I was really looking forward to this 70.3! After the debacle at Syracuse and all the lessons learned, knowing the Timberman course like I do and the projected cooler (high 70's, low 80's) weather forecasted, I thought the conditions would be perfect for me to crush the race. Friday was spent getting up to the venue, getting checked in, meeting with the great Ironman staff (story to come about that later) hitting the expo to buy race gear and then a quick swim and run with J and Kim.
Saturday was spent milling about the expo and venue, checking in bikes and buying tons of Timberman gear. Very rarely do I buy race-event gear but after not buying stuff at Syracuse (losing it all in a taken bag, long story) and nothing in my size being available online after the race, there was no way I wasn't going to have enough Timberman 70.3 gear! Then it was back to the hotel for simple dinner and an early night's sleep.
Race day wake up came at 3am (never ceases to amaze me that I can't get my butt out of bed at 6am to get ready and into work but will be an alarm on race day) packing everything up and heading to the venue to get parked. Great parking spot found, it was time to head into transition to set up. I will say that I really enjoy setting up my transition area. Its a great, quiet time to envision the race. How you'll get into and out of the transition, what you'll need, how to finish. I use it as a great visioning exercise for the day and a way to cement locations and paths I want to take to and from. I find it very settling. I also get a little chuckle to lighten the mood by seeing folks layout their living room's worth of stuff around their bikes. I understand the wanting to have everything but people you just don't need to have it there.
I have to say, I wasn't nervous at all...getting my wetsuit on, getting down to the start, swimming a bit in the water (which felt great by the way), right up until I queued up in my wave. I have no idea why but a hurricane of butterflies hit my gut as I stood there. All I could do was close my eyes, take deep breaths, focus on the task at hand and get ready to enter the water. Now when you sign up for Ironman races they ask you to write a short bio about yourself and why you're doing this race...imagine my surprise when they read MY bio as we entered the water.
I was blown away and to be quite honest, very moved. I get so focused on racing and times and such that I forget how far I've come. I yelled "thank you!" when the announcer wished me the best of luck and couple of my fellow racers leaned over to shake my hand and wish me good luck as well. All the nerves went away. I thought to myself that this will be a great swim for me and started to move toward the front of my wave. I've spent way too many races now seeding myself in the middle or back. I'm gonna find a pair of feet to hop on and if these guys wanna swim, they can swim over me!
The Swim: 1.2 miles, 38:35 - 2:02/100m (a new PR!)
The horn goes off and I start swimming. I know the first few hundred meters will be a meleé so I just focus on keeping a good line and concentrating on form. The Timberman swim course is more of a rectangle (short to first turn buoy, long to the second, short into the exit) so my goal was to get out in open water by the first turn, try to find feet to hop onto and swim hard to the last turn buoy. I knew I was swimming hard because I was breathing every other stroke and while I felt the effort, I felt really good. I just focused keeping calm, sighting the next buoy, swimming hard to it, focusing on form (especially not dropping my left shoulder at each breath), repeat. As I hit the second turn buoy to head home the feeling of a full bladder hit me. Now, unlike "real" swimmers I am unable to pee while swimming so the next 100 meters was spent debating whether to stop and pee or try to pee when I get into transition or while out on the bike (don't "eww", plenty of triathletes do it). I thought the best choice was to stop briefly, pee and then get back to business.
Getting to the swim exit required swimming over people but I swam as far as possible (the lake is extremely shallow going out and coming in for quite a way) before standing to get off my cap/goggles and start getting my wetsuit off. As I exited the water I glanced down to pause my Polar RCX5G5 and saw that I just did the swim on 39:30!!! Are you kidding me?! I couldn't believe it. Did I really just knock 6 minutes off my swim PR?! I was afraid to dwell on it just in case I read the watch wrong but I could crack a smile that the day seemed to start off very well. I changed my focus on getting to the bike, getting off my wetsuit and getting out for the bike leg without incident. Unfortunately I nicked something heading out of transition and lost control of the bike for a second but recovered quickly, mounted and was on my way.
T1: 3:02 (not great but not bad)
The Bike: 56 miles, 3:00:03 - 18.66mph
Ok, here's where all the lessons learned from Syracuse had to kick in. I started drinking water as soon as the course flattened out and popped 2 salt tabs. As I got settled into a good rhythm in the first mile I passed a terrible crash with a cyclist on his back, face covered in blood. So terrible, but medical personnel were getting there so I needed to shake it off and get back to work. I knew that there was a big hill coming at mile 11 or 12 so I had a few miles to build a head of steam, get a good rhythm/pace, get hydrated, get fed and prepared for the climb.
I was averaging around 24mph and was feeling good. My legs felt great, I was force hydrating and got calories in me which should pay off big later in the race. There was a slight downhill into a turn around mile 9 and then the unthinkable happened. Going into the turn at about 28mph, the woman in front of me picked an outside line, so I picked one to the inside. About mid-way into the turn she decided she wanted to change direction and jumped to the inside...right in front of me and on the line I was taking...sending me straight into the pavement.
As I went down I tucked in my left arm (so thankful for all the learning-how-to-crash-training I got as a young cyclist because had I put my hand down I would've broken my collarbone and ended my day for sure) and rolled as I hit the pavement. More cycling training kicked in and I slapped my hands down to stop my "slide" only to realize that I wasn't wearing gloves and tore open the palm on my right hand. I could do nothing now but tuck and roll to ride it out (kinda funny how time slows and you can think of things to do or not to do as they happen). Me and my bike slid across and ended up on the other side of the road. I knew it must have looked like a bad crash because I heard the collective gasps and "oh s***s" of the people around me.
I hopped up to grab my bike just from a volunteer as a police officer walked over with my water bottles to tell me he was gonna call an ambulance. "The **** you are" I replied "just leave me alone for a second and I'm on my way". Maybe not the best way to address a cop but I wasn't going to take a chance of having some EMT "play it safe" and pull me from the course. I got my bell rung and my shoulders and side were on fire. I knew I hit my head hard but wouldn't know how bad until later. Looking down all I could see was blood all over each hand, I ripped the tip off my left pinkie and tore the thumbnail off my right thumb, and I couldn't close either hand. I thought to myself "well, isn't this just going to make for an interesting rest of the day?! As I stood on the side of the road, dazed and bleeding, I was crestfallen. Syracuse was a crap show. Here I was at Timberman having a great race, everything going to plan and it all went away in an instant.
But, there is no way I'm not finishing. Firstly, because I don't have any quit in me. You can pull me off a course but I'll find a way to keep swimming, biking or running but I'll never, ever quit. Secondly, I was so excited to do this race and execute my perfect race plan that I had bought a TON of race branded gear. There was no way I was gonna take that back! So, I got back on the bike and started pedaling. Unfortunately, that hill I was hoping to build momentum for and fly over was right around the corner so I'd have to slog through it. The moment I got out of the saddle the rock the bike it felt like somebody had hit me in the chest with a baseball bat. Then it dawned on me...on top of all the skin and gear damage...I might've broke or cracked a rib. Ok, ok..let's think about this. I can lock myself in aero, not move my torso very much, focus on pedal turnover and get back to transition. Then I'll see how I feel out on the run. That sounded like a plan, let's do that.
Now, I'm angry. I'm angry that I've NEVER had a bike crash until now...NEVER. I'm angry that someone could be so careless and jump my line at speed. I'm angry that my "redemption race" is slipping away. That anger fueled me to make sure I ate, hydrated and salt-tabbed and pedaled my ass off to the turn. I hit the turn to see I was averaging around 20mph thus far. Not anywhere near where I wanted to be...and then...I guess the adrenaline wore off.
Coming home I felt like I was pedaling through mud and deep breaths were out because of the pain. Throw in that I was getting passed...by some people I had passed already...and by people who went by me with looks of horror on their face (which let me know I must've torn myself up worse than I thought) and that second 23 miles was torture. I just kept telling myself that I needed to bike as hard as I could because I knew I'd lose time on the run. I've never been so happy to get into transition. I only had a short run left, I kept telling myself it’s a series of 5ks and then I'd get that medal and get to wear my finisher's clothes (no one ever said triathlete thoughts were sane).
T2: 4:48 (not bad, terrible)
The Run: 13.1 miles, 2:32:22 - 11:37min/mi pace (horrible)
As I came into transition I thought I could quickly get out of cycling gear, get on my running gear and figure out how I felt on the run. But...my body had other plans. Getting off the bike and running to my transition spot was difficult. Bending over to grab my shoes was hard and getting my shoes on, even with flex laces, was excruciating. My fingers were bloody and stuck together, my hands were swollen and didn't want to work and I never thought the "pulling action" of getting on shoes would hurt my ribs so much. All I could see were stars...ok, ok...quick breaths, quick sip of water and get out on the run.
The course is a double out and back loop so I broke it down in my head to four 5ks (actually 3.3 miles each loop) and I just need to focus on each 5k in order to get through it. Luckily, your legs really hate going from hard effort cycling to running so the pain out of the heads of my quads overshadowed the skin/chest pain for a mile or so. All I was trying to do was breathe and keep a solid upright form while running. I figured if I could do that maybe I could just fight everything else off.
I finally caught J, who's swim wave had been 4 minutes ahead of me. I had hoped to catch her in the first 10 miles of the bike to use as a "marker" but that's how bad my day was going. As I went by her the look of horror on her face told me everything. All I could manage was to say "crash" as I went by and just kept running.
The first 5k out is flat to downhill and my chest was killing me. I knew the turn and the 5k loop back was gonna be uphill and that's where I'd find out what I had in me. I turned that first 3.3 miles on an 8:39 pace. No land speed record but not bad considering. The return trip uphill was when it really hit me. I couldn't swing my arms to "dig" into the hill and as I needed to breathe deeply from effort my chest felt like someone was slamming a baseball bat into my left side. The only thing I could think to do was unzip my top and grab onto it to make modified sling, hold my arm tight against my body (to get some relief from the pounding of running) and keep going.
I passed a guy run/walking who said "dude, you look pretty bad, maybe you should see the docs". "I will" I said "right after I cross the finish line". His response? "spoken like a true Ironman". I took a little solace in that comment. I'm not an Ironman. I've only done half Ironman events. My goal is to do a full and my thoughts on that were challenged throughout the day but I have proved to myself that if I required my dragging myself along the course with only my tongue..I will get through a full Ironman and get that coveted Ironman tattoo!
At the top of the hill is where J caught back up to me. She ran with me for a bit but had good legs for the run so I told her to take off and go run her race. Against my wishes she stayed with me, and stayed with me through the remainder of the run. There is a begrudging appreciation for having someone with me for that run. I am one of those guys that feels like struggle and difficulty should be faced alone, "never let them see you sweat", "never let them see you hurt" (in all facets of my life really) but I didn't have the capability to run away and I sure as hell wasn't going to run any slower. So we slogged through the next 8 miles together. I couldn't talk or chat. All I could really do was shallow breathe as fast as possible and keep my legs turning over. I had no idea how my "body" was doing on top of the injury. I knew the pain would mask dehydration or being in the tank with calories so I tried to grab a cup of water and a cup of coke at each aid station to keep myself hydrated and put quick calories in my stomach.
I'm not a fast triathlete, or shredded with a 14 pack one either but what I am the kind that can put his head down, focus on a goal and drag myself to it. That's what got me through those last few miles. I don't remember much other than focusing on crossing the finish line, getting a finisher's picture (the cameramen bugged out after the bad storm at Syracuse) and getting that medal. Imagine my surprise that as I crossed the finish line, proud of myself for gritting through the day...I got to have Andy Potts, who'd won the event 2 hours earlier and a pro triathlete I greatly respect, put my medal around my neck!
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I met him back in '09 when he had that terrible crash and how I was afraid talking to him about it at a gathering on Saturday would be bad luck for him before this race...well, I relayed that story as he put my medal on and turned to show him my shoulder and back. AsI told him that it seemed to be bad luck for me, he had a horrified look on his face and said "Oh my god, you have to have someone look at that! Did you do the whole race that way?!". I responded with "yes I did, on this day I made SURE to have more hope than doubt!", referring to the inspirational speech he gave on Saturday that really rang true for me. He fist bumped me and said "now THAT'S what I'm talking about! Great job!". Andy Potts fist bumped me and said "great job"! That meant a lot to me, it really did. Standing at the finish with that medal around my neck, friends asking me how I was doing/taking care of me meant a lot too.
In spite of the crash and injury I finished Timberman in 6:19:35 and took an hour off the time I posted at 70.3 Syracuse. I had the wherewithal to soak up the moment and my accomplishment, before heading to the med tent to find out how bad off I really was.
To read the full unedited version of the story, visit Dutch's blog: Fueled by Iron