Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ironman Santa Rosa Race Report

When I got off the bike at this year’s Ironman Santa Rosa, my legs felt dead, but I figured that I could walk for awhile, make sure I was nourished and hydrated, and run the rest of the way.  This is what I had done at Ironman Chattanooga a couple of years ago when I got dehydrated at the end of the bike ride.  The difference was that I was training 10-15 hours a week at the time.  For the past six months, I’d been training 4-8 hours a week, and almost 30% of that was my new found strength training.  I had paid close attention to nutrition and hydration on the bike, and was actually able to eat pretzels and oranges and drink water at the beginning of the “run.”  My GI tract was fine, but my legs didn’t have “it.”  It might have had something to do with minimal run training over the past six months.  And, minimal bike training.  And, minimal swim training.  So, I literally walked 26 miles, there were some 2-3 minute attempts to jog/run throughout the first half.  But, ultimately, I came to grips with the fact that I just needed to finish and there was no reason to push, as I had seen others do over the years.  Trying to maintain a 15 minute/mile walking pace was really the goal, and not to see it slip to the 20 minute/mile ironman shuffles that others who push too hard ultimately fall prey to.  The cool thing was that when I finished, my run pace was almost exactly 15 minute/mile.  Something to remember for the Ultra run I have planned with my friend Robert Key over New Year’s.  I also met and walked with four other people throughout the course of the run, keeping myself occupied and making some new friends.  

How did this race come to pass?  Last July, I completed my 12th ironman, in Santa Rosa.  That was the race that qualified me for the Kona Legacy program.  It was also my least favorite ironman experience, as I had a full blown cold on the day of the race.  In retrospect, having something to compare that experience to, I am even more impressed with what I accomplished that day.  I had my best bike split ever, and managed to run for 2/3 of the run.  I followed up Santa Rosa four weeks later with my second 50K Trail race, where I got dehydrated during the second loop, but still managed to complete in a reasonably good time.  My life also changed completely around the same time, when I unexpectedly became the CEO of the largest nursing home chain in California.  Work:Life balance has never been my strong suit, and the coming months would test me severely in this regard.  Fortunately, my coach, Lucho, has maintained positivity throughout this whole time.  After all, I can only do what I can do!  I actually found a strength and conditioning coach, Will, and have been working with him since October.  I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, especially with my both upper body and core strength. I’ve also gained about 8 lbs, mostly muscle. 

However, as I noticed previously, my 10-15 hour ironman training weeks dropped precipitously to 4-8 hours a week.  1 to 3 of these hours were spent in strength and conditioning training.  That doesn’t leave a lot for running, biking and swimming.  I’ve never been one to push the swim training too much, as my form has kept me in a reasonable ironman swim range.  However, my ironman swim times had been dropping from an average of ~ 1:12-1:15 to 1:20-1:25.  At the end of the day, doing the math of increasing swim training to maintain my previous paces, still didn’t make a lot of sense.  Saving 10-15 minutes on the swim might take 2-3 hours a week of extra swim training, those hours would be much more beneficial on the bike and run.  I had also noted that the strength training was also supporting my swim.  My run had really struggled, partially due to an  ongoing problem with my piriformis muscle since last fall.  It was affecting my back and my glutes, and I had continued to struggle.  Hence, very little running, but in the 4-6 weeks prior to this race, I managed a couple of 3 hour runs (about 15 miles), and felt like I was capable of doing the ironman run.  Probably wishful thinking, considering my “20 by 20” experience a few years ago.  That’s going to come back soon!  I had also managed a few long bike rides, the longest being 81 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing (7 hours in the saddle) just three weeks ago.  Of note, these long rides were all done on my road bike.  Hence, very little time in my aero position on my triathlon bike.  I figured that I’d really focus hard on nutrition and hydration during the bike portion of this event.  I didn’t really think too much about the impact of being in the aero position for 5-6 hours.  Of note, my strength and conditioning work did still help me to do this, but not enough.

So, here I was, 10 days before Ironman Santa Rosa, in Orlando for the Annual meeting of the American Geriatrics Society, working 14-16 hours a day, when I came down with a cold again!  On a positive note, I was three days into the cold, which was it’s peak, on the flight home from Orlando, when I realized that last year I’d done an ironman feeling exactly like I did that day.  I was only going to feel better a week later.  Of course, I had to work during the week, and even made my drive to Santa Rosa a working day, visiting three of our nursing facilities on the way.  How does one spell Type A Workaholic?  

Race morning came, and I actually was nearly over my cold, just a little nasal congestion, but I felt fine otherwise.  The morning of an ironman has become fairly routine for me.  No nervousness, generally just enjoying the experience.  Santa Rosa involves about a 30-40 minute bus ride to Lake Sonoma.  Then it’s a matter of making sure my fluids and nutrition are on my bike, my tires are adequately pumped up (with rough roads ahead, only had my tubular tire pressure at between 100-110 psi, low for me, but might have gone lower), adequate time in the porta-potty, and getting my wetsuit on.  I had a brand new wetsuit, a Blue Seventy Helix, which I think I finally got the size right.  Previous wetsuits might have been too tight and constricting, leading to some back spasms.  The Helix also zips down, so I needed someone to help me get the zipper pulled together, but that wasn’t a problem.  It was a beautiful day, water temperature of 68 degrees and before I knew it, was making my way into the water in the new format of a rolling start.  In fact, they had people going into the water 5 at a time, in intervals of every 5 seconds.  This makes the entry into the water less combative.   The swim course is a two lap course, so you come out fo the water briefly after the first lap. I just got into a comfortable rhythm, occasionally drafting off of someone else, but generally not paying too much attention to that.  I also tried hard to follow the buoy line, which I felt that I did.  The swim never felt hard, I actually focused on just enjoying being in the open water.  I had minimal jostling, never got hit in the head and never actually swallowed a mouthful of water (had a few near misses).  All in all, an uneventful swim.  It was also my longest ironman swim ever, at about 1 hour and 30 minutes.  It also turned out, by my garmin, to be my longest ironman swim ever, at about 4600 yards.  My pace was about exactly the same as the year before, but I swam farther this year.  All in all, I’d like to have been ten to fifteen minutes faster, but not a big deal in the scheme of an entire ironman. 

When I came out of the water I felt pretty good, not great, but certainly not tired.  The walk from Lake Sonoma to the transition area is about 1/4 of a mile and steep uphill, so I just walked.  I stopped very briefly half way up for the wetsuit strippers, got to the top, got my bag, made my way into the tent and put on my aero cycling gloves, my glasses, my headband, my shoes and my helmet, locked my visor on my aero helmet into place, put my wetsuit in the bag and dropped it off at the front of the tent, got sunscreen slathered on me and walked to my bike.  This year I remembered the immediate hill after mounting my bike and had my gears at their lowest level.  After crossing the bridge, there is a long downhill that you’re not allowed to be aero for, so began some fluids, and just getting comfortable.  No pressure, just took it easy.  That would be my theme for the bike today.  

I had most of my nutrition on my bike, 400 cal of Tailwind in my aero bottle (between my aero bars), 200 cal of Tailwind with water in the downtube of my Shiv, and 800 cal in a bottle to use to replenish.  I also had 400 cal worth of almond butter.  Over the course of the bike, I ended up added some bananas and some gatorade.  In all, I took in about 2000 cal, which was my goal.  I drank water the whole way and stayed hydrated.  I wasn’t able to pee during the ride, but felt like I needed to and definitely did in T2.  Last year’s bike course was a PR for me, despite my cold, coming in at 5:47.  This year, they changed the course, adding more hills and a few more climbs.  There were complaints last year about road conditions along a few sections of the course.  Be careful what you wish for.  Last years course had a few miles of terrible roads.  This years course had many miles of relatively rough roads.  For someone who had spent no time in their aero position for the last six months, this would prove to take it’s toll.  I realized about half way through the bike that my neck and back were tight.  Fortunately, my core strength probably saved me this time around, because it wasn’t too bad.  I never looked at my power, and it turned out to be about 5-10 watts lower than last year, but I also really focused on taking it easy on the bike.  I never felt like I was pushing too hard.  The two climbs up Chalk Hill didn’t feel like hard climbs.  I got to Mile 50 in 2:45, which would have put me on target for about a 6:10 bike time, which is pretty close to my standard time based on the type of course this was.  What happened, and I had predicted (looked at was that at around Mile 50, when we turned north again, the headwinds would start and pick up and would never end.  The headwind followed us all the way to the finish and got up into the 15-20 mph range at times.  By Mile 80-90, I began looking forward to finishing, which is fairly normal for me.  With that said, I never felt bad during the bike, but by the finish I was pretty well spent.  The constant relatively rough road conditions took it’s toll on the mind and body, as did the constant headwind.  I came into town, pulled my feet out of my shoes and dismounted in my bare feet.  While it never got above 80 degrees during the race, the asphalt on the way to T2 was hot.  In retrospect, I should have kept my bike shoes on, because I did burn the soles of my feet a bit.  Not too bad, probably noticed more after the race than during.

I walked to T2, knowing that I was pretty tired.  I had already decided to walk most of the first mile and see how I felt.  So, I took my time during T2, put vaseline on my feet, put on my shoes and my hat, and used the porta-potty.  Both of my transitions were about 8 minutes long each, which is actually very solid.  I got more sun screen slathered on me and made my way onto the run course.  I immediately knew that I need to walk for awhile.  What I didn’t know was for how long.  That’s the crazy thing about ironman.  Sometimes the light goes on and you can run again.  On the other hand, I pretty quickly decided that there wasn’t really a point to running much today, insofar as I’d feel better in a few days with less running.  I also didn’t want to push it.  I’d already been awarded my Legacy spot for Kona in 2019 and all I needed to do was finish.  Getting off the bike in one piece was the key.  I could make it the next 26 miles.  I had been a little concerned that this was my 13th ironman and that I could have had a flat tire or something, especially on this course, with all it’s potholes.  But, I had dodged all of the bullets there.  Now it was just a matter of making my way around the 3 loop run course.

The first friend I made was Robert, who was doing his ninth ironman in three years, having lost close to 100 lbs in the process of turning his health around.  He was wearing a knee brace, so I quickly surmised that he would be good to walk with.  I was impressed with his story and he made for a good walking companion for awhile.  However, he was slowing a bit, and I wanted to try to run a little, so I pushed on and met Cody, who was in the 20-24 year old age group.  He had hoped to finish in under 9 hours, but had blown a hole in his tire on the bike and walked 10 miles in his bike shoes before getting a new tire.  Needless to say, his legs weren’t in the best of shape.  It turned out, however, that he had only taken up triathlon 2 1/2 years earlier, having never been much into running, cycling or swimming.  He had already qualified for this years ironman world championship in Kona, and had hoped to be competitive for a top spot in this race.  I’m not sure why he didn’t just DNF, but I give him credit for persevering.  In the end, he went ahead and ran some, but we caught him again on the last lap and actually went ahead of him.  Another example of how trying to run when you shouldn’t leads to a much slower walk in the end!  I walked most of the second half with Patrick, who was from Orlando, where he runs the food and beverage division for the Gaylord.  I got to pick his brains on the industry, which is of keen interest to me since my kids own a restaurant.  Finally, with two miles to go, I met Luis Alvarez, who is an ironman legend in his own right.  When TJ Reilly and I were at the start line of the inaugural IM Chattanooga, the announcer told us of two guys who had flown that night from IM Majorca (in Spain), to participate in Chattanooga.  Two ironman’s in two days on two continents.  Luis was one of those two guys and this was his 153rd ironman.  I also learned that he’d climbed Mount Everest, and was blinded on the way down, having now recovered about 85% of his vision.  He used to own and run three companies, but sold them and was now “retired.”  And I thought I was a workaholic!

It’s always remarkable to get to finishing chute of an ironman.  No matter how you’ve felt, no matter how beat up you are, suddenly, you have wings and a ton of energy.  I encouraged the crowd to cheer for me and crossed the finish line in 14 hours and 51 minutes, my slowest ironman ever.  In many ways the walk was interminable, but at the same time, it was part of the journey.  One thing is for sure, when I do Kona in 2019, I will be well trained.  I have to say that doing an ironman without proper training is doable, but is much less “fun.”  When I got into this sport 25 years ago, competing at Kona has always been in the back of my mind.  In fact, I think it has been on my mind since watching Julie Moss crawl across the finish line in 1982.  I want to soak up and enjoy every second of the Kona experience when I go there, and in doing so want to give the experience the justice it deserves.  That means being prepared to the fullest extent possible!  I have 17 months to prepare.  The first part of my preparation, after a few weeks of significant rest, will be to build my running fitness to join my buddy, Robert Key, at the Snowdrop 55 Ultra on December 30th.  This will be my first and only attempt at completing 100 miles in approximately 24-30 hours.  After that, the bike and swim training will commence for Kona, and I will have next summer to nail my preparation.  As always, I have my coach, Lucho, to thank for his support and encouragement.  He never said anything negative about my lack of training going into this race, because it wouldn’t have changed anything.  In fact, he was still very positive about my result, especially as it related to my paucity of training.  I’ve been fortunate to have such a great coach for 13 years!  It looks like this should be my last race report until October of 2019!

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