IRONMAN Maryland Part 1
I signed up for Ironman Maryland initially due to the reviews that said it was fast, and beautiful. Jaime started it with all the hype about it being a fast flat bike course because she despises hills, even though most of her fastest bike splits came on hilly courses. Touché. So, last year after a lot of pestering Pete, we registered and the training began. Pete, Jaime and I have been training together for about 4 years, ever since I decided to get serious about triathlon. We ingeniously started calling ourselves “PB&J”. Get it? Peanut Butter and Jelly or Pete, Brad & Jaime.
Interesting enough though, I really wanted a sub 12-hour Ironman and Jaime was shooting for a sub-13, so as much as we enjoy training together we actually ended up going our own ways. I started training at Tribal Multisport with Coach Jon Noland, and Jaime trained with Personal trainer and elite athlete Kenneth Jones.
We made all the arrangements well in advance. We had hotel reservations at the host hotel, restaurant reservations, tri-bike transport was scheduled, flights were booked and cars were rented well in advance.
We talked constantly throughout the months, confirming our plans, comparing training schedules and every once in a while, we actually did get together to train. PB&J looked strong and ready to face IRONMAN Maryland together. Unfortunately, in September, Pete ended up injuring his Achilles’ tendon and after a lot of conjecture decided it wasn’t in the cards for him this year. I told him, it would better to live and race another day than to permanently hurt himself.
We departed for the race on Wednesday, September 30 completely anxious and excited. We headed to Tampa International Airport, for an uneventful flight into Baltimore-Washington Airport. Within a half hour we were in our Jeep Compass rental and headed up Rte 50 in Maryland.
We stopped for a quick lunch at Carmine’s Pizza to carb load with pizza and salad and just as we are about to pull out of our parking space and back into traffic, Jamie’s phone rings. Ed, a friend and first time Ironman athlete, called and tells us the race has been cancelled. I could hear Jamie’s voice say, “Uh say that again…wait…wait. Let me put you on speaker.” A deep Jersey accent comes from her speaker and says “They cancelled the race.” Really? This early.
The last time WTC cancelled a race it was in Lake Tahoe and the athletes were in their wetsuits ready to jump in. They waited that long and now, 3 days before the race they were cancelling it.
We jumped on Facebook, and the IRONMAN Maryland site and were met with the validation that WTC had indeed cancelled the race. It turned out the immediate threat from Hurricane Joaquin was dire and it was in their best interest to keep the athletes, volunteers, race staff and spectators safe. Not to mention, there was already four inches of water already on the course.
We got somewhat lucky. We were able to find a flight home that night, and the hotel did not charge us a night for cancelling so late. Unfortunately, the flight back cost us just as much as the full round trip, and because we pre-paid the car we couldn’t get that back.
WTC anticipated rescheduling but couldn’t give the athletes a final decision until the following Tuesday. The wait was hard. What do you do? Do you keep tapering? Do call it a season? There was nothing to do but wait.
Late Monday night an email hit my account stating that the race was back on and it would be held on October 17th as predicted. All I can think of was “Here we go again.” What if the weather was bad again? Would we spend even more money just to go through another disappointment?
IRONMAN Maryland Part Deux
Coach Jon, put a schedule together of low duration, high intensity workouts to keep my body from degrading fitness for the next week, and I managed to squeeze out a 17 mile run with a client that felt awesome the Sunday prior. The weather outlook was good, cold, but decent. As the days passed, the forecast kept getting colder and windier, but no precipitation was even close.
This time it was going to happen.
From Tuesday on, Jamie, myself and another training partner of hers, Hunter, had a group text as we kept planning our trip. We found decent round-trip flights, Hunter found a rental house, and I again reserved a car. Of course this time I bought the trip insurance as well, which, of course, I did not need.
And on October 14th, we took off for the second time from Tampa and arrived, this time at National Airport in DC. We spent a great night at the Residence Inn in Pentagon City before heading out to Cambridge the next day.
As I drove though the rural part of Cambridge and into the long drive way of our rental home, I was surprisingly calm. Subconsciously, I think I just didn’t want to get my hopes up, but my heart rate did jump at the surprise I felt pulling into the gravel drive way. It was gorgeous!
There stood a modest one-story ranch home, but on a huge amount of acreage that backed up to a lake. It had it’s own dock, fire pit, pool, and a beautiful deck. Inside it was an open floor plan with a dining-kitchen area, huge great room and three good size bedrooms. It was decorated modestly, with wood floors and a kind of rural, yet updated and upscale charm to it. All of the appliances were current models in the kitchen and baths with flat screens in each room, and a large one, in the great room, a fireplace and gigantic sectional couch that all of us could have slept on.
What was even luckier was that it wasn’t only Hunter, Jamie and myself, but Kenneth and his parents, so by sharing it, the cost was not even half of what we would have to pay for the hotel.
I also have to say, that Ken’s parents, treated all of us like we were their kids. His Mom, Lucy, cooked and cleaned for us, and his Dad, Phil, grilled, shopped and chauffeured us around to make sure we were at the right place at the right time. It was like Ken, outsourced his parents to us. Of course that wasn’t the case. It seemed like they genuinely loved doing it.
It came time to travel over to transition and pick up our bikes, and then head to Ironman Village to check-in.
We reached transition and since Hunter and Ken already had their bikes, because Ken and his parents drove them up, they headed out to check out the swim start while Jamie and I talked to Tri-bike transport. Jamie’s bike was already in the rack, but unfortunately, mine was not to be found. My stomach took a little turn when Drew, from TBT, said I wasn’t on the list to have my bike at the race.
Luckily, he said that my bike was in the truck, but it was with the bikes that were sectioned off for the athletes that were not going to be returning.
I headed over to the transition area to scope it out and then took a quick peek at the swim start and at that point, my anxiety started to increase. This was happening. There no “ands”, “ifs or “buts”. I was going to be racing my third Ironman.
Ironman village was exactly as it was for every other Ironman and Ironman 70.3 I have raced except, because they were not able to keep all of the original volunteers procured, it was a lot slower checking in. We waited in line for close to two hours before we finally made it under the tent to pick up our packets and swag.
When we finally got through that line, we contemplated going into the Ironman store, but the line to check-out was just as long and we still wanted to get a quick workout in. In every Ironman store I have been in, for every race, the cashiers, (bless their hearts) are always so slow that you know if you do get in that line, it is going to be a lot of time.
We headed back, and unfortunately, I had yet to receive a call from Drew to tell me that he was able to dig out my bike, so the others headed out on their bikes and I decided I would just work a little while I waited for his call. At 4pm, I did receive the call and 45 minutes later I was back at the house with my bike.
Leading up to the Saturday morning, was pretty much the same as any other long race. Putting gear bags together, going over transition and nutrition plans, and quick workouts in all three events. These were basically just to make sure everything was in working order.
Did I mention Thursday night we had a campfire and made s’mores? Yeah, we did that too.
The Swim Start
I was pretty shocked at how well I slept Friday night. We had all turned in quite early, in anticipation of not being able to sleep, but I drifted off pretty fast and slept until the 4:00am alarm woke me up. None of us were in a rush as we all felt pretty prepared, and the outside temperature was only in the upper 30s. I dressed, ate and leisurely grabbed my morning bag and we headed out into the darkness.
Leaving the house I had yet to really feel nervous, but as soon as we pulled up to transition, I felt a pressure in my chest. My heart started to beat so hard, I thought it was going to crack through my rib cage and take off on me.
I looked over at Jamie, and she looked back and said,”Sh*t just got real.”
After outfitting my bike with my nutrition and helmet, I took a walk over to the actual swim start line and looked over the water. Waves didn’t seem that bad, but the water was far from calm. I could feel the wind on my skin even through the wetsuit. Luckily, while it was 38 degrees outside, but the water it was 63. That was going to work in our favor, as it was actually going to feel warmer in the water.
Around 6:40, Jamie, Hunter, Ed and I were all hanging out trying to keep warm and maintain a positive mental attitude, when the speaker echoed our announcer’s voice. The safety team had stated that the winds were causing a lot of churning in the water, so the boats and paddle boards could not take their places on the course. The solution was to shorten the course to 1.2 miles.
I should have been really excited about this, as the swim is my weakest event, but I wasn’t. I was actually a little upset not only because I wanted to prove to myself I could get out of the water within my goal, but also for Ed and Hunter as this was their first full distance Ironman.
What else could happen? First they postpone the race, and now they shorten the course. This race just seemed cursed.
That was not the end of the story. Around 7:10, an announcement was made that, the winds had died just a little and would be enough to get most of the swim in. We would do the swim, but we would be about 800 meters short.
Things just looked better. I felt redeemed and a positive relief flowed through me for about half a second. I still had to get passed the swim. If you remember from my post about my last Ironman, I was the last one out of the water to be able to cross the line. I worked a lot harder on my swim this training cycle, now I would have to prove it.
At 7:30 we lined up according to how much time we thought it would take us to swim the full 2.4 miles. I lined up at the behind the 1:30 sign and after waiting another 20 minutes to get through the line, it was my turn to jump in.
The water still frigid enough to shock my body a little, but my adrenaline kept me warm. I immediately headed to the first buoy where we would turn right and then head in triangular pattern.
I felt really good during the first lap. For the first time in an Ironman race I was actually passing people and it felt amazing. I still felt pretty strong as I made the turn for the second lap, but I did slow down a bit.
As much as I thought I loved my long sleeve wet suit, I didn’t have the mobility in my arms, that I developed during training, and I had to strain to lift my arm into a streamline position. I listened to myself hypothesize about it and I thought, “Am I really thinking this? Did I really become a decent enough swimmer to even contemplate it?”
On the second lap, the wind picked up again and I thought I was swimming in my washing machine. I got tossed around and the effort level increased. I did end up breast stroking intermittently for a few minutes to catch my breath and realign my siting, but I continued. My habit of zig zagging didn’t show up until the last straight away while I was trying to sight on the finish. The waves were pushing me in the wrong direction, but my sighting was able to put me back on a good path. I jumped out of the water and ran towards the timing mats, and as I crossed I looked down at my watch – 1:10.
1:10? Really? I had to double check it twice. If I added the 800 meters back on I would have finished around 1:25-1:30 which, was my goal.
I was so excited I sprinted to the strippers, but for some reason they didn’t help. My wet suit would just not come off of me and when it did, oh man, did I feel the weather. The wind hit me, and my soaked tri kit, like a brick wall.
I headed into the changing tent and dawned a bike kit, arm warmers, a gator neck, and gloves. By the time I added my helmet I looked like a Tri Ninja.
Ed gave us a quick rundown of the bike course the night before, as he came up earlier in the year and actually trained on it. He explained how the course was an oval and we would probably have a head wind on one of the shorter sides and away or back to transition. This would account for two blocks of 12 miles since we had two laps. I was ok with it. I would just turtle for those 24 miles. (This is a technique keeping your head down and allowing your back to come up like a turtle shell to be as aerodynamic as possible.) The rest of it my plan was to stick to 75-80% of my functional threshold power(FTP) as possible. In training that proved to be right around 20 miles per hour which should get me back to transition in 5:35, and then taking account for the wind, sub 6 hours.
No such luck. I have never ever been on a bike course where the majority of the turns were to the right, and kept being hit by the shear force of a 33 mph head wind.
I wish that were the only factor that slowed me down.
I knew because of the temperature that I would not want to drink, but due to the fact my calories were mostly in my bottles, I would have to. What I didn’t count on was that I would have to stop at a portlet every 10-15 miles to urinate. I am just not die-hard enough to urinate while I am on the bike, and we were specifically told that if athletes were caught relieving ourselves outside of designated facilities they would be DQed. That slowed me down.
From mile 40 to 50 we were all riding on the shoulder of the road, into the wind. Directly to the right of the white line were slowing rickets with very small spaces in between them. They seemed a little dangerous, so everyone was either on the right of them, or on the left and swerving to the right when traffic would come from behind.
I was in aero, with my head down, when I saw a tire in front of me, so I yelled “On your left.” The wind was so loud the person in front of me, wearing a “This Guy Needs A Beer” jersey, could not hear me. As I slowed down to keep enough bike lengths between us to satisfy the drafting rule, I noticed a motorcycle next to me. It was an official.
He pulls out a memo pad and yells to me, “At the next penalty box, tell them you have blue card.” Well, I wasn’t going to start arguing while I was the bike, so I nodded.
At the mile 56 aid station there was a penalty box, so like a good athlete I did what I was told, and so did the other seven athletes that came in behind me. There we all were. Eight, age group, athletes standing stretching while we waited for our five minutes to be up. I am all for rules, order and safety , but it’s a little ridiculous when there are eight people in the penalty box all caught doing the same thing on the same stretch of road. As this was my 3.4 hour mark on the bike, I asked the volunteer who had to time the penalties how many he had so far. He kind of smirked and said it had to be over one hundred.
At that point I just had to laugh. I got back on my bike and continued trudging through the wind.
Ten miles later, a slow burn started aching my legs. I didn’t understand it. My cadence was up, but no matter how high I shifted, I felt like my effort level was increasing. Then I heard what was a metal grinding. Yep, you guessed it. A flat in my rear tire. These were brand new tubular tires, I had installed just for the race, and now I punctured them. I had a bottle of pit stop in my jersey, so it was only a couple of minutes before I was back on my bike. With Pit Stop, I didn’t even have to take the tire off, just empty the contents of the bottle into the tire and go.
Luckily, I didn’t have to stop nearly as much the second loop as I did the first to urinate, so I picked up a little bit of time, but while keeping to my FTP goals, I could barely get above 17 mph. It felt slow and torturous.
The left turn for the last 12 miles came and I thought maybe we would catch a break and as I passed the last aid station one of the volunteers yelled, “Your on your way back, no more wind!”
The whole way back to transition, the wind hit us and kept our pace to a slow 16-17 mph.
As I dismounted my bike, I could feel not feel my toes or my hands, and I was just frigid. I tried to take off my bike gear, and it was extremely difficult. I felt like I did, during the last ironman at mile 13 of the run and I hadn’t even started the run yet.
The grumbles in the changing tent were all the same. The bike was windy, it was tough and it sucked, but it was over. A few of the guys who competed in last year’s event said they were over an hour slower than the previous year. That actually made me feel a little better.
I have a saying I give to my athletes when they start to walk or I find them giving up on themselves. “The mind will quit 100 times before the body does.”
For a nanosecond a thought went through my head. “I already did two of these, I don’t need to prove anything to anybody. Forget this.” Then the next nanosecond went by with my inner dialogue that said “Who are you kidding Minus? You know you are going to finish if you have to crawl across that finish line. You never quit anything in your life, what makes you think your going to do it now?” The last words that echoed in my voice were that of my coach Jon Noland. “Embrace the Suck.”
I changed the best I could with numb fingers and toes and started the run. (I found out later I spent over 20 minutes in T2. It sure didn’t feel that long. I must have taken a nap.)
The first two miles felt a little slow, then at mile three it was like the pearly gates opened up. My legs transitioned into a good running form and I took off. I felt amazing.
I kept to my strategy of walking through the water stops, which during an Ironman is every mile, but they are only a few yards long, unlike those at a major marathon, where the distance could exceed a hundred yards.
At mile seven I actually felt a side stitch which hasn’t happened in a race in years. Luckily, I still had my wits about me. What is the cause, or better yet, what is absent from my body that would possibly cause a stitch? Potassium. Wouldn’t you know it but an aid station was just fifty meters ahead of me, so I grabbed a banana. Within the next quarter mile, the stitch was gone, so I picked up speed again.
The course was two-and-a-half loops that took us from transition through a residential neighborhood, around a park, back through the neighborhood passed transition, into downtown Cambridge where it either started again, or headed to Ironman Village and Finish line.
We had been told that Cambridge was supportive of the race and even in these cold temperatures, the town was out in droves.
Along the route there were kids on their lawns cheering, a dancing banana, residents on lawn chairs, and local bands playing outside their homes. While running through downtown people were outside the bars drinking and cheering every athlete on as they passed. It was just spectacular.
I found Jamie ahead of me around mile 5 and we ended up passing each other three more times. Each time I was getting closer and closer to her. I had hoped to get closer, but in the end she did end up crossing about three minutes ahead of me.
I never ran over 90% of the run during an Ironman before. This time the only time I walked was through water stops and only stopped twice to use the portlet. Granted it was not extremely fast, but it was still over twenty minutes faster than my best Ironman.
My legs at mile twenty were very heavy and this was the half lap and the last time I would have to turn left after downtown Cambridge. I kept going, and didn’t stop but it was getting quite dark to a point where there was a portion of road where I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I just kept going.
The thing I just kept thinking in my head was one day, I would finish an Ironman and it would still be daylight.
I came out of downtown Cambridge and made the right towards the chute. I heard the announcer call my name and as I saw the arch of the finish, I wondered if I had it in me.
I ran just a little faster and jumped up, caught a little air and touched the arch. I was an Ironman. Again.
My finishing time was 13:08:53 which was actually and hour and forty-six minutes faster than my best Ironman, but if I kept the same pace on the swim, I calculated I would probably have crossed about 20 minutes later which would have given me a ninety minute personal record. In those conditions, I‘ll take it.
Of course I did not do this alone. I have to thank my coach, Jon Noland for training me (coaches need coaches too), the athletes at Tribal Multisport for pushing me further than I thought possible, the Moxie Multisport team for the help with gear, nutrition, and the support to keep me going through the long training period, my travel and housemates, Jamie, Hunter, and Ken for the great time at the house, and for keeping me sane and laughing, Ken’s parents, Phil & Lucy for the race weekend support, and last but never least, Kim for supporting me at home through this third Ironman.