If last year was an adventure, then this year was a mission. Last year was about finishing and the extraordinary sense of accomplishment accompanied with my 12:59:20 finish. A glorious finish by any measure. This year was about focus, diligence, and finishing 11:59 or better – knocking a full hour off of my time. I put everything I had into the last six months.
To get to a sub-12:00, I estimated:
0:14 transitions (same as last year)
1:15 swim (same as last year)
6:30 bike (20 minutes faster)
4:00 marathon (40 minutes faster)
The bike and swim seemed most reasonable and I secretly felt I could do better on the swim. If all went well, I could be on the bike 1:15 which would buy me time for the run. On the bike, I bought George this year, had an aero-helment, lost about 15 pounds and was a better all-around cyclist. I thought that should buy me 20 minutes (or more). The marathon was much more optimistic goal. I’d been running 8:30 off the bike in training and figured that a 9:07 was a generous fall back time to get to 4:00. But still, I knew this was aggressive.
I don’t enjoy doing triathlons. I enjoy finishing them. It’s not fun to be in pain, especially in this distance because you know how long it will persist. I see people smiling along the race course and it doesn’t make sense to me. In exceptional moments, laughter is the best medicine, but generally speaking smiling is for liars and fools. Hours expire quickly. It’s the minutes that take you into a black hole of time. And for these reasons, I went into this year’s Ironman Coeur d’Alene deciding that this would be my last for a while so I’d better make it good.
Exceedingly more organized this year, I had my transition bags, special needs bag, and bike checked in early Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning was about filling my nutrition bottles getting mentally relaxed. I was awake at 4:00am, breakfast and coffee, stretch at 4:15, pack my bags at 4:30, out the door at 4:45. My written schedule dictated every movement since Friday.
After getting marked, I popped in the bike area for a last tire check and to fill my nutrition bottles. I hit the power button on Garmin. Nothing happened. Hit it again. Blank screen. Really. You just can’t make up this stuff.
“Lena!” I yelled, looking through the steel fence for her. “Lena!” I was back and forth along the fence like a pounded dog. “Lena!” Found her. “My Garmin is dead. It won’t turn on. I had it plugged in all night but must not have connected it to the wall.” It was around 5:30. Getting the Garmin home would give me about 2 hours of charge before I could pick it up on the bike course. Lena was now in control – called her dad to pick it up. As for me, it was business as usual. To my transition bags for a last few items then to the grass to wait.
A few minutes later, Lena called to check on progress. The Garmin wasn’t charging. Then I remembered – it might need a manual reset. (This happening randomly to me earlier this Spring during training.) Droid does. Found the forum post explaining what to do and relayed directions over the phone. Whew. – Garmin was charging. We planned to do a hand-off either on mile 2 or 14 on the way out or back from the Lake Couer D’Alene spur.
(If you’ve not done a long-distance race, you’re wondering – why the heck does he care so much about a stupid Garmin. Isn’t the course marked? Garmin shows time and speed, but more importantly, it displays heart rate – the key metric for knowing how hard to push at any one time on the course. Nearly every Ironman athlete uses one, some in tandem with a power meter.)
Never a dull moment…
Nauseous (noun): The severance of the space-time continuum during the period after which you don your wetsuit and 6:59:59 AM.
Through the timing gates and to the beach with 2500 others. I lined up inside left like last year and could see the countdown clock. While everyone else stood around me, I sat on the cold sand to stay calm, trying to avoid burning unnecessary calories. Before every race, I tell myself – “Patience. Persistence. Perseverance.”
Boom! Lots more contact than last year. Don’t know why but it took a good 2-3 buoys to find any real opening to swim. Once I got going, I felt strong and smooth. Lap 1 done. Out of the water, on the beach, back in the water. My split time was just under 35 minutes. Good news. Even with a 40 minute second lap I’d be right at last year’s time of 1:15.
Lap 2 was going along swimmingly. First turn. Second turn. Cramp! Holy crap. My right calf stiffened right when I was about 2/3 finished emptying bladder and on the final stretch of the swim. So there I am around mile 1.9 of the swim – arm-stroking, peeing, cramping, and laughing about it simultaneously. (See? I can have some sense of humor out there.) It worked itself out and I paddled to shore. There’s a tall single tree that stands out in the distance on shore that I remembered from last year – it was a nice comfort to see it and swim to it all over again.
Out of the water in 1:09+. Gave myself a little first pump and started thinking about getting out of transition and on the bike by 1:15 for some bonus time.
64/357 age group
Swim-to-bike transition as George Costanza
I locked in on a couple of pink-shirts and plopped to the ground. The two girls helping me couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16 years old. They grabbed the bottom of my wetsuit and with impressive strength, yanked my wetsuit to my ankles, taking along my tri-suit with it. Let me repeat that – taking along my tri-suit with it.
Well, let’s just say that if this was these young ladies’ first experience up close and personal with a man’s private parts, they will be considerably more delighted and impressed in their second. They must have been thinking – “Really? That’s it?” The water was very cold.
After redressing and retrieving my transition bag, I ran through to the back of the transition tent. (This was part of the plan. Everyone plops on the first seat they see so there’s little space in the front and too few volunteers per athlete. In the back, there were volunteers sitting idle.)
As I dressed, I shivered a bit and my skin was still wet. Made it tough for putting on arm-warmers. A volunteer took control. He yelled – “Lean against me!” I put my arm to his chest and he unrolled the arm warmer like pantyhose on my arm. I seized my PBJ and drank my pre-made Perpetuem mix (I wrote “DRINK ME” all over the bottle so I’d remember to imbibe the 400 calories mixed therein. It’s hard to think straight was the chaos and cold. I did forget the 2 Clif Bars I had ready for the ride.)
Out of the changing tent, I wound around the left side of the orange steel fence to keep from dodging bikes, grabbing George and off we went. Out of transition at 1:17. Slow but not horrible. I gave back 2 minutes I hoped I’d earned as bonus. I immediately wondered if that was going to cost me later…
The first objective was rescuing my Garmin. Wound through downtown and there was Lena wearing her distinctive blue hat and my yellow cycling jacket. I waved my arms and slowed. The hand-off was perfect. I put the Garmin in my back pocket then 1/2 mile around the corner pulled over to strap it on to George. I counted the seconds out loud to see what this would cost me. Got to 22 and I was off and running. I wondered if that would cost me later…
I rode this first spur a couple of times during the week so I knew exactly where I should be with speed and heart rate – very comforting. It was also time to lock into my nutrition plan. I had 2 Clif bars in my Bento box, the PBJ, and a full tank of Perpetuem in my Speedfil. A bite of solid food every 15 minutes washed down with water and a swig of Perpetuem 7.5 minutes after that. Repeat this process 25 or so times over the next 6.5 hours.
After the first turnaround, you pass the mile 10 marker which is a nice feeling of accomplishment. In your mind you think – only 100 to go!
Yes, it was chilly but not cold. Before the first aid station I finished my first tank of water from my frontmount, grabbed another water bottle and re-filled. My hydration strategy was to repeat this process for each of the 10 aid stations along the bike course. The objective is 1 liter per hour. That would give me 10 pints of water – about 5 liters over 6.5 hours.
Passing back through town. The course winds left and right – sort of like a crit race, except hopefully without the crashes. Once you hit a last right hand turn, it’s north for the next couple of hours for the first loop.
Winds were W-SW which meant a nice little tail wind during the gradual ascent to the eventual rollers near Hayden Lake that begin around mile 25. As I crept closer to this part of the course, it was time to begin thinking about my first on-the-bike bladder relief. Got through the first couple of hills then found a nice descent where I could coast and think about waterfalls. Yes, this is gross. This is Ironman. I wondered how much time I’d save by deploying this strategy…
Had an almost-moment of panic a few miles down the road. Coming down another long descent later, there’s a quick right turn onto Ohio Match Road. Lots of bike traffic around me with racers gaining speed. I usually descend faster than others because I’m bigger than most others and I had to cut to the inside when another cyclist ahead went wide. I swept to the inside and whipped around the corner. Nice having a performance ride. :–)
On the last 10-12 mile stretch heading back to town, I found lots of racers flying by me finishing this first loop. I figured they:
A) were crappy swimmers
B) were really good cyclists
C) didn’t pay attention to their heart rate monitors
I found another racer up ahead that was moving nice and smooth. I caught up and saw the ’57’ on her calf. Figuring I’m about as fast as a 57-year old woman on the bike, I knew I was at the right pace. I let her pace me back to town to conserve energy. My split time was about 3:08 which felt a little fast and it devilishly got me thinking about a 6:15 bike. That would be fantastic but too fast. Logic took over and instead I set on a 3:20 second half for a a 6:30 split. With the bonus 5 minutes I picked up on the swim, a 6:30 would mean I’d need “only” 4:10 marathon to get me the sub-12:00.
As we reached town, my bladder screamed again, but there’s no privacy for the next 20 miles of the course. As I worked out to the spur, I jumped off the bike and into the bushes. I counted aloud again and got over ’60’ before getting back on the bike. That’s a minute gone. Ugh.
A mile later I decided to grab my special needs bag. I went through my 2 Clif bars and my Speedfil was down to 1/3. Stuffed the 2 extra Clif bars in my pocket and grabbed my water bottle with Perpetuem powder. At the next aid station, I grabbed two waters – one for my frontmount and one for my back pocket. Coming back to the neighborhood stretch on Mullin Road, I deftly poured water into my water bottle, mixed, then filled my Speedfil. Kind of felt like Maverick there – “You were flying a Mig-32 inverted in a negative G dive…” (Lena has a great picture of this.)
When I hit the next loop of hills, my legs were feeling it. Fatigue, low power. Just focused on heart rate on the way up, tucking on the way down. Later in the second loop, I saw a crash. A racer took a left-hand turn after a long descent too quickly, ended up kissing a parked car on the corner. Faced bloodied, sitting there in a state of disbelief. All I could do was wish him well and be thankful that wasn’t me.
As I polished off the last hill and mile 100 on the bike, the last 12 miles meant being patient on the bike and thinking about the run. It’s easy to push hard in these miles because you’re excited to finish and thinking about shaving a few minutes on your time, but after 6 hours on the bike, upping your speed from 17.5 to 18.5 mph only saves you about 3 minutes in 10 miles. Blasting your legs for those 3 minutes can easily cost you 30 minutes or more on the run. That’s why you stay patient.
Finished off the bike in 6:25 so I was in good shape to maintain my race plan.
148th age group (man I suck as a cyclist…)
Nothing eventful here except I got out in just over three minutes. Hopped off the bike, grabbed my Garmin, to the tent, changed socks and shoes, slapped on my belt and I was off. Until a volunteer asked where my racing number bib was. It was caught up in my running belt, so I yanked it to the front and ripped a corner, which meant taking 20 seconds to fasten on the extra bib from my transition bag. No way those 20 seconds could possibly make a difference in my day, right?
In my training, I was able to consistently pump out 8:15-8:30 miles in brick workouts after long rides. I knew I couldn’t keep an 8:30 pace for the 26.2 miles, so my plan was to scale back to an 8:30-8:45 after 1-2 miles, then drop to 9:00 when needed, then to a 9:10-9:20, then to a 9:30-9:45. This would give me some buffer and a target 4:00 marathon and average pace of 9:07. For each mile I ran sub-9:07, that was time in the bank for a 4:00 marathon. With the six minutes I picked up on the swim, two on the bike, and three in transitions, I thought about a 11:45 time and blowing away my 11:59 target.
(BTW – there’s an excellent article in the recent Lava magazine about hitting target times. In short, to break 12 hours, you need to be prepared to do a 11:30 race. I knew I wasn’t there, but I did tell Lena that if I had a perfect race, I could go low, thinking about a 11:45 time.)
Once out of the transition, the legs felt much heavier than usual. Made sense – I just did a hard 112 miles on the bike, plus there’s a little uphill as you cruise past the downtown crowd. In training, my run legs opened up after 1/2 mile. I heard a woman in crowd say – “It’s about 2:50.” Then another woman said – “It’s 2:53.” Why does this matter? Simple math. I needed to run slightly better than a 4:10 to hit my time goal. I “only” had to run a 4:10 marathon…
Well, 1/2 mile came and went. A mile came and went. Legs still heavy. Heavier than I ever felt them in any training run. My back was aching from the bike and my bladder was calling again. I was running 8:53s already. I decided to pit stop at the first aid station to empty and stretch on the ground. Man, this was going to be a long march if I couldn’t pick up my pace, because I already knew that if I was at this pace now, my second 13.1 miles would be into the 10:00 range and I’d miss my goal time.
The night before the race, I told Lena that if she saw me at the corner of Mullin Road at 3:00, I was in great shape. If at 3:15, then I was right on target. If after 3:15, I’d have tears in my eyes. I wasn’t sure what time it was when I got there, but later she told me that I didn’t look good. Turned out to be 3:11. I was already just hanging on with 24+ miles to go.
As I shuffled through most of the first leg, it was all about keeping light quick steps, mentally at least. Coach Kevin talked about how the first 13.1 miles should feel like a light jog, the next 6.3 would be considerably more difficult, and the last 6.2 should feel indescribably horrible. I tried to keep that perspective. As I hit the big hill before the first turnaround at mile 5, I imagined being a quarter horse. I was looking for a pacer and found a couple to get me up the hill. Descended to the turnaround then back up and over. As I hit mile 8, I saw that my pace had slowed to 9:07 miles. Ugh. That’s okay, if I can keep this pace for a while, I’ll be fine. By mile 11, I was fading to a 9:11-9:12 pace. I planned to use Cola only if needed for extra punch in the last stretch. I started reaching early.
By the turnaround at mile 13.1, I had exactly a 2 hour split, meaning I’d need better than a 2:10 second half to get home. I started thinking about those places where I gave up minutes and seconds. My legs went from “heavy but tolerable” to “in pain” with my quad muscles grinding against each other. I thought about how this leg was supposed to be “considerably more difficult.” Yes, it would be.
At mile 19 before the hill climb, I was slowing more and more. My pace was down to 9:33. I found a female racer to pace me up the hill. Chugging up the hill. Found pacers and they were usually women. Even at mile 20, I held to hope. I was 3:10 into the run, and figuring that with 6.2 miles to go, that if I could run slightly better than 10:00 miles, I’d get there. As I moved back towards town, shuffling through aid stations and markers in the path, I worked to increase my pace but I couldn’t shake the 9:33 pace.
It’s a tough conversation to have with yourself – that I had to accept that I just wouldn’t get there in time. I’d still try for a final push in the fading miles, but I began to focus the pride of finishing. A 12:05 time showed huge improvement over last year. It conflicts with the spirit of Ironman, but I tasted bitterness considering a post-12 hour time. I started wondering if this would be it for me. Is this really my last Ironman? I couldn’t foresee pushing myself through another year of training and thousands of dollars just to scrape up 5 more minutes. Race day conditions were perfect. I trained about as hard as I realistically could have.
(What I discovered after the race was that my Garmin was set to should TOTAL average pace, not CURRENT pace. What that means is that I wasn’t running 9:33 miles like I thought – I was running slower and slower as the race wore on – that’s why my pace times moved so slowing and held at 9:33. In that thrid leg before turning from home, I was running 9:45, 10:00, and 10:00+ miles. Time never slows. There are no short cuts. Here is my mile by mile splits. You can see how I got progressively slower:
Yes, I was getting pretty slow for the 7 miles from 13 to 19. And worse, I didn’t even realize it.)
Getting to mile 23, I’d been able to keep a steady pace on the flats and I saw that I had 30 minutes to go 3.2 miles. That last 0.2 plays an awful trick on you. I’m pretty decent with numbers, but doing long division after moving constantly for 11 hours – I might as well been trying to take an integral of an imaginary number. But even with the enormous doubts that had taken over my psyche, I reached for cautious optimism.
For this last stretch, I found a rabbit – a smaller guy that had some bounce to his step. If I could keep him within eye shot, maybe I had a chance. He started pulling away. But, running down the last small descent past mile 23, I managed to move my pace time from 9:33 to 9:32. Less than 3 miles to go and something in me pressed harder. Instinct, I think.
My mind worried about cramping or pushing too hard too soon. Just focus on small goals. Turn this corner. Get to the straightaway on Mullin. Turn left – get into the neighborhood. Turn left then right down by the mansions.
Somewhere here, I tried to think of negative motivators – people who said didn’t I have it. People who thought I was too ambitious trying to knock an hour from last year’s time. Instead, I found myself motivated by positives. My friends at home watching the race, following me. Thinking about how this was going to make for a great story if I could somehow, someway break 12 hours.
My pace picked up some more. Legs were holding – no cramps. Push, push, push. Don’t get there 30 seconds late with regrets. Push harder. This was it. Push harder. One rest station to go. I remembered last year’s Ironman where Chris McCormack skipped the last station and won. I felt like I was running 8:30s but my Garmin showed 9:32. One more left, then a small incline, then a right. Last stretch before the final left onto the long straightaway to the gate. I made the turn and the finishing gate looked like a distant oasis. I couldn’t see the clock until I pulled closer. Finally, I could barely make it out. I saw a “12–” then I blinked and looked again. No!
My eyes tricked me! The clock read “11:59:25” with about 150 yards to go. My pace turned into a sprint. 31, 32, 33… Time never stops. I hit the final chute as the clock clicked to 42, 43. One last sprint past my rabbit and through the gate at 11:59:47. I pointed to the clock as I crossed and yelled in relief. It’s over! I made it with 12 seconds to spare.
And you thought last year was close… Here’s the video of the finish as I’m going through the finishing gate.
And post race:
Here are my final 7.4 mile splits I have no idea where that extra 0.2 came from, but it meant running an extra 2-3 minutes to get there in time.
27 07:34 (0.4 miles)
My actual race pace was a 9:27 mile. The Ironman website results include your bike-to-run transition time in the calculation that shows a 9:34 pace.
99th age group (a top 100!)
A volunteer grabbed me and asked if I was okay. I just smiled. Elation. Pure elation. I started looking for Lena and spotted her blue hat. “I made it! 11:59:47!” That was an incredible moment to share. We hugged and kissed a couple of times, then I hugged her Mom and Dad. (Later she told me that she looked at my split time at the last turnaround and knew my chances of making it were pretty minute. She was in the bleachers watching the clock click along – 11:55, 11:56, 11:57, 11:58, 11:59… already preparing what to say if I didn’t make it. It wasn’t until I told her that she knew.)
I walked over to the fence on the other side and found Coach Kevin. Same as Lena. He saw my splits and realized I’d need to run my fastest 7 miles of the day to get there and didn’t think I’d make it.
I love it when people doubt me. They had good reason to doubt. I had my own. It’s fun to surprising. :–)
Last year I thought about all the places that saved 39 seconds to break 13 hours. This year? It’s laughable to try this exercise for a measly 12 seconds. Those 12 seconds didn’t come from any one place or action – they came from six months of training – every extra mile I rode on my bike around my neighborhood after every ride, every gram of protein I ate and sugar I avoided, following every training session Coach Kevin set up and devouring every race-day tip I could consume.
Later that night, I went back to the finish line to watch a few of the 16-hour finishers come through. 62-year old women, 75-year old men. Young men with heat blankets draped on their shoulders. Ironman rubs you raw – emotionally, mentally, physically.
I love the Ironman challenge but I have Ironman fatigue. Ironman provided an opportunity for me to set and achieve a goal, and I’ve taken advantage. Twice. It’s time to move on (for now…). My sense of accomplishment is not defined by a single event. I’m pretty banged up – mostly immobile on Monday and Tuesday. I wobbled getting up from sitting and my right calf and hamstring still give me a limp five days later – time for a rest.
Someone asked me how long the buzz lasts. The answer? At least a couple of days, but it never really leaves you.
What’s next? I’ve registered for the Rock ‘n River 50-mile ultramarathon that’s a qualifier for the Western States 100. (Need to finish the 50 miles in under 11 hours to qualify.)
To my parents – You learned how to text just so you could keep up with me on race-day. That says enough. :–) You’ve never asked me why I do these things, you’ve just asked how. Thank you.
To Nina and Paul – thank you for being there on race-day. It’s fun to watch your amazement and admiration for all 2500 of us out there.
To Bernhard – thanks for letting me tag along on training rides. Seeing you out there on Cantelow and Cardiac made those nasty 6 hour rides slightly more tolerable this Spring. You’re a great roommate too – glad we shared the place in CDA.
To Keith & Susan – thanks for keeping our kitties alive. I’m glad you like organic veggies because I’m not sure what else we have to trade with you.
To Coach Kevin and Triforce – Wow. In two months time, you gave me the restructuring in my training program that got me over the top. Those two-hour trainer sessions, mid-week bricks and high-intensity swim workouts majorly suck sometimes, but they absolutely made the difference. Equally, the preparation and strategy advice gave me the experience to manage myself through the final stages of preparation and race-day. Watching you run past me on the run (as you were on your second loop and as I was starting my first) gave me a nice boost to know I wasn’t out there alone. I’m baffled how someone can be so fast with a smile on their face. Congratulations on your finish.
And most of all, to Lena, my wife. She’s incredible for persisting and supporting me in these crazy endeavors. I love you. We joke about being married for 100 years, but I hope we both live to be a 1000 so we have that much longer together. Every day of my life is better in every way because of you.
Because I’m asked, here’s what I consumed race-day. According to Garmin, I burned about 14,000 calories on the bike and run. I figure another 1000 on the swim.
* Triple espresso
* Toasted Bagel with peanut butter and jelly
* Greek yogurt with blueberries and granola
* 1/2 Clif bar with water as I was shuffling through the timing gate to the beach.
* 4-5 Clif bars (1350 calories)
* 25 scoops of Perpetuem in my Speedfil (3400 calories)
* 2 Endurolytes every 45 minutes
* 5-6 liters water
* 3/4 Almond butter & Jelly sandwich. First began eating at mile 75. Ate some more around mile 100. (400 calories)
Notes: I was able to keep my nutrition pace pretty well. Around 3.5 to 4 hours on the bike, I found myself slacking to the point where I yelled at myself aloud – “Scott – you HAVE to keep eating!” I started with 2 Endurolytes every hour, but moved to 2 per 45 minutes as the day heated up.
* 2-3 Clif Bars (~600 calories)
* 2 Espresso Hammer Gels (~200 calories)
* Water at every aid station
* Cola every 2-3 stations starting around mile 10 or 11
* Perpetuem in my running belt (4 bottles with 400 calories each)
* Switched out my bottles in my special needs bag with two new bottles but I didn’t drink most of these refills
* 2 Endurolytes every 30 minutes.
Notes: This was ghastly. My Perpetuem bottles were hot from sitting in my transition bag and even hotter when I switched them out for the refills in my special needs bag. After 4-5 Clif Bars on the bike, forcing another down your throat gets awfully tough, but I did. (Another shout out to Coach Kevin for that.) I packed multiple flavors of Clif Bars to give myself variety throughout the day. That helped some. By the last few miles, I was popping 2 Endurolytes every 15-20 minutes. I’m sure this made no difference in performance. I was just reaching for anything that would give me a boost.