Monday, September 28, 2009

I AM Ironman

Per tradition, here is Matt's race report on Beginner Triathlete.

Pre-race routine:
I arrived in Cambridge Friday afternoon for packet pickup and bike racking. I was really happy I had already thought through what to put in my T1, T2, and special needs bags, so that made getting organized a lot easier. I went to dinner with some folks from my tri club, headed back to the hotel, and actually got a pretty good (Ambien assisted) night of sleep. Woke up around 4, got all my bags to the right locations, and headed to the swim start. Getting started early helped, I didn't feel at all rushed.
Event warmup: Ha! The warmup was swimming the couple hundred yards from the boat ramp to the swim start.

Swim (2.4 miles swim - Completed in 1 hour, 42 minutes)

Well, I had done swims in rough water before, but I don't think it was ever anything this bad. Things were fine on the outbound leg, but quickly got worse at the turn. With the waves coming in and breaking over your side, it got pretty disruptive, not to mention the lovely side effect of nausea. Fortunately the "side-wave" action was short lived, the reward being another turn to swim directly into the waves. Ugh. Couldn't sight worth a damn on the inbound leg, but was actually pleased coming around on the first lap, hearing that I was at about 43 minutes. The second lap was all the same sensations, just worse because my stomach was feeling worse and worse. I almost lost it about 200M from the finish, started to dry heave. Stopping didn't help, because the bouncing up and down wasn't exactly a yack reliever. So, suck it up move number one of the day was just shutting it out, since there was no way I was going to bail on the swim with the end in sight. I was VERY happy to get out of the water.
What would you do differently?: I could have used more swim volume in training, but really the conditions and resulting inability to sight well had a lot to do with the result.

T1 (transition 1, swim to bike)
I always pride myself on being pretty quick in transitions. I had been telling myself that I just had to take it easy in an iron distance rate. Happily, the condition I was in getting out of the water guaranteed that I would take all the time I needed in T1. Very helpful volunteers in the tent getting my suit off and packed up. I already had my bike shorts on under the wetsuit, so it was just a matter of putting on my jersey, shoes, and helmet before heading out of the tent.
What would you do differently?: Nothing. I just needed to sit for a few minutes to get my bearings back.

Bike (112 miles - Completed in 6 hours, 51 minutes)

I knew this was going to be rough when I saw the wind forecast for Cambridge was 10-13 MPH, because once you get outside of town the winds are almost always stronger than the forecast. Sure enough, the first outbound section things felt great, but I could see everyone coming back going significantly slower. Even going (slower) back into the wind, I was feeling pretty good.
The first 30-40 miles were pretty uneventful, other than the wind. I alternated eating a Clif Bar and an Uncrustable every 45 minutes or so, which seemed to be working well. I really got demoralized, however, when I turned onto the road north to finish the first loop. The wind didn't really feel like it had let up, and the road conditions were pretty bad for a few miles in there. One fun part, like last year, the water had covered parts of the road, so there were a few "Wheeeeeeee!" moments riding through.
I finally got to the special needs stop at the high school, and was very happy to see my wife and daughter, who had driven out that morning to watch. There was a brief moment of panic, though, when the volunteers couldn't find my bag. Fortunately, they found it, I was able to reload nutrition, take some Tylenol, and head back out. I wasn't exactly looking forward to lap 2, since I knew the wind, rough patch of road, and mind-numbing distance were all still out there waiting.
All in all though, lap 2 went well. I stayed pretty focused, dealt with the rough patch of road, went through the (now deeper) water, and really just tried to deal with the boredom. Happily, I thought up a great time waster in the last 20 miles. Singing "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" over and over again might not seem like the greatest idea on the world right now as you're reading this, but it worked like a charm to keep me from going insane those last few miles. Or maybe I was already insane, and this was just a manifestation. Similar to Eagleman in June, I was really looking forward to the run, mostly because it meant I wouldn't be on the bike anymore.

What would you do differently?: I guess work on mental focus, but it's already hard on a ride this long, much less with the winds involved.

T2 (transition 2, bike to run )
Pretty uneventful, but the valet service for the bike was nice. With the water we rode through, I was really happy to have a dry pair of socks to put on, and also put my IT band brace on my right leg (which is the one that has always flared up). In prepping for this, I really thought I was going to have a hard time getting up and leaving the changing tent, but it was just kind of happened without me really thinking about it.
What would you do differently?: Nothing.

Run (26.2 miles - Completed in 6 hours, 9 minutes)

I actually felt really good leaving transition, and for the first four miles I was actually clicking off 10 minute miles without much effort. I slowed a little on the return leg, but was still back from the first loop in about 1.5 hours. I got to see my wife and daughter again, which was great. I actually thought for a little while that I might be done by 9PM, but, of course, my body had other plans.
Starting the second loop, my IT band starting acting up. But it was the one in my LEFT leg, aka the one without the brace. Okay, time to stop, switch it over, and really hope the right leg didn't act up, or I'd get to find out the answer to a question I've always had, "If someone has a limp in both legs, do you notice?"
I still had no doubt about finishing, I just knew it was going to take longer, and be pretty painful. So, I shuffled along, drinking at the aid stations, tried some soup, and felt my knee get worse and worse. Just before the turn around, I met up with Brian. He made the last half of the marathon a lot more pleasant than it could have been. He seemed to be in better shape than me, but seemed happy to settle into my pace, which involved walking for awhile after aid stations, and then eventually jog/shuffling to the next one. It was great having someone to talk to, mentally it was such a relief after 10 hours of just having your thoughts to yourself. It started raining somewhere on the second lap, which felt good at first, but as it picked up all I kept thinking about how miserable my wife would be back at the high school. I had tried telling her to just go back to the hotel, but she stuck it out, which was amazing of her to do for me (read about her perspective on the race at her blog:
Anyways, the last lap was pretty uneventful, except for it being pitch black, raining, and me almost tripping on a frog. We joked that if you had to DNF an iron distance, frog-related injury probably wasn't the best way to do it.
Before long, we could see the lights of the stadium, and agreed to run it in from the last aid station. Ok, we cheated a little and started back running at the first phone pole past the aid station. Brian was great and wanted me to finish in front of him, but when we got back towards the school, my wife and daughter (who I am grateful was somehow sleeping in her stroller) were there waiting to follow along beside me to get to the track, so Brian went on ahead to finish. It was so gratifying to see my wife, I couldn't help but cry a little as we got to the track surface.
We split up so she could be at the finish line, and as I jogged around, I was mostly surprised at how little emotion I was feeling. I was just drained of every emotion, and all I saw was the finish line. A couple of guys sprinted past just before I finished, which was a little disconcerting, but hey, it's a race; I'm just amazed they could run that fast at that point. I crossed the finish, got my shirt, had my wife put the medal around my neck, and than the greatest thing happened, my daughter woke up and gave me a huge smile!
What would you do differently?: Nothing, it was about survival.

Post race
Warm down:
As I mentioned, I was just spent in every way, shape, and form. My wife really wanted to help me get packed up, but I convinced her to just get back to the hotel and out of the rain. I packed my bike up, went to collect my bags, and when I saw that there was no wait for a massage (duh, it took you 15 hours), got one, which I think is one of the reasons I was mobile on Sunday.
What limited your ability to perform faster: Same as in my Eagleman report, I wouldn't change anything. I trained as much as I could while maintaining a somewhat normal family life. I would have loved to finish closer to 13 hours, and I never had any serious doubts about finishing, but the mental aspect of doing something this long is something you can't (in my opinion) completely prepare for, especially your first time. People can say having a child is a wonderful thing, but you don't really "get it" until you do it. It's the same thing here. Anyone who even tries an iron distance event is amazing (and crazy), but you you don't really "get it" until you do it.
Event comments: I will say that packet pickup, etc. seemed a little disorganized, but other than that I can't say enough about the race and the volunteers. The time they put in, and the encouragement they provide, is amazing!

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