"It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
~ Walt Disney
Sunday, July 6th was the Ironman 70.3 in Lake Stevens.
I got finished with this race and was slightly disappointed in my bike time. However, I thought about everything that happened and now, instead of feeling bad about that, I feel GREAT about my other two times. For a recap... My friend Brian Kirby and I did this race together. I don't know that he trained much specifically for it, besides a few pool swims, but he has run and biked a fair amount so I knew he could finish fine. As we strolled out onto the dock where the swim start was, at the far north-east corner of Lake Stevens, I was more nervous about myself. Not whether I would finish, but whether I could reach yet another lofty goal: breaking 5 hours for the 3rd time. This was my 7th half, and I have ranged from 4:48 to 5:35. Oddly enough my fastest half time came at the well known and well feared Pacific Crest--not known, as you triathletes from the NW might imagine, for being a PR course. But although I know not to go too hard at this distance before halfway through the run, I still have trouble gauging my output during the bike ride. This year my bike training really wasn't bad, but didn't have the distance I would normally like. Then again, the year after training for Ironman, everything seems minimal.
The early morning: where are my honey buckets?
Brian showed up to ride with Mr. and Mrs. Triathlon at 4:45 ish, and we all piled into my Element for the drive to Lake Stevens. It was a nice morning, very relaxed. Maybe too relaxed.
I have always been the person who wants to arrive early at triathlons. It is bred, I suppose, from all of my early years of racing when the transition areas were first-come first-serve, hence getting there early was necessary if you were actually competing. The morning of this particular race, however, I was not so uptight about the time. I figured its a well organized, major race much like Ironman. Our bikes were put in transition the day before--maybe for that reason I thought we could get there a mere hour before the start? In retrospect, that line of thinking was dumb. The transition area closed at 6:15, our start time was 6:37, and we arrived at 5:35. In between was madness.
Lake Stevens 70.3 is NOT run like an Ironman. Not even close. Its like trailer trash in new shoes. Don't get me wrong, it was a nice race. But wearing the Ironman label, even for a half IM, should indicate the level of quality in the organization. That was not the case.
They did work hard, but the race morning strategy of dump your crap, warm up, dookie, stretch, start did not apply at all. There were multiple stops one had to make -- too few (as in 2) bathrooms in the transition area. No bike exit for warming up. We had to collect our timing chips at the SWIM START, which was nearly hidden from view. Then transition closed so make sure you have the right gear, that you don't crap your wetsuit and off with ya!
Brian and I fumbled around and got the order of events as backwards as possible. Everything I had told him about getting ready for the race went out the window as we scurried around in what felt like a pre-race scavenger hunt.
I finally found my pretty bride and gave her the car keys and told her to meet us at the start area, because they were booting us out of transition. Ugh. Too much stress and it was not even about the race. It was about when will I get to use a bathroom? Finally, finally, we get to the pottie line and make things right. Aaaah...
Why ya swimmin' in the poopy water, lads?
I don't know when it started really getting to me, but at some point during the swim I realized the water tasted eerily like... sewage. Ack, it makes me feel sick to my stomach just remembering it. Yes, I remember getting about a hundred yards out, and distinctly feeling like something was not right. Every time I breathed I smelled it. I tasted it. It was wretched. It disappeared, though, about 400 yards out. Aaah, non-sewage tainted water never felt so good. I sped up. I had left Brian long ago, and I wondered how he was doing. I was reeling in a lot of the wave which had left before mine--we were in orange caps, the wave in front of us navy, the wave behind red. I passed probably 15 navy caps before the turn, and then really stepped on the accelerator as I saw a frothing mess of angry red caps swirling in my direction. I stayed in front of most of the red caps (there were some guys with rooster tails going by, though) and actually found an opportune moment at my fingertips (literally) when I latched onto a red capper going a tad faster than I was. I pushed and got on his toes and passed probably 10 more blue caps, at least. There were not many orange caps around. I felt better, and was really moving well. I thought I might be around 30 minutes for my swim.
Then I tasted the poop. Oh god, my stomach turned and did a half-gainer. I was entering hell again, and the smell of sewage returned with the taste. I felt sick again and couldn't stay with ol' red cap and fell off. So much for my time. Was any one else tasting this? (Yes, I would find out later.)
Finally I arrived on shore. It was not as disorienting as Ironman, but for some reason I was kinda wobbly. Been a while since I swam that fast for that long. Ironman was more of just pure survival. This was actually a pretty decent swim, given the stankiness of the water. 34 minutes. Not too bad. Tummy really upset, though--not a great way to start. I jogged across the cobbly parking lot which hurt my feet (I had to run about 300 yards to my bike) and started thinking about how I am doing. Really, besides the tum-tum, I am fine. I feel good, and I am out of the water before all the people around me in transition. I notice out of the far left corner of my eye that all of their girlfriends/wives were standing there silently at the fence nearby waiting for their athletes. Silent. All of those guys had these really fancy, hot, carbon, sleek looking new bikes. I remember feeling 10 years late for the prom when we took our bikes into transition, and the girlfriends/wives standing around then beaming with pride. Hmm, so a fancy bike doesn't always mean the faster triathlete??? I knew that. But the reminder was nice.
Had the passing thought, though, that maybe I messed up the course or something--historically I am an average swimmer. Lately, my swimming has improved relatively speaking, and its a little startling sometimes.
When the going gets tough, check your brakes.
I fumbled through a very sloppy transition. It was obvious to all watching that I was not in the world's biggest hurry. I dropped things fumbling around in the pocket of my tri-shirt, had trouble getting my bike off the rack. It was comical. In the past I have learned that taking a moment longer in transition in these longer races can make a big, big difference later on. We will see.
My stomach upset as could be I set out on my bike. It took about 300 yards for me to feel like I was pedaling way too hard. I felt terrible. My legs were cooked, but that was impossible. I hadn't done anything to work my legs. I really didn't understand what was going on. I finally pulled over 4 miles into the thing and found the obvious--my rear brake caliper was twisted over and pressing onto my rear wheel. Well, sheesh. No wonder. The guy next to me in transition, one of the ones with the fans standing silently watching me in transition, kept banging into my stuff earlier in the morning. I bet his bike or something else whacked my brakes. Now I made it my personal mission to beat this guy. I will save the suspense: Yes, I beat him.
Brakes fixed, off I go. Now the bike ride should feel easy, right? Well, queasy is more like it. I couldnt eat or drink or ride hard until about mile 25 or 26 when my stomach FINALLY felt normal. I finally felt like I was ready to bike ride. What a difference that makes. I think I felt pretty decent the entire rest of the day as far as my stomach goes. I ate a couple gels and drank some and that was a huge comfort. I was concerned that the heat might come up at any time, even if it was currently cool and cloudy. THAT was a blessing.
I believe the first 26 miles I averaged a pedestrian 16 mph. The blur of fast bikers going by me, as usual, was equally as irritating as the brake pressing thing, but I have learned so many times to LET THEM GO. They usually can't run. If they could, after riding that fast, they would have been in the elite wave. And these guys were "off-the-hook" fast.
Sure enough, I torched the second half of the bike ride. The backside of the course is very hilly but nothing extreme. Its rollers with some AWESOME descents and some nice little turns. Also on the backside is a long straightaway with a tailwind during the race. It was a nice 10 mile stretch of 24 mile an hour aero riding. Sweetness. I passed many people whom had passed me eariler. It was once again proof of my belief in taking it easy and being steady instead of crushing the first half of the bike ride and surviving the rest of the race. I always try to remember there is a long run waiting, as well. I felt good the last 1o miles, but tired. The course changed from what we thought the course was, when Brian, Jan and I had come out and ridden before. They removed a part near the lake and turned it into a lollipop style course with a short out section at the end of which you do two big loops, then take that little short section back to town. Not spectator friendly at all. That little 5 mile out section was also very hilly and had some irritating winds on the way back in to town. My legs were tired. I was feeling good, but I felt a little bit concerned about how much I spent on the second lap of the ride.
I wheeled through town and surprised Jan, hoping to get a good pic, walking along. She wasn't ready and I watched her calculate and finally decide she couldn't get her mammoth camera ready in time, and instead started screaming cheers at me. She is so damned cute. I don't know what I would do without her. I turned that wonderful final corner and got my shoes unbuckled and pulled my feet out. I was so ready to be done with the bike ride at this point, I was excited about running.
Running is fun. Running fast for 13 miles and long hills is hard.
I love running. When I get off the bike and I am standing there at my transition spot, I love the feeling of being pretty good at something and knowing that although I had a tough bike ride, I can still count on a great half marathon. And then I actually start running and remember that I am closer to giraffe than runner in physiology. And giraffe-like is exactly how it felt to start. This was not Ironman, I was not merely trying to finish, I was aiming for a serious time. I needed to get out and take as little time as possible to feel my groove and loosen up. And boy was that difficult. I forced myself into a quick, but easy, pace the first couple miles. I took a potty break and told myself that when I got out I was going to slowly build the rest of this run.
It started getting warm for the first time. The sun was out, and it felt very good. I like racing hotter temps, personally. The aid stations are there and had plenty of everything, but usually during the run how well you started the day hydrated as well as how well you hydrated during the bike ride play a bigger role. If you have to drink a lot early in the run, well, its too late. Should of taken care of business earlier.
I was passed by a woman who didnt seem too much different than me in age, and was only slightly running faster. I decided to keep her in my sights as a gauge. I figured she was doing about 7:40 per mile or so. She pulled away a little, and I found myself struggling to hold that pace. The run has a figure eight kind of thing where you run out one loop which is NOT flat but is misleading in that its long slow uphill drains you and the long slow downhill rests you. I didn't figure out that was why I felt so up and down until the second lap. Going down the long easy downhill of the first half of the first loop I gained some speed and caught up to a different group, still keeping my eye out for my pacer. I held my speed through town, delighted by the screaming of Jan, Amber and Joe cheering me on. When we passed through downtown and came to the long, scary hill I tried to shorten my stride but maintain speed. For the most part it worked and I passed throngs of decent runners succumbing to the heat and hill. I caught up to the woman and stayed with her the rest of the run. Found out later her name was Jennifer and she was cheering on so many people as she ran it was ridiculous how much energy she had. Or seemed to have.
I saw Brian as I was finishing up my first lap, he had just come through downtown and looked good. Tired, but good. He had a really fine first Half IM. I decided to pick up my tempo a little the rest of the way. It was a very difficult second lap, and I saw a lot of familiar faces finishing and heading out. Its a benefit to a multilap course like this--you get to see people often and it doesnt feel so isolated. It was really amazing just how many people there were out there. Just because they wanted to. Mostly the second lap is a blur. I had been running as fast as I could and was very tired. My legs felt pretty heavy but I maintained a quick pace into downtown for the last time. Jan one the side of the road yelling at me to "RUN FASTER, BOY!" so I do. I take off as fast as I possibly can to the finish. I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with my time, but I would be equally lying to say I wasn't happy to have worked through some issues and still have a great run.
All in all, it was a fun day. Racing is always fun; the circumstances that create the challenge are always different and will always be the unexpected part of being a triathlete. I ate way too much pizza after the race and got a very upset tummy for pretty much the rest of the day. Hurt like crazy. I can't blame it on the swim, though.