Monday, July 16, 2012

I am an Ironman (at least a Tin man)

Some Background

Some of you may know me, and I apologize for that. I am traditionally a runner. I enjoy track more than cross country and road racing, but I have succumbed to the growing fad of longer road racing. This past weekend I ran my first real triathlon. I say real because this past winter I did two indoor triathlons, but those involved pool swims and stationary bikes. This was an Ironman 70.3 (half-Ironman).

Last year at our running club's end of year banquet, we were all asked to set goals for 2012. Mine were to log another 2000 miles injury free and to complete a 1/2 Ironman. I am well on my way to the to the 2000 mile mark:

Running Log powered by RunningAHEAD

...and this past weekend, July 15, 2012, I completed the Racine 70.3.

When I first made the goal, I was going to do everything right, I was going to train my biking and swimming and even hit the weight room. The one caveat was that I was not going to relax my running training; so all tri training must be in addition to running training. It was an awesome plan and it was held fast to for almost a week.  "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)

My training schedule leading up to Racine was: on June 24th I went swimming at my dad's lake. Beautiful Lake Wauhob in Indiana. I swam like 40000 centimeters which was basically the distance from his dock to the neighbors and all the was back. On July 4th, I did a social bike ride of a metric century (62.7 mi/100 km). I started the ride with a duathlete, a young buck from the running club and a third rider who was about my age. The duathlete and young buck schooled me, but in my defense I only wanted to ride 20-21 mph and they kept going 24-26 mph. I was not that fast. This ride also had three rest areas, where you got off the bike lined up to refill fluids, sample fruit and local baked goods and the rejoined the route at your leisure. Triathlons have no rest areas. Additionally, I got to take turns riding in a pack here, but for a triathlon, they're tyrants about not allowing drafting. An Ironman is just a straight up test of how much stress can you handle alone. I then had another solo ride of 40 miles on July 8th. I think that sufficiently trained one for the needs of a 70.3 triathlon.

Race Weekend:

On Saturday, I headed up to Racine from the suburbs of Chicago, it was a pleasant day and the projected weather for Sunday was possible rain, but hot. I was kinda feeling OK about this. I had already decided I was not going to compete this, I just needed to complete this. Triathlon check ins are similar to marathon expos, but there are a couple additions. In the triathlon, you sign a waiver about there being lots of ways to get injured or die, but it's on you. Secondly they tag you at the check-in with a band that has your number on it so that only you can enter the transition area and lay claim to you bike afterwards. They also have a race prep meeting, that is not mandatory, but goes over all the rules in the 23 page Athlete's Guide. I read the guide and there are really only two important rules, don't draft and don't litter. There is also the implied try not to die. Having read the entire guide I skipped this, but in retrospect I bet it would have helped to attend to get a feel for what transitions are like. Another element unique to triathlon is that you basically have to impound your bike the day before the race as well. This was strange to me, because my bike is my single biggest expense piece of athletic gear.

While dropping off the bike, I took note of where the different legs of the event enter and exit transition. Simple logistics dictates that there is some rhyme and reason to how swimmers come in, bike leave and re-enter and runner exit so that there aren't huge bottle necks. At this point it should be noted that I was very impressed by how well organized the volunteers and processes in general were. More on that later. I also took the time to walk down to the water and check out the water temperature. C-O-L-D!!! I'd read that the water temps were unseasonably warm, but having forgotten that Lake Michigan is a very cold like, warm is relative. At this point, it should be noted that I did not plan on wearing a wetsuit. I don't own one and have never practiced in one. Besides this a sport of bravado; surely only the weaker athletes need wetsuits. Even though the water was cold I figured my efforts would raise my body temp enough to muscle through.

All that's left is to get some dinner and sleep. This triathlon has a swim that is basically a mile long and parallels the beach, you walk about a mile north in the morning and swim south to the transition area. Also the transition area is open from 5:00a to 6:30a. Roughly converted, that's early. While the bike went to transition the day before, you have to bring the day-of gear on the morning of the event. The day-of gear is cycling shoes, helmet, gloves and socks for the bike running shoes and socks for the run, sunglasses and nutrition for both and a towel to sit on and dry off with during transitions. Space is tight so you have to decide how you want to lay this all out and I think I did OK. I also left gum and suntan lotion on the towel to use before the last two legs. Basically this is not the type of event where you rub the sleep from your eyes, don some shorts and running shoes and you're set for the day.

What about the Race?

Ok, so race morning, I wake up and drive into town to prepare my transition area. We get to the transition area at about 5:30. My race support for the day is a club runner and she has a 1 hour run that she has to do for the day. She also wanted to get the run in before the race so she could cheer me and several other club runners on. One I set everything out, and I was fortunate my allocated space was on the edge of the transition area, I asked her to give me a heads-up on whether it was a good layout. I pumped up the tires and we walked the pump back to the car. She then got ready to run and I decided I would walk towards the start area, but I did not want to sit in the sun an extra 90 minutes so I walked to the zoo that borders the beach and has a walking path that is shaded and just layed down for about 45-50 minutes. I was close enough to the start to hear the starter. Triathons are started in waves to spread out the density of athletes over time. Basically, a new group starts every 5 minutes. The pros were first at 7:00a and I was slated for 7:50. I did get up to watch the pros start, but then returned to my shaded restful state. About 15 minutes before my start time I headed to the beach. I wanted to acclimate myself to the water. The water was cold for the first few seconds but after dunking myself all was well. Looking around I have just noticed that everyone has a wetsuit, not a lot, literally everyone. I'm starting to get nervous about my choices now, but it's a lil' to late.

I head to the corral for my start wave and walk through the arches. This preps you chip to get a race time. We then all wade into the water a bit and wait for the starter to send us off. At the gun, I had the best high knee run to get into swimming mode. I think this is as useful as sprinting at the marathon start and waving your arms screaming, "I'm winning!" I start into the swim and feel there is still a lot of adrenaline. I am probably in the front third of my wave at the first turn buoy. The swim course is setup that you swim out 200 yds turn parallel to the beach for approximately a mile and swim in the 200 yds. the turn buoys are Red. Then along the long leg they start yellow and turn to orange at the halfway point. After passing two yellow buoys, I start to realize, I can't swim a whole mile like this. I also start to realize the buoyancy of a wetsuit would be very welcome right now. I'm the only topless athlete in the water and I'm pretending to think that's why every lifeguard and paddle boardist asked if I was OK. It was either that or the fact that I was drinking the lake one mouthful at a time and thrashing about like a seal looking to be a meal. The yellow buoys just kept coming so I kept thinking, you're not even half-way done you idiot. The swim continued this way until I came to the orange buoys, then the game changed to, "where is the red turn buoy?" Finally, the next buoy turns red and I feel as though I may escape the swim leg. On the leg back to the beach the sunlight reflecting through the water played tricks on me. I felt as though I could see the bottom so I kept testing to see if I could stand yet. Each test had the same result; you're over your head and this how to start the drowning process; there is not bottom. I eventually make it to the beach and fully expect that I was in the water for an hour. It turns out I was done in 46 minutes; my goal was 40, so not terrible.

Time to Bike

Once out of the water, you have to traverse the deep dry beach to get to the boardwalk of 1/4 mile to enter the transition zone (7 mins). This was my fastest run segment of the day. I now have to clear my thoughts and prepare for the bike. I rinse my feet of sand and put some socks on. I apply some sunscreen, put on my race shirt (harder than anticipated due to exhaustion) and my helmet and shoes and grab the bike. I push it to the transition exit and there is a bit of a bottleneck. Everyone knew to get the bike to here, but some forgot that they must now mount the bike and ride it. The start of the bike is straight up hill, but I was in a good gear and got up to the first turn where I started to sit back and take inventory of the situation. I feel pretty good, I have my breath back from swimming, feel confident that I did not lose too much time on that leg and had an OK transition. Now I start setting my tempo, I decided for 20mph but only if it was easy, I did not want to red zone. I am really passing a lot of people and finally see a guy doing about my pace so I sit in 4 length back and we start rolling. We were rolling all the way until about 4 miles in...

The Nightmare

At 4 miles we have a right hand turn, while the course is open to traffic, at the intersections they are controlling traffic through. This one had a cop and two volunteers and I feel they were admiring the flowers growing in the ditch because they allowed an SUV to come through the intersection at the same time that the rider ahead of me was there. Since physics dictates that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time; we were about to see if we could create a Higgs Boson. The rider ahead of me tried to stop using the brakes, but the merging truck did not give way and he hit the ground and slid into the truck. Btw, I am riding 20 mph and only 20 feet back so I have to figure out how to avoid the same outcome. I grabbed too much rear brake, and did a bit of fish-tail. I ended up unclipping as the slide started, but the steel clip on my shoe was a skate on the pavement, so I ended up with the clipped foot under the SUV and my unclipped foot spread eagle into the splits, which I cannot do naturally. Half-way through the skid I heard a pop; that was my rear tire. Things happened fast here, so I have to try hard to remember the events. Step one, get out from under truck, step two, accidentally, kick truck with as much force from a steel bottom shoe. Step three, assess me for brokenness (no issues, thankfully) step four check on downed rider. He thinks he is OK, but he got a lot of rash. I am very confident that through this process I bitched out the driver and kinda let the cop and two volunteers know that I was not particularly happy with their work product for the day. While it is poor taste to rant at a volunteer, I feel he put lives at risk and didn't do what he volunteered to due and the cop just straight up flubbed the task at hand. At this point I am shaking and upset and realizing that something really bad was narrowly avoided just now. Since the other rider claimed to be OK, I started determining my next steps. Given all that had just occurred I was not thinking straight, so my first gut response was great there's $$$$ down the drain and I took of my shoes and started walking back to the transition/starting area. Very quickly a race official in a pickup came by and asked if I was OK and needed help and I was dejected so I just said I was disappointed with the traffic control and though I had to bag the day. He asked if I wanted to fix the flat and I then started to realize, wait, maybe I can salvage the day. He then asked what happened and I explained and pointed him to the downed rider. Until this point he thought I was the downed rider; and he was here to investigate the accident announced on race radio. So he was done with me, but he did plant the seed. I quickly got the tube and CO2 cartridge out of my saddle bag and proceeded to change my tire. At this point I am down about 10 minutes between sulking, ranting and walking, but I changed the tire in 2-3 minutes and was putting air back in when I heard a rather loud POP! FEKKITY FEK FEK! While I had changed tires before it's a rarity for me and after getting the tube partially inflated I did not check to insure the tire was properly seated before fully inflating. That one's on me, but could have been avoided had the idiot in the truck paid attention. OK, so I am shifting blame a bit on the second tire pop. Well now here I sit with a flat and no tube and an empty CO2 cartridge; now my day if definitely over. I continue the walk of shame back to the start line. After about 10-15 minutes, a Trek Shop support team asks if I need help and I am very dejected and not polite or friendly, but I finally break down and ask if they can get me back on the road. Hearing this they jump into action. This time they took the back tire off and completed the tire/tube change and said good luck. Based upon this alone, everyone, go check out the Trek Stores of Madison; they were my hero for the day.

Bike ON! OK, I walked back about a mile of the course and my attitude stinks and I have expended a lot of useless energy, but I am peddling again. Because of how long I was down, I did nothing but pass people for the next 52 miles. I think I was only passed by a handful of riders who could make the pass stick. Again, this is not due to my cycling prowess, rather it's because I sunk back far enough that all the proficient cyclists where already ahead of me. the course was moderately rolling, no sharp hills and I was planning on carrying an 18 mph and ended up with about 18.5 moving average.

As the bike ride was coming to an end, I tried to loosen up my back which had been hunched over all day. I was also nursing my quads which were acting up. I was pretty good taking in nutrients and salts on the ride, but not good enough to avoid slight cramps. The bike ride ends with the same downhill that I rode up to start, so I'm gonna try something new on race day. What could possibly go wrong? I loosened my shoes so that I could pull my feet out and leave the shoes clipped. I see triathletes do that all the time. It turns out I could do this, but as I tried to pull my feet out, it fired calf muscles like standing on the ball of your foot, because I was standing on the ball of my foot. I got to the transition, dismounted and quickly pushed my bike to it's rack. I then changed shoes, not socks as I had planned, discarded garbage and took on nutrients. My support team handed me a half-melted bottle of water and I was on my way (5 mins).

Time to Run

My plan for the day was to swim and bike conservatively enough to try and carry 7 minute pace for the half marathon. I felt like I was in OK shape and this course was mostly flat. There are a couple hills near the transition, but otherwise it's flat. It's two out and back loops to a light house that you can see from the start. The T2 inventory told me my legs were in pretty good shape and I had not yet redlined for the day, so I'm gonna crush this run. As I launch out of transition, I tried to be slow. Bzaganjo at Running Ahead warned me to run the first mile or two 30 seconds over projected pace. That was my intention; I failed. I also did not experience the "my legs don't want to run because I just cycled" phenomena. My first mile was 6:54; I was passing people by leaps and bounds, these people are all death marching. What a bunch of maroons. Somewhere between 1.5 and 2 miles I realized, it's hotter than the face of the sun out here, I'm tired and my energy stored are depleted. Oh, Lord, this is gonna be a long run. I very quickly started a run walk regime, I don't think I ran another full mile on the first 6+ mile loop. As I passed through the T-zone my support crew said I was 1:08, btw I have a watch I knew that ;( I did respond back to not expect the second to be any better. The quads that were signalling on the bike were in full on cramp mode and they didn't show signs of letting up. I was taking on too much liquid and food as a crutch and really giving myself no chance to get into a running rythm. During the second lap I kept trying to mount a resurgance, but could only get a mile of running in at a time. At about 11 miles I decided I was gonna run this thing home. Run mind you not this hobby-jogging death march. Raising the pace did feel better, but I could tell it was consuming more energy than I seemed to have. The last two miles were at 7:30s so I have that and a medal to show for the day. The run segment was a glorious 2:14 for a half marathon, uuugh!


For starters, I cannot run a triathlon on fitness alone, I need more bike and swim time. 24 hours ago, right after the race I swore off triathlons. I have softened my stance since then, but I am still more out than in. I will get a wet suit next time.

MTA: As the sub-title suggests, I am only a Tin Man now, need to do the full to move up to the Ironman.

That's my story...

1 comment:

  1. "hotter than the face of the sun out here" This and a million other reasons, I'll never run a tri. Great report, look forward to reading about the next one.