Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Iron Shuffle

How do you write about running and make it interesting?  I don't know if it's possible.

Riding into T2 (second transition area), I felt fresh.  Fresher than I have in any other Ironman, but I purposefully rode easier than I have at other Ironman's, as I knew I wasn't acclimated to the heat and I knew I'd need to keep a lot in the bank if I were going to try to run decent.  I rode at a power output that is about 20 watts lower than what I would ride in an IM race under better weather/temperature conditions.  In regards to the ride and the WTC's regulations of this world championship bike course, it's a bullshit ride now.  When I first raced here, there were 1400 athletes racing and it was a much cleaner and therefore truer ride.  Add 1000 more very high level triathletes to the course and you are going to have a peloton like bike ride.  Why not start the pro's at 6am, and then at 6:20am, start waves of age groupers with a rolling start?  This will help on a number of fronts; the swim will be less dangerous, the packs will be thinned out on the bike and you will have a much truer World Championship.  The results will look a lot different, I guarantee, and it will be a safer and cleaner race.  

The spectating crowds coming back into town are always uplifting.  The streets are lined with people cheering, yelling, giving you good mojo.  When I dismount my bike in any race, I always do a quick self assessment, and on this day, my legs felt really good.  They should though as, as I mentioned, I rode so that they would.  I glanced at my watch and did some quick math - if I ran well, I could beat my best time on this course, which I did 19 years prior!  Based on my training, I felt I could run under 3 hrs 12 minutes if there was cloud cover and cooler temperatures. I handed off my bike to the handlers and ran easily to the changing tent where I put on some socks and my running shoes, some fresh sunglasses and a headband, and exited T2 with two cups of Gatorade.  First thing I was thinking about on the run was where are Lisa and the kids?  One thing I have been doing in all my training runs and that I did here was that in the first mile, I do a butt kick drill where I kick my heel up far in the back as though trying to kick my heel to my butt.  I do my right leg, run a few strides, then my left leg, run a few strides, ... for the first mile.  This simple drill has loosened me up and more importantly set me up to run well.  The problem I'd soon encounter was that it wasn't my legs that I needed to deal with but temperature control. 

Maybe a third of the mile in, I spotted Lisa and the kids - my plan was to look good every time I saw them, no matter how I felt.  I gave them some high fives and headed out on Alii drive where you run four miles out, turnaround, run four miles back, then head up to the Queen K highway again.  I was running well, but very conservative.  It's always incredibly hot and humid on the Kona coast.  Most have no idea how hot and humid this coast is.  And with no winds, this was the hottest year of my ten years racing here.  One thing about this race is that even though there is  typically no rain, you are basically wet from the moment you get in the water until well after the race ends.  Those that change to different clothes in T2 in hopes of feeling fresh and clean for a bit, that lasts maybe 2 minutes onto the run course until you are soaked again from sweat.  Then, you take every approach you can to keep your core temperature down.  During an Ironman marathon, there is an aid station every mile.  The aid station is around 100 yards long and in Hawaii, it starts with volunteers handing out cold, wet sponges.  Then, the next five or six volunteers hand out water cups, then it's ice cups, then Gatorade, then coke, then food (well, gels, orange slices, ...), then Gatorade again, ice again, water and sponges.  As I ran though the first aid station, I grabbed cold sponges and wiped my face and squeezed them on my head.  Next, I'd grab water and take a sip then dump the rest on my head.  Then it was ice.  I'd take as many ice cups as possible, put as much in my mouth as I could, then dump the remainder down the front and back of my race kit.  Then I took in some coke and repeated the cooling process as I ran out of the aid station.  In an Ironman, you focus on running aid station to aid station.  You get used to running soggy, in drenched socks, squishy shoes, wet clothes.  That's the least of concerns. 

Along Alii Drive, I felt solid although I was beginning to feel the heat set in.  As the core temperature rises, there is little you can do besides stopping to get it down and under control.  I was still running well, although conservative.  I approached Palani Hill at mile eight and prior to the race, I had  warned Lisa that I was going to walk up this hill.  I wanted to keep my heart rate as low as possible for as long as possible.  This was the first time I walked on the course.  This would also be the last time I'd see Lisa and the kids until the finish line.  Once you get onto the Queen K highway at mile nine, there are no spectators besides the volunteers at each aid station, as the road is closed. 

For the next seven miles until I entered the Energy Lab, I'd run aid station to aid station but began walking through the aid station.  It was just so hot and I couldn't get my heart rate down now.  I lost my appetite, yet still tried to force in some coke or Gatorade at most aid stations.  I chewed on ice and used salt every mile, and continued my efforts of trying to cool off at every aid station.  Most around me were in the same boat.  Then, in the Energy Lab, things went from bad to worse.

They extended the time in the Energy Lab (an infamous part of the run course where you run down hill on a dead end street where there is a Natural Energy Laboratory, then turn around and have to run uphill and back out) from three to four miles.  As I was running out, uphill, around mile 18, I had to walk, and this broke my rule of only running the aid stations.  I was burning up.  I walked maybe a half a mile where Cliff Bar had a station set up - they had multiple garbage cans of ice water where they were soaking rags in the ice water and draping them over the athletes as they trotted by.  I had one over my head, two or three over my shoulders and back, and another around my neck.  The 40 seconds of coolness gave a bit of relief from the intensity of the heat and felt amazing, Then, quicker than you had hoped, you were back in the inferno.  I walked almost a mile and then convinced myself somehow to run.  The last seven miles were the hardest seven miles I've ever run.  It wasn't the pounding that you'd typically experience, fatigue wise at this point in an IM marathon.  It just felt incredibly hard to move while so overheated.  You just want to lay down at this point.  In fact, right around mile 20, laying in the smallest bit of shade near a jersey barrier in the middle of the road, the only bit of shade around, was a pro woman, trying her best to get out of the sun.  She had two volunteers assisting her already so I forged onwards. 

Kate was asking me what I think about while out there for that long.  I told her I try my best not to think.  I look out at the ocean as it's beautiful and calming to me.  And I count quite a bit.  It's a trick of mine that numbs the mind.  135 strikes with one foot to the ground equates to roughly 1/4 mile.  I'll count 135 on my right foot, 135 on my left, 135 right, 135 left, then walk the aid station, repeat, ... Usually the last 1.5 miles of this course are pain free as you are running mainly downhill, you are back with the spectators and the crowds are huge and you now know you are going to finish.  It was painful this time around though.  The last 1/2 mile is still by far the best finish line in sports.  I always make sure to separate myself from any other athletes here so I can have the finish line alone.  Both sides of the road are lined maybe 10 to 15 people deep and it get's thicker as you approach the finish line ramp.  As I'm running down this section, I get a bit emotional as many things start sinking in.  I was so thankful to get through and be done as this was the toughest marathon I had ever run here conditions wise.  I was proud that I set a goal to return here, and I was proud of the way I approached and accomplished this goal.  I was excited that I had my family there and that the kids finally got to see the magnitude of this event and got to see me cross this finish line.  And it also sunk in that I was done racing here - that this would be my last Hawaii Ironman (more on this in my race after thoughts).  Kate posted a picture on Instagram where I had just crossed the finish line and I look surprised and excited to see them.  I didn't see them while running down the finishers shoot and thought maybe it was too crowded and they missed me finish.  Then, as I crossed, I heard them yelling, front row, right at the finish, maybe the best seats in the house without being on the other side of the fence!

I ran a 3:53, over 40 minutes slower than what I was looking for, but on this day, I'll take it.  As soon as you cross the line, they have two volunteers waiting for you.  They throw a towel over your shoulders and assist you in walking towards the med tent, the food tent, and the medals and finishers shirt tent.  Many of these volunteers were holding their athlete up, or even trying to help them up after they collapsed across the finish line.  Even though I felt like I needed to be assisted, I didn't want the kids to see me draped over volunteers, so I told the volunteers I was fine and walked the best I could with some semblance of spring in my step.  As soon as I was out of site from Lisa and the kids, I found a small area of grass and collapsed onto my back.  I laid there for I think just a few minutes.  Who knows, it could've been a half hour.  I stared up at the sky and was just so thankful that I didn't have to move.  I finally got up, and ventured outside the gated finishers area to find the family.

Afterthoughts coming next.

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