Sunday, September 13, 2009

Firm-Man Half Ironman

I woke up at 4:20 this morning and it was pouring rain in Warwick, just north of Narragansett. I mean, it was raining hard.

The forecast when we left for the race on Saturday was clearing with a high of 80.

Given the sound of the rain, it, well it just sounded cold, and the thought of riding in the rain in singlet and bike shorts was not appealing. I'd travelled to the race with one of my teammates, Steve Surprise. He got up, made some coffee, and I sat on my bed checking email. We didn't rush, but by 5:30, when we were ready to leave, the rain was already a drizzle, and while the road was a little wet on the bike, it was never a factor.

I was one of the early people down at the water and the white caps were a little viscous. I was having trouble figuring out how to deal with them because it was low tide and it was hard to decide whether to walk or combine knuckle-dragging and putting your head down and just swimming through them. I got some helpful advice from someone in my own age-group, which was awful nice.

When I came out of the water people were just walking down to the start. One of the Firm principles was in the hospital with appendicitis, and the call to get down to the water came late. We started about 15 minutes late.

Everyone walked quite a ways out. This isn't good for me. I take it easy when I'm walking to keep my heat-rate down. People were way too far to the left of the buoy on the outside- I was too far inside and had to swim to get back around the buoy. Then we turned...

The swim is basically about 2/10th of a mile out, a little under a mile over, then in. When I'd been walking down at 6:40, the intermediate buoys were still on the beach.

They might just as well have left them there. I saw one or maybe two buoys between the turn and the end of the swim. People were everyone- way too far inside, way too far outside. It was a just a mess. You couldn't sight. Not just me, other people I talked to said the same thing. Every once in a while I saw the far buoy and just out my head down and went- I swim a lot better when I aimed at something- anything.

Depending on which set of results you looked at after the race, my swim was somewhere between 30 and 33 minutes. 30 would be great, and considering that my bike split was not right either, well, who knows. It was a decent swim for me. For the second straight race, I swam through a rough ocean start, stayed calm and settled in nice.

As soon as I got out of the water and was running on the beach my calves started to cramp. I knew why. The last time I did Firm Man I swore I wouldn't run New Haven and Firm Man ever again..

I had a decent transition- under two minutes. I skipped the wetsuit stripping station (nice touch, however), had no problem with socks or shoes or helmet, and headed out on the start of the bike. I was riding about a minute when I saw Steve, who'd started 3 minutes ahead of me. He had 4-5 minutes on me at that point, headed in the other direction. We did a short loop and then I was on the chase.

After the turn-around I was passed almost immediately by a guy- there was a 48 on his calf- I was busy eating Clif Blocks, but as usual, I was annoyed that I'd been passed, so I finished eating, followed the guy from about six bike lengths back, and then attacked after the turn that takes us out onto the course. My calves, even when hurt or sore, don't bother me on the bike I was riding well, not great, but well. I wanted to be sensible on the bike.

We worked our way onto route one and there were some packs. I passed them one by one, picking off people, some in my age group, some in the wave that started in front of me, seemingly more than the wave that started behind me.

I passed one of a number of Cyclonauts that I'd pass during the race. It's a large team, I'm sure that most of them race clean, just as I'm sure there are people on my team that have drafted once or twice in a race. But today- well that didn't seem to be the rule. This guy, who I believe was 28, wouldn't drop. He would ride off my left shoulder, right behind me. He passed me at least three times, with me dropping, at which point he'd slow down and I'd pass him again.

Point is- motorcycle came up next to us, and official assessed him a penalty- awesome.

Finally I got to the turn off. The road at the turn-off is not nearly as good as Route 1. There's also some decent climbing and it was here that I ran into someone that would be with me for the last 35 miles of the ride. I never did get his name, but he was a team athlete, on a road bike with a green kit- clearly a cyclist.

We would go back and forth the rest of the ride. He was better climber, yet I was beating him some of the hills because he wasn't aggressively attacking the downhill rollers leading into many of the hills in this section, where I was going all-out to get up[ as much speed as possible. Steve said he noticed the same thing about some of the riders around him.

There's a point in this section where you came back and cross in front of the cyclists going out. Very weird.

At the end, you hump back out onto Route and and start heading north (?) again. Two guys in my age group went by me working together, and I did get a little aggravated. They started to separate and I picked off the slower one. He didn't drop and the next time he passed me, the team guy also went by. I was sitting up, arms out, just gliding so that I could drop. The guy in green looked at me and asked if everything was all right and I told him I was just dropping back five bike lengths.

Then I got up and nice acceleration and never saw my competition again. The team guy was never too far away however, and as on one pass he said 'It's nice to have you along.'

That last out section on route 1 is not easy. You feel like you're going uphill and there's a cross wind.I was chasing this other guy in my age group, knowing I couldn't just let him go. I started seeing people headed back the other direction and that makes the wait to the turn around more painful because those people are moving away from you twice as fast- in your head- as the people in front of you, since you are going in the opposite direction.

This guy was bigger than me, so he was picking up time on the downhills and I was picking up time on the uphills. I finally made the turn-around and then it was more slanting uphill work into a crosswind.

I was still riding well, and in fact in this section my speed was going up, but the guy in blue seemed to be pulling slowly away.

I caught a woman from the Bethel Bikes time around 44 miles in, and another woman a few miles later. I was doing my best to be patient but the road is long and pretty straight with clear sight lines and you can see people in front of you.

I finally started to gain on this guy just before the turn-off back to Narragansett. Three or four of us made the turn in sequence, and I was able to get a couple of final passes in before we got back to transition.

One thing I've noticed doing duathlons and triathlons is that no matter what feels wrong with my legs, it just disappears on the bike. And it's not fair to blame New Haven for my trashed calves. It was the 200 miles of riding in six days before New Haven with just one easy day the day before the race that out me in a bad place, and my legs never feel good after New Haven.

But when I started to run, my calves hurt so bad that the first thought I had was that there was no way they'd not cramp and I'd never finish. But I started running and re-evaluated. They weren't crampy at all. The muscles were just all torn up. I know how that works. You run a long hard run and you get a lot of tears in the microfibres of your muscles, or micro-tears in the fibres of your muscles. Whatever.

Point- they were going to hurt the whole run. Once I accepted that, everything was a lot easier.

At about 1 mile- and one mile seemed to come quickly- I ran by a Cyclonaut. He was walking and rubbing something- hamstring or calf. I just ran by- I didn't want to get sucked into that misery. I was running well, really well. I hit two miles quickly. Between two and three miles I was thinking that if it wasn't for the fact that my legs were just plain sore, this was a chance for me to have a great race because aerobically, I felt really good.

I drank a bottle and a half of heed on the bike, ate two Clif Shot block bags and took maybe 4 endurolytes. This is not enough.

Even though I took a clif shot in transition, I think at about three miles, I started to fade. It came on me slowly so I thought I'd take some endurolytes and race caps and fight it off. I grabbed a cup of water but by the time I got the pills out all the water had shaken out of the cup. I dropped the pills in and considered bending down and scooping water out of one of the puddles on the road. Yeah, I was considering drinking puddle water. But I remembered there being another water stop before we go into the woods and I was right.

I was on a really slow fade at that point. Around four miles, just before the turn around, I saw Peter Daly. He was running pretty well headed towards me. We exchanged a hand slap. This would have been great if he hadn't started like nine minutes behind me. I believe he passed me- wait for it- on the swim.

I was feeling a like throw-upish as we headed back up the hill out through the woods and towards the 'main' road again. It was the Heed plus the blocks plus the cliff shots (I'd taken one at three miles). We broke back out onto the road that becomes the second out and back. I was going downhill, and there were two guys in front of me, a 44 year old and Peter. I was scratching the 44 year old. Finally I made that pass at 5 or so. By six, I was getting close to Peter, and the feeling that I was coming apart was gone. I threw away my hat at an aid station. Then I saw the ten mile mark coming back and I passed Peter around 7. I knew the turn around was coming soon.

But after fighting off feeling like crap once, it hit me again. I passed Peter and he asked me how I felt and I said 'Not good.' He told me I looked good, but I almost immediately started to fade.

I wanted to not only catch Peter but put time into him. I knew he'd started well behind me and I wanted to use the run to reduce the serious gap between us.

This was silly. I was not competing with Peter. I'd just passed a guy I was competing with. What's more I think Peter's a great guy and-

Uh, I'm always competing with everyone. That's my weakness in long races. Instead of focusing on my job- beating the guys with numbers 41,42,43, and 44 on their legs, I was trying to take time out of, well, myself.

Peter passed me back before 8. Disheartened, I stopped to pee. I'd needed to pee the entire run, and I'd needed to go number two since before the swim, although that had faded a bit.

I peed. The guy with the 44 on his leg ran by.

I started running again. I felt marginally better.

I ran a lousy mile 8-9, but I kept those two in my sights. It was getting to be long range vision. Peter was a good 200 yards ahead of me.

At nine, I took a cup of water and drank the whole thing. Amazingly, I felt better right away. I starting working back into the run and by ten- well, I'd had two down points in the run but suddenly I felt OK.

And then we were climbing again, and I was closing on Peter and the guy with the 44.

I kept them close to mile 11, we crossed the road and then it was almost over. I thought both of them had just enough on my to beat me in. I started running harder. Amazingly the guy with the 44 on his calf was coming back. I passed him around mile 12 and he tried his best to hang but now I was running.

Peter was ahead, but we reached the beach just feet apart. He started across the sand and his family was there, the girls and his wife and we running maybe two-three yards apart. At that point I was not going to pass him, on the beach, with his family watching. How cheesy would it be to pass him when he'd beaten me by almost nine minutes ?

But as we got off the sand he urged me on and I made it and around the turn and went over the line at 4:40:57, which was 4:36:57. A PR by less than a minute and an half, and a good race, I suppose.

Really, it was a learning experience more than anything else. I melted down twice on the run, each meltdown last for about a mile. I might have run three minutes faster if I'd had no troughs on the run, but in the end, I had what was overall a decent race because when I felt my absolute worst, I didn't panic. I didn't walk, not even in the rest areas- in fact, I closed the gap on people when they slowed. I did stop to pee and that did help make it easier to take on water, although it was psychological given that I was clearly dehydrated.

It was a missed opportunity- almost. It certainly wasn't my best, but it was not a disappointment either.

And it was fun to race long again...

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