Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ironman recap

Well here’s a recap of my big day on Sunday.  Thanks all, for cheering me on live in Wisconsin!  I didn’t mean to make this so long, so please skip whatever bores you…  (Thanks for your understanding.)  Overall I had a great day but it wasn’t without its challenges.  The day began comfortably warm (around 70 degrees).  The swim started at 7:00 a.m. and went pretty much as expected: a fight to stay away from the flailing arms of everyone around me.   Because it was a mass start of about 2100 people there were always several people around me for the 2.4 miles, so I just continued to try to find open areas to navigate my way through the bodies.  Happily, I didn’t get knocked around much and I finished the swim in about the time I projected, 1 hour and 1 minute, so I came out feeling pretty good, not too tired, and ready to get on the bike.

The bike portion was the segment I was looking most forward to because I had ridden the bulk of the course several times this summer, so I was very comfortable with the route and the hills.  The course is constant hills and has very few flat sections.  Most people I talk to say it’s a tough course.  The weather started to heat up and the wind started to pick up more during the bike’s 112 miles.  The hot, dry, windy weather was different from the hot and muggy weather that I was used to because my sweat was evaporating so fast that I did not see it collecting on my arms.  It would have been easy to assume that we were not sweating as much as normal, and therefore not losing much water/electrolytes, so some people may not have been drinking enough on the bike.  On the flip side, midway through the ride I must have been drinking a little too much liquid because my stomach started to fill up and get that sloshy feeling.  I cut back on my intake of liquid and switched to spraying water on my shoulders, head and back; this helped.  I also took salt pills regularly throughout the bike, which typically helps in these hotter situations.  Three locations on the bike course stand out in my mind: one was in the town of Verona, WI, where spectators were shuttled out to the course from Madison; another was a remote area that I didn’t expect to see any spectators; and another was on the steepest hills of the course.  In each of these areas I thought I was cycling in the Tour de France because the crowds were so loud and numerous, and completely packed along the roads.  In one section there was only enough width to allow for one bike to pass through because so many people were there cheering in the street.  It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and gave me a kick that kept me going.  Seeing my family and friends along the road in Verona gave me a huge smile and charged me up with adrenaline on each loop and made me forget about the heat, wind, and the rest of the course ahead.  By the time I was on my second loop of the bike course I started to see the first few people on the side of the road looking sick and tired.  Fortunately, I tried to listen to my body as well as I could and ended up doing very well on the bike segment beating my projected time, finishing in 6 hours and 3 minutes.  I felt really great on the bike overall, and I know I could have gone faster, but that probably would not have been the smartest thing to do with a long run just ahead, and temperatures heating up fast.  I was also very happy to finally get off the bike.  Unfortunately I still had plenty of liquids sitting in my belly that I knew was going to haunt me on the 26.2 mile run.
Starting out the run wasn’t too bad, and I was surprised that my legs didn’t feel too bad.  I saw my family and friends again right away at the beginning of the run and that helped get me going.  One thing I noticed right away was that everyone was running a lot slower than what I expected; whether that is typical for an Ironman or caused by the heat I can’t really say, since this was my first Ironman.  It was definitely hot out by that point – the day’s high was a near-record temperature for that day, 91 degrees.  When the heat cramps hit me in the stomach in the first couple miles of the marathon I was seriously thinking that this was going to be a long, awful rest of the day to the finish line, and my mind started to do what you don’t want it to when running this distance: count the miles remaining.  Out of habit, I was also following my split times for each mile of the run, but I quickly became depressed by how slow I was moving (even though everyone around me was also running just as slow).  I forced myself to stop thinking about the miles and just run, or walk, and eventually I stopped taking my split times.  The cramps stayed with me for much of the first 10 miles.  I was afraid to drink too much and too little – I wasn’t finding a good balance.  One of my Ironman triathlon veteran friends, Mike Rubin, had previously mentioned to me the positive effects of putting ice in my running hat, so I spent much of the run with a lumpy looking head because of the melting ice sitting on my scalp (it felt great though).  The Gatorade Endurance formula that I had been drinking all day no longer agreed with my stomach during the run.  It seemed like every time I drank it, I ended up with stomach cramps.  (I later heard someone else saying the exact same thing.)  The salt pills also seemed to only help me minimally at this point and I ended up running out of them about halfway through the run.  Another tip Mike had previously given me was to try drinking cola when I started feeling run down.  I wasn’t feeling run down, but I was fed up with Gatorade and water, so I switched to the cola that was being handed out at the aid-stations.  Plain old generic cola never tasted so good before in my whole life!  It was amazing how good it tasted.  For some reason that stuff did the trick and I stopped getting cramps.  I didn’t feel great, and I wasn’t moving fast, but I was at least moving along steady without the pain in the stomach.  I think the best part of my whole day was arriving at the aid-stations every mile so I could put ice in my cap and drink warm generic cola.  My wife Anita and friend Jeff ended up making their way to several locations on the run and so I got to see them quite a few times.  This made me feel better, but they got to see me in some of the hilly areas where it was pretty difficult to keep going.  I’m sure I didn’t look very good at that point.  The rest of the family and friends were near the run’s turn-around at the halfway point (the same location I would later be finishing at).  I slapped their open palms as I ran past them all starting out my second loop (I’m not sure they were ready for the wet high-five I gave them, sorry about that!).  I was relieved that I had completed the first loop of 13.1 miles, and for the first time in the day I knew that I was actually going to finish the race – it was just a matter of time.  My outlook improved, and I was feeling happier, although I still wasn’t moving very fast.  Anita and Jeff jumped out at me a few more times, snapping pictures, and cheering me on in some of the quietest parts of the run (thanks guys!).  People were starting to look pretty tired out there; many were pulling over to the side of the road to get sick or rest.  I think the temperature started to cool down but it was hard to tell at that point.  By mile 24, I was feeling pure joy that I was almost done.  Then finally I made it back to where everyone was cheering during the last 1.2 miles of the run and I think I got even more excited though I was about out of energy.  I turned the last corner and saw all my supporters cheering and so I tried to pick up my pace for that last 100 yards, but I’m not sure if my legs actually obeyed.  Volunteers at the finish held up the race banner for me to run through and I finished, relieved, happy, and very tired.  I finished the run in 4 hours and 51 minutes, which is slow to be sure, but I was fine with it, I didn’t care at that point.
My total time with transitions was better than I hoped: 12 hours and 13 minutes.  I’m thankful I got through it without accident, injury, or getting sick, but also I’m proud that I finished in the top 15% overall, and was 43rd in my age group of 266.  I think this Ironman had one of the highest numbers of people who did not finish, close to 400 people, about 12 of whom were pro triathletes.  I also beat 2 pro triathletes who finished; they were women, but pro’s nonetheless.  It was a great day and a great feeling to finally finish.
Thanks to all of you for supporting me in so many ways.

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