Thursday, October 9, 2014
Wow! What a year. I started in March with Ironman New Zealand. This would be my first year doing multiple ironman competitions, and I didn't know how my 55 year old body would hold up. I guess I got my answer yesterday. After placing 22nd in my age group at New Zealand, 15th at Boulder, at IMCHOO I managed an 11th, but more importantly, was only 9 minutes out of 6th, and only 45 minutes away from a Kona slot.
The week was a whirlwind, driving home from Lake Tahoe after the cancellation from the fire, getting into Chattanooga, and flying out a day later. I had prepared assiduously for Tahoe, and realized that would not be possible. So I decided to relax and just enjoy myself. I went with the simple race strategy that my coach, Frank Castle Lucho, always give me. "it should feel easy until it feels hard." And, it did!
My friend Tj and I got to transition early and caught an early bus to the swim start. We were seeded in the first couple hundred people. The seeding had nothing to do with predicted swim time. In fact, the slower swimmers were probably at the front out of fear of a 16+ hour time cut-off (it's usually 17 hours). So, we just hung out and rested. We were told that the race would not be wetsuit legal. This was fine with me, as a wetsuit doesn't help me as much as others due to the fact that I have very good swim form to begin with. I got in two bathroom breaks and before we knew it we were lining up.
We made our way to the dock, crossed the timing mat and jumped in the water. I immediately headed towards the middle of the river, as TJ had suggested the current was faster there. I swam mostly by myself for about 300-400 meters, and then a guy (#1782), swam past me on my left. I thought to myself, this is it, and got on his feet, where I stayed until we climbed out of the water 2 miles later. While others were staying closer to the buoy line, we stayed closer to the middle of the river. I had to stay focused in order to stay on his feet. I tried not to hit them too often, but did occasionally tap them. He pulled up once to sight, and I almost swam over him, but I pulled up and waited and we kept going. A couple of times sometime tried to swim between us, and i wouldn't let them. My effort was solid, and I focused on my form and keeping my strokes long. From an effort perspective, this was my best and most solid swim ever. The current certainly helped. The pros swam between 38 and 42 minutes. I swam 52:50. Wow!
When I got out of the water, unlike Ironman Boulder, my legs felt good. I even ran, albeit slowly, up the ramp to transition. Got my transition bag, sat down in the tent, put on my helmet and visor (should have forgone this, more on this later), put on my arm coolers and bike shoes and was up and off to get my bike. On the way to my bike I out on my aero gloves... Needed help from a volunteer to pull one one, but well worth it. Got my bike and was at the mount line. 6 minute transition, very solid, considering the run in and out of T1. As soon as I got on my bike, I turned on my garmin bike computer. "Low battery," what the heck! I had just charged it. Not a problem, I did IM New Zealand without electronics, and I rather enjoy not racing with data in front of me. I know my body and am comfortable racing by feel. Besides, the feel was that it should be easy...for the whole bike! The outward leg of the bike course was a gradual uphill, but I never felt it. I wonder if there was a slight tailwind, because I found afterwards that I was going over 21 mph. The humidity caused my visor to fog, so I stuffed it in my tri-top and ditched it at the first aide station. I started my nutrition early and often. I had two red potatoes, 2 Justin's almond butter packets, and 1000 cal of liquid (200 cal of UCAN and 800 cal of Tailwind). I'm pretty sure that I took in 400+ cal during the first hour. I also took several tablets of MAP, an amino acid formulation. I drank water sparingly, as the weather was nice and cool. The miles flew by, and before I knew it I was going up the longest and biggest hill just before the turnaround. I had a gel under my bike seat and it was velcro'd...I spent the entire ride up the hill, loosening it up and pulling it out. I used excess energy here, but it wasn't from my legs! I actually rode the hill super easy. The ride back towards town was downhill, but probably had a little headwind, but my pace stayed above 20mph. The mile markers kept coming quickly. I felt really good. The course was quite pretty. The only issues were packs of riders who were clearly flaunting the no drafting rules. After the race I heard some people say that it was hard not to draft on this course. Honestly, I had few problems staying four bike lengths behind people. The packs were literally riding 3-4 abreast, with wheels almost touching. I never saw an official the entire day. The worst part of the packs (I counted four of them, ranging from ten to thirty people) was that they were dangerous as they passed you. I tried go ahead of one, but that took too much energy. The funny thing, and the most telling, was the fourth pack of about 10-15 people. They would pass me, then we'd come to an aide station and I'd pass them. It would take them several miles to pass me again. Before I new it, I was nearing the end of the first loop, where there was a screaming descent. Unfortunately, a pack had passed me just before this descent and held me up from bombing the descent the first time around. I didn't let that happen the second time. My nutrition remained good, continuing at about 400 cal/hr. When I started the second loop I still felt good, but now there was a headwind as we went uphill. Still, I was managing 19+mph. I also was standing up when I could and stretching. This course called for staying aero as much as possible, and my back was noticing. Three days before the race, putting on my bike shoe, I had a horrible spasm in my right low back. It was scary horrible. I had spent three days doing all kinds of therapy on my back. Foam roller, stretching, icy hot, even one day of aleve (which I avoided the day before the race to avoid any stomach issues). My back was 95% the morning of the race, but I needed to pay attention all day to keep it that way.
Before I knew it I was climbing the hill before the turnaround and heading back, again with a slight headwind. I began to dial down my nutrition, which was about the right time, as my stomach felt a little queasy. On comment on that. I recently added activated charcoal and Gaia acid relief to my regimen. It definitely keeps my stomach settled. The miles continued to fly by, and despite no electronics, I had a feeling that I would have my first sub-6 hour ironman bike. As I hit mile 90, I realized that I had no doldrums on the bike. I never did. I bombed the descent this time and finally began the long ride back to transition. I say long because the bike course was 116 miles long, four miles longer than the standard ironman course. While I had saved 15 minutes on the swim, I'd add almost the same on the bike, plus the fact that the bike effort on the legs adds up more in relation to the run. Whatever:). I just kept feeling really good and maintained a very comfortable effort back to transition, where I got off my bike and clomped in my bike shoes to pick up my bag, sit down in the tent, take off my helmet, gloves and bike shoes, put vaseline on my feet (my successful method for preventing blisters), put on my compression socks, shoes, hat and race belt, and make my way out of transition. I had to pee, it would have been bad form to pee while on the chair, so I made my one port-a-potty stop for the whole race. Still out of transition in under 6 minutes.
I felt great! All I could think was how I was having the perfect ironman. I had a feeling I had ridden under 6 hours (5:51), so that I was near 7 hours in terms of race time. This was a place I never been before. In fact, I would see pro men and women on the run, albeit doing their second lap. I ran down the ramp and immediately did something I've never done before. I raised my arms as I passed the fans and urged them to cheer for me. And, boy they did! What an adrenaline rush! They seemed to love this goofy old guy with flowing white hair egging them on! I did this the rest of the day, even when it became more of an effort towards the end. As I ran up the long hill in the first mile of the run, I realized that I shouldn't go out too fast. I still had a marathon to run. Still, my first 5 miles, running conservatively over flattish, with that first hill, and a number of "bumps" were run around 9:30 pace. I talked to people, which helped me to pass the time, egged on the fans when they were large enough, and walked on as far through the aide stations as I needed to get a drink and some orange slices. I drank gatorade perform, which worked ok at Boulder, but I'm not so sure it worked here. I was feeling a bit nauseated, so became very careful about my nutrition. I did take a charcoal capsule and another gaia, and some MAP. Before I knew it, I was heading over the bridge towards the hills that began at around mile 8. These were definitely hills. A lot of people were already walking, but I had already dedicated myself to running no matter how I felt. So, I took it easy, and ran slowly uphill, then ran comfortably on the downhills. I only ended up walking about 100 yards up a steep climb where I realized that I could power walk faster than I could run. My pace edged up to between 10 and 11 minute mile pace on this section. The last 3 miles back to the end of the first loop were hilly and my pace was 11:00 min/mile. I still felt good! It was great to feel this way at the midpoint of the ironman marathon! I egged on the crowds and they responded enthusiastically.
I headed out on the second loop and realized that I was feeling bloated. I felt my stomach and realized that it was full. Ok, I thought, don't increase my effort yet, and it's time to start sips of coke. Also, I stopped to get my special needs bag and put on my Ironman Lake Tahoe finishers shirt, which I wanted to wear across the finish line. My timing for this was perfect as it had just started to drizzle. Up until this point, I had used cold sponges and ice at every aide station to keep my core cool. The drizzle and cloud cover might have made me too cold, so this was good. I passed Susan Haag, no time to stop for a hug, but still a boost!
I kept running, although my pace had dropped about one minute per mile from the first loop. Not bad, but not my plan. I began to breath harder and started my "grunting" ritual, where I grunt with each exhalation. I call it my Jimmy Connors approach to running. It keeps me focused, helps ward off side stitches, and scares everyone I run past. On the side stitch front, I had put Golden Tiger balm on my cheat earlier and now repeated it. I also started jamming my finger under my diaphragm on the right side of my chest. This helps. I took sips of coke at alternate aide stations, missed the first station with chicken broth, and kept slogging along. The easy had become hard. I had hoped at mile 21 to increase my effort, which I suppose I did, although I could't maintain my earlier pace with the increased effort. Still, as the hills came, I stubbornly ran them, only walking twice for about 100 yards each on the steepest climbs. I did finally get some chicken broth, which tasted great! I saw TJ, he looked good, and I shouted that I was on my second loop, which was probably obvious. The last mile included a bridge, I wanted to run faster, but couldn't. Of note, I managed to keep the exact same 11 minute/mile pace each time I ran this section. Hence, I think I ran as fast as I could at the end. Finally, there was a downhill to the finish and I was able to open it up a little. As I came down the finishing chute, I knew there was someone behind me, and I wanted my moment to be my moment, so I pushed to keep my space. As I came to the finish line, I pointed with both fingers to my Lake Tahoe Finisher's shirt, and heard Mike Riley point out that I was one of eighty (someone later told me the actual number was 78) people from Lake Tahoe who were racing. I gave a double arm pump, and raised both arms in exultation. I knew that I'd had the best ironman of my life (thus far). 11:31:59, forty five minutes faster than my previous best at New Zealand. I was only 37 seconds out of 10th place, and 9 minutes out of 6th. 45 minutes faster and I'd be going to Kona. It actually doesn't sound so formidable. I was "only" 64 minutes out of 1st in my age group.
I'm excited because this result will move me, albeit temporarily, up the All World Ironman standings, probably into the top five. One of the things I like about the standings is that it reward endurance and consistency, in addition to speed. Too bad it doesn't come with a Kona slot:).
I can't think of anything that I would have or could have done differently during this race. I was in the moment all day, stayed with my race strategy, and was completely spent when I crossed the finish line. I had, in fact, had some visions of passing out after crossing the line. Fortunately, I didn't, but kept my volunteer "catcher" with me until I was safely seated and had gulped down two cups of chicken broth. The night was complete, when after going back to my hotel and showering, I came back in time to see my friend TJ finish and also to meet my FB friend and fellow triathlete, GlennGlenn Cook woke up this morning with a sore back, but otherwise feel pretty darn good. I don't want this adrenaline rush to leave me, but I know it will. It's time to spend some quality time with my wife, who is incredibly supportive of my ironman addiction. Then, the training will begin for next year, with three more ironman's on the agenda, Couer d'alene, Boulder, and Maryland. Unless I win a Kona slot in the Lake Tahoe special lottery (about a 5% chance of winning):)