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