Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ironman Florida: The Aftermath and Moving On...

I know that a month ago I said I was going to write this soon. Well, I'm finally getting around to it now. Honestly, I've been so overwhelmed by life lately, good in some ways and exceptionally bad in others, that I really haven't had any motivation whatsoever to finish telling this story.

It's hard even now to pretend that I'm still that guy who is 100% stoked about life and ready to drag everybody else along for the ride, because I am really having trouble just dragging myself out of my bedroom when my job doesn't require it. I recently posted on Facebook that "A day I can run is a good day." and that has held extremely true. What I left unsaid in that post was the other side of the coin. The days I can't run...well...those days are painfully bad.

And I should clarify that I am, at the moment, physically uninjured.

Let's get to the storytelling.
I miss feeling this way.

Ironman Florida! Wow, what a ride! If you're just joining our broadcast, you can catch up on the details of the race here.

When I last left you, I was falling asleep after a long day with a vague and undirected sense of satisfaction. If I leave out lots of other things that I've contemplated since then, I can tell you that as the days passed, I became more and more proud of what I accomplished out there in the waters and on the roads of Panama City, Florida.

The swim...well I basically owned it, no questions asked. I didn't hit my target time, but considering the conditions, I couldn't have hoped to perform nearly as well as I did. Definitely my proudest triathlon swim ever. The bike had its highs and lows, including forgetting hard lessons learned in the past, but still a strong showing. The run...mostly lows. Yet despite the crash I experienced...despite everything falling apart...I have grown incredibly proud of the way I was able to pick myself back up and fight my way back from race oblivion.

I was well short of my time goal, but still crushed my former PR by almost 45 minutes. I definitely feel that if I hadn't refocused myself out there, I could have lost so much more time and even fallen short of my former PR. Granted, an Ironman finish is still an Ironman finish, but I hate to think how disappointed I would have been to put in so much more training and finish slower on an easier course than I faced in Coeur d'Alene.

Overall, I am just proud of the toughness I was able to find in myself to deal with the setbacks that were thrown my way...some of them predictable and preventable, and others completely out of my control. I am also proud that, for the most part, I was able to enjoy the hell out of my race...maybe not quite in the way I hoped, especially during a few of the more excruciating moments...but I think I was smiling for a good chunk of November 3rd, 2012.

This ability to stay tough and enjoy myself in the face of difficulty will serve me well in the coming year, which I have big big plans for indeed. I've told a handful of people(basically anybody who would listen) but next year has been deemed "Year Of The Ultra".

No triathlons(well...Redman might be calling my name) and no road running(if I can help it). I'm already mentally committed to my 3rd 50k in February, running the 44 mile Brew2Brew solo, and the Free State Trail 100k in April. Depending on how that 100k goes...

...

...I might....MIGHT....sign up to run my first 100 miler in the fall.

That's a pretty hefty goal, and a lot of work and planning will be required to see me toe the starting line and see the finish line, where I'd inevitably cry like a baby because that's what I do.

So what have I been up to since I got home from Florida? My original plan saw me taking a solid month off of running and doing a bunch of yoga instead. Well...remember what I've always said about plans? If you don't...um...well I'll tell you.

"A plan is a just a list of things that probably won't happen."

So...have I been resting?

Hell no. When I arrived home, I was forced to make an incredibly difficult decision in my personal life and begin to cope with the emotional fallout of that decision. This was absolutely the worst possible time to give up running. So I didn't. Within a week, I was back out on the trails putting in the longest runs that my legs would allow me. I've tried to be smart about it, but there are some days when I simply cannot make it without finding my serenity in the woods. And as I mentioned before...those days when I can't make it out there...they are incredibly difficult.


Luckily, so far I don't feel injured. I don't have any pain when I run, but I worry about how sustainable this is. I shudder to think of what would happen to my state of mind if I were sidelined by tendonitis, plantar fascistic, or worse...a stress fracture. I'm relying heavily on my friends to keep my spirits up and I am constantly searching for new ways to distract myself from heavy thoughts that can be suffocating at times.

Finisher awards with two of CC's sisters-in-law.
One of those distractions was a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Oklahoma City to visit my dear friend CC, hang out with her family, and participate in a race she was helping to organize, "Little Willie's Triple Dog Dare". This was something completely new for me...a stair climbing race. I've always wanted to try one and this seemed like the perfect time to give it a shot. The race consisted of three conjoined skyscrapers in downtown OKC, and as you might guess, the Tripe Dog Dare option involved running up...and back down...a total of about 70 flights of stairs between the three. I had no expectations for how I'd do, since it was a completely new experience for me, and I didn't train for it. Well at the end of the day I received a plaque for 3rd place in my age group, which is the first time I've officially placed in any race I've done in my 3 1/2 year running career. And I couldn't walk normally for a good chunk of the following week.

Good distraction, I'd say. I just wish I could go visit good friends and have fun races every weekend.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there is some good news in all of this. I believe this is my first official public announcement, but I accepted a new job as a night nurse in the Hematology/Oncology unit at Children's Mercy Hospital in downtown Kansas City. This is the same unit where I did my nursing school capstone, and to say that I am excited about this job is a huge understatement. Nearly everybody has the same reaction when I tell them I'll be caring for children with cancer...a gasp and a sad face...but I feel it is a tremendous gift and a privilege to have the opportunity to help these amazing kids and their families through this incredibly difficult chapter in their lives. And yes, I am pretty sure I probably said those exact words during my interview, but it's no bullshit.

So enough about the non-athletic personal life crap. I am incredibly grateful to the friends who have been there for me this past month, in-person and otherwise. I am grateful to my Trail Nerd friends who support me and encourage me. I am especially grateful for my family...they have always been amazing, and I've always felt incredibly lucky to be a Loental. (OKAAAAAY!!!!)

Truth be told, despite how much I'm hurting right now, I am physically healthy and I am legitimately excited about the coming year and what it holds for me in my athletic endeavors.
12 hour shift+no sleep+10 miles of WyCo=THIS FACE!

Take care of yourselves and kill some bears.

Danny

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ironman Florida: Part 3 - The Meltdown and The Recovery

...continued from Part 2. 

To read from the VERY beginning click here.


The Run – Goal – 4:00-4:30

Coming into this run, despite all the pain on the bike, and despite what my body was telling me about its hydration levels, the plan remained the same. Training had convinced me that I should be able to average somewhere between 9:00/mile and 10:30/mile on this marathon. So coming out of the gate, I decided to give my legs a test to see exactly where they'd put me on that spectrum of paces.

As I've said before, a plan is just a list of things that probably aren't going to happen.

I stormed onto the run course with a fierceness. I had cast aside all doubts about what the bike and the heat had done to me, choosing only to believe that I had the legs to start laying down some fast miles. The legs, as expected, felt numb and confused by the conversion to running, but they were turning over a good cadence. I was moving quickly and getting a lot of positive heat from the spectators lining the course. Lots of people were telling me how great I looked and that I was running strong. I began to genuinely believe that this pace was here to stay. The first mile clocked in around 8:30.

The second mile felt similar. Legs still reeling, but without a doubt they were functioning exactly as I expected them to be capable of. This was going to happen. My Fantasy Dream PR. A reality.

And then reality struck.

As the second mile concluded, my Garmin chirped at me and told me how much time had elapsed. And it wasn't altogether reassuring. Just under 10 minutes. Ok...so maybe the Fantasy Dream PR wasn't going to happen, but at this pace I was still definitely going to break 12 hours.

And then the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion.

I can remember only one time in my athletic career when hitting the wall has happened so suddenly and unexpectedly. The last 2 miles of my second 50k. One moment cruising towards an almost certain sub-7 finish, and the next moment stumbling around like a drunk man lost in the woods.

This wasn't nearly so dramatic, but it was exactly as sudden. Here I was preparing myself to settle in and maintain my 9:00-10:00 minute per mile pace, and then somebody pulled the parking brake. Everything I had planned, everything I expected....EVERYTHING. It all came to a screeching halt in a single moment in time as I realized some things.

It was really hot. I was hurting. I was likely dehydrated. And I was suddenly walking. Something was definitely wrong, and I would discover exactly what that was in a few miles, but we're not there yet. The next several miles were made up of sporadic attempts at maintaining my target pace, interspersed with dejection, deflation, and walking. Aid stations were particularly time consuming. It seemed like I needed everything they had. Ice...cold sponge...water...some fruit...SOMETHING had to make me feel better. Additionally, my stomach was pretty upset, so I definitely was getting lazy on the fluid intake.

And the walking became more and more frequent. Each time I walked, I tried to limit how long I let myself rest....only 10 seconds this time....Ok, we'll go to that mailbox....but everybody up in my brain knew that I was in trouble. Nobody had yet come to a consensus on why everything was falling apart, but we were pretty sure it was happening.

Things were kinda rough until I reached the turnaround point for the first lap. It was at this point that things got REALLY rough. I had to pee, and since the course was mostly in neighborhoods, relieving myself in the bushes wasn't really an appropriate option. I finally got to a portajohn and went to do my business. The problem was that I was so dehydrated that I was only able to manage a few drops. And what's worse...the urge remained. I don't want to go into too much detail, but I'll just say that it was incredibly uncomfortable, and I suspect I'll know this feeling again when I'm in my 50's and start to develop an enlarged prostate and urinary retention.

The face of "Hurt"
The next 4-5 miles were very likely the low point of my race. Since I was basically unable to urinate, I realized exactly how screwed I was. I began trying to take on more fluid, despite my upset stomach, but I feared that it was too late to fix the problem and salvage a graceful finish. Between agonizing trips to the portajohn and frequent walking, my day was rapidly turning into an epic blowup. I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to PR, even though I had an hour and a half of extra time budgeted to accomplish this.

Around mile 10, I ended up finding a stranger to run with. We both were moving about the same pace, so we started the small talk and formed a temporary running co-op. I warned him about my urinary difficulties and frequent lavatory stops, but he didn't seem to mind. I think my legs were in a little better shape than his, but he kept me moving just as much as I kept him moving. He and I stayed together through the halfway point of the race, but he got a little bit ahead of me during special needs(which, for the record, I have almost no recollection of). I ended up catching him within a mile, only to discover that he had started having GI problems. At this point, I still hadn't peed, but the painful urge had left me, and I was actually able to hold a steady pace consistently. So when I caught up to him, completely stopped at the side of the road and unable to continue for the moment, I made the tough call, wished him well, and continued on my way. I didn't see him again for the rest of the race. I think his name was Jason.

Almost halfway...feeling a little better!
The only high points of my first lap were when I saw the rest of my friends. Delaware passed me coming the other way. Then Adam passed. And for the first time since I left the beach that morning, I saw Alan. Or rather...first I heard him. In his typical good ol' boy Texas accent, he yelled, "Hey Danno! Kill the bear!" I was so excited that he was still in the fight that I let out a celebratory yell and a fist pump! His story ...where he started and how far he has come to be here today ...it is a really inspirational and uplifting one. I am proud to say that after training for a year and losing 60 pounds, he is now also an Ironman. And I can't think of a person who deserves it more.

Now that I had rehydrated enough to where I didn't feel like I was constantly passing a kidney stone, I actually felt quite comfortable comparatively. I knew that I was a long way from being properly hydrated, but it was good enough for now. I found that I was able to maintain about a 12 minute per mile pace for exactly 12 minutes, at which point I'd allow myself to walk the aid station, recover some strength, catch my breath, and then do it again. One reason this was possible is because it was finally starting to cool down, with the sun sinking low on the horizon.

As I neared the turnaround on the 2nd lap, I noticed that I had been yo-yoing back and forth with the same girl. I'd pass her, then she'd pass me, etc etc. Around mile 18, I decided to say hello. She was a local and this was her 7th time doing this race. Her PR was like 11 hours or something ridiculous, but she'd been having IT band pain today, which is why she was moving my speed. This was kinda humbling, but I was grateful for some company. We started chatting and I noticed that our pace was actually pretty good. We were managing sub-11 miles, which for me on that particular day was impressive. She was definitely the one keeping me moving though. She'd mercifully allow us to walk the aid stations, but as soon as we were through, I'd hear “Come on Danny, let's get moving.” She was certainly the stronger runner, but she pulled me through miles 20-24 under 11 minutes apiece. The plan was to stick together and shoot for a 12:45 finish. Again with the whole “plan” thing...

At mile 24, I was hurting. Bad. She was doing everything she could to motivate me, to pump me up, to remind me to get my breathing under control, to insist how disappointed I'd be afterwards if I let up now...but it just wasn't enough. For the last time she said “Come on Danny, you've got this.” 

But I didn't. 

The gap between us slowly increased, she disappeared into the darkness, and once again I was a man alone. With two of the most painful and teeth-gnashing miles left between me and the finish line of my second Ironman. I could've just chilled and walked it in. That would have been easy. But there was no way in hell I was going to let that happen willingly. I wanted 12:45...for whatever reason. We had only chosen that time arbitrarily, since it seemed attainable...but now it seemed like it meant everything. So I pushed...

The last 2 miles felt exactly like THIS.
After she dropped me, my pace fell but I was still moving. The effort level required to run, even barely trotting, felt like I was dragging a dumptruck. I was dead set on running the remainder of the race, but my body would still give out on me from time to time. I was yelling at myself. I was grunting. I was cursing. 

"No Danny...not now...we're almost there...you've got this...NO"

And I'd continue the struggle.

There was now one mile remaining and I was desperately flinging my body forward towards the finish line. I'm sure I looked like a total train wreck. Slumped form, pale as a ghost, eyes glazed over, muttering incoherent things to myself, running form occasionally breaking as if I might collapse, only to start shambling along once again.

It had been a day of ups and downs, and a particularly ugly marathon, but I finally rounded the last corner and entered the finishing chute. In the darkness, the lights were blinding. I saw good friends who had been out cheering for us all day, I high-fived spectators on both sides, and I charged towards the line. Once again, emotion, relief, and pain all combined into a single victory yell as I crossed the finish line.

Indescribable
Final run time: 5:05:46 – My slowest marathon to date, at an average pace of 11:40 min/mile.

Overall time: 12:46:26 (Previous PR was 13:29)

It's funny what we can make our bodies do...and then moments later what we absolutely are incapable of making our bodies do. I remained upright through 26.2 excruciating miles, yet the moment after finishing all of this, with a volunteer standing there ready to help, my ability to hold my own weight left me. To say he “helped me to a chair” would not be giving him enough credit. Let's just say that without his support, I would have been on the ground rather quickly.

Thinking back to my Coeur d'Alene finish and remembering the whirl of thoughts and emotions that overcame me in the minutes following that race, it is sad to think that I was so dehydrated and delirious after Ironman Florida that I lacked the capacity to contemplate anything deeper than answering the volunteer's questions concerning how I felt and whether I needed to go to the med tent. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure that anybody who saw me finish probably knew I needed to go. I still hadn't peed, so I knew I needed fluid. My hands were tingling, so I knew I needed electrolytes. I couldn't walk on my own yet, so I knew I needed...something...

The good news about my med tent visit? I was out of breath, but not because of my asthma. I didn't need my inhaler or any type of breathing treatment afterwards, so I officially validated the effectiveness of my once-a-day Singular tablet and the preventative use of my inhaler. Hooray!

In the med tent I drank fluids, got a few Tums to replenish my calcium, and snacked on a banana and pretzels. Not sure how long I stayed there, but eventually I was finally able to stand and I walked out under my own power. My mother was waiting for me and together we continued on to the post-race area where I proceeded to stuff my face with pizza and finally...FINALLY....I was able to pee.
Finisher photo AFTER my med-tent recovery.

We collected bags, gear, and my bicycle and walked back to our hotel. At this point I still hadn't really contemplated anything that had happened that day. Some things had gone well, but many things had not. I missed my target time by 45 minutes, but I had a new PR by almost 45 minutes. I sat in bed and tried to watch the online video stream of the finish line, but it was clear I would not be able to remain awake for much longer. With a lingering sense of accomplishment and vague satisfaction, I drifted off to sleep and didn't wake up for about 12 hours.

This concludes the race report. Just like after Coeur d'Alene, I'm soon going to write about my impressions and thoughts after the race as well as talk about “What's Next?” for me in the coming year. I want to thank everyone for all of your support before, during, and after this race. Knowing how many of you were following along during my race was a HUGE motivator for me, and at several points during day, this knowledge was very likely the only thing keeping me moving. Whether you followed on Facebook, Twitter, or the event website updates, if you left me a comment after I finished, or if you congratulated me in person when I got home, I want you to know how much your support means to me. Thank you so much!

Danny Loental
Bear Killer Extraordinaire

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ironman Florida: Part 2 - Makin' Circles and Ninja Headwinds


Not sure what's up with my face. Seriously.
 The Bike – Goal – 6:00

I exited transition with the cloud of Jake's disappointing DNF and worries about my friends hanging over my head. I was still intent on enjoying my day and racing smartly so I immediately set to the task of taking in some nutrition. I had prepared some peanut butter and Nutella tortilla wraps for the beginning and halfway point of the bike. I pulled them out and hung the bag from my aerobar for easy snacking. I spun easy as I worked the legs out of the shock of switching from swim to bike, and I reached into the bag. I had not predicted how messy my food would be. That is...incredibly messy. Should've kept them chilled somehow. My fingers were COVERED in chocolatey-hazelnutty mess. It was a small ordeal getting these down, but I managed and was soon focused on the task of setting an aggressive but maintainable pace.

This wasn't quite as straightforward as I thought it might be though. I was effortlessly cruising at 19-20 mph, so I decided to stick with that effort level. Ten miles out came the “only climb on the course” or so I had read. A bridge over the bay constituted the highest point on the entire race course. Once that was behind me, I settled back into modest effort spinning. My average pace steadily rose from 17...to 18....to 19(above target pace) topping out at 19.5. This all felt like easy effort so I decided to see how high I could get my average without "spending too many pennies" as they say.
15-20 miles in. Straight up crushing.
I had heard and read stories about this race being notorious for blatant and shameless drafting(which is illegal in most triathlons, including this one). Race reports told of drafting mobs numbering in 20-30 riders at a time. Since I had come out of the water at 1:15, I was on the very tail end of the pack of athletes who would conceivably be competing for age group awards, though I had no intention of riding or running fast enough to do so. Therefore I was only witness to one of these mobs. Sure enough, about 15-20 miles into my day, a pack of about 25 riders came blazing by, all tucked right behind one another...not even PRETENDING like they were there by accident. I guess the time gained from drafting for several hours is worth the possible 4 minute penalty they'd serve if they were caught doing so.

Still not my style...I let them pass and joked with a few other racers who looked on in disgust. In my opinion, if you need the PR that badly, I'll let you worry about sleeping soundly at night knowing how you got it.

The ride went pretty smoothly...literally...until about the halfway point. We hit the first of two out-and-back portions of the ride, and then the road quality turned from “well-maintained” to “OW....SHIT.....OW....FUCK......DAMN IT.... OWWWWW!” This road was in such a shoddy state of disrepair that it shook you to your bones with large, uniform cracks across the asphalt...roughly every 10 feet. This resulted in a very rhythmic “Kathunk....Kathunk” which lasted for the next 10 miles. It was utterly miserable and really brought the slowly growing fatigue in my body into sharp focus. Each rut in the road punished my back, which had been tucked in aero position for the past 3 hours. So I began to sit up. And the speed dropped. There was no getting around it. The cracks went all the way across the road, and we had to ride each and every one of them....TWICE!(remember...out-and-back) This was the point in my day when I really began to hurt like you're supposed to hurt in an Ironman.

The special needs drop point was on this out-and-back stretch, and I was getting hungry. I was still hanging on to a decent average speed, so I was hoping for a quick in-and-out stop here. I remembered how efficient and helpful the special needs volunteers were in Coeur d'Alene, so I was severely disappointed when I rolled in and nobody had my bag ready for me. Nobody was even looking for it. 

Don't get me wrong...they were all busting their asses helping SOMEbody. But not me. I stopped my bike and stared back at the numbered station where my bag would be. It was several seconds before somebody noticed me standing there, wondering if I should just get off the bike and go get it myself. That person immediately ran over, dug through the box, retrieved bag #1385 and handed it to me. He then went off to help somebody else. I guess my disappointment stemmed from the fact that in CDA, one volunteer had your bag ready when you arrived. They got your gear out of it for you. They held your bike if you wanted to stop and eat or use the bathroom, and they were basically your slave for whatever amount of time you spent there. Here in Florida, once they handed you your bag, you were on your own. I guess I was spoiled last time.

I took a few puffs from my inhaler to prevent the airways from tightening up, grabbed my 2nd bag of melty peanut butter and Nutella tortillas, and rolled over to the porta-potty. After doing my business, I got back on the crappy road and continued.

Here are some nitty gritty details concerning hydration: I was hoping to pee by mile 40. I didn't pee until nearly mile 60...and it wasn't very clear or voluminous. This should have been a HUGE red flag, but for some reason I didn't worry about it too much. I figured I'd catch up on the fluids by the end of the ride, but since I'm mentioning it now, with my history of epic dehydrated blow-ups, you just KNOW that this is foreshadowing of some kind.

We finally got off the crappy road and hit a section of small to medium sized rolling hills. Wait! I thought this course was FLAT! Meh, I ride in KS/MO, I can handle this. Now that the roads were smooth again, I assumed I'd be able to pick the pace back up and make up the time I spent in special needs. Only I couldn't. The rolling hills were enough to hold me just under my target speed. And it felt like we had a headwind. No worries, once we turn, that'll disappear lickety-split. Only it didn't. The course turned, and once again....a headwind? Ok...now for real...the NEXT time we turn, I'll DEFINITELY have a tailwind and I'll rip up the rest of this ride. Only I didn't. The course turned again....headwind?

I'm not sure what direction the wind was blowing, or if it was shifting, or if it was just my tired legs convincing my brain it wasn't their fault and that there was actually no wind. Whatever the case, my pace slowly dropped and I couldn't ride faster than 17-18 for any decent stretch. And my body was really beginning to feel the punishment. I couldn't stay properly tucked for long periods of time, even on smooth roads, and I sat up more and more. I clearly just hadn't spent enough hours in the saddle training my body to maintain this strenuous position.

Nearly 100 miles in, and feeling it.
I began to lose steam for the last 20 miles of the ride, and my morale was beginning to suffer as well. I did end up seeing Delaware on one of the out-and-back sections, so I at least knew one of my friends had made it out of the water successfully. I still worried about Alan and Adam though. I worried that I had once again torched my legs and that I was in for a miserable marathon. I worried about my nutrition strategies. 

I worried about everything as I ground the gears back towards the beach...this time into a very real and very persistent headwind. I turned onto the home stretch that took us back towards transition and was grateful for the high-rise condos lining the road that provided shelter from the wind. The pace picked back up and my mood began to improve. I lightheartedly joked with some other racers. One of them asked if I was looking forward to finally getting off the bike, to which I replied, “Yes, but not as much as I'm looking forward to my post-race massage, peel-and-eat shrimp, and snow crab legs.”

Final Bike Time – 6:09:29. A bike split PR of almost 50 minutes, but almost 10 minutes shy of my goal.

I rolled into transition and immediately needed to change my attitude. I wasn't going to defeat myself by believing that I had overexerted on the bike, and I began quietly chanting to myself, “Legs for days. Legs for days. You've got legs for fucking days......DAYS!” I changed into my running gear, hit a porta-potty(disappointing output, once again) and charged out onto the run course.

Ironman Florida: Part 1 - Business As Usual, And Swimming Like A Mofo

This race is definitely a tough one to really sum up in a few words. There were so many things that went wrong and so many disappointments, yet the results were surprisingly uplifting.

Pre-Race

My morning routine for this race was nothing special. Compared to my first Ironman, where my entire morning was this slow, surreal, and foreboding march towards destiny, this particular morning seemed almost like business as usual. Wake up early, have a snack, double check transition bags, pound a Gatorade...etc etc...blah blah you know the drill.

My first disappointment of the day hit really hard. This race was going to be nowhere remotely as meaningful as my first time around. I'd been here before and more or less knew I'd finish, barring something incredibly unexpected or an unfixable mechanical issue on the bike. There would be no astounding discoveries concerning my ability to conquer the unknown, nor would I learn anything new about myself. Would I? More on that later...

All the fellas
We all really wanted to meet up before the race for photos and some mutual pep talk, but we hadn't really made a plan to assure that this would happen, so it seemed almost serendipitous how easily we found one another in the mob of neoprene and swim cap clad athletes milling around the beach. Families took pictures, last hugs and well-wishes were given, and then we all crossed the timing mat to let the race computers know that we were present and accounted for.

I let everyone know how proud I was of them for being here and before we knew it, it was about that time. Somebody sang the national anthem and then the cannon fired.

The Swim – Goal – 1:10

Oh yeah...the water. Every morning leading up to this one, I had looked out at the ocean and seen calm waters, minimal waves, mild currents, and gentle swells. Our practice swim the previous day had been uneventful and encouraging. The swim was going to be a good one. 

Or so I thought...

For some reason, fate saw it fit to give us something else on this particular morning. The waves were sizable(at least for the Gulf coast). The swells looked intimidating. The current was reportedly strong. We were advised to swim well to the right of the buoys, lest we get pushed into “No Man's Land”, aka the inside of the counter-clockwise rectangular swim course.

Despite these unwelcoming conditions, I calmly strode into the water. This swim start wasn't nearly as violent or frightening as the mass start in Coeur d'Alene, perhaps because of experience, and perhaps because the water stayed shallow for quite a while before it was deep enough to swim. Mostly though, it was because swimmers were very tenuously addressing the matter of getting past the surfline. I estimate that it was nearly 2 minutes before I got past the waves and into deep enough water to begin swimming. Once I did, however, it was game on.

I still can't quite explain why my swim went so well. I felt so strong out there in the water. I owned my space in the water and fought off all others who attempted to invade my turf. The swells tossed us about, but I appreciated the crest of each one as it afforded me an excellent opportunity to sight for the next buoy. It made no sense to me at the time, but I knew I was moving through the water like a MFing badass. Occasional watch checks told me I was right in feeling this way. In just over 35 minutes, my fingers hit sand and I had finished my first loop. Just like that. I took on some water at the aid station, scanned the crowd for friends/family, and turned back towards the water.

On the second loop, the excellent swimming continued. The only problem I seemed to be having was that my wetsuit was rubbing on my neck and it was starting to hurt. To solve this, I did what any normal triathlete would do for the first time in a race. I changed my breathing pattern.

Wait...normal triathletes don't do that. Do they?

Done! Rocked it!
Nope. I was so exceedingly comfortable swimming in these awful conditions that I started fucking with MY STROKE in order to reduce the number of times I would have to turn my head to the right side and irritate the raw spot on my neck. I breathed on the left...I breathed every 3rd stroke...every 4th stroke. Just tried to keep switching it up. Because breathing wasn't my concern. It was chafing?
<Author shrugs shoulders>

I did slow down somewhat on the 2nd loop, probably a combination of worsening conditions and fatigue, but I still PR'd the swim split by over a minute and was only 6 minutes shy of my target time.

Final swim time: 1:16:07

I transitioned fairly efficiently and was in and out within my budgeted 10 minutes. The first big disappointment of the day hit me there. While running into transition, I saw Jake. At first I thought he had beat me in the swim, but when I went to congratulate him, he informed me that he had missed the cutoff. I didn't immediately grasp the concept. I seriously thought he was joking. He then reiterated that he had missed the time cutoff for finishing the first loop. My heart sank. I couldn't understand how such a strong all-around athlete like him could have had such trouble. I later found out that he had been pretty badly clobbered by some passing swimmers and had never been able to regain his rhythm. Thinking about him being out of the race, and furthermore, worrying about who else had possibly not made it out of the swim, definitely affected my mood for the majority of the bike leg which was next.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ironman Florida: Pre-Race Thoughts And Assorted Hopes/Expectations

T-Minus 1 day, 8 hours as I begin to compose this.

I sit in my hotel bed in Panama City, Florida. I look out the window and half a mile down the beach, I see where I'll be standing in that exact amount of time when the cannon blasts to signal the beginning of my 2nd Ironman.

The past few days have been a constant exercise in compare and contrast. I think back to June 2010 when I did my first Ironman in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. I think of how well I trained for that race and how well I've trained for this one. How many miles that time, how many miles this time. The bike I rode, the bike I have now. That course, this course. Lessons learned then, lessons hopefully to capitalize on this time. Confidence levels then, confidence levels now. Physical state of my body, then and now.

All I can say is that every comparison I could possibly make to what I consider the best race of my entire life...every single one leads to me being ridiculously excited and hopeful to find out what I'm capable of this weekend. All of it makes me believe I am capable of doing something amazing on Saturday.

The fellas
And to top it all off, I have the distinct pleasure of sharing the race course with several really great friends. My roommates, Jake and Adam, are both diving in headfirst by doing an Ironman as their first triathlon(and most likely last according to Jake). My good buddy Alan has shed a whopping 60 pounds on an amazing journey of self-improvement, self-discovery, and weight loss in his preparation for this race. And last but not least, Delaware...the first Ironman among our group of friends and my inspiration for becoming one too. This will be his 3rd Ironman, and I'm stoked as hell to have him here.

To say that I'm confident in the training I've put in this year would be a slight understatement. I have never felt more prepared for a race than I do for this one...hands down. The long hours riding and running circles around the downtown KC airport, usually keeping WELL above my intended race pace give me a lot of peace of mind. I even swam a decent amount this year. My two 70.3 triathlons, Kansas and Boulder, were both learning experiences...solid lessons in hydration, heat management, remembering why I race, and why I should never forget to relax and have fun.

Somehow I have managed to arrive at this race injury-free, unlike Coeur d'Alene. I give credit to several things for being so fortunate. Firstly, last winter my roommates devised the Kill The Bear fitness method, essentially cross-fit on crack-cocaine, complete with heavy ropes, burpees, weighted sled-drags, and the yelling of quotes from "The Edge". These workouts gave me an unprecedented level of all-around fitness which has reaped many benefits...more speed, more power, and being less prone to injury once I started really grinding the cycling and running gears. Additionally, I look back on this year and see how intelligently I trained. I seldom raced unprepared for the distance. I built mileage and tapered appropriately. When I was physically or mentally beaten up, I rested. Finally, a big reason I'm pain-free going into Saturday is that the majority of my running miles this year have been on trails, which are easier on the joints and provide a more diverse spectrum of muscle usage. And they're WAY more fun.

Until this year, I can honestly say that I had never had a brick workout(running immediately after cycling) that I felt had "gone well" or "felt good in any way shape or form". For a long time, I was convinced that running off the bike was simply supposed to be miserable. Then I had my very first good one. Not only did I not hate every moment of it...but I actually enjoyed it, and even more...I was FAST! Whereas previously my bricks were exercises in survival, now I actually was able to push the pace. These successful workouts continued and my confidence grew. I began to contemplate what I believed my body was capable of, and I was encouraged.

The nuts and bolts of it all? This year I have run just over 600 miles, cycled over 1300 miles, and swam about 22 miles. Those represent new personal yearly records across all disciplines, and I haven't ever DONE the race yet!

Expectations?

I firmly believe that I have a really good chance at finishing this race in 12 hours, which was the goal I set for myself almost a year ago. General Mojo's Well-Laid Plan includes a 1:10 swim, which is doable. Also a 6 hour bike on a flat and fast course with light winds...doable. Finally a 4:30 marathon on a flat course at 10:17 min/mile, only slightly faster than my run in hilly Coeur d'Alene....doable. Throw in 20 minutes wiggle room for both transitions and anything else the race could throw at me, and I'm crossing the finish line at 7 pm, folks. Of course, regardless of what happens timewise, I'm still dead set on enjoying the day. If 12 hours doesn't go, I've still got 90 more minutes to hit a PR, and beyond that, I will high-five every spectator jangling a cowbell and every tiny kid cheering just because mom is cheering. I will yell "Kill The Bear!" at my racing compatriots every time I see them and probably slap them on the ass for good measure. Make no mistake...Saturday will be a fun and memorable day, no matter what my legs decide to give me.

I also firmly believe that everyone I know that came here to race will finish. Adam is an absolute beast on the run, and his swim is really solid as well. His X-Factor will be the bike. Jake has a very relaxed attitude to this race and only worries about the swim. Although he doesn't keep track of his mileage, he has most likely trained more than I have this year. Faster than me on the bike AND the run, I'm fairly certain he has never been bad at anything he has ever attempted. This race will not be an exception. Alan has trained like a bat out of hell, lost a huge hunk of weight, and is now a machine. He had a DNF this year because of a swim mishap, but I think once he hits the water and finds his rhythm there will be no stopping him. Delaware unfortunately didn't get to put in much training this year due to time restrictions placed on him by work, but being the seasoned veteran, I still expect him to have a solid race.

The most exciting thing about my group of friends is this. If I had to put money on which of us would finish first, I would have no idea who to pick. We've all got our strengths and our weaknesses and I'm looking forward to seeing everybody out on the course and seeing how our days all play out.




So those are my expectations. These things will probably happen.


Now I ask myself..."What MIGHT happen?"

I have a Best Case Scenario/Monster Legs/Super-Happy-Fantasy-Land finishing time in mind. It seems outrageous, but it seems within the realm of possibility if I race to my absolute potential both physically and mentally, and with a little bit of luck. I'm not going to publicly state this time just yet, but if it happens, you'll be damn sure I'm gonna write about it.

I need to thank all the usual people. Mom, Dad, Chris and Mike. Jake, Del, Alan, and Adam. Alli. Jess. All of my Trail Nerd/Mudbabe friends. All the people who inspire me like Deanna, ultramarathon badass. Jeff, below-the-knee amputee and the most inspiring story to come out of Kona this year. Katie, who ran a trail half marathon only 5 months after undergoing open-heart surgery to replace a failing valve. All the people who pump me up when I've had a bad race, or who cheer me on when I've had a good race. All the people who find inspiration in what I do and go on to achieve their own greatness. All of your support and great attitudes help keep me motivated to be my best and to kill all of the bears in my life. Thank you all so much for who you are and what you do!

Saturday is going to be epic, and I hope you all tune in to follow us along as we tackle this challenge.

Our twitter feed is www.twitter.com/KTBinFL which our family and friends will hopefully be filling with race updates, athlete sightings, progress reports, and pictures. Officialy race splits and live-streaming video of the finish line will be at www.ironmanlive.com.

KTB

(Update: The race happened! Read about it here!)



Friday, August 10, 2012

Boulder 70.3: Smooth and Steady AKA "Learning To Let Go"

At the beginning of the season, my expectations for this race were pretty simple. Kansas 70.3 was intended to be my max effort PR attempt, and Boulder was supposed to be a good training day to fine tune nutrition, hydration, and race systems. When my Kansas race blew up, I decided that I would try again for a PR in Boulder(this was the pride talking). A few weeks passed and I really began to take stock of what I thought was reasonably attainable. My motivation and spirit were in the toilet after taking such a beating, the temperatures at home were consistently miserable, and my desire to train hard was nonexistent. I tried to forget about Boulder for a little while. I ran trails...lots of trails. I did short and fun trail races surrounded by good-hearted and supportive people(I'm talking about Trail Nerds and Mud Babes...love you guys/gals!). I ran for no other reason than to make myself happy. I rode the bike a few times, and I swam a few times...mainly just to reassure myself that I still knew how.

I rested. I recovered. I simply let myself do whatever it was I wanted to do on any given day. It was a nice change from the highly structured training plan I had in May, and though I worried that my fitness was suffering greatly, I did not worry so much that it affected my mood.

Boulder 70.3 was, once again, simply an opportunity to get a good long training day in the mountains. When I finally let go of the notion that I'd again try to break 6 hours, or even to attempt a PR, I promised myself that I'd put "have fun" high on my list of race priorities.

This whole 6 hour thing had really started to weigh on me heavily. For my very first triathlon, Kansas 70.3 in 2009, my original goal had been sub-6. And for the next 70.3 I did in Galveston, same goal. In fact, I had attempted this distance 4 times, all with the goal of breaking 6 hours, and had still yet to achieve that mark. To say that these races were failures would be going too far, but all along I knew I was capable of doing it, and the repeated disappointments were increasingly discouraging, especially after I was so certain it would happen this last time.

So to be completely honest, letting that 6 Hour monkey off of my back was incredibly liberating. I was going to have a fun, happy, carefree, and smooth race in Boulder if I could do nothing else. In fact, my absolute #1 goal for the day was simply not to get sunburned. But I had a plan for that, if nothing else. Also, as a result of my asthma attack in June, I was now on a new drug called Singulair which was intended to prevent bronchospasm. This race was to be the true litmus test as to its efficacy. 

On race day, the temps were forecasted to peak in the 90's, but most likely not until after I was done racing. This was encouraging, as I was really getting sick of racing in extreme heat, and it would make hydration and keeping cool slightly simpler. I had also invested in a white long-sleeve race top made of cooling fabric. With the dual purpose of keeping the sun off of my skin and keeping cool(it has 3 pockets along the spine specifically designed to hold ICE!!!), I considered this my secret weapon.

The Swim

My past two 70.3 swims had gone very poorly. No wetsuits, leaking goggles, and incredibly choppy water had resulted in my two worst swim splits ever, worse even than my first triathlon which I'm pretty sure I doggy-paddled the entire way. Boulder Reservoir had been deemed "wetsuit legal" as of that morning and the waters were calm, but my biggest concern was the altitude. I had very little experience swimming at altitude and had no idea how I would perform. Again, the goal was slow, smooth, happy, and easy, so I tried to worry as little as possible and was content to simply wait and see what would happen. Additionally, I promised myself I would not look at my watch until I was back on dry land.

Last swim wave of the day...horn sounds...easy stroll into the water...no rush...find some space... find a rhythm...breath easy. Breath easy?

Yes. I was swimming and breathing easily, more than 4000 feet higher than my lungs were accustomed to. This was exceedingly unexpected, seeing as how just the day before I was out of breath carrying my luggage to Delaware's car. I considered the likelihood that I was simply moving very slow, decided I didn't give a good god-damn, and continued swimming comfortably.

I didn't pay attention to how long I thought I had been out, I just focused on each stroke, each breath, and sighting for the next buoy. I made the first turn, and then the second turn, and I could see the beach far in the distance. Some amount of time passed and I was rapidly approaching the swim exit. My curiosity grew and grew, but I did not give in. I did not look at my watch. I swam until my fingers hit sand, and then I popped onto my feet, jogging towards the timing mat. Dry land. Time to relieve my curiosity.

Final swim time: 36:40. I was shocked. I didn't give it too much thought at the time because I immediately set myself to the task of completing my swim-bike transition, but something subtle stirred in my heart. I had a new swim split PR, and it had felt incredibly easy. I was still intent on a smooth easy race, but there were some rumblings of possibility in the back of my head.

I completed transition, making sure to get sunblock on all of my exposed skin, per my primary objective, and headed out onto the bike course with a smile on my face.

The Bike

Once again, coming off of a very disappointing bike split in Kansas, I promised myself to race by feel instead of trying to crush and blowing up my run. I knew that 18.7 mph was the mark I'd need to FINALLY break 3 hours on the 56 mile bike split, but I also knew that my goal for that day was to hydrate and fuel properly to set myself up for a decent run(aka NOT walking the entire way). I had scouted the bike course on a previous visit and was prepared for the first 10-11 miles being gently uphill. I knew that I'd have a pretty slow average speed for that first stretch of each of the 2 laps, so I settled in and spun an easy gear in my aero bars.

Each lap has a long section of downhill that lasts about 7 miles. It is not steep or twisty, so even a chicken-shit flatlander like myself is free to lay off the brakes and just let it fly. And let it fly I did. After hitting the peak of the climbing on the first lap, my average speed was 15 mph, and by the end of the exhilirating downhill, I was up to 19 mph. The rest of the loop was flat, and my average speed was still around 19 when I began my second loop. Delaware always seems to pass me on the bike leg of any triathlon we do together, and this one was no different: he passed me shortly before the end of my first lap. With him ahead of me and gradually disappearing up the road, I reminded myself of my primary objectives. I could chase him down. I could keep my average this high and break 3 hours on the bike. But I didn't have to. I continued to ride intelligently, focusing on hydration and fuel. I even stopped to pee partway through my 2nd lap. There wasn't much, and it was kind of dark, so I vowed to increase the fluid intake to set myself up for a good run.

Some good memories from my ride...1) THE quintessential hippy dude was passing out peaches that I assumed to be homegrown. I regretted not grabbing one(despite this being strictly forbidden according to USAT rules), because he was not there on the 2nd lap....2) A brief chat with another racer on my first lap. As I passed her, I commented on what a beautiful day it was. She whole-heartedly agreed and mentioned that it was at least 10 degrees cooler than it had been last year. I then mentioned how I had raced in KS earlier this summer, to which she replied, "Ugh, Kansas is such a hard race. All us locals here know to avoid that one." So it turns out that doing Ironman Kansas as my first triathlon was kind of badass....3) Passing a guy who was racing in an old school KU basketball jersey. I gave an emphatic "Rock Chalk Jayhawk!" as I passed him.

I finished the 2nd lap, with my average speed around 18.5, yet I was confident I hadn't torched my legs. I didn't look at my watch as I crossed the timing mat, but I would find out later that I had set a new PR for a 70.3 bike split....3:02:09. Not bad for "taking it easy".

The Run

I transitioned efficiently, making sure to reapply sunblock again, and then I headed out onto the run course, with the temperatures beginning to creep up. I glanced briefly at my overall time, but whatever I saw didn't exactly stick in my short term memory. I knew that less than 4 hours had elapsed since I ran into the reservoir that morning, but I didn't remember exactly how much. At this point, my brain was fully aware that breaking 6 hours was a definite possibility. And beyond that, finishing under 6:05 would result in a PR, which still would have been absolutely thrilling. According to the math I did in my head, based on vague recollections of time splits I was *kinda* sure of, I had to run 13.1 miles in about 2 hours and 10 minutes if I wanted to break 6 hours.

Of course, this was still not my priority. I was still intent on racing happy and comfortable(to whatever extent I could). I would try to keep a good pace, but not at the expense of enjoyment(to whatever extent I could). My first order of business was to find a portapotty. I spent a minute or so waiting my turn, and when I finally got in, I was reassured that my hydration efforts on the bike had been wildly successful.

Hitting the road, I began to lay down what felt like a 9-10 minute pace, and was surprised to be holding it consistently. The 2 loop run course had rolling hills for the first half of each trip around the reservoir, and then flattened out across the dam before completing the circle. I only walked at aid stations, and I took it easy on the hills. I fully took advantage of the ice pockets in my shirt and was thrilled that despite being "the rattly guy" I was keeping quite cool.

The curiosity was eating me alive. I wanted to keep looking at my overall time so I could obsess on a minute-by-minute basis of where I was in relation to 6 hours. I really wanted to, but I promised myself that I'd race by feel until I had 2 miles left. Then I would let myself look at overall time, and if I thought it possible, I could go for it. For now, however, it was simple: Run happy, hydrate and fuel smartly, and carry on.

I saw Delaware on the out-and-back and realized he wasn't too far ahead of me. That gave me another potential bonus prize for this race. In my opinion, Delaware is a total badass, and catching or passing him is always good motivation for me. But not yet. We high-fived as we passed each other, and continued on our respective journeys.

As I passed the halfway mark, I stared longingly at the "Finish This Way" sign. I thought to myself "Soon enough it will be mine" as I chose the "2nd Lap This Way" path. I glanced at my watch. Total run time elapsed was 1:05. That was half of the original 2:10 that I had estimated for breaking 6. I was ON PACE.

The 2nd lap hit me hard. Running by the finish line and hearing all the cheers and excitement and yet not getting to partake in the festivities, it has always brought with it a small hit to my morale. As I settled back in for another loop, I really began to feel the fatigue in my legs. The hills were brutal, and I did allow myself a handful of brief walks. They were under control however. I was CHOOSING to walk, rather than having it forced upon me. I would tell myself "Alright, 20 paces and then we're back at it." and I would stick to the plan. My legs still had some oomph left in them.

Unfortunately, the occasional glance at my average pace told me I was slowing down. I was putting in some 11 minute miles, and I was beginning to get concerned. I knew that I had reached a tipping point. A choice had to be made. How bad did I want 6 hours? If I wanted it at all, something had to change, and it had to change NOW. I increased my pace, only slightly enough to know that I was now running with purpose. And that purpose HURT! I still held to the promise that I wouldn't check my overall time until I had 2 miles left.

I saw Delaware again on the out-and-back. I had gained on him, and he was within reach. He saw me, and I believe he knew exactly what was going on in my head. As we passed each other he yelled, "If you want it, you have to dig deep." He had read my mind, and that was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in my life. I made the turnaround and got him in my sights. I slowly gained on him and after about a mile, I caught him.

As I came alongside my friend, I realized another thing. I had almost exactly 2 miles left in my race. The moment of truth was at hand. I toggled my watch to show total time. Again reading my mind, Del asked me how much time I had left. My watch told me that 5 hours and 39 minutes had elapsed since my day began. That gave me just around 20 minutes to duke it out with the last 2 miles and achieve the unthinkable on this particular day.

With that, I left Del behind and pushed my body to its limit. My inner monologue was in overdrive, and occasionally became my outer monologue as I spoke out loud to myself, and sometimes yelled, "Come on Danny. You've got this. What one man can do....KILL THE BEAR!"

Oh how those miles hurt. I was gasping for air. I was groaning. I was cursing. I was muttering odd things to myself. I'm sure everyone I passed thought I was a complete loony, but I continued. I shudder to imagine what my running form looked like, but I would bet money that it involved at least some amount of flailing. I was throwing my body in the direction of the finish line, and the clock was ticking. I repeatedly looked at my total race time and kept going back and forth on whether or not I was going to make it. "10 minutes left, I got this!",  "5 minutes left. Shit. I'm not going to make it.", "3 minutes left! Fuck, I can't even do that math in my head.", "2 minutes left...WHERE'S THE GOD DAMN FINISH LINE?!?!".

The end of the run course has a small little hump before a gentle downhill towards the finish area. On this first lap, this hump was barely perceptible. On the second lap, with time ticking away, this was a slap in the face and a kick in the balls. I felt like I was desperately clawing my way up a mountain, with certain death beckoning from below. I crested the top and STILL couldn't see the finish line. I lengthened out my stride and flung myself full-steam towards the sounds that were coming from the finish area. At this point, I was very likely screaming like a banshee at the top of my lungs, though I don't quite remember one way or the other.


"Finish This Way"....oh you are SO my bitch now!

I split off to the right and made the turn into the finisher's chute. Final watch check: 5:59. The thing about this screen on my watch is that it doesn't display seconds. It could be 5:59:01....it could be 5:59:59. I had no choice but to make an all-out sprint to the finish line. Whether I was over or under, I knew that I was 100% stoked with my performance. I pumped my fist and screamed in triumph. Something amazing had just happened. I crossed the finish line, having given absolutely everything.

Final run time: 2:12:36

Final event time:  5:59:40

And I didn't get a sunburn. Complete success.

I wouldn't see my official time until quite awhile later, as I spent what felt like hours stumbling around in a daze. I sat in the lake for a little while. I limped up to the the expo area and stuffed my face with pizza and attempted to rehydrate and replenish all of my essential electrolytes. Once I finally began to feel human again, I walked over to where the results were posted and got my confirmation. I had indeed broken 6 hours...by a mere 20 seconds. I thought of the numerous times during my 2nd lap when I thought I needed to walk. Just for a little while. It'll be ok.

As it turns out, even walking ONE additional time would have been the difference. Still a PR, but to come so close and miss it by so little...I have a feeling that would have bugged me. I'm so glad to have simply DONE it this time and now I can finally cast off my 6 hour demons once and for all.

Additionally, my final run split didn't post to Ironman Live until the following morning, much to the chagrin of my mother and girlfriend. When it finally did post, I discovered that I had accomplished something I believe I've never done in a long triathlon until now...negative splits on the run. This was pretty much icing on the cake. With few exceptions, the majority of my run splits from long triathlons have involved blowing up and crashing at some point. This, while not my fastest, was probably my most graceful run split, and I proved it by running the 2nd half significantly faster than the first half!
So...what did I learn from this whole ordeal? I include the Kansas 70.3 in "this ordeal" because it played largely in the lesson I learned. It's the same lesson I "learned" after blowing up at Wyco last summer. When I sit down and think about why I do all of this stuff, I have several answers. It keeps me in shape. It keeps me inspired. It inspires others. I like the feeling I get when I finish a well-planned and intelligently executed race. I like passing out in bed cuddling my finisher's medal when I get home. I like refusing to remove my race wristband for AT LEAST a week afterwards so I can parade it around work and tell people about the awesome thing I did.

But MOST of all. At the end of the day, I do this because I enjoy the hell out of it. I sometimes pity the Olympic athletes who probably don't have the luxury of the occasional "take it easy" race. For them, their sport and their passion is also their obligation. I will never willingly become a competitive racer. Why?

Because I love racing too much to let my enjoyment depend on how fast I am. I hope I don't ever forget that again.

Thanks for reading. Go forth and kill the bear!

Danny

P.S. .....and I didn't get a sunburn!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

IMKS 70.3 2012: Legs Go Boom AKA "Sucks To Your Ass-mar"...

Training
The big secret leading into my first big race of this season...the ace up my sleeve...was that I had a coach. A friend of mine who is getting certified as a triathlon coach(often referred to as CC in this blog) wanted a test subject. A project. A guinea pig. I was happy to offer myself as a trial client for her to get some practice scheduling and analyzing workouts. And boy did she come up with some doozies! Triple bricks, hill repeats, and lots of heart rate based training, which I had absolutely zero experience with.

All of this structured and purposeful training was beginning to make me feel like a total badass, and I was feeling incredibly confident about Ironman Kansas. My initial goal of 5:30 did seem a bit lofty, especially because CC only had about 3 weeks to work with me before raceday. Thinking more realistically, 5:45 seemed well within reach. I had put in a lot of miles on the fancy new bike, I had a solid running base, and I was swimming stronger than ever. Breaking 6 hours seemed a foregone conclusion, and I even told that to many of my friends when asked of my expectations for the race.

At no point did I remind myself that I do all of this because it is fun. That was my first mistake.

Pre-Race 

In short, I did everything like I was supposed to. In contrast to the pre-race disaster from last year, I didn't get a sunburn at the event expo the day before the race, I hydrated well all weekend, I carb-loaded properly, I ate dinner the night before, breakfast the morning of, and I got plenty of sleep. I planned my nutrition according to what I know has worked from experience(or at least as best as I could remember).

Unlike last year, Kansas apparently did not get the memo that I was trying to set a PR and did not behave accordingly. Temps were predicted to be in the 90's, winds were going to be stiff, and the water was too warm for a wetsuit legal swim.

Giddyup.

The Swim

The men's 30-34 L-Z wave was once again scheduled to be dead last, exactly an hour after the pros started, and once again meaning that I'd be out in the Kansas heat an hour later into the day. As I said before, no wetsuits allowed, so I'd expect to be a little slower in the water, but I wasn't worried. I chose to swim without a wetsuit last year and I was ok.

As we lined up and waded into the water, I immediately noticed that I couldn't get a good seal on my left goggle. I kept trying. And trying. And then my race started, and I hadn't yet succeeded in getting it to seal. So I started swimming. And then I stopped because it filled with water after about 10 seconds. I emptied it, tried to reseal it, and then began swimming again. And then I stopped. You can kinda see where this is going...for almost HALF of the 1.2 mile swim, I was able to swim for about 10 seconds at a time before having to stop and "fix" my goggles. It is nearly impossible to describe how infuriating this was without using every swear word in my vocabulary, and I should also mention that it is incredibly difficult to tread water when your arms are otherwise occupied.

Did I mention it was incredibly choppy...possibly worse than last year? It was. But that wasn't even my challenge. A f*cking equipment malfunction from a relatively new pair of goggles that had performed beautifully all season until THIS moment. They finally stopped leaking after I turned back towards shore, but the damage was done. I swam like a bat out of hell and probably passed 50 people on the way back, but I may as well have doggy-paddled the first half. In retrospect, I am thinking that maybe the sunscreen on my face was affecting the seal. Lesson learned, I guess?

(Sidenote: I also got kicked in the face once during the swim. No biggee.)

Final swim time: 46:36  Once again my worst 70.3 swim split, despite my strongest swim fitness ever.

The Bike

Here was my chance to shine. In February I purchased a brand new, fancy-schmancy, tri-specific, carbon-fiber, beautiful and elegant Isabella. The Trek Speed Concept 7.0 in all her glory. Not only that, but I had put in nearly 600 miles on her, most of which was in the last few months. I felt like a beast on the bike. I was averaging 19-20 mph on my training rides. I absolutely KNEW that I would break 3 hours on my bike split. The only real question was By How Much?

Based on my newly acquired heart rate zone knowledge, I was planning on trying to stay in zone 2-3 to help keep myself from overexerting, or "spending too many pennies" on the bike. After transition, which was within my time budget at around 5 minutes, I got cranking on the bike. Upon my first glance at my Garmin, I was in Zone 6. That's "All Out Sprint" effort. Not sure why my heart rate was so freakishly high so soon, but I immediately tried to calm myself down and get some steady spinning going. It worked...kinda. I was able to get back down into a more reasonable zone, but then I remembered, "Oh yeah, this course is really really hilly". I decided that I'd have to deal with occasional heart rate spikes with the hills. And then there was the wind.

The wind was incredibly stiff and consistent, coming out of the south. The bike course headed straight south for the majority of the first half of the 56 miles. At this point there was really no "conserve" option. All I had available was a "survive" option. On many portions of the course, there really was no "easy" pace that also involved the bike moving forward. I tried to maintain a semi-decent pace and hoped that once I caught the tailwind my average speed would increase enough to get close to 3 hours. It didn't.

I finished my bike split in 3:05:04. Yes, that is my fastest 70.3 bike split ever. By less than a minute. During my first triathlon...here 3 years ago...on a 10 year old entry level road bike...I rode a 3:06. Given everything I've told you about my training, the new bike, and my supposed "experience" as a triathlete, you can begin you grasp how disappointing this was.

And of course, the knowledge that I had most likely completely blown up my legs to do it. That wasn't reassuring.

The "Run"

 I had a decent transition. Could've been faster, could've fumbled around less, but I got in and out in about 2 minutes. I checked my total time as I exited transition and my watch read 3:59. An entire minute faster than this point last year. Absolutely thrilling to have put in so much time to gain myself a pitiful 60 seconds. The demons in my head were having a field day and my confidence and spirit were more or less nonexistent.

Not that it mattered.

The plan was to start my run at a 9:00 min/mile pace, and then gradually speed up as the legs loosened up and my running gears got warm. Seeing as how I couldn't even START that fast, you can see how a plan like that would fall apart fairly quickly. With much effort, I was able to hold a 9:30 pace for a couple miles, but when it became apparent that my legs were not capable of continuing that for any longer, everything shut down. I walked.

It was clear to me that I was in for a miserable few hours. And I had defeated myself mentally when I was on the bike and I was certain that this would happen. Would it have made a difference if I were blissfully unaware that I was riding too hard? I guess I'll never know.

All of my goals went out the window fairly rapidly as my average pace fell and fell. 5:45...gone. 6:00....yeah....gone. PR? Nope. At a certain point I briefly cared about not finishing with my slowest time ever. Only briefly though. The only thing I wanted was to be done. I thought about quitting, but not seriously. Apparently the only reasonable option for me to be done was by crossing the finish line.

The next few hours consisted of me alternating between walking and "running", which I put in quotations because it probably wasn't much faster than my walking pace. I was not happy. I was not enjoying myself. I was not having fun. The only high points were passing Delaware's campsite where several people whom I care about deeply were hanging out to cheer for me, and the few aid stations where some good friends were volunteering. Erin, a friend from Lawrence, was at one of them and made several desperate attempts to cheer me up. As little as I showed it, I did appreciate the effort. Several Mudbabes and Trail Nerds were staffing another aid station, including Megan M and Indika M. On my second loop Indi even walked with me for awhile, which really meant a lot.

Of all the wonderful people who were there to support me, the VIP award goes to Allison. And once I get into what happened after my race, you'll see why. She agreed to give up her Sunday to come watch me race, and even snapped some pretty awesome photographs before it became apparent that my race was becoming a nightmare(appropriately enough, her last picture was of me leaving T2). Once the sufferfest began, every time I passed the campsite, she was there asking me how I was feeling and what I needed. Unfortunately, I was way too out of it to even know what had gone wrong, and what I needed to make it better.

So it went, I trudged through 13.1 miles in 2:47:39. My slowest half marathon ever, including my half splits from the full Ironman. At the end, I was able to muster a solid run down the finishing chute. I found Allison and gave her a sweaty kiss before I finished, and then with a little pep in my step I did some sort of goofy jump/kick/splits across the finish line(still awaiting event photos to see how this one turned out).

Final time: 6:46:43 My slowest half Ironman by almost 25 minutes.

The Med Tent

Allison was waiting for me after I got my finisher's medal and photo op. I don't know what I looked like, but it couldn't have been good. On my last loop she had asked me what I needed at the finish line. I'm fairly certain I gave her no useful information, but she suggested some gatorade and some food and I suppose that sounded reasonable. Had I even been remotely aware of what was going on I would have also suggested she grab my inhaler from my backpack. I didn't remember the point on my last loop where I was doubled over wheezing and having a coughing fit. If I had remembered any of that, I might have had better suggestions for her.

But as it stood, she was standing there with some gatorade and immediately found some chairs in a tent where we could sit and I could cool down. I remember surprisingly little of this, but I do remember at one point I rested my head in her lap and began quietly sobbing for some reason unknown to myself. Then a gentleman in a yellow shirt came up with a "Hey buddy, are you ok?" The ensuing conversation ended with a recommendation that I visit the med tent, which I am OH so familiar with. Of the 4 half-iron distance races I have completed, this now makes 3 visits to the med tent. And also 3 times this race has left me in tears.

I found a seat in the med tent and the first gentleman to see me recommended that I go ahead and lie down flat. The part of my brain that holds all of my nursing expertise was unfortunately not able to make decisions...but it knew that lying down flat was a bad idea for somebody who was in borderline respiratory distress. But that part kept silent for the time being. Within seconds of doing as the medical volunteer instructed, it started. I coughed once...and then again...and the irritation in my airways got worse and worse with each cough. Everything was tightening up really quickly. The guy immediately realized his mistake, apologized, and directed me to sit back up...but it was too late.

During football practice in 8th grade, I had an asthma attack and was subsequently diagnosed with exercise induced asthma. Since then, this condition has never been more than an annoyance. Occasional tightness in the chest following a hard workout on cold days. Nothing more.

Until this moment.

As my coughing became uncontrollable, I noticed that my inhalations were becoming more and more labored...more desperate. I came to the not-so-calm realization that I was fucking suffocating. This set off alarms in my brain and my attempts to breath became even more desperate and pitiful. My eyes began to water and I sobbed ever so slightly between ineffectual gasps for air. This occurred over the course of about 10 seconds, at which point the volunteer asked if I had asthma...I was able to kind of choke out "exercise induced" but because I was unable to breath, I wasn't really able to fully explain how "mild" my condition was.. There's some irony in there somewhere, I think.

Allison held my hand the entire time and was able to kind of translate for me that albuterol would help, and they set me up with a nebulizer treatment and an shot of benadryl into my deltoid. My breathing slowed gradually, and my airways opened back up.

With the asthma attack rapidly resolving, I began to take stock of the rest of me. I was still mostly out of it, but knew that I must be dehydrated based on my knowledge that I hadn't peed since I finished swimming, and that I had stopped sweating at some point during the run. I knew my electrolytes were out of whack as well because both of my hands were tingling and to my horror began to slowly cramp up, contorting themselves into a grotesque position, giving the appearance of rheumatoid arthritis. They were so tense that the volunteer couldn't even get an accurate blood pressure. Allison was prying one hand open while the volunteer worked on the other. Once those subsided, Allison began hand feeding me pretzels and holding the gatorade bottle to my lips because I was too weak to hold it myself. I'm fairly certain I have never felt so helpless, and at the same time I was reminded how grateful I am to have somebody like her in my life.

At some point, I got enough fluids and salt that I woke up from my delerium. I'm not sure what I did...I might have made a stupid joke, or maybe it was that bizarre techno remix of "Jump In The Line" that caught my attention and caused me to start air drumming or something...but Allison immediately noticed the improvement in my level of consciousness and said "Hey, you're back!"

I was able to figure out a plan to get my car moved, because I was in no condition to drive, and Allison drove me home and got me fed and into bed.

 The Aftermath

Besides a sunburn and disappointment, it's hard to know what to take away from this. Everyone insists to me that the conditions were just THAT bad and there was nothing to do about it. I feel like there is more to it, and that there is something I did wrong that caused this whole trainwreck. I know for certain that I need more fluid on the bike. I am looking into adjusting my hourly electrolyte intake. CC tells me that I need MORE work on the bike, and a DailyMile friend reminded me of the biggest most important detail that I completely forgot. The reason I do any of this ridiculousness. It's supposed to be fun. I'm not such a hardcore athlete that I need to race for any other reason. Setting a new PR doesn't matter. Beating my brother's time doesn't matter. None of it matters unless I'm actually enjoying what I do. I suspect one of the reasons my first full Ironman was such a success is because I had a blast every single minute of it. I need to get that back in a BIG way, otherwise I suspect Ironman Florida will be a day worth forgetting.

I want to thank Del, Jess, Alan, Erin, Megan, Indi, and everyone else who cheered for me on Sunday. Your presence and spirit helped me through an incredibly difficult day. I also want to thank everyone on Facebook who helped pump me up for this race, congratulated me on finishing, and expressed sympathy and concern over how my day ended. And lastly, there really aren't any words for Allison that I haven't already told her a hundred times.

Thank you all for reading, and for your incredible support!

Bonus pictures
Rough swim, but happy to see my gal!
Chatting with Delaware in transition.
Heading off down the road.

Running off into oblivion.