Tuesday, June 12, 2012

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

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.


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.


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.


  1. Great writing. Way to suffer it out. Sounds like you enjoyed the training at least. You're still a beast in my book. Sophia

  2. Near death experiences are so exciting. I can't get over how much you look like a porn star with your stache. Having fun is a great goal.

  3. You inspire me with your determination.
    The last race I ever raced in was Junior National Trials in '89. I did sucky on the time trial, losing several minutes to the leader. Seven or so miles into the road race I was in the back third of the pack when I flatted. I fixed my flat and rode back to the starting line. The end. I have not raced since. The fact that you just keep going encourages me in my endeavors. When I don't feel like working out, I just conjur up an image of you, and it convinces me that I should go be active.
    Oh, and FYI, you did set a Loental World Record...for SLOWEST Half Ironman...you need to be specific with goal setting...Love you Brother.

  4. I do see smiles in those pics . . . it was a horrendously difficult day and you pushed through it. I had no idea you were in such distress in the med tent or I would have been there. Duh. Med tent. I should have been there . . . I still think you're tough as nails and a total rockstar. Your synopisis is perfect and your mental faculties sharp, refective and poignant. You will move on and do great things!! -- CC