I'm a big proponent of a good night's sleep the night before the Ironman.
I am not a big proponent of lying in a pool of my own sweat, nose running, unable to sleep for two hours.
After swimming in Tempe Town Lake Thursday and Friday I'd noticed some nasal congestion, but mostly when I got up. It was serious enough that I was considering skipping the Saturday swim. But the need to get that open water feel and also weather the cold one more time trumped worries about the bacteria in the lake.
Unable to sleep, sweating, nose plugged
I would have liked to had that decision back.
I did get about three hours of solid sleep.
I was up by 4:45 am. I ran for ten minutes with Steve Surprise, ate breakfast- two bananas and some coffee, plus a few handfuls of Fruit Loops, then Steve and I took the shuttle from the hotel to the race. It was dark and a lot colder than when I did the race in April.
Steve and I stayed together for a while, then he went his way and I went to the bathroom. This gave me a chance to catch up on some decent music, read a few tweets, and an article about Apple bringing flash to the iPhone, get body marked. Then it was back to the bathroom, with time to drink a Red Bull, down a Gu, and get my wetsuit on.
Being on the small side it's easy for me to worm my way through a crowd, squeeze under railings, and get to the water. But when I got to the canal wall, my desire to get in the water was minimal. They were encouraging us to do just that, jump in, get it over with, as we'd have to do it anyway. But I knew every minute in the water would only make the swim harder.
Finally, I jumped in around 6:50, and started swimming to the start. The water was every bit as cold as I'd remembered and my hands and feet immediately started to suffer. I tried getting up on the wall of the canal but that didn't help.
Eric had told us to get to the middle if possible, but I couldn't. I was on the outside with no way in because we were all treading water and even out near the wall, just a few rows back from the buoy, I was having trouble finding somewhere to tread water where no one would kick me.
I don't get it. Why do people in the water think it's okay to kick you. Sure, everyone is trying to do the same thing, but I wasn't kicking anyone...
That's just how it is. Finally, the mayor of Tempe gave a few inspirational words- the guy is part comedian, part motivational speaker. Then we had the national anthem.
Then the cannon went off.
All the people still standing on the wall jumped in and we all started swimming.
At first, it was not bad. I was finding water with my numbing hands and feet. For the the first three minutes I was swimming mostly head down, not having too much trouble.
Then it got to be too tight, too close. I was unable to keep my head down without risking being constantly kicked. As soon as I get my head up like that, my breathing goes south and I start hyperventilating, which makes it impossible for me to get my head down, which...
Eric Hodska, my coach, had said if you were having trouble to just go stand on the wall.
This saved my race. I swam over to the wall. I climbed up on it, adjusted my googles and walked a little bit. Hey, it's a race. Keep moving forward, right ?
About fifteen seconds later, I jumped back in. I had clear water. I started to swim and had no problems until the turn-around.
Meanwhile, my feet were getting really numb. My calves were twinging because my achilles tendons were completely contracted. I was worried. I worked my ankles and toes as much as possible but I knew my calves were in danger of massive cramps..
Because of the shape of the course and the fact that I was on the outside of the pack, some buoys were close and some were far away. I kept trying to work inside but the same two or three guys kept getting in my way or hitting me every time I tried to make a move.
The swim out to the far buoy in a one loop swim is forever.
Finally, I got there. People were cheering when they hit the turn around. This really pissed me off. Stop cheering and keep swimming. The people who swim at my ability in the Ironman seem to always slow down and gather themselves at the buoy, which makes this the most dangerous part of the course and also pisses me off. Why can't they just keep swimming. The increased congestion leads to a lot of unnecessary contact and-
Sure enough, I got knocked around and my right calf cramped. It exploded in pain. I kept swimming. What else could I do.
It was a terrible cramp, lasting about three minutes. Then finally it eased. An unbelievable sense of calm like I have never felt in an ironman swim came over me when the cramp eased. I have literally never been so at ease during a swim.
Then the calf cramped again.
I also felt a series of twinges in the left calf. I fought to stay clear of anyone and it passed.
The swim back was a confusing mix. I was just yards away from some buoys, I was at fifty yards away from others. There were people everywhere, although I seemed to be keeping pace with a group.
We finally went under the bridges and then around the last buoy.
The swim in from the last buoy was epic- long, difficult, confusing. I seemed to be on everyone's right.
Then suddenly I was on the stairs, hauling myself out. I could not walk, I could only limp. I had to take my wetsuit off standing up. The volunteers didn't like this but if I'd laid down and they'd pulled on the leg of my wetsuit the calf would have erupted.
I stumbled on wet feet to the bike to run bags. No one could find mine so I did it myself, then I changed outside the tent where it was light and I could see what I was doing. I slipped my cycling jersey (the pockets loaded with food and electrolytes) on, put on my helmet and sunglasses but forgot my gloves.
I was angry and upset and wasn't sure if I wanted to scream or cry. Another 1:20 + swim. Frozen feet. A seriously injured leg. I'd been here before.
I found the will to run to my bike, then run out of transition with it. While people started trying to mount their bikes standing still, on an uphill, an inch over the mount line, I ran. And ran. More than 100 yards, out onto the street. Then I mounted near the turn and started pedaling. Neither foot was clipped in but I didn't care.
I was on my way.
Behind where I needed to be. Sore. Cold.
And my nose was running...
None of that mattered now. Now I could ride.