Thursday, June 7, 2012

I AM (half)IRON MAN!

Holy hell it’s been a long time since I posted, and for god sake – I am a half ironman. That alone should be incentive to post quickly... but life has sort of been in the way lately.  The race report is long LONG overdue, and to you, my four loyal readers (and hopefully a few TNT visitors), I apologize. But I’ve had one hell of a May, and June is shaping up to be just as busy.

Sit back and relax… this is gonna be a long one.

Let me give you a recap though of May, and of course, the race.

May 1: Closed escrow on the new house.
May 4/5: Wildflower
May 6-9: Laid up with a staph infection that probably could have cost me my leg.
May 9: Moved and spent our first night in our new home.
May 12-13: Moved some more.
May 14-17: Moved some more.
May 18: Went to Hawaii for 12 days.
May 31 – STILL GOING: Unpacked and got settled.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not complaining about any of it… well, maybe the staph infection. You don’t know pain until you’ve had an oozing boil on your leg that prevents you from walking. How I drove the 4-hours home from Wildflower without passing out remains a mystery to me. 20 years ago? Death. 10 years ago? Amputation. Today? “Here are some antibiotics. You’ll be fine in a week.” Hooray Science!

Okay… so here’s what everyone wants to know about… Wildflower Long Course Triathlon. HALF IRONMAN DISTANCE. Ryan has done this race, so every bit of it he can relate to.

I knew when I signed up for this that it was going to be a challenge; but the day before race day when you’re listening to the PROFESSIONALS say that this is the most difficult course in America, reality and a little bit of fear start to sink in.

At the end of the day, I think the most intimidating thing is that the guy who won the event finished in UNDER 4 HOURS. I’ll repeat that. THE GUY WHO WON THE EVENT FINISHED IN UNDER 4 HOURS. My bike split was just shy of 4.5 hours!!!

My overall time was just under 9 hours… a little longer than I wanted; but at the end of the day, the thing that matters is the fact that I have that FINISHER medal.

Friday was the day before race day. Time to head from my folks’ house in Atascadero to Lake San Antonio, and set up camp. Yes… Camping… Fortunately, I learned from our training weekend about the advantages to an SUV… I had a nice comfy, level, warm bed. I met up with my team and coaches, and we walked down to the lake to check in. At check in, I heard someone ask about water temperatures… 65-69 degrees. Wow. Compared to the mid 50’s we had been swimming in for training this season, that was like bath water!!! We perused the expo a bit, and headed back up to camp to hang out, relax, get in “the zone,” and hydrate hydrate hydrate. After dinner, Coach Dave stood in front of the fire pit, and pulled out a book of matches. This was how I knew the time was here. He gave us a motivational speech about not burning all of your matches early on (demonstrating, by burning the entire matchbook). He produced another matchbook, and would light one match here, another there, two or three there. The point he was driving home – don’t burn all your matches; because you’ve got to have a few to burn in that last hundred yards as you dash to the finish!!!

5am came early on Saturday. I ate a good breakfast, downed a Rockstar, half a bottle of Gatorade, and next thing I knew it was 7:15! Time to head down to transition and get set up. My wave was going off at 8:30, and we wanted to be set up in transition by about 7:30. I went down with a few of my fellow crazies, and found my spot. Before I knew it, it was 8:00, and the elites and professionals were taking off! Time to get that wetsuit on and get over to the ramp! My dad was coming to watch the race; and so I ran in to him on the ramp (until someone said “sir, this is for racers only.”) Good to see him there though… it just sort of calmed me down a little bit.

Now… a 1.2 mile swim is a long way… any way you look at it. And when you’re in murky water, in a full-on slug fest with several hundred testosterone fueled men between the ages of 20-60, you’ll probably catch an elbow or two. That was to be expected, and I never panicked. The water was much calmer than it was when we came down a month and a half ago for the training weekend. Nonetheless, it was difficult to see all of the big buoys from land – making it hard to count how many I was actually going to have to swim around in the water. There were points that I would look up to get my bearings and make sure I wasn’t veering too far off course – and it just felt like the buoys were floating away! But I kept cool, and next thing I knew I was on the final stretch and heading up the ramp. I glanced at my watch… 46 minutes – right around where I thought it was going to be. A relatively uneventful transition, and I was out on my bike.

Plagiarizing my friend Ryan who ran this course a few years ago:

“When you sign up for the Wildflower Long Course, everyone tells you about Nasty Grade. Seriously, everyone. Your doctor, your dog, your dental hygienist, everyone. Nasty Grade is at Mile 40. Nobody tells you about Beach Hill at mile 2, or wherever it is. Bastards. I thought it would never end.”

I, on the other hand remembered Ryan saying this, and had ridden the bike course six weeks before, so I knew what to expect with both Bitch Hill and Nasty Grade. That didn’t make either one any easier. Bitch Hill is a steep climb about 2 miles in to the ride – just as you’re starting to get a good groove. As I downshifted to my low gear, I really wished I still rode a triple crankset… or that my road bike had mountain bike gearing. Did you know that it IS possible to keep a bicycle upright at 3 miles per hour? I digress… I thought about Coach Dave and “don’t burn all your matches.” I knew the climb was no fun; but I knew I had to grit my teeth and get through. Lo and behold – right at the top cheering me (and every other poor soul) on was Coach Mark. Seeing him there got me going. I jumped out of the saddle and began sprinting (even high-fiving him as I passed) to get a good start for the nice downhill out of the park. The bike course was windy – not as many headwinds as a few weeks ago – but still enough to make it irritating. Hydrate and Eat. Hydrate and Eat… Basically, you are using your time on the bike to eat and drink for the run.

At about Mile 40-41, I began my ascent up the infamous Nasty Grade. This hill climb isn’t fun to begin with, but it’s particularly nasty at mile 41 of 56. Oh yeah – and it basically goes (with a long descent and another climb) to mile 46. What I will say is that the descent of Nasty Grade makes that climb all worth it. There was one squirrelly section on the far right of the road that I knew to avoid so I didn’t eat it… but there were a few folks that didn’t care about that and shouted profanities at me as they flew past on my left. For the record, I was going about 40 mph when I hit that section, and gave them PLENTY of room to safely pass. Fortunately, headwinds weren’t too bad for miles 46-55. Before I knew it, I had completed mile 55, and was ready to make the 1-mile descent back to transition. Our team was there screaming and cheering us on. Admittedly, after my wreck four years ago, I’m still very cautious on descents, particularly in crowds. WAAAYYY too many people riding their brakes and not crossing 20mph made that descent a little nerveracking. In to T2. I was proud of my bike split – just shy of 4.5 hours and about 30 minutes faster than it was a few weeks ago. That was huge for me.

And then I had a problem.

I had been wrestling with my bike shoes a few times during the ride… my right foot had been getting hot spots; which was somewhat odd for me. But when I got out of my bike shoes, I fell over. I put my left running shoe on; but I could barely get the right one on. My foot was swollen, and I could barely tie my laces. I couldn’t put any weight on it. But I dug deep and limped off. I limped the first five miles of that run. At about mile 5.5, I caught up with one of my teammates (incidentally, with whom I had paced myself for a good deal of the training season). We ran/walked together – he nursing cramps, I the bum foot. I think the strongest part of my run was really the one that everyone said had to be strong… I think it was like mile 7 or 8, where we ran through our campsite, to the cheers of all of our teammates, and a fresh splash of cold water to cool off and get my head back on straight. At about mile 11, there was a naked guy cheering everyone on. Disturbing, but funny. Yeah, I gave him a high five. I declined his offer of a free hug. I felt like I was going to hit the wall and collapse. Not even the promise of a cold beer was doing it for me in terms of motivation. But I thought about Scott, and him yelling in my ear “GO! YOU CAN MAKE THIS!!! GODDAMN IT IF I CAN SURVIVE CANCER, YOU CAN FINISH THIS RACE!!! KEEP MOVING!” That, and the prospects of one of my sister’s chocolate chip cookies was all the motivation I needed. Mile 12 mercifully came to an end, and I was running the big descent back to the chute. And then I saw the blue Astroturf of the chute. And I burned those last matches with a sprint to the finish. My mind was shot. I couldn’t think of anything except “I MADE IT.” Totally speechless, I finished arms in the air, head high, in to the arms and pats on the back of my coaches and team. My dad was there too with a congratulatory high five and Gatorade (never thought I would say this but thankfully not a beer).

After a team picture, it was back to transition to get our bikes and gear, and on to the shuttle back to camp. Beer, food, beer, cookie, beer, another cookie, beer, sleep.

I woke up the next morning at about 6:00 barely able to walk with what turned out to be a nasty staph infection on my leg. But I’ll save the fun of that ordeal for another post.

Now, having not done anything since race day, I'm committed to a century with my buddy Scott on June 24 (Livestrong Challenge... 4th year in a row).  Undertrained, yes, but I'll finish... it is flat.  And to celebrate his 10-years cancer free?  It's worth the pain.

On to the next adventure!

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