Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

I’m No David Attenborough

Sunday I flew to California, San Diego to be precise.  My first obligation wasn’t until after the dinner hour so as soon as I found the hotel I set about locating The Bike Revolution.  It was true that the shop was only about four blocks from the Hilton and it was true they rented bikes that could get me to the beach.  However, it turned out that I didn’t have the time to get there, swim, get back and then return the bike the following morning before my 7.00 a.m. breakfast meeting.

Plan B went into effect.  Back at the hotel I gathered my wetsuit, goggles and a towel and set off for Coronado Beach via taxi.  Fifteen minutes later I was barefoot and walking toward the setting sun and the surf.  Among the scores of people in the water, I only saw one person in neoprene so I set off immediately.  I splashed through the break and a big mass of kelp and then northwest parallel to the shore about 50 meters out.

After I’d been swimming for about ten minutes, I thought I saw something.  Not just something, I actually thought it was a cow.  Why in the world would I see the big, broad head of a cow floating off of the shore in California?  I guess you can take the boy out of the cornfields…

How do you say "moo" underwater?

How do you say “moo” underwater?

So I kept looking as I swam up to and past this big thing.  After a thinking it was a cow and several more strokes and taking a really hard look, my imagination landed on a dog.  I thought it must be the most gifted swimmer of a Great Dane ever.

A bit like a dog, but much bigger and smoother in the water.

A bit like a dog, but much bigger and smoother in the water.

But, it wasn’t really doglike.  It was more like an agile body surfer with a massive non-human head.

Then it all clicked in my head.  I was looking at a seal.  It must be a seal.  So I swam on, right past the marvelous elegant creature.  Only, then my mind starting to really go into overdrive.  I know about cows.  They are big and dumb and can be stubborn and ornery.  They are strong and usually predictable.  I know about dogs too.  Love those beasts.  But a seal?  How do seals interact with people?  It was at this point that I pulled up and stopped swimming.  Something flashed through my mind about sharks and thrashing, kicking human limbs that mimic the effect of a fish in distress — dinner.  It was unambiguously an Oh Shit moment.  As it turns out, I stopped swimming about five yards short of a group of kids who were waiting with their body boards for a good wave.  They all turned and watched me watch the sea creature.  Then one after another they all exclaimed, “Look a sea lion!”

In the moment, I knew about as much about the habits of sea lions as I did seals.  I also knew that this massive wild animal was only about 15 meters away and though it looked nonchalant, I knew nothing about the signals for anxiety in carnivorous sea animals that grow to be two to three times my size.  Was a baby sea lion nearby?  Was I messing up his favorite fishing hole by swimming around?  What did he do with the last guy that swam down the length of the beach?  These kids all thought it was cool, but what did they know?  Sure, they are locals but, kids do dumb stuff all the time.

And this was the moment I decided my ocean swim — though lovely in a thousand ways — was over.  Later, after a run up and down the beach I found a lifeguard and asked a few questions.  He affirmed that I was not crazy though in fairness to his diagnosis I failed to mention my early theories about the cow and the dog.  He had been watching that sea lion all day.  He thought it was “interesting” that he came up so close to shore and inside of the break.  No, he had never seen anyone hurt by a sea lion in 25 years working at that beach.  Yes, he had once seen a sick sea lion charge and go for the throat of some Sea World animal handlers who had come out to help.  He didn’t have an idea about what would happen if sea lion pups were in the area and were separated from a parent or too close to swimmers.

He wasn’t worried for me and encouraged me to get back in if I wanted.  He also said that I made the right decision.  When in doubt about wild animals it is always best to leave them alone.

No problem.  I had all the excitement I needed for the day.

Dana told the tribe about the adventure the next morning before school.  Evidentially it was a big hit with the carpool.  Last night I took the redeye home.  I’m looking forward to the questions and sharing this little adventure with my favorite naturalists.

Ironman Maryland: The Mistakes Were Made Edition

Humans have a powerful ability to rationalize behavior.  Some rationalizations create their own positive feedback loops.  In this case, positive does not necessarily mean good.  It refers to self-reinforcing situations — new data points are created from the initial mistake which reinforce the rationalization made for that mistaken behavior.

All of this is well and good and may even help you understand self-defeating behaviors or why it is hard for people to accept responsibility for bad decisions.  More important for our discussion here, rationalization of mistakes is doubly, triply, super-duper more powerful in the middle of an endurance race.

My run at Ironman was not horrible.  In fact, it was only 4 minutes and 12 seconds slower than my best.  I didn’t have a total break that caused me to lose scores of minutes walking.  Nor did I run myself into the arms of the medical personnel who hovered all afternoon like morbid angels of the dreaded DNF.

Mistakes were made.

I got off to a good start.  After a too aggressive first mile in 7:32, I went 8:05, 8:01, 8:15, 8:17.

I got off to a good start. After a too aggressive first mile in 7:32, I went 8:05, 8:01, 8:15, 8:17.

I ran well, relatively steady and in the basic zone of my race plan for five miles.  Then I stopped to pee.  The all-knowing Garmin doesn’t lie.  I was roadside for about 60-75 seconds at an aid station.  My heart rate dropped and something got in my head.  It was at this point that I thought I couldn’t run the plan, I thought it was too aggressive.  For whatever reason, I had the idea firmly locked in mind that my run targets for heart rate and pace were too much just like on the bike.  Suddenly, I was back running but my heart rate had dropped from a consistent 144-145 to 140-141.  Within two miles I was running 30 seconds slower per mile and my heart rate dropped to where it would stay for the rest of the race in the 136-139 range.

Unwittingly — that is without conscious effort — I was creating the data points to reinforce my decision to lay off on the run.  It is a hard lesson to learn — to know when to go for it, when to keep pressing and when to back off to avoid catastrophic results.

Going slower didn’t make it any easier.  It was hot, largely unshaded and I’d already been out for more than six hours.  I had twenty-odd miles to go.  Going slower just made it take longer.

Reflecting on the charts and data, I can see that I definitely had at least seven to eight miles on track with my original plan and probably more like 15 available.  The first mistake was thinking that a stop to pee would only cost 45 seconds.  It robbed me of momentum, consistency of mind and confidence that I was on track as long as I focused on the mile in front of me.  In that cramped, plastic, hothouse of human waste I had time to think of how much course I had left, of the hours in front of me.  When that happens, it becomes game-over because the rationalizations are just around the corner.

The second mistake was what proved fatal to my goal of running a best time and staying competitive in my age-group on the run.  I turned to my Plan B too early.  A few hundred meters down the road from the toilet I was recalculating the afternoon.  I was rationalizing that I would walk every aid station from this point forward.  I gave credence to a low heart rate as okay because it meant I wouldn’t blow up.  These valid but unhelpful mental gymnastics also meant that I would add 15-30 seconds to every mile and that while I wouldn’t blow up, I would fail to ever press the pace.

I didn’t run fearless.  I didn’t run worried about my calf.  I didn’t think about how I was heavier than last year.  (Kent’s Ironman race weight history: 2012 — 183, 2013 — 175, 2014 — 184.)  I wasn’t thinking about running in the red zone of mid to high 150s heart rate.  I wasn’t worrying — but all of that was somewhere in the stew of subconscious and provided the compost necessary to fertilize passing thoughts into full grown rationalizations.  To run an Ironman successfully, I imagine the mind must be sterilized of these shadowy reservations.  Clinical, like an operating room, an athlete must be ready to demand the absurd from himself and to do it unselfconsciously.  I must learn to run without fear.

A few words on the course itself.  It is flat.  It is more flat than anywhere I’ve run excepting a track.  It is however somewhat “technical” in that there are many 90 degree turns and two 180 turnaround which each must be navigated multiple times.  The organizers took the course up and down High Street in Cambridge which is brick instead of asphalt.  High Street provided the only “hill” worth mentioning and it wasn’t hard so much as it surprised my dulled senses each time I came to it.  The hill is probably 800-1200 meters long with an aid station about 85 percent of the way to the top.  Upon reaching the top of the hill, the course turns left down a street lined with shops and restaurants for a few hundred meters.  This was the loudest, most boisterous and lively section of the course.  There was room on the sidewalks for spectators to line up near the course fences.  There was at least one if not more restaurants open with patio seating and it was near where the shuttle buses were running and made access easy for the fan base.  On the third lap, at the very end of this street is where athletes turn left for the final mile to the finish line instead of turning right and heading down the length of the entire course again.

Somewhere around the 9:50 mark I figured out that I wouldn’t break 10 hours.  I had not been aiming for it, nor had I been thinking about it during the race.  But when the realization hit me, it was a bit of a letdown.  The minute it takes to go 9:59 versus 10:00:00 is no longer nor is it harder earned than the one that moves you from 10:04 to 10:03.  Still, there is a huge psychological effect and if this post is about anything, it is about the power of the mind to control the body.

I had a very good day.  I had a solid, respectable run.  If I were to rationalize today, I’d say that the run was strong considering the training leading up to it.  Enough with the rationalizations though, I know that I’ve run about a third less than last year and didn’t start running until Memorial Day.  I was physically strong enough to handle the distance and that is the only fact of import.  Arguably my legs didn’t have enough miles in them to show the resilience necessary to fight through the really hard miles of 15-20.   But we won’t know, because I didn’t go there.

Most importantly, my mind didn’t have the miles in it to be unbreakable, strong and focused in the face of distraction, discomfort and false signals telling it that I ought to slow down.  That is the mistake, the failing, of the day.

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Finish line photos often capture joy, triumph, elation.  On the spectrum of emotion, each has its counterpart in full measure.  There is disbelief that the whole escapade is ending.  Triumph in the heart is but a thin patina for the hurt way down deep in your bones, joints and muscles.  My experience, n=3, is of a profound exhaustion that nearly transforms elation into a jellylike collapse the moment I cross the line.  Yin and yang — paired, balanced and available only after having overcome the obstacles presented by the day.

This is my favorite photo of the day.  It includes subtle virtues — it is rare for anyone to get a shot of the finish arch with the time matching their actual time but I started within seconds of the gun and there was no pro field.  It has a solitary protagonist and as much as it is true — so very, very true — that no one does one of these races alone but always through the sacrifice of family, friends, co-workers, volunteers, organizers, first responders, law enforcement, deep down I think we all like to be a little bit of our own hero.  Ironman lets you play hero for the day.  It has interesting light, colors and shapes.

Most of all, after a day of keeping my head up when my swim split was far slower than I expected, when I could not reliably come close to my targets on the bike, when I had taken the easy path and rationalized my way through Plan B on the run, I still got through it.  I made it.  The race was not won, but it was done.  I finished and though weary, I was worthy.

As in life, we all finish alone.  If we are blessed, the shadows will be long, the regrets few and the joy of our experiences will lift up the heaviest of feet for the final step across the threshold to the next adventure.

As in life, we all finish alone. If we are blessed, the shadows will be long, the regrets few and the joy of our experiences will lift up the heaviest of feet for the final step across the threshold to the next adventure.  Also, there won’t be ponderous comparisons of a life well-lived to an athletic competition.

Ironman Marshland — The Blackwater Wildlife Refuge

The bike course is fairly straightforward.  After riding through Cambridge and the surrounding countryside we passed the local high school which began a 40-45 mile loop.  After completing the loop nearly twice, we turned off and finished the course with about ten miles of empty countryside and then a final mile through town.

The temperature rose steadily from 66 to 82 degrees.  After ten minutes of keeping my heart rate and watts down, I began to work.  My plan had been to ride the first half of the race between 200-205 watts and then to “negative split” by riding the second half at 205-210 watts.  The plan did not materialize.

For nearly 30 minutes I rode too hard.  My normalized power was around 210.  Then I balanced out and found myself having trouble holding 195.  After about an hour, I hit a bad patch.  From the look of the chart below, it lasted about 20 minutes before it finally passed.

You can see far too many lines dropping down to the X axis which means I wasn't pedaling.

You can see far too many lines dropping down to the X axis which means I wasn’t pedaling.

On the first lap my NP was 192 and the average speed of 22.4 mph.  The second lap NP was 191 and the average speed was 21.8 mph.  I got up to 27.2 mph for a maximum speed.  I’m not sure what was going on there unless I was trying to regain a group after slowing to pee.  The cadence dropped from the first half too, from 92 to 87 on the second half.

I saw a beautiful bald eagle.  It was soaring in a arcing pattern and was close enough that I could see between its feathers at the tips of its wings.  Shortly after the one time that I rode through water — less than an inch for no more than two seconds — I heard a squeaking.  I thought it ridiculous that my bike would develop something so annoying after such a short splash.  After looking all around I could not identify any rubbing or reason for the squeak.  It was getting more obnoxious  when I spied, off to my left, a small bird about two stories up in the air.  It looked like a small seagull and for about 30 seconds it flew with me and kept its head turned to look my direction while I watched it.

The effects of riding in the exact same position were radically underestimated.  It is damn hard to ride without many turns and with absolutely no change in elevation.  On the second loop I developed the tactic of coming up out of the saddle every time I changed from one road to the next.  By the second lap I was developing bad habits.  For example, every time I reached for a bottle to drink I stopped pedaling.  I also must have tried to pee at least five times on the second loop before succeeding around mile 95.

I was able to count the guys going past me in my age group but was unable to do anything about it.  For much of the ride, maintaining 190 watts was quite difficult and anything beyond would result in a real let down after about four or five minutes.  In all, it was a good solid ride but not a blockbuster.  I was very conscious as I started about not riding too hard because I didn’t want to ruin the potential for a really strong marathon.  As it turned out, I rode as hard as I could and just didn’t have more.

I didn’t have any trouble with food or drink.  My nutrition plan is pretty ironclad now.  During the first hour I drank a bottle than contained 20 ounces of Ensure.  Starting at the beginning of the ride, on the bottom of the hour I would eat a Bonk Breaker and at the top of the hour I would take a Gu gel — repeat four times.  During the fifth hour I did not have solid food but relied on the gels.  The first two bottle handoffs I messed up because I was going too fast.

Probably the best part of the ride for me was the last 30-40 minutes.  I was alone.  After being caught by a group of three guys during a pee break, I rode up to them and kept rolling straight on by.  At that point, I began to focus on the next person or group to catch until I turned off toward Cambridge.  The final miles are through the countryside and past farms.  I had the roads to myself and you can see below around mile 97 that my speed increased.

Not a lot of variability but you can pick out a general trend of high, decreasing speed in the middle, then a short uptick followed by a decrease before the final 10-15 mile push to the finish.

Not a lot of variability but you can pick out a general trend of high, decreasing speed in the middle, then a short uptick followed by a decrease before the final 10-15 mile push to the finish.

A lot can be said about the distance, or the accomplishment, the tactics or gear of triathlon.  The final word should be that it is fun.  It is plain old fun to ride fast.  At Ironman Maryland, I had fun on my bike.

 

Ironman Maryland — Roll On

This weekend I’ll try to get a short synopsis of the recent bike ride up here.  In the meantime, a short anecdote and a set of photos follow.

As I mentioned below in a previous post, during the last segment of the ride I passed a large number of people.  After a while, I decided to say something to each person.  Maybe I could lift their spirits or bring a smile.  The time between each pass became focused on what I would say to the next person.  After I told a guy in an Army kit to Beat Navy, I rolled passed a woman with a Naval Academy jersey and told her, “Go Navy, Beat Army.”  The most common phrase employed was some version of “keep rolling.”  I don’t know why, I don’t know where it came from.  A few times it stood on its own like an Ironman koan.  Usually it was combined with some reference to the person’s kit, a song lyric or a remark about the weather and scenery which were both fantastic for riding.  Roll on…

Ironman Maryland Swim — Poetry of a Sunrise Swim

As was the case with previous big races, I woke up hours before we left for the site to eat a first breakfast.  From 3:10 to 3:30 I put down four eggs, a Bonk Breaker and an Ensure.  At 4:15 I was back up to pack up the hotel room, shave and prepare a second breakfast that consisted of two cups of tea, 20 ounces of Nuun, three quarters of a banana and half a bottle of Ensure.  Patrick was a little stressed about his organization and packing, but we got off without incident and plenty of time to spare.  He managed an oatmeal-based breakfast from the hotel.  The staff came in three hours early to open their complimentary breakfast in the middle of the night for the guests.  After Patrick did a masterful job parking within three blocks of the start and transition area, the nerves surfaced again.  It took us ten minutes or more to gather everything from the car because of this or that little bit that had to be doublechecked.  We even walked a few feet away and had to turn back because we forgot the wetsuits.

The swim start was scheduled for 6:50 a.m. just minutes ahead of sunrise.  The air was crisp with overnight dew and with 1,500 athletes and their supporters as well as hundreds of volunteers and race officials there was definitely a lot of activity and energy.  We went straight to our bikes.  I pumped tires, set the Garmin, put on a bottle filled with Ensure for the first hour of the ride and another that was a superconcentrate of four scoops of lemon-lime Perform with a caffeinated cherry Nuun tablet for anytime on the course I wanted something other than what the aid stations were offering.  I filled the Bento box and headed straight for the bag drop off so that I could get in line early for the bathroom.  It was my fourth trip to the toilet in three hours but I knew from experience it would be necessary.

By 6:30 I was free of responsibility and I started stretching by myself and really trying to imagine the swim.  It was still dark.  At 6:45 when the physically challenged athletes started the sky was showing light but the sun had not appeared.  I made my way to the front of the line looking for the 50-55 minute group only to find that there was one big group for “60 Minutes and Under.”  I took a spot on the left edge, three deep into the field.  I wasn’t on the front and we were going to make a right turn after only about 70-80 meters so I was also on the longest line to the buoy.  I wasn’t in the mood for shoving and exchanging words, so I just took my place, started my breathing and visited with the tiny woman on my right.  She told me not to worry because she is not a bad swimmer.  I told her not to worry because I was too old to have an ego get in the way of drafting off of someone in a pink cap.  I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure she came out of the water seconds behind me.  She definitely got the better of that exchange and surely drafted off of my fat wake.  Good for her.  It serves me right for trying to be witty so early in the day.

 

 

I had expected the first 200 meters to be extra bunched and for there to be some argy bargy.  I didn’t realize that the shoving and aggression would start before the cannon fired.  The last two minutes on the boat ramp were a pressure cooker as more people tried to rush the front of the line and those of us in line tried to maintain some space.  You can see below that the short, straight sprint to the first turn also included a significant narrowing — probably of at least 10-15 feet — of the path due to the shape of the boat launch.

 

My split for the day was 58:12.  Dana told me later that someone on the “Leaderboard” webpage beat me by one second.  As a result, I was first in my age group and seventh overall but the sixth person out of the water.  I came out of the water with a group of five people on my heels the last of whom was the first woman out of the swim.  It looks like six people came through in about 11 seconds which means we either swam as a group with me on the front or I faded horribly and they nearly caught me.  I think it was the former.  According to Garmin and Training Peaks, my sTSS was 115.5.

After three Ironman starts, my swim splits have been consistently at the front of my age group and the field.  In 2012 at Lake Placid I was 1/13/13, in 2013 at the same venue I was 3/11/14 and in Maryland I was 1/7/7 (Age Group/Gender/Overall).  However, this time I tried a new strategy and it required a change even before I got wet.  Instead of blasting off the line for the first 200 meters to try to clear the field and then easing into a steady pace by the end of the first quarter of the swim to balance my heartrate, I decided to build through the first quarter of the swim.  For 800-1000 meters I was not going to spike my heartrate or chase anyone.  In the past I started on the front line and in the third row.  This year I ended up starting in the fifth row and instead of worrying — especially with the chute effect all the way to the first turn — I simply sat in, went wide of the buoy and passed about a dozen people after four or five minutes.

I think it worked better for me.  I probably don’t have the all out speed to get out of the water first or win an open water race with that strategy, but it is probably better for an Ironman start.  Next year at Coeur d’ Alene I’d like to swim with the lead pack.  My position in the rankings may be the same or worse, but it would be a clear step up in my swimming to get into that group.  Last weekend I was essentially the leader of the chase group although I didn’t know it at the time.  One guy was all alone and put more than five minutes into the next competitor.  Then there was a small cluster of four swimmers and a couple minutes behind them I led the second group out of the water.

On the way home, I sent the following description to Dana.

Swim was nice…but slow.  I think it was a tad long.  And the current tide and general roll of the water was fun, but slowing me down.  It was a sunrise swim…pink and soft and welcoming.  I could see it changing through the course of the swim…sun went orange.  Brilliant.  The start was madness so I just shrugged, waited and passed bunches after the first five minutes

In sum, it was a wonderful swim on a lovely course.  I did not have one of those woo-woo experiences that I’ve written about in the past — all magical and effortless and full of unicorn sparkles.  But it was electric, competitive and fun.  The air was crisp and the rising sun bathed everyone with its energy.  The light was low and moments later everything was brilliant and alive.  The river exerted its presence, enlivened the senses especially taste, smell and imagination but didn’t overwhelm or show off.  It reminded me of my place in nature — I’m but a small bit compared to the power of tides, the ancient effortless flow of water and the consistency of a beautiful sunrise.

I wish more people could have a experience like that in open water.  It is how I imagine heaven — neither weightless nor heavy, without fear and full of natural wonder, surrounded by multitudes at their very best and yet alone with your own thoughts, musical, elemental and uncomplicated, in touch with your own essence and simultaneously something universal.

 

There is a difference between swimming fast and swimming well.  The two are not mutually exclusive but don’t always overlap.  I swam fairly fast but, more importantly, I swam well.  It was enlivening; it is poetry of the soul.

Matthew and Getting Medieval — Starting with the End

Sunday morning I was with the tribe, sitting in the balcony at St. Mary’s, trying both to focus on mass and to keep them focused.  Since the tribe favors the front row of the balcony, I was also doing my best to mask involuntary grimaces as my body adjusted to the aftermath of a race.  Going to mass after an Ironman was pretty hard — first were the stairs, then the sitting, standing, kneeling, wooden pews, more stairs to take Tobias to the bathroom, more kneeling.  I’m sure you get the picture.  Not quite a Medieval torture chamber, but it was seriously uncomfortable.

Josephine’s homework assignment was to write down a few lines explaining the priest’s homily and draw a picture.  I could tell she was getting frustrated as he worked his way through the readings and tied them back to our lives, our behaviors and our own attitudes about living well.  One of the readings, from Matthew, was about the vineyard owner who paid the same wage to workers who worked a full day as he did to workers who came late in the afternoon.  He admonished the grumbling laborers that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

Which brings me to the Ironman Maryland race report.  It will come in phases.  I don’t have the time to document everything in one go, and frankly, for this report it is best that we start with the end of the story.

Patrick and I had traveled together to the Eastern Shore.  He drove, he took care of the hotel, he knew where to park.  All in all, a great deal for me.

Ready to leave Capitol Hill and tackle the inaugural Ironman Maryland -- although you would be forgiven for thinking we were headed to Vaudeville.

Ready to leave Capitol Hill and tackle the inaugural Ironman Maryland — although you would be forgiven for thinking we were headed to Vaudeville.

 

Patrick has a fancy new SUV.  It is diesel and turbo and probably environmentally friendly in ten ways that I don’t know.  He also has a fancy bike rack which we put to good use after racing, after eating and changing clothes, and after visiting with friends who were responsible for the aid station at the top of the only hill on the run course less than a mile from the finish line.  As we drove through the night rehashing the day, he made a stray comment about a bump we had just hit.  Less than a minute later he asked if my bike was still on the back of the car.  In alarm and in no mood for jokes, I looked through the back window and was immediately sickened.  Silhouetted through the window was clearly one set of aero bars, the top of one wheel and one saddle.  My bike was missing.  He immediately looked for a place to pull over on the left, found his way across several lanes of traffic and pulled onto the shoulder on the right a few hundred meters from the beginning of the Bay Bridge.

I jumped out ran to the back and to my shock and total confusion, there was a bike.  It was in the wrong position and looked wrecked, but there was a bike.  We had clamped down the front wheel very aggressively — which probably saved the bike from total loss.  However, we had not tied down the back wheel due to the wheel cover that I used.  Instead, the bike simple sat in the tray — same as it had done on the trip to the race Friday morning.  There in the windy night chill, I stood in the headlights of ongoing traffic on Route 50 and could see why the bike was not visible through the window — the entire back half had lifted up out of the rack, twisted at the steering tube which was still, like the front tire, perpendicular to the direction of the car, and then laid down on the pavement with the rubber of the back tire resting in the road and the entire frame clear of the concrete.

We couldn’t find any broken bits, the tire was still inflated, the scratches on the crank arm, pedal and spindle may or may not be new.  As a result, I stuffed my stomach back down into proper position from where it had come to rest at the back of my throat, we reaffixed the bike, each went pee and were off, once again headed home.  Patrick theorized that once the back of the bike went clear of the rack from the bump, the wheel cover acted like a sail and the bike probably “flew” behind the car a foot or two off of the ground not touching until he slowed.

In the moment — the whole episode was probably less than ten minutes long although it involved at least several months worth of colorful explicatives from the two of us — I was sure that I had just finished my last triathlon.  I would not be able to replace the bike.  I was, as the Biblical folks like to say, despairing.

In retrospect, I’m reminded of how powerful it is to witness someone achieving outrageous goals.  Ironman races are full of stories.  Some are chronicled on the back of a jersey or written in chalk in the middle of the road.  A disease beaten.  A loved one lost.  A cause advanced.  An addiction faced.  All of them are carried in our hearts and to the extent you catch a glimpse of someone’s story, that you share or do just a little to make it more likely to have a happy ending, your own experience is enhanced.  For some people getting on the course is winning.  For others, it is finishing.  For a few, victory is found on a podium but even those people have special stories.  Whether they earn the victory through a 17 hour day on the course or in less than nine hours, in the end it there is no variance in what is worthy.

When I went charging down the last mile, when my pace miraculously increased.  I gave thanks for my friends and teammates at the aid station.  I pictured each of my children.  I could hear — more clearly than the loudspeaker — Dana’s voice.  I was bone tired and no longer anywhere near first in the race, but I would not be last because I was living my story, my own personal victory.  Like Josephine came to realize about the homily the following day, there is always another chance to do good things, to be kind, to live the life meant for you full of happiness through grace.

And so as I took my last stride to the finish line, I bent down, planted both hands squarely at shoulder width and tumbled over.  What better way to share joy that to summersault like a child.  It worked.  Dana tells me that on the live feed you can clearly see one of the volunteer catchers start laughing at my inelegant gymnastics.

Next post: Ironman Maryland Swim where I went slower than expected, felt good, won my age-group and finished seventh overall.

Injury Report

It is Tuesday, mid-day, and I’m still a bit tender but overall doing well after Saturday’s big race in Maryland.  Quick reminders to my future self:

  • Four toenails took a beating.  One of them was already in a death spiral from the last long training run and it is doing the best today.  I drained the space under the nail bed of the other three last night using a sterilized pin.  The pressure let up considerably, rose colored fluid squirted out and the tribe was totally non-plussed with my medical prowess.  Two of them drained some more today.  Prediction: I’ll lose two of the three.
  • My RoadId cut into the back of my right Achilles.  I’ve been wearing the same model for years and never had this problem.  I’ve never even had chafing.  It looks like a blister in the shape of a 3/4 inch stripe.  Assessment: I must have put it on too tight and combined with the brackish water the skin broke down.  I have two of them and will continue to wear them for all manner of activities.
  • At the top of the zipper in the front of my tri kit I got a bit of an abrasion.  I’ve raced in this kit five times and this is the first skin irritation I’ve had anywhere.  I attribute it to the river water and the length of the time I was out.  All the other races were much shorter.  It had no negative effect on the race but I did start to notice it about a third of the way through the run because as I dumped ice down my shirt I would get a quick stinger where the skin was reddened and raw.  Prediction: The scratches will be gone before the weekend.
  • I have a very light, very small snakebite rash on the left side of my neck where the wetsuit closes.  Again, no big deal and smaller than usual.  It will be gone by tomorrow or Thursday.
  • I wore my favorite race socks unlike in Raleigh where I tried sockless for the first time with rotten results.  I had two tiny blisters on toes that took care of themselves within 36 hours and a third, monstrous blood blister on the side of the left big toe that looked like a ripe angry cherry.  Within 24 hours the blood blister had deflated and was no longer tender.  Now it just looks like discolored skin.
  • Of all the muscle soreness, my left calf is the only place that feels “more” than the others.  It is a bit knotted and I’m trying to work it with a lacrosse ball as much as possible.

I took advantage of the complimentary massage after the race.  Sunday I used the foam roller on my legs for about 15 minutes.  (I forgot last night.  We were busy with the 6U Soccer practice.)  Today I hope to go swim easy for about 35 minutes.  All in all, I’m very surprised and happy with the injury report.  In January I was seeing a physical therapist because my hamstrings were so tight I couldn’t walk without discomfort.  He helped and recommended changes to my running stride.  A couple months later I tore my left calf muscle and after a cast, crutches and months of therapy I started training for Ironman Maryland about 3.5 months “late.”  Eight days before the race my lower back started to tighten up and got to the point that I wasn’t standing up straight.  I went to the chiropractor three times in a week — he diagnosed an overuse issue, released the muscles and sent me off to Cambridge.  During the race, my hamstrings, calf and back were not ever on my mind.  Today, they are all doing fine.

I’ll take that.

 

The Day in Video

Valerie Dix is shown on the finish line in her Iron Tutu and Team Z kit while Will Artley makes an appearance as a volunteer in the ninth minute.

First Look — Ironman Maryland and The Drug of Choice

Yesterday there was a race.  I was a part of it — for a while.  And then I wasn’t; I became a participant because I was no longer vying for the front.  At that point, I was learning, struggling, pushing and focused on getting to the finish line without a failure.  All the while I was having a grand time. It was joyous even.  If I have a drug of choice, I’m quite sure it is some cocktail of endorphins.

The failures come in many forms.  It could be a weak stomach that drive participants to spend untold minutes in port a potties half full of solar baked excrement and vomit.  Blisters that bring excruciating pain with every step.  Cramps and dizziness brought on by dehydration or other nutrition imbalances.  Mechanical failures on the bike end the day for some unfortunate people.  Others find the prospect of an open water swim in murky, brackish water is much better than the actual experience.  It is so much better that they don’t finish the swim unprepared for the foreign environment and the unforgiving toll of swimming without a break for more than an hour, for more than two hours.  The list goes on and on.  Failure has many faces and all of us who tackle 140.6 miles at a time do what we can to avoid it.  But it always lingers.  Nonetheless, when you are avoiding failure there is plenty of time and space to find beauty and to be amazed.  At an Ironman, I imagine it is hard to look around and not be amazed.

Ironman bought the struggling Chesapeakeman property early this summer, rebranded it and in doing so expanded the registration list ten-fold.  They brought in the branding, scale and overall oomph and in doing so turned the whole town of Cambridge, Maryland into a race village.  People watched the race from Victorian homes, cheered from the cabs of their pickups and thanked us for coming to visit.  Generosity and hospitality can amaze and the day was full of both.

I raced through the swim and the first portion of the bike.  Then I hid a bad patch.  I’m not sure how bad — I’ll look at the numbers and data later.  I worked through it.  I know that in such a long day the bad patches are sure to come and it is best to keep at it and wait for the pendulum to swing back.  I was patient and then I raced again.  The last ten to 15 miles of the bike were really solid.  I caught people.  I rode two guys off my wheel and hammered down back country roads.  At which point, it became time to run, which I did, for about three or four miles.

This is where my story transforms from racing participating.  More on that in another post.

A first review of the day shows that I swam very well, but not as fast as I thought I would.  I caught a draft for nearly a 1,000 meters.  I came out with the sixth fastest time on the day (or fifth or seventh, the results site has had some variability) and the fastest in my age group with more than two minutes back to the second place male 40-44.   I rode hard; I was smart most of the time and on balance the errors were outweighed by the good decisions.  I ran with what I had.  It was neither pretty nor a disaster but it was all of what I had to give.

The day was hot.  I saw deer, an amazing bald eagle, other birds including a heron and some sort of seagull shaped small squeaky thing.  As I finished the last third of the second loop on the bike, I gave encouragement to 29 out of 30 consecutive people who I passed — 28 of whom were on their first loop and most of whom smiled in response.  One lady didn’t get anything from me because I was drinking at the time.  Thinking up a good thing to say as I locked in on my next “capture target” was helpful to keep my mind off my hips and legs.  Hopefully it helped them too.

I finished 15th in my group, 66th overall with splits of 58:12, 5:00:22 and 4:00:45.  The total time of 10:05:16 is a personal best time by about 28 minutes.  However, as is typical of these adventures, the numbers only begin to tell the story.  I’ll look at the splits, the power numbers, the heart rate and share as many of the little moments of the day as I can recall.  The best parts are always the little moments, never the numbers.

I’ll leave you with one of the little bits.  As I crossed the finish line, I was hoping that Dana and the tribe might see me from home on the computer.  I came right up to the line, squatted down and planted both hands and proceeded to do a forward roll.  It was a shock to the volunteer catchers who could only laugh at my awkward ass tumbling into the air.  It was a big hit at home with the fan base.

More than 24 hours after I finished, my head is still spinning, spinning full of endorphins.

The Descent

Today the main set at the pool was 4x500m on 7:30.  I descended 7:05.8, 6:56.1, 6:49.2 and 6:41.6.  Maybe next week I should just pull out of the race after T1.  It is probably about as good as it will get.  For comparison sake, more than a year ago about ten days out from Ironman Lake Placid I descended 3x850m r.:20 by going 11:59, 11:54 and 11:54.  Arguably, the pace is about the same at 1:16/100yards but I’d have to say that 850s with 20 seconds rest are more difficult than 500s with approximately 25-35 seconds.

 

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