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...

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