Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2008 Race Day

I finished it.

14 hours and 35 minutes.

No, I not happy with that time. However I am pleased that I finished. In summary, it was a tough race for me and I ran out of gas on the second half of the bike. Estuardo finished at 13:41, EXACTLY as planned which is great. Les finished later and did not have a great experience. Les is the real hero of the day. More on those two later.

We awoke at 4:00 am, showered, grabbed out stuff and headed downstairs. Last night we had finished our bags and food prep. I used to think that I was the most obsessive of the three but Estuardo puts me to shame. Three hours after I'm done he is still messing around with his equipment. I actually caught him cutting out tiny little Velcro strips so he could attach his race bib to his shirt. Wow. I guess I am old fashioned but it seems like safety pins would work just as well. Maybe Velcro makes you more aero-dynamic, I don't know. I took a last look at the hotel room - I couldn't wait to get back to it. Oddly enough, this is a big motivator for me - thinking about getting back to the room and knowing you are done. We get downstairs and Michella drove us to the race and dropped us off near the medical tents. I checked my transition bags and all of my clothes were soaked from the rain the night before. Damn it. My shorts, shirts and socks were dripping wet and I did not bring any extras to the race - they were all back at the hotel. I wrung them out the best I could and put them back in the bags. I also dropped off my food stuff. In quick order I got my body marked with my race number and covered my body with sun block and Body Glide, an anti-chafing lubricant for the wetsuit.

I met up with the guys again and we started walking towards the swim start. The temperature was 59 degrees and the sky was clear. Everything looks good. I drank a Gatorade and split a gu with Les. It took forever to get there because of the crowd. The beach was a madhouse with athletes, media, boats and helicopters flying overhead. You can tell everybody is anxious.

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I hate this part.

I hate the moment before any race. I've always hated it. I just want it to start. Unfortunately I have to wait 15 minutes so I climb into the water and begin warming up. This time my body does not loosen up. I am so nervous and cannot calm down. I swim a little more and decide to get out. I have never been this anxious before a race. I am shaking uncontrollably and my stomach is twisting in knots. I don't even remember the National Anthem.

I walk over to the left and as close to the buoys as possible. I want to finish in under 1:25 and the only way is to hug the course as much as possible. I know that I am in for a rough time because things get violent around the buoys. I am not an aggressive swimmer but I try not let myself get pushed around. The gun sounds off which means this stupid thing has begun. I stroll into the water waiting for the semi-pros to get out ahead - no reason to get in with them. I start swimming and realize that I am not wearing my goggles. I panic momentarily but I find them on my head. I start off with a relaxed stroke but its hard to move due to the unbelievable number of bodies. I get out to the second buoy and was feeling ok when the unbelievable happened. I was caught up in another traffic jam when a very large, very husky girl (My dad would call her a Tusker) comes plowing through on a mission. Her left arm lands hard on my back and then her hand scores a direct hit on my right ear. This girl rang my bell hard. I hear a loud pop deep inside my head and then my left eye loses focus and goes dark. I yelled out, rolled over and bobbled in the water shocked. I could not hear out of my right ear nor see out of my left eye. Really not a good start to a long day. I have to move because I am going to be run over again. I keep swimming but I am disoriented and I start to panic. There is no worse feeling than having a panic attack in the water. Your wetsuit is constricting and you feel that you cannot breathe. However, I have been here before and I usually know how to work myself out of it. I quickly start to think about anything but swimming - my kids, my wife, anything. Slowly I work my way out of the panic and adjust myself to seeing out of one eye. Maybe I should have trained blind-folded. I finally work myself in a clear patch and start drafting off of other swimmers. Things are feeling slightly better now and my body is warming up. There is still an occasional pile-up at the turns but as I have recently learned, a good smack on the back right side of somebody's head will loosen things up nicely. I run on the beach at the halfway point and I am at 39 minutes - cool, better than expected. The second lap of the swim is easy and without trouble. I make the last turn and head for shore. I am really ready to get out - now I am cold. I run on to the timing mat and I am at 1:20, way better than I thought especially considering I got run over by an train, had an aneurysm, blew out my eyeball and shredded my ear drum.



I head over to the wetsuit strippers and lay down on the ground and put myself at their mercy. I expose my underbelly and cry "I am yours." Well, not really, but I do lay down and they begin to pull my wetsuit off. Unfortunately I did not tell them about my watch which was above my wetsuit sleeve. When they pulled the sleeve off it got stuck on the watch. After a disastrous three minutes of struggling they finally rip off my wetsuit and part of my skin and send me on my way. I was pretty irritated and considered bleeding ripped ear juice on them but I didn't have time. After a quick change out of my wet clothes and into my wet clothes I make my way for the bike. The transition, minus the wetsuit debacle, was fairly quick. It would have been at roughly six minutes. There was a rather embarrassing moment in the changing tent of which I will not elaborate but suffice it to say that there is a volunteer that will never speak to me again. I don't remember grabbing my bike but I did have presence of mind to activate my watch and GPS.

The bike portion of this race is two loops and relatively flat on the front and back side but very hilly in the middle. There are several long steep hills and many rolling hills. One hill of note is called The Wall where it feels almost vertical followed by a series of three stair-step hills. It is also a fairly technical course meaning a lot of sharp turns. You can be heading down a hill at 35+ miles per hour when suddenly there is a hard turn at the bottom and you have to ease into the brakes. Or die.

I start off easy trying to gauge my condition. My swim felt good but I know for a fact that my illness and fatigue are going to catch up with me. I ride the first 12 miles by the lake, then the flats afterwards and I feel ok. I am probably averaging 17 mph of which is fine. I hit the hills relaxed and try to stay in the saddle as much as possible. The Wall really is a terrible hill and it makes you pay. It is also the beginning of a torrent of relentless uphills. They keep piling up on each other. The worst ones were the uphills on the hard turns. I would be screaming down a hill, see the turn ahead, brake hard, turn right and be staring right back up at the beast. I would then start pedaling in the lowest gear possible, climb, grind, get to the top, rinse, repeat. This goes on for awhile but eventually I make my way off the mountain and head for the turn back into town. This is where I play catch-up. Now I can ride the flats and make up some lost time. Nope, afraid not. My old nemesis is waiting for me at the corner. The wind. That mother-loving wind has stalked me all the way to Idaho. Piss off wind. Man, I hate you. I turn left and it embraces me lovingly with open arms. "Slow down John", it says. So, I do. I try to make myself aero and bear down. I struggle back into town. I finally make it back to the beginning of the second loop. My time is 3:20 which is exactly where I had planned to be - I was expecting a 6:40 ride. But the scales have tipped. I can tell. I feel the flu-like symptoms settling in and I'm pissed. This is where the frustration of months of training being undermined by the flu boils up. I curse a lot and stamp my feet. It's very cute - I am having a giant temper tantrum in the middle of the road. I can deal with being beaten up by a girl in the water or having my skin peeled off by some wetsuit person but this is the worst. It feels like a complete waste of time. So much training gone up in smoke.



Finally, I take my thumb out of my mouth and unwad my panties. I re-evaluate my situation and I determine that I am not completely immobile. I do still have energy to keep going, albeit much less. I plan to take a few stops on the second half and I know exactly where I will take them. A 3 minute break does wonders for me. I also think about my nutrition plan. The Hammer stuff is good but at this time I prefer to go more soluble. I drop back to the original plan of Accelerade and Clif shots (did you really think I would not have a backup plan?) I stick with the Hammer pills every hour even though they make me gag - they're disgusting. I stop at mile 60 which was at the end of a big climb to re-shuffle my bottles, food, etc. My brain sort of melted and I had a temporary lapse of insanity. Apparently, I could not think straight. I kept asking a volunteer if he had seen my bottles even though I had four on my bike. I also asked him if he had seen my Hammer bottle which was in my left hand. That was bizarre - I was fine five minutes later. I'm sure he called ahead and told them they would be scooping my body off the side of the road shortly. He probably also said that I was the guy that had been beaten up by a girl. Weird. Anyway, I started up again when John Small flew by me. He is part of the other Tampa contingent and I've ridden with him several times - great guy. I tried to ride up to him but decided that would be foolish and would only hurt more. He is a strong rider and was well on his way.



The second half was everything I thought it would be - lousy. However, I did a decent job of sticking to my new plan and maintaining my pace. I was still irritated but level-headed enough to know when to dial back. I navigated through the flats and into the hills. I marched up The Wall with a painful cadence and bruised ego. At this point many people are walking up the hill. I will not let myself do that. Michele Small, John's wife, passed me on mile 80 and looked strong. Its a shame their kids weren't in the race - they could have passed me too. You know, make it a family affair. So, I grind and grind and finally make it to the wind tunnel back into town. The ride back did not seem as bad but I really don't remember. I was exhausted and my muscles were sore from whatever was ailing me.

I hand my bike off, grab my T2 bag and shuffle over to the tent. I take a little more time on this transition. My left eye has a blurry haze over it and is useless. Now my eye and brain have something in common.

I am slightly disoriented and I spend quite some time changing into my running clothes. Thankfully my shorts and socks have dried out as I was concerned about chafing. I have blister bandages for my left foot and Vaseline for my chest and southern region. My forerunner is acting up but I do not want to stop it for fear of killing the GPS recording. I exit the tent and some crusty old guy offers to rub my entire body down with sun block. I don't get this type of offer every day and I would like to think it is one I would normally decline. However, today it sounds like a good idea (the sun block, not the old dude.) I slow down and say yes. Damn, my wife doesn't touch me like that. As the old man lovingly applies lotion to me I start to think about the next 26 miles. Normally I would have mentally prepped for the run with an hour left on the bike but unfortunately I was battling other demons at the time. Due to the lack of fore-thought I sort of throw myself on the run path without much of plan.

The run portion is relatively flat and has two up-and-backs alongside the lake. It is probably the best run course I have seen - the lake is gorgeous and is surrounded by the mountains. The majority of it is shared with the bike course but the visual is more stunning because you have time to appreciate it. Because of the up-and-back concept you are mixed with runners on either their first lap (me) or their second.

I like running more than the other two disciplines so it does not take me long to find my groove. The weather is pleasant and the crowd support is wonderful. Unlike other events it looks like there will be spectators along the entire course. The first two miles is in the opposite direction of the bike course and is almost completely shaded. Within the first few miles I can usually asses my situation and how I'll fare. I feel confident that I will finish but I know it will be more difficult on the back half. My original plan was to finish the marathon between 4:20 and 4:30 which is approximately a 10 minute pace. Probably not happening today so I scale it back to 5 hours and consider that acceptable, though not desirable. Another nice thing is that it will probably be daylight for the entire race.

In an earlier posting I mentioned that I like to talk to people during the run. It helps me by taking my mind off aching muscles and its always interesting to meet other people. Its fascinates me to learn what motivates others to do an Ironman. I'm curious because I don't know why I do them. I will not do this if I am going for a PR or within striking distance of a fellow competitor. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards today. Around mile 3 I start talking to a girl named Chris and it seems I've picked a winner. Chris is from Philly and this was her second Ironman. The conversation was great and her pace was the same as mine. However, at this time I am suspicious (and afraid) of all women and I was quick to accuse her of shattering my ear into a hundred tiny pieces. However, she clearly was not a tusker and therefore exempt, so I decided to hang out with her if she would have me. We discussed our training, family life and whatever else bores the hell out of most people. It worked well for us. She even tolerated me as I struggled with a nasty blood blister on my left foot. Most people see my feet and either throw up or run away. She was very kind even though she would probably have nightmares for life.

Our strategy was simple - run between the water stations located one mile apart, then walk through for hydration, food and a sponge-down. We kept ourselves distracted through town and onto the lake side path. If I were to guess, approximately 15 miles of the total course is along the lake and is a joy. In all honesty, Chris controlled the pace and determined the length of our breaks. I probably would have taken longer water breaks but she dictated when we started up again. I had to listen to her because I only had one ear and one eye left - I am very attached to all the major components of my head. Who knows what would have happened if I did not comply.

Chris and I encountered very few problems during the bulk of the first half of the run with the exception of the turn-around. At the end of the lake portion there is a steep climb of about 50 yards that I remember with great affection from the bike. She made a command decision to walk up the hill and then run back down again - sure, no problem, I'm game. Whatever you say.

Five major senses, three left. I want to keep them.

Around mile 15 I was going a little off the plan. I needed a bit more time to recover and start up again. I was low on fumes and I kept telling Chris to carry on but she continued to hang out. We entered into town again and started down the long shaded path where I was momentarily revived as I was carried on the shoulders of crowd support. I have complained in previous Ironman races about the half-way point being to close to the finish line and having to endure the crowds and the joy of the finishing athletes. I am happy for them but I really do not feel like celebrating their victory at this particular time. This IM was blessedly different and they re-routed all second-lappers far away from the finish line. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Mile 17 was a slow gradual climb out of the down-town area. Any other time this slope would be inconsequential but this wasn't any other time. I decided to give Chris a test. It would be a simple question with a simple answer. No gray areas, no fruity 'any answer is a good answer.' Unfortunately, she failed.

She failed miserably. I asked her what she thought of this hill. It was a simple question with only one answer. She responded and said it was fine and she thought it was a very nice hill. Unfortunately the correct answer was 'this hill sucks and I think we should stop and walk for a minute.' Oh well, I think it's time for me to send her on her way. I hated parting company but I was holding her back at this point. My flu induced fatigue had settled in comfortably and was not backing off anytime soon. 5 hours? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, I had to settle into a pace that would get me through to a reasonable finishing time. I bid her adieu and began my slow ascent up the tiny tiny mountain.

Included in my running weapon stash is my fuel-belt. A fuel-belt is an elastic band with Velcro strapped around the waist with four 8-ounce plastic bottles and a small pocket on the back. I keep Accelerade in the bottles and several gels in the pocket. I also have Aleve and Clif Shots in the back pockets of my running shorts. At this point in the race none of those items interest me - I'm sick of Clif shots, gels make me sick to my stomach and the Accelerade is only tolerable. Its time to shed some serious weight. Everything must go. Amused spectators watch as gels and other food items fly. I'm like Santa Claus at the Christmas parade. Next the fuel-belt soars through the air in a beautiful graceful arc and lands near a fire hydrant. That one hurts - don't ask how much they cost . Needless to say, it was not there on the return trip. The weight release was wonderful. Trust me, I would have shed a lot more but that would have been wrong for so many reasons. Plus my new boyfriend, sun block man, didn't cover everything.

I enter into a dead zone for about two miles and I'm confused as to why I cannot generate a decent forward motion. I'm guessing that that I am not getting nutrition anymore. Up ahead is the the solution. It's Coke. Flat, warm and wonderful Coke. It's a wonderful thing provided by the aid stations towards the end of a race and its a lifesaver. The sugar and caffeine minus the carbonation provide that tiny burst of energy to get you to the next cup of Coke. I probably drink the stuff no more than twice a year but today I am all over it. It gives me that little bit of pep I need and I begin to accelerate through the remaining six miles or so. The sun has finally set and the outside temp is getting rather chilly. I am so excited to almost be done with this race that I don't feel it. The only downside is that my other eye cannot adjust to the darkness (I've always had night vision problems) and now I am practically blind. I can follow the path well enough from memory but I am constantly asking spectators for mile markers. I can see no more than ten feet ahead. Again, I don't care - I am almost home.

I make the last turn into the downtown area which is a straight shot to the finish. After confirmation that it is indeed the end of the line I begin my celebration in earnest. I got lucky in that I am the only athlete in this final quarter mile and I have the crowd's full attention. There is nothing like it - sorry, no words to describe the feeling. Go do your own Ironman. I enter the chute and run down down the path high-fiving anybody I can reach. Finally, I cross the line and...

I.am.done.

Thank you God!

Alleluia!

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The volunteers pull me in at the finish line and spit me out on the other end with my shirt, medal and hat. Estuardo and Chris are waiting and celebrate in full fashion with me. We are all thrilled, exhausted, proud beyond words and thoroughly satisfied. The crowd is still going and the place is rocking. I'm loving life right now.

Eventually I calm down. I look around.

Where's Les?

Estuardo

Estuardo gets first mention here - the man executed his plan flawlessly. Perhaps it was the Velcro strips or maybe Latinos are more streamlined. Probably not - he was ready, patient and smart. The guy obsessed to the nth degree and it paid off.

I can only relate what he told me. His swim was 1:30 and he said it felt good. His transition was scary fast and he was on his bike in no time. As I've said before, Estuardo is deadly on the bike. For further humiliation he only rides in the small ring.

He passed me with ease around mile 30 during the first bike loop. I called out to him but he was so focused he barely noticed me. It was on a hill and he was gliding up to the top. Often we kid him about leaving it all out on the bike course and having nothing left for the run. I worried a little bit that he would do it again but we weren't exactly having a conversation. I watched him go and returned to my ride.

I saw him again at around my mile six of the run and he was going the other way. I did some quick calculations to see if he was within striking distance - I am glad he is doing well but I want to do better. The math is not in my favor and I put him out of my mind. I see him again in almost the same place on my second lap. He is on his way home. I ask about Les because I haven't seen him all day. I've assumed that he passed me on the bike when I wasn't looking. Estuardo tells me he is up ahead. Oh well - you can't win them all.

Estuardo nails it at 13 hours and 41 minutes. Good for him. That is exactly what he planned on. We all did, actually, with varying lengths for different events. I know he wants to do better on the run and I am afraid that he will.

Congratulations Estuardo.

Les

Ok, so I was a little over dramatic at the end of my previous post. I knew where Les was - I just saw him two miles ago. He was going the other way. The wrong way. At the time I was deep in thought when Les slapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and It took me a moment to figure out what was going on. I asked him what he was doing which I think is an odd question. I assumed he had finished the race and was coming out to run me in. When he responded that he was 'dying' and kept moving the other way I knew he was in bad juju. What the hell happened to the guy?

According to Les, it all fell apart in the beginning. His race crumbled in the second half of the swim and it was hell from there on out. Apparently he suffered a form of hypothermia in the second lap. Les weighs between 4 and 12 pounds depending on his last hair cut and I'm guessing he has no body fat. He had very little protection from the frigid water. He told us that the 59 degree water started to affect him after 50 minutes and he was unable to move his arms and legs during the second half. The slower he goes, the longer he is in the water and the worse it gets. I cannot imagine the feeling but I assume it was pretty bad. I've mentioned my panic attacks in the water and it is one of the worst feelings in the world. You cannot breathe and your body shuts down. I bet this was even worse.

He finally falls out of the water and heads into T2 but according to him it was already over. The hypothermia had shut his body down. I thought I had it bad but this had to be awful. That's a dark place.

He said his ride was terrible and was afraid he was not going to make it by the bike cut-off time. He should have been afraid. He made it by less than 10 seconds and only then by a miracle by unloading on the last 5 miles into town. Think about that - 10 seconds later and his race is over before he even starts to run.

When I saw Les at the 2 mile marker (his 15) I started working furiously on the math. This is what a lot of athletes do with their spare time on the course. Calculate miles, times, averages, etc. based on their pace. We try try to figure out any possible scenario for the finish. We may be pretty dumb for doing these things but you can't question our math skills. Anyway, he had 11 miles to go and the cut-off was at midnight. It was going to be tight.

Estuardo, Chris and I hung out in the rest area by the finish line. Both Estuardo and I had looked for Michella but we could not find her. I ate about 30 slices of pizza and it was probably the greatest food I had ever eaten. Chris and Estuardo looked on in horror as I mowed through the buffet line. I told you I had a strong stomach. You burn approximately 10,000 calories during an IM and I was determined to retrieve every one of them. It was also getting very cold. At the end of the race they give you a silver mylar blanket for the cold. I don't get it but they seem to sort of work. They don't wrap around the body that well and they keep blowing off making it almost useless. Estuardo, in a stroke of brilliance, grabs another wrap, lays it on the grass and then covers himself with the other one from head to toe. All you could see was a giant pile of Guatemalan goo beneath a big silver mound on the grass. Yeah, everybody was looking at him kind of weird. I tried it for awhile but it wasn't working for me. Probably because I am not Guatemalan.

By my calculations we had to wait an hour or more for Les so I decide to get changed and turn in my bike. Chris had left and we never saw her again. I'll try to follow her when she does Ironman Arizona in November. It felt great to shed my running clothes and change into something warmer. I sludged my body from the changing tent to the drop off and kissed my bike goodbye. Several days ago I was so happy to see it after two weeks. Now, I am more than happy not to see it for a very long time. I go back and wake up princess Estuardo who is happily dreaming of rainbows and unicorns. It's getting close to pumpkin hour and we need to wait for Les.

These IM events really are amazing - it is such a party at the finish line. The place is still packed close to midnight and the music is crazy. They are playing every great party song and the people in the stands are dancing and singing. We climb into the bleachers at about 20 minutes to midnight and start working the numbers again. "If he does x minutes per mile and stops for coke, etc" It really is obsessive. I spend a few minutes looking for Michella but give up after trying to navigate the bleachers. Right now I'm not so good at traversing the narrow steps. I sit down and watch the large overhead screen and listen to the announcer calling the names as they cross the finish line. Eventually I join the crowd in song and start to sing along to 'December 1963 (Oh What a Night.)' The fact that I know all the lyrics is troubling. Perhaps I died on the course and I am now in hell. If I start singing YMCA then I know its true. Estuardo pokes me and said they just called Les' name. I look at the clock - I'm damn good at math and I had him coming in at 8 minutes till. Bingo! I let out a whoop and Estuardo and I run over to the finish line. We find Michella and we congratulate Les on finishing under the cut off time. The man looks rough but happy to be done.

Earlier I mentioned that Les gets major hero points for finishing the race in that fashion. I really don't know how he did it after getting blasted on the swim and barely surviving the bike. Pretty strong stuff. Congratulations to Les as well.

We walk back over the rest area for more sitting time. You know how you can tell the age of a tree by looking at is rings. Well, in similar fashion, we got to witness everything Les drank in the past six hours. In reverse order. Les, so to speak, opened himself up for us. Ah, there's the coke from 15 minutes ago - Look, Gatorade from mile 19, that was a good year - Oh dear, there's the Hammer drink from the bike four hours ago. Out it comes. Those 30 slices of pizza nestled in my belly are starting to move.

Humor aside, it tells you that his body stopped absorbing liquid many hours ago. Not good.

After observing this glorious technicolor display of Les' biology we moved over to the changing tents so the two can pick up their clothes and bikes. Les is able to communicate now. I know what is next. So, I wait. I start the countdown.

10 - 9 - 8 - 7

Here it comes...

6 - 5 - 4

Hold on...

3 - 2 - 1

"I'm never doing this again." Dramatic pause. "Guys, this is my last Ironman."

Bam! Nailed it. Right on cue.

How did I know. Because he says it every single fricking time after a hard race. The man is a rock if nothing else. If I had a slice of pizza for every time he said that I would have at least 30 pieces lumped together in my stomach. Oh, wait a minute. Never mind. Yeah, yeah Les, we'll see you in Tempe in 2010.

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That's about it for the race day report. We drove to a fast food restaurant and I ate some more as Les opened himself to us *again*. Dude, you have to stop doing that. I slept the sleep of the dead for about five hours and woke up the next morning. Its hard to sleep when your body is a train wreck. Breakfast consisted of 15 bagels, 5 boxes of cereal, fruit, coffee and somebody's arm that got in my way. Les declared solemnly that this really was his last race. Yawn.

Les and Michella drove us to the airport and we said our goodbyes. They were staying for another day in Spokane. Thanks again to Michella as she was awesome the whole weekend. My flight home was uneventful and I stretched out in my luxurious leg space and slept. I had upgraded my seats that morning. Good thing. There were a lot of IM folks in both airports and we had some great conversations. Big frustration for me was that everybody I spoke to had done 12 hours or better and I am embarrassed to mention my time. I'm over it now but I would love to do a lot better some day. I accept that I am in my mid-40s, a dedicated family man and a business owner and so I am limited in my training time. Someday.

I get home around 1:00 am Tampa time and I'm exhausted. I was also upset because two of my kids were at camp for a week and I really missed them. However, my youngest who was home made the sign below. That was awesome! I almost cried. It's better than any medal or t-shirt.

IM Sign - Maggie

So, now I am home and relaxed. My weight has dropped back down to 153 and will require inordinate amounts of beer. Oh, yes, my eye had returned to normal the next day but my ear is still checked out and not improving. My hearing is at about 25% in my right ear so I go to the doctor a few days later and she looks in my ear. "Wow, that's a really big hole, I could drive my truck through that."

I'm glad. I've always worried my doctor did not have a place to drive her truck. Now that my ear has opened up she is going to be ok. She thinks I was hit on the back right of my head where the ocular nerves are located. The impact knocked out my left eye and possibly the neoprene cap created a seal over my ear and the pressure popped my ear drum. She doesn't know if it will heal and wants to send me to an ENT specialist. I tell her that is not necessary and I will be ok. I know better - I am an Ironman, she is only a doctor. She proceeded to ask me questions which I have now heard no less than 50 times.

Did that girl beat you? - Don't know. She certainly beat my head in.

Did you ever see her again? - No, she was very clever. She stayed to my left the entire race.

What was it like racing without an eye and ear? - What?

So, for the record, a girl beat you up and an old man lovingly rubbed your entire body with lotion, correct? - Correct.

Why do you do these things? - I don't know. Can I go home now?

A week later and my ear still has not healed and is infected in both the inner and outer ear canals. My Ironman senses start to tingle and tell me I better go to an ENT specialist. Turns out I'm OK. The ear drum has healed but I still have fluid behind the membrane. I won't be able to hear for maybe another week but it should clear up. Antibiotics take care of the rest.

That's it. I spent a week at the beach with my family and did nothing. It was wonderful. I drank beer and ate beer. I even ate at McDonald's one day. That is on my top ten list of things never to do - right up there with killing people and wearing a Speedo. Yes, my body revolted on me. Around the second week I started to get very antsy and was jonesing to train again. I have run and biked a few times and it has not been pretty. I need to give my body a little more time before I step up to the speed work. I want to do a few Olympic distances before the season is over.

Many thanks to my beautiful wife Nubia and kids for tolerating my training schedule. Their understanding and patience was critical. Thanks to my parents, brother and sisters for their faith in me. Also, my good friends like the Osprey Pointe Drinking Club, Gary Swisher, Michella and many others including my new friend, Chris. A special thanks and curse to Bun Tadlock, the man who got me into the whole stupid endurance thing over 15 years ago. Of course, Les and Estuardo in which I thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie of the whole mess that is Ironman. Who else would listen to me stress out loud about where I should place my Accelerade bottle and truly care and understand. Most of all, thanks to God for letting me do my best and bringing me home safely.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pre-Race Last Thoughts

Today was a good day but I am ready for bed soon. I am exhausted mentally and physically. This will be close to my last post until after the race. I had dabbled with the idea of posting during the race with my Blackberry but its too difficult. Maybe another day.

I really miss my wife and kids. It would be great if they could be up here with me. Unfortunately the kids go to camp before I get home so I won't get to see them for awhile. Too bad.

I have prayed often that God will let me perform at my best. Feel free to do the same.

Bad Ironman

I am about to commit an egregious sin and break a cardinal rule of Ironman protocol.

I am going to change my nutrition plan the day before the race.

This is not advised and I may be thrown out of the Ironman club. There are things you just don't do and changing anything before the race is a no-no. The slightest change from your routine could disrupt your race in a significant way. Needless to say, changing your nutrition plan is up there with public suicide.

That's ok - I really don't care. I was never that happy with my plan anyway and I have a strong stomach so I'm not particulary worried. I moved over to an all Hammer Nutrition plan which includes their endurance mix, electrolyte pills and gels. Les and Estuardo have trained me in the ways of the Hammer and I'm not looking back.

I know most of you don't really give a damn about it but it is big stuff. Trust me.

Michella The Iron Sherpa



Michella, Les' wife, has been fantastic. She has tolerated the three of us as we obsess and talk over every minute detail. She even carries our valuables when we are in the water or on the bike. Estuardo and I encourage her to shop as much as possible when we are not around. Les does not support this Idea.

Thanks Michella - your awesome!

More stuff

video

Today we worked on our bikes for awhile making last minute preparations. Afterwards we racked them and turned in our transition bags. Each transition bag has all the items you are going to need for the bike and run.

Took one last swim to acclimate to the cold. The water had warmed up to 58 and you could tell. I still entered happily into a cold induced semi-coma but it was actually tolerable today. I swam for about 15 minutes to make sure I could sustain. I had a mild panic attack but I got past it. Breathing is overrated.

Everybody is going out to dinner tonight but I am going to pass. I'm exhausted and frankly, I cannot take anymore Ironman conversation and obsessing over every little detail. I will probably grab a book or listen to my iPod.

I'm a whiner

Disregard my last post - I was whining. Everybody has called me on it. Even my own kids called me a doofus. Les told me in a round about way to shut up and use mind over matter. I feel better. I will finish and finish strong.

Amen.

Day Before

Today we turn in our bikes and finalize our setup. We will also do one more swim.

I have accepted the fact that I will not be 100% healthy. I am genuinely concerned about finishing this race.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Two Days Before




Folks, this is God's country. The beauty of the lake and the mountains in Couer d'Alene is amazing. Absolutely stunning! The temperature is a glorious 72 degrees with an easy breeze.

Today was a long but productive day. We had to register, weigh in, get our gear, check out our bikes and test the water. We are going to dinner soon and then we will drive the course.

Registration was quick and painless. I weighed in at 161 lbs, Estuardo at 163 and Les at 138 (he's such a girl.) This is a good weight for me. My run and bike times have improved with the weight loss. Two weeks ago I clocked in at 152 which is way too low for me. It probably contributed my current illness and I have been eating non-stop to get my weight up.

There are no words to describe the water. It is beyond cold. It is liquid pain. I suited up with wetsuit, neoprene cap and booties and submerged myself in the 52 degree water. I was warned numerous times but you cannot prepare for the shock. It was immediate and brutal. I could not breath or talk and my chest was heaving as I tried to take in air. As I bobbed on the surface like a swollen flounder my wetsuit slowly took in the water and warmed it against my body. I rolled over and took a few easy strokes, stopped, gasped for air and took a few more strokes. Eventually my face numbed and my hands detached themselves from my body. There is no more feeling. I have left my body. I have now achieved a morphine-like state.

video

As I eased through the wter I felt my body moving at a nice clip. It's wonderful when your brain disassociates itself from those pesky nerve endings. You are just a head moving through the water. We swam for about 15 minutes and climbed out onto the steps. The outside temperature was rising and it felt good to bake for a few.

Afterwards we picked up our bikes. It was great to see my bike again. I turned it in 10 days ago and I was going through withdrawal. After this much training your bike becomes an appendage. Yeah, I know, that sounds bizarre. We rode for about 30 minutes to make sure everything was in working order. It really felt good to be back in the saddle again.



We put our bikes away and drove back to the hotel. I really needed to rest as I don't feel that great. I sleep for about 30 minutes and then we go to dinner. Next we load up and begin checking out the bike course. It is a good idea to know the location of hills, etc so you can prepare.

Bad idea.

This course looks rough. Visions of Wisconsin are coming back. The middle portions are terrifying. God help us.

We go home and crash. I'm feeling worse.

Maggie and Coffee

Slept in late until my youngest, Maggie, called wanting to know how to make coffee. I had to explain that it was 6:00 am our time and we had just gotten in.

Two scoops and four cups of water.

Good night.

Detained in Salt Lake

We landed in Salt Lake on time and the view is outstanding. I have never been here before and I am not used to these types of mountains. They don't look anything like the Smokies.

After we boarded the plane we sat on the runway for about an hour. It seems to be broken and the pilot keeps talking about getting a bigger hammer. Its not funny anymore. They drive us back to the gate and we disembark. Everybody congratulates the pilot on a great landing - People in Salt Lake apparently have lots of airplane jokes. The good news is that there is another plane available within the hour. The only downside is our eta is now 11:30 Pacific time, 2:30 Eastern time. Estuardo and I are wiped out.

Tampa to Salt Lake

Now I understand why they make noise-canceling headphones. I will happily pay for a pair right now. Seriously. What is it about listening to an iPod or reading a book that invites conversation?

Lot of turbulence as we hit several thunderstorms over the Gulf. The plane was packed and it felt like I was in a herd of sweaty cattle jammed up the backside of a cigar tube. I, for one, do not like sweaty cattle or being up the backside of anything. I just want to get off.

I ordered a Orzo pasta dinner for $500.00 created by Delta Airlines Master Chef A.J. Somebody. I guess Orzo is singular for pasta because there wasn't a whole lot there. I felt like a giant in the land of little people. Tasted ok though.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sick

Current status - Unfortunately I am feeling lousy. I picked up a bug over a week ago and I cannot shake it. This has affected my taper and training so I am a little concerned. I've been terribly fatigued for days now. I fly out this evening on the 7.5 hour flight to Salt Lake and then to Spokane. I am sure that will not help me any. Argh.

Prep for Ironman Coeur d'Alene

I am going to try to condense the past few months into this one post. This is my first since Ironman Wisconsin in 2005 so bear with me.

Les, Estuardo and I signed up for Coeur d'Alene (CDA) last year with the hopes of improving upon the disaster in Wisconsin as all of us were disappointed with the results. We chose this race because of the time of year and location. Nobody wanted to do Florida or Wisconsin again.

The race is on Sunday, June 22nd and the weather is known to be cool and the course to be hilly. Because of past experience we chose to extend our training out to approximately 20 weeks to be better prepared. In the past, we did not go much further out than 13 weeks. What a difference that made - I feel much more prepared. The new plan was much more aggressive and it required inordinate amounts of time on the bike. In summary, my bike feels great and my swim has improved considerably. However, I am feeling insecure about my run. I wouldn't be me if I didn't feel unhappy about some aspect of my training. Due to the focus of bike time I did not feel like I was running enough. We'll see.

There is another local Tampa group heading up there that I only know marginally. It is a friend of ours, his wife and several of their friends. It is mostly women and they are terrific athletes. I do not anticipate keeping up with them.

Swim - The temperature in CDA is is averaging 65 degrees which is fantastic. What is not so great is the lake temp. Apparently the snow has not completely melted and is still sluicing into the lake and the temp has been hovering around 52 degrees. First off, I have a hard time even comprehending snow considering I've only seen the stuff five times at the most. Fifty degree water is unfathomable to me. I had to rent a full body wetsuit, neoprene hat and booties with the hope of covering every square inch of my body. Because I spent a lot more time in the water with a Masters program I am excited to see how I do.

Bike - Hilly course and I am looking forward to it. We have done several 90 - 100 mile rides in the hills and I feel comfortable. I am still the runt of the litter in our bike group. Estuardo is out of his mind on the bike and Les has raised his game considerably. Nonetheless, I am pleased.

Run - fairly flat with one big hill. I'm skeptical about my results. I don't know about Estuardo. Les is running faster than me right now.

As far as the competition between the three of us - it's the same old story. I will probably come out of the water first (assuming I don't go into cold-water-shock) and do my best to stave them off on the bike. It will probably all come down to the run.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Training and Pre-Race

Ironman Wisconsin 2005
2.4 mile swim / 112 mile bike / 26.2 mile run
John Lorelle

I am a native Floridian and I have been competing in triathlons for over ten years. I Love the competition and the challenge. Ironman Wisconsin 2005 was my third Ironman and umpteenth triathalon. I have done Ironman Florida in Panama City twice and was marginally pleased with the results. I don't get too hung up on my times. I only obsess 99% of the day about my results. Standard stuff.

I have a tentative agreement with my wife that I am allowed to do an Ironman every two years. I try to sneak in a marathon every year because running is my first love. So far so good. However, I suspect that our agreement is not on real solid ground right now. Comments like "You have ruined my life" and "Triathlons can burn in hell" lead me to believe that perhaps she really isn't tuned into this whole Ironman thing.

Sigh.

My two training buddies, Les and Estuardo, and I made a commitment last year to do Wisconsin. I can't remember why we chose this particular race. I think we just wanted to get out of town. The timing was right and in theory, the weather would be perfect. Estuardo is a monster on the bike and Les is a great runner with some really nice marathon results. None of our triathlon times are world-beaters but we know that we only have a limited window in which to train. We are all in our early 40s with lots of kids and high-intensity jobs. We accept the fact we will only do so well and we try to train smart.

Training for this Ironman was weird for us because we really had no idea of the conditions in Wisconsin. Frankly, we didn't even know where Wisconin was. Les thought it was across the Atlantic. I know for a fact that its in North America. What we did know was that the course wasn't flat. I knew that it was very hilly (for a flatlander.) But we weren't sure about the average temperature, the grade of hills, the number of hills and so on. Life in Florida is not conducive to those type of conditions. Fortunately, we don't live too far from the Dade City area which is in the center of the state and has some fairly nasty hills. We would drive up every Saturday and ride as many hills as possible. We would also try to get up there on Sunday evening for a long run but that was tougher. Even better, this year the heat and humidity were absolutely miserable. We regularly trained in 90 to 100+ degree weather. Our brains would be boiling in their skulls by the time we finished our rides. One day I bonked so bad I almost passed out on the bike. That was a good combination of heat, poor nutrition and stupidity.

We all tentatively set our goal times at sub 14 hours. I had done better at Florida but we knew this course was going to be tougher. We followed a rough draft of a 13 week training with a two week taper. We focused a lot on the hills and made sure we put in the mileage on the bike and the run. We mostly ignored the swimming because we all suck. We were confident the cooler weather of Wisconsin would be to our advantage. I checked the weather in Madison several times a week and it was consistently 75 degrees - very nice.

The three of us flew into Chicago Friday morning and drove straight to Madison. Its about a three hour trip. I was pleasantly surprised, Wisconsin is a beautiful state - wherever it is. Our hotel was about 5 miles from the Capital building which is next to the race. We drove downtown and registered quickly and got checked-in. The weigh-in was very entertaining. Les weighs about 30 lbs. which is the approximate weight of my dog. Estuardo came in at 180 lbs. I was a lean 166 lbs. Estuardo was devastated. It crushed him that I was taller yet weighed less. Typical whiny fat Latino.

Most of Friday was cool but it sparked the beginning of an absolute Obsess Fest. Put three retentive guys together for a long weekend before an Ironman race and just watch the stress guage bubble. We obsessed about anything and everything - weather, hills, special needs bags, Estuardo's weight, nutrition, wetsuits and of course, the weather and the hills. I guess its important to add that Wisconsin decided to jack up the temperature that weekend and have it peak at 92 degrees on race day. I'll also mention that the wind had picked up and was predicted to be at 15 mph with gusts up to 23. I hate wind. Wind can kiss my ass. There, I feel better.

Did I mention that Estuardo weighs more than me?

Friday night Les said that we were going to watch inspirational videos to get us motivated for the race. He bought a video called American Flyers which is supposed to be highly regarded as a "moving and inspirational" cycling movie. I would have to honestly say it was probably the worst movie ever made on the planet. Thank God I didn't see this movie before I decided to get involved in endurance sports. I would have assumed that all triathletes and cyclists enjoy pulling each others pants down while on their bikes or gazing longingly at each other over dinner while wearing cowboy hats.

Shudder.

That movie really really sucked. Luckily I brought a Lance Armstrong video to make us feel whole again. Crashed soon after and had nightmares about Kevin Costner and cowboy hats.

Woke up Saturday and did a quick swim to get acclimated to the water. The water was perfect and was hovering around 75 degrees. Wetsuits come off at 78 degrees so we were good. My body doesn't react well to cold temperatures and I have trouble breathing in sub 70 degree water. I think we took our bikes out for a test ride but I can't remember. Perhaps we did it the day before. Estuardo got all ballsy on us and proposed a bet on the outcome of the race. Last place had to drive back while first place got to ride in the back seat. We had to get up early the day after the race and make the long trip back to Chicago. We knew that we would be sore, tired and miserable. Now everything was different. This was big. There was no way in hell I could let that happen.

Called my wife a few times to see if she was excited yet. She acted like she wasn't but I knew better - How could you not be excited about Ironman? I hated not having her and the kids up to watch but the distance, school and the timing were bad. It makes a big difference seeing your family when you come down the home stretch.

We also did all the other stuff we were supposed to except attend the mandatory meeting. I don't know why I insist on skipping those. Every time I miss out on some vital piece of information. I guess our priority that day was to stress and obsess every waking minute. We tweaked our bikes, bought stuff for our bikes, talked about our bikes and even talked to our bikes. However, we got everything done that was supposed to be done. We were going to wrap up with a drive-through of the bike course but we were cooked from fretting all afternoon and we decided to just get back to the hotel and relax. That was a good call because seeing those hills would have made it worse. I had reached a point where my brain could not take any more Ironman. I was so ready to get going with this race. I didn't want to talk any more about gu, tires, water temperature, Lance or anything else race-related.

Went back to the hotel and plugged into my iPod. Later we had dinner at Pizza Hut and carbed up on spaghetti. Crashed early which was tremondous. I was so worried about getting enough sleep. Not a problem on this day - I was out by 9:00 p.m.
Race Morning

Woke up Sunday morning around 4:30 am because Estuardo was knocking around the hotel room. Felt real good because of the amount of sleep - 7.5 hours which is more than I get on a normal day. Jumped in the shower and then loaded up my remaining gear. Big surprise - I went over everything again to make sure it was all there. You never know what may happen between now and the last 30 times I checked my stuff. Ridiculous. This stuff makes you take OCD to a whole new level. Which brings me to the next subject. I don't know how this happened but Les and I got real stupid on breakfast planning. We just assumed that the hotel would have breakfast for us at 4:30 am complete with bagels, fruit and coffee. I blame this on Les. He laid down the full fury of his charm on the front desk lady and managed to squeeze out of her a partial commitment to maybe talking to somebody about possibly having breakfast out sometime the next morning maybe at this hotel. Good job Les! Good job John on believing Les! The day before we had gone to the grocery store and Estuardo bought everything that had carbohydrates on the label. He even bought some gooey Strawberry meal supplement drink for old people. I don't know about that guy. Anyway, I managed to choke down a power bar, Gatorade, water and a PB&J sandwich. Honestly, I am ususally way more prepared than that. Honestly.

We hopped in the car and I drove the short ride to downtown Madison. I listened to the girls in the back chatter and giggle and talk trash about me getting used to driving because I will be doing a lot of it tomorrow. Whatever.

Monono Terrace was hopping when we got there. The Terrace was the hub of the race - changing rooms inside, the swim start outside, the run start on street level and the bikes on the 2nd (or the 3rd) floor. The Terrace faces the lake and is 3 stories high. On each side is a helix ramp similar to what you see in large airport garages. We were going to run up one helix from the swim and ride down on the other. All well and good but you also have to ride up the same helix after the 112 mile bike ride. That kinda sucks.

I don't remember too much from that morning. Everybody always talks about race morning and the "tension in the air" and you have folks meditating about "the life changing event of the Ironman". Not me. While all that stuff is certainly true I just don't focus on that stuff. I'll have years afterwards to contemplate the deeper mysteries of Ironman. I'll say my prayers and thank God for getting me to this point and ask for strength to maximize my abilities. I'll thank him for giving me the ability to take on such a monumental task. Other than that, I guess I'm not really a theep dinker.

We finalized our bikes and handed over the Special Needs bag. The SNB is an extra bag for the run and the bike. You put stuff in there you think you might need halfway during the event - dry socks, food, gu, etc. I had a PB&J, bottle of Endurox, Aleve and bandaids in my bike bag. My run bag had extra nylon socks, Aleve and bandaids. The Aleve is my secret weapon. I have a lot of IT band problems and ever since they outlawed Vioxx I've had to rely on Aleve. Great stuff. The docs tried to get me another Vioxx equivalent but the insurance company nixed it. Go figure. Anyway, I'll share my nutrition plan here. I know this paragraph is pretty boring (like the rest of the story is riveting) but planning is so key in these races that a lot of time is spent making sure everything is done right. My plan was for 32 oz of Endurox for the 1st three hours of the bike and then 16 oz of provided gatorade every hour. I was going to have either a gu or Power Bar every 1.5 hours or as need dictated. I would consume and hose myself down with water at every bike station. The run was similar but, in theory, I would do a gu every hour followed by 12 oz of Gatorade Endurance mixed in with chicken broth. Prior to the swim and after breakfast I drank a gatorade. I think I've dialed in on my body and know my nutrition needs. Isn't that exciting?

It's weird - I just don't remember much. We put our wetsuits on next to the latrines. I thought I was going to die from the smell of 2000 nervous athletes. Les was griping about not taking a gu shot and was rummaging through the planters looking for an open gel package or some type of carb fix. I'm pretty sure I saw him licking the inside of a Cliff Bar wrapper. Pathetic. The best thing I remember was the announcer talking about how the wind and heat had really picked up and then told everybody "to get over it". I guess we weren't the only tri-geeks stressing about it. Obviously the guy had heard enough. Soon afterward we walked down the 3 flight helix to the swim start. All of a sudden I started to get a little rumbly-in-my-tumbly and feeling nauseous. Perfect timing. I bitched about it and then decided to shut up because Les and Estuardo said they felt great. I don't dare show any signs of weakness.

I am not a strong swimmer and I anticipated approximately a 95 minute swim which puts me in the bottom third. Quick note on the swim. In previous Ironman swims I had problems in the first 10 minutes after the gun. I would have a panic attack and would be unable to move. Really bizarre because I've never had panic attacks in my life and I have no problems with open-water swims. I suspect it was the colder temperature and my body reacts by shutting down. I was a little concerned that morning but I spent enough time in the water the day before plus the temperature was close to perfect. Since I'm not a strong swimmer I tend to stray on the course because I don't sight well and I only breathe to my right. I made a firm committment to stay focused on the buoys and remain inside. The more you stray the more you swim.

I was really nervous and psyched now. This was it, finally. It felt like we had been training forever. Les and I hung back a bit to stay out of the way of the better swimmers which really meant the other 2098 athletes. I'm not sure where Estuardo was. We were chatting when the gun went off which caught us off guard. We wished each other good luck and that was it - we were on!

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Race

A big goal of mine during a mass swim start is to protect all the parts of my body - especially the important parts. Imagine 2000 people all swimming in the same direction and all wanting to be in the same space at the same time. They call it the washing machine and rightly so. It's brutal out there - legs kicking, arms thrashing and bodies rolling all over the place. I can't tell you how many times I got hit during the first 15 minutes. One guy pummeled me with his arm over and over again. I would try to stay of his way but he kept following me. He wanted to kill me. He must be jealous of me. I guess I don't mind getting hit in the head, I can deal with that - its when you get dunked under or swallow water that things begin to look bad.

Every now and then I would find an empty patch and try to stay there. The swimming felt nice. I can motor at my slow pace forever and it helped that the water was cool. Obviously the wetsuit is a benefit. Incrediby I was staying on track next to the buoys - I really am not good at that. It probably explains why I took such a beating because everybody was hugging the cones. The swim was a two loop course. Halfway through the first loop I was cruising and was pretty sure I was ahead of my estimated time. By the time I finished the first loop I was actually 5 minutes up even though the back half seemed a lot longer. However, that didn't last long. On the second loop I still felt great and had a lot of open water but I guess I slowed down. The back half of the second loop seemed to go on forever. It's hard to judge how many cones until the turn and you keep thinking you are coming up on the last one. I finally reached the last cone, turned left and swam up to the boat ramp. Almost exactly 95 minutes. How about that!

I love this part. In my mind, this is where the race truly starts. You run up the boat ramp and everybody's hollering and screaming for you. What a trip! Even better are the strippers. Sorry, honey, the wetsuit strippers. The strippers grab you and knock you to the ground, yank your wetsuit at the top and the two of them roll down your body pulling the suit all the way to your ankles. One last pull and it pops off. They shove it in your arms and send you off. The run to T1 was probably 50 yards which included running up the helix with your wetsuit. I can't tell you how cool this is - spectators are everywhere and they're giving you everything they got. Keep in mind that I was probably 40 minutes behind the pros and they are still going nuts. Even more amazing is it never stops the entire race. Up the helix, over the terrace and into the changing room I go.

I take my time in transistion because I want to make sure everything is perfect before I hop on the bike for next seven hours (or so.) Les and Estuardo crank through at around seven minutes, I'm out in eleven. I get lotioned up good by the sunblock people. When you run out of T1 there are packs of volunteers with globs of sunblock to slather all over the athlete's body. On my left were a couple of dudes and on my right were two fine looking young highly trained and motivated lotion girls. I'm not stupid. I think good thoughts about my baby and put on my right blinker. Afterwards I make the long run in my bike shoes towards my bike which is at the other end of the terrace. Going down the helix was fun. Little did I know that would probably be the most fun I would have all day. I fiddle with my Garmin Forerunner a little bit to get it going and start to focus on the bike ride. At this point I'm on target and I feel good. The nausea in my stomach is still there and stays all day but is never a factor. I try to stay rational and go over the nutrition plan in my head. This part is important to me. I think about my strategy and not get over excited. I have two bottles of fluids in my cages and endurance drink in my aero bottle. The bike stations are supposed to be every 10 miles. I have 5 gels taped to my frame and three sliced up power bars in my basket.

The ride is two loops with a 16 mile back and out. The first 16 was relatively painless. I spent a lot of time getting situated. I hung with a few people and checked out the scenery. I don't remember a lot but I do remember the slow rolling hills. So far the weather was behaving but I knew better. It was early. The past few days started the same way and then got very hot and windy. I remember making the turn onto the loop because we went by the SNB section and I asked somebody where we were. Things started to get a little interesting now. The general format of the bike was rolling hills with 4 "big" hills per loop for a total of 8. The idea was to take it easy the first go around so you can handle the second half. Like I said, that's the idea. I was still feeling good and still on target. I was looking to average 16 to 17 mph and I was at 16.5. The grades were starting to increase and I was vigorous in my attack. I was pleased because the hills weren't too bad - they were very doable and it was good to know that I had trained properly. I also wasn't bothered by the increasing heat because again I was trained for it. I was hoping to take advantage of cooler weather to improve my performance but no big deal. This was fun because it's a good feeling conquering hills and then hitting the downside at 40 mph.

The first big hill is Mt. Holub and it wasn't awful. I was out of my saddle and taking it careful at a good pace. The second and biggest is Old Sauk and I am of the opinion that it should be leveled and crushed. It's 45 miles out, has a 15% grade and plateaus several times. Since we didn't drive the course I had no idea where the big hills started. On Old Sauk you make a sharp right turn and all of a sudden you're going up. Way up. I see a sign that says "Kick this hill's ass!" Uh Oh. I hear a drumbeat and lots of shouting and words of encouragement "You can do it!". This can't be good. Around the 1st curve and you're face-to-face with a huge crowd of spectators and they're all over the road. One guy is dressed as Satan - so not good. Others are sitting in lawn chairs raising hell. It's a feast and I'm the main course. I beat on that hill pretty hard with the help of the spectators. They really make it happen. This image is one of my lasting impressions of the race. People rush you on the bike and you're living a Tour-de-France moment. They shout you up the hill as they crowd around and run up with you. It's a grind but its so awesome. God bless those people.

There was another hill shortly after and I don't know if it was one of the big 4 because it was so short but it comes out of nowhere and feels like its straight up. One group of spectators must have been a swim team because they were in their bathing suits cheering us on. The girls in their bikinis - very nice, the guys in their speedos - gross.

Towards the end of the 1st loop and after many more hills I could feel a slight hint of fatigue. It was full-on hot now and the wind was blowing. I hit the town of Verona which really gets into this race. That was another fun part of the bike ride - crowds going nuts and giving lots of love. A few miles later and I'm at the beginning of the loop again and I stop to graze through my SNB. I tried to eat my sandwich but it wouldn't go down. It was warm and gooey and just didn't taste good. Next time I'll freeze the sandwich beforehand. I filled my aero bottle with my endurance drink and left after a 5 minute break.

Soon I did a reality check. There was no way I was going to finish the bike in the estimated time. I also knew that I would be tapped after the bike and my run was going to suffer. It was at this time that I knew I was going to have a really tough day. The problem was the wind. It was killing me. I remember riding on a flat highway and I couldn't get over 12 mph. It was so grinding and demoralizing. This was supposed to be the easy part. You fight these hills all day and you're hoping to take a break on the flats but it never comes. My nutrition plan was barely hanging in there. I couldn't swallow any food because my body was rejecting solids. I put a power bar in my mouth and it just sat there for about five minutes. As hard as I tried I couldn't make it go down. I had to cut over to a heavy liquid plan and take a limited number of gus. The gel also made me sick to my stomach. Another problem was the distance between bike stations. I was positive the race info said every 10 miles but in reality it was between 15 - 18 miles. Post race I saw a lot of complaining online about this. The wind combined with heat can do a number on your body and I was desperate to keep myself hydrated. I was going through the liquids fast and I was OK but remember that I have to think ahead and make sure I'm ready for a 26 mile run. When I finally came up to a bike station I would rest for a few minutes, stock up on Gatorade and pour water over my head. One station was out of Gatorade and another out of water. That's bad and they need to fix that.

Due to the fact I'm out of the water late I have the opportunity to catch up to some of the slower riders. I've never seen so many bodies by the side of the road in a race. Towards the end I saw people swerving or cramping up and falling off their bikes. Several were throwing up and couldn't go on. A lot of folks were taking a ride on the sag wagon. I heard later that this Ironman had the highest dropout rate (22%) of any large North American race.

Les caught me at mile 90 right after my second trip up Old Sauk which, by the way, was not as invigorating as the first. According to my calculations that was a little early. We knew I would be out the water at least 10 minutes before him but he would catch me on the bike. We figured this would be a running race between the two of us. He's better on the bike and we are comparable on the run even though I would give him the edge. Estuardo was the wild card. It was safe to say that he would crush us on the bike but we had no idea where he was with his run training. Anyway, Les looked a little to damn peppy for his own good. I asked him how he was doing and he said that he felt "OK", dropped a gear and dusted me. I hate that guy. Visions of the back seat are fading away. I tried to hang with him for a few minutes but then we hit that small vertical hill I mentioned earlier and I crumbled. Les blew up the hill and was gone. I guess when you weigh less than my 10 year old daughter then that stuff is easy.

Climbing that little hill was probably the single hardest point of my race. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to the top. Once I got there I was toast. This is worse than I thought. I kept going but now I was just coasting. It was here that I wondered if I would even finish the race. Usually I'm psyched to get off the bike and run. I'm confident in my running abilities and feel comfortable dictating a pace. Now now. I couldn't even comprehend how I was going to run 26 miles much less finish the bike. There one was hill in particular that I don't remember on the 1st loop but it was nasty - it just kept going and going.

I kept pushing forward and stopped trying to think about my condition. I rooted around mentally and found a little more energy. What else was I going to do? Stop. There were a few more nasty hills that hurt a lot but I kept moving forward. Lots of praying. Lots of positive thinking.

Weird thing though. On the last 15 miles, I went into some type of recovery mode. I got a burst of energy and flew home. I attacked the helix up the terrace, threw my bike at the volunteer and ran into T2. I recall telling the volunteer that she could keep my bike and sell it on eBay. Pretty cool on that burst of energy. It gave me momentum to stay confident about the run. Like I said, lots of prayer. Also, I know I had family and friends out there silently rooting for me.

Last comment on the spectators and volunteers. I can't say enough good things about those people. How they can sit out there for hours and cheer for people they don't know is a mystery to me. I could never do it. Only one little beef. I think when they go to spectator school they are told to lie. The stuff they say when you are out there all alone. Some of the whoppers I heard on the road - "It's the last big hill" or "It's 3 miles of downhill from here" and the biggest lie of them all - "you're looking good!" I'm still looking for those 3 miles of downhill.

Anyway, I run into T2 and there's Les loading up and heading out the door. I talk to him briefly and he's gone. Estuardo is getting ready in the corner and I think we chat for a second. He takes off in his Captain Fantastic silver unisex triathlete suit. I think you get those free when you buy a copy of the American Flyers DVD. Cape not included. Again, I take my time. I drink lots of water and hose myself down. I stick a couple of band-aids on my toes, change outfits and put on my running shoes. I can't find my lotion girls so I lube up the precious parts and head for the door. For the record - I'm not feeling so hot. I get a little motivation from the crowd outdoors but for the moment I'm out of gas. I can't even fathom 26 miles. I'm not sure if its the miles or the knowledge that I'm going to be out here at a minimum of 5 more hours. That's a really long time from my perspective. But, what can I do - so I put one foot in front of the other and shuffle down State Street. The run is also two loops with the second loop starting within ten yards of the finish line. I'm sure most folks would tell you this is one of more cruel aspects of Ironman. At mile 13 you can feel the finish line, you can hear the crowd and you're taken right up to end and then you have to turn around for another 13. It's either demoralizing to the point of failure or more motiviation to finish the race. Luckily I've been able to use it as motivation in the past. I still don't know the course that well but I know that you run down State Street, through residential areas, around town and through the university which apparently backs up to the Capital building. Sort of a full circle within a circle.

God, I hurt! I'm only one mile out and away from downtown and already I start to walk. My legs can't sort themselves out and I feel really washed out. It's hard to explain the feeling. I move along with a lot of racers all shuffling to a different pace. I run into Estuardo and he looks like me. I don't like walking so I start a slow run to see if I can make something happen. Something has to give. I keep this up for another two miles and it occurs to me that I don't feel any worse. I don't feel better either but that's OK and I take it as a positive sign. I'm looking for crumbs right now. We run through the University of Wisconsin football stadium which was pretty cool but the grass surface is spongy and I don't like it. I'm ultra-sensitive right now so I opt to walk through it. I stop at every aid station on the mile and regain myself. I drink the orange Gatorade, a glass of water and maybe some pretzels. I use a soaked sponge on my neck to keep it cooled down. You see, its still hot. The sun is going down and the wind is gone but the humidity stays behind. I'm wearing a dark blue heavy wicking shirt and I'm regretting it. Who would have thought I would need less. I actually brought several long-sleeve shirts for those chilly Wisconsin nights. Maybe I'll get to wear them someday in Florida for those oh-so-chilly days. Maybe next time I'll be a little smarter. Maybe someday I'll know where Wisconsin is.

I'm pleased that I can drink the Gatorade. I'm not a big fan of their normal stuff but this was their new endurance version which apparently contains additional electrolytes and sodium. It actually tastes good and its not the same stuff they served on the bike. I'm assuming they learned that Ironman triathletes start to get violent after drinking the same crap for over ten hours. So, I'm surviving. I do all my mental math and assess my situation. My situation is that I'm very unhappy, angry at carbohydrates and so so tired. But I am still moving in a general forward direction. My legs actually start to show a little life at around mile four. They're probably waking up to tell me I suck. I can't say I blame them. Little positive thoughts start to float around in my tiny pea-brain and tell me that maybe I can finish this. I do the right thing and start setting small realistic goals. "Get to the turn-around and you are 1/4 of the way there" or "once you hit 13 you're halfway home." I focus on 2 mile chunks hoping to peel off those 26 miles into palatable chewy bites. Its always worked before and it maximizes my math abilities all at the same time. Good for my body, good for my smartniss. There is a large very steep hill at the University called Observatory Hill around mile 5 (and 18). The view at the top is a spectacular panaromic of the lake. It was really pretty. You should walk up that hill sometime. I did.

The final mile before the turn-around was right down the middle of State Street which seems to be the college downtown. Lots of bars and outdoor cafes. The place was rocking and everybody was having a great time cheering on the athletes and if I was to guess, drinking lots of beer. I was jealous because it was cooling off and it seemed to be a great night for sitting outside enjoying a cold one. That, or run 26 miles - whatever floats your boat. You have to run up the street and back down again after going over the sensors. It's great fun because everybody is flowing with you and the little kids are chasing and asking for high fives. There's two stops on this section and I hit them both. The crowd fires me up but you have to be real careful here. You can't get to crazy and exceed your pace or you'll blow up. I've learned the hard way. You have to learn how to focus the energy you get from the crowd and hold on to it because they'll be gone in the next few miles. I ease out of State Street and head down towards the lake. They really designed this course well - everything gets your attention and takes your mind off the pain. If its not the crowds then its the scenery. Now I'm running next to the lake and through the campus. I've locked into my pattern now, I run for a mile, stop at the aid station and take in lots of fluids. I'm still having problems with solids but I am slowly able to swallow grapes, orange slices and the occasional pretzel. Everything seems to agree with me and that's great news - hardly any stomach problems at all. I continue in this mode for the next several miles which are uneventful. As I start to get close to the half-way point I start mentally preparing myself for the crowds and the turn-around. As I mentioned earlier, being so close to the finish and the crowd telling you that you made it, then to only have to turn around for another 13 miles is hard. You have to ignore everything and everybody and just keep your head down. I approached the finish chute and then took the quick left back out on to State Street without even looking up. The way I was feeling I didn't need to see anybody crossing the finish line - ugh! This is one point where the crowd is not welcome. I think I heard one guy say "You can do it, it's three miles of downhill from here." I'm going to crush that guy's skull.

Sometimes I get chatty in a long event where I know my pace is not going to improve. I'll grab somebody that is obviously anxious to talk with me and chew their ear off for awhile. It helps me burn off the time and I know that it makes their day. One the many things I ask God while I'm running is for something to help me take my mind off the race. Any distraction will do. God thinks he's funny and makes me talk to Erika.

Erika is a trip. Erika is from Wisconsin. Erika doesn't shut up. That girl can talk. As a matter of fact, I have it on record that she can talk non-stop for at least 3 hours solid while running. I think I said a grand total of ten words, four of which consisted of "I have to pee." Erika also knows the entire population of the island of Wisconsin. When she wasn't talking to me she was waving and shouting out to anybody that was within a 100 yard radius. It was amazing, who doesn't this gal know? Also, Erika was a retired rugby player and kick-box instructor. I knew I was safe. I started looking for the guy that was bashing in my head on the swim. I was going to have my girl do a beat-down on his head for messing with me. Oh man, bless her heart. She was a great running buddy for the next 13 miles. We kept each other going and stayed positive the whole time. As we hit the second loop we were both incredibly fatigued. Now its dark and everything takes on a new perspective. We hit the stadium again and this time I run through it even though the grass still isn't to my liking.

I don't remember a lot of excitement on the second loop. We were just trying to make it to the next aid station one mile at a time. Our goal was to keep running and only walk on the big uphills and the aid stations. I think its safe to say that I am running on empty at this point. I've been here before and this is where you dig deep and just keep pushing forward. I'm way way off my ETA but I gave up on that a long time ago. Not to keep it negative but its worth commenting on all the casualties piling up on the sides. Too many athletes had succumbed to the heat and the unexpected battle on the bike. Some people were passed out and others were creating little PowerBar piles. I really feel bad for them. I know they want to finish as bad as I do and they've gone through hell to get here. Erika shouts encouragement and threatens bodily harm if they don't keep going. Why do you think I'm still moving?

There were also lots of positive on those last 13 miles. With Erika as a running companion, I had renewed faith that I was definitely going to finish this race and finish it under cutoff. When there is a distraction and good conversation, I can go forever. The run down State Street was even better the 2nd time. It was not as crowded but still had a great vibe. Erika knew the area and offered all sorts of good information about different parts of the campus. I can't remember any of it now but it sounded good then. We ran by the lake and down that long stupid path afterwards. That long path really blows - it looks like a quick turn-around but is just long enough to tick you off. Anyway, we kept it going through the streets and up and down that miserable pedestrian bridge somewhere between the finish line and hell. We run through more neighborhoods and kept our groove. I'm not paying a lot of attention to the mile markers and I've lost perspective on time and distance. My Forerunner died awhile ago - something about the battery only being good for 14 hours (I guess I'm not going to do this race in under 8 hours.)

Then it occurs to me. You know what - I think I can smell the finish line!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I think we're done!

We're almost there - unbelievable! Erika and I start celebrating with two miles to go! We're not exactly dancing but we are feeling good. Mile 2 was forgettable but Mile 1 was incredible. We started accelerating when we took the first left turn into that little downtown area. There was a small breeze blowing down the street - what a treat that was. I have to wonder exactly why we accelerated - its not like I'm looking to shave 10 seconds off my 15 hour PR. No matter - we're coming home! And this time I ain't turning around. We pick up a few stragglers and everybody is humping up the small incline. The crowd loves us - we love the crowd. Words escape me here because unless you've completed an Ironman can you appreciate coming in at the end. All that training, all that lost family time, all that focus, all that stress - all that everything - just burns away and the only thing left is sweet, simple pure satisfaction. I'm not overly jubilant or ecstatic, I am just incredibly satisfied.

I push Erika in front of me towards the finish line to maximize her photo op. I act the fool and high five everybody. I see other Ironman crossing the line with their families. I would kill to bring my kids with me and share that time with them. I cross the line as they butcher my name and I feel a form of divine weariness settle over me. Thank God I made it and thank you God for giving me the strengh! This race was really hard for me and it took me to the limit phsyically and mentally. I'm so proud I could bust. I'm enjoying this time immensely. I know that later I'll pick the race apart and find everything I did wrong. Not now - I'm digging life right now.

I get my medal and photos