Monday, August 4, 2014

Ironman Boulder Race Report

Let me begin by saying as I write/edit this I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.  I actually write my race report before the race and use it for visualization, and then I edit it afterwards for what actually happened.

As soon as I completed Ironman New Zealand in March I began thinking about this race.  First of all, I had dedicated myself to having my best ironman performances this year at the age of 55.  As I like to say, I’m good enough to smell a Kona qualification spot, but not good enough to taste one.  With that said, I’ve really been trying to achieve my best results this year.  My wife and family know how much I’ve been focused on this for the past five months.  I began to realize as the race got closer that I was thinking about it when I went to bed, when I got up, and pretty much most of the day in between.  I guess that this is one of the “advantages” of being semi-retired.  Ironically, I really don’t feel any pressure, despite setting a goal that is over an hour faster than my best ironman, which was actually New Zealand (my best time by a half an hour).  The reason not to feel any pressure is the uniqueness of ironman that makes finishing the ultimate goal.  In many ways, the actual result is secondary.  Nevertheless, I only know how to operate with a goal, and usually a lofty goal at that.  In life, and in sport.  

My preparation for Ironman Boulder included a nine hour, 121 mile bike ride with over 14,000 feet of climbing, the Mulholland Challenge, in April.  I got in three 16 miles runs that were of high quality.  I also did some very solid workouts on my VASA swim trainer, even managing to get close to an hour on the trainer.  Check, check and check.  I’ve done five previous ironman’s, there is now a fine line on overdoing the training versus getting in quality workouts.  My focus, with the great help of my coach, has been on quality.  

With all of that in mind, I have really tried to focus on the other aspects of my preparation.  The first, how to adjust to the altitude of Boulder, began with a 3 week trip to Colorado in June with my wife.  I could see a significant improvement during the two weeks we were in Boulder.  The second day, I did the Boulder sprint tri and could hardly breath during my best effort on the 3 mile run, going ~8:45 pace.  Two weeks later, I did the Boulder 70.3, and actually managed an 8:45 pace over the last 7 miles of the race, again, going as hard as I could.  I was definitely acclimating.  With 3 weeks of altitude under my belt, I arrived in Boulder 9 days prior to race day.  I immediately noticed that I wasn’t noticing the altitude.  However, I did realize that if I pushed my effort too much, I would notice the altitude, which is actually a good thing.  The key to having a successful ironman is not to waste energy during the day.  

Arriving in Boulder with over a week before the race, I had the opportunity to truly rest.  And I definitely took advantage of it.  I spent most days laying down, sitting down, just resting.  I believe that I went into this race with the most quality rest time that I have ever had prior to a race.  

One of my biggest ironman issues has been my stomach.  I have a very sensitive GI tract, and I’ve been dedicated to changing this.  I watched my diet all week, continuing with my good fat/protein, relatively low carbohydrate diet that I have been on for most of this year.  Yesterday, I did allow myself a few gluten free pancakes in order to get some additional carbohydrate into my body prior to race day.  However, on friday and saturday, I stuck with my race day breakfast of an avocado with olive oil.  I’ve also been starting each day with coconut oil, fish oil, extra CoQ10, glutamine, B complex and a few of my other regular supplements (prontandim, energease, recoverease).  I’ve been testing Gaia’s Reflux Relieve as well.  My pre-race diet was fairly light for a change.  I didn’t finish the pancakes at lunch, and slowly ate them until about 5:00 pm.  Also, had a couple of packets of almond butter, and a bell pepper.  I continued to sip on water and electrolytes.  My final intake of the day prior to bedtime consisted of a sweet potato and some UCAN superstarch.  I was also very careful not to overhydrate, as it is quite possible to leach electrolytes from your body in that circumstance.  The one exception to this whole process, was, when I went to sip on my bottle of electrolytes and UCAN, air must have built up when I shook it, and it spurted out into my mouth, similar to getting a mouthful of water during the swim.  Fortunately, I didn’t drown from my electrolyte mix and despite a half an hour of irritation, did fine.

I had gotten a solid night of sleep on Friday, with some very bizarre dreams (which I am way too embarrassed to share), but a good night nevertheless.  As always, I went to bed at 8pm the night before the race, and began my bedtime race visualization that always manages to help me sleep, as well as prepare for the race).  I usually fall asleep before I get past the swim, but tonight I must have gone through the race a few times.  Not sure when I finally fell asleep, may have been 11pm. Got up once to pee (hydration is key) and like clockwork, woke up at 3:15 am from my alarm, which is unusual as I usually wake up on my own, took my glutamine, ate my avocado/olive oil/coconut oil/salt mixture, ate a sweet potato, took some Master Amino Protein (MAP) took my Reflux Relief and put on my race outfit.  I wear the 2xu tri suit, with ICE technology, which truly does help cool you down when it’s hot.  Put on Aloe Gator sunscreen, which I’ve learned will stay on all day, gathered my special needs bags and took the shuttle from Endurance Sports Travel to Boulder High School and the busses to the Boulder Reservoir.  

With the exception of Ironman Lake Tahoe, I have found myself to be quite calm the morning of an ironman.  I didn’t have much to do, having pumped up my tires to ~135psi the day before, so that they would come down to about 115-120psi on race day.  I would turn on my garmin computer, so I wouldn’t have to fuss with it once I started, and so that it would engage the satellites.  I also had to put my two red potatoes in the bento box on my bike.  Spent time sitting down and relaxing, and used the port-a-potty a couple of times.  With that, it was time to get into my wet suit and prepare myself for the swim.  

The swim course was a little different than the usual Boulder reservoir course, but the difference was nice insofar as we weren’t swimming into the sun.  The pros went off at 6:20 and at 6:30 the first, and fastest, age group swimmers waded into the water to start.  I had seeded myself in the middle of the second group and calmly made my way in, and began to swim.  This type of rolling start doesn’t completely get rid of the craziness that is an ironman start, but it is much more reasonable.  I pretty much know what my swim is like, and once I get going, it’s pretty routine.  There is no reason to exert too much energy during the swim, so I focused on drafting as much as possible and enjoyed the swim.  I did get punched in the eye early on, but fortunately, it didn’t knock me out or knock off my goggles.  It hurt very briefly, but not much.  I kept running into a crazy person who would swim over into me and flail away, I’m not sure if it was one person or more than one...always hard to tell during an ironman swim.  Of note, the best parts of my swim was when I was alone and was able to focus on my form and swim breathing to both sides.  I was able to make up ground on people in front of me, felt really good and smooth...but that wasn’t possible for much of the swim.  

I don’t wear a watch when racing, so all of the numbers I got were post-race.  My swim time was 1:13:54, off from my usual swim time of about 1:11-1:12.  However, looking at the race results, I think that the course may have been slightly long, as even a number of the pros swam close to 1 hour.  I came out of the water 17th in my age group (out of 116 people) and 607th overall (out of 2814).  Solid result, consistent with a solid swim.

Coming out of the water, I walked up the ramp, unzipping my wetsuit at the same time.  I felt fine from the swim, except that my legs felt heavy.  This is not a usual feeling for me, and I’m not sure what it meant.  At the top of the ramp, I took a right turn, got my wetsuit stripped off, and picked up my transition bag.  When scoping out the transition tent the day before, it looked to be on the small side, so rather than get caught up in the confusion that occurs in the tent, I stopped at a bench on the grass and took out my helmet.  Put on my arm coolers, my sunglasses, my headband, and my helmet before putting on my bike shoes and stuffing a couple of gels in my jersey pocket.  Put my wetsuit in my transition bag and made my way through the tent and then to my bike, where it waited, right at the front of the row, which made it easy to find.  Took my bike out of transition, and mounted it.  

My first transition was a very solid 6:03, considering the relatively long run that one has to make in their bike shoes out of transition.  

Coming out of the reservoir there is a very short steeply pitched rise, and I took great pains not to press my wattage too high going up it, then settled in to my aero position, taking care to keep my wattage below 170w for the first 10 miles of the course, most of which is a gradual uphill.  This was going to be the key to a successful race and I was very disciplined on this day.  A lot of people passed me, as expected, but I would catch many of them on the downhills and flats.  The first reprieve was going down St. Vrain, but then after turning around had to climb back up, again, being careful not to push my wattage too high, although I did allow it to come up a little higher this time, but still below 200w.  

The Boulder bike course is quite beautiful, with the mountains to the west and the plains to the east.  There are a lot of rolling hills and the key to my race was going to be not pushing too hard up the hills, but to make sure I could bring some speed and momentum into them, so as to effectively shorten them.  I thought that this would make the course relatively easy, but boy was I wrong!  That works for a half ironman, but in retrospect, maybe my bike fitness wasn’t quite what it needed to be for 112 miles of this.  Also, it was hot...in the 80‘s, but I admit my feet started getting hot inside my bike shoes (no socks).  My wattage seemed to run on the lower side of the 140-170w range all day, but I was also able to “draft” with all the people out on the course.  Of course, I kept the necessary 7 m distance between me and the people in front (not so for everyone...there were large packs throughout the race).  

About 60 miles into the bike I realized how I stay in the moment during an ironman bike.  I am constant monitoring my nutrition and how I feel.  I was determined to stay hydrated, so I would sip on water and electrolyte mix every few minutes.  I had 900 cal of a mix of UCAN/Tailwind Nutrition that I would take a gulp from and then wash down with water.  I had my two red potatoes with olive oil and salt in my bento box.  I stretched this out throughout the bike to help my stomach.  I also ended up taking in 3 honey stinger gels and a Justin’s almond butter gel early on.  I would guess that I took in about 1800 cal throughout the bike.  I have to admit that by the time I finished I was tired of gels, my mix, and my red potatoes.  My hydration was good, although not great, because I never had to pee during the ride.  Around mile 85, I finally went through the ironman bike doldrums...ironically, I didn’t think about this race.  I started thinking about why I do this crazy sport and why I had already signed up for ironman Lake Tahoe in just 7 short weeks.  The thought even crossed my mind to make this my last ironman race...all par for the course, I guess.  I suddenly realized, that this might mean my nutrition was a little light, but after a swig of my carbohydrate drink I felt nauseated.  I had taken a couple of capsules of activated charcoal earlier on, but figured that the heat and effort might finally be keeping my stomach from processing the nutrition, so I lowered my effort for the next 10 miles or so, which seemed to help and allow me to get my nutrition back on track.  I was beginning to look forward to the end of the bike.  The right side of my back was a little sore and I did keep sitting up on climbs or when I was in someone’s draft to help.  My legs never felt great during this ride, but at the same time, they never felt bad.

One of the interesting things about the bike ride was that my breathing was always pretty easy.  Surprisingly, I felt constrained by my legs, not my breathing, which is unusual for me at altitude.  

Around mile 100 there were three short steep climbs, but I had checked them out previously as was not concerned.  By this time, the excitement of finishing the bike was beginning to build and I had to be careful not to push my wattage up too much going over them, which I didn’t.  That said, I was able to solidly push up these climbs, which I noticed seemed to be taking it’s toll on other people.  At the final aid station I grabbed a bottle of cold water and poured it on my body, which helped to cool me down.  It was definitely getting hot.  I should have done this at the 90 mile aid station, but didn’t thikn about it.  In fact, I had left an open bottle cage on my bike for this reason...at least I finally had used it.  The final section of the ride is into Boulder, and I made sure that I stopped eating and drinking the last 4-5 miles.  

I started my bike 17th in my age group and finished it 18th, having dropped down to 20th at one point, but gaining that back towards the end.  Similarly, I had gone from 607th to 818th overall.  Of note, most of this occurred in the first 44 miles of the bike, after which I held my own pretty well.  My bike time was 6:11:55, with an average speed of 18.07 mph.  Of note, my three bike splits were very even...I had given a solid and consistent effort on a challenging course.  I had thought the course would be manageable, which it was, but it was definitely tough.

The second transition was actually longer than the first, having to walk/run our bike after dismounting, and in my bike shoes, this was mostly walking.  One of the exciting parts of this walk was seeing my friends Treg and Shelly cheering me on.  I didn’t expect this and it gave me a shot of adrenaline!  I finally made my way to the high school track, the walk was at least a quarter of a mile, where a volunteer took my bike before I then went to grab my transition bag.  My bike to run transitions are typically longer during an ironman than during shorter races, and I was endeavoring to make this one quicker.  Again, I found a bench before the transition tent (where it is always too hot anyway), off with my bike shoes, hat on, vaseline on my feet, compression socks on, left then right, shoes on, tighten the lace locks, grab my race belt and get the hell through and out of the tend!  I’ve got to get moving, is what I was thinking.

My second transition time was a remarkable 6:50.  I was very happy with this. 

This is where my original pre-written race report ended.  I never know how the run will feel anyway.  This race was dedicated to me giving the run everything I had, and ultimately I was not to disappoint, though I didn’t really realize this out on the course.  As  soon as I started my run, I knew I was in for a challenge.  My energy had been sapped by the strenuous bike, it was in the high 80’s, and I was already tired.  Fortunately, I wasn’t really sore.  I quickly decided to just start running at a manageable effort and walk deliberately through the aid stations.  It was important that I stay hydrated and nourished for the 26.2 miles.  That would ultimately define my run.  I hit the first aide station and looked at the smorgasbord that is an ironman aide station.  I took as much ice as I could and stuffed in my my jersey and pants.  I find this helps keep me cool.  I took ice and put coke in it.  Well, my decision was made, start with coke early.  I knew that at some point I would tire of the coke, but one step at at time.  Around mile 2 I saw my friend Rudy, who would ultimately keep me company for about 11 miles of the run (it was an open course, so Rudy was just out for his run workout).  With that said, he pretty much followed me at the pace I was able to keep.  The good news is that I don’t wear a watch and Rudy is a watch when it comes to running pace.  He figures that when I was running, I was running right around 8:45 pace.  I did walk the aid stations and usually a good 1-2 minutes after them, finishing my coke.  Also, I started eating orange slices early and often and an occasional banana.  My nutrition and hydration were pretty much on target.  

The Boulder ironman run course is deceptively hard.  The first stretch is a gradual downhill, but there are lots of little ups and downs, which got progressively more difficult as the day went on (more me, but also for everyone else).  My pace on the run was ultimately remarkable consistent, comparing the first loop to the second.  In fact, I almost even split the run...the effort, was something else, as it should be.  More on that soon.  

Unbeknownst to me, while I felt like I was having a rough day on the run, I was not alone.  This course was decimating people.  I began the run 18th in my age group and 818th overall.  Keep in mind that I almost always finish my race where I start it on the run.  Today was going to be different.  In the first ten miles I had moved up to 718th overall and had actually moved to 15th in my age group.  My pace was right around 11:30 per mile.  Coming back into town, my friend Treg and Shelly were once again there to cheer me on!  The final leg of the first loop takes you uphill, before turning around for a nice 2 mile gradual downhill, where I actually felt like I was getting a second wind and did around 9:17 pace.  I didn’t want to get too excited, however and start pushing the pace further as of yet.  This was actually the best part of the entire run.  

I had dedicated myself to having my best run possible.  I knew that my swim had been reasonable, and close to my predicted swim time.  I also knew that my bike had been about 20 minutes slower than what I had predicted...all in all, I was about 25 minutes off of where I had wanted to be, but that would still have kept open the possibility of a solid time if my run were good.  The ultimate irony of this is what my coach always reminds me of, it’s not the time, it’s the effort on any given day.  While my time would ultimately be well over an hour short of where I wanted it to be, so it would be for a lot of people.  By mile 20 of the run course, I had moved up to 602nd overall, and still was holding on to 15th in my age group.  This was the point at which I had hoped to “turn it on”.  I realized, however, that pushing too hard now could lead to a massive “blow up”.  This happens to the best of us, and in fact, during the first loop I was passed by a pro woman , Uli Bromme, on her second loop, and near the end of my first loop, I actually passed her, as she had fallen back from 2nd overall to fifth.  This might also have been an indication of how solid of a run I was having under the circumstances.  

I took a little extra time when I needed it walking the hills on the way back into town.  Ironically, it felt like I had slowed down, but my friend Rudy told me that my form was holding up and when I was running I was still keeping close to the sub 9 minute pace I’d had earlier in the day.  I had switched my nutrition over to Gatorade Perform, which, with ice, I was tolerating well, in addition to the orange slices.  However, nutrition just wasn’t feeling good at this point, so I switched to ice water and hoped to trudge to the finish without getting sick to my stomach...this might have been my one mistake, as I think I was pretty low on fuel when I hit the finish line.

My IT bands had also started feeling sore around mile 13, but I always bring Golden Tiger balm, which I put on my IT’s.  Both sides of my back were also hurting, and I put the balm there as well, which always helps.  All in all, I was hurting all over, which today I can attest to.  This course kicked the living shit out of my body!  

Honestly, I felt like I was dying the last two miles, but somehow, managed to maintain a 9:29 pace for the final leg to the finish line.  I kept thinking that I’d never felt this bad during an ironman, which I find hard to believe considering the courses that I’ve done and the results that I’ve had.  On the other hand, I think it is possible that I really pushed myself deep into my limits on this day.

When the dust had settled, I had moved from 818th overall to 580th on the run!  I came in 15th in my age group, my best age group result ever for an ironman.  My overall time was 12:34:19, my second fastest time ever.  Remarkably, 10:25:47 won my age group, although only two other people went under 11 hours, and just barely at that.  6th was 12:03 and 10th was 12:13.  My result was quite solid on this tough day.  


I always say that it’s not about the result, it’s about the effort.  If I leave it all out on the course, I’m happy.  I left it all out on this tough Boulder Ironman course, and then some!  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ironman New Zealand: Giving it everything I've got, and then some!

Be warned!  This race report is my full report, and therefore is quite long.  Of note, I’d written all of this up to the bike start prior to the race and very little changed for me to edit.  I sometimes use my race report preparation for my visualization and preparation for race day.  It was a good idea!  Went to bed around 9pm the night before the race and got up every 2-3 hours briefly.  At 1pm I ate half of a clif bar with a little water.  Woke up around 4pm and finished my clif bar and ate most of a yam...got everything out of the refrigerator for my special needs bags and put on my race outfit.  I had decided to wear the top of my trisuit under my wetsuit, knowing that in the four minute run to the first transition, it would mostly dry out.  Plus, I always have a heck of a time putting the damn thing on in transition, and I just didn’t want to waste that time today.  I then applied sunscreen everywhere I could think of...that was going to be a major theme for the day, every chance I would get.  Also, put on some chamois butter in the necessary places.  Sipped some water...really avoiding any pure sugar, there is no reason for my body to feel the stimulus of sugar at this point, as I’m really believing the concept of focusing on fat burning early in the race.  Put on my race chip around my left ankle...I never want to forget that.  I had brought warm clothing as it would definitely be cool in the morning...no shivering allowed.  Get the clothes on and make sure I have everything I need.  By the way, bathroom breaks are typically sprinkled in throughout the morning preparation.  Went downstairs for the breakfast at the hotel and got in a few more calories before heading back up to the room to make final preparations.

Took the van to the race site and went right away to check my bike.  I had pumped my tires up to about 130psi the day before, so while they might have come down a bit, there was no need to pump them up further.  Put my bottle of Tailwind nutrition between my aero bars and filled my Shiv’s “bladder” with water.  Then, put my red potatoes in olive oil and salt in my new Fuelcell and in my aero bento box on my top tube.  Check, Check and check!  Checked to make sure my helmet was still secure and left it just like it was on the bike, since it worked to be there overnight, there was no need to fiddle with it.

Time to get to the changing tent and put on my wetsuit.  Thankfully, my coach had given me excellent instructions yesterday to put my wetsuit on in a way that would minimize it being too tight.  Body glide and vaseline (organic vaseline, that is) on my ankles first...put on wetsuit from the legs and pull it up, and then pull it up some more.  The key is to pull the wetsuit up all the wait to the crotch so that there is no space left, this will let me pull the wetsuit up further on my torso, where the major tightness problems could be.  Now, more body glide and vaseline around my neck (never like to have chafing around the neck), and then on my forearms.  Then, put the wetsuit on both arms and pull them up.  Finally, pull the wetsuit up from the bottom of the torso to make sure that there is plenty of “give” in the shoulder area.  Done!  Walk towards the beach and take the clothes I’d been wearing and take them to the drop area in my black “drop bag”.  I will leave my shoes on at this point...they are to be discarded down by the beach, but why not maintain some warmth and avoid stepping on anything at this point.

Got down to the beach around 6:40, just in time to see the professionals start the race.  It’s not quite sunrise, but it is always an impressive site to observe, albeit briefly, the start of an ironman.  Once the pros are off, into the water.  The plan, suggested to me the day before by Marcus and Muirie’s friend, was to get to deep enough water where I’ll have to tread, the newbies and the poorer swimmers will not be here, but stay left of the best swimmers.  The water is a bit chilly, but moving around in it, gets me acclimated.  I splash cold water on my face (a lesson I learned long ago), and went under to get a little water in my wetsuit.  As the water in the wetsuit warms to body temperature, I’m comfortable and settled in.  There’s so much adrenaline, it’s really hard to be too cold at this point.  Managed to get in a few strokes and continued to tread water in a way to keep my arms mobile, this will help once the gun sounds. Started feeling a little chilled, but it was almost time for the start. 

The gun sounds and we’re off, me and 1750 other athletes, moving forward in the washing machine that is an ironman swim start.  I made sure that I was horizontal when the gun went off, that is key, and I took off as hard as I could, bodies flying everywhere, trying to go over me, around me, whatever.  But today, I’ll have none of it...I keep my head up and keep my elbows up and I make my way forward without getting hit today.  There are people everywhere, but they’re not impeding me.  In fact, I’m getting a pretty good draft.  It’s my goal to breath every 4th stroke, to better maintain my form and perhaps lessen the chance of sucking water in.  However, at the start I’m breathing every 2nd stroke in order to go all out.  I’m also trying to increase my arm turnover a bit today to keep my moving forward.  Not that I’m really trying anything new on race day, but I did read an article that talked about the fact that when your arms aren’t moving, you’re decelerating.  Will have to discuss this with my coach later.  I had scoped out the course and it was simple.  Site initially to the big hill in the background and then site to the left of it as you get further along. By the halfway point of the leg out I’m about 10 meters from the red buoys, where I stay until the turnaround, when I swim about 5 meters past in order to avoid the scrum that usually occurs at the buoy, except, I see open water at the 2nd turnaround buoy and swim past it.  On the way back in, I keep drafting off other swimmers, and also keep a good line from buoy to buoy.   

Ironman is all about being in the moment and it starts with the swim.  I really don’t care how long the swim takes, I’m there, just trying to do my best and enjoying it.  So, that’s what I’m doing.  I know I’m having my best swim ever, but I actually try not to dwell on that, I want to enjoy the entire swim and stay in the moment.

As I make my way into shore, I’m prepared to do dolphins as soon as I get to thigh deep water.  I’ve practiced and realized that I can do it without blowing up.  It’s faster than walking!  I really don’t want to walk in the water if I can help it!  I actually make it almost all the way to the shore before I stand up. 

My time out of the water is 1:08:56, my best ironman swim time by a few minutes.  I’m 17th in my age group and 541st overall (out of over 1500 people)

As soon as I emerge from the water, it’s off with the top of my wetsuit and start jogging to the transition...slowly.  I don’t want to overexert myself, but I also want to keep moving.  I make my way along the green carpet, I feel good, I love doing an ironman! There’s a slight chill in the air, but the excitement and the adrenaline of the day, as well as a solid swim, has warmed my body up. I get to the stairs and walk up them, no need to expend too much energy for no reason at this point of the day.  When I reach the top of the stairs I can see the transition tents to my left.  Get my bag for transition and into the tent.  

I get to a chair in the transition tent, by the way, which was very different from Lake Tahoe...about three times the size, lots of room... and, off with the wetsuit...one thing about my new wetsuit, it comes off quickly! Opening my transition bag, I take out my bike shoes.  Off with my goggles and swim cap, on with my headband and sunglasses.  Sunscreen on my legs, arms and face.  Arm warmers on, which is always more difficult that I plan for...my Castelli arm warmers are great, but they’re a tight fit...I struggle a little with them.  Shoes on.  Now, put the plastic bags under my tri top...makeshift windbreaker that our bike mechanic, Blair, suggested to me yesterday!  I decided during the run that it was warm enough that I didn’t need to put gloves on.  My Gabba top is still in the bag...no, don’t need it... That’s it!  Time to get out of transition...I had taken a little extra time putting sunscreen on, so my transition was probably a couple of minutes longer than the 8 minutes I’d planned for.  I came out of the tent, my bike is to my right, there’s an opening between a couple of bikes in the rack, so I pop underneath, as one of the volunteers had suggested the day before, and get to my bike.  Take the visor out of my helmet, put it on my aero bar, take the helmet off the bike, put it on, buckle it, visor on...take my bike off the rack and off to the exit.  My transition time is 9:53.  Not too bad for this course.  After the bike exit I reach the point where I can mount my bike...get on, clip in, and here I go!

My mantra today is to stay relaxed.  Already I start thinking about keeping my neck and arms relaxed, and just find a nice cadence and spin on the bike...there’s a bit of wind about, but going out it’s a tailwind.  I settle in and start thinking about being in the moment and enjoying the day.  I’m flying.  I get to the first hill out of Taupo and quickly get into my lowest gear (39/32) and easily spin up it to conserve energy.  I’m already using the advice I was given the day before my Marcus and Muirie’s friend, who is a race marshall, to stay about one meter inside the white line, using the track that the car tires run over to get smoother rode on the chip seal that makes this race so iconic.

Once on the road out to Reporoa I discover the challenge of the new 10 meter drafting rule.  Historically, one must stay 7 meters behind the bike in front of you.  The new rule is 10 meters. Hah!  I sometimes felt that I was the only one doing this.  I would be passed by a group of riders, some even riding two abreast, and watch them move up the road, definitely not separating.  Of course, in the early part of the race, it’s crowded. While my plan was to conserve energy during the first leg of the bike, I realize that if I continue to focus on not drafting, I might be going backwards based on the dynamics that have started to pan out.  So, I look for my best opportunities to move into and through these packs, and do so, all the while never allowing my quads to burn or my breathing to go up too much.  I’m passed by a bunch of people initially going up the hill, and in fact, up most hills, as they’re ignoring their wattage and I’m not.  Of course, on the downhills and flats, I pass them back.  I feel like after initially being passed by a bunch of people, I spend the rest of the day passing them back .  I really have to pay attention to the drafting situation, but I do so.  

The ride is quite beautiful, through the New Zealand countryside, with the occasional smell of cow pastures, which isn’t bad, since I grew up near similar pastures.  The smell is familiar to me.  The kilometers and passing quickly, 10, 20, 30, 40, and I’m already at the turnaround of the first loop.  I feel like I’m having a solid bike ride.  I’m also truly in the moment today, time in some ways is standing still, so no matter what, it doesn’t seem like it’s taking a long time.  I work my way back to Taupo against a headwind and keep wondering, where’s the climb before we get back to town?  Finally, I reach it and it really slows me down.  I’m climbing against a tailwind.  Some people are again passing me, but it’s not too bad, and I’m actually continuing to pass others.  This part did seem to go on for awhile, far longer than I’d expected, and it’s probably the main area of the bike where I lost most of my time.  My legs feel good, although I have an occasional twinge in my hamstrings.  Finally, we’re descending back into Taupo, and as we get into town, going through a fenced in section of the course, I’m behind a woman, but choose not to pass her.  What did I get for this act of chivalry?  She sits up on her bike and pees!  Fortunately, I slow down and avoid the stream of urine that is coming my way. 

I make my way through town and back up the hill out of Taupo, again, getting into my lowest gear and spinning up the hill.  The second trip out is quite uneventful, save the occasional challenge of passing the packs of people who are ignoring the drafting rules.  There were a lot of people filling up the penalty tents, however, so the draft marshals were hard at work today.  I can safely say the with one technical exception, I didn’t draft today.  There was one time that I worked my way through about 8 of 10 people in a tight group, felt a little tired and tried to settle in behind the final two.  I was closer than 10 meters, and I didn’t take too before passing them.  At first I tried to slow a little to extend the distance, but this is technical illegal, once you get in someones draft zone, you have to pass them.  Still, not bad for 112 miles.  

A comment about the chip seal.  There was a part of the course where they just put in new chip seal.  It was bumpy!  Still, my Specialized Shiv ate up the bumps and wasn’t all that uncomfortable.  Also, there was a moment on the second loop where a van came by me at a high rate of speed and probably came within a foot of me, or at least so it seemed.

Nutrition.  Ironman is about nutrition, and I tried something new today.  I used a product called Tailwind.  I had 800 cal in a bottle between my aero bars and kept putting that in the bladder in my bike.  I also had three red potatoes at the start of the bike.  I ate them intermittently.  I always have trouble with cramping, and today was no exception, except for the fact that it was more manageable than ever.  It didn’t slow me down and it wasn’t debilitating.  The feeling kept coming and going.  When I got to my special needs bag around mile 56, I took out my second bottle of nutrition and a fourth red potatoe, put them on my bike and jumped into the port-a-potty, where I spent about 5 minutes clearing out my colon and bladder (which was quite full by the way...I just can’t pee on my bike).  I also took the opportunity, while in the port-a-potty, to reapply sunscreen!  
Back on the course, I passed most of the people who passed me while I was in the port-a-potty.  Again, the time passed quickly and I really felt like I was in for a fast bike split. However, I could feel the winds changing and the tailwind on the way out seemed to be more of a crosswind.  The headwinds on the return trip were definitely greater and I began noticing some fatigue in my quads.  Still, I never felt tired or fatigued today.  I really felt like I was maintaining my wattage, although I might have taken it down a notch once I reached the climb at mile 100...which again, felt like it went on for awhile.  I didn’t want to stand at this point because when I did my quads were talking to me.  Again, I was passed by some riders on the hill, but seemed to catch them again on the way into town.  Riding back into Taupo, I was feeling pretty good, although I knew by now that my quads were not feeling good.  I can’t say that they were cramping or anything, but I had definitely used them on the bike.  I only used about 400 calories of my Tailwind nutrition on the ride back into town, as I was probably modulating my GI issues, and I did finish my red potato.  So, My caloric intake for the bike was about 1200 cal or Tailwind and about 600 calories with my potato, for about 300 cal/hour.  This seemed to work. 

My bike split was 6:17:31, for 21st in my age group and 670th overall.  This was my fastest ironman bike split, better than the 2011 Ironman St. George.  While this course had only about 3000 feet of climbing, the headwinds definitely made it tougher than it could have been.  Also, I kept my focus on the bike the entire time..and the time actually went by fast.  So fast, that I was surprised to see the time when I arrived at the bike return.  Oh well, everyone had to deal with conditions today.

I arrived in transition and got my bag and made my way into the tent.  While a volunteer dumped my stuff out of the bag, I went to the urinal that was set up in the corner of transition, nice touch!  I probably spent about 3 minutes there as I peed (clear, by the way, so I clearly had adequately hydrated during the bike).  Put vaseline on both feet, pulled up my new compression socks, the left one ripping at the top, not a problem.  Put on my shoes, my hat, my race belt and my fuel belt, and out of transition onto the run.   

Ah, the run!  The challenge of ironman.  It was my goal to run under 4 hours today.  That said, my main goal was to run the whole time (with the exception of walking breaks at the support stations).  I also was planning to maintain a breathing regimen of breathing every 4 steps for the first two loops, and then pick it up the last loop.  Let me start by saying that despite my overall run time, I did keep this plan!  

The first thing I noticed as I went out on the run was that my quads were tired, but I really didn’t need them, except up hills, so on the steepest short climbs, I did walk.  I also intermittently noticed that my mid and low back might spasm...although it never did.  I actually intermittently focused on the pilates breathing I’ve been learning, and thing that this may have helped me.  I slogged away on the run, again, maintaining the mantra of staying in the moment.  From the first support station, I started drinking coke.  From the energy perspective, this was useful, from a GI perspective, I’m not quite sure.  I had a bit of cramping, but not too bad.  I did have some potato chips at one station and some pretzels at another.  The run course was beautiful, along the lake, but on the way out was into a headwind, which may have had a impact on my pace.  The ups and downs through the neighborhoods at the end of the loop were also not meant for fast times.  Around mile 6, I stopped for a short port-a-potty break, and just ended up peeing...at least I was still hydrated. Oh, yes, more sun screen! I made my way back through the first loop and out to the second...staying in the moment yet again.  If you start thinking about the time, you  shouldn’t do ironman!  I reached the half way point with an average pace of 6:10/km, right about 10 minute mile pace, although I didn’t realize it.  I was maintaining my breathing and running as fast as I felt comfortable.  I’m sure my stride was somewhat affected by my quads and the undulations of the course.  Still, I was happily consistent.  On the way back I stopped at the same port-a-potty.

Before I knew it, I was on my third lap.  I did walk a little bit more up the hills on the first part of this lap...I was breathing more frequently, probably had moved my breathing up to every third step...I was starting to suffer...but I was going to persevere.  I knew that I would PR today, and I wasn’t going to given in to the messages that my body was sending me...which were to walk and take it easy!  My stomach was very sensitive by now and I reduced my intake of coke, started taking in some water and diluted coke, but knew that I would be all right.  I started  running about 40-60 steps and walking 10-20 steps, this seemed to work.  I tried to match the walking with any small hills, and I realized that I was now breathing every 2nd or third step, even when I was walking up the hills.  My breathing was hard, getting the attention of those I was passing.  Did I say that was hurting?  No matter what, I knew that I was giving this race everything I had.  

The finish line was now in sight, I grabbed some water, got my headband wet and wiped the sunscreen off my face.  I wanted a good picture at the finish!  

My run time was 4:34:26, just a couple minutes slower than my best run at the 2012 Ironman St. George (after an interminably long bike, though).  

My final time as I hit the finish line was 12:17:00.  I managed to hit the number right on the button!  I was 22nd in my age group and 650th overall.  This was a personal best by a half an hour over my 2011 Ironman St. George result.  I have to say, entering the 55-59 year old age group, I have to be quite happy to have finished in the upper half of the race participants!  Of interest, I traded places throughout the race with the winner of the 65-69 year old age group. whom I did beat by about 15 minutes.  Can’t say the same about the 60-64 year olds, 10 of whom had better times than I did.  Still...not too bad!

As I crossed the finish line, I was done.  Honestly, I couldn’t have gone any further.  I was more worn out and sore at the finish of this race than I’ve been for any ironman.  In fact, I will admit to asking myself, “why do I do this”, as I picked up my drop bag and got my finisher’s shirt.  I’m sure that question will fade from my head pretty quickly, and it needs to, as I’m signed up for Ironman Boulder in August!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

To Achieve a Good Time, or to Have a Good Time?


Wow! Do I know how to pick an Ironman!  First, my previous Ironman’s were in St. George, Utah. The first two were felt to be quite difficult (the first had extremely cold water temperature and the second had an extremely hot run, in addition to a very difficult course) and the last one in 2012 has arguably been felt to be the most difficult Ironman of all time, with a DNF (Did Not Finish) rate over 30%.  When I signed up for Ironman Lake Tahoe I didn't quite realize what I was getting into. Yes, it was at a higher altitude than any ironman I had ever done. Yes, it had a lot of climbing. Finally, the possibility of inclement weather in September in Lake Tahoe was always in the background. I arrived in Lake Tahoe a week before the race in order to get acclimated to the altitude. This actually worked pretty well and my breathing was fine by race day. From the day I arrived, however, the weather report started calling for rain and cold weather the weekend of the race. I spent a fair amount of time obsessing over what I would wear on race day.  I have to say this turned out to be very useful with a couple of exceptions that I hadn’t anticipated. The day before the race there were some weather reports that were forecasting freezing temperatures on race day but when we woke up it looked like the temperature would “only” be in the low 30s. The day before the race one brings their gear bags to both transitions. It turned out we put our gear bags outside on the ground for the swim to bike transition and our run bags in a tent for the bike to run transition. While I had duct taped the top of my bike transition bag I still worried the night before the race that because it had been raining all day that it could get wet so when I arrived on race morning I checked the bag and my clothes at the top of the bag were dry. Despite all my planning and preparation I was somewhat scatterbrained on the morning of the race and ultimately forgot to do a few things like putting my red potatoes in my special-needs bag, or to calibrate my power meter on my bike, and a few other items. Because of the cold weather I decided to try to get to the race venue a little later than usual so I would not be spending as much time outside. In the end, I found myself rushing to get bodymarked, put my wetsuit on, get my bike calibrated, and put a cover over the opening to the stem on my disc wheel and get ready to get the beach in time for the start.  I arrived in the corral just a few minutes before the race was to start. In fact, I was still tightening up my wetsuit, pulling it up, getting it properly on with just a few minutes to spare when suddenly there was a tear in the crease of my right elbow about size of a quarter on my wetsuit. There was really nothing I could do about this except make sure I didn't make the tear bigger and monitor it during the swim. Fortunately, the water conditions were “good”. Because there was little wind there were no waves and the water temperature was about 63° out in the middle of the lake but probably in the 50’s in the shallow part as we waded in about 100 yards to the area of the lake where we would actually be able to start swimming. This wasn't too much of a problem at the beginning of the swim, but subsequently when getting out of the water would lead to increased issues as we exited in cold water, then walked up freaking cold sand and concrete to the changing tent. 

This race used a rolling start where the athletes seed themselves based on their expected time. I had previously swam about an hour and 10 minutes, with the exception of the 2012 St. George swim, but my swim has recently improved and I thought I could go a little faster so I seeded myself in the group that expected to go between one hour and an hour and 10 minutes. Let me start by saying this swim probably ended up being about four or five minutes slower than most swims, based on the times of the professional triathetes. Part of this may have been due to the cold temperatures but more likely was having to wade out approximately 100 yards before being able to swim both going in and coming out of the water. The first group started at 6:40 AM and I slowly walked to the starting line and then made my way fairly quickly into the water. I splashed cold water on my face which I knew with the cold temperatures would be important so as not to shock my system. I did my best to high step out as far as I could into the water and then when the water got above my knees to start swimming. I did keep a pretty good pace with the people around me and didn't feel like I was falling back or anything. I immediately headed towards the first swim buoy and I will say for this race I did a pretty good job of staying straight although I might've drifted a couple times. I realized that I was best to stay on the inside towards the buoys and because I breath to my right I can watch to make sure that I'm keeping the majority of the swimmers just to my right. The water was definitely cold right in the shallow parts of the lake but as we got going it was relatively comfortable. Obviously the first thing I paid attention to was the hole in the crease of my right elbow of my wetsuit. A couple of times I could feel water entering the wetsuit at the point of the tear, but quickly realized that really only occurred when I didn’t keep my elbow up during my swim stroke. Ironically, high elbows are a really important part of good swim form so I spent the rest of the swim focused on keeping my elbows high and really only felt water coming in a few times. I even thought to myself laughingly that perhaps I shouldn't repair this hole because it might be a good reminder to keep my form during a swim. I also thought about what this was portending for the rest of the day.  2013 had already had it’s share of challenges for me and my family.  Since I started with a group of people who should be swimming around my pace, it really wasn't difficult to swim along with the group and to find people to draft off. I got into a good rhythm and just got into my head that I was trying to swim comfortably, not too hard, and enjoy swimming in Lake Tahoe. Occasionally it got crowded and people pushed into me and I would push them away, especially around the turn buoy where I literally grabbed hold of some people to make my way around the buoy. About two thirds of the way through the first lap a woman punched me in the face. I don't think it was on purpose but who knows? It was the first time I've ever been hit by a woman while swimming in a triathlon. We made our way around the first loop and after I turned to start the second loop I looked at my watch and realized the first loop had taken me about 35 minutes, so I was pretty much on track with my swim. The second loop was fairly uneventful, in fact it cleared up a little bit for a while and I even went a short period of time without being able to draft off anyone. Then, I  found some people that were going about my pace and got behind them and tried to maintain a good comfortable effort and pace. When drafting I will at times touch the foot of the person in front of me and I had a number of swimmers that started kicking really hard to push me away. I don't do this, in fact when someone is drafting off me, I think it's okay for them to touch my feet and I wish other people would feel the same, but what the heck. As I came to the end of the swim I was feeling pretty good as I walked out of the water and started taking off my wetsuit I could feel the cold sand, as we were walking and literally as we made our way to grab our transition bag I began losing sensation in my feet. In fact by the time I grabbed my transition bag and moved over to the wetsuit strippers I literally couldn't feel my feet. They literally felt like two blocks of ice. On a sidenote I'm sure the people who swam for a longer period of time, or those who used short-sleeved wetsuits, were destined to get hypothermic during the swim and absolutely it didn't take long with 34° temperatures after leaving the water to have your body temperature go down pretty quickly.

Entering the changing tent was an experience to say the least. I saw one description on Facebook that describe the situation in the changing tent as a cluster fuck. The bottom line is despite the fact that my swim was in the top 25th percentile of all the athletes (one hour and eleven minutes) the changing tent was already completely packed with athletes. It was a completely disorganized mob scene with people roaming around trying to find a place to change, some were changing at chairs, others just changing right there in the middle of the tent and literally you could actually have trouble finding an empty space of any sort.  Furthermore, it was dark and you could hardly see.  I made my way to the far end of the tent and found a seat that was empty and put my gear bag on it and opened it up. I opened it up and started getting into my race gear. I realized that the first thing I needed to do was get dry and clean my feet so I moved my bag to the front of the seat, sat down, grabbed a towel and started drying myself off. I stood up and put on my racing pants and then my racing top, which I needed a little help from the volunteer to put on, and then put on my arm warmers which also needed some help. They'd been much easier to put on when I was practicing in my hotel room where it was nice and warm and dry but in the cold and damp conditions it was a bit tougher to put on the arm warmers. I then put on my new Jabba winter cycling jersey and then put on a second set of arm warmers. Finally I put on a lightweight short sleeve windbreaker and sat down in my chair and I went to take care of putting on my bike shoes. Once again, I went to dry my feet off and then went to take the socks out of my bike shoes and to my dismay found that my socks were wet! Lesson number one for the future if there's any chance of inclement weather, put your socks in a Ziploc bag so this does not happen. I did have shoe covers on my bike shoes and so I had to make a quick decision whether or not to put on wet socks in freezing cold temperatures or to go without socks. I thought briefly about this and made a quick decision to go sockless and deal with the consequences. I at least figured the shoe covers would protect my feet from the wind and sooner or later my feet would warm up. On the course they didn’t warm up till about halfway through the bike. I finished putting both my shoes on and zipping up the shoe covers. Of note probably because of the way I put the shoe covers on they were never fully zipped, and during the whole ride I intermittently would have to reach down and rezip them up or they were just sort of partially open and dangling, not the most aerodynamic set up. Next I went to get my gloves and again to my dismay my gloves were soaked. This was a really tough decision.  Do I put on wet gloves, which first of all would've been hard to put on and then go out and have my gloves freeze to my hands or do I go without gloves? Once again I made a quick decision to go without gloves. I knew my hands would hurt but sooner or later they would probably warm-up. This is an interesting calculation because we didn't really know what the high temperature for the day would be and in fact I'm not sure it ever got out of the mid 50’s and there was more cloud cover then I would've expected based on the weather report. Yes, I almost forgot to mention that while sitting on my chair someone stepped on my toes. Of course I couldn't feel it because my toes were numb.  Finally, I got up and I made my way ever so slowly out of the changing tent, through the mass of dazed athletes, and walk/ran in my bike shoes all the way around the bike transition to the far end where my bike was. I really did not like the layout of this bike transition.  The way it was set up made for an interminably long transition.  First, the changing tents were difficult to navigate and secondly you had to run all the way around all the bikes to get your bike and then run back through the entire bike set up to get out of the transition. I would much prefer the St. George set up where we literally came out of the swim into the changing tent and out of the changing tent straight through all the bikes and even had volunteers helping us grab our bikes and getting them to us as we ran out of the of the bike transition to start on the bike course. So in the end my transition from the swim to the bike took 18 minutes. I'm not sure that this was that much longer than a lot of people’s transition time and certainly shorter then some. For those who were slower swimmers this certainly would've presented a problem in making the swim time cut off.     

 I mounted my bike and made a sweeping right turn coming out of the transition, and there was Rudy holding a pair of gloves but I just saw him at the last second and couldn't really stop. In retrospect I should have. I made my way down the main road in Lake Tahoe and quickly got up to speed going around 20 miles an hour.  My legs felt good and my power readings were about where they should be and my fingers were cold. I blew on them every 30 seconds or so which probably wasn't the most aerodynamic thing to do. I started taking sips of my electrolyte drink and there was a short little turn off and a little hill that they had put on the course that we went up three times throughout the course of the day. It seemed like on this course despite the fact that there were two major climbs that they decided to put in a bunch of other short little climbs just to make things all the more difficult. Next was Dollar Hill which was basically about a 7/10 of a mile climb which the first time up it really wasn't too bad. I took my time and hoped that I would be warming up but I looked up the sky and it was cloudy. Originally I thought that there'd be sun out on the course and despite the mid 30s it could warm things up but nope that was not to be the case. Typical to my way of thinking I realized that I didn't have gloves and I wasn't going to have gloves and my fingers were going to be cold so I better figure out how to deal with. Ironically, my fingers began to hurt so I never really paid too much attention to the fact that my toes were frozen as well. I had the red potatoes in a little bag on top of my top tube and it was “fun” picking those up with frozen fingers but I did manage to get my nutrition for the day. This is actually very important as it all three previous Ironman St. George’s I had stomach problems on the bike with cramping that generally continued throughout my run. I have recently been playing with the red potatoes with a little olive oil and salt on them and this seems to both provide good nutrition as well as keep my stomach under control. I also had some gels that were made primarily of honey which I can tolerate but they were in my Gabba jersey which was covered by my windbreaker which is why every time I reached to get the gels out of my jersey I couldn't. It's kind of funny what you think and don't think about during the race because it took me about halfway through the race to realize that my windbreaker was covering the back of my jersey! So instead of those gels I just grabbed a couple gels from the aid station as I went by. In the week leading up to the race I had ridden on this road a couple times and there generally was a tailwind. Today there was a headwind. Nevertheless I kept a fairly good pace on this part of the route, although it would've probably been a little easier to go a little harder if I wasn't in pain from my fingers. As I rode, I recalled that the one special needs bag station was right off theisroad and I began hoping that it was within sight of the bike course and I thought maybe I can go get my gloves which I thought I had put in the special-needs bag. Interestingly my gloves were in my run transition bag so that wouldn't have mattered and fortunately the special-needs stop was not within sight of the bike course. As I worked my way into the town of Truckee I knew that Rudy had planned to be there seeing me as I made my turn from Truckee at the 25 mile mark. I began to hope that perhaps Rudy would've thought to bring my gloves to that spot and fortunately he did. While one is not supposed to receive assistance from anyone outside the course, I figured that it was more important for my health and well-being that I get gloves on. I pulled over and couldn't even put the gloves on myself. Rudy put them on my hands and I took off once again. Shortly after I started shivering and realized that I had been on the verge of hypothermia. I hoped and was correct that after a while my hands warmed up with gloves which by the way weren't the most aerodynamic gloves, but they certainly were warm. Shortly after the town of Truckee we had a turn off to yet another climb and a bikepath where there was a brief respite because of a no passing zone. I always like these because it was a short break and less pressure not worrying that someone is going to pass you during this time and so there's no pressure to speed up or go faster. Coming out of the short climb we turned onto the road and made our way again after a series of other short climbs and then down towards Martis Camp. Apparently, the people who live in this area didn't want cyclists riding through it preparing for the race, so there was no way of checking out this part of the course prior to race day. Now that I've rode through it I have no idea what they were concerned about because we really weren’t riding through neighborhoods or near houses or anything like that. 

 The more problematic aspect of the climb through Martis camp was the fact that you have short relatively steep climbs and then descents, but at the bottom of the descent would be sharp right turns leading to the next climb so you couldn't carry the speed into them. I had originally thought that climbing Martis Camp was just a basic 3 mile climb but it turned out to be a series of smaller climbs after smaller climbs. Finally, coming down from the top of Martis Camp we had a relatively technical descent that didn't allow us to really get our speed going too much. As we finished that, we then had the major climb up to the top of Brockway Summit. That was an approximately 3 mile climb that got steeper as you reached the final part of the climb, probably close to 10%. Turns out the pros were going about 8 to 9 mph on this climb and my speed up the climb was about five and half miles per hour the first time. We'll talk about the second time later on. As I climbed I was passed by a ton of people. I still think the most likely reason is that people tend to put out more power going up climbs and I choose to maintain my power but also on the flats keep my power at the same level whereas others probably don't do that. Considering that I typically tend to catch the people who passed me on the climbs I don't have any plan in the future to change that strategy. Coming down the other side of Brockway was a very fast screaming descent, where I hit 43 miles an hour while generally staying out of my aero bars but occasionally went into them for a brief period of time. As we came to the bottom I finished the first loop of the bike course. I have to acknowledge that I never looked at my watch to see how long it was taking and interestingly it didn't seem like it'd taken that long. This is probably a testament to my continued attempts and approach to stay in the moment and enjoy the race. I think that on my way again through Tahoe city and back onto the second loop of the bike course I was actually feeling fairly good.

Part of the way into the second loop I was passed by a woman named Betsy that I had met a couple night’s before. She’s an excellent cyclist and I had actually expected her to catch me earlier than this so that felt pretty good. I then passed Betsy and was staying behind another cyclist by the requisite 7 m so that I was not subject to any drafting penalty. I was very careful having received a drafting penalty in one of my last races, not to put myself in that position again during this race. After drafting legally for a period of time I passed him and then realized it was my friend Toby who then passed me back.  We continued this for a while until we got to Truckee and Toby pushed ahead which didn't surprise me. I had been surprised to see Toby at this point of the race figuring that he always swims faster and bikes faster than me. It turns out that despite a fairly solid swim he ended up spending 35 minutes in the first transition, needing the warming tent to get warmed up because he probably was hypothermic. I think it's important to make a comment about hypothermia. I remember from the 2010 St. George race that many people got hypothermic during the swim. The amount of energy and calories burned that hypothermia takes on the body is certainly a huge factor in a race as long as ironman. I know that it affected Toby's race and in retrospect I'm sure that if I had been able to keep warm coming out of the swim onto the bike by keeping my hands and feet warm I certainly couldn't have save a little more energy to expend during the Bike or to preserve for the run. The other notable factory is that if you're burning more calories it's not so simple to take in more calories during the race because there's only so much that your body can handle at any time. I think in the future that Ironman Lake Tahoe is going to have to give a lot of consideration to this because a 30° temperature situation for an Ironman has a profound effect. I can only wonder what would've happened if this race was held a day earlier when it was cold and raining. I think they would've had to call off the race under those circumstances. 
During my training I had been holding and trying to maintain about 170 watts of power during my bike rides and during this race my wattage was closer to 160 W. I think between the cold weather and the altitude that this probably was not too bad. As I headed to Martis Camp the second time it wasn't much more difficult but I was noticing the hills a little more and began wondering how the Brockway climb would feel. Of note, I had noticed some cramping in my left quad a few times earlier in the race when I pushed a little harder on my pedals but I'd been careful and this did not return. As I headed up the Brockway climb the second time, it was a bit of a grind and about two thirds of the way up I stood up on my pdtals for a brief moment and my left quad just seized up. I immediately thought about what I needed to do and realized that if I continued to try to push up the climb I would risk some greater problem with that quad that might affect the rest of my ride and even more during the run. I did a quick calculation and figured that I was about a mile from the summit.  I got off my bike and walked the mile. I figured that by doing so I would probably lose about 10 minutes and in fact that's exactly what I lost timewise. As I got to the top of the climb I stopped and got some energy drink and as I was pouring energy drink I finally was able to pee.  Granted, right there standing next to my bike, in  bike shorts and down my leg. But, I was able to get some water to rinse off my leg. I for one have always had trouble being able to pee while riding my bike. This is a skill that perhaps I need to practice. Somehow, I'm not sure if I really can learn this skill as it may be more of a physiological issue. 

It was nice getting on the bike going down the Brockway descent again, giving my legs a chance to recover and rest before the final turn to go towards the finish which would be about 22 miles. The weather forecast had been correct and the headwinds on the way back had started to pick up making the ride to the finish a little more challenging. I kept my effort reasonably solid but again didn't want to push too hard in order not to exacerbate any issues with my legs. I finally rolled into the transition and got off my bike.  My bike time was approximately seven hours and 15 minutes which placed me about 800 overall off the bike. Since over 2200 people started the race, that wasn’t too bad. This had been one tough bike course, and only two of the male professionals rode the bike course in under five hours and the average time for the female professionals was over six hours. I got my bag from the transition, sat down and methodically went through changing into my bike shoes, putting some salve on both of my quads and getting prepared for the run. 

It was time to decide what was going to happen next.  It's kind of funny because later on as I was talking to another couple of athletes one said he did ironman for the healthy lifestyle and the other said he did it for the challenge.  I realized that I do Ironman for both the lifestyle and the challenge which meant if there wasn't a specific challenge (from a time perspective) to be had then this was an opportunity to enjoy the rest of the day.

This was really a key moment in the race. I could have been disappointed in the day and my time and been negative but instead I chose to look at why I do ironman and what feeling I wanted to have the rest of the day. If I do Ironman for the lifestyle and for the camaraderie and for the experience then I needed to approach the rest of the day for all those reasons. If I couldn’t achieve a good time, then I could have a good time!  And so with that decision I began the rest of my race. I walked when I could and I ran when I felt like it and I talked to people as much as possible. I met Lou, a very nice gentleman in my age group who as it turns out in 2011 finished Ironman St. George within one minute of my time. We talked about our families, we talked about triathlon and it turned out that he trains with a team not that far from where I live. I ran into Liz Barlow or rather she ran into me. She turned and said, are you Mike Wasserman? I said yes, it turns out that I know her father, we used to go to the same health club in Denver and I had run into him a few days earlier and to some friends of theirs a couple days later. It's kind of funny how things like that happen in the midst of the day like ironman. As the evening went on I ended up walking and running with Ross and Denny and as we got a couple miles from the end I ran ahead to use the port a potty but realized I still had some running legs under me. I had wanted to run on the way to the finish and make sure that I ran through the village to the finish line. 

On a positive athletic note, when I did run my form was good, but there was just only so much running that I could do. Furthermore, I might've been able to run a little bit more and shave off a few minutes from my nearly 14 1/2 hour journey but I wouldn't trade that for the people I met and for the experience I had. One of my favorite television mini-series is Band of Brothers and that's what we all were on this day. We were all in this together.  The experience itself was what made the day so epic and in the end I wouldn’t have done it any other way, except for having dry gloves and socks on the bike.

In the spirit of being challenged I have Ironman New Zealand and Ironman Boulder next year and I look forward to seeing what I can do on flatter courses with one at low altitude and the other, Boulder, at high altitude. As many have commented on Facebook, beware of any race that I choose to sign up for.  My daughter suggested that Ironman New Zealand might be accompanied by an erupting volcano with hot lava running through the course!  Who knows what will happen in Boulder?

With that said, however, every Ironman stands on its own. The experiences one has doing an ironman will also stand on their own. I know that many of the 25% that did not finish yesterday are disappointed, but it really isn't about finishing. It is about the journey to get there and the work we put in that really matters. To this day one of my proudest accomplishment is my only DNF, which occurred in the 2009 Long course world championships in Perth, Australia. I had a bike crash shortly after starting the bike ride and managed to ride my bike 48 miles and walk 3 miles before going to the hospital with a fractured collarbone and hip socket. Instead of being disappointed I was proud that I pushed on as far as I could, although my wife thought I was insane!

My run/walk turned out to be my slowest ironman marathon ever, at 5 hours and 30 minutes.  I finished 71st in my age group, out of 159 that started the race.  Thirty five of them didn't finish.  I finished 936th overall, out of over 2200 who started the race.  Over 25 percent of them didn't finish.

As I ran through Squaw Village and the people lined up against the barriers were cheering me on, I made sure to high-five with any kids, smile, and to raise my arms in celebration. I managed to do the highest jump I could imagine doing as I crossed the finish.  I was an Ironman again.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Equanimity

It's cold, windy and raining today here in Lake Tahoe.  Fortunately the race is tomorrow.  The weather report this week has been pretty consistent, so I'm counting on there not being a repeat of St. George, where the weather changed drastically at the last minute.  That said, I'm pretty much ready for anything tomorrow anyway and that's what Ironman is really all about.  If I've experienced something in the last few years on a regular basis it's the fact that life throws curve balls at you on an almost daily basis.  Maybe I need to learn something from my ironman training and figure out how to better prepare myself to react to life's curveballs?  It's a problem I've seemed to have for a number of years.  It probably started due to my work-a-holic tendencies.  I'd be working day and night and not getting my brain prepared for the other issues in life.  Heck, my wife took care of all of them!  Maybe meditation is a good idea.  In some ways, that's what my training is.  It's my way of reaching a state of equanimity. 

Tomorrow will be all about equanimity.  The water will be quite cold for the first hundred yards, but then it warms up to a reasonable level.  So, wading into the cold water, I'll be reminding myself that it will warm up.  Once I start swimming I'll be dealing with other swimmers, there's always the possibility of getting hit or swum over...stay calm, relax and just keep swimming.  One of my strengths is that I do my best swimming when I'm relaxed and just maintaining good form, there's no point for me to try to swim hard.  Getting out of the water will find cold temperatures.  Fortunately, there's no rain in the forecast...but you know what, if it rains, I'll have to deal with it.  I am prepared to get dry and warm before starting the bike.  A hundred and twelve miles on a bike, for over six hours, is definitely a long slog to most.  To me, it's why I do Ironman.  I'm planning to enjoy the whole bike ride.  If anything happens like it did at St. George, I'll deal with it and move on.  Finally, the run will be my last chance for the day to deal with unexpected situations.  The only real unexpected things that happen during a run are physical.  The only way to deal with those issues is through one's mind.  Hey, in 2009, I rode my bike 48 miles and walked 3 miles with a broken collarbone and fractured hip socket.  What can't I do?

A year and a half ago, my coach told me to "stay in the moment" throughout the day.  For the rest of my life, I'll remember that moment in the water when I was surrounded by 5 foot swells, had swallowed water, and had a calf cramp.  I got into the moment, found that feeling of equanimity, and just started moving forward.  That's a moment I can always go back to during a race and during life.  I just need to remember to do so, tomorrow, and forever after.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Smile:)

I never got to blog yesterday because I have having such a good day with my friend Rudy.  Two more days before Ironman Lake Tahoe and Rudy noticed today how relaxed I am.  It helps to have done this three time before.  It helps to have been preparing for the last year.  It helps to have a friend along to absorb some of my neurotic tendencies.  I spoke to my coach today, and he reminded me to just enjoy the day on Sunday.  Ironically, I'd already figured that out.  Yesterday, I met someone on the elevator who said, "I can't wait to get off the bike and start the run".  This really struck me.  Why do an ironman if all you want to do is get off the bike and get on the run?  Granted, there may be moments during the bike ride, especially after around 80 miles, where this type of thought may cross ones mind.  But, certainly, I don't think this is something to be thinking about before the race even starts.  Well, to each their own.  Everyone has their own reason for doing an ironman.  It's just that comments like this that make me very comfortable with my reasons.

I'm looking forward to Sunday.  I'm looking forward to enjoying every second of the day.  I can't wait to cross the timing mat and going into the water (the starting cannon won't have the same meaning in this race as everyone won't be starting at the same time).  I can't wait to just enjoy the beautiful clear waters of Lake Tahoe for 2.4 miles.  I always find the transitions to be challenging and exciting in their own way...it's part of the sport and something I plan (obsessively and excessively some would rightfully say) for.  I can't wait to ride my bike through the Lake Tahoe area.  The scenery is gorgeous.  I've taken great pains to make sure that I don't get too cold on the bike...that wouldn't be fun!  I will remember to smile throughout the day.  If I have tough moments, smiling can change negative body language.  There will be fast descents, there will be beautiful climbs.  I will enjoy handing my bike off to a volunteer at the second transition.  Getting off the bike after 112 miles is always a unique experience.  I will be loving the feeling of changing into my running shoes.  Finally, I get to run through some more beautiful country.  I will keep smiling.  I will keep reminding myself of my passion for triathlon and for life.  I will remember that I've really tried to live my life, as Chrissie Wellington put it so well, "without limits".  I will feel no limits on Sunday and I will keep smiling, even as I get to the last 10 miles of the run.  My body might try to rebel, but my mind will smile:)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Arrogance of Power and The Power of Arrogance

About fifteen years ago, when I was President of GeriMed of America, a Geriatric Medical Management Company, we were having discussions with Oxford Health about working together.  We believed in a model of care that fully embraced Geriatric Medical principles and Care Coordination.  We had data to suggest that it was cost-effective.  Quality data was harder to put one's finger on at that point in time (and still is to a large degree for many complex reasons).  Oxford Health was boasting about their extensive use of Disease Management programs.  They had programs for congestive heart failure, diabetes, heart disease, etc.  Each of these programs had demonstrated cost savings in the millions of dollars.  Oxford Health was the darling of Wall Street.  I was skeptical.  How could multiple disease management programs work in the elderly population.  Many of our patients had all of these diseases.  They couldn't be on all of the programs.  What they needed was a comprehensive approach to care that was based on Geriatric Medical principles and Care Coordination.  But, Oxford Health was a big company and they were the darlings of Wall Street.  They must have been correct?  They believed they were.  Shortly thereafter, Oxford Health reported huge losses and their stock dropped precipitously.

About a year later, we were in discussions with Humana about developing a Geriatric Management program.  We went to Louisville, Kentucky, to meet at Humana's corporate headquarters.  Humana was also proud of their Disease Management programs.  Part way through the meeting, I told them what I thought of Disease Management programs in the elderly.  I thought they looked and sounded good, but that they didn't work.  What they needed was a Geriatric Management program.  The Vice-President we were meeting with suddenly stood up and left the room.  Business opportunity lost.  My VP of  Business Development was quite upset with me. 

I've been watching The West Wing this week as I rest in preparation for Ironman Lake Tahoe.  It's interesting how I don't remember seeing President Bartlett as a supremely arrogant individual whose arrogance clouded his ability to make the right decisions.  I suppose that it helps to be arrogant if you want to become President, but that arrogance has two sides to it.  I used to have an interest in politics.  I still want to improve our health care system in order to effectively and appropriately care for the rapidly growing population of seniors in our country.  Since Medicare is a Federally legislated program, change must wind itself through the political process.  I've gone to congressmen and senators full of information and some degree of arrogance myself.  I've gone to them passively and offered to share knowledge and help them to come to solutions.  Arrogance sometimes requires arrogance in order to communicate.  Other times, it's like a head on collision.  Passivity rarely works, unless you can find a way to couch your message in a way that others can't avoid thinking about it. 

I've had plenty of times in my life when I've been full of myself.  Honestly, at least I can usually back it up with facts and experience.  Still, if I come across as too arrogant, it will turn people off.  On the other hand, not touting accomplishments that support my message will not get me anywhere either.  Our government is chock full of arrogant people, similar to those on The West Wing.  In that regard, the show had it right.  I understand that every day they encounter people who come in and tell them that they have all the answers.  Yet, our government representatives have chosen that life and chosen public service.  Public service should not be about bolstering one's arrogance.  Public service must be about listening to all sides, trying to find consensus, and keeping an open mind. 

I'm not sure what my next step in life is.  I'm a Geriatrician who was successful enough co-founding and building a primary care practice that cared solely for Medicare beneficiaries that I was able to retire at the age of 53.  A practice that no one thought possible in a health care system that is clearly broken.  I've run health care businesses that have been profitable and cost-effective while serving the very population that is costing our government so much money.  I met with Senator Wayne Allard on a few occasions.  It took me 2 1/2 years to meet with Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.  Finally, when I met with him he told me how he welcomed my ideas and input.  I sent him my ideas.  Never heard back.  Business executives know about the concept of benchmarking.  If you find a successful program, don't try to reinvent it.  Learn from it.  On the other hand, executive in large companies are often trying to protect their own turf.  It's their job that matters, not necessarily results.  Unfortunately, in the health care world, so long as there are profits, no one seems to care about the cost to society or the quality of the care.

What's the message here?  Large health insurance companies believe their own hype and people want to maintain their jobs and power base that they will not welcome solutions from the outside.  Our government seems to run the same way.  Republican, Democrat, it doesn't matter.  I've shared my thoughts with congressmen, senators, and their staffs.  I was part of a company that built the largest primary care geriatric medical practice in the country.  We were successful.  I think that if I am to ever make any headway, I must keep sharing my successes, even if some find it arrogant.  I am always open to a vigorous discussion and debate.  I learn every day that I don't know everything.  There is always something to learn.  On the other hand, does anyone believe that the present health care system is working effectively?