Wednesday, August 5, 2015
One Forty Point Six
On a Saturday afternoon in June of 2013, I was strolling along City Beach in Coeur d’Alene Idaho. My wife and I were having a kid-free evening of perfect weather. The place was unusually crowded, and we soon discovered it was the night before the Ironman triathlon. Two thousand crazy people were going to swim 2.4 miles, get on their bikes and ride 112 miles, then run a full marathon. I’d done lots of Olympic distance triathlons (1.5km, 40km, and 10km) and run a marathon before, but the thought of a full Ironman? One hundred forty point six miles? Not interested.
Until that Saturday. My brain made a decision without my permission. I wasn’t even consulted. My brain's expression showed up on my face later, looking something like this:
Eleven months of training didn’t get me where I wanted thanks to hypothermia and newbie mistakes. Going from Olympic distance triathlons to an Ironman is like skipping high school after grade 8 and going straight to university. But failures can be more instructive than successes, and are often more motivating.
This year, as I stood on the same beach in my wetsuit as one of those two thousand crazy people, the sun was just about to peek over the mountains. The water was 73 instead of 58, and calm instead of rollers and whitecaps. But that’s not what made me feel peaceful.
A few times in my life I’ve felt a deep inner serenity, sometimes associated with major life decisions, sometimes related to a religious experience. There on the beach I felt it again, and knew this was going to be a good day, and a safe day. Even though the forecast was for a high of 107 degrees.
When I first saw that temperature estimate, I shook my head. Really? Freezing last year and now thirty degrees above normal? Well, I suppose crazy Ironpeople don't care. So bring it on.
The gun went off for the pros, and they left wakes as they rocketed around the buoys. Then it was our turn, and the school of black fish with pink or green heads filled the lake, frothing it like a bunch of piranhas. I felt great, and it was my fastest swim ever. I wasn’t a fan of the occasional kick in the head from another swimmer, but the only bad part occurred as I stretched out for a stroke, and inadvertently ran my hand up a latexy leg. Inside of said leg, and all the way up. I suppressed a naughty smirk until I saw the grope victim had a green swim cap instead of pink.
Here’s me between laps. Proving I'm a crazy people at time slider 1:39.
As fast as my swim had been, I was surprised how few bikes were left when I jumped on mine, but that changed pretty fast. I moved up 300 positions over the next 112 miles, mostly passing people on the uphill climbs. Except one guy. I’d catch him going up, then he’d disappear ahead of me on the flat and downhill. I thought he was going to be an easy pass, as he weighed at least 260 pounds. No joke. Four of me could have fit in his bike shorts, and he was keeping up with or smoking me for miles. Sure, I’m proud of being able to bike three digits worth of miles. And at the risk of sounding cocky, it was cake. Even with the three digits worth of heat. I just drank eight bottles of water instead of my usual two, and chewed lots of electrolyte tablets along the way. But this guy was almost double my weight and he did it just fine, too.
It was with trepidation I finished the first lap, as that’s where my Ironman plans crumbled last year. This time, I hit the line at 25 miles per hour, hand in the air and laughing triumphantly. Maniacally? I saw people’s expressions. “Finish line’s about 80 miles away, dude. Chill.” I didn’t care. I had just conquered where my past self had failed. That always feels good. Plus, I was in the middle of an Ironman triathlon. An Ironman! I had endorphins thick in my blood and lighting up my brain. I was invincible.
Not everyone had as good of a time. The shade tents and chairs at every aid station were full, and the paramedics were a busy lot, as the temperature peaked at 106. On the second lap, one of the aid stations had run out of water. Plenty of Gatorade and non-potable ice water, but none to drink.
About mile 80 I noticed my toes hurting. It was an oven in my shoes. The heat off the asphalt felt the same as that from the sun. I squirted water into my socks between pedal cadence, but it didn’t seem to do much.
At the second transition, I handed off my bike and a volunteer was holding aloft a gallon of ice water. “Holy Water!” he shouted. “Baptize me, Preacher!” I called back, and he dumped the entire thing over my head. Best shower ever. I think my shoes were steaming as I entered the changing tent. Like a saloon from an old western, it was an interesting array of characters. One guy sat on a chair and didn’t move the whole time I was in there. I wondered if he was asleep. I checked his breathing to make sure he wasn’t something else. A couple other guys were joking around about the run. “We get to go for a run now?” I asked. “Yes!”
Some guys laughed, some didn’t. I realized later the laughing guys were those not sitting down.
For the third time during the race I saw Dad, who’d come to watch. He was as pumped as I that I’d beaten the time cut-off this year. I gave him a soggy hug across the barrier, and then I was through the gate onto the marathon course.
This was the part I was dreading the most. Last time I ran a marathon, it was 20 degrees hotter than in training. By the end, I felt like broken glass was scattered through my leg muscles and I didn’t pee for 36 hours afterward. Most of that could have been prevented, and this time I knew how. I’d been drinking close to three liters of water a day all week, staying out of the sun, and I spent the second lap of the bike tanking up on ions. My goal was for 9-minute miles, but with the weather 30 degrees hotter than usual, I adjusted. The new goal was to avoid the attention of any medical personnel. “Hey, you in the green. Come here a second.” That’s the goal-killing phrase I didn’t hear all day. Whew.
Lots of fun phrases, though. They were scattered on the pavement in chalk, and on posters held by spectators. Some of my favorites:
Don’t trust your farts.
If you’re still married, you didn’t train hard enough.
140.6. Because 140.7 would be crazy.
Smile if you peed in the swim course.
The marathon course was two laps, and most of it along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. I had every intention of turning the race into a tetrathlon by going for a second swim, but with all the fantastic volunteers, there was no need. I had more people shoot me with a garden hose and pour water down my back that day than all the waterfights of my life combined. I never fully dried out.
The fun started to fade about mile 11. Miles 14 and 15 were unpleasant, but I never got to the point of misery as with the last marathon. Partly because I took 90 minutes longer to run this one. Thankfully, the last six miles the temperature started to drop. I felt like someone swapped out my batteries, and I finished strong. Turning the last corner onto Sherman Avenue, I had a surge of adrenaline, and felt like I hadn’t run or biked anywhere. The sidewalks were packed with screaming people for nine blocks, but I heard my name anyway. My parents and wife and kids were at the last block with an Irondad banner they had painted, so I paused for hugs and kisses, then crossed the finish line and took a bow.
In the bottom of the four videos HERE, I’m the guy in green at 7:03:00
If you're a Zelda fan, go back and look again. Like the hat and jersey? Me too.
In case you missed it:
Wearing this made me feel like a pro from a (sadly fictional) foreign country. And here's the soundtrack that was in my head for hours and hours. Thanks, Lindsey!
In total, fifteen hours. Two hours slower than I intended, but it was all due to the hot run. I set the 13 hour goal as it was the average time in 2013, but I had moved up another 200 positions on the marathon and finished number 937. Above average. Mission accomplished.
The winner? Andy Potts finished in eight hours and twenty minutes. He lapped me doing over 40 miles per hour on the ride, and later I saw him running, three miles into the marathon when I still had 50 miles of biking to do. Not entirely sure he's a Homo sapiens.
No matter the placing, finishing an Iroman triathlon is a rush! The problem with adrenaline though, it wears off. Heart rate and blood pressure drop. I got my finisher shirt and hat and medal and photo, more hugs and kisses from the family, and was fortunate to be standing on grass. The lightheadedness came on pretty fast, but I got on my back before my consciousness fled. It was an hour before I could stand without wobbling.
Everyone wanted to help. Despite instructions from my innards and my professional judgment, I let someone talk me into eating something. One bite of pizza triggered nausea the instant I swallowed. My son and my dad helped me walk over to get my bike and gear, and the nausea suppression wore out. If anyone didn’t believe me that I’d been hydrating well, I proved them wrong as I stood heaving over the garbage can. I checked my pulse, and it was fine. I just needed to go home and sleep. But I just happened to throw up in front of a medical volunteer. I didn’t pass go or collect two hundred dollars. I went straight to what my wife dubbed Barf Jail.
Because that’s what it looks like and that's what you do there. Or you lie in the fetal position and sleep. Lots of people were filling the roles well. And you only get out when you’re done or if the paramedics give you an IV and take you to the hospital. An RN checked my pulse and blood pressure, and I thanked her for volunteering. I told her my pulse had also been normal earlier, and let her know I was a physician assistant. She handed me a Gatorade. I recommended she keep it. She was insistent, and I didn’t want to be rude and pull medical rank. I’ve seen people do that before, and it disgusts me. Disgusts me more than puking again? Yes. I have proof. Orange Gatorade proof.
Overall, I don’t think finishing an Ironman triathlon is that hard. Certainly easier than my first marathon. The training? Whole different story. In a meeting, a colleague watched me eating my enormous lunch and afterward asked if my metabolism was for sale. I laughed, but later realized it wasn’t funny. The unintended implication was some genetic gift that absolved me from being responsible for my health. Kind of like my earlier comment about Mr. Potts. So, you want my metabolism? Here’s the cost, paid over four months. Not included is an additional 27 years of intermittent long distance running to prepare for the training:
Missed Saturdays with my kids - 9.
Missed dates with my wife due to early bedtime - 9.
Days getting up at 4:30 - You think I remember? It was 4:30 AM! Twenty maybe?
Miles on the running shoes - 267.
Miles on the bike - 983.
Frankly, I'm not really interested in knowing what those numbers look like for a professional triathlete. But was the work worth it? Oh yeah! Just not every year. See costs one and two. But not three through five.
Now for my next trick. How about 100,000 words for everyone left hanging at the end of my last novel?
Meaner Sort, coming right up.