Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Volume II: The ugly

I came off of the beach and was immediately disoriented by the frantic atmosphere. There were wetsuit strippers waving their arms around and grabbing people, other volunteers were trying to get bib numbers so they could get the transition bags ready, everyone was shouting, I was trying to remember all the instructions we'd been given, and all the other athletes were running, running, running.

The volunteers got my wetsuit off and handed me my bag. I saw lots of people dumping their stuff out right there on the grass, so I did that, too. An arm warmer fall out and tried to put it on, but I was wet and could get it only halfway up. Then my Chamois Butt'r fell out, and I remembered I wanted to put that on under my bike shorts and probably shouldn't do that out in the open. So I gathered everything up again and followed others into the changing tent. It was dark and humid and loud, and all the volunteers were busy helping other people. So I dumped my stuff out again and just looked at it. Okay, here's a towel. I could dry off. Here's a Snickers. I could take a bite. Here's a sock. I could put that on! 

It went like that until someone got free and came over to help me. At the time, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to wear my jacket or not, and I was just sitting there staring at it. The woman took one look at me and asked, with the tilted head of concern, if I was okay. I replied, "I'm just trying to figure out whether I'm cold or not." Then I immediately thought, You give any more stupid answers like that, and you're going to find yourself being evaluated in the medical tent. So I pulled myself together the best I could, laughed, and said, "I guess that means I am." 

She helped me finish getting ready, including the jacket, and then sent me out to the sunscreeners. It's crazy—a dozen people standing there with white hands, ready to slap them on any bare skin they find. When they did my neck it stung like crazy, and I suspected that my wetsuit had chafed me. (Let me just stop and tell you right now, I suspected right. I still look like someone tried to strangle me with a wire. Oops.)

Okay, off to get my bike, and again with the running, running, running. I would guess 30 women passed me just in the 100 yards from the sunscreen to the bikes. My assigned spot was the last one at the end of a row, and believe me, with 2,500 bicycles in the transition area, that was an amazing bit of luck, especially in the state I was in.

And what was the state I was in, exactly? Freezing cold, I think. I didn't feel cold, but I was in some sort of semi-stupor, and my teeth were chattering uncontrollably. So I guess water temperature was a factor after all, just not in the way I expected. 

Huh. I didn't think of it until just this second, but maybe I should have been running to stay warm. 

T1 time: 15:24


I saw my family as I headed out on the bike, and it turned out the teeth-chattering was controllable, because I clamped my jaws together and smiled so nobody would worry about me. I tried to wave but ended up sort of just raising a claw; it was frozen around the handlebars.

That's me in the blue, getting passed.
My plan was to start out extremely easy and then settle into a comfortable effort. This plan caused me to get passed by hundreds and hundreds of cyclists in the first loop. Either they had different plans, or their "easy" pace was a lot faster than mine. Didn't matter. In fact, I found it entertaining: I swam faster than that guy. Yep, swam faster than that guy. Oh, and faster than that guy! Times hundreds. (Eventually the first pro passed me, and I knew I was now getting lapped by some of the people, so that game got less amusing.)

I got nice and warm again on the hills, so I took off my jacket and arm warmers at an aid station around mile 30 and stowed them away. I was afraid that I'd missed my chance to get sunscreen for my arms, but the volunteers had it. It turned out they had pretty much everything. Oh, also? The weather for this race was absolutely perfect. The only time I was ever hot was in the couple of miles before I got my jacket off. And if there was any wind, I didn't notice it.


The bike leg took a lot more focus than I had expected, just because of the number of people on the course. I'd never ridden in that kind of crowd and was worried that I would inadvertently get in people's way, but I think I did okay. I actually got annoyed a few times because so many people were in my way. They would do things like pass me going down a hill, then sit up and coast the second they were around me. After you get passed, you're required to drop back 30 feet so you won't be drafting (you can't just pass them right back), and so when someone did that, it would mean I would have to hit my brakes when I didn't want to in order to avoid a violation.

As I came back toward town to make the first loop, the time on my bike computer was approaching four hours, and I started getting really worried. Was this taking too long? It seemed way too slow. Not only that, but I was feeling… well, not bad, but not peppy, either. I hadn't felt like eating much (though I had been drinking well), and I was concerned that a lack of calories could come back to bite me later. Plus I still had to do those hills again. Somehow I needed to figure out how to finish fresh enough to run a marathon but still with time to run a marathon.

I decided that, of the two, having time should take priority, so I really needed to keep up the pace or go even faster on the second lap (that's exactly what I did, though I didn't realize it at the time). I told myself that running was going to use completely different muscles anyway, so I would still be fresh. I told myself that I had trained for this like I had never trained for anything before, and I had yet to really find out just what I could do. I told myself it wasn't for nothing that I had ridden my bike up the Molt hill a million times.


Something strange happened in the middle of the second lap, somewhere near the end of the hills that never seemed to end: I gave up. I'm not sure why exactly, because I wasn't suffering physically, and I was pretty much perfectly executing the plan that I had set for myself. I was just tired, and tired of all the mental effort, and tired of the same guy cutting me off at the bottom of every descent and making me lose momentum, and I realized that the word "CRUSHER" written across the road in chalk referred to the hill I was about to climb, and it suddenly hit home that it was truly possible that I might not make it.

I mean, it's practically tradition for me to do fine on the swim and bike and then completely crash and burn on the run. That was M.H.'s worst fear, and he ought to know, since he's sat there watching triathlon organizers pack up the finish line before I had crossed it on more than one occasion. I had assured him it wasn't going to happen this time, but I wasn't really sure. How could I be sure? And was I even doing fine on the ride, or was this a total disaster?

I started trying to decide if I'd rather finish no matter how long it took—even though a finish after the cutoff would be horribly painful and totally devastating—or if I'd just pack it in whenever it became clear that I wasn't going to make it within the time limit and at least save myself the pain. Those were both, to put it mildly, unappealing choices, and I decided I would just have to run my heart out and try not to have to make one of them. I had been expecting the end of the bike leg to be a huge relief, but all I felt was grim determination.

Bike time: 8:06:49


  1. This sounds mentally so so hard....

    What a great recap!

  2. Y'know it occurs to me as I'm reading, that if you were able to figure this out, even though it was hard? You were well fed! My brain wasn't functioning even remotely at that level. Kudos to you!

  3. I haven't wanted to get into the boring details of my nutrition plan, but I was faithfully drinking a pretty concentrated mix of EFS and lots of Ironman Perform. It did seem to work! I had just hoped to be eating more solids as well since I figured I would just be having small sips of whatever every mile on the run.

  4. The brain/body connection is so strange; glad you figured out what you needed when you did.

    I'm glad that "CRUSHER" and that rude "cut-off guy" didn't make you give up.

  5. Wow, good for you for carrying on. That sounds so hard! The bike braking must have so annoying.

  6. Yeah, I really don't think the guy meant to be rude; he was just clueless and exhausted. He was heavier than me, so I was faster at getting up the hills, and he was faster at rolling down them. We passed each other back and forth a million times, and I kept wanting to say, "Look, John, (because everyone's name is written on their bib) could you just pedal a bit now? Please?"

  7. I'm glad I can live this vicariously through you, because I am never going to do an Ironman triathalon. Kudos to you for sticking with it!