If you didn’t have an opportunity to read the epic writing in the previous post, I discussed the reason “why” I ran the NYC Marathon, then I highly recommend that you do. Not just because the writing was fantastic, but it is my hope that the recap will be more emotionally moving.
Delta carried us to New York City and back with no issues. I was upgraded to the business class on my departing flight, and returned to Tampa in economy class. Even with my average size, I felt extremely cramped in economy. Scott and his six-foot-one-inch frame looked extremely uncomfortable. It is obvious, that Delta increased their upgraded business class at the expense of the comfort of the economy class passengers. My suggestion to anyone flying Delta to the NYC Marathon, just include the cost of the upgrade if the flight it over 3 hours.
The plans were made well in advance for room and board. After each of us declared our opinions for a hotel of choice, one of our teammates found a condo in Chelsea that would accommodate all of us comfortably and provide a full kitchen to save a little money on meals.
Per an email from VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) we were to pick up the keys at a local pizza restaurant located next door to the building housing the condo.
Team Tampa PKD arrived around 4 pm and the employees working that afternoon had absolutely no idea what we were talking about. Of course, we called the management company and were basically told they did not receive the contract. When we had the contract in hand we called the agency back but no one would answer our calls.
Here we were, in New York City, on marathon weekend, not to mention the third and fourth game of the World Series, homeless.
Teammate Kevin O’Brien to the rescue. Kevin works for a landscape development company and happens to travel quite a bit, which was lucky for us. With his Hilton Honors status we were able to procure two rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn located in Tribeca. Thank you Kevin.
The rooms were updated, immaculate and comfortable. Another, nice little value add of the Hilton Honors was the choice of extra points or free breakfast. Kevin being the generous person he is, opted for the free breakfast for us which again helped save a little bit of money. Again, Thank you Kevin.
With all of us now settled, we headed to the Javits Center to pick up our NYC Marathon packets. The bibs numbered up to 72,999. It still amazes me how easy it is to retrieve a bib, swag and t-shirt at the expo. It runs like a well oiled machine.
The Javits Center
There is a booth for every few thousand bib numbers. The athlete walks up to the booth that includes their bib number, shows ID and their registration card. Then they receive their NYC Marathon bib and other instructions, verify their info and then walk towards the t-shirt area where on the way, they pick up a plastic swag bag that also serves as the gear bag for the race. The official NYC Marathon t-shirt area is well-marked with a line for the different sizes and within a few minutes of walking into the expo, the athlete has bib, swag and t-shirt.
That isn’t the most exciting part of the NYC Marathon expo. There are vendors from all over the country whom give runners have the opportunity to try and buy the latest gear and gadgets.
One aspect of the expo I really enjoy, is the aura and feeling of the environment. There is an excitement in the air of the larger expos that increases my heart rate a little and excites me to race. It is probably one of my most favorite parts of any race weekend.
The following day we made another visit to the expo simply to walk around and make some purchases. I found a couple of vendors that I had met at other races and made some new contacts for product reviews. Stay tuned.
I have loved New York City since the first moment I stepped into Manhattan years ago. I have a lot of friends here, and I just really enjoy the pace and excitement of the city.
There is always one place, that is mandatory to visit, at least once, every time I am in town. John’s Pizza. I couldn’t believe my ears, when Rich and Kevin decided not to partake. It was their loss, so Scott and I headed over to John’s for lunch. Carb loading, baby, I just love it.
I could write a full post on John’s, so I wont go into the heavenly scrumptiousness of their pizza here, but trust this self-proclaimed, pizza connoisseur, when I say the explosion of flavors that emanate from each bite, redefines the word delicious.
Saturday night, we were scheduled to have dinner with the PKD Foundation and the other runners from different areas at Carmine’s. Scott, Kevin, Karen and I were all pretty familiar with the city and had even known of Carmine’s as it is pretty well-known.
That night we entered the subway and got off at 42nd street in order to head over to 44th where Carmine’s was located, as we started up the stairs from the station, Scott mentions the address which made Kevin and I do a double take. 2400 W Broadway, which was Broadway and 90th street. At the moment we were on 44th st which means we were 46 blocks away. That was a few miles from where we were at that point.
Of course like men we decided that maybe the address was wrong and went up anyway. As it turns out, it was correct. There was a newer Carmine’s uptown and we were in the wrong place and already fashionably late.
It ended up working out for us again. We caught the subway up to 86th and when we arrived, food was just being served. How long could this luck hold, right?
The dinner was fantastic and we met a bunch of really amazing people who were just as passionate about running for PKD as we were.
Like good little runners we went back to the hotel and retired for the night in anticipation for the NYC Marathon the next morning.
As I mentioned both in the last post and in my NYC Marathon recap from last year; the logistics for this race are not the most convenient. It involves a ferry to Staten Island then a bus to security, a decent walk to the assigned village and finally another walk to the specific corral.
An announcement came out from the NYC Marathon staff, about two months prior to sign up for transportation to the start and of course we all missed and ended up getting assigned the 5:45am ferry to Staten Island. Since three of us had already experienced the ferry and knew that there was no accountability, we decided to just take the 7am ferry instead, not only giving us a little more time in the morning, but also keeping us out of the chilly temps for a couple of hours.
The lesson I learned here was there are two choices, either go by the scheduled time and arrive with a lot of time to spare, sit around have some coffee and bagels while waiting for the start, or go a little later and hope to make it to the corral at the time of your scheduled start.
We took the latter ferry and ended up having to wait for two ferries to get over to the island and then when finally getting on the bus, the traffic was so heavy we ended up having to rush to the corrals in order to make the 9:40 start. It was probably perfect for the rest of the team that had later starts, but for Rich and I it was a little tight. Personally, I do prefer the latter.
I found my green village, dropped off my gear bag with my long sleeve shirt and pants, and headed to the corral just prior to the 9am cut-off to enter the corral. Now I had about half-an-hour to stretch and use the portlet one last time.
I was talking to a woman from Basel, England when I heard my name being called. Ryan Wallace, was a Facebook friend and runner I met at last year’s race. A really fun guy to hang with, so after chatting for a bit we found we were looking at accomplishing the goal of 3:50 or better. Score! Someone to run with.
In the Start Corral
They opened up the corral to head closer to the start line around 9:30am, and just after the final note to one of the most beautiful renditions of our national anthem I have ever heard, sung by opera singer (and runner) Susanna Phillips Huntington, and announcements by the executive director, the gun went off and we were running.
The NYC Marathon is the largest marathon in the world. Largest meaning the most athletes run the course of any marathon in the world.. This year there were over 50,000 finishers. It boasts spectacular views, fantastic support from the spectators, and a challenging course. The route takes the runners through all five major boroughs of the city, starting in Staten Island, crossing the Verrazano Bridge to Brooklyn, heading north into Queens crossing the 59th St bridge, then into Manhattan crossing the Queensboro Bridge, north into the Bronx over the Willis Ave Bridge, turning south back into Manhattan over the Madison Avenue bridge and then finally the incline to the finish line in the heart of Central Park.
The experience this year was better than last, as the temperatures were much better as we started around 55 degrees Fahrenheit and just a little breeze versus the 30 degree temps and 33 mph winds from 2014.
Ryan, his friend, and I started the NYC Marathon conservative for the first couple of miles, but as we rounded the first 5k I noticed we started to increase our pace. I only was witness to it due to calculating my 5k under 27 minutes, which being under a 9 minute mile that soon, concerned me a little, but I was feeling really strong.
The spectators in the NYC Marathon are everywhere and they clap, yell and scream not only for their family and friends, but for any one they seem to be inspired by. Statistics pretty much show, that even know there were over 50,000 athletes running this race, and hundreds of thousands of finishers in marathons all over the world, less than 1% of the population has finished a marathon. In other words there were a lot of people to be inspired by during this race and the spectators expressed that.
The Goof peeking out behind Ryan
Ryan and I ran together up to about mile nine, constantly telling each other to slow down, yet neither of us could hold a slower pace for very long. About that point, a pressure emanating from my bladder was increasing to a point where I was just not comfortable any longer, so I speeded up to the mile 10 aid station to relieve myself. My thinking was speed up, use the facilitates and then speed back up just enough to catch Ryan again.
Unfortunately, we didn’t cross paths again during the race. I was out there on my own, all by myself. It was just me and 50,000 of my closest friends.
There was plenty to see as I continued on my NYC Marathon journey. Achilles International volunteers were out in droves this year with guides helping blind and other challenged runners through the race. Guides would run in a formation with one tethered to the blind runner and then three-to-four others running on each side of them constantly helping to clear a path through the crowd. It was so motivating, that I knew somewhere down the line in my own journey I would have to help like that in some way in the future.
As I crossed the 13.1 mile marker of this NYC Marathon, and saw the clock I realized that I had been running for an hour and fifty minutes. That for me was fast, but I was still feeling really strong. The sights of the area’s architecture, parks, people and the smells of the local restaurants were consistently keeping my mind occupied as I just let my legs decide what they were going to do.
I was concerned though. I know enough about myself, that keeping this pace would have it’s consequences toward the final miles.
My favorite bridge on NYC Marathon course is the Queensboro bridge. It feels like it never ends, but the view of Manhattan and the Hudson is spectacular. Not to mention, the completion of the bridge is a u-turn with a horde of spectators that it feels like a roar of excitement is exuded from them. I felt a boost of energy when I crossed mile 16.
I was actually a little impressed with myself as I hadn’t really slowed as of yet. It is usually around this mile marker that begins the stiffness of the previous miles.
The next checkpoint for me is usually mile 18, but that too came and went without any real pain. My inner dialogue started having delusions of grandeur of possibly finishing the race around the 3:40 mark which be a huge PR for me.
As I crossed the Willis avenue bridge, I felt the start of a twinge in my left leg and a smile crept across my face and out loud I said to myself,”There it is.”
The NYC Marathon mile 20 clock showed I was two hours and fifty-two minutes into the race, which was already better than last year. My thinking at that point was that I could pretty much slow to a ten minute mile at this point and still cross under four hours, but that didn’t happen.
Mile 21 came at just three hours which was a first in a while for me. I am usually only at 20 by three hours and here I was a full mile closer to the finish. My period of optimism was cut short by a stiffness in my right leg that quickly became painful.
I walked though the next NYC Marathon aid station and grabbed a banana from the hand of a volunteer thinking just get some more glycogen to my legs so I finish this last five miles.
What little stride I had became periods of walking between miles 22 and 23 as the pain started to sear and engulf the rest of my leg. It was getting harder and harder to bend my right knee as the stiffness was setting in.
Central Park came and the crowds were getting louder and more dense. I did not want to walk through the park with all these people. I wanted to run in strong, but the pain was getting more and more intense. I actually yelled at myself, “C’mon legs. WTF are you doing!!!”
My mind drifted to Erika at that moment. As I was trying to run stiff-legged and just suffer through this intense pain, I thought that this frustration and uncomfortable feeling must be what Erika feels all the time. The disappointment at feeling run down, the pain that comes with these huge cysts on her Kidneys and the eternal uncomfortable feeling that keeps her from sleep and just enjoying life, must be one hundred times worse that what I was feeling.
If Erika had to continually go through this pain, then I could at least endure it until I reach the finish line.
I didn’t stop running, no matter how much it hurt. I thought about Erika and the last couple of years of misery she must have been going through, and how Jennifer would also have to also have a painful times ahead through her recovery from donating a kidney. It kept me going as I really felt like I was going through it for them.
I am not a totally idiot, I know that running the NYC Marathon of which I enjoy doing, really would do nothing for either of them. It was the fundraising and support where we as a team were doing the most good. Maybe it was for me. Maybe because I was not able to donate my kidney, that I the pain I was feeling now was so that I could empathize with both of them.
The NYC Marathon finish line was just as glorious as the other marathons I have completed. I was extremely happy to cross in 3:56 and at least beat my time from last year by about 10 minutes.
My official NYC Marathon finisher was medal handed to me, I was congratulated by a volunteer and ushered through to take continue the long mile walk to retrieve my gear bag. I was engulfed on all four sides with athletes as we all did the marathon shuffle through the park. There was a sense of peace and a little giddiness that filled the air.
We all did something extraordinary today. Whatever the reason “why”, we were bound at that moment by the accomplishment and conclusion of a journey that started with the decision to embark, the hours of training and the final step across the NYC Marathon Finish LIne.
Once dressed in dry clothes, I found Rich and we headed out to The Keg Room which was where Team Tampa PKD would gather back together. As Rich and I were in the first wave, where he PR’d at an incredible time of 3:27, we arrived first. Kevin, whom was actually in the last wave to take off, showed up next followed closely by Karen and finally Scott. Everyone finished and accomplished what they set out to do, but I was most proud of Scott.
Scott had micro tears in his gastrocnemius muscle (Calf) and had been trying to rehab it for the last couple of weeks. I really didn’t think he would finish the NYC Marathon and we all told him it would have been ok if he didn’t . He did though and under 5 hours with walking. He also said that he felt like he didn’t feel like he did anymore damage.
I am proud of the whole team. Team Tampa PKD was able to raise over 20,000 for PKD, finish the NYC Marathon and, most importantly, find a kidney donor for Erika.
Team Tampa PKD – (L to R) Scott Bragan, Rich O’Dea, Karen Dempsey, Brad Minus, & Kevin O’Brien
What kind of challenge are you partaking in or plan to journey towards?
My Why – PKD
The human brain is an advanced computer that controls many different systems. The body is like a room full of servers each independently managing a different system with one major system, the brain, as the master controller for all of them.
When the master controller has a difficult task to undergo, the systems will cluster together in order to complete the task as efficiently as possible. If one of the systems begin to fail, it doesn’t mean the task will not be accomplished it just means another system will take over the lack of work. The work may not be handled as efficiently, but nonetheless, it will be completed.
Only when the master controller issues a command to stop will the other systems desist what they are programmed to do. The question would be “Why did the Master Controller issue the command?”
This long analogy comes right down to a quote I use all the time. Internally, and with my client athletes. “The mind will quit 100 times before the body does.” Every excuse will come to mind while an athlete may be suffering, but it is the reason “why” they are challenging themselves that will override the mind’s command to stop.
My 15th Marathon was the 2015 New York City Marathon, and my “Why” was tested.
In 2014, at the completion of the New York City Marathon, I said to myself, “Self, I am really happy I did it. It was a tough race, in tough conditions (sub-40 degree temperature with 33 mph winds), but we did it. It may not have been the time we wanted, but scratch the largest marathon in the world off the list. I will probably not do this one again.”
My reasoning was the logistics of the race.
First, it is located in New York City. That just says a lot of $$$ is going to be spent.
2) Getting around the big apple in a timely manner is difficult for someone not living there.
3) I have a lot of friends that live in the city and I want to see them, which means, more travel, meals and more $$$ spent.
4) The race doesn’t start until 9:50 which at 4 hours means 1:50 which is after the usual 12 pm checkout time. Again, more $$$.
5) In order to pack the corrals with 50,000 runners, it is required to be in the runner villages close to 3 hours early, and in sub-40 degree weather for someone from Florida is somewhat uncomfortable.
6) After leaving the finish line when the legs are burning and everything is getting stiff, it is another mile to get to checked bags and then another half mile to get out of the park where there are no cabs. Then another 5 block walk to the subway.
Other than that the race is amazing.
This year, the reasons above meant nothing to me, because I ran this race not for me, but as a member of Team Tampa PKD for Erika Bragan, Jennifer Thomas and all of the other people affected by Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD).
Scott & Erika Bragan
In 2009, Scott offered me a chance to run the Chicago Marathon for the Polycystic Kidney Disease. At the time we were both in a boot camp class at a Lifestyle Family Fitness. He mentioned it to a few others as well, so I brought up the idea of a team concept, where we could organize events to raise awareness and funds for PKD and then split up the money so everyone could reach their goal. it actually worked for the 10 of us that competed that year, as we raised around $26,000 for the PKD Foundation.
Team Tampa PKD – Chicago Marathon 2009
In 2011, we resurrected the team and signed on twenty-two members and raised over $56,000 for the foundation. Again in 2013 we had just Five members and raised over 25,000 that year as well.
Team Tampa PKD – Chicago Marathon 2011
Team Tampa PKD – Chicago Marathon 2013
(-1 not pictured)
This year, we again signed five members. Scott, Rich, Myself, Kevin, and Karen. we raised over $25,000 again, but this year we also accomplished something else. Over the last few years, Erika’s kidney functions were reduced to less than 5% apiece. A normal human being can survive on 5% of one, but with PKD it is inevitable that the kidneys will fail.
Team Tampa PKD – NYC Marathon 2015
(-1 not pictured)
Erika had already been put on the donor list for over a year, but it had yet to pan out, so we added not only raising as much financial assistance for the foundation but finding a donor for Erika as well.
For over a year, Erika has been in pain, not sleeping and basically been in a state of misery. Scott has recounted this for me numerous times, so when he said that it was time to start thinking about a transplant, I immediately asked him for the details to get tested. I wanted to help any way I could and if it meant giving up a kidney so be it.
The Bragan’s waited to see if being on the donor list would pan out, but as Erika’s kidney functions continued to deteriorate, family and friends stepped up to be tested as donors.
I was tested as a kidney donor, with the preliminary tests proving positive, meaning I was a match.
However, the secondary tests diagnosed protein in my urine which is common in endurance athletes. Unfortunately, for the medical staff, it is a risk for kidney stones which have a small probability to clog my ureter and if that was the case now, I would have another kidney to fall back on. If I donated one, it could be fatal.
I was heartbroken when I found out, but I understood the reasons.
On July 10, my friend and Team Tampa PKD teammate, Rich O’Dea was on a blind date at the Imagine Dragons concert. While getting to know each other Rich made mention of Team Tampa PKD, the marathon and Erika. At first, it seemed a nonchalant question when she asked how to get tested, so Rich took as her just being nice, but even after she ended up returning to a long relationship, she still communicated with Rich she wanted to get tested.
Rich O’Dea & Jen Thomas
Her preliminary tests proved she was a match, and the secondary tests proved she was healthy enough to donate, so on Friday, Oct 23, the Tampa General Hospital Transplant committee approved the living donor kidney transplant from Jennifer Thomas to Erika Bragan, and scheduled the surgery for the 18th of November.
When I found out that Jennifer passed the second round of testing, I was absolutely ecstatic that she would be able to do what I and three other people could not. I am still absolutely overjoyed that Erika will lead a longer more normal life and Scott, Madison and Spencer will continue to have their wonderful wife and mother.
While in an interview with ABC, Jennifer was asked why should give up her kidney for a total stranger. Without skipping a beat, or even taking a breath she said, “Why wouldn’t I? The more important question should be, why is it so shocking that I would.”
I happened to be in the room when she was getting interviewed and I just about fell over. Without trying to sound conceded, or take away any thunder from her, but I felt like Jennifer was someone who actually thought just like me.
Jennifer’s medical bills will be taken care of 100% by the Bragan’s insurance, but the recovery time may cause a little bit of financial hardship.
Of course, Team Tampa PKD is stepping up and hosting an event called Tailgate for a Transplant prior to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs New York Giants NFL Football game on November 8th at 1 pm. (If you would like to help, but cannot make it to the tailgate please click here)
This is my “Why”.
What is your ‘why’?
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.
Obviously, Ironman Augusta 70.3 is one of my favorite races, since this is the third year in a row I competed in it. Why?
- The 1.2 mile swim heads downstream giving those of us that are not great swimmers a little push.
- There are two main sporting events in Augusta. The little golf tournament called “The Masters”, and the Ironman, so the whole city seems to show up to support it. The Ironman doesn’t have near the amount athletes or the out-of-town spectators, but it doesn’t seem like that when you are competing.
- The 56 mile bike course is beautifully scenic with rolling hills which makes it somewhat challenging and a lot of fun.
- The run course is two-loops around the center of town which is loaded with spectators that are cheering and holding signs with sayings like “If Triathlon was easy they would call it football.” It gives the competitors continuous motivation through a the 13.1 mile completion to the challenge which depending on the temperature could be grueling.
- The volunteers, all three years I have competed, have always been amazing. There are aid stations every 10 miles on the bike and every mile on the run, so there are a huge amount of volunteers that are there for a very long time.
- The expo and check-in have always been run very professionally and smooth. It is probably one of the best run expos I have took part in.
The weekend started off with a caravan of amazing people up to Augusta including my buddy Pete, Kari, Jaime, Kat, Chris, Kate, Matt, Jeff & Miranda. All of them great people and athletes.
The ride up was uneventful with one stop at Cracker Barrel to fuel up and a couple of minute stops for gas and essentials. We went right to check-in and surprise, surprise, the Marriott opened their new convention center so there was so much more space for check-in and the expo than last year. In the past everything was in a series of rooms, now it was in one great big room that allowed for more vendors and more space to move around. There had to be at least 50% more vendors than last year. It was amazing. Of course my favorite part, as always, is the atmosphere. Super charged with excitement and enthusiasm.
After getting settled in are hotels, Chris, Jaime, Kat and I had dinner at this little restaurant of an old hotel called the Partridge Inn. The meal was incredible, and for the first time I got to try Shrimp & Grits, which of course Jaime was astounded I had never tried. It was really amazing. Paleo? Not in the least, but it was delicious. We ended up splitting our dinners, of which mine was a 16oz prime rib that was cooked to perfection. It was an amazing choice, indeed. (Patrons of the hotel had much less to say of the hotel though.)
The next day consisted of quick workouts, bike check-in, race prep and another awesome dinner at Charlie-O’s Steak House. We had a much larger crowd for dinner which not only included the caravan gang, but some members of Tri-Psych as well. It was the perfect crowd to spend the evening before the race. Everybody was calm, cool and collected on the outside, but some pre-race anxiety seemed to be looming over all of us.
I was surprised at how well I slept that night. I usually never sleep the night before a race. Of course I still didn’t get eight hours, but the 6 I did was a very hard sleep. I woke up even more refreshed than I thought. I had the opportunity to dress, eat and be ready with time to chill out and motivate myself.
The transition area was crowding fast as usual, and since last year I had a very early start, this year I ended up more in the middle waves, so there was plenty of time, to relax and get my bike and gear ready, without feeling rushed. As always there were plenty of people who caught up with me either from, home, past races, social media, or my blog. It was awesome. Race morning has to be one of my favorite times of the race, just because of the excitement and the convening with friends and acquaintances. Those of you podium placers probably are in your own little world at this point, and it makes sense, but to a lot of us just trying to beat our past times and finish comfortably, this is a great time of the morning.
The shuttle took us to the host hotel, and as it was in the lower 50s at the time, we decided to grab some coffee and hangout in the lobby. Finally, it was time to head over to the start, drop my “morning clothes” bag in the truck and enter my corral for the start. I found Jaime, which calmed my nerves a bit. He races with Team RWB of whom I am honored to call myself a part of as well, but he is much faster than I. Usually about 20-30 minutes faster. He is an amazing athlete, motivator and all-around person. We only catch each other at races, but he always is able to motivate just that little bit extra.
The time came and they moved us to the dock, the
gun went off and we jumped in and started swimming. I have been working on my swimming so I adopted my rhythm as soon as possible, and found myself right with the majority of the pack the first 800m but then I fell short. They swam past and I ended up, as usual, in the back. Around the 1200m mark the pack behind me caught me and by time I finished, the fast women, two waves behind me, caught me. I still ended up beating my swim time from the year before by a minute, but it was still slow.
I ran up the ramp to transition and without any incidents I grabbed my bike and headed out and just as I was about to leave transition, mother nature called and I made a quick decision to use the portlets. I still ended up with a four-minute transition, but I was a little disappointed. Around the three-mile mark I started to feel something new; quad burn. I was astounded I was feeling this so soon. Usually, it took 40 to 50 miles of hills before I felt it this bad. I must have over-used them in the swim. After another fifteen minutes I took a Honey Stinger Gel prematurely and the burn subsided meaning that I must have depleted my glycogen levels just enough to feel it. My cadence kicked up and I started passing people, and while I was still getting passed by the elite cyclists in the waves behind me, I was doing more passing than getting passed. The hills were as I remembered and I didn’t have any issues with them until mother nature threw me a curve ball. She added the wind. I was thinking the whole time, I just wanted to average 20mph. That would get me into T2 under 3 hours. I did make it to T2 with that goal, but I fell short of my 20mph average at 19.44 mph.
Unfortunately, because I wanted that 20 mph so bad and I had not accounted for the wind, I spent a little more energy than I wanted and I felt in on the run. At first I felt a little tight, but I was used to that. In my training it took till mile three to get my legs back, so I pushed through and bided my time until then, but at mile three, the tightness didn’t go away. As a matter of fact, the tightness never went away. I ended up doing a run/walk of 1 mile on and sixty seconds off. It worked but I faltered on even doing as well as I did the year before. I was under two hours in 2012, but this year I ended up 2:05 which is the exact amount I was off my over-all time: 5:42 off from 5:36. I cared for a while, but I assessed what I learned and what I needed to take away in order to be successful at Ironman Florida which is the ultimate goal for the year.
I caught up with Pete around mile 11 and we ran into the finish chute together. Of course we were passed by Master’s champion runner, Jeff Lessie who was doing the bike and run as part of a relay. What made it really embarrassing, was that Jeff started an hour behind us and he still caught us. He is an amazing athlete, and when he ran passed us we thought for sure he was just on his first loop, but when we saw him in the finish area, both of us looked at each other and then down at the ground. After a couple of nanoseconds we lifted our heads, found him and gave him a hearty congrats. We both still did pretty well and we knew it.
On to the next challenge, for me, the Chicago Marathon, and for both of of us Ironman Florida, Panama City Beach.