Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Race Day Part I; race morning, swim and bike

Forgive me for the multi part race report, but I write these as journals for myself - just as a reminder of good times.  

The adversity from my last Ironman changed my perspective on what I was looking to accomplish at this 2018 Ironman.  My main goal for this race was crossing the finish line.  After what happened to me in 2012, I guess I don’t view crossing the finish line as a given anymore.  During the marathon, as the scorching Hawaiian sun beat down on me, engulfed by the intense heat and humidity, I constantly reminded myself this.  “Don’t take big chances that may jeopardize your primary goal; crossing the finish line.”  In the past, I would be quite focused on two things; doing the best time that I could on that day and trying to make the podium in my age group.  Maybe I’m just getting softer.  2012 was the first Hawaii Ironman that my kids spectated, and it did not go as planned.  They were young, so I’m not sure how much they remember from that trip but I’m very sure they remember me not crossing the finish line on that day.  I wanted them to see this happen this time, not only because I wanted them to see me come back from that adversity but also because, well, I think it’s a pretty cool thing to experience - the Hawaii Ironman finish line.  

Race morning, I was nervous and excited at the same time.  I was nervous enough that I had no appetite which made getting in my 1000 calorie breakfast an effort.  I think I was most excited for Ryan, Kate and Maddy to witness the spectacle of this whole event, not just seeing me cross the finish line.  Hearing about it doesn’t really do it justice.  The amount of energy all bottled up in one location is unreal.  The athletes are all fairly quiet race morning, waiting for the long day to begin.  The volunteers - it’s as if they were given a crash course on how to be cheerleaders.  And the spectators are nuts.  There are tons of spectators wearing costumes, ringing cowbells, cheering, partying...  It’s a scene for sure.

My nerves that morning, and in my whole build up, revolved around one thought; how will I handle the heat?  I felt really prepared for this race - more so than previous Ironman's.  I timed my build up well.  There is a science behind peaking at the right time which most don’t understand.  Most Ironman triathletes feel that more is better.  They get consumed by mileage and putting in big volume numbers and typically start way early, which means they peak way early.  I have to admit, the bike crash I had eight weeks out from the event really threw me.  Because of torn tendons in my left wrist, I couldn’t swim and missed five weeks of swimming. I couldn’t really ride outdoors as I couldn’t support any of my weight on my left arm, but after three weeks of not riding outside, I knew I needed some long rides so ventured out.  I think in hindsight, not being able to put any weight on my left arm actually helped me.  It forced me to stay seated and ride in the aero position for 95+% of my long rides.  I rode courses that had more altitude gain than Kona’s course, and rode up all these hills seated and aero.  Kona is a course that you can stay in the aero position for 95% of it - that is, if you can handle staying down in the aero position that long.  Most cannot as their low backs, necks, shoulders get very sore as they aren’t used to training in this position for the majority of their training rides.  My long training ride was primarily one route, where I rode from my house out to Lake Warmaug in New Preston, up into Warren, then down Warren Hill into Cornwall and North on route 7.  I would turn around 2.5 hours into the ride and ride back the same way.  Many may find doing the same route for their weekly long ride boring but I found just the opposite.  I enjoyed this route and it allowed me to measure my progress.  On each of these long rides, When I reached Washington on the return trip, I knew I had roughly 35 miles left to get home and this was always the higher quality part of my ride, the part where I’d push the pace.  This training really paid off on race day.  Also regarding my build up, because of the lack of swimming and cycling over the recovery period from my accident, I worked more on my running.  I felt pretty good the weeks leading up to my race.  My legs didn’t feel heavy or dead.  My breathing felt good.  I felt loose on most training sessions.  I had been swimming a lot, well, a lot for me anyways, prior to the accident, and felt like I was at a point where I could start really working on speed.  But the five weeks off totally changed that idea, and instead I was limited to easier tempo swims the three weeks prior to race day.  I knew I had decent swim base to swim the 2.4 miles steadily without it affecting the rest of my race negatively, but I knew I wasn’t going to feel fast in the water.  

Back to race day.  After getting everything checked and set up, I joined Lisa and the kids outside the swim nd T1 area to try and relax a bit before the race start.  English was the minority language being spoke around us.  This race had 72 countries being represented and not only by athletes but by fans and spectators as well. After the national anthem and the pro men and women started, I left Lisa and the kids to go take my place in the bay treading water and fighting other athletes for a decent starting position.  Before leaving Lisa and the kids, I told them I’d see them for dinner.  I swam out the 75 meters to the starting line around 6:45am, and treaded water for the next 15 minutes prior to the gun starting the age group race.  Race officials on surf boards paddle back and forth along the starting line, doing their best to hold the 2000+ athletes behind the starting line.  Meanwhile, everyone from behind anxiously crowded closer, pushing, kicking, shoving, trying to get a good starting spot.  For anyone who is the slightest bit claustrophobic, this is your worst nightmare; being in deep water with limited space to move your legs to tread and people grabbing and pushing at you.  I yelled to those around me at one point “everyone relax, let’s be civil, the extra six inches of space you are trying to gain isn’t going to mean much today now, is it?!”  Then, the cannon goes off and just like that, it get’s even worse.  As much as I enjoy swimming in the bay on the days leading up to the race, I despise the swim on race day.  This is maybe the only IM that still has basically a mass start for the amateurs.  They let more people into the race every year, and everyone is good.  Most are swimming between one hour and one hour five minutes, so, for the entire 2.4 miles of swimming, it’s a challenge to find free space.  The first 200 meters is more of a brawl than it is a swim race.  Athletes are swimming over other athletes, pulling them down under them, kicking them, knocking them hard with swinging arms.  I took the outside root looking to pop outside the scrum if necessary but most do the same.  I found some clean water for maybe 50 meters early on before I’m once again engulfed by thrashing swimmers.  I finally find space way outside and even though I’m receiving no draft benefit, I can relax a bit and find my stroke.  For the next mile, I had a guy behind me who was drafting off of me, yet he hasn’t learned the etiquette yet as he hit my feet with his hands on maybe every stroke.  I sent him a few warnings with heavy kicks.  This would buy me maybe seconds of contact free swimming before he was right back up on me slapping my toes again.  The annoyance of this had me seriously contemplating stopping and turning but I controlled my “road rage” and played nice.  I finally lost him on the return trip when I put in a surge.  When I had free water, I felt relaxed and steady, but as predicted, did not feel fast.  I exited the water in one hour one minute and checked the swim off my race day.  

The first transition area was uneventful this time around and I was soon heading out to tackle the 112 mile bike course.  About a mile into the ride, I heard something make a clank like noise under my bike and thought that maybe I ran over something that someone ahead of me had dropped.  Another athlete pulled up next to me maybe a 1/2 mile later and told me that I had lost my spare tube kit off the back of my bike.  I’d now be riding the next 111 miles praying that I didn’t get a flat!  The first 10 miles of the Kona course are in town, before you head out onto the infamous Queen K highway towards Hawi and then back.  This is typically where you get an idea of the winds that you will be experiencing that day.  There was very little wind.  In fact, in all my experience racing and training on this course, I’ve never experienced a day with the winds this low.  Many would find this a great thing but I actually prefer wind.  Not the gusting trade-winds that feel like they are going to knock you over, but I like a head wind for some of the ride as it makes the bike more challenging for most and splits up the groups more on the bike and it also cools you off.  No wind in Kona means the run will probably be very hot.  Anyways, once on the Queen K, I found myself moving well, passing a lot of athletes that swam better than me, and I also found myself riding in open space, meaning no huge packs like there were in 2012.  I kept the pace easy as I was anticipating a very hot run and knew I’d need my reserves.  I was riding comfortably, yet felt strong.  Around 20 miles in, five guys in a pace line came by me.  Then 10 more who were basically now attached to the five guys who just came by.  Then 10 more who made this pack now 25 strong.  So much for thinking this would be a clean race.  No matter how much I try to set myself up for the fact that there will be packs of cheaters on the bike, I still can’t believe how deliberate many make it.  I’ve gone over this in my past race reports so I won’t beat a dead horse, but it was amazing to see guys who served a drafting penalty catch back up later riding on another athletes wheel again!  I never took the “if you can’t beat them, join them”attitude during the ride and got caught up in the packs.  I instead would drop back.  Sometimes I’d have to stop pedaling to drop back, only to have more athletes fill in the space I was trying to create, but I was intent on really trying to see if riding clean was an option here, and it actually is.  The frustrating part is that I feel like it cost me maybe 10 minutes.  Once we started descending from Hawi, I began to up the pace a bit and started passing huge groups.  Then, with 35 miles to go, just like in all my long training rides, I really upped the pace.  I felt great.  The ride felt very controlled, and my last 35 miles were definitely my strongest.  I fully understand that conditions are the premium decider on how fast or slow you ride here.  Nonetheless, I have competed in this race in every age group from 25-29 up to 50-54.  And to me, it’s kind of cool that my fastest bike split on this course was at 51 years of age.  The bike wasn’t nt all that easy though - it was very hot because of the lack of wind.  Many of the athletes around me were caked with salt.  From mile 90 to 105, we actually had cloud cover  but I could see these clouds moving inland and knew that when I started running, they were non existent.Two of the three disciplines completed, but the most challenging was just beginning...

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