My first IM DNF, and hopefully my last. Overall, I was surprised to even be racing, as a calf pull 5 weeks ago and a bike crash onto my surgical hip 4 weeks ago had me unable to run, or even walk, without limping as recently as 2 weeks ago. As with so many things, I have my wife Karen to thank for strongly suggesting that I get some physical therapy instead of being my typical terrible patient self and trying to push through, as this was going nowhere. Melissa from Peak Action PT, and John Woolf and the gang at ProActive did an amazing job to get me on my feet in an unfathomably short time, just as I was convinced that it was time to hang it up for the rest of the year.
So, the race, by discipline:
Swim: 1:00:38. 4th in age group. Good enough. Relatively low contact with other swimmers, which was aided by swimming fast out of the gate for the first 100 or so arm cycles. Starting out at a moderate pace last year led to being swamped by a pack, so I figured it was going to involve some flailing one way or another. My swim seems to get a minute slower per year, probably as my build trends away from that of a lifter/ex-boxer/martial artist to that of a triathlete. And if I may whine for a second: For all the time I spent in the pool as a kid, I’m surprised this is all I have to show for it in triathlon swim terms. But distance freestyle was my second worst event… Whatever. An Ironman is a marathon with an inordinately and hazardously long warmup, with the swim being the part where you warm up all the wrong muscles first.
T1: 3:45. Decent, given how long we had to run to get through it.
Bike: 4:56:11. 2nd in age group off the bike. Right where I'd need to be to have a shot at Kona. Pacing was solid, if not just slightly overcooked. 15-20 mph headwinds going up the grade on laps 2-3 made things slower, and turned my strategy from “flat course” to “hilly course”: slightly more wattage on uphills; slightly less on downhills. For fellow numbers geeks, Overall NP was 235W, IF 0.72. Most of that was on laps 1-2.5, where NP was 240W, and AP was 236. The wind was so strong on the way back to T2 that I pretty much coasted the last half lap. Power was on the higher end of the recommended range, but what might have been excessive was my propensity to push harder into the wind, and to push harder on the first half of lap three just so I could be done pedaling into the wind sooner. On numerous occasions, I had to yank my own choke chain and slow down. I felt badly for the folks I passed who were only on their second lap, and would have to come back into the wind a third time. The whole way, I seemed to be behind in hydration, and gulped down water as much as possible. Unfortunately, I also gulped down air, which led to a bloated abdomen that was probably most of my demise on the run.
T2: 1:55. It could've been a few seconds faster, but I think I was savoring not pedaling any more.
Run: 20.4 miles in 3:23. Five weeks of injuries made me start the run with a “let’s see how far I can go” mindset, as opposed to a “finish at all costs” mentality, even though the calf and hip gave me zero problems. My guts were bloated and churning from the get-go, which was frustrating, because I’ve been working on this historical problem for a couple years. A porta-potty stop at mile 5 helped some, but it never really got better. Some of it might have been bike pacing, but some was definitely bloat from swallowing air.
Negative self-talk was incessant, and I worked on myself to get through every mile and not quit. I kept going because I was still managing to push out some good miles, and managing to process water and IM Perform without it backing up in my stomach too much. At about mile 13, the fade kicked in. I pushed through to mile 17, past the spot where the family was waiting to cheer me on (thanks, gang!!!). Karen told me I was still in contention, but my body was telling me otherwise. At this point, I decided I would push through to the finish barring complete collapse. I ran another mile and switched to “rescue” mode: walk the aid stations, drink 2 waters and 2 cokes at each, run between them as much as possible. The coke was not de-fizzed as it usually is, which led to some really vile projectile belching that would have been pretty funny to watch if I hadn’t been the one doing it. So I switched back to IM perform and water.
About a mile later, I had to walk between aid stations. My body temp started dropping: when I reflexively poured water on my head at the next aid station, I actually felt cold. At the mile 20 aid station, I stopped at the porta-potty to deal with bloating and nausea. By the time I was done, I was wet, shivering, and feeling no better in GI terms. There was no reason to think this was going to go in the right direction before I got seriously hypothermic, so I hung it up. Medics checked me out; aid station volunteers kept me in the warm clothing, IM Perform, and potato chips (thanks!!!), and I eventually got a golf cart ride halfway to transition. The ride was a whole series of misadventures, but that’s another story…
In spite of the occasional self-recriminations for not finishing, I'm overall pleased with this race. This was a solid step in the direction of qualifying for Kona. My strategy out of the gate was not to pace it evenly (and slowly given recent injuries) in order to finish, but to do what I needed to be in World Championship contention for as long as I could. And I was in the hunt for most of the race, and would’ve been right in it to the finish line were it not for aforementioned issues. I think the dietary contribution to bloating has been successfully eliminated. It seems that all that separates me from Kona/podium is a little more run endurance, and just not swallowing so much air. This doesn’t sound insurmountable, which is what it seemed like as recently as this past Saturday. Despite the result, I’m much more confident that I’m capable of pulling off Kona sooner rather than later.
...And now, it’s ski season. Bring on the snow!!