holy crap that's amazing. Last aid station. Don't run into anybody. Oh my god that hill is so huge. Run? Shuffle. Get to top, realize the downhill will probably hurt more. Mentally prepare. Ouch ouch my quads. Left turn, can now see the finish, sort of. Get past the turnaround and realize a bunch of people are still going. Stop feeling sorry for myself, feel sorry for them. Guy starts to pass me. Hell. No. Drop a 90 second last quarter mile to shake that sucker. I can't believe I'm kicking in an Ironman. Feel a little ridiculous about myself. See the finish line. Cross it. Stop moving.
So that was the race. It was epic, it was amazing. Ironman teaches you a lot about yourself. It reveals every weakness that you have. You cannot fake it or do anything wrong because it WILL show up at some point. Be it on the bike or on the run you WILL want to quit. It was probably one of the coolest things I've ever done. Only 10 months until my next one! Ironman Louisville 2010 is going to be epic.
I'm really glad I got my first go at this distance in a non IM branded event. I'm not familiar with how much that marathon really does hurt. I know what I need to do to get better. I've got great training partners to help make me faster (and hopefully I make them a little bit faster too...). Nothing but positive things to look forward to in the triathlon crystal ball.
Huge thanks to Ashley, Lori and Jason for being out there on race day and to Lori and Ashley for providing a place to stay. Props to Behme for making me better by giving me a training plan and holding me at least semi accountable. Thanks to Watkins for being out there and wearing really, really short running shorts while he was biking. That made me want to get away from you by running faster. Thanks to all the people I've trained with and gotten to know in this first year of triathlons; it's only going to get better from here!!