Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Two-Thousand and Eleven

It seems appropriate to me that this post is exactly one full year after my final Ironman post, because man oh man, what a year it was. If 2010 was the year of the Ironman, a year with a single goal pursued relentlessly, 2011 was the year of everything else.

Last year I purposefully placed on hold the majority of goings on in my life as I trained and competed to ultimately become an Ironman. That's not to say that in 2010 there was much that needed changing, aside from lots and lots of tires, but there were a few key aspects of life that remained unchanged for better or worse throughout the year. My mantra was, "it can wait until after the race". This provided 2011 would be interesting.

Two job changes, two address changes, a professional registration, and an engagement later we stand on the verge of 2012. It has been a whirlwind.

February - Begin Job Search
April - Begin work for Bechtel
June - Move out of Tim's and into John's
July - Apply for PE Exam
July -Begin Ring Shopping

August - Start studying for PE
September - Pop Question (She said Yes!)
October - Take PE Exam
November - Begin Work at Foster Wheeler
December - Results of PE Exam announced (I passed!)
December - Find Apartment with Jackie

Throw into the mix, a ski trip, golf trip, the MS 150, Mardi Gras, jazz fest, the holidays and work, and this has been an exhausting year. As a habitual procrastinator I always know what I put off today will need to be done tomorrow, I didn't know how quickly a bunch of tomorrows can line up.

If 2010 was the year I became an Ironman, 2011 was the year I became a better man. Happy holidays everyone, live this next year believing the Mayans could be right and make that change ASAP (especially if it is bald tires, dangerous).

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Pictures

My cousin Suzie came out to watch my Ironman endeavor last month, and by all accounts was the most vociferous supporter of everyone wearing a racing bib. I can certainly vouch for the support I got from her, loud and awesome. Aside from being a professional cheering machine she's also a talented photographer. Check her out at http://www.freshbysuzie.blogspot.com/. Here are two pictures she took that pretty much sum up the run portion of the Ironman for me.

The first picture is of me taking off for the marathon portion of the Ironman. If you couldn't tell from the picture I felt pretty darn good. The second picture is of me about 50 yards from the finish. If you couldn't tell from the picture I was about fed up with the whole running thing.

Thanks Suzie!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Finish

I could hear the roar of the crowd, I could see the lights of the finish area, I could see it in the faces of the volunteers I passed. I was close. Running again (if you can call it running) the finish sped towards me. The last aid station, the end of the loop, the fork in the course where I turn towards glory and leave those still running behind. It all fed my motion. 200 yards to the finish a speed bump, a volunteer tells me to let them see my number (I had thrown on a long sleeve T-shirt during the third lap). Let who see my number? Will I be DQ'ed if they can't see it? OH MY GOD GET THIS SHIRT OFF OF ME!
Stripping mid-stride is no small feat after 140.something miles, and it kept my mind occupied long enough to totally miss the bleachers flanking the home-stretch I was about to turn onto. Successfully dislodging myself from the long sleeved disqualification trap (note: nothing would have happened except me looking harder for my finisher photos, piece of shit volunteer) I round the last turn.

I've been taken aback by a crowd only once before, my very last collegiate swimming event. The 4 x 100 freestyle relay my senior year at Patriot League Championships at Navy. It is the last event of the last day, and often the final places of most of the 8 teams hinges on the outcome. The spectators sit above the pool deck at both ends, and every swimmer and diver and coach line the sides of the pool, and the resulting noise is deafening and oh-so-beautiful. The last race of my college career and the culmination of 15 years of competitive swimming surrounded by teammates and family members and coaches and strangers and opponents all screaming their brains out took me a second to adjust to. This felt greater than that.

You round the last turn onto a flood-lit stretch of 50 yards or so flanked by hundreds of wildly enthusiastic supporters, who don't care who you are, they just care that you are about to be an Ironman. Pain is erased, footsteps don't touch the ground, everything is almost over, and there is only one thought.

"Worth it"

I am an Ironman, a year of sacrifice (kinda), structure (sorta), serious work-outs (you betcha), and pain boiled down to One. Final. Step.

Miles covered:

Swim: 2.4

Bike: 112

Run: 26.2

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Run

The first few steps you take following biking 100+ miles (really 40+ miles) are some of the most awkward feeling steps you'll ever take. #1 bike cleats are not easy to walk in, but you've been wearing them normally for 6.5 hours and totally forget about that. #2 your legs are tired, but not the walking/running muscles so much, so they feel worn out and not worn out at the same time producing a very unmistakable al dente spaghetti leg feeling. And #3 your testicles are probably numb. I don't know about everyone else, but I have found I'm never more aware of my testicles than when I can't feel them. With that in mind...

I hop off the bike and a volunteer is johnny on the spot to go rack it for me (I'm not sure if I've given enough props to the volunteers at this race they were AWESOME). Another hands me my running gear and into the change tent I go. Look what I packed in my run gear bag, a towel. That's about 112 miles late, and mostly useless as I've just been through mother nature's equivalent of a blow dryer on meth. Sock change, shorts change, and sadly shirt change. Throw on the Coors Light hat and the scraggly beard I've been "growing" all month and I've transformed from the classiest guy on a bike to redneck marathon man.

Transformation Complete

Leaving the tent it dawns on me I haven't used the bathroom since 6 am or so. It's about 2:30 pm, time for a well deserved pee break. Being surprisingly hydrated (according to the color of my pee) I take off for the first of three loops of the run course, and I feel pretty good. Scarf a banana and some water at the first aid station and settle into a solid pace.

The first lap is great, I see my supporters 3 separate times, my little brother runs a few tenths of a mile with me, I find #206 (Jonathon from Boise). My legs warm up, I'm right on pace. I get confident. The aid stations feel perfectly spaced, I don't want for water or sports drink. I take down some gels, I destroy some hills, I finish the first lap cruising. I get cocky.

Finishing the first lap through a throng of my adoring fans jazzes me up, I am fully confident that I'm never slowing down. I remember thinking how silly I was to train as hard as I did for such an easy race. I'm really cruising now, there's a line up at the aid station, skip it! I feel too good for water, or food, or gels. Coke? Don't be ridiculous. I see my adoring fans again around mile 10-11. Do I need my special needs bag? Nope, maybe I should carry some of these poor walking bastards on my back to get them out of the way. Hills don't bother me. Another line up at an aid station, skip another one! No time to waste, I've got dinner reservations. I come to the finish of the second lap and don't see my fans, hahaha that's ok they're already waiting for me at the finish line! Be there soon amigos! Nothing can stop me now.

Except possibly 9 more miles of running. The Greek dude that ran from Marathon to Athens probably felt pretty decent around mile 18 also, the end of his jaunt was not as pleasant. Neither was mine.

At mile 19 I passed, for the last time, Aid station #2. Some of the aid stations had themes, two had emcees, one had music and dancing girls, one was cops and robbers, and aid station #2 had a "tune-up" theme. They had water and food and the like, but they also had a tent with in-race massages and a pain reliever cream (like ben gay or something). My legs had been a good sport about the whole finish-this-absurd-day-of-working-out-with-a-marathon thing until I blew right through aid station #2 without a second thought. Then they went on strike.

If you've ever run a marathon before mile 19-20 is about the area of the race where most athletes hit the "wall". It is not fun. Your legs are shattered, you walk like an 80 year old man with a peg leg, and mentally you hate the world, the stupid race, and yourself for getting yourself into this situation. It is a pretty rough self-loathing spiral that takes a little doing to get out of. After about a mile of walking I had to get going again. Finishing the race was a sure thing at this point, regardless of how I covered the last 5-6 miles, but I was getting passed by septuagenarians... who were walking... and getting passed easily. So I got some Coca-Cola, and Chicken broth in me and took off again, feeling surprisingly OK.

This feeling lasted 3 more miles. Through the throng of cheering fans near the transition area/finish line, across the bridge to the part of the course sparsely populated by spectators, and to the top of the steepest (and only) hill on the run course. Here the wall hit me back. I returned to my turtle-paced hobbling, and got mentally lost in an emotional black hole of hate for another mile and a half. Volunteers took one look at me and wisely decided against offering an enthusiastic "hang in there buddy" when I passed. Other racers didn't look at me twice. I had snapped, the race had beat me. I thought seriously about swimming back across Tempe Town Lake to get to the finish line faster. I tried running a few times and couldn't keep it up. I was lost. Until the first person to talk to me in a mile offered this, "It'll come back, be ready when it does."

I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but that bit of sagely advice came from somewhere in that dude that knew exactly where I was. That nugget stayed in the back of my mind until about a mile left to the finish line. My hobbling had sped up just a little, and I didn't have far to go...

Miles covered so far:

Swim: 2.4

Bike: 112

Run: 25.2-ish

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Bike

The volunteers at the Ford Ironman Arizona were really amazing, I was informed yesterday that for 2,800 or so competitors there were 3,000 volunteers throughout the day. I wanted for nothing, I was catered to the entire way, I barely had to think during the entire race (which is probably a good thing cause a thinking man would've stopped somewhere along this section of the race). But I digress, leaving the water was the turning point of the race for me, from here on out my dominance would not be on display, rather the next portion of the race is my weakest. The bike.

But I wasn't thinking about that as I was getting dressed, or as I was trotting to my bike. My outfit was awesome, and I dare say that I had more fans than anyone else on the bike course. Tip to future ironmen, if you want fans and lots of them wear a hilarious bike jersey not some stupid one showing how knowledgeable you are about bikes or other races you've done or the current race you're doing. Go with something like this:
Boom, tuxedo jersey. Not only are you classing up the joint, but you will have fans from start to finish because everyone goes crazy for a well dressed man. For 112 miles I was "tuxedo man" or "bow tie guy", and I even overheard one group of supporters decide that despite not knowing who I am they would cheer for me the entire race because they liked the way I was dressed. Looking good, feeling good.

Getting my bike and running alongside it to the bike mount line (tee-hee) I was all energy and confidence. "I crushed the swim, this race is cake, these roads won't know what hit them." This bravado was soon tempered by three failed attempts to clip in while getting passed by 4-5 serious bikers. Then was only further tempered by a general disregard by the rest of the competitors for my awesome biking prowess. But still the race was progressing smoothly, the course was relatively flat, my legs felt great, and I was humming along. I had my water, the aid stations were stocked, and peanut butter and graham cracker sandwiches have never let me down before.Three 37 mile loops? No problem.

Until the first turnaround.

Sidebar: I grew up playing tons of different sports besides just swimming so the land is not as treacherous a place to me as it is to many other swimmers I know. I have a modicum of coordination, and believe myself fairly competitive in most endeavors on land. However, biking is a horse of a different color. Sure, I'll perch myself up here for 112 miles making my 6' 1" frame into a tiny speck of an aerodynamic pedalling machine. What's that? I'm as aerodynamic as a parachute? My torso is way long for a biker? I look like I stole that bike in the picture from a kid half my size? Oh yeah.

Wind. 15-20 mph sustained in my face gusting up to 35 mph, bringing with it what desert dwellers consider rain. Note to Arizonians (Arizonans?) that wasn't rain, but it was a little painful (also, did I know it was going to rain? Of course I did, I was on my bike, it was bound to rain. 200 years ago I'd be a travelling salesman through the prairie offering rain wherever I biked, at two bits an acre). This cycle of riding out with the wind at my back, and turning right around and back into it continued for the remainder of the bike portion. In the meantime I talked to my bike, made up stories about competitors that passed me, did simple math in my head, and generally went insane trying to stay sane. The wind didn't let up until towards the very end of the last loop, when it began blowing across me instead of straight at me, this was welcome news.

Until I realized the last few miles now would be directly into the wind, as the last loop veers off towards downtown Tempe. Did this surprise me? No. Wind in Houston tends to blow counter clockwise, why should a wholly different climate offer up a different menu. I make the turn for home right back into the driving wind. But that doesn't matter because 2/3 of the race is down and I feel great. Finishing this thing will be a breeze (get it?), you're going to crush this little run ahead of you.

What's that? It's a full marathon? Oh yeah.

Miles covered so far:
Swim : 2.4
Bike: 112

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Swim

In my opinion there is only one good reason to be awake at 4:15 in the morning, and this was not it. But, the transition area opened at 5 and I was not about to waste a year of training to show up late for a day-long triathlon. So awake I was, quintuple and sextuple (tee-hee) checking my special needs bags (which I ultimately largely ignored), waking my body up, and trying not to freak out.

I was not the first person to the transition area, not by a long shot if the lines for the port-o's was any indication. Drop off my special needs bags, check. Ascertain the road worthiness of my bike, check. Join one of the port-o lines, check. The time counting down to the inevitable, but I am blissfully occupying a timeshare in denial land as I don my wetsuit, cap, and goggles and join the gaggle heading towards the water. Not sure what everyone else is doing here, must be cool. I reach the edge of the water, spot some of my adoring fans, the pro start cannon sounds, I hop in the water...

and reality hits me like only 61 degree water at 6:50 am can. Holy Shit, I'm about to do an Ironman! What am I thinking? No time to think now fool, move or get jumped on by 2,000 eager beavers.

From here on the worst part of the swim was the waiting. Because of the location of the swim event this Ironman had a floating start. Which is exactly what it sounds like. 3,000 people crammed up as close to the starting line as possible, treading water, and most of them doing a pretty terrible job of it. I'm having a great time though, this being my first time in a wet suit I find the buoyancy positively delightful. Almost zero movement on my part keeps me afloat, and the faces of nearly everyone else in the water (most triathletes are not as comfortable in the water as former collegiate swimmers) was priceless. The cannon goes off, and so do we. Avoid getting kicked in the face, check. Avoid getting kicked other uncomfortable places, check. Swim zig-zags to the turnaround buoy, check, wait...

It is real easy to lose your bearings in an open water swim. I learned this in my half ironman as I watched some poor soul miss the first turn by 500 yards or so, but it bears repeating. After some early corrections though I made a beeline for the turn buoy. And run directly into my training/racing companion Greg. Which is impossible. I can't see my hand in front of my face, but I can find Greg among 3,000 other competitors in open water. We exchange excited "Hey!"s and continue on. I don't run into a single person the rest of the swim and just cruise to the swim exit. There are a TON of bikes still in transition, that is a good thing. I realize wet suits live up to their name and I forgot a towel in my bike gear bag, that is a bad thing. But, thousands of screaming spectators make me quickly forget or not care about that as I run to the change tent in my banana hammock. Time for the real test of the day, the bike portion.

Time to get to work.

Miles covered so far:
Swim: 2.4

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ironmandom Attained


A year of training, over 3700 miles covered by bike, foot, and speedo, and 13 hours of working out in the desert, I am an Ironman. I finished the Ford Ironman Arizona Sunday November 21 in a time of 13:02:27. Finishing the 2.4 mile swim portion in 59:10, the 112 mile bike portion in 6:37:03, the 26.2 mile run in 5:05:57, with my transitions accounting for the difference. I am very thankful for everyone who came out to watch me tackle this task, each cheering spectator, and every encouraging word offered. I'm going to break down my thoughts on the race as a whole and each part over the next few days, but for now...

Miles Covered:
Swimming : 2.4
Biking: 112
Running: 26.2

Mission Accomplished