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.
The View from our DC Hotel
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!
Our Cambridge Ironman HQ
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.
The Goof, Ken, Hunter, Jaime & Ed before a swim workout
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.
One of the scariest things for a beginning triathlete, besides getting in the open water, is cycling. The first image that wandered into my head upon deciding to start seriously bicycling was of a that scary peloton. Those tight formations of bikes moving at ridiculous speeds, during the Tour de France, so close together that one wrong move could cause serious damage to my body or someone else. Scary right? Luckily, triathlon doesn’t allow for huge groups like that, as a matter of fact it isn’t even allowed. Whew!
Buying my first Bike
I didn’t have a lot of money when I first started in triathlon, and I also didn’t really know if I was going to like it. I spent a lot of time in bike stores drooling over the expensive bikes, while studying cheaper entry level bikes. Every bike store had a different angle they played. One would say, purchase the more expensive bike, gain more speed so when I improved I didn’t have to buy another bike. Another would tell me to buy the entry level but load it up with expensive components so I could ride faster, and when I wanted another bike, the components alone would warrant a good price, and of course that store would buy it back from me and give me a discount an another bike. Decisions, decisions what to do, what to do?
I researched different road and tri bikes online and in magazines, and while I was pretty sure I would enjoy triathlon, I decided on an entry level Canondale CAAD 9 road bike. I also included in my purchase, a pair of pedals, cleats, shoes and a helmet. The helmet was very important especially since I hadn’t actually rode a bike in over 10 years. Would I really not forget how to ride a bike? The answer to that my friends is YES. It is not a skill that is forgotten. It maybe a little unsteady the first couple of times, but not forgotten. Luckily I will have my trusty helmet, just in case.
I also read something that resonated with me. The most important thing that is needed after the purchase of a bike, is the fitting. At first I thought, “what? Don’t I just have to find the most comfortable height of the seat and then get going?” I had no idea that there are so many different adjustments on a bike, to a point that bike “fitters” actually have to be certified in order to properly fit you. They have to take courses, pass tests and be mentored. “Really?”, you ask? Yes…really.
The fitting took about an hour where they put my bike on a trainer, and with my shoes and bike shorts I pedaled, then the fitter took measurements and made adjustments to my seat post raising it and lowering it to a perfect dimension. Then he took angle measurements from the ground to my hip, knee and shoulder and from the pedal and a bunch of other places. He moved my saddle not only up and down by forward and back. He then took my handle bars and put different size spacers on the tube underneath my handlebars to find the perfect height and then was able to move them back and forth to find the right angle, height and most comfortable spot for me. I had no clue there was this much to it.
As I left the store after my fitting, Jo-el, the general manager and friend from my track club, gave me some good advice. I had never rode in cleats and pedals before, where my feet were clipped into the pedals where they wouldn’t just simply lift up. I had to turn my heel so the cleat would unclip from the pedals so I could put my foot down. Jo-el said to take my bike in the house and put it between a doorway, and practice clipping and un-clipping from the pedals. Also, I needed to find the most comfortable side to unclip first and then stick to that side no matter what. I followed that advice in detail. I clipped, unclipped, clipped and unclipped till I was sure I had mastered it. Then I took a little ride around the block and practiced even more till I was confident I mastered at least that part.
I had a feeling of euphoria that first little trip in my neighborhood. I felt fast, free traveling under my own power on this brand new, tuned Cannondale bike. I was really excited for my first ride the next day in the hills of San Antonio.
The First Ride
I drove to San Antonio…Florida that is, with my brand new bike in the back, my new bike shorts on, bottles ready to put in their cages on the bike, coffee in my cup holder and classic rock playing on the radio. I remember having mixed feelings about this initial ride. I had never ridden in a group before, I had never ridden with these cleats and clips before, but I knew I was in good shape but was I fit enough? After that I just thought to myself, “if you cannot go as far then just turn around and head back. no big deal.”.
I met a friend at these ball fields and was mesmerized by the amount of bikers getting ready to take their morning ride. The sea of colors from the different bikes and jerseys was extremely overwhelming. That anxious feeling came back for a second until my friend mentioned we were riding with triathletes not pure cyclists. They would understand I was on my first ride and would help me out. After preparing for my first journey, we found our formation and began the trek.
I was surprised that I was staying in the middle of the pack and with minimal effort. The wind was in my face, I was pedaling under my own power and keeping up! It was an incredibly euphoric feeling. Unfortunately, when we hit the first long hill, euphoria turned to anxiety and then… embarrassment.
My pedaling slowed, and it became extremely hard to mash down on the pedals. With very minimal spinning of my legs I tried to switch to higher gear, but I actually ended up in a lower gear which made it even harder. When I did finally gear up, it was too late. I couldn’t move the pedals fast enough to switch gears, and my chain fell off , so I was at a dead stop. Of course I was so concerned about the gears I didn’t unclip out of my pedals, and I went down on my side. The only thing that really hurt was my ego as I stood my bike up and examined the chain. The group was passing me all asking if I was ok, and taking for granted that I was telling them I was fine and to keep going. By the time I had my chain back on the group was completely out of site. I pedaled like a bat out of hell hoping to catch up, but I missed a turn and ended up 10 miles out of my way, and lost.
To make a long story short ( I know, too late) one of the faster members of the group realized I was gone, backtracked, and finally found me asking directions at a convenience store. He led me back to the group and I finished the ride without any other issues, but I learned a lot of lessons that day.
Hints to get started in cycling straight from the Goof:
On my first bike after a couple of modifications
1. Buy an entry level road bike. This is usually an aluminum alloy frame. You don’t want a Wal-mart special, but you don’t need to start with the top of the line bike either.
2. Purchase a set of entry level pedals, cleats and shoes. The pedals usually come with the cleats and the bike shop will install them for you.
3. Purchase safety equipment. Biking shorts, and a helmet to start. I would also have a set of sunglasses as well. Not just to keep the sun out of your eyes, but it helps with the wind too. Make sure you also have at least one water bottle with a cage installed on your bike.
4. Get the bike fit for you. Have a certified bike fitter make those adjustments specifically for you.
5. Practice getting in and out of your cleats . Put your bike in a doorway, hold onto the frame and get in and get out of your cleats. Find the most comfortable side of the bike and then practice getting out of the cleats and putting your foot on the ground.
6. Take a short ride around your neighborhood and continue to practice getting in and out of your cleats. When seeing a stop or even a potential stop ahead practice just moving your heel just to the point where you unclip before stopping so you have a quick option that you can pull out of your clip to stop or return your heel to clip back in to keep going. Remember to always clip out and stand with the same foot first every time.
7. Understand your gears. While in that first ride, switch the gears on your right hand and find what lever takes you to a higher or easier gear, and which one brings you to a lower or harder gear.
8. Take your first long ride with friends and have some fun.
One last thing, you are going to fall. That is just the reality of it. You will get stuck in your cleats at some point and you will fall over, but it will be minimal. The trick is to accept it, get up brush yourself off, laugh at yourself, get back on your bike and have fun. It’s worth it I promise.
This post was originally published for IR4C for their new media site, IR4C.TV on July 2, 2013.
There is on aspect of competing in triathlon that is consistent among all courses, distances and brands; racing is lonely. Obviously, during the swim it is hard enough to breathe let alone talk. USAT regulations state that you keep four bike lengths between competitors unless one is passing and even at that point it must be done in 20 seconds, so accept for a “hey”, “hello” or an “on your left” there is not much conversation going on there. The run can be more interactive, but after a long swim and bike, most competitors are already hypoxic or have a certain aerobic pace that doesn’t allow for a lot conversation their either. It does happen though where athletes find new connections or meet with old and finish the run together, but it is rare, at least from what I have seen. The common denominator is the people whom you share the race experience with, or the support that accompanies you. After some logistics issues otherwise cancelled some of my support and fellow athletes, I was still fortunate enough to be surrounded by a small group of A-Trainers that made the entire experience a memory that will not fade.
On Friday we met up at Celeste’s home which was centrally located and began the caravan up to Georgia. We started with three suv’s and a car with seven athletes. Most of knew each other from other races and workouts, so the dynamic of the group was anxious but friendly. The ride down was full of group texting, slight a couple of rather “adventurous” maneuvers, the lost and found of some of the caravan, but all-in-all safe and successful.
Luckily, we arrived early enough to drive to the expo and check-in, providing us the option of sleeping a little longer in the morning without the inconvenience of long lines which are typical to this race. I was mentioning to one of my cohorts, that the previous year we arrived at check-in at 6am, coffee in hand, so we were in a prime spot when the activities started at 7. I enjoyed this experience much more as there were no lines and even the expo was fairly empty enough to allow us to shop for any possibly extras we may need or want for the race. Of course after an eight hour drive, unpacking gear, checking-in and shopping we were all tired and hungry. We decided to walk down Broad Street, the main downtown strip, and see some of the nightlife on our way to Mellow Mushroom. The thought of pizza from Mellow Mushroom made Celeste and myself excited with anticipation, but unfortunately, when we arrived there was a long wait and the other places we discovered just did not have the selection the group needed. Even splitting up, Celeste and I picking up the pizza, while Beth, Bruce, Chris and Jessica retrieved the cars from the hotel proved to allot too much time between eating and allowing sleep to overcome us. On the way back to the hotel, we settled on the next best choice which was have another pizza joint deliver food while we headed back. The conversation seemed to stay on the race, sleeping and television while we plowed through two pizzas and 20 wings, which were actually a lot hotter than I expected, before we all finally retired for the night.
Saturday, brought on another level of excitement, renewed energy and the freedom of knowing the only task we needed to accomplish was to stow our bikes in transition for the next day’s big event. I set the alarm for 7 o’clock thinking that would be the latest I slept in a while, but nevertheless my eyes popped open at 6:30 wide awake and ready for the excitement of the day. Amy, my coach, had planned for me to do 15 minutes of each event as a precursor to the following day, however, emails had been sent from Ironman, announcing no swimming in the river would be allowed prior to race day. Swimming the day before the race is usually used to double check the wet suit and understand the conditions of the body of water. For me this was not a big deal, as I had already completed the race the year prior, but it could have been for the rest of the group of whom not only was this the first time competing in Ironman Augusta, it was also their very first 70.3 distance triathlon ever. With all of set on that fact, a few of us headed out for a run, which was surprisingly hilly, but interesting and fun due tot he southern cultural differences and the rare sighting of a fox. Afterwards, we grabbed our bikes and headed out the opposite way and ended up in a very nice neighborhood with a couple of steep climbs. I was grateful for that in order to test my bike, which had been recently pulled apart, cleaned tuned and re-assembled, and my legs. Everything seemed to be in working order which pleased me just fine.
After a shower, a hearty breakfast, compliments of the Comfort Inn, and a quick jaunt to the bike store, we all loaded up our bikes and headed back to transition and race headquarters to drop our bikes in transition and explore the expo one last time. Transporting our bikes to transition was uneventful with the exception that as we walked our bikes to transition, we noticed athletes with wet suits coming up out of the water. When we inquired about it, they had no idea that there was an email warning of the disqualification if swimming in river prior to the race. As a matter of fact the athletes we did talk with all mentioned the overabundance of people that were actually swimming, of which was confirmed by our own eyes. We were all a little disappointed about that, however we shook it off not allowing it to crush our “high” of pre-race emotions.
Something I said to Chris, as we were walking into the expo that afternoon, may explain my last statement. I expressed to him that I enjoyed the events of race weekend almost as much as the race itself. The positive energy of all the athletes there to compete, seems to quell and increase allowing everyone to share in it. Every expo I have attended from 5k races, marathons and mud runs to half and full Ironman triathlons, they all have never disappointed with the positive aura and energy collected and passed by runners, athletes and support staff. It is one of my favorite parts of the weekend and this expo was just as exciting.
After buying a sample pack of a new natural energy drink called Zip Fizz, which tastes like grape and orange soda by the way, I was walking back to the main hall when I saw someone I have been wanting to meet for a long time. He was not only someone I had read about in countless articles but he was a friend of Lisa Jamison, my extraordinary massage therapist and friend. This gentlemen did something that would be a first and would motivate a whole new generation of people to overcome the obstacles in their life and challenge themselves to live up to their own dreams. Scott Rigsby, was the first double amputee to complete the Ironman World Championships in Kona, and I believe the first to finish a full Ironman period. I was elated to meet Scott and I was shocked to watch him stand up and sit down as he was signing posters and books. He moved up and down smoother than a lot of people I know whom have natural legs. After a few words of conversation, a picture and him signing his book for me, I realized why he was so successful. They guy just oozes positive mental attitude and strength. Somehow, I believe that whether or not he lost his legs he would have still found a way to be a role model for people. I wish I would have had the chance to read his book prior to the expo and would have been able to talk with him more about it.
Incredibly, I walked into the main hall and right there was another guy I admired. John Pyle. A vet whom had ran across America, flag in hand, for wounded veterans everywhere. I had talked with John before where I coach at Fit2Run, and even then I noted his air of strength. John is a little more grounded then Scott, not to mention a little older. He reminds me of that guy in the motorcycle movies whom hangs out in the biker bars but is not part of the gang. The character whom always ends up getting hit over the head with something on accident and then ends up taking out the whole gang. Very cool, positive, respectful and passionate about his cause, but to be on his bad side seems like somewhere I would not want to be.
I completed my purchases and I headed to the hotel restaurant because I was starving. I didn’t want anything to heavy because of our dinner plans that night, but I needed a snack and Bonk Breakers, Honey Stinger Waffles or any other race supplement was not going to do it for me. As I sat at the bar, the beer taps floated past my field of vision and my mouth started to water. Really? I wanted a beer? Now? “Well, you only live once”, I thought to myself. Thinking about my friend Dom (whom conquered the Chicago Marathon while stopping in the middle for a beer), I ordered a Guiness, and the Salmon with vegetables and it was awesome. It was even plated beautifully. While I was eating a very interesting couple sat down next to me. The wife was an Xterra triathlete and trail runner hopefully bound for the World Championships and he was doing his first 70.3 the next day. The dynamic had them supporting each other for races, but never doing the same race. After the pleasantries and initial info gathering the conversation turned to running where I was impressed to hear after a long career of running she had started focusing on a new form to help her run more efficiently. Was this a sign? Running form is what I teach, coach and mentor athletes on and love doing so, and this athlete just so happens to let me know she has been looking at changing her form. Kismet! Of course as always I mentioned the group I coach at Fit2Run, my back story of how I became a form advocate, my results and then proceeded to ask her about her experiences changing her form and what she was looking to do. We right on the same wavelength and she even asked my my opinion on a couple of things. Needless to say, it was an outstanding feeling.
We called ahead to Carraba’s because of course most of the triathlete world wants pasta to carb load the night before. Being on a 90% paleo diet I now forgo the pasta rituals and more prefer meat and vegetables. I had a combo of steak marsala, chicken brian and vegetables with a couple of glasses of sangria to help me sleep. It was perfect and the fact we did not wait for anything made it even better. So, it was back to the hotel, to double check the gear, lay out clothes for the next day and off to bed.
My race night ritual usually always includes the following; lay out my gear, go over the race in my head to include transitions and nutrition, pack everything up, double check my list one more time, lay out my clothes bib, shoes, hat and glasses in some odd way, take a picture, post it to Facebook, set my alarm and do whatever I can to get to sleep. The latter is the hard part. I end up so anxious that I do not usually drift off for a couple of hours. This night was no exception except I made a small error that revealed itself way too late.
My eyes popped open the next morning and I was ready for the day. The alarm hadn’t gone off so I thought there was no problem with just lying around for a bit to get my bearings. As I turned over, to turn off the alarm, my eyes cleared up on the face of the clock; 4:25am it read. WHAT??? 4:25?? I was supposed to be up at 3:30 so I had an hour to gear myself up for the race before I was supposed to be downstairs at 4:30am. SON OF A MONKEY”S UNCLE!! (That may have not been my exact vernacular.) I couldn’t believe I overslept. I immediately jumped up disrobed, put on my tri shorts an shirt, took my vitamins, put in my contacts, gathered my stuff and was down in the lobby by 4:30am awaiting the rest of the crew. No hygiene, no pre-race glide, no pre-race meal and of course what I disliked the most, the fear I would have to use a porta potty for a bowel movement. OH-EM-Freakin -GEE! My head was a wreck and I knew I had to get it together. I was so lucky, I ended up driving myself to the race because I needed a little time to pull myself together.
I finally accepted the inevitable when we parked the cars fairly near to transition. This was a huge plus as last year we ended up walking over a mile and then dragging our bikes and gear back. Each moment started to bring on more and more positive energy. Not that I wasn’t still anxious, but everything was starting to align. Setting up transition was easy breezy. A couple of weekends prior Amy had me running through my transition setup a few times to make sure I knew what was the most efficient for me, so it was just like putting puzzle pieces together; towel, shoes, cletes, race belt run, race belt bike, helmet and glasses. Attach the bottles, ditch the bag and my transition was officially setup. I ran up to it once and jumped in my cletes and mimed through my first transition as a quick check and at that point I was confident at least my bike and gear were ready. I grabbed my wet suit, a honey stinger waffle and headed to the bus for a ride back to the swim start.
Everything continued to align as the bus’s speaker roared to life with the announcement that there would be two stops. The first being the swim start and the second being the host hotel. “Wait!” I thought. “Did he just say the host hotel? Really?” Shut the front door! I was going to be able to use a real bathroom prior to the race. Awesome! While the rest of the crew decided to go straight to the swim start, Jessica and I continued on to the hotel. The thought of using a bathroom that was not a porta potty for…well…uh…number 2, elated me. Not to mention, the idea I may be able to actually get that cup of coffee I was expecting in the hour I planned to have prior to leaving. YAY!!! Jessica seemed to be just as happy about the chance to have a cup of coffee as well.
After we both accomplished what we set out for we headed out to the River Walk and headed to the swim start. The sky had this purple hue as the orange sun started to peak through the sky. It was gorgeous. I was also really happy to have a few spare moments to spend with Jessica. She had taken the trip with us specifically to be a motivator and sherpa for Beth, and I could tell that she really appreciated Jessica being here. Beth is this type A personality that while excitable always exhibits this aura of sunshine no matter how she is feeling. Jessica, is extremely positive, but a little more laid back, but can definitely take her Cuban persona to a higher level when provoked. Luckily, I only experienced it positively provoked spilling sunshine and rainbows. I found her to be charming, caring and nurturing to everyone and luckily she was there because we all needed that grounding.
Jessica and I walked up to our crew sitting on a curb gabbing while a few of the other athletes we knew all started passing by. We said our good lucks and gave hugs, high fives and fist bumps all the while suffering from own anxiety. Beth is the one who turned me on to blogging more regularly and she has also forged connections with other fitness and running bloggers whom I have read. One is Swim, Bike, Mom whom is very motivating and just so happened to not only be competing but was standing not to far from a group of bloggers that Beth was acquainted with. I was really excited to see her there. I don’t know what it was, but I was enthralled. Maybe because she puts a lot of her personal feelings into her blog that I felt like I knew her, but I was sincerely happy to see and meet her in person.
I looked at my watch and noticed it was 7:15, so I did some of my Dave Scott exercises, lunges and stretches and sat down to struggle with my wet suit. As each leg went on the anxiety increased to another level. “Just get me past the swim”, I kept saying to myself. “Get me on the bike and everything will be just fine.” One more glance at my watch. 7:28am. I had no idea what I was thinking when the first gun went off and the announcer shouted that the Pro Men were off. I went up to the barrier and and waited for them to swim by. They were fast and looked as though they hardly were expending any energy. If I could just figure that out before my wave start everything would be ok, but if I didn’t have it now, I wasn’t going to have it by then. I decided I would trust my training and just do my best to keep straight by sighting every five strokes, kick as lightly as possible and just swim till I was done. After that, what I thought, was a quick meditation my watch said 7:46. I said goodbye and good luck to my crew and headed for the start.