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The Chesapeake Ironman distance race takes place in Cambridge, MD which is pretty far away from where I currently live in Boulder, CO. This meant I would be doing this race without my support crew (Melanie) who opted to stay behind with her 33 week pregnant self. I travelled to the east coast Thursday and crashed with tribud Brady and the Dehoust clan. The race was Saturday and we made the drive from Northern Virginia Friday morning and get our registration on at the race site.
We were up a 4:30 a.m. on race morning and out the door shortly after 5. Breakfast was two pieces of bread with peanut butter and honey, a banana, Ensure and some coffee. I think I took a bite of an apple in there somewhere but it’s all sort of a blur. I just kept fishing food out of my pocket all morning long and eating it. With such a small race and racking the bikes the day before, I was almost looking for things to do on race morning. I took a mag into the porta potty just to kill time (relax all you bitter port-a-loo line waiters, I am kidding). The energy when they played the national anthem “got me” as it usually does at these things. Everybody stops and all the energy that was individually flying all over the place suddenly has a singular focus. It’s a goose bumps moment for sure. I posed for a final photo with Brady and Ted and headed to the water for the 7:00 a.m. sharp start.
I found a spot near the front and Brady and Scott were right behind. I think Scott’s plan was to try to stay on my feet around the course – which would prove to be a terrible, terrible plan. I was not the guy you wanted to follow today. When the gun fired, the water turned into a frothy mess of arms and legs. I did not anticipate this with a relatively small field, but as I saw some folks charging hard, I remembered that most of the competitors where either doing the Aquavelo (just the swim and bike) or just a swim (as part of a relay or the “Swimfest”). So the intensity was very high for many people. I fell back much farther and quicker than I anticipated. The conditions were choppy but seemed manageable……at least until we made a U-turn around the far buoy. The swells were coming at us now and we were going right into the sun. I had a really difficult time sighting and fighting through the rough seas. I actually followed Scott around the course so props to him for helping me through. I never found a rhythm and existed in a fairly disappointing 1:01 which is my slowest IM swim ever by four minutes and nearly ten minutes below my goal. This was possibly the roughest and toughest IM swim which accounts for part of the time, but I still could have done better. I was less than pleased heading into T-1.
T-1 was smooth and I gave stuffing the wetsuit back into the transition bag the old college try before handing it to the nearest volunteer with a “can you??? Thanks”. As soon as I stepped out of the tent I realized the arm warmers I was holding wouldn’t be necessary so they went right into the jersey pocket. It was cool, but the sun was out so it made for a beautiful day to race. As I left the transition area a guy shouted out “You’re 7th!” Man, I had hoped to be doing better than that after the swim. I asked “but how am I doing for just the full individual IM?” He said “that’s what I meant….7th!”. Eesh.
As planned, I came out pretty aggressive in the 270 wattage range. The game plan was to test that out and see if it felt sustainable. On a flat course, you are MOVING if you are kicking out those watts and I felt like I was flying. I picked up a number of people very quicky and felt rather studlisome. I didn’t realize it at the time, but around the 20 mile mark, I past the individual IM race leader who was a 16 year old kid who swam a 48! I kept checking my effort and I knew I was going hard but things still felt ok. The course was very windy which nullified my hopes of a truly killer bike split and created some really tough spots. Flat is fast, but flat also means you quick go to zero mph if you stop pedaling. It’s like doing an IM on a bike trainer – no coasting!
I had 10 gels tapped to my aerobars and alternated between caffeinate Accel Gels on the left and non caffeinated Powergels on the right every 30 minutes. In the middle of the first half of the bike I downed an Ensure and over the second half I nibbled a Cliff bar. In the end, I took in about 400 cals per hour. Although it was fairly cool, I was still sweating and supplemented with 2 Endurolytes every hour. The human machine was fueled, lubed and fit for racing.
The only real bike snafu is when I noticed my saddle bag was dangling off my seat post. While riding I manage to remove it, and squeeze in my race jersey, but to create space I ended up holding my Endurolytes, Cliff bar and arm warmers in my hand for a few hours which wasn’t really part of the plan. Fortunately that’s as close as I came to a mechanical.
I made it through the halfway point at 2:30 wheel time and 268 watts. I felt good. I knew I was getting tired, but I felt like I could hold the effort without digging too deep. I slammed a Red Bull through specials needs and took off for the final loop. At about mile 80 the fatigue started to settle in and I realized I needed to back off and figure out how best to manage the final 32 miles. I played mental games and offered myself a “stretch reward” when I would hit a certain mile marker. I changed positions, got out of the saddle and focused on using different muscles at different times. Having literally no chances to give your legs some time to recover turned out to be extremely draining. I really struggled the last hour and my watts faded considerably. It wasn’t a blow up, but it definitely was a slow up. I kept telling myself to do what I needed between now and T-2 to be in the best possible shape to run a marathon.
I pulled into T-2 with a 5:04 ride time having averaged 262 watts. The watts took a nosedive at the end, but it was still a 6 watt increase over my last IM 10 months ago. 6 watts over 5 hours is considerable. So, in the end I tried to push things a little early on and I found my limit. Well, I think it found me actually! But that’s what I wanted to do. I would have liked to have been strong at the end obviously, but I also didn’t want to finish the ride wondering if I left some time out the bike course.
Deidre was at the exit of T-1 and said “you’re first!” which was news to me at the time. With relays and aqua velos it’s hard to know where you are at so that gave me a nice little boost. The run was a flat 4.5 miles out and 4.5 miles back 3 times. It was a lonely road as I ran out, but it felt awesome that way. My pace was around a 7:45 to start. With the way the bike ended, I was very nervous about the run. Other than a brief bathroom stop I made it to the turnaround doing ok. But as soon as I made the turn I saw Brady about a hundred yards behind in second place and charging hard. We exchanged fist bumps headed in different directions and I knew the “pass” was inevitable. But heck, at this moment Brady and I were 1-2 in this race which his crazy cool. I headed back towards the transition and was waiting for the sounds of Brady’s 6:30/mile footsteps to appear behind me and then SHABOOKIE!!!. My right hammy gave me a big FU and locked up in a vicious cramp. I sort of ruined the moment of the “pass” by awkwardly standing there swearing to high heavens as Brady ran by offering a gel or salt tabs. But the pass was understandably more fun for Brady than for me so I don’t feel TOO bad about screwing it up. I feared my race was done – at least any chances of a good one. I told myself to take as long as I need NOW to try to figure this out rather than deal with it off and on for another 21 miles. I stretched and massaged and stretched and massaged. I walked then shuffled then ran. I took a number of Endurolytes and gradually felt more comfortable running over the next few miles. While I did stop to stretch it a few more times during the run, it was largely a nonissue after that which is HUGE with a capital HUGE (but you got that the first time).
You can never remember, imagine, envision, explain or plan for how hard an IM run is until you are doing it. Self doubt appears shortly after the euphoria of clearing one mile marker recedes and the realization of the remaining miles settles in. With my cramp, it was a matter of one single step that nearly destroyed my entire race. But any number of things are lurking to pummel you. Bad stomach, general fatigue, injury, mental fatigue and the list goes on. You have every reason in the world to quit and you need to find the one to go on. As I was finishing my first loop and realizing I had two loops left, the realization of how bad this would hurt was setting in and I was now fighting to push myself from one marker to the next.
The next two loops are largely a blur of race jerseys, Coke, Gatorade, volunteers and the rest of the race accessories. I just focused on one mile at time because when I thought of the entire marathon I began to doubt myself. A fast moving guy passed me to put me in 3rd place. He got about 15 yards ahead and stop and bent over towards the side of the road with his hands on his knees and mouth open. I repassed him and did not see him again until I had made the turn and was headed in the opposite direction. He was walking with eyes that said everything. In an instant, he suffered one of those things that’s turns the lights out of your race. He went from second place and a 6:30 mile to standing in the grass in a matter of steps. That’s the reality I was fighting. That’s the reality EVERYONE was fighting.
Not until I entered the track for the final 200 meters did I feel secure in my finish. But to come across the line in a new personal best time with two good friends Brady (who won it) and Ted (who finished 4th) waiting for me was truly a highlight of my racing thus far. I ended up 5th in 10:05 with a 3:55 marathon. I gave everything I had on the day.
After a massage, Brady and I headed back to the hotel and had a few beers and reminisced about the race. Fresh race-pain made for a restless night’s sleep, but that’s the greatest pain in the world. I remember thinking to myself as I laid in bed with aches all over, “This is good. This is real good.”