Saturday, November 19, 2005
[The red dew rag I was wearing was a trendy idea to prevent one's sweat from flying into the faces of riders who are riding just behind. I am not specifically trying to be cool here.]
Tour de Tucson
November 19, 2005
I did it! I made Platinum.
The feeling of going platinum in the Tour de Tucson seems sweeter than finishing the Ironman for a number of reasons: 1) I had friends--Fred Fischer, Brian McNeece, and Kenny Caldera--that were pursuing the same goal, 2) I didn’t feel sick afterward, and 3) I had a definite time goal. Going platinum means finishing the 108 mile course in less than five hours, including crossing two surprisingly long dry river beds on foot. The Tour de Tucson has become a famous race in the Southwest and attracts cyclists from distant states. The guy who parked next to us on race morning flew in from New Jersey. The guy next to me at the start line flew in from Washington. Of course the majority come from Arizona.
Floyd Landis (of Tour de France fame, and Phonak team leader) was the celebrity competitor. He beat me by twenty minutes because I started behind a few hundred riders, he established himself in a better group, and I got stuck behind a train (true). Otherwise he would have beaten me by a few minutes less. In reality I couldn’t hope to match Floyd.
Lance and Floyd
Last winter or spring, Fred and I rode our bikes to Jacumba and stopped at the gas station for refreshments. As we were tinkering around our bikes and the picnic tables on the side of the gas station a highway patrol officer slowly pulled up close to me. I turned and looked into his vehicle and he said, “I was just checking. You looked like Lance Armstrong.” Instead of responding to the officer I immediately turned to Fred. “Fred did you hear this? For the record, did you hear this?” Fred and I both laughed and I think Fred said something about the size of my head.
Fred and I had a good laugh and Fred kept calling me “Lance” as we started riding home. Just outside of Jacumba we approached the border checkpoint that we had just recently passed going the other way. We were riding slowly when a Border Patrol agent stood up and walked to the rode. I looked at his straight face and said, “You're not going to stop us are you?” He said that he had to stop everybody. So I jokingly said, “Hi, my name is Lance and this if “Floyd” (as in Floyd Landis, Lance’s former teammate). I looked at Fred and smiled big. Apparently this Border Patrol agent new less about cycling than the Highway Patrolman at the gas station. He didn’t catch my joke and said “Hi, Lance. Hi, Floyd. Nice to meet you.”
I could imagine the officer’s colleagues in the trailer ask, “Who were those guys?”
“Lance and Floyd? Don’t you know that they are famous cyclists? You saw Lance and Floyd?”
Every now and then Fred and I use those nicknames to express affection and to trigger a happy memory that we shared on the bike.
Fred has been pursuing Platinum for several years without consistent training partners for long rides. Brian has made two previous attempts. I raced the Tour de Tucson last year but did not make platinum. But this year was going to be different. We had trained harder, and together. We were all ready to finish under five hours.
During the drive to Tucson I was trying to describe to Pam a feeling that I was having. I said, “What if all three of us get platinum this year? Then that could be the end of this era of our lives and our friendship (referring to Fred and Brian).” I told her that while I would always be very happy to bump into Brian or Fred on the IVC campus and to ride with them in group rides, I knew that if we all achieved platinum that the intensity of our association would naturally diminish. Perhaps that is why I said to Fred a week before the tour, “If you or Brian for some strange reason do not make platinum, and I do, then I will be willing to go on long rides with you next year if you choose to take it on again.”
Then I started talking about my friendship with Tom Seymour and how Tom got me into marathoning, and how we trained so much together, shared our goals with each other, and raced in the same races. Our lives were enmeshed together in a way that was not planned, not forced, but just naturally grew together and then apart as we both tired of marathoning (at least in the short run) and now Tom is moving to the Napa Valley. I will always have fond memories of Tom and our time together. Tom and I will be lifelong friends but our “era” is ending.
Wednesday and Friday mornings were group rides. Wednesday was a 25 mile tempo ride. Fridays were long rides. Other days were solo rides, usually on the Lemond Revmaster. My training log shows the details of my training.
I can’t say that I gave 100% because I didn’t. I’ll explain. I set a goal, platinum, five hours. It was my goal. I wanted it. I budgeted a part of my life to achieving that goal. Could I have budgeted more of my life? Yes. But my goal was not to maximize the amount of my life that I spent training for my goal. My goal was to achieve platinum by training a budgeted amount of time.
I know there are athletes who are more talented than I am that are slower than I am. Conversely, I know that there are athletes who are less talented than I am that are faster than I am. I have no delusions about my greatness. My ego impels me to achieve but my rationality helps me to maintain a realistic perspective.
I don’t really care about being the “best.” But I would like it to be said of me by amateur cyclists, “Todd was a strong rider.” Also, “He did his homework.”
I bought a DVD called Road Cycling’s Greatest Crashes, hosted by Bob Roll which I watched many times while riding my Revmaster. I saw so many bike crashes that I started to think about the causes of bike crashes and how to avoid them. Recently Kenny and Brian both went down (crashed) in a race in Mexico for no fault of their own. I almost went down. Early in the Tour de Tucson we saw Edgar Alarcon (from Mexicali) sprawled out on the asphalt at around mile 30 something. I heard another rider go down. I saw water bottles falling out of holders and checked my own (my rear bottles were rubber-banded in place). All of this had a big influence on the way I rode in the race.
Pam and I arrived in Tucson late Thursday night. On Friday we had breakfast at the International House of Pancakes before going to the race expo. Our most exciting purchase at the expo was a black cycling jersey with white spider webs and a skull and crossbones on the front and back. A jersey with attitude! I had to have it to match my black bike, black shorts, black arm warmers, and black knee warmers. I had never worn so much black in all my life. Somehow it seemed appropriate for all the carnage I was going to inflict during the race. (Can you sense my race attitude?) We also purchased a pair of low-cut bike socks with vultures on the ankles (Also befitting my attitude). Pam said I’ve never seen you like this. (I am normally oblivious to fashion.) Probably no one ever saw the vultures but they were a part of me.
After leaving the expo we tried to drive the course but became frustrated and tired due to the river crossings, errors in the graphical map, and Tucson traffic. The high note of our day was finding this great bread restaurant where we had outrageously good sandwiches with cucumbers, red onions, hummus, and tomatoes. The bread was chewy sour dough with poppy seeds. Mmmm, good! We talked about it for two days. Pam’s sandwich included turkey which she shared with me.
Next, we strolled over to the bookstore called “Bookman's” and we were pleasantly surprised that what looked like a Barnes-n-Noble was full of used books. We wished we had four more hours to peruse books but we had to get going. Pam bought a few paperbacks.
We checked in to the Riverpark Inn, a half mile from the start line. Brian called and wished me well.
I prepared my six water bottles. In four of the bottles I used a mix of Accelerade and Sustained Energy for about 300 calories each. Two bottles contained only water. I ran out of fluids at about mile 93. I waited a full half hour into the race before starting to drink fluids. I know from experience that too little fluid causes weakness but too much urine in the bladder can be very uncomfortable. Dwight, the guy from New Jersey, asked me after the race what my time was because he said he was with me on Silverbell (the last 15 miles) but he had to stop to urinate. He figured he would have finished with me and wanted to calculate how much time he had lost. Over three minutes.
My riding style is high cadence and, according to Chris Carmichael, high cadence burns more calories but produces less lactic acid. It is easier to “Bonk” with this style as glycogen reserves are depleted faster. I didn’t use any gel packs but carried three. I felt my intake was perfect, for me. I wouldn’t change a thing!
I woke up at 3:19 a.m. before the alarm. I rode my bike to the start line at 3:45 a.m. only to find that some riders had already arrived by 2:30 a.m. I wanted to be sure to put my bike in position just behind the marked off area that is reserved for the platinum riders who get to start at the front without having to arrive early.
Brian and Fred arrived sometime around 4:30 a.m. and were about four bike lengths behind me. Brian handed me a small tube of electrolytes and caffeine to counter any cramping that I might experience (Last year Brian and I both had cramps). I gave Fred and Brian a hand warmer that I got from Big Five. Brian wasn’t sure he needed it but Fred was immediately sure that he would hold it for Brian. Fred put them in his legs and told Brian that he could have his back anytime. It didn’t take long before both Fred and Brian looked cold. Then Pam arrived and parked our car near the start line. Pam gave old blankets to Fred and Brian who wrapped themselves up in them without any concern for style. At least they were warm. I was well dressed; I could have gone skiing in what I was wearing. I didn’t want to burn any extra calories trying to stay warm and I knew that when I started racing I would feel cold. After a while I went to sit in the car with Pam while Fred and Brian sat in Kenny’s truck.
As race time approached I noticed many platinum riders were warming up on trainers next to their cars. Pam asked if I was going to warm up on my Lemond Revmaster that I brought. I was having second thoughts about warming up for such a long race but I decided to warm up a little. I got my heart rate up to 120-125 beats per minute for about 13 minutes and chatted with the guy from the next car. He had flown in from New Jersey just to race. I suppose the biggest benefit of the little warm-up was to settle my nerves.
At the start line I got distracted by talking with the guy next to me who flew in from Washington. I didn’t have my cyclocomputer ready to go when the race started. Shoot! I was trying to move up to the front while trying to start my cyclocomputer. I kept fumbling around. Shoot! I darted through openings. I asked someone how fast we were going. “Twenty seven,” he said. A few miles later when I perceived that we were slowing I asked someone else. “Twenty five,” he said. “Okay, I’m on pace but what am I going to do if I can’t read my cadence or miles per hour,” I thought. No sooner than the race started than I had my first problem. Going platinum requires having a near perfect race. Then I thought that I would just have to get to the front and trust the pace of the better platinum riders. (I figured that not all the platinum riders would absolutely achieve platinum again on this day.) I quit looking at my cyclocomputer and just concentrated on moving up.
Crossing the Santa Cruz Canyon was slow and dusty. There was no place on the edge to pass anyone. Shoot!
On the road again, I passed as many riders as possible. I was doing fine and then saw the railroad crossing barriers come down. I looked North to see a train approaching. Some of the riders got through then others stopped. I had gotten to the railroad crossing at the worst possible time. I was happy that the train was moving swiftly. Kenny said, “Todd.” I looked to my right and saw Kenny for the first time. He was contorting his face in anguish because of the delay. I contorted mine to express the same sentiment. By the time the train passed a sea of riders had come to a stop.
While I waited for the train to pass I fixed my cyclocomputer. Hooray. Apparently I had to make a complete stop before I could get it into the mode I needed.
When we resumed riding the pace was noticeably slower. A few miles later Kenny, fiery as usual, tried to motivate the group by taking the lead and yelling out, “We’ve got to work.” Nobody really responded. Then four of us leaders missed our right turn onto Los Reales Road. Kenny cursed. We swung around and made our way back to the front in what seemed like an instant. I told Kenny, “It is impossible to catch the group ahead. There are many good platinum riders right here. We should just stay to the front and never get dropped and we’ll make platinum.” Kenny seemed to agree.
By riding closer to the front a rider gets thrust into having to take an occasional turn “pulling” and even when drafting toward the front one’s heart beats faster than those riders who settle in further back. My strategy was to stay to the front, even if that meant working harder, for two reasons: 1) I felt safer there, and 2) If a group ever tried to break away I wanted to go with them. However, there were too many strong riders for any small group to break away off the front.
As we Approached Sabino Canyon I figured that I would slow down and prepare to stop. I almost got run over as riders raced down the narrow side street that leads to the canyon entrance. As we left the paved road some rider about two bikes back yelled out like a coach, “Stay on your bikes. You can ride this road. Keep your feet in your pedals. Keep going. Don’t dismount. Don’t stop.” He was actually very helpful because if one rider stopped then that would probably cause all the rest of the riders to dismount and run. Once the momentum is lost it would be very difficult to start riding again in the gravel.
Many people stopped to get water in Sabino Canyon. They got left behind. Getting through Sabino Canyon and the steep hills that followed caused many riders to fall behind. I concentrated on not getting dropped by even a small group. The hill after the canyon was the steepest of the race. I handled it without my heart racing then tried to settle back into a rhythm.
I was worried about the climb up Oracle Rd. and Rancho Vistoso Blvd. I got dropped there last year but not this year. I felt strong. I felt that every time we went uphill I could ride off the front if I wanted. I still cannot figure out why I don’t feel that same sensation while riding on the flat. At 192 pounds I am not light enough to be a true climber.
My max speed for the day was over 38 miles per hour. We could have gone faster but I guess we were being safe. Ha! The second stint on Houghton Road and Tangerine Road were the fastest segments of the day.
Rounding the turn onto Lambert the photographer snapped my picture just before I was about to pull. Evidence. The homestretch was fourteen miles of slight incline on Silverbell Rd. Platinum was in the bag. We road at 21.5+ miles per hour until about four miles before the finish line. Two riders tried to break away. They were caught fairly quickly but all those riders who had never seen the front of the pack got restless and started to surge. Riders in the front converged with riders from the back like a collapsing accordian. Some yelled out warnings. Others darted for safety in holes that barely existed.
My goal for the day had already been met. But now I faced something that I hadn’t anticipated, a massive group finish. In the Tour de France everyone in a group that finishes together gets the same time, thus, reducing the chances of a reckless free-for-all mass sprint to the finish. Not so in Tucson.
I looked for a safe place to ride. A rider pulled up beside me and said, “I just wanted to say thank you for working so hard and helping the group ride faster. I saw you in front busting your ass plenty.” “Thanks,” I said, and I meant it. “But now I’m just looking for a safe place to ride.”
I saw a rider go down hard on the right side.
I cruised across the finish line and saw Pam on the right. I handed her my bike over the barricade and she handed me my tennis shoes. I walked through the finish-line shoot and got my medal. I did it.
Kenny, Brian, and Fred
I hadn’t seen Kenny for 55 miles then I saw him in the finish area. I didn’t know where he was. He told me that he had been following me. He asked me if I had seen him pass me. I said, “No.” He told me that he didn’t want me to see him pass. The euphoria of achieving platinum was like a truth serum and Kenny told me everything he was thinking. He said he watched me climb the hills and that I looked strong. Then he mentioned that he is turning 50 in December (I am turning 44). I looked at him and said, “You da man!” Kenny looked at me and we high-fived each other in an act of mutual respect. Kenny has long been a very strong and competitive rider and a benchmark for my own progress.
Then I saw Brian on the other side of the refreshment area. “Did you make platinum,” I asked. He gave me the nod. “Great. Have you seen Fred,” I asked. He hadn’t. Brian came around and we talked some more. Brian also solidly made platinum.
Finally we saw Fred but he didn’t make it. He told us that he got a flat. My heart sank. Fred was fit enough to be platinum but in a race like this there is no margin for any problems. I knew that if it were I that had gotten a flat I would have felt sick inside. I felt sick for Fred and thought about him frequently for a long time. Fred tried to shrug it off and he mentioned the comment that I made a week ago about riding with him next year if he didn’t make platinum. I said, “If you chose to take it on again.” We’ll see if Fred really wants to take on the Tour de Tucson again. It’s a shame that he has to wait a year before trying again because he is platinum-fit right now. Our training rides together have proven his fitness beyond question.
During the drive home I was still very excited and chatty. Pam seemed excited too. She wanted me to come back next year and romp everybody. That sounded unusual. It was too early for me to think about next year.
I was glad Pam was there again. In some ways life gets better as the babies get older.
When I bought my Trek 5000 last summer I had two goals, finish Ironman Arizona in a respectable time and achieve platinum at the Tour de Tucson.
Sometimes I think it would be wise to exercise more for health than for athleticism.
Monday, August 22, 2005
The artwork on this book by an LDS religion professor with a PhD degree typifies why I suffer cognitive dissonance. The author’s logic in the book is just as bizarre as the artist’s conception. If this lunacy were not so common I wouldn't let it bother me. Enough said.
[Post update on April 15, 2011. I mean no offense to this author. The significance of this book and cover to me is that when I was reading this book, hot off the press, I became conscious of the fact that this "story" that I had been studying for so many years (a favorite of mine) had too many loose ends for me and I literally threw the book hard against my bed. I surprised myself by my somewhat violent action, but it became clear to me that there was some deep dissatisfaction in my subconscious.]
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Swim 2.4 Bike 112 Run 26.2
April 9, 2005
Why does someone want to climb a big mountain? Because it’s there. I can’t explain why I would do an Ironman except to say that it is in my blood. Back in high school in the late 70’s I heard of a new athletic competition called triathlon. I don’t remember where I heard of it but I do remember swimming 100 laps in my home pool, then riding my bike around Carlsbad before jogging to the beach and back 1.8 miles.
A few years ago I bought a book at Barnes and Noble that caught my eye, Becoming an Ironman. The book included the experiences of many different athletes who had done the Ironman. I bought it because I was intrigued, much like I might buy a book about the adventures of climbing Mount Everest. At this point it was only a fantasy to do an Ironman. Over the next few years I would occasionally happen upon Becoming an Ironman in my bookshelf and reread some of the stories. I dreamed of doing an Ironman but each time I would put the book back after deciding that my life couldn’t handle Ironman right now.
In the summer of 2004, while feeling a bit of a void (perhaps mild depression) in my life, and while surfing the internet, I happened upon the inaugural Ironman Arizona website. Registration was taking place and filling fast. My heart raced at the thought of entering. I called Pam on the phone to hear what she thought of my entering the race. She said something like “Do what you have to do.” I still didn’t sign up. I slept on it. The next day I signed up and it’s a good thing that I did because very soon afterward the race was full.
The Training Plan
First, I bought a bike, a TREK 5000. Then I bought a stationary training bike, a LeMond Revmaster and a wetsuit. I was already running three days a week with Tom Seymour and sometimes Pablo Mares. I started riding Friday mornings with a group of guys loosely known as the Velo Club. My thigh muscles were thinner in the beginning and I had a hard time keeping up with Brian McNeece and Fred Fischer, two of my more frequent riding friends. They were good and I was lucky just to stay with them. I loved those training rides out to Ocotillo and beyond.
I raced in the SOMA Half Ironman, Tour de Tucson, Borrego to the Sea, Tour de Palm Springs, and Ironman California (Half-Ironman) in preparation for the big race. During February it rained for three weekends in a row and I rode hard 3-hour training rides indoors on my Revmaster while watching my various cycling DVDs.
Finding a place to swim was without a doubt the biggest obstacle in my training. I swam at IVC in the summer and early fall of 2004. I am grateful to Toni Pfister who helped me to find pool time during the fall. For about 2 months in the winter I couldn’t find anywhere to swim. I was discouraged about that and for 2 days I considered dropping out of Ironman Arizona. Then I got a community access pass to use the small pool (25 yards but no lanes, the large pool was closed for the winter) at the El Centro Naval Air Base. I was happy again but this arrangement was not optimal, as I could not always depend on being able to swim. Sometimes the pool was closed due to weather, broken heater, or special events; however, the pool people were always very friendly. One day, after not swimming for two weeks during the peak period, I went to Mexicali and found a pool to swim in then waited in a long line to cross back over the border. They were very nice in Mexicali but it was a big effort that I didn’t want to do three times a week.
I went to the County of Imperial to see if I could swim in Sunbeam Lake or Weist Lake. They told me it was illegal…I told them that I would use a buoyant wetsuit… They looked at me with sympathetic eyes and said, “I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do.” In my frustration I said, “This is earth and any animal can get in that water except a human. Something doesn’t seem right.” I tried to contain my annoyance and departed.
I trained for about nine months in preparation for Ironman Arizona but I only started working out like a madman 13 weeks before the race. I call this my peak period.
Two weeks before Ironman Arizona I did an open-water swim with Tom Seymour at La Jolla Cove. That was a great day in my life. We brought our families and ate good food. The weather was perfect. The water was clear. My body was strong and we had a great 2-mile swim. Days like that are not easily reproducible. Not only was the world around me wonderful but also inside my head was bliss (It’s wonderful to be in peak condition, too bad it can’t ever last).
I definitely under trained the run. I relied on the crossover effect of all my cycling. I was beginning to feel overuse injuries in both of my Achilles tendons so I backed off my running.
I kept saying to myself “Mark Allen said it’s better to be 20% under trained than 5% over trained.”
I kept a training log, like I always do, which shows the day-to-day workouts.
Pam and I rented a car and left home on Thursday at 6:00 pm. We talked and listened to CDs. Pam’s every act throughout the next few days was completely selfless, cooperative, and loving. I appreciated her patience for enduring all the months of training and my one track mind.
Friday morning we ate breakfast in the Hawthorn Suites where we saw other athletes, some semi dressed for competition. I told Pam that all the athletes who were playing dress-up the day before were not a threat to me. She said something like, “Be nice.”
We drove part of the bike course before going to the expo. At the expo we purchased some royal blue tri shorts, miracle glide, a race number belt, socks, reflective tape, tape, and a power bar. We also bought a quick-wicking Ironman Arizona shirt that I am going to save for a future marathon race like a secret weapon. I always like to have some new piece of costume for race day to help me feel good. (Usually I just buy a pair of socks.) All little children know this secret.
In the expo I saw my Mexicali friends that I sometimes see training on Highway 98 on the way to Ocotillo or Jacumba. We stopped and talked with Francisco Santacruz and Francisco Gonzalez. These two Francisco’s have lead parallel lives to mine for the last eight months, including training on the same roads and competing in the same races.
We checked in my bike, looked at the water in Tempe Town Lake, and checked out the booths. We left the expo to find lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place that I knew about. I had salmon and steamed rice with vegetables. Then we returned to the expo for the mandatory meeting at 3:00 pm. Pam seemed awestruck by the whole scene. She kept asking me if I was nervous or scared and she kept saying, “I’m glad it’s you and not me.” I told her that I was a little nervous and a little scared but that I am ready and I express my apprehensions by becoming serious, not panicking.
After a quick trip to Borders Books and then IHOP, we went back to the hotel. We repacked everything and I rehearsed in my mind all that I needed to do the next day. Pam massaged my legs and I tried to sleep.
I got up 15 minutes before the 3:30 wake up call. My previous subdued and serious demeanor were soon taken over by my smiling, chatty, hyper self which meant that I was no longer preparing for a race; I was in race mode. Once I got Pam out the door I told her we could move at a relaxed pace. We were on schedule. We found a great parking spot and athletes were already arriving. Pam took a few pictures but then we parted ways, as she could not follow me to the transition area.
Volunteers marked my shoulder and the left side of my leg with the number 1271, and my age 43 went on my left calf for other competitors to see. I added things to my transition bags, turned in a run “special needs bag” with a low fat meal-replacement drink (I didn’t expect to have any special needs but the event was providing that service and I felt obligated to need something.) I didn’t turn in my bike “special needs bag.” I sat for several minutes in the change tent to get out of the wind. I watched many athletes try to remain calm. We all had our wetsuits by our feet and I think everyone was wondering when we should put them on. A few anxious athletes started putting on their wetsuits and then everybody did too.
The Swim 1:10:05
I entered the water at 6:35 am for a 7:00 start time. We were all told to enter the water but most were waiting until closer to the start time. This time I was going to warm up and get used to the water in hope of avoiding the terrible breathlessness that I and so many others experience at the beginning of the swim. It was a mass floating start. The pros left at 6:45 am. At about 6:50 am I got a cramp in my left calf. Not good. I had trained to swim but I had not trained to dog paddle. I tried to relax. I positioned myself on the left side so that I could breathe and site to my right. My strategy was to swim blind, keep my head down in the water as much as possible and site my direction by looking at swimmers on my right side instead of looking straight ahead which slows me down.
When the horn blew we were off. The swim was brutal but this time I was aggressive and more confident than I had been in the past. I actually positioned myself too far back as I was constantly stuck behind swimmers for the first quarter of the race. I darted for holes. The first mile was rough because swimmers would sometimes swim at angles over my legs or right in front of me (it’s also possible that I was the one swimming at angles). I had to stop, start, and dart through holes so much that after about a mile my left calf and both hamstrings started cramping up because of all the water-polo style swimming that I was doing. During the third quarter of the swim I had to tell my brain to stop sending electrical impulses to my legs while my arms pulled them along.
On the way back I was swimming against a surface current created by strong winds. I tried the best I could to draft just behind and to the left of other swimmers. Finally when I could see the finish I sprinted and made up some time.
I thought that I must have had a decent time in the swim. I was looking for a time between 1:10 and 1:20 but when I got out of the water I looked at the clock and it said 1:25. I was puzzled and disappointed. I had forgotten that the pros started 15 minutes before me. I learned after the race was over that my time was really 1:10. I could have used that good news later in the race when I stopped caring about going fast.
T1 (Transition 1) 6:55
After exiting the water I first ran to where race volunteers were helping athletes take their wet suits off. I tried to find the cord to my wetsuit zipper and release the Velcro strap at my neckline but I must have been fumbling around too much as a couple of people took over. They ripped my wet suit down to my waist and then commanded me to get down on my butt. Then with my feet pointing to the sky they ripped the wetsuit off my legs and handed it to me. I started running again and I think I passed a couple of people up the transition chute. I had quite a long run to my T1 bag that was lined up with all the others in numerical order in a large section of grass. I quickly found my bag and ran into the changing tent. I found a chair then someone immediately approached me and asked if I wanted help, a service offered to all athletes. No sooner did I say “yes” than the volunteer emptied my bag, laid all my stuff out and began to hand me things, albeit not always in order. The volunteer put my wetsuit and stuff back into my transition bag and took my bag back to the field. As I left the changing tent a volunteer read the number on my jersey and relayed my number by telephone to another volunteer who would retrieve my bike and hand it to me at the end of the isle. In my case I beat the volunteer but I appreciated the service.
The Bike 5:56:46 T2 4:57
Still thinking about what I thought was a disappointing time in the swim and with the wind picking up, I knew that it would be impossible to achieve a blazing time in my one and only Ironman. I ran with my bike as best I could with no blood in my legs and my biking shoes on, through the bike portal so the computer could read my timing chip that I had tied around my right ankle. I mounted the bike as soon as I was told that I could and took off.
The course was three laps and then a mini loop. Each lap consisted of a complicated yet short tour within Tempe that included many curves, sharp turns and 180-degree turnarounds and then a long trek out of the city and back. This is where the wind really had an impact. Going out was great but coming back was grueling. At on point the wind slowed my pace down to 12 mph on the flat. Nevertheless, I was hammering the bike and felt strong.
A few miles into the loop there is a turn that I was warned about. There was also a big recording blaring, “1st, 2nd, and 3rd loops turn left, 4th loop turn right.” But here was my problem. Preceding this recording by a couple miles was a sign that said “2nd 3rd Left, Finish Right.” Since I had already finished 3 complete loops I went right thinking that I would start the 4th mini loop and later come to that recording again via a different route but instead I soon rode into the finish chute. I was confused. I turned around to see if the rider that I had recently passed had followed me. No, he hadn’t. Hundreds of people behind the barricades and several officials on the inside of the chute started yelling at me to, “Go,” “You can’t stop,” “You can’t turn around in the chute.” My bike speed was far greater than my ability to think. They took my bike away from me and handed me my transition bag. They guided me to the transition tent. I kept trying to utter that I needed to talk to an official and that I think I missed the mini loop. Finally I got to someone who quickly understood my problem because just before me there were two pro women who made the same mistake. An official jogged me back out to the course, backwards through the finish chute. I remounted my bike to finish the course. (Afterwards I learned that quite a few athletes made the same mistake, including Francisco Gonzalez from Mexicali who got disqualified and told me that he was heartbroken.)
By this time I had lost all of my inner equanimity. I “hammered” the bike and went anaerobic for the remaining 7 miles to try to regain lost time. Big mistake! I was losing control of my race.
After I finished the bike I had to explain that my transition bag was over by the officials table. Someone heard me and understood and let me past a barrier. I sat and paused in the change tent to try to get my head back together. I was confused at what my new goal should be since I was no longer on "Kona" pace. Inside my mind I was suffering the nearest thing to an anxiety attack that I have ever experienced.
My final bike time was 5:56:46 but if I had not made the wrong turn and if it had not been such a windy day my time would have been much faster. My final average speed was 18.8 but had been, I think, 19.7 before, in the wind. I am convinced that this would have been the equivalent to a “platinum” ride for me in the Tour de Tucson. I was very satisfied with my bike strength.
The Run 4:24:07
Before leaving the tent I guzzled about 250 calories of Hammer Gel (maltodextrin, mistake) from a squeezable flask and carried a small bottle of water and off I ran through the grass trail between the almost empty bike racks. Once on the road I tried to settle in to a rhythm. I expected to take a few miles to find my running (jogging) legs. What I didn’t expect was debilitating stomach cramps and a racing out-of-control heart rate. I tried to jog/walk for a while but soon started to accept that I had a bigger problem than just transitioning from biking to running. My heart raced even while I walked. I thought that that had to be caused by the anxiety that I was feeling for making such a blunder at the end of the bike.
The first half of my marathon was a disaster. I had to walk for what seemed like miles. I kept thinking about what had gone wrong. My legs were not cramping, nor my abdominal muscles. It was my stomach that was cramping and I was bloated. I concluded that I had calories in my stomach that were too concentrated to move into the blood stream. My energy level was good. I switched to straight water at the aid stations. I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t believe that I had made such a fundamental miscalculation. I knew I had to drink water and then wait to feel better. I kept walking and tried to jog every now and then. (In retrospect I must have been jogging more than I thought since my marathon time was not that bad.)
I walked passed another guy who had been walking for quite a while ahead of me. He told me that he had an asthma attack. I tried to console him by saying with a positive voice “No matter what we may be thinking right now, it is still a great day for us.”
Up ahead I caught another walker and said casually “How’s the plan?” He said he was having motivation problems. I asked how his “sugar” was. He thought it was okay. I told him that I had been walking for 9 miles (an exaggeration) but that I hoped to be recovered by mile 13 so that I could have a strong second half of the marathon.
At mile 13 I took off and finished the second half of the marathon in less than 2 hours, which means that my first half was about 2.5 hours. My overall marathon time was 4 hours and 24 minutes. I have a hard time believing this because there were several miles when I walked that took me between 15 and 16 minutes.
I drank water almost exclusively for the entire run and never felt low on calories. I had been trying to consume 500 calories of “Perpetuem” per hour (an e-caps product, mostly maltodextrin with a dash of protein and fat) during the bike and washing it down with water. Apparently most of the Perpetuem was not clearing my stomach probably due to my intense “Kona” effort as well as too little water. In retrospect I guess I should have consumed more water but this is ironic because I am a great believer in hydration and usually over hydrate and have to make too many potty stops. The wind quickly dried my sweat causing me to not notice the fluid loss and I must have lost a lot of moisture through my lungs.
Sometime during the run I muttered a heartfelt prayer, “I truly am grateful for good health.” It was a brief prayer but I repeated it twice.
The last mile was really fun. I saw Pam for an instant and pointed my finger at her as an act of recognition. The spectators lined the streets and were cheering loudly. I had the presence of mind to pick up my pace and interact with the spectators a bit. I smiled broadly, shook my fists now and then as a sign of strength, and nodded at the people who cheered the loudest.
As I approached the finish chute I looked ahead of me and behind me to put myself into a photogenic position (I didn’t want to finish just behind some heavy grandmother). I sprinted up the chute, started giving high fives to all the children who held up their hands through the metal barricades and smiled for the camera. What a great feeling!
After I broke the tape at the finish line I was immediately met by an escort who ceremoniously hung a medal around my neck then walked me around to various stations to have my chip removed, get me a t-shirt, have my picture taken, wrap me in a foil blanket, and lead me to food. All the while she kept asking me how I was feeling and kept one hand on my back or shoulder at all times. I think she was looking for signs of feinting or needing medical attention.
I looked for Pam for a long time. She thought she could get my bike and bags and bring them to the finish line before I got there but it took her longer than anticipated. I waiting for over a half hour in the wind and started to get cold. I was glad to see Pam, finally, and tried to tell her about so many things all at once. After about 15 minutes of talking I said that I was starting to shiver and if I didn’t get to the car I was going to need medical attention (half joking). Pam rolled my bike through the crowds of people and I followed my blocker to the car. In short order we were on the road with the heater full blast on my feet and the windows cracked just a little so we could breath. I had no appetite. I drank a recovery drink then later bought a large Sprite at a gas station. We drove straight home and I knew that my body needed food even though I had no appetite. I bought a hamburger in Yuma (not exactly what I wanted but there were few other options). Before going to bed I had a meal-replacement drink and a few carrots that Pam brought to the bedside (just what I asked for but not exactly what I wanted because the kids were asleep and I didn’t want to make a racket in the kitchen). I closed my eyes at 1:30 am.
There are very few really big days in a person’s life. This was one of those days for me. This event has been in the back of my mind for over nine months and for the last 13 weeks of my peak training period it has been my number one priority.
I was happy with my speed. I achieved the time goal that I set 9 months ago in spite of a very windy day and a costly detour on the bike. I finished strong and with a smile on my face.
I don’t think I’ll do another Ironman because it is just too inconvenient for me to find a place to swim.
Now that it’s all over I am already starting to think, “It was no big deal.”
Sub 3-hour marathon in the fall 2005.
Platinum at Tour de Tucson November 19, 2005.
April 14, 2005