Sunday, October 31, 2004

Soma Half Ironman

Tempe, Arizona
Oct 31, 2004


Fitness Books.

The pic in the wetsuit was a training day at La Jolla Cove where we swam about two miles.

The Day Before The Event]

The Soma Half Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) was my second triathlon in my life and my first one in almost 20 years since college. I got there (Tempe, AZ) the day before the race to pick up my registration packet and see the expo. I got a “SOMA” tattoo on my left forearm. I got my body numbered at the expo instead of waiting until race morning because the volunteer at the expo had excellent calligraphy. I was feeling good and wanted to look good too. Everybody was looking good. It’s always a beautiful crowd of people at these expos. I bought a few items and sampled all the sports drinks and gels, then changed a bike tube in the shade of a tree across the street. I checked my bike into the transition area then walked over to look at the water. The buoys looked so far away; I wondered if I really had to swim two laps or was it just one?

The Start
I got up at 4:00 am. and took my time getting to the start area one hour before my start time of 7:05 am. I tried on my wetsuit for the first time on race morning. It felt good. I walked barefoot across the cold wet grass toward the water and said to one of the other athletes “I hope the water is warmer than the grass.” He acknowledged me nervously.

I stood along the boardwalk looking at the first wave of swimmers that was already in the water. I tried to observe how the athletes were breathing and looking ahead in the open water. I was hoping to pick up a few last minute ideas to improve my own undeveloped technique. I carefully watched as the horn sounded and the first wave swam past me. I couldn’t watch for too long since my wave was already entering the water and preparing to start. I climbed down the steps toward the water and didn’t know what the water was going to feel like when I jumped in. I was surprised that I never felt any of the cold. No sooner than I waded into the middle of the crowd, the second horn sounded and we were off. I started swimming but kept getting splashed when I tried to breath. My heart raced. I tried sighting ahead but I couldn’t see anything except more splashing. I bumped into people on all sides. During the first 10 minutes I felt panic. One moment I felt like dog paddling in order to collect myself but I just kept on thrashing forward. A moment later I contemplated swimming to the side of Tempe Town Lake to stop and review what I was doing but instead I just kept thrashing forward. My heart continued to race. After rounding the first buoy I started to loose the most debilitating panic. Toward the end of the first lap I wished that I would be done. I stopped briefly to check my watch and much to my surprise my time was not too bad. The panic was now mostly gone but my swimming became very sloppy as I zig-zagged instead of going straight and I rounded all the buoys far too wide. I was happy to get out of the water.

T1 & The Bike
After exiting the water I started trotting up the park path that was lined with volunteers helping athletes take off their wetsuits. I had read about this service before but I had forgotten about it. So when these lovely ladies asked if they could help take off my wetsuit, my self-sufficient self said “no thanks” but it only took me a split second to change my mind. They stripped me in a fraction of the time that it would have taken me to do it alone. I chuckled as I began again to trot up the path to the transition area, wetsuit in hand. I felt lucky compared to the many athletes who were trotting up the path in full wetsuits.

Unlike my first triathlon 20 years ago, I immediately felt good on the bike; no doubt due to my hellacious Friday morning training rides with Fred Fisher, Brian McNeece, and other Velo club friends. I felt good on the bike but held back a little for the run.

T2 & The Run
Some details, I guess, are better unsaid. Therefore, suffice it to say that T2 was long and relatively unhurried. After getting changed for the run I had to ask someone which way to the run. He said “I am not sure.” Such is the thinking ability of the human brain during intense exercise. I asked someone else and he pointed to the exit toward the water (there were only two exits). My first mile was pretty fast, probably due to the fast cadence of my bicycling. After the first mile I settled in to a comfortable slow pace, the fastest pace that I could maintain. I felt stiff in the trunk. The swimming really worked my obliques, and the bike really worked my lower back. The combination left my midsection stiff and my whole body seemed to resist running instead of gliding along.

About halfway through the run I was starting to feel a little board and became a little chatty with people. One runner just ahead of me stopped suddenly to get a rock out of his shoe. As he sat quickly and crossed one leg over his knee, I pondered the picturesque setting of one tree, one bench, the waters edge, and a runner with his shoe off. As I jogged by I blurted out in my best Queen’s English “'Tis a lovely day.” I wondered why I had said that. I got no reaction.

A few minutes later I passed a big guy on the bridge. I complemented him “Hey you are fast for a big guy.” He looked at me with faraway eyes and said nothing. Just up the way I noticed some park bathrooms right next to the jogging trail. When I discovered they were locked I jumped back onto the trail next to a small group of runners and wryly said “It would be a good day to have those bathrooms unlocked.” No response.

Up at the next water station I stopped to drink. I Gallow-walked through the station. Gallow-walking is the technique developed my Jeff Galloway who suggests walking briefly at intervals in order to change the stress on the muscles. He claims that for most runners except elite runners, performance is enhanced with short walk breaks during marathons. No sooner than I finished drinking my sport drink, someone said “Come on you can do it. You were one of the best runners.” I rolled my eyes at yet another athlete who was unfamiliar with Gallow-walking. I wasn’t struggling. Walking was my strategy. So I picked up my pace and struck up a conversation with this chatty guy. We hit it off pretty good and talked up a storm for about a mile. Then I told him that I had to make a stop behind a big sign but that I would catch up to him. He said “I bet you will” then took off running. I was a little unnerved by how long I needed to stop but then tried to catch up to my new friend. I picked up my pace but I was not catching him. I figured he was trying to prevent me from catching him. I set my sites on him and over the last three or four miles I reeled him in. With about one mile to go I was catching up to him and without looking back he said “I hear your big footsteps.” I laughed and asked “Is my stride that inefficient?” I knew from experience that when passing a competitor one should pass convincingly in order to thwart a counter attack. I passed him and beat him by about a minute. At the finish line I waited for him, my new friend, and after he crossed he thanked me for sparking him to a good finish. We said goodbye never to see each other again but we had one of those too rare moments when two human beings connect on some spiritual level.

Before leaving the finish area I could not help but notice the boxes that were heaping with dark green bananas cut in half. I couldn’t resist asking the attendant behind the table in a smart-alec tone, “Has anyone eaten a banana today?”

Last Thoughts
I had a good time doing this triathlon but I missed the camaraderie of good friends. Being alone and being my first big triathlon, I felt no pressure to race fast. So I raced at a comfortable yet quick pace. In retrospect, my transition times were laughably too long compared to other athletes around my finish time. I guess I didn’t fully understand my training books when they advised not to rush through the transitions.

I stopped just east of Phoenix to eat at In-N-Out Burger before driving straight home. I felt a little apprehension about returning to Tempe next April for the full Ironman Triathlon. I wondered if I should just slow it down a bit and not overexert myself to the point that my athleticism is unhealthy and counter to a longevity lifestyle.

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