Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The One that Got Away...

Warning: If painful urination disturbs you, stop reading. Also, I may take a day or two to post this in its entirety.

I can't help but feel like I let a great opportunity slip away at about the 9 mile mark of this Ironman, when my determination to finish wavered. I have to be honest, I don't know how athletes with families do two or even three Ironman races a year- outside of doing one and then qualifying for Hawaii and going there. But carving out the time and suffering the expenses of doing an Ironman is a lot of work. I wanted to have a really good Ironman race this time- we didn't have the time to make a real vacation of the trip and I was there to race, plain and simple. And I kind of laid an egg. It will be about a year and a half at least before I race the distance again. And I'll be old...

Well, maybe not. Old at least.

Anyway, without further rambling reflection, here's my impressions of the race.

Pre-race: I got up at around 4:15. I ate a banana. Note to self- never do that again on the morning of an Ironman race. I drank a cup of coffee, jumped on my MacBook, checked the weather- predictions of wind- checked EH's board and my email, then made sure that everything was in my special needs bags and woke up the brood. I grabbed a red bull and threw it in my dry clothes bag for after the race and was down at the start by around 5 AM, the suggested time. Note to everyone- at this race, that's massive overkill. I was body marked, had dropped off my bottle of high-test gatorade endurance formula on my bike, checked the inflation of my wheels with my thumb, and off-loaded my special needs bags by 5:15. 1:45 to race time ? That's way too long for someone who swims the way I do to think about the race.

I hit the road and did a ten minute jog. My calves felt a little twitchy. Since it would be close to nine hours before I started running, I thought that was fine. I then went to the port-a-let. Note to the race director- why would you only have six port-a-lets for over 2100 athletes in the transition area ? Fortunately, there were four others tucked away about 100 yards from transition with basically no lines. I switched the shuffle to sequential play, cruised on over to Evanescence, found a quiet place to lay down. About fifteen minutes later (probably actually ten) I decided to check something that was bothering me about my bike.

I didn't want to put an x-lab on my bike but with the tubular wheels, but what choice did I have ? You can't fit anything under my seat, certainly not a tire. I had tightened it up as much as I could, and it was tight- as long as I didn't move it laterally. I'm not sure how I determined that would be a problem lying on my back, but it required more tightening. I called back to the room but the second of our two Park Tools was missing, so I headed over to the special needs bags. I had this vision of the x-lab bouncing off the top of my back wheel, stopping and ripping it off and then having to ride 10 miles with it in my right hand wondering where the frak the aid station was. I was able to tighten it. I removed the particular wrench I would need if further adjustments were required, and stuck it in the gear bag on the left side of the x-lab. I would never see it again, although I heard it one more time, bouncing on the raod at about 40 miles.

I did not start putting my wetsuit on until 6:20 because they weren't going to let us into the water until close to 6:40- it's an open water start a good 100 metres from the entry-point. It was about then I realised I had a full tube of chammy butter but no bodyglide...

The Swim: For the first time in my life, I floated in the water, on my back, and didn't end up choking up more water than the Titanic's bailing pumps, while waiting for the race to start. Although I suck at treading water, I was determined not to have to rush to the line prior to the start. I was able to stand on a wall some of the time, but I spent the last ten minutes right on the line, all the way on the outside, and when we started, I was off the line.

I was also soon being swum over by people who know how to keep moving even though they are catching only my back and legs and not water. Someone reading this please explain how you can catch nothing but other people's wetsuits and zoom forward..

The course is a one loop out and back- ironic, really. Both the run and bike are 3 loops, which is really annoying, yet the swim is a single loop. Go figure. So you start thinking straight lines, only the course is curved. It took me a while to get back to the line- I felt like I was off on the right against the wall forever, but by the halfway point I was head-butting bouys- literally. I was swimming along and hit two consecutive ones. The first one startled me, because I didn't see it coming. I looked up. There were a bunch of people way inside the bouy (this seems like cutting the course to me, but again, feel free to explain while it isn't) and another bunch way outside. I was alone. Which can only mean sticking on the buoys was the long way round.

It was a scrum at the turn bouys. It's always a scrum at the turn bouys. I come from a team sport background, and if people hit me like that playing say, some sort of hockey, it would be time to drop the stick and go- and I was a goalie...

As always, I got forced wide at the bouy. I tried getting back inside. I heard/felt my left shoulder pop at least twice, but there was nothing i could do except finish.

I climbed out at 1:18, tied for my slowest swim ever, and- that was hard. I was a good six minutes off where I wanted to be. Six minutes ! I took two or three seconds to stand still, until I shoook that thought off and found a peeler. I got most of the suit off standing up, flopped for the leg pull, and then ran through the crowd of swimmers to my bag.

T1: Better than Lake Placid. Fewer choices, better organised. Only one little mistake. No sunscreen. Hey, the swelling in my left arm went away Tuesday...

Bike: I promised myself no matter how annoyed I got, I would not sit up and let someone drafting me go by... so I sat up three miles into the race. I didn't want to start racing early, although this guy would draft by me six or seven times during the race (and pass me once on the right). I was thinking I was six minutes off and therefore needed three minutes on the bike, or a minute a loop. Thoughts like these sound so good in your head...

I didn't have a chance to see the course ahead of time, but as I headed out on the 18.5 mile portion of the out and back, I was moving fairly well, however, I felt like I was in a crosswind. I got excited about, of all things, getting to the turn-around, which was on what passes for the biggest hill on the course, and hoped the crosswind would be more at my back. Up I climbed. I had started out so well- I took electrolytes and food in the first mile of the course, my foot felt good, I was fighting my way up through the ranks.

I hit the turn-around and words actually came out of my mouth 'What the frak ?' The wind was unbelievable and nearly unbearable. It wasn't a crosswind at all, it was a dead on breezefest at about 20 mph. I put my head up and started trying to lug the mail. i tried to keep eating and drinking, but my mouth was dry constantly from the wind, I couldn't eat my combos, and I was only taking one bottle per rest stop. I was keeping up with the planned amount of electrolytes, which were half what I needed. My fault....

I'm not going to say anything else about drafting. It is what it is. There were some people out there drafting, there were some people riding clean. Except for a pair of forty year olds that went by me several times working together, I felt more able to let it go this time, and let's face it, even the drafters were working hard into the wind.

Things got dire for the first time at 70 miles when I tried to pee a second time. I started to urinate and immediately had to stop because of the incredible burning sensation. I've had this before, but never this bad. Each time I stood up, more urine leaked out (because I'd stopped in mid-pee) and the pain was- not refreshing. I finally got ice cold water at a rest stop and stupidly poured the entire bottle on my crotch. This releaved the symptom but failed to solve the problem...

I tried to drink more, but it was too late. I went back to trying to pee and for the rest of the ride, the result was always the same, so painful I had to stop. I made the second lap and headed back out on the third, but I didn't push as hard with the wind at my back the way I had the first two times. I wanted to be strong coming in, get in the port-a-let with a bottle of water, and get the hell out on the run.

I kept up with the food and the gatorade or water and made it out to the turn on last time. On the way out a guy passed me (for no reason I could tell) on the right, even though there was one bike width between me and a bridge and a ton of room on my left. I gave him a piece of my mind, but I let him go instead of chasing him down. I felt a little worried about the peeing thing because I knew it meant my electrolytes were not right and I was dehydrated, but I had a decent third lap. The wind was stronger on that lap than the others, and the entire ride in to Tempe, even though it was my slowest lap, I was passing and dropping people. By the casino, people were going maybe 10 miles an hour. It was as bad a wind as anything I'd seen.

T2: I knew my bike was around 5:40 (all I had on my computer had been cadence, 85-100 for the ride), and that was not as good as I would have liked. Also, I was sunbaked. I got changed, got sunscreen, hit the port-o-let with a bottle of water, and poured that on myself as I peed. I was able to bear the pain, which was good as I had another two days of it to deal with. I was back on the road in about 4:30.

Run: Wow. My IM was torpedoed by my run. Would I have ever thought ? No, not really. But take a look at my face and tell me I wasn't feeling bad...

I had an OK first loop. By OK, I was running mid-eights, which is not the 7:56 average I wanted. As usual, the first five miles were too fast. I tried to go out on 8's, and was at 38:30 at 5 miles. So I backed off, a little too much, and finished the first loop running in the 8's. Soon after I finished the first loop, I started to feel- wrong. Byv wrong, i mean I just did not want to run anymore. I was going uphill into the wind- I wasn't sick, I wasn't so legsore I couldn't keep moving, I just felt wrong.

I cracked. I'm not going to make excuses, I'm not going to look down the lens of history at what was right or wrong with anything up to that moment. I needed to keep running and I didn't. I though if I gave myself three minutes, I'd be OK. But I wasn't. The 11 minute plus average on the second lap tells you how much I ran versus how much I walked.

The good news. I never gave up on finishing. The bad news. Finishing has never been my goal, or something potentially outside my ability.I never stopped moving forward. I kept walking even though I was ashamed to be walking, had never walked before- and oh yes, I suck at walking. When I was walking, I was being passed- by other people who were walking. I may be a good runner, but I am a suck-ass walker. I didn't let it get to me when I passed the same people over and over. I ran when I felt good, walked when I didn't.

I took water and cola. I even tried pretzels. Note to self: NEVER AGAIN PRETZELS. You know that powder they mix with water to make cement ? Next time, hand me a mouthful of that. Combos, with their extra cheese and salt, are fine, but the inside of a regular pretzel is just, well, like a beige dirt.

At mile 14, a volunteer almost grabbed me and forced me to accept additional sunscreen. Ah, blessed volunteers. Probably the only thing that prevented the amputation of my left arm.

The third loop was a little better. More running. Perversely, I ran best and hardest into the wind and uphill, and worst or walked the easier parts. What really got me going again, and allowed me to run the entire last five miles, was a brief conversation I had with a 19 year old who was also walking. I was trying to encourage him and he said, 'Hey, let's run to the bridge.' I never walked again after we started running.

I finished. I was glad I finished. I was mad. I was- drained.

Wow. That's some hair gell. Still spiky !

Post Race: I collected my bike, my two transitions and my dry clothes bag, huddled under a space blanket, drank a red bull, and tried to negotiate a ride home. Unable to do that, I rode my bike back to the hotel on the opposite side of the road from where people were still headed out on their second and third run loops. I went home, washed out my wet suit and hung it on the balcony, posted to my blog, and waited for the family to get back.

I later went and watched people finish from 14:30 to 16:00. Wow, some impressive efforts here, older athletes, first timers, people with real enthusiasm, and the champagne celebration for the race winners.

I may not have had the ironman I wanted, but I had an Ironman, my fifth. I got to explore a new place, hit a great pub- Gordon Biersch. And when I think about the wheelchair athletes and the people who crashed on the bike and still finished, what right do I have to complain ? And hey, I survived another 2.4 mile swim...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Quick Thoughts on a Tough Day

I'm not going to mince words or make excuses. I had a poor race today. After what was simply the most hellish bike ride I have ever had, I ran poorly and I finished with an 11:27 something.

That is to say, I walked much of the second and a small part of the third loops. I had always felt as though I would never walk, however, when that moment came when I started to think about whether I should run or stop, I instead decided to keep moving. It probably was a bad decision but I think that had I simply kept running i would have ended up in the medical tent or just lying on the side of the road like other people I saw today.

I also ran 6 of the last 9 miles, including the last five. It could have been worse. And it could have been so much better. More later. No regrets.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Final Thoughts

I took this after I got out of the water today. The last day before the race is not the easiest preparation day, and yet-

My secret shame is that I enjoy opening up my athlete area or my email and getting my final workouts before the race. 15 minutes of each is the day before workout. There's a lot of pressure getting those workouts in during the last six weeks or so before the race and more than ever when it's dark early, and cold outside. So not being stressed out about the workouts is definitely a help. There's a certainn luxury in say, running for 15 minutes and going home, done.

So where do my thoughts turn the day before the Ironman. Oddly, this train of thought- should I consider the Ironman just another race, or something really special ?

I think this question is answered differently for every person. For me, no answer is good, as I think both are the coward's way out- for me, and only me. I cannot stress that enough. After all, it's just a race, just our 'other' life. But for me, neither answer works. To say it's just another race is to trivialise my A race and also give me an out if I don't have a great race. After all, not all my races are good races or races where I have my best performance.

To say it is a big deal also gives me an out. It's such a big race and how can you expect everything to go well ? It's the best of the best competing against you, the pressure is on, so many things can go wrong...

I thing the middle road is the only one for me. Yes, it's a big race, and yes, it's just another race. If circumstance and my own fortitude co-operate, i may have a good race, I may even do something memorable, for myself if no one else. Regardless, if I finish, I will write a time in the book, and either have something to live with or something to be, it's hard to say, proud of. In any event, I plan to enjoy the day.

And when it's over, have a beer. Or three. Maybe even a massage.

Active Release Techniques

After I swam, I slipped on a singlet and headed out on my VERY easy 30 minutes run. While I'd had a good night sleep Thursday night, the night we'd flown out I'd had about three hours of sleep, and spent more time than probably advisable lugging around well more than my weight in luggage (hence the etymology of the word).

As a result my right hamstring was sore enough that- well, it was sore enough that I was concerned it could have an impact on my race. So after my run, I asked if we had time for me to do a session.

If you've had ART before, you proably know what the process is like and, unlike say, getting a sports massage, where the therapist asks you what needs to be worked on and then gives you a massage, the ART therapist is looking for a cause of your discomfort. After asking me a few questions, she had the head therapist, or whatever he is called, watch me run. He came to the conclusion that my problem was that my quads were tight.

My quads are tight, but rarely bother me. The upper part of my leg is also a little proportionally shorter than it should be, and the end result is are muscles that are very tight. However, because of a terminology gap I initially got the impression that my choice of foot strike was being criticised. My choice of foot strike is one of the few things that is the result of some concious choice and experimentation, so I was a little taken aback.

However, what he was really saying was that I could run more efficiently and have more energy return with my current stride if I had better quad response. At that point the therapist was ready to go.

I don't work on well, and ART is an aggressive technique. That plus how tight my quads were made for an unpleasant session. However the therapist was very good, and also very patient, and after working on me she had the head therapist watch my stride again and he was satisfied my legs were in a better place.

So far, no pain in my hamstring this morning...thanks ART.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Oh My God, the Water Is(n't the least bit) Cold

I heard a lot about the cold water at Ironman Arizone. To be fair, everything I heard about last year was undoubtedly true- I know people who did the race and it was cold- even the pros were wearing insulated caps on their head.

We got in early enough yesterday to get to the river and go swimming during the Gatorade swim. However, getting to the car rentals, and then even harder, getting a car seat for Ian, took too long. There's an automatic DQ for getting into the river outside the posted hours.

I got in this morning around 8:45 AM. I was pulling on my wetsuit and listening to a guy that was pulling a wool cap over his head and was wearing an Ironman Lake Placid sweatshirt talk about how cold the water was. I thought to myself that he must know what he's talking about, he's been to Placid. I went to put my Ironman Lake Placid finishers cap on and of course, it tore. Undetered, I wrapped it around my head, put my spare swimcap over it, and headed for the water.

It was not cold. It was not even remotely cold. It was not chilly. While it was not warm, it was at least as warm as the Yale pool. However, it is full of dirt, or something I'll pretend is dirt. Visibility is zero, and it has a weird toaster (taste+odor).

The ramp you may or may not be able to see in my Treo's pictures is a nice touch. I practiced climbing up it several times because after swimming 2.5 miles (I always like to do a little extra credit), I don't want to eat a ramp-face sandwich with a side of visit to the medical tent.

I was pretty psyched by the warm water. Then I had some ART. That deserves its own post.

By the way, here's a look at transition...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Aye, that's the rub !

The first major task after getting to the hotel, after detours to Brueggers and Starbucks for lunch, was to put my bike together. Despite TSA, a long flight, and getting shoved upside-down into our rental, the bike case came out in good shape.

It had been suggested that I try getting the bike in with the back wheel on. To do this, I had to take the front break pads off (it still didn't fit). My last two tasks involved reseating the headset, which is one of two or three tasks I can do, but would prefer not to do, and reseating the front breaks.

Despite the fact that my breaks were wide open, I was still rubbing on the wheel. I looked at them and decided they'd been placed too high. i lowered them. I spun the wheel and watched. No contact- and still a rubbing noise. Well, there are only two things a front wheel can rub against- the breaks, or the fork. I got down lower, spun the wheel, and sure enough, the tire on my Zipp wheel is not quite perfectly glued and has a bulge (?). Barely noticeable. Also barely rubbing, which means rubbing. At the top arc of the fork....

I played with the exact seating of the wheel, the way the skewers tightened, and managed to get it to stop, but...rubbing ? Aye, there's the rub, and it's on my fork. Just a little bit disquiting.

Weather update: wind-storm while I was riding. 40 mph gusts, dirt everywhere, and then light rain and noticably colder...

Monday, April 09, 2007

Last Run- Going Under

Day: Sunday
Length: 81 minutes
Temperature: 35 degree F
Wind: 15 mph
Precipitation: Flurries

Wow. I'm out on my last run yesterday and those are the conditions- as I am preparing to run in 80 degree heat, it's snowing. On Easter. Now I once saw a foot of snow on Easter, and that's not like that, but it is still a little crazy.

I ws testing out a new pair of Brooks I bought at Sound Runner. They are great shoes but they're mid-weight racing shoes, so on a cold day they are a little stiff. Still, once I get going I started to feel good, the music sounded great...

I've been listing to a lot of Evanescence and my favourite song is 'Going Under'. Now, for anyone who knows how I swim, which needs no description, this is part irony and part bad thinking on my part. This should not be my theme song by any stretch of the imagination. Or should it ? I am at once at risk of going under and not coming back up, and guilty of not getting far enough under water, so in a strange way, going under is exactly what I need to be doing more of.

I was running on the Hammerfest Course and right after the turn-around I passed a guy going the other direction- tall guy, running shorts, good stride. I was thinking how I was on my last training run, plunking along and I was going to be run down by some twenty-something out for a Sunday run. I have a little bit of an ego problem that way- I don't like to be passed, never have. But I have a strict rule about never looking back, at least when I race, although i do sometimes make exceptions when I'm training. I finally looked back around 4 minutes later and surprise- I'd gapped the guy in a major way.

It reminded me what I always forget during the off-season. Triathletes sure are a fast-looking bunch. Most of the men- and women- are taller, thinner, have cool bikes, cool kit, and at least look the part. Me, I'm short, kind of heavy for my size (5'4", 138). But speed isn't about how you look- and when you look at other athletes and think, wow, they look fast, you're just taking energy away from yourself and giving it to them. I can't change how look, or I've given up making anything more than a miminal effort, but I can think fast, I can go steady, and maybe, just maybe, have the race I want to have, me against the clock. I might even look up my IM PR just to have it in the back of my head...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Brian's Beachside Boogie, or How to be Second...

Last year Brian's was the only focus race I had before Lake Placid. I've done Brian's four or five years in a row. This year, however, it was an open question if I would race, with it being two weeks before IM Arizona.

Well, it was an open question in that Eric and I hadn't talked about it, and therefore the possibility existed he would say don't do it. I didn't even ask about the 5K run in the same park the day before, which I'd won due to sparse competition both years they'd held it.

It was a nice day for Brian's, which means it was about 50 degrees and sunny. the wind in Hammonassett Park is always present, and always in your face out to Meig's point.

Last year, I lost the race by eight seconds. For the fourth year in a row, I'd been first off the bike, but had nothing to show for it in the end as Mark Hixson outran me in the last two-mile run.

When we ran into each other before the race, I knew what my assignment was- try and put more time into him on the bike than last year, and have a better second run, while not spending too much energy in my first serious race since November.

We went out on the first run and he got away from me but good. He put :51 into me because the guy is a great runner. Still, I wasn't worried. it's a 10 mile bike and I felt I could get over a minute a loop. Which I did. Problem- both of us were behind another great all-around athlete, Peter Daly.

Peter had only put 30 seconds into me on the run. He never came back on the bike. I only saw him a few times because the course is twisty, turny, and woody at times. I saw him once on the run and thought- I can't catch him. I ran as hard as I could, but it wasn't close. I gave up 38 seconds to Peter on the first run and 38 more on the bike and second run, and I came into the finish three seconds off last year's time but much farther back in second.

The race raises money for The Myelin Project, so if you are feeling generous please give the site a visit. Brian's gets its name from a boy who has a de-myelinizing disease named Brian, who is always at the race, cheering us on.

It was still a good start to what is going to be an early season.