…with a little help from my friends
On a great day with close to optimal weather conditions, I completed my first Ironman in 13:55:11. I was excited and exhilarated at the finish, especially because the day was shared with so many friends and family. The time was good for the top half (17/35) of my age group.
When did this most excellent adventure really start? There are two answers: a short one and a long one. The long one goes back to February, 1975, when I stopped smoking and started looking for exercise to stave off the obligatory weight gain. I found tennis but had a hard time competing with my regular opponent. Soon I decided that running would help. Of course, all it taught me was to run slowly for a long time in a straight line, none of which is particularly useful in tennis. I soon stopped the tennis but not the running, and did two marathons in the 1979-81 era. I eventually developed some aches and pains from running every day and so I started to swim occasionally most likely because three of our four sons were swimmers. By 1990, I had added bicycling to my routine and started doing a local sprint triathlon each year soon after. By about 1995 or so, I was doing a couple of tris per year and that has increased to 5 or 6 per year lately and this naturally led to thoughts of an Ironman.
The short answer is that I got completely caught up in the enthusiasm of last year's IMC participants from TRI-DRS and sent in my application for IMC 1999 in early September. After IMUSA was announced I was able to switch my application from Penticton to Lake Placid, and so the adventure started.
I put together a training program more or less based on Evans' book (Endurance Athlete's Edge). From a professional and marital point of view, I figured I could devote 10-11 hours per week to the challenge. Most authorities say this is on the light but do-able side. I pretty much stuck to the program from mid-October through mid-August, averaging about 10 hours per week; 16 hours was the peak week. I had to cut a few long workouts short in the heat of July but I completely skipped just a few sessions. My totals for the 10-month period were: swim 106 hours (200,800 yds); bike 188 hours (3158 mi); and, run 132 hr (833 mi).
We drove up to Lake Placid on the Wednesday before the race. The car was crammed full of my gear along with everything Marti, Karyn, and Kristi would need. We raised four sons and I must tell you that it is a different experience riding with a car full of women. The conversation went to topics I had never even considered previously.
Arrived at our condo - Brookhill 50 - late Wednesday afternoon and we were stunned by how nice and how large it was. We had a great view of Lake Placid and Whiteface.
"…with a little help from my friends (and family)". When we first planned to go to Lake Placid it was just going to be the two of us, but quickly it was out of my control and the whole thing took on a life of its own. We changed our reservations in January from a motel to a three bedroom condo. By race day, the group included our granddaughter Kristi, from Chester, PA, niece Karyn (Landenberg, PA), my father (West Chester, PA), two of our four sons, Patrick (Wilmington, DE) and Matthew (Morrisville, PA), Matthew's girl friend Cassie (Buffalo, NY), my brother Mike (Coshocton, OH) and our good friends Rick (the former tennis opponent) and Lillian (Irvine, CA). It turned out that it was wonderful having these folks with me. Before the race, they helped to divert my attention from my impending date with the unknown; during the race, it was a comfort and an inspiration to see them along the route.
Other familiar names and faces along the way were equally important. The peak of my pre-event jitters was Saturday when I had to rack my bike. Who should be standing at the entrance but Mark Markley. Likewise, at the swim start, there was Eric Weiss. It was reassuring to see them there. During the race I got to meet Art Hutchinson and said hi to untold others as we shared a mutual recognition due to our Jason Jerseys or TRI-DRS singlets.
Also, the kayaker who shared her torpedo with me while I recovered from hyperventilating at the swim start. Thanx to the unknown competitor who helped me over to the kayak
The list of friends goes on. My friends at St. John's who included me in their prayers on the 15th. My colleagues at work who generally resisted the temptation to say, "You're going to what?" Ellen's cake decorated with a swimmer, bicyclist and runner was a tremendous send-off. I hope this will prompt her to resume her triathlon career.
The number one person on this list is my wife Martha who has encouraged this bizarre effort from the outset. She always cheerfully made room in her life for my workouts and wanted to share the day with me. The best part of all was that she designed and had tee shirts made for our entire entourage. These shirts were lime-green and visible from a great distance making it easy for me pick them out of the crowd each time I completed a loop.
There were three parts to my inaugural Ironman plan. The important ones were the nutrition plan, the race plan and then, secondarily, the estimated finish time. The nutrition plan consisted of consuming 250 cal/hour, mostly in the form of the sport drink, Succeed Clip!, supplemented with one PowerGel per hour, and one Succeed electrolyte capsule every 30 mins. I'd used this all spring and summer with no problems. I also wanted to be well-hydrated for the day, so I drank even more than usual during the days leading up to the 15th. Of course, the downside of such a plan is that you have to carry this stuff with you somehow. I figured 4 bottles on each loop of the bike and then one bottle at double strength for each loop of the run. I also had cookies and PB&J in the special needs bag along with a long sleeved jersey in the run special needs bag for the expected cool temperature when the sun started to go down.
The race plan was simple. Establish an easy pace on the swim, staying to the rear of the start. I was nervous about the mass start. Ride the bike at 140-145 on the heart rate monitor, and then run by perceived exertion.
The third part of the plan, I dealt with as follows. I put together a chart of expected splits leading to an "OK" finish of 17 hr, a "good" finish of 15 hr, and a "great" finish of 13 hr. I gave this to my family to help them find me during the day. I had done 5:39 at the Eagleman 1/2 IM and even though that was a pancake flat course I was fairly confident (but not vocal about it) that I would be in the great to good range.
The Big day
I set my alarm for 4 am and got up for my usual breakfast. Amazingly, I had gotten 8 hours sleep for two consecutive nights so I was well rested. It seems that most of my nervousness left earlier in the week. Martha took me to the bus stop at 5 am. The bus driver mentioned that he had to get up at 2 because the buses started at 4 am. Aren't these volunteers great?
Even though we had been briefed the day before at the mandatory meeting, I was unsure of exactly what the drill would be. It soon became apparent. Body marking by an extremely astute individual who said I looked 20 years than my self-reported 55; ChampionChip pick-up (I already had one.); put drinks on bike and into T2 bag; go to the bathroom; drop off special needs bags on the way to the beach; go to the bathroom again; change into wetsuit and then panic when I find out that we are not supposed to leave our warm-ups on the beach. I did not have enough time to make it back to the speed skating oval, but as luck would have it, I found my brother, the ubiquitous video cam-man and he took my bag of warm-ups.
While milling around waiting for the start, I see Eric Weiss and I repeat his mantra from one of his classic IM reports: remember, you have a marathon to do after all this. He gave me some words of encouragement but I think I did not hear them. Go to the bathroom again. Gee, did I over-hydrate?
2.4 Mile Swim
This was my first experience with a mass start and so I stayed to the rear - actually along the dock in shallow water. In spite of my efforts to stay in the rear, I somehow managed to get in with a very large school of swimmers who had funneled together along the line of buoys. I was overwhelmed by the numbers and compounded my troubles by swimming way too fast. I hyperventilated and was soon gasping for breath. I made it over to a kayaker where I rested for a minute or so. A boat came over and informed me that, if I wanted, they were there to take me to shore. No way, I told them, and soon pushed off and the swim went by without any other problems. My splits were just over 0:42 for each loop which made it a good swim by my standards.
The swim-to-bike transition took a long time, over 12 min. I guess I need to practice a swim-run transition because I walked most of the way to the changing tent. The changing tent was a crowded, confusing mass of competitors, although I did manage to talk briefly with someone else in a Jason Jersey. . I found a chair and I decided to go for comfort on this long day and changed from speedo to cycling shorts and Jason Jersey. Crammed my pockets full of PowerGel and Succeed electrolyte tablets, went to the bathroom (there seems to be a theme here), and made my way to the bike.
112 Mile Bike
I was starting the bike at about 8:40 which was 20 minutes or so ahead of my schedule for finishing by midnight. The bike course was a two-loop job with a series of serious downhills over the first 10 or 12 miles. My bike computer was not working and so I do not know how fast I went but it certainly was faster than I had ever gone before. Somehow, the image of Slim Pickens riding the bomb to earth came to my mind on the steepest descent. It was then that I realized that I did not want my computer to work because I did not want to know my speed.
The downhills take you into Keene and then it is a more or less flat or gently rising ride to Jay. The ride from Jay through Haseltine, to Wilmington and then back to Lake Placid involves some major climbing. The out-and-back to Haseltine seemed endless but at least I saw many Jason Jerseys on my way in; not too many on my way out. You folks are too fast for me.
I stopped along the way out of Haseltine to piddle yet again. Did so two other times during the bike ride. On one occasion, I tried to get back on the bike on sandy terrain. Naturally, as soon as I put my weight on the bike, it sank into the sand and over I went impressing all who saw it with my coordination. Scrapped my knee, bruised my arm, and lost one bottle of drink, but otherwise was fine.
The second loop was difficult for me. It was probably the hardest part of the course. The downhills seemed flatter, the uphills steeper, and wind stronger.
The people along the way cheering us were great. The flags along the route through Wilmington were especially nice. Many of the people were still there on my second loop - the folks on the hill out of Jay; the old man on the lawn chair coming out of Haseltine, and the people with the cowbell in Wilmington. I was as surprised with their stamina and they seemed to be with mine. Their presence added to the excitement and provided an additional incentive to continue.
It was easy to spot my family and friends at the end of the first loop. At the end of the second loop, the only one I saw was my brother, the official video photographer of the family. I fretted most of the first loop of the run thinking that something was wrong with someone.
My times for the two bike loops were 3:24 and 3:49 for a total of 7:12. As I was finishing the bike, I heard the announcer tell the crowd to be on the lookout for the leader, Hellreigel - boy! he had a good day. T2 was just 6 minutes long and I was out on the run before 4 pm.
26.2 Mile Run
I was pleased with the day so far. I wanted to be running before 5 pm and it was just 4 pm. I was fairly certain of finishing now because I knew I could walk a marathon in 7 or 8 hours if necessary. My plan was to run the first half and then play it by ear. I walked through each aid station making sure the liquid got inside and taking advantage of the sponges and cups of ice. I noticed that some folks were walking up the hills and then running at the top - I would pass them on the way up and they would later pass me. I was reluctant to try this strategy for fear of not starting up again.
We couldn't find my special needs bag at the halfway point of the run. My food and sports drink for the second half were thus gone; so was my long-sleeved shirt. Well, I figured, I'll just take what the day gives me. For the rest of the day I ate and drank what was available at the aid stations. Fortunately, it all went down easily in spite of not having practiced with it. However, I did start to get chilly as the sun went down and more of the course was in the shadows.
On the second half, my plan was to run each mile and then decide what to do. At each mile marker, I decided to continue running. At mile 19.1, I finally forced myself to do some mental arithmetic and discovered that 14 hours was within my grasp if I could maintain my pace. At each mile marker I re-calculated and always came up with a final time of just short of 14 hours. At first, I wasn't confident of my arithmetic - it's hard to multiply in your head under the circumstances - but I kept getting the same answer. So I pushed on, overjoyed with the prospect of doing this well. I ended up running the entire marathon.
On the run, it became easier to interact with the spectators. They were really a fun group, especially the ones who would look up my name in the list of competitors and then cheer me on by name. Of course, with each step on the run I became more confident of finishing and then finishing well, and so I began waving and talking with the spectators. The intensity of the interaction seemed to increase as we got nearer the finish line. By the final approach to the skating oval, I was high-fiving everybody - missed a few outstretched hands but it was hard to focus at that point.
The finish was incredible. We entered the speed skating oval and ran around to the opposite side as though running on a track. As I came around the changing tent I thought I might cry but then the next sight was the bleachers full of people cheering. I got so excited I could not stop smiling and waving to the crowd. I had the stage to my self as there was a gap of 30 sec ahead of me and 11 sec behind me. They were playing the Macarena. Others got "Rocky" or "We are the Champions" but all I got was the Macarena. At least it wasn't the Chicken Dance.
I was surprised to see that they put up the tape for everyone's finish. That was a nice touch. I got my shirt and medal and was then escorted to the food tent by a nice grandmotherly type woman who kept asking if I was OK. I wanted pizza but all they had was muffins and so I ate one. Then I got into line for a massage but the line was long and I was starting to get cold. (I still had on a singlet because we never did find my special needs bag.) I decided to leave. We collected my gear and headed home. Run time just under 5 hours, total time 13:55:11.
After the race, I was still flying high for some time. I went to bed at 11, still pretty cold, but woke up at 4:30. The next several days were like that. I didn't resume 7-8 hours per night sleeping until Thursday.
My quads were sore for a day or so but I expected that. The bottoms of my feet hurt during the run but that went away well before the finish. My arms hurt on the second loop of the bike but that went away during the run. What surprised me was that my lower back hut for two and one-half days. The muscles over the kidney area on each side hurt. This had never happened before on either a long run or a long bike ride. I need to figure out why this happened.
I signed up for next year on Monday morning.
We went to the awards dinner Monday evening. It was very pricey ($30 for the extra tickets) for what you got (chicken). They had silly moose hats for Heather Fuhr and Thomas Hellriegel to wear. She took hers off for her remarks but he left his on. At the carbo dinner he apparently (I wasn't there) told the crowd to go out slow and then establish their own pace. After receiving his first place award (he won by almost 27 min) he said, "When I told you to go out slow, I didn't mean that slow."
I drank too much for the weather. My nutrition plan had me getting most of my calories and water from the same source (Succeed Clip!). I think I will separate the two next year so that I can vary the water intake up or down more easily in response to changing conditions. I consumed electrolyte tablets regularly and so I did not experience any bloating - rather I had to make too many pit stops: once before the bike, three times on the bike ride, and four times on the run. I know it's better than the alternative but it was still tiresome to make so many stops.
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