“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
I need a W today. That is what I texted Brady just before heading down to the swim start and it was frankly an understatement. Not an overall win of course, but a personal victory. Just 7 weeks earlier I posted an abysmal finishing time at Ironman Boulder. I felt like I was pretty fit, but until I could post the numbers at a race to back it up, it was all just talk. The training, the fitness, it means nothing until you back it up at a race. Another bad race would really make me wonder what all the work and sacrifice had been for this year and I did not want to dwell on that all winter long.
The race got off on the wrong foot when at 6:30 AM while reviewing my travel info as I headed out the door to catch my flight, I realized my hotel for Ironman MARYLAND was in Easton (that’s good. Easton is one town over in Maryland) but this was Easton PENNSYLVANIA (That is definitely not good). I had no time to fix it before heading out, so my plane landed and I literally had no place to stay and all of metro-Cambridge was sold out. Melanie made some calls and found a very small room at the America’s Best Value Inn that they “don’t normally rent”. No fridge. No microwave. Hey, no problem! I had a room!
Next on the panic list was when I couldn’t find the clamp that holds my seat post in place. For an hour the day before the race I freaked and had visions of not being able to race or at best racing on a borrowed bike….and Cambridge doesn’t have any tri shops renting high performance bikes. I finally found the clamp in my frame itself where it had fallen during transport. I was filled with joy once again. However, I went right from that to noticing several teeth on my front chain ring had bent over, like a wilted flower, likely from some friendly TSA agents inspecting my rig. The bike wasn’t ridable like this. Tick tock!! The race was in 16 hours and bike check-in closed in 2! A quick trip to Ace hardware and a metal file allowed me to file down the affected teeth so I could ride the bike. Another crisis averted. I was starting to feel like this race just wasn’t meant to be which is never how you want to feel 12 hours before the race!
But fortunately, that was the last thing that would go wrong.
Race morning was super smooth. I exchanged fist bumps with Wylie and made my way to the start. There had been few bumps in the road, but at that moment there were no excuses. It was just me vs. 140.6 miles.. The horn sounded and the human washing machine commenced. I generally don’t mind the initial sorting out of the swim and I stayed relaxed and let the current of a wave of swimmers pull me along initially. I have done many races in this river and know it’s generally choppy with currents and ultimately a slow swim and there is no sense to fight it. I stayed conservative on the first loop so I would have some gas on the second. I had “let” a couple swimmers go which was hard, but it ultimately paid off as some of them came back to me on the second loop. Got to give props to white cap guy who pulled me on the second loop and navigated a masterful course through the sea of first lappers. The swim time was slower than normal, but it was a top 10 swim which I am pretty sure is a first for me at an Ironman race. Full disclosure, there was no pro field, but we don’t have to dwell on that. Let me have my moment!
The bike. Oh, the bike. Sea level and flatness is a glorious thing to a 200lb mile high living guy. It has been a while since I have mounted my steed and felt that good at the first pedal stroke. The miles just flew by initially. It was fun being up at the front of the race for 40 miles or so. I even made it into the ironman.com leaderboard at mile 40 of the bike, another first! But eventually a power train of cyclists came rumbling by. I thought I’d give it a go to pace off them, saw what the power numbers said and went right back to what I had been doing. Those guys were several clicks better than I was. By the midway point fatigue was setting in and I was trying to sort out in my head whether I was fading or I just need a caffeinated gel and a big swig of hardenthefuckup. I rode alone for about 20 miles and watts tailed off. A few guys came by and I saw the most blatant unabashed drafting I have ever seen in 14 years of racing triathlon. I watched a guy 12 inches off the wheel in front of him looking back every 15 or 20 seconds to see if a marshal was coming. After about 5 minutes I just had to say something. I usually ignore the drafting I see because I just don’t need the negative energy, but for the integrity of the sport I just had to confront this guy. It went like this:
Me: [pull alongside him] Dude, what are you doing?
Him: I’m just resting my legs.
Me: No you’re not. Your f%!&*ing cheating.
Him: I just needed a break.
Me: Well, get the heck off his wheel and doing it legal like everyone else!
He blew up and went on to post a slower marathon time than his bike time. So yeah, karma is a bitch, bro.
But all of that in the end got me motivated again and I was able to lift the watts back up and finish feeling really good, only dropping a few couple minutes between loops 1 and 2. I narrowly missed breaking 5 hours for first time which would have been a nice mental trophy, but as they say…bike for show, run for the dough, so I can’t be trying to shoot for meaningless race stats….even though I sort of did
In T-2 I swapped my tri jersey for a running singlet and a “2001 Reston Triathlon” headband. Why? I’m not sure, but I did look pretty sweet with my budding mustache. Think 80s John McEnroe with a dash of Brad Pitt.
I walked through the aid station right of transition to make sure I got everything I needed so I could start the run as prepared as possible. As I eased into my first few steps of the run, I was getting positive feedback that there was life in the legs. I cruised through the first few miles in an 8:20-30 pace which for me is good. I was actually having fun as I approach mile 8 and the end of loop 1 of the 3 loop course. It was hot so I popped 2 salt tabs about every 45 minutes and enjoyed the Perform and coke on the course in between. Everything checked out and I felt great.
At mile 10 things started to hurt. I still thought breaking 4 hours was a given and 3:45 was in reach. I crossed the midway point in about 1:55 and I could feel the struggle starting to set in. Up to this point, I had had one of my best Ironman races, but the real test lay (or is that supposed to be “laid”?? Not sure on that one) ahead. I still ran everything except the aid stations, but the definition of where the aid station actually ended expanded greatly. If I could look back and still see the aid station, I was technically still at the aid station. The duration of the walk increased and the pace of the run slowed. I was still holding it together, but my 8:30 had become 10s.
I chipped away at the miles and saw my 4 hour goal come and go. While that bothered me a bit, I still understood that I was going from a great race to a good one and not going from a good one to a bad one, and there was some comfort in that. There were still good things in play. There is a quarter mile slight downhill grade to the finish. They should make all finishes this way. I was pumped. It wasn’t a perfect race but more than anything I finally got to spit that horrible taste out of my mouth that had been there since IM Boulder.
I finished in 10:35 and up until the midway point of the run, I thought I would be close to if not under 10 hours. After a 3 year break from triathlon I was just 13.1 miles from perhaps my best Ironman. That’s a HARD 13.1, but at least I could quantify what was left to overcome. I’m getting closer.
Doing an Ironman without family tagging along has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that I could take my time recovering at the race because nobody was waiting for me. I laid (or is it “lay”?) in the grass for a good 45 minutes and downed 4 bottles of chocolate milk. I made my way to the chow tent and spent another 45 minutes chatting with other finishes.
Along the way I ended up buying an electrical muscle stimulator at the expo because it seemed like I could use one of those at that moment. On my way to collect my gear I chatted with spectators and miraculously fought off an offer for a chair a Corona. I was clearly not myself!! I was certain I would never leave that chair if I sat down! I collected my gear, hit up McDonald’s on the way home for a few cheeseburgers and the Wawa for some Aleve. I went back to my tiny room and put the feet up, plugging in the muscle stimulator, popped on some headphones and drifted off. Actually, I’m lying. I drank two beers, cramped up repeatedly and ate cheeseburgers from a lying (laying?) down position like a fat slob. But you can sort of do whatever you want after an Ironman, so don’t hate!