Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ironman Arizona Race Report-Part III

I dismounted my bike and hobbled to the change tent. Normally to do a fast transition, I would have ran or at least walked fast, but my legs felt like blocks. The volunteers helped me change and I struggled to put on my compression socks. I let someone bandage my elbow, though it didn't make much difference at this point. It was really hard to get moving. A slow 9:28 transition.
I started the run walking, grabbed some food and finally got my legs running. The sun was an orange glow on the horizon. I had fantasized before the race about the run being where I shine, but the reality was that it was a survivor slog. I could have done a run-walk combination, but I didn't think it would be fast enough. I walked a lot of the aid stations just because it was easier to eat that way. There was still a lot of runners out on the course just trying to get through the marathon. Most of them didn't seem like they doing much more than a jog.
I didn't really think much about how long I had to run. I wanted to make sure I hit the 10:15 p.m. cut-off and the midnight cut-off. If you hit the 10:15 cut-off, they let you finish the last loop even if you don't make the midnight cut-off. The run course is three loops. Each loop goes over the Priest bridge, the Mill Avenue bridge and the Rural Road bridge(twice). There are some difficult areas mentally to be running alone in the dark. Priest and the lake sidewalk from Priest to Mill is desolate and boring. There are signs put out there for some lucky people to encourage them, but I didn't have any. The river bed is dry is this area and there is nothing to look at, except maybe some rabbits running around in the dark. The cement sidewalk is hard on the feet. You see the Mill Avenue bridge in the distance and it is always a relief to reach it. You climb a small hill to get to the bridge.
At least on the bridge, you can see the lights reflected on the water. The train bridge has a nice display of pink and blue lights when the train goes over it. You can hear the announcer in the distance saying "you are an ironman" for the lucky people finishing up. I still have another five hours or so. I go over the bridge and run back to the lake path. There are people to cheer us on. I try to thank people who do. An ironman is a long time for a spectator to sit and watch. They do provide a distraction from the pain. I keep wondering which is more painful-this or the c-section I had. I think the c-section is, but not by much.
I run over the Rural Road bridge and run along the lake path again. The sections under the bridge smell slightly of sewage. I then go up the road to Papago Park. It's strange at night. The generator light shines on a strange rock formation. Then I have to climb Curry hill. This is tough. I usually run up it, but it slows me down. Other people are wimping out and walking. Then it's down to the lake path again and through the Marina. The aid stations pick me up. The one under the bridge has a pirate boat and music. The one by the marina by my tri club also has music and a western theme. It helps me to get through the dark sections further on. I go back over the Rural Road bridge to the lake path and start the second loop.
So far, I am doing O.K. I have no nutritional issues and my pace is slow, but steady enough to get through the course. I think I must have been operating on mental power. It's hard even now to imagine how I got through this run. I kept thinking about going fast enough to get in by midnight or sooner. I had about a 20 minutes cushion.
I finished the second loop. When you start a loop, there is a left turn-off for the finishing chute. It's tough mentally to go by this, especially later at night. You know most of the people are done and you are still out there alone in the dark. At least I had made the 10:15 cut-off by 25 minutes. Another small victory. I was pretty sure by this time that I was going to make it. I finally ran into my iron sherpa, and he had made me a sign. It picked me up a little and made me smile.
Going down the lake path from the Mill Avenue bridge, I saw my coaches(pictured below). They kept tabs on all their athletes for the entire seventeen hour race. I had about five miles to go at this point and an hour and a half to do it. They told me to run as much as possible. I picked up the pace a little. The goal is being an ironman was within my reach. I went around the dark path again and I finally had about a mile to go. I couldn't really sprint at this point because I had nothing left. Someone shouted to be "go be an ironman".
Finally I reached the turn-off for the finishing chute. In contrast to the dark run course, this is brightly lit. I had finally made it. Two years of training, heartbreak, and hope finally realized. I thought I would be weepy, but I was too overjoyed. The crowd in the stands gets rowdy this time of night and I had a blast high-fiving them. The announcer gets out of his box and riles them up. I heard my name and "you are an ironman". Now I know why I wanted this so much.
This is a high like no other. It's a place where you tested your limitations, overcame them and accomplished something that you thought you never could. Where you withstood you doubts and ventured into the terrifying unknown. Where you have endured boredom, pain, frustration and exhaustion to transform yourself into a different person. Where your mind drives you forward when your body is failing. It's an incredible power to find in yourself. It makes you feel invincible. It's a special race.

My coaches that some how got
me trained for this race despite
my limited athletic ability.
I look like crap, but who doesn't
after seventeen hour.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ironman Arizona Race Report: Part II

I escape the clutches of the med tent and I try to hurry through transition. It's a good thing I have volunteers to help me dress. I am fumbling around and not real clear-headed. I am still cold, but functional.

I get out on the bike course and find my heart rate is sky high, but I am not getting much speed. When I hit the false flats, I can't seem to go more than eleven m.p.h. It feel like shades of the first ironman race I attempted where the wind was howling and I wasn't getting any speed no matter how hard I tried. If I couldn't speed up, I would not be able to finish the race.

In my distraction, I veered over to a bunch of orange cones and promptly crashed. Someone was nice enough to stop and help me. My bike and I were O.K., but I had some road rash and I banged my shoulder pretty good. My shoulder would hurt the rest of the race. I finally got to the top of the turn around and I started pushing the pace going downhill. Luckily the winds were with me and I could make up some speed. There was a lot of illegal drafting and passing on the highway, but I was too slow to have that problem.

There weren't many bystanders on the highway other than at the aid stations, so the ride was kind of tedious a lot of the time. Once in a while I would see a guy peeing on the bike. One guy impressed me because he managed to whip it out and pee off to the side. I stayed well back of these people. I was utterly tired and miserable. Usually the first loop you are supposed to feel good, but I felt terrible. I was exerting a lot of energy, but not getting any power. As I was heading back into town, a guy with a microphone on a motorcycle asked me why I was doing the ironman. I couldn't really think of anything clever to say. Hopefully, I won't be on camera anywhere.

I got done with the first loop in about 13.6 m.p.h., which was too slow. I still had a fighting chance if I could go faster. It was nice to come into the Mill Avenue area because you knew that another loop was done and there were people to cheer you. It picked you up so you could endure the highway again.

I picked up the pace going out on the second loop and I was shocked that I had some actual speed. I figured that when I had a cold core, blood wasn't carrying enough oxygen to my muscles. It was a relief. It was like night and day from the first loop. I was pretty sure by the time I got to the top of the turn around that I would be able to make the three o'clock cut-off. A small victory.

I finished the second loop about 2:35 p.m. I was on new ground now-an actual third bike loop. Most people were coming into transition about this time. The highway was getting more and more deserted. I felt O.K. climbing again, but I was ready to get the bike over with. The shadows were growing longer and the light was turning orange. I beat the four o'clock cut-off by 20 minutes. As I was going downhill, I saw people still desperately going uphill trying to beat the cut-off, including one guy on a handcycle. I hope he made it.

The memory of the pain I felt is already fading. My quads hurt, my shoulder hurt and my butt hurt. I knew this race would be difficult, but I was giving all I had to make it. Normally you bike in an aerobic zone in order to have energy for the run, but I was going a little anaerobic to beat the cut-offs. It was taking a lot out of me.

As I passed a 109 mile marker, I realized that I was going to exceed the most distance I had ever done in one day on a bike. I was also going to beat the sun-set, and the 5:30 cut-off. I had broken barriers and was on my way to becoming an ironman.

As I came into transition, I saw my coaches cheering me. We have been on a long journey together, from the despair I had not finishing the last time to the joy of soon accomplishing a goal I had been chasing for two years. You don't complete an ironman on your own and they were some of the people that helped me along the way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ironman Arizona Race Report-Part I

The day dawned cold. I dressed as warmly as possible, but I had to take off my outwear and put on my wetsuit at some point. I donned my wetsuit and jumped in the water. It was shockingly cold. It was 62 degrees, which was four degrees colder than the last 4000 meter swim I did in the lake. I made my way to the northern part of the field of bodies. I kept telling myself the water wasn't cold. The gun went off and the bodies surged forward.

I felt O.K. for a while. I kept telling myself that the water wasn't that cold. The sun was coming up and shining where I had to sight. I sighted off of the Rural Street bridge. I could see the orange light on the buildings on the bank when I turned my head to the side to breath. It was kind of pretty in a cruel way. The buildings seemed different than the last time I did an ironman swim. At least they didn't seem to go by so slowly as the last time I was in an ironman.

It was getting harder and harder to ignore the growing cold of the water. It was sapping the energy out of me and I had to stop and rest frequently, more so than my other long swims. It seemed to take forever to get to the turnaround, but not as long as the first race I did. My swimming didn't feel easy, and it was an effort to keep my stroke long. I could see the buoys now and I just tried to get to each one. I was very uncomfortable.

At some point my legs started shaking. I had never been this cold in a swim before and it was scary. I was damned if I was going to quit the race at this point voluntarily, but it felt like it was getting out of my control. I kept moving even though I was exhausted. If I got tired and rested, I got even colder. At one point, I caught someone's draft for a minute. I could only see the bubbles, but it helped.

Finally, I saw the turnaround for the exit. Usually at this point I can put some speed on. I was incapable of that. I finally got out of the water in 2:05. It was better than my last ironman race swim, but worse time than my 4000 meter swims.

I got my wetsuit stripped off and I started walking to transition when a medic snagged me before I could get away. I was fairly coherent, I thought, but I probably looked like crap. Luckily they were much better than the California half ironman medics and I got warmed up fairly quickly. They put warm saline bags under my arms and neck and got my wet shirt off. I shivered violently for a while, but I felt better after a while. I still lost about 10-15 minutes, something that I didn't plan or want to do.

This was one of the most difficult open water swims I have ever done and the day was just starting.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Two Days, 22 Hours

In two days, 22 hours I will at the start line or to be techical, hanging out near the Mill Avenue bridge in the cold water. Two years of training, races, expense and hope. Countless hours riding my bike to the edge of exhaustion and despair in the wind, heat and cold. Pushing myself to run into pain. Swimming countless boring laps in the pool. Somehow coming out better for it.

In contrast to my first ironman attempt, I can't wait to do this one. Instead of feeling like I have only half a chance of finishing, I feel like I have a good chance, barring unforeseen circumstances. I feel more rested, stronger and optimistic. Somehow my second attempt at the race also has more emotional meaning. The pain that I went through with my divorce needs to released and extinguished. The connections that I made with people as a result of that pain will carry me through each mile. I will occasionally travel to the dark places in my mind and my body will hurt. But my heart will feel lighter.

My bib number is 2846. Follow me on

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tempe Town Lake 4000 Meter Open Water Swim

This swim was not what I would call a lot of fun. The first ironman type swim I did last year was exhilarating because I was scared to death and I conquered my fears and proved to myself that I could do it. The second ironman swim I did last year was actually in the race and was long and exhausting, topped out with a 15 m.p.h. headwind just when I was finishing and really tired. The third swim I did this year in October was a lot of work, but there was scenery and I had energy throughout the entire swim. This swim was in murky green 66 degree water and the only thing you really had to look at were bridges and cement walls. The swim was four 1000 meters laps, so you had the same ugly stuff to look at at least four times.

The first lap was crowded. Actually the first, second and third lap were crowded because the lap was a rectangle that was near the wall. I employed my strategy of not wasting energy trying to avoid people, but just letting them run into me. Still, people running into me made me cranky after a while. I would get into a rhythm and then someone would disrupt it by crashing into me. Of course by the second lap all the faster swimmers, which were everyone, was lapping me, so I would get passed more than once by the same person.

My energy level for the first two laps was good. I had done a fair amount of 2000 meter open water swims, so it was what I was used to. I hit a warm patch of water at the turnaround and it really felt good. Both laps took 30 minutes.

By the third lap, however, my energy was draining out of my body. I felt like I was in the fourth mile of a 10k where the race had been going on long enough that you are tired, but you still have what seems a long way to finish. I was getting cold and the six hour bike ride I did the day before had used up my energy. I hit the turnaround. Too bad-my patch of warm water was gone. My arms didn't seem to have a lot of strength, so I just tried to keep them relaxed. At least most of the people had finished so it was less crowded. I was concerned about slowing down, but I did the lap in about the same time as the first two. It just felt a lot worse. I thought that I really hated swimming this long. It wasn't a good attitude, but I really didn't want to be doing this anymore. I HATE swimming.

By the fourth lap I was really really tired. It's a little disconcerting to be that tired in a body of water. I knew I could finish, but my alertness was waning. I seemed to be out there alone and the water was smooth. Coming around the turnaround, there was one person ahead of me. Maybe I could draft off of this person. No, she was going too slow even for my infinitesimal speed. I actually passed one person.

Finally I got near the end. I couldn't figure out where the hell to go. My brain was shutting down. I swam to the guys waving and I had a hard time trying to make my legs work. Somewhere before the swim exit, I was rewarded algae mustache. Luckily, no fiends with cameras were lurking nearby to capture this special moment.

I was disoriented for a few moments when I got out. A touch of hypothermia-I had a hard time getting my body to listen to my brain. I tried to walk and staggered. I tried to talk and mumbled. Fun stuff. Final time was 2:02, which was about the same time that I did in the warmer, less tiring Lake Pleasant swim.

The swim served it's purpose as a training swim for Ironman Arizona. I should be happy that I swam the same time that I did in the previous month, even being tired. Still, it's frustrating when everyone else swims faster. I would love to swim the distance in even an hour and a half. Two hours is just too long to be in the water period. It's part of racing an Ironman, but it still sucks.

I always have the fantasy that onetime I will have a dream swim where I will exceed all my expectations. Most of the time they end in disappointment. I am past the stage where I just swim to get through the swim, but I never seem to swim fast no matter how hard I try. I long to be like the other swimmers that fly by me and who probably never had a swim lasting two hours. Slow swimmers know about endurance and going long. We just don't get much credit for it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Destination

This week marks my last long training workouts. My last long run of almost three hours was Tuesday. I felt good for about 1 1/2 hours before I started feeling crappy. Today was my last long six hour bike ride. I felt decent for almost four hours before I started struggling. I still kept my speed up until near the end. Tomorrow is my last long swim of 4000 meters. I have evaded the deep feeling of exhaustion that I have gotten in previous weeks, but I know it is out there.

All these difficult workouts makes me wonder what the real thing is going to be like when they are all put together. If my long runs are miserable, what are they going to feel like after 112 miles of bike riding? What is a 112 mile bike ride going to feel like riding hard like I have been doing for it for 90 miles? I can only hope that the race atmosphere, the adrenalin of actually racing and the preparation I have been doing for the last two years with carry me through. Occasionally, I get a feeling of energy that seems to come out of nowhere and I feel powerful and fast. I also hit low spots where I feel my body aches and the energy seeps out of my muscles and I can barely keep going.

At this point the training is about done and time has run out to do much more. The mental demons have to be dealt with but I am ready otherwise.

Whatever happens at the race, the process of training has been amazing. The old cliche is that it's not about the destination, but the journey. It sounds trite, but it's true. In preparing for this race I have gotten P.R.s in 5k and 10k races, P.R.ed in olympic distance triathlons, qualified and raced in a world championship, gotten through some difficult races and in general have increased my run, bike and swim speed.

For a otherwise untalented athlete, it's empowering to do things that you never thought you could do. You learn to tolerate the pain of testing your limits in a race and learn to love it. You learn to endure the boredom of training when you don't want to. You resist the urge to quit when you are tired and hurting. You resist the depression that hits when everyone else has finished a race and you're still out there alone with an hour to go.

Journey aside, I still want the destination, which is the finish line. I want to test myself and find out that I was stubborn enough to tough it out through the pain until the end. I want the bright lights and cheering. Nobody cares about how slow or fast you did the race because every finisher is a winner. I want a reward for all the exhaustion, pain, exhilaration and boredom of ironman training. I have waited a long time for it and the time is now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Amica Sprint Tri Race Report


The first challenge of the day was trying to find my way through the freeway construction at five in the morning. I had my coffee, but my brain couldn't handle the complexities of figuring out alternate routes. Those construction signs fly by so fast. The ramp I wanted to take (west bound?) or did the sign say eastbound? was closed. I finally got on the freeway to get to the other freeway and the ramp to the other freeway was closed. This is too much at this ungodly hour of the morning. I hate driving to races when it's dark out and I'm half asleep.
I wasn't really nervous since I have raced here before and the race was relatively short. The charity newbies were however. I don't know why a charity would pick this place for a new triathete. The terrain at Lake Pleasant is very hilly and difficult for me, let alone a beginner. Just because the race distances are relatively short, it doesn't mean that they aren't difficult.
Amica was sponsoring this race, so of course the announcer plugged them as much as possible. My impression is that they really weren't familiar with the area. The host hotel was in Carefree, which is a long haul for any locals. They had bus service from the hotel, which I doubt had many riders. They had the expo up in Carefree, but an optional packet pickup in Scottsdale. I don't know why they think I would go all the way up to Carefree if I could go to Scottsdale. If I was an out of towner, I probably would have stayed at a cheaper place in Peoria, which is much closer. All in all, however, the race seemed fairly well organized.
The racers were a mixture of the charity newbies and some very competitive types. Although I only saw him running out of the water from the swim, Jarrod Shoemaker was there, a former Olympic triathlete. He came in fourth.
The swim seemed relatively short to me-750 meters. The water was a little chilly but not too bad. The first leg had us swimming directly into the sun, so it was difficult to see the first turn buoy. I tried to sight off of the mountains, but they all looked alike. I tried to push the pace, but I didn't really get going until halfway through the swim. This is the only sprint tri I am doing this year and it is hard to get up to speed in a short time. Total time was 24 minutes which is about average for me and slow for everyone else. Upon exiting the swim, you have to run up a steep ramp to get to transition. After being horizontal for 24 minutes, trying to run up this ramp about gave me a heart attack. I ran up most of it before I gave up and walked.
I fumbled through transition. With a wetsuit, I usually struggle to get it off. When the water is cold, I usually cannot seem to hurry enough to get my bike stuff together. Putting socks on wet feet is not easy.
I have not ridden this course in a race in a while and I forgot how mean the hills are. Big hills. They required a high effort just to get a piddlely 14-15 mph. They make you work for your low speed. At least I had newbies to pick off to pass by. I think I rode faster just for the fun of passing them. It didn't matter if they were riding mountain bikes and wearing sneakers. They had to be passed. This is where all the painful hill repeats and intervals that I have done all year have paid off. Suddenly you are channeling power through your legs that you didn't know you had. The feeling is exhilerating.
Getting into transition, I got confused and forgot where I was supposed to rack my bike. I think all the hills fried my brain. I was thinking about what I was doing at the moment and not anticipating what I had to do. The blood finally got to my brain and I got my run stuff on. I didn't lose that much time but I was aggravated with myself.
The run was as brutal as the bike. Coming out of transition, you had to run up a steep hill. I couldn't get any speed in my legs. The first mile was done in about 10:40. The second mile was worse-10:50. Everyone of course was on the way back. Not many people I could pass even if I had the energy. The turn around came at the bottom of a hill. I thought as I was running down it I have to run back up this thing. Damn! I ran up it( I wasn't going to walk for anything) and finally the downhill came. At last! Now I finally speeded up. Downhill is good. Downhill is fun. Run time was 31:16. I wanted to try and get below a ten mile per minute pace, but the hills demanded their price and I couldn't pay.
Total time with the botched transitions was 2:11. This race wasn't a priority race for me, just a warmup for the Ironman Arizona. I felt decent on the terrain and it was a fun challenge. On to Ironman!