Monday, April 28, 2008

Ironman Race Report from Last Fall

Sam thought I should post my Ironman write up from last year. And since I have nothing else to say today here it is...Apologies to those you have had to see this already on running and triathlon forums.

ChesapeakeMan Ironman 9/29/2007
Cambridge MD

2.4 miles swimming
112 miles cycling
26.2 miles running
140.6 miles total

Surgeon Generals Warning: this is one long race report. Block off an hour or two, go get some coffee and maybe a lobotomy before reading.
Rambling pre-race stuff:
Where to start? 30 years ago when I first started running? 3 and half years ago when I started biking? 3 years when I learned to swim? Maybe back in June after EagleMan when I had a good race and decided to do ChesapeakeMan for sure? I’m not really sure where to start. This journey had many influences that worked together to make this day possible. Most people who will read this already know a lot of the process it took to get to race day. The 3:30am wake-ups on weekdays, the long bike rides on Saturdays, the seemingly endless laps at lunch in the pool (not that they seemed to help much – see swim time below), or maybe the support of the world’s best wife and kids, without whose support none of this would have been possible.
Anyway I spent the past 3 months training 15-20+ hours per week to get to race day. Countless hours were spent biking and running in the dark mornings. At first these were very easy to get up for but then the mental and physical drag started to take their toll. By September 1st I was ready for the darn thing to be here already. Had pre-race goals of 1) finishing in a semi-vertical position and 2) maybe breaking 12 hours.
A friend of Sam and me was signed-up to do this race with me, but she died over the summer. So I did this race in her honor. I put her initials (S.P.) on my front wheel in red duct tape. Thanks for watching over me hon and getting me through this. We miss you!
Friday before the race:
I worked half of the day and left work around noon to come home and load up the car. My bags were already packed and my list of stuff to bring had been checked and double-checked and then re-checked just to make sure. I was almost as OCD with this as I was with checking the weather. Got the car packed and was on the road by 1pm or so for the 1.5 hour drive over to Cambridge, the site of the race. The ride over was uneventful and I pulled into the Hyatt resort complex, the race headquarters, at 2:30. Check-in took all of 5 minutes or so. This is a very small race, a little over 200 participants and that includes the swim-only people and the swim-bike people. No expo to speak of. Just a small table with some shirts, hats and other race finisher stuff. I wanted a few things but wasn’t going to jinx the race by buying them before the race. I figured I could buy them after the race but I was wrong they weren’t selling the stuff after the race. Anyway I got all my race numbers, timing chip and 5 gear bags. The gear bags were large drawstring Gatorade bags. The bags are for: warm-up gear, bike gear, bike special needs, run gear and run special needs.
After I got my race packet I drove over to Great Marsh Park, where the swim ends and the bike begins, to rack my bike and drop off my bike gear. I pumped up my tires one last time (gave them a little extra air to account for them sitting over night) and put two frozen bottles of sports drink in my bottle holders. Then I racked my bike and filled up the bike-gear bag. Put everything in the bag that I might need on the bike: shoes, helmet, shades, bike shorts, bag of gummy bears etc…Then I hung the bag on the racks at the swim exit.

With that done I headed over to the house where I was staying. Friends of ours have a summer house outside of Cambridge and we stay there every year for EagleMan. Got there and un-packed all the rest of my gear and organized it. Hung out there until around 5:30 and then went back to the Hyatt Resort for the pre-race meeting at 6pm. The race director, Robert Vigorito – he organizes all the big tri’s around here, went over the logistics and answered questions for awhile. Here is some of the info we got. Jellyfish – they weren’t in the river at this time, they have been and issue in the past. Tides in the river – the tide will be going out with you; everyone should have real fast swims…yeah right. He said 2 years ago the tide was going out at the start of the race and the fastest time was 50 minutes and the slowest was 1:24. I was hoping on getting out of the water in 1:15-1:30 so all this sounded real good to me. Alas it wasn’t true. The swim times were slow.
Anyway I headed back to the house around 7pm and ate a light meal (bananas and a Cliff bar) and drank lots of water and took some salt pills. I packed all my different gear bags and made up some more drinks and froze them. 2 more bike bottles of Infinit sports drink. These bottles were going in my bike special needs bag which we would get at mile 64 of the bike. 4 frozen 7 ounce fuel belt bottles of Infinit for the run bag and 2 frozen 7 ounce fuel belt bottles of flat Coke for the run special needs bag. Then I read for awhile and went to bed at 9pm. I set my alarm for 4am, ok I set 3 alarms for 4am. I actually slept well. Only got up a few times to use the bathroom – all that water I was drinking.

Race Day:
Got up at 4am and had breakfast – 2 bananas and a cliff bar. Took a shower and then I put on my swim jammers and tri-top and threw some warm-up clothes on over top of them since it was chilly outside and real WINDY out. Packed-up the car and locked up the house and headed over to the local High School where the race would end to drop off my bike special needs, run gear and run special needs. I should probably list the race logistics here. The swim starts at the beach at the Hyatt resort. You swim down the river 2.4 miles to the Great Marsh Park and exit the water at the boat ramp. You do a 64 mile bike loop that ends at the High School and then you do a 48 mile loop that ends at the high school. For the run you do 3 out and back 9 mile loops and finish on the HS track. In other words you run down this un-shaded country road for 4.3 miles turn around and run back to the school, then lather rinse and repeat 2 more times.
Left my car at the HS and took a shuttle bus over to the Hyatt to await the start of this thing, Got to the Hyatt around 6am with an hour to kill. There was a pavilion by the beach that they had setup with music and Starbucks coffee. Got myself some coffee and then had my body marked. Race number (45) on each shoulder, age on left calf…oh and they put your number on the top off your hand. This is new to me so I ask about that one. Guy says “that’s so we can identify you if we have to pull you out of the water”. Oh, ok…um thanks…after that I head into one of the ballrooms at the hotel to get out of the darn wind. Lie down on the floor there and rest a little, drink my coffee, chat with other racers and use the potty. It’s nice being able to use real bathrooms before the race instead of waiting in porta-potty lines. I put on my wetsuit and some jelly-fish repellent that The Donk had lent me. (I have to mention The Donk in this report so I don’t cut him deep. Inside joke…don’t ask.) Around 6:45 I head down to the beach for the start of the shebang and chug down a gel. We do the National Anthem, get a few last minute instructions and then we are off. Finally.

The swim:
The start is uneventful. We swim away from the beach out into the river and hang a left and head for some distance point that I can’t see. There are lots of boats, jet skis and kayaks out there to keep and eye on everyone. After the initial “I hate swimming, why am I doing this feeling” I settle into my turtle like pace. Basically I take 24 strokes, raise my head to make sure I’m on course and then do it over and over again. I never get off course by much and I just keep chugging along. Doesn’t seem like there is much current but what do I know, I’m not a real swimmer. There is a lot of surface chop that we are swimming into. This is due to the high winds. Finally see the boat ramp and make my way towards it. Get there and try and stand up and walk up the ramp, feeling a little woozy but I manage to stay on my feet. I check my watch, 1:39:57, you have got to be kidding me (that was 86th out of 113 men). Some current. Hear others complaining about their time and lack of current. Oh well I’m a little bit behind my goal pace now. As we are coming out of the water someone yells out my number so they have my bike-gear bag waiting for us at the top of the boat ramp. They then direct me to the men’s changing tent (they wouldn’t let me in the women’s). Start taking off my wetsuit while a volunteer empties my bike-gear bag for me. He then helps me pull my wetsuit off my feet. I take off the jammers and put on my bike shorts (sorry no pictures of this), get on my socks, bike shoes, shades and helmet etc…The same volunteer puts all my swim junk into my bike-gear bag for me. The bag will magically reappear at the HS after the race. Normally I wear tri-shorts for a race so there is no changing but I figured it would be worth a few extra seconds to throw on my good bike shorts for the ride, I was right. I notice that I have some chaff from the wetsuit under one arm and on my neck. I must have missed a few spots with the Body Glide or it wore off some in the water. I then exit the tent to my bike. Mount my bike and I’m off. Total T1 time is 4:57.
Btw – 2.4 miles is a long way to swim

The Bike:
One word could describe the bike WIND. The bike course is out in the open through farm country and wetlands etc…no shelter. There were strong winds all day long, like around 20mph strong. Which are real nice as tailwinds but not as nice as headwinds. Anyway it’s the same for everyone so I just “suck it up princess” and ride. My plan was to stay in a HR zone of 145-150, which I did. That is my “I can ride a long time and maybe run after” zone. Any time I went below or above that zone I adjusted my effort. I pass a fair amount of people on the bike. That is the benefit of being a lousy swimmer; there are lots of people in front of you to pass on the bike. My bike ride is fairly uneventful. No flats or other mechanical issues. The bike works well. The race wheels are a little squirrelly in the crosswinds but nothing too horrible. I drink one bottle of Infinit each hour and after those two are gone I get a bottle of Gatorade at an aid station. They have aid stations every 10 miles or so with water bottles or Gatorade bottles. After about 64 miles I finish up lap number one at the HS. Pull into the parking lot and go to where the bike-special needs bags are being given out. They have my bag waiting for me!? Very cool. Someone at entrance to the parking lot had radioed ahead my race number so the bag was waiting for me. The race volunteer opens it up and helps me get out what I wanted. I take out 2 more bottles of Infinit sports drink and a zip-lock bag full of gummy bears. Throw my two empty bottles in it and head back out for lap two. Lap two is more of the same except I’m getting a little sore in the caboose and my legs are starting to feel the strain. The way the course is set up you hit head wind the last 12 miles or so of each lap. So we had head wind from miles 52-64 and from 100-112. When riding into the winds my speed would drop to around 16-16.5 mph. Fun times! Throughout the second lap I’m just concentrating on keeping a decent speed and getting as much fuel into me as possible before the run starts. I finish off both bottles of Infinit and part of a bottle of Gatorade. I’m also taking 1 or 2 salt pills per hour. I’m feeling pretty well hydrated since the heat isn’t too bad (it probably went up to around 78). I actually have to stop and pee twice will on the bike. I tried to go on the ‘fly’ while biking but couldn’t pull it off and had to stop on the side of the ride. Thankfully the roads are sparsely populated so I didn’t scandalize anyone. Eventually I see the HS and turn into the parking lot. Pull up to where the transition area is. One volunteer takes my bike for me (such service). I tell her she can keep it; I’ve had enough of it. Another one hands me my run-gear bag…they had it waiting for me…and points me towards the changing tent. My bike time is 5:32:16 (19.3 mph.) 18th fastest out of the 113 male finishers. And zero people passed me on the bike ride. So that was the high point of my race day.
Btw – 112 miles is a long way to bike.

The Run:
I head into the changing tent and strip down to my birthday suit…well I had socks on (no pictures were taken here either). Another volunteer has already emptied my run-gear bag for me and is putting all my bike stuff into the bag. The volunteers at this race were incredible. Put on my CW-X running shorts. Once again I figured it was worth the extra time to be comfortable. Lace up the shoes, grab my 4 small bottles of Infinit and stuff them in my tri-top pockets. Also grab some more salt pills and gummy bears (the gummies were the closest thing to solid food I ate during the race). Leave the tent for a T2 time of 2:32 – not too bad for me. Now comes the fun part; 26.2 miles of running on an un-shaded 4.3 mile out and back course. There are some benefits to this lay out at small races. You get to see all the racers a lot as you are going back and worth (on the later part of the bike ride I would go miles without seeing another rider). Also since at IM’s they have aid stations every mile, the race director only had to have four setup. This was actually kinda cool since you got to ‘know’ the aid station volunteers a little bit. And they got to know us since our names were printed on our race numbers. So we went through each aid station 6 times. So I start out running. I really have no Idea what kinda pace I can run so I just stay in my HR zone of 145-150. At the start that is around 9:45-10:10 miles. Which are fine with me. The first lap (9 miles or so) is not too painful. I get back to the school and head out for lap two. That is one of the negatives of this run layout, you can see the finish line but still have a long way to go. It was even more annoying after lap two. On lap two it starts to get a little tough (to say the least). My stomach is sick of sports drink so I’m taking in a little water at each aid station, some gummies, the occasional salt pill and I’m putting ice in my running hat to stay cool. It’s only in the upper 70’s put without the shade it is pretty warm out. Towards the end of lap 2, around mile 16 or so the legs start getting really sore and tired and I’m afraid I’m going to have to walk the last 10 miles which would shoot the sub 12 hour finish all to hell. The soreness and pain are bearable though so it basically becomes a metal game. Am I tough enough to suck it up and run 10 miles in pain while being really tired?
I finish Lap #2 and they have my run special needs bag waiting for me. These people are so cool. This time it’s a 5 year-old boy (with his mom supervising) you hands me bag and helps me get some stuff out of it (2 small bottles of coke, gummies and salt pills). I high-five my new friend and head back out. Thanks little buddy for your help. At this point it really stinks to be able to see the finish line over on the track and have almost 9 more miles to run. On the plus side I’m on my last lap and there are still people just finishing up their bike so it could be worse. Run by some spectators ringing a cowbell and shout for “more cowbell”. Now it basically is a total mental game. The pain is constant and my stomach is rebelling. I’m able to sip a little coke and water at times and eat one or two gummies but that’s about it. I stop at one porta-potty to pee so at least I’m not too dehydrated. All I’m doing now is trying to run from one aid station to the next. I know I’ll be able to finish the race (unless something really bad happens) but I want to do it with out walking. Note: I did walk for 10-20 seconds through each aid station so I could get fuel into me. So I run to the first aid station (Hawaiian themed), run to the second (a guy is heating up a big pot of chicken soup on a camping stove), run to the third get some more coke, run to the fourth (which is being run by the HS cross-county team). I try and talk some of the kids at the station into running the last 4.5 miles for me…no luck. I get to the final turn around (4.3 miles or so to go). I’m in the home stretch so to speak. I continue my kinda slow running (probably around 11 minute miles at this point but I’m not keeping track anymore) and my strategy of just run the 1 mile to the next aid station. I get to the 23 mile mark and realize with only a little over 5k to go I can probably break 12 hours if I can keep up my shuffling type of run. I finally get to the final aid station (mile 25). This is the Hawaiian themed one and these guys/gals have been great the whole race. They are having one big party. They have a grill going and are cooking burgers for themselves and they have a cooler full of beer! The guys are wearing Hawaiian shirts and the ladies have on grass skirts and coconut bras! I slow down to thank them for all their help. The main guy running see’s me and says “this is your last lap right?’ Yes sir it is! Then he yells out “last lap, this guy needs to get laid”. One of the girls puts a leis around by neck. I can see the HS in the distance and the lights are on at the stadium and track. I have around 12 or 13 minutes to get in under 12 hours. I pick up the pace a bit just to make sure I make it. I turn off the road into the school parking lot. I see Sam and the kids (they came down for the end – all except for Josh who is in NH at school) and my mom, my dad and his wife. I slow down enough to kiss Sam. I had told Sam since this was such a small race that they had told us our kids could run across the finish line with us. She had told the 3 little boys to run alongside me down to the track and the rest of the family took a short cut down to it. By this time I’m feeling really good (weird) and running at a nice pace. Joey, Robert and Dominic cut across the field to the finish line and decide to just watch me finish. I see Dominic (5) off to the side and kinda grab him and the two off us run the last 20 yards together. The race director announces my name and hometown and then says “and get this, he and his wife just had their 11th child. Can you believe that?” Sam had told him about that before I came into the finish. I break through the tape and its official “I’m an Ironman”. Run time 4:37:13.
Btw – 26.2 miles is a long way to run
They wrap a Mylar blanket around me and put my medal around my neck and give me my finishers shirt. Lots of hugs and kisses from the family. We get some pictures taken and then head up to the gymnasium for post-race food. I put my Finishers shirt on Robert and my Medal on Sam since she is the real Ironman of the family. I’m not real hungry at this point but I see that the massage tables are not real busy. I’ve never had a massage in my life so I head over there and get about a 20-30 minute massage. Almost fall asleep during it, it felt so good. After that I have a piece of pizza, some chicken soup, a coke and some water. Then it’s time to pack-up and get the kids home to bed. All of my gear bags are either in the Gym or with my bike. This race is very well organized. The kids help me gather up everything and we put my bike on the back of my car. Alex (17) is my designated driver and she drives me and Caleb home in my car while the rest of the brood went home with Sam in the van. I check the cell phone that was in my car and there are 18 missed calls…all from the afore mentioned Donk, now that’s love. We get back to Bowie around 9:30. I have Alex pull into a McDonalds (haven’t been to one in years) and I get 2 double-cheeseburgers off the dollar menu and scarf them down. Then we head to the house and un-pack my stuff and put the kids to bed.
Final stats:
Swim 1:39:57 86th out of 113 male finishers
T1 4:57 48th out of 113
Bike 5:32:16 18th out of 113
T2 2:32 20th out of 113
Run 4:37:13 52nd out of 113
Total Time 11:56:52
38th overall out of 113
Age-group 6th out of 24

Will I do another one? Maybe, I really enjoyed the day. It’s the training hours that are a physical and mental strain after awhile. Not to mention the strain it puts on the family. They had to put up with a whole lot this summer. They are the real champions. This was a wonderful experience and we shall have to see what the future brings. I am doing EagleMan again next June. No I need to stop typing and go work on my swimming and holding a faster run pace after biking.
Much thanks to everyone else who made this possible. My training buddies, my forum friends, all the great volunteers at the race – you guys/gals were the best and Robert Vigorito for putting on another well run race. And anyone else my tired brain has forgotten.
So that’s my story thanks for reading if you are still awake and sane.

SP – this one was for you. Peace Out.


momto5minnies said...

WOW ... that sounds EXHAUSTING!!! I am always amazed by the discipline and drive to pursue a race like that. I am not there nor do I think I will ever be that motivated, but GOOD FOR YOU! How wonderful that you ran in honor of someone ... that must have kept you going throughout the hours.

Catherine said...

Sam was right,this race is a great experience you can be proud to share with your blog readers.
Congratulations! Even after reading it, I can't imagine the motivation and the will you need to go to the final line. Iron will would be better than Iron man.
You deserve far more than just one comment.