Belly full of lake water, I lumbered through the swim finish archway on Coeur d’Alene’s City Park beach, hearing my resoundingly pathetic time of 1 hour and 32 minutes shouted through the din of the crowd, the thumping music, the whir of the news chopper overhead, confirming what I saw on my watch and driving home the sense of disappointment. On the damp grass in T1 I sat and the wetsuit strippers did their thing while I wondered if I could get my race back on course. Then I realized someone was telling me to point my left foot out to make it easier for her to get the suit off me. If I had thought about this request I wouldn’t have done it. But I didn’t think, I pointed, and the calf cramp struck with the speed and power unique to cramps, lightning bolts and perhaps Dick Cheney's torture chambers. I spent the next minute, maybe longer, pulling my foot toward me, easing the pain. Onto the changing tent. As I yanked crap out of my transition bag it occurred to me that I didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to do next. I had not made a concrete plan for how to go forward. On a day with threatening weather, I wasn’t sure what to take and what to leave, whether I’d be too hot or too cold, carrying too much or not enough. The atmosphere struck me as noisy and frantic in a way it hadn’t the year before. I was on my way to an absurd transition, just shy of 12 minutes. In 2008, my T1 was 7:36. I think this is what is known as coming unglued.
* * *
A good thing about Ironman is there’s plenty of time to pull it back together. Plenty of time. Let me tell you what I mean: Back home in Portland on Monday, I walked to the top of Mount Tabor (this is a day-after Ironman Coeur d’Alene tradition of mine, dating back to ... 2008). So on top of old Tabor, all covered in the evening glow, I glanced at my phone and saw that it was 7:23 p.m. Exactly the time, 24 hours earlier, that I had finished IMCDA. I mused upon how effortlessly, how stealthily, those 24 hours had slipped by compared to the eternal half-day that preceded them. Yeah, yeah, when you’re relaxed and taking it easy time passes faster, and when you're in pain time passes slower; well-known facts. But the realization buried under that tired observation was that Ironman—with all the distress it causes, challenge it throws at you and effort it requires—pushes you deep into your consciousness. It’s personal, selfish, even narcissistic. Nothing matters except you and what you are doing and feeling at every moment. It’s not just pain, too. There’s confusion, exhilaration, sadness, you name it. Ironman is mind-altering, like psychedelics can be, that’s how it slows down time.
More about time: After doing 12:26:07 at Coeur d’Alene last year I had a goal of beating 12 hours this year. That goal inspired me through the months of training. Funny, though: It wasn’t until I let go of that goal on Sunday—a third of the way through the bike ride—that I began to race comfortably and well. Just now I looked through the bike splits for the people who finished the two-loop, 112-mile bike ride faster than my 6:15:13 by a minute or less. There were 14 people in that group. Not one of them did the final two-thirds of the bike course as fast as I did. In 2008, I rode a 6:11:54 and thought I had the fitness this year to trim five or 10 minutes off that this year. But I lost tons of time in the first third of the bike, as I struggled to recover psychologically and physically from the swim. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the bad swim on the rough waters kicked up by a southerly gale, nor the much-talked-about frigid temps, nor even what everyone I talked to agreed was the stunning amount of brutal swimmer-on-swimmer contact in the water, unusual even for Ironman, famous for its mass-start gang-fights. No, the problem was I didn’t have the skill and experience to deal with those conditions. That's why I was painfully slow and getting slower, and water kept going down the gullet, and the clock kept ticking.
I was out of the water 1605th.
* * *
I answered the urge to pee three times in the first one-third of the bike ride. The very idea of having to stop so early and so often on the bike was absurd—last year I stopped once on the whole ride, around Mile 90. They warn you that peeing on the side of the road will get you a penalty, so most everyone uses the porta-potties, and of course there are never enough of those. So there was waiting. Plus, even if you have to go desperately, it’s not so easy to yank down the shorts with your heart rate at 140 and cut loose with the stream just like that. Not for me at least. Sometimes a little patience is required, even cajoling. And then, given the condition I was in, once the stream started you could have read Infinite Jest from start to finish before it ended. I figure I spent two or three minutes at each piss stop, maybe more. Meanwhile, during that first portion on the bike I was reluctant to drink, which was a problem because my plan to get the calories I needed to carry me through the long day had at its foundation drinking one Gatorade bottle per 60 to 90 minutes. For the first two hours I couldn’t drink anything and this was freaking me out because nothing freaks you out in an Ironman like the idea that your nutrition is going to go off the tracks. No matter how fit or how persistent you are, bonking or getting sick can take you out.
Well those three stops got the lake out of me. Meanwhile, I did some calculating in my head and knew that under 12 hours wasn’t going to happen; I was 30-40 minutes off where I needed to be for that. So I told myself there wasn’t anything magical about 12 hours except what it represented, which was working hard, paying the price, making a big effort. All of that remained out there. I could still work hard, pay the price and make a big effort. So I rode on not spectacularly but better. While many racers fought to hold steady or even faded, my average speed over the final two-thirds of the course was about a half-mile per hour faster than on the first third. This despite one more stop to, well, you know what.
And amazingly, I had to go again leaving T2, which accounted for a transition increase from 5:28 in 2008 to 7:46 this year. No big deal. I also forgot to remove my bike gloves in the changing tent, which I didn’t notice until I got in the porta-potty. Upon exiting said commode, I quickly hunted down a transition volunteer and he was happy to take them and put them in my stashed transition bag. Great volunteers.
Heading into the run, I was in 1121st place, having moved up 484 spots on the bike.
* * *
I set out uncertain. I told myself to be cautious until I got a feel for my condition. I’ve run a 3:18:52 standalone marathon, but my Ironman marathon last year was 4:34:11 as I fell apart at the hill at Mile 7, my early 9-minute miles quickly turning to 10s, then 11s and even some 12s. So when I hit the first mile in 9 minutes on Sunday I wondered if I was on my way to repeating that sad history—and yet I knew, too, that I had brought better running fitness into this race. My races this spring and my training told me that. Plus, given that my chance of breaking 12 hours overall was gone, it didn’t seem so important to me to be cautious and run a "correct" IM marathon. A little imprudence? What the hell. I told myself to try to stay at or under 9:30 pace and see how long I could keep that up.
Meanwhile, the weather was deteriorating. I was underdressed compared to a lot of the other racers (having left the arm warmers and jacket at T2) in what occurs to me only now was quite the Oregon runner’s getup: A 2008 Portland Triathlon cap, 2009 Race for the Roses technical shirt, and 2008 Mt. Hood PCT 50-miler race shorts. The IMCDA marathon is two loops—pretty much two out-and-backs—with much of it on roads and paths along the Lake Coeur d’Alene shoreline. The wind was howling off the lake and though it wasn’t raining, you could feel the air getting heavier and heavier with moisture. It was only a matter of time before we’d be wet. It felt cold, too, which surprised me at the time, but later I checked the Coeur d'Alene weather stats and indeed the temperature would plunge through the 50s and into the 40s as afternoon turned to evening and then night.
Now, running 9:30 miles takes some getting used to when you think of yourself as someone who should be well under eight minutes per mile on a marathon. But I had done a better job with long runs in my training this year. On Sunday, I thought about those long runs, imagining myself heading from my house in the North Tabor neighborhood out through Laurelhurst and Buckman to the river and doing loops over the Hawthorne and Steel bridges. I tried to convince myself that just as those runs were so relaxing as to be invigorating, so too could this one. This mind-trick helped, and just to be running was, in a narrow sort of way, kind of glorious. Running is by far my favorite, so simple and basic and I guess it helps that I'm a lot better at it than I am at swimming and biking. But there was still the problem of fueling the machine. I had indeed begun to take in food and some drink as the bike wore on, but I doubt my total consumption, since the cannon boomed to start the race at 7 a.m., had topped 1,500 calories. By the run, I needed calories, but my stomach wasn't going to let me just throw down anything. It doesn't work that way after eight hours of nonstop motion. I carried a Mojo bar and a baggie containing candied ginger out of T2 and did gobble the Mojo quickly. It stayed down uneasily. There were aid stations every mile thereafter, and typically what I'd do, in the early going on the run, was grab a sip of Gatorade or water and a few pretzels while jogging very slowly through the aid station. Then, a little farther along, I'd nibble on some of my candied ginger, which provided sugar and seemed to calm my stomach. Later, I switched from Gatorade to cola, and also ate random bites of cookie or pretzel, as well as a spot of banana here or there.
* * *
It's a strange scene running the first loop of the IMCDA marathon. People are heading back in as you head out but except at one short specific point you can’t tell if they're on their first loop or second. You envy them because they're farther along, but you don't know whether they're way farther along or just a few miles ahead. I distracted myself from the weather by trying to guess as people went by. First loop. Oh, second loop. Definitely first loop. Wow, strong, gotta be second.... That kind of thing. Around Mile 10, I think it was, the rain began to fall. It was a light rain but pushed by the wind and with the temperature now at 50 or below, it was tough. I grabbed a space blanket at an aid station but wasn't keen on holding it around my shoulders so I stopped and tried to poke holes in it for my head and my arms but my three holes became one big hole. I felt like a bit of an a-hole, carrying this shredded space blanket, which I put around my neck and stuffed in my shirt and wore as a sort of scarf for a few miles. It warmed me a little but was too stupid-looking to carry on with, plus I was getting wetter and wetter and my fingers were cold. So as the second lap began—still in the nines on the mile pace—and the rain came a little stronger I got a new blanket and held it around myself as I ran. Now, I generally hate to have anything in my hands when I run. So I was surprised that this was not too bad, running holding a space blanket wrapped around myself. My hands, arms and shoulders were now covered and warmer. My core wasn't getting wetter. I was still miserable, but, what the hell, it was the marathon on an Ironman. Comfort was not among my expectations.
* * *
Could be that the cold was costing me additional calories—calories being a measure of energy, of course, and energy being necessary to maintain body temperature, not to mention continued forward motion—but on the second loop I began to feel a more dramatic need to feed the fire. A precarious stomach still had me cautious with my consumption. I continued to take just a nibble or two at most aid stations, along with a sip of coke, followed by the ginger. The ginger helped, I believe. And, now, 100 yards or so past each aid station, a cola burp would come and that would be a tremendous relief. A few times there was some dramatic tension as the pressure rose up in my stomach. By that I mean, it was hardly clear that gas alone would be released. However, no upchucking occurred—which reminds me, I didn't see a single barfing episode on Sunday. (At Half Vineman once, on a hot day on the run, a guy barfed just before he passed me going the other way and I stepped in part of it. Now that’s triathlon.)
Around Mile 18, some of that blurry, wobbly feeling began to hit me. My mile splits were inching past 10 minutes. I decided then that the only way to finish strong was to get some decent calories in me, and that would mean drinking a whole cup of cola and eating a handful or two of food. And the only way to do that would be to slow to a walk for several minutes. So I made a plan—this was actually smart, and I must say demonstrated shockingly clear thinking—to eat at the aid station before the hill on Mile 21, walk the quarter mile to where the hill begins and continuing walking all the way up the hill, and then walk at least partway down the hill. This was brilliant for several reasons. First, the time gained by running the hill would have been minimal while the energy expenditure would have been huge. Second, by the time I came back down the hill, I was already feeling energized. Which leads to another aspect of my plan that attests further to its brilliance: I knew that no matter what I could rally to run the final three miles of the marathon a little faster. I was hurting but just as I'm a weak swimmer with scant experience dealing with swimming challenges, I am a strong runner with lots of experience dealing with running challenges. So when I hit Mile 22 and needed to begin running again, the plan was to use that mile to gently get back into running mode after my walk, then at Mile 23 switch to a stronger effort that I could carry all the way to the finish. And that's what I did. I ran with some fellow struggling runners on 22, turning in a mile somewhere around 12 minutes, then at 23 began to pull away from them. I had a tiny drink and a little more ginger around Mile 24, then drove it home.
* * *
I should say, late in the run I did begin to think, periodically, that bettering my time from last year remained in reach. But while I had indeed conceived, on the fly, the stupendous plan to finish the race relatively strong that I outlined above, I could never figure out the precise math on beating my '08 time. With five miles to go I had an idea that I needed to average under 11 minutes per mile, but when I’d try to do the equations to confirm this the numbers would float away from me. I do remember—I think—that when I got to the 23-mile marker, leaving me 3.2 to the finish, I had 35 minutes to play with.
So, as I say, I ran harder harder through the 24th and 25th miles, where I barely slowed down to ask a spectator wearing a gorilla costume, "Would you be so kind as to properly dispose of this?" He nodded his head yes and I handed him my space blanket. I wasn't going to finish an Ironman wearing a space blanket, no way. Soon thereafter I got to the point where if you're finishing the race you go to the far left and if you have another lap to do you go to the right. There's a volunteer telling you this, and I went left, and then there's another volunteer making sure you’re really supposed to go left. This second volunteer said, "This is it, you've done two loops and it's time to finish?" I replied: "It sure is."
Onto Sherman Avenue. I was five or six minutes ahead of last year’s time and had just a minute or two to go. I ran hard, passing a few people in a way that I don’t think was churlish. I was just racing all the way. I could hear the announcer and the crowd a few blocks down the avenue. I told myself that I was a mediocre triathlete who had failed at his modest goal of beating 12 hours and while there's nothing wrong with being a mediocre triathlete who fails at his modest goal, probably I should realize my limitations and take the shit and myself a tad less seriously. I mean, c'mon, blogging every single day about your hardly impressive training? Sheesh. I also told myself I was one studly mutha-ucka (cool Flight of the Conchords reference there) for (1) signing up to do this stupid race; (2) training hard to do this stupid race; (3) coming to this stupid race all alone, no sherpa to help carry things or assist in dealing with what is really a ridiculously complex logistical effort, not a single person I knew along the entire course saying "Go, Pete," just a lot of sweet people saying, "Go, Peter," because that was the name they saw on my race number and they didn't know that nobody who knows me except Mom and Grandma calls me Peter; (4) enjoying myself quite a bit out there, the fellow racers with their individual styles of dress and racing, the scenery, the fans, the ridiculous spectacle of it, all good; and for (5) keeping going until I could figure out a way to keep going a little faster. For racing the stupid race all the way. That made me feel good and made it seem worthwhile. Yes, it did.
I finished in 850th place, passing 272 people on the run with a marathon time of 4:16:21.
More race charts and stats can be found at Bay Area Triathlon, from which the graphic atop this post is taken.
P.S.: A thank you to all who were interested and indulgent along the way with this silliness, including Liz and Debbie and other family members, Facebook friends like Elizabeth, old pals such as Mary Anne and Steve, and many fellow tri-bloggers, including Sheila, Al and Steven. Deserving special mention, however, are two guys, a little guy and a big guy. Niko and Dan, I'll always be grateful.
There was just enough rain this morning to keep the dust down as I drove the gravel roads from my secluded cabin to the paved roads that lead to the Interstate that connects Spokane Valley with Coeur d'Alene. It's a little more than an hour from starting the car out in the woods to parking it near City Park, but these accommodations are cheap and quiet and those are two good things: sleeping well, and I've got "extra" money to blow at the Ironman Store.
I came in early this morning for the 7 a.m.–10 a.m. lake swim window. By the time I got into the water it was nearly 8:30 and the wind was really whipping up the water—although toward 10 in might even have been worse. This was a south wind and the swim is big long rectangle that goes south for about 850 meters, turns left for 50 meters, heads back in for 850 meters … do that twice, 3800 meters, 2.4 miles. It was that heading out portion, into the wind and the chop, that was most challenging. Simply swimming it wasn't too bad, but if you wanted to glance up and forward to make sure you weren't too wayward—always a necessity in an open-water swim—a sudden and large drink of water was in your immediate future. I didn't like this, not a bit, but the more I swam the more I got used to it. Not that I was ever going very quickly; I was slower than usual, and if the conditions are similar on Sunday morning I will be slower than last year (think 1:30 on the swim). But at least now I know two things: how to deal with rough water, and that I'll survive it. On the bright side, with the chop moving toward the shore the leg back in wasn't nearly so bad.
Heading back to the cabin now to do a little run and then get my transition bags set up. I need to bring them in tomorrow with the bike check-in and don't want to leave that for tonight, since the mandatory meeting doesn't get done until 8:30, meaning it'll probably be 10 p.m. before I'm "home."
I'm here and I'm checked in, wearing my blue wristband. Everyone in Coeur d'Alene knows what that wristband means. Being a bit self-conscious (a bit?), I wonder if I'm one of those of whom people say, "He's an Ironman racer?" I know I've said that about a guy or gal or two I've seen today. They come in all sizes and shapes. Well, not really. In fact, mostly they come in amazing shape. The woman in front of me at check-in was slim and fit and had thighs that reminded me of the trunk of the 100-year-old oak we had in our backyard in Napa.
The picture above: That's the row where my bike will reside from Saturday until I grab it after the swim on Sunday. Still plenty of time for changes, but the forecasters seem more confident than ever that if it isn't a damp transition area at the start of the bike it will be by the time I roll back in six hours or so later. The current forecast:
Sunday: A chance of showers, then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after 11am. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 66. Chance of precipitation is 70%.Given how much I dislike riding in the rain, I'm surprised that I'm not freaking out at the prospect of a cool, wet day. Honestly, I find myself barely caring. It's not like the Ironman bike is some kind of joy ride to begin with. It's satisfying, sure, but satisfying in that you're pushing yourself hard for six hours and fighting through all kinds of stuff. It's hardly comfortable. And it's not like my daredevil descending and cornering will be curtailed; I'm a total wus already. Anyway, eventually we'll move onto the run and running in a cool summer rain sounds just fine to me.
1) Did a three-mile, 30-minute jog today with The Lad. "That was fun," he said afterward, unbidden, a big smile confirming the sentiment. Dads—this one, anyway—live for out-of-nowhere affirmations like that.
2) Driving back from OMSI, during rush hour, taking Burnside east instead of the jammed-solid Banfield (that's I-84; don't ask me who Banfield was). It's two lanes each way and when I say there's no shoulder I don't mean there's barely any shoulder I mean this is a road that if two cars are abreast going in the same direction, the one on the right is two inches from the curb on the right side and two inches from the guy in the next lane on the left. Sane bicyclists might use Burnside at this time of the day (or any time) for maybe a block or two if necessary, but otherwise will travel east-west on Ankeny (one block south) or through the Couch-Everett-Davis-Everett bike corridor just to the north. Barely any traffic on the roads, and that which there is moves generally the speed of a fit cyclist, around 20 mph. But here's this guy going along at maybe 18 mph on a 35-mph road during rush hour, owning a lane. OK, fine. I'm a calm, cool Portlander, accepting of cyclists, and I will not swerve violently into the left lane to try to pass him so I can get where I'm going a few seconds faster. It just doesn't matter that much to me. So I motor along at 17 mph behind the guy. He continually glances over his shoulder at me. I wave and mouth, "It's cool." He keeps glancing. I begin to think, "Dude, if you don't want somebody driving behind you, maybe Burnside is not your ideal choice." I'm not sure what he wants me to do, I guess stop driving behind him, but that seems weird and unreasonable to me. I mean, sure, he's made the ridiculous choice to ride Burnside, but that doesn't mean I therefore have to vacate the road. So we pull to a stop at a red, somewhere in the 30s or 40s and the woman behind me, an enormous woman in a van, yells out her window, "Why are you tailing that cyclists! Go around him. They have a right to the road, too!" OK. Whoa. Huh? I'm thinking, I've ridden a few thousand miles on the streets of Portland in the couple of years I've been here and I'm being lectured about how to treat cyclists by some van driver who probably hasn't been on a bike since the Ford administration? And anyway, is that what we motorists are required to do? We need to get in the other lane and go around the cyclist or we're not cool? We're not allowed to putt along behind him? Well, this is just one crazy van driver's view, but as we proceed past the light the cyclist continues continually looking back at me, looking back at me more often than he's watching the road in front of him. Then I notice the van swerve around me and hammer the gas to get by me (and the cyclist). The cyclist waves to her as if she's a comrade, as if she's got the right attitude about how to treat cyclists properly. There's your Portland cyclist-motorist story for the day.
Delivered The Lad to his mother. Man, he was so sweet. He had helped me with my CDA packing (he loves making lists and checking off items), we did the run together, and I could tell he felt more connected to this race than any race I've ever done. I guess me yacking about it constantly made some impression on him. When we parted, he told me he'd check my progress online on Sunday, and said, "I hope you have your best race ever." That was way cool. Hell, I teared up. But that is not the last moment I want to talk about.
3) That moment comes after I drop off The Lad and pick up my bike from River City (new aerobars not installed) and then arrive home. I had the water going at a dribble in the roses in front of the house and figured it might be a good idea, before heading out for five days, to give the other plants a little drink as well. But first I get my bike out of the truck and grab the house keys (on a separate ring from the truck keys, left in the truck) while I'm at it. I set the bike near the front door then go to my watering. How nice it is to water on a calm, partly cloudy, 72-degree evening in the Rose City! Birds chirping, a neighbor happening by for a moment, the nearby Banfield's roar fading with the passing of the rush hour…. Ten or 15 minutes later I'm done and ready to head in. I reach into my pants pockets for my keys. Hmm. There's the two bucks I owe Niko for mowing the lawn (hey, it's a tiny lawn). There are two CO2 cartridges I picked up at River City. There's a quarter. Keys? No keys. Not in the other pocket either. Still in the car? Oh, come on, I took them out of the car, I know I did. Still, I ought to check just to be sure. After all, where could they be? Well, not in the car. Hmm. I must have dropped them while watering. So I proceed to dig through bushes and rose plants. I'm scratched all over my forearms and a few thorns are in my fingers. I search and search and search and nothing. They're gone. I search more. They're gone! The keys are gone! OK. I climb the fence and go into the back yard where the Extra Set of House Keys is hidden. Except, while going over the fence the back of my pants catch a nail head and tear. So now my ass is hanging out, so I change into some shorts. I go out front and bring in the bike. (You thought I was going to say the bike was gone. If that had happened, I can assure you there would not have been a blog entry tonight.) How could I lose those keys? I say to myself, pouring a glass of wine (Ridge Lytton Springs 2003, not bad but decidely hollow for a Lytton Springs, a disappointment). I stroll outside and decide to assess the situation from new angles. I walk far to the right and peer across the yard. I walk far to the left. I sit on the steps and don't think about the keys, figuring that might be the best way to find them. Nothing. I search yet again through the bushes. I look up at the jasmine that climbs the left porch stanchion. I had searched under that jasmine extensively because while watering I had paused to wrap a few wayward strands of plant around the stanchion. That was, in fact, my best bet as to where the keys might be. That was my theory: That while adjusting the jasmine, I had dropped them. But they weren't under the jasmine. They weren't under the damned jasmine! However, they were in the jasmine. Right there. There they are. Dangling in the jasmine. Found.
Life, four days before CDA: It's like life 104 days before, and life 61 days after (I imagine). I head out tomorrow morning.
Dragged The Lad to the pool for a 30-minute swim. Did another 30 minutes on the trainer. Checked weather forecasts: though I know it's virtually meaningless this far out, it does seem certain we will be racing in cool conditions. Might be some thunderstorms, might not. But again, the only forecast I'll put much faith in is the one I read Saturday evening. Oh, River City Bicycles called. They had been so matter-of-fact about having my aerobars replaced by Wednesday. Now it's uncertain. I'm not upset with them. They're working hard to please me, and they did tell me the warranty will cover the replacement cost. But it looks like I may be riding on Gorilla Glued bars. Oh, well. I trained for thousands of miles on 'em.
That run to finish off the Blue Lake race yesterday left me a little sore, so it was nice to have nothing on the schedule today. The Lad (now released from the shackles of the school year) and I did walk to the bank, about three miles roundtrip, which loosened me up a bit. I stretched, too, but that was it on the athletic front.
My bike is at River City getting cleaned up and dialed, and finally the busted aerobar extender is being replaced. I Gorilla Glued and taped it for Blue Lake and it held solid but I don't want to be thinking about the possibility of it coming loose during CDA.
The plan is to leave for Idaho on Thursday morning, so I have this feeling I ought to start getting my gear together. Except, what really is there to get together? Last year I brought everything you could possibly imagine and needed about a third of the stuff. I mean, I did a race yesterday and spent about 20 minutes getting ready for it. OK, it was just an oly, but what more do you really need for an Ironman? An extra packet or two of Accelerade? Three more gels? People lose perspective. I think the waiting gets to them. The big workouts are done and they want to do something that points them toward a strong race. The waiting: Hell, it gets to me, too. I'm excited, and kind of nervous and twitchy. But there's also a calm internal voice whispering to me, "It's swimming, bike and running, nothing you haven't done before."
31:46 / 31:38
5:15 / 4:58
1:07:22 / 1:06:15
2:47 / 2:48
45:47 / 44:06
2:32:58 / 2:29:46
The conditions today were amazingly similar to last year's (as I recollect them): calm, overcast and mild (around 60). Perfect weather for racing. I thought I put much more effort into the swim this year and look at that huge improvement: 8 seconds! I picked up a little more time on the bike, but really thought a 1:05 was achievable. No complaints about the run, however. I had an Olympic-distance run PR, improving my pace by more than 15 seconds per mile. I was aided by a guy who passed me about halfway through the run. I chased him all the way to the finish line, even as he steadily boosted his pace. He finished four seconds in front of me and afterward I thanked him for pulling me along. Without him, I would have run more conservatively, instead of going 7:17, 7:12, 7:09, 6:59, 6:54, 6:44 for my mile splits. Interesting thing is, it wasn't that bad. I mean, it was a big effort and I was tired when it was over, but I didn't collapse at the finish or anything like that. I wonder if I'll ever collapse at the finish. Is that what I need to convince myself I really gave it everything I've got?
Random post-race thoughts ...
- If I ever get serious about racing these shorter-distance triathlons, I'll need to get my shit together on transitions. Today I gave up 2-4 minutes to racers who didn't swim-bike-run any faster than me.
- My swim split was 32nd out of 42 in my age group.
- Bike split: 18/42
- Run split: 8/42
- It just occured to me that the swim is relatively more important at the Olympic distance than it is at the iron distance. The swim (1.5K vs. 4K) is 37.5 percent as long; the bike (40K vs. 180K) is 22.2 percent as long; and the run (10K vs. 42.2K) is 23.7 percent as long. Maybe I should stick with the long stuff?
- My Garmin has never been off by more than a couple of hundreths, and it showed the run course to be a full tenth of a mile too long. Hmm.
Getting my stuff together for tomorrow’s race and I nearly forgot about the ol’ blog. Yeah, that’s right, tomorrow is race day. Not, you know, the race. And that’s what I keep telling myself: that this is just a little tuneup, a workout, a chance to practice transitions, blah, blah. This is not about blowing it out. Actually, it’s just the run where I have to be careful. Swimming hard for 1500 meters won’t hurt me. Putting maximum effort into a flat 40K on the bike? That won’t damage me for CDA. It’s really just on the run where I have to avoid being stupid. You know what I think I’ll do? Wear my heart-rate monitor for the bike and run and on the run, I won't go over 85 percent max HR. There's a thought.
This was one of those rides in which there were just too many slightly weird things going on to feel comfortable.
I rode through some road work and had specks of squishy asphalt stuck to my tires, causing strange noises that sounded like flats. When I got off the road to the cutoff that accesses the bike bath, I stopped to check just to make sure there was no puncture. Just then some asshole, Starsky or Hutch in a Torino or something, comes flying through, nearly killing me, and he flips me off. Granted, using this cutoff did save him 30 seconds, and I know every second counts when you’re chasing a bad guy, but a lot of kids, older people and just plain folks leave the bike path on that cutoff totally not expecting a several-thousand-pound hunk of metal to come roaring through at 35 miles per hour.
A little farther along, on the bike path, I approached an enormous woman walking a tiny dog. They were a cute couple. I slowed way down to pass because she couldn’t pick a side of the very wide path to walk on, and was wavering, and the dog was on a long leash. About 20 feet before I got to them the dog squats and takes a dump and I swear the woman howls, “Oh, my God!” So this was either the first time ever that this dog had pooped, or the fourth time that day, either way, quite shocking, apparently.
A pair of cyclists riding abreast approaching. That’s OK. As I said, it’s a wide path, and they’re both on their side. But what’s this? Another cyclist coming up behind them is going to pass them. Uh, dude, no, you aren’t going to make it before I get there. You are NOT going to make it before I get there. Do NOT make the pass.
Oblivious, he makes the pass, completely seizing my part of the path. We avoid a head-on only because I quickly pull off into the weeds.
Next up there’s a woman walking with a medium-sized black dog not on a leash a few feet in front of her and a little boy, also not on a leash, riding a bike about 10 feet in front of the dog. I slow down to pass safely. I pass the woman and the dog comes after me, snarling, barking, he tries to take a chunk out of my right calf. I kick at him and he backs off. “He’s not trying to get you, he’s just protecting my son,” she cries. I'm not really getting the distinction she's drawing and meanwhile, the kid wobbles off into the weeds and gently tips over. He’s OK, and the woman is yammering on about how her dog didn’t really want to get me. Fuck you, I’m thinking, but I say, “Jesus, getting chased by a chomping dog seriously pisses me off!” I guess I could have been nicer, but I suppose I could have been more an ass as well. “I know,” she says. That’s when I notice the leash in her hand. “Maybe use the leash?” I say, and I’m off.
At that point I’m thinking I ought to just head straight home because this ride is filled with too much craziness, but I really want to ride for two hours, so I carry on. Things calm down. And I notice that I feel great. One day after a 16-mile run, my legs feel strong. Gotta love that.
Also today: I snuck in 1500 yards at the pool, just a straight easy swim. This was on the way downtown to pick up my race packet for the Blue Lake oly on Sunday. That’s going to be fun.
That nine-day sabbatical from running that ended earlier this week left me a little worried. To run 26.2—especially after swimming 2.4 and biking 112—your body needs to be primed to go for a long time. Yes, some rest was necessary and the rest was good, but I began to fear tipping into too much rest, of getting out of my long-run comfort zone. So today I set out to do a 12-miler, aiming to give the legs (and the mind) a quick little refresher course on picking them up and putting them down for a long time. To protect myself from incurring lasting fatigue, the intention was to run slowly, as close to 9:30/mile pace as possible. That's two minutes off my standalone marathon pace, but Ironman is a whole 'nother animal; if I can manage 9:30 at CDA I will be mighty pleased.
I headed west and went through Laurelhurst Park and the Buckman neighborhood, did three loops around the Willamette, crossing at the Steel and Hawthorne bridges, then headed back pretty much the way I had gone out. I struggled not to speed up, but at least I didn't do anything crazy like going sub-8 anywhere along the way. The splits:
Mile 1: 9:07
Mile 2: 9:15
Mile 3: 9:12
Mile 4: 9:10
Mile 5: 9:39
Mile 6: 9:24
Mile 7: 9:18
Mile 8: 9:12
Mile 9: 9:26
Mile 10: 9:21
Mile 11: 9:31
Mile 12: 9:01
Mile 13: 9:05
Mile 14: 9:17
Mile 15: 8:36
Mile 16: 8:24
OK, that's 16 miles. What can I say? Running so easily, as I neared 12 miles I felt like I hadn't given myself quite the workout I wanted. Sixteen—well, 16.14 actually—was just right, I think. My average heart rate was 122 (66 percent of max) and even over the last four miles, two hours into the run, when I began picking up the pace slightly, the average HR never went above 140 for any mile split. I thought my Achilles was doing something funky late in the run as I felt a sharp pain. But that was mostly due to a blister—I forgot that the Gel-Cumulus can rub me the wrong way back there. (Why do they make that part of the shoe above the heel so high and tight? I may get out a knife and do some work on it. The shoe I mean.)
All in all, great run. Even if it wasn't exactly what my body needed (don't get me wrong, I think it was), it was surely what my confidence needed.
Apart from the blister there was a little aching in the ankle and Achilles, but nothing distressing. It's sort of a fact of life with my run right now. Ice afterward keeps things under control and, anyway, now I won't be going long until June 21. There's the 10K at the Blue Lake oly on Sunday, and I'll run pretty hard there but won't race it all-out. Then probably 6-8 miles on Tuesday, some light jogging on Thursday and Friday and that's it.
Why is blogger making my race number jpeg so small? Oh, well, click on it and it's almost legible.
Yeah, the Ironman folks put out the race numbers today, unleashing a burst of excitement among the tribe. I'll confess, irrational as it is, I felt it too. (On June 21, you can follow racer No. 1615 online at Ironmanlive.com beginning at 7 a.m. PDT. I'll be out there all day, so feel free to check in intermittently, between mowing the lawn and watching the U.S. Open.)
Onward: Whatever was going on yesterday passed. Felt fine a day later. Actually, my legs felt rather peppy. Yeterday's 40 + 4 seemed to rock me back into gettin' after it mode. Oh, and the ankle is better than ever. Gel-Cumulus doing the job? I'm going with them on race day. As far as workouts today, it was all pool action. Swam very hard doing more of those 200-150-100-50 sets. Four of those, then 4x500, adding up to 4000 yards.
Random swim thought: Yeah, it's stupid that I didn't do more to get faster in the pool this year, but at least I did enough more to become absolutely confident that the swim poses no danger at all. That's a big change from last year, my friends.
That was weird. I did a moderate brick today, something appropriate for 12 days before race day: 40 pretty-flat miles on the bike in 2:03, then a four-mile run in 30:48. It was good. I was a little sluggish at the start of the ride, my first time out on the road in a week, but felt strong once I was loosened up. I ran faster than I should have, going way under race pace, but couldn't resist and anyway, it was only four miles. I ate some food right afterward, took a shower… and crashed. Crashed hard.
I fell asleep for about 20 minutes then could hardly get up off the bed. I was so tired. I did get up, though, and managed to catch up on some email despite feeling kind of foggy. Three hours later, I still feel like I went a lot harder or farther or in hotter weather than was actually the case. (I did do the workout midafternoon, whereas most of my workouts during the Six Months have been in the cool of morning or on plain old cold days. Temp was 75, humidity on the high side at 50 percent.)
Who knows? I'll be curious to see how I feel tomorrow. This is the time of race run-up when one does become overly sensitive about variations in energy levels....
The Gel-Cumulus pair with the least wear showing got a workout today. A little one. Five miles at a 9:05 pace, average heart rate 123.
What a world of difference, wearing thick-cushioned shoes after months in the spare trail racers. The ride was ridiculously plush, like I was floating along. It was a little weird, actually. I’d draw (with some trepidation, but what the hell) an analogy to being high. You know: a strange but pleasant disconnection from reality. Euphoria, but with the lurking suspicion of unsustainability.
Of course, there was more going on than a change in shoes. After nine days without a run, no doubt the hormones unleashed had the brain spinning furiously in search of an explanation. But after three or four miles all began to feel familiar and quite right and I believe I could have rolled on for several hours. The ankle? A little achey, but not bad. I don’t think it’s going to be much of an issue on June 21. I iced it afterward and dissected the run, thinking a lot about the pace. So slow! And yet (need I say it again?) if I run 9:05 miles at CDA, I will come in under four hours on the marathon. Last year at CDA, only 302 of 1942 finishers ran the marathon under four hours. My pace was fine.
Later: 2500 at the pool. Four sets going 200-150-100-50, then 5x100. Six swims in the past eight days. Looking to keep that up right into CDA, because I can really feel a difference.
As reported yesterday, after months of fine service from my New Balance 790s I'm thinking of ditching them for more luxuriously cushioned running shoes at CDA. Specifically, I'm thinking of going back to my old Asics Gel-Cumulus road warriors. Not only are these shoes familiar to me, but I know I have a pair or two lying around the house. Maybe there might be one that isn't too worn out?
I got down on my hands and knees and pushed aside the bed skirt. As I peered into this netherworld, I exhaled, sending dust bunnies scurrying away. Various seldom-used dress shoes were along the edges but I could see vague running-shoe shapes lurking behind them. I created a line of vision and shone my headlamp: Good Lord, I thought. There are tons of shoes! I excavated everything—you can see them all above in the collage The Lad put together. I might have brought a couple of pairs to Portland when we moved here two years ago, but the rest of them were accumulated since then.
One of these pairs of shoes will join me for the 26 miles and 285 yards that finish off IMCDA. Which will it be?
Today: An hour of easy spinning at dawn, then, later, 2000 yards in the pool, 19:15 for the first 1000, 18:59 for the second, just nice and easy.
The 11-hour week that was:
Pictured above are the shoes that took me through five of the Six Months to Coeur d'Alene. You can see they're pretty beat up, both topside and underneath. (Note the wear on the rock-hard tread, much more pronounced on the outside of my heel.)
Can you believe I trained exclusively with this shoe for five months? It's a lightweight trail racing shoe. It offers nothing in the way of cushioning. As Running Times wrote:
This racing flat for the trail is feather light (8 svelte ounces) and performs as you’d want for such a low-to-the-ground speedster. That also means that the New Balance 790 should be used sparingly, for shorter-distance races or fartlek workouts on tamer trails and by efficient trail runners.Well, as I say, it got me through five months, around 700 miles. Probably three-quarters of those miles were on soft surfaces, the trails at Tabor or Glendoveer or the grass at Normandale. I did the Race for the Roses half marathon in them on the streets of Portland. Ran a PR and came out feeling fine.
I bought another pair of 790s, a very sharp black pair. Still, I'm not sure if these are the shoes I'll wear at CDA. That run is entirely on pavement, and given my little peroneal problem, I thinking more cushioning might be in order. Or maybe not. When I get back to running in a few days, I'm going to bust out the ol' Asics Gel-Cumulus and see what happens. I'll let you know.
Busy day with The Lad, including the 3 p.m. screening of Up at the ol' Roseway on the 7200 block of Sandy, a cool if slightly seedy part of town with a discernable Vietnamese influence. Good movie—not WALL-E or Ratatouille quality, but worth the 9 bucks, I suppose.
So I snuck in 1:15 on the trainer in the early morning hours, building intensity as I went along. Then after the school drop-off I hit Dishman. It was my fourth day in a row in the pool and my fifth swimming day in the past six, going back to Sunday's 4000-meter open water extravaganza, so I decided to do a smooth and easy 2000 yards without pause. After the first 1000, I noticed how good I felt, how easy the swimming was, and totally wanted to rev things up a bit. And I did. After a 20-minute opening 1000, I swam the second 1000 in 17:48. Then it was 9:30 a.m. and as always, they took away four of the six lanes to make way for the floating ladies and their water wiggling.
Rest might be the hardest thing for your average psycho iron-distance triathlete to accept. Yet rest is often the best prescription when illness, injury or even ennui crop up. I haven't run in six days. That's a scary thought, given that Ironman Coeur d'Alene is just 17 days away. In weaker moments, I worry my running fitness is leaking away, my Coeur d'Alene prospects with it. But mostly I know that all the miles put in over the years, the 10Ks, marathons, triathlons and ultras, and the countless training runs that prepped me for them ... all of that gives me some protection against losing fitness too fast. Meanwhile, my ankle continues to improve, feeling better every day, so I know the rest is doing its job. I'll test things out in three or four days and the hope (and expectation) is to be able to do maybe four runs, including at least one in double-figure miles, in the eight days before the race. Plenty of time to get the rhythm back. I'll be ready.
Today: A smooth 20 (1:10) on the bike, plus 3000 in the pool, broken up into 2x500, 10x100 and 2x500. In four days this week, I've been on the bike four times for 4:15 and in the pool three times for 2:45. A very nice recovery week so far.
My friend Steve asked me what my resting heart rate was. I guessed it was in the high 40s, but didn't know for sure. So I strapped on my heart rate monitor. What I found was that my resting heart rate—the number it settled at after I sat down quietly for a couple of minutes—was 46. But of course, that's a one-time sample, and the whole exercise reminded me that for a long time I'd be thinking I should get in the habit of recording my heart rate each morning. By many accounts, that's a good way to check for overtraining and, more generally, to track the state of your body vis-à-vis training.
Later, the talk of heart rate inspired me to do today's ride on the trainer, down in the now radon-free basement. Using heart rate more extensively on the trainer was one of the many vows I made during the Six Months that I didn't do such a good job following through on. (Remember "Learning from Lon"?) In my defense, I will say that I always incorporated the broad concepts pretty well, and over time I think that has contributed to better, smarter training.
Anyway, today I rode for an hour determined to spike the ol' ticker for short periods. You can see what I did in the graph above. If it weren't two and a half weeks before IMCDA, I surely would have done three more sprints to make it 10, maybe even eight more to make it 15. But this is supposed to be a taper/recovery week, and anyway, it still felt like a good workout.
Later, I hit the pool. After three excellent 500s concentrating on form at a moderate-to-strong effort, a third guy jumped in our lane. Man, I hate swimming circle in a 25-yard pool. I was outta there.
One time in the six months to Coeur d'Alene my goggles strap broke, as I was putting them on, right on the pool deck. I did not have a backup pair on hand.
Another time a swimmer in another lane somehow clobbered me in the head, knocking off my goggles. I rescued them.
Twice I began driving to the pool only to realize I didn’t have my goggles.
Three times I left them in the locker room. Once I got them out of the box of found goggles they keep behind the desk.
One time I was getting ready to go to the pool—this was just last week, actually—and I couldn't find either of the two pairs of goggles I knew I had. I searched high and low and finally found a third pair that I had no idea I had. I wore these goggles for a swim at the pool and quite liked them. So I wore them at the Hagg Lake Open Water Swim. They were great. Really comfortable. They kept a perfect seal despite not feeling tight. They didn't fog at all. Great goggles! Somehow, I lost them. I know I had them while waiting in line for 20 minutes for the post-race burger, because the guy in front me dropped his goggles without realizing it, and right after I handed them to him I checked my bag to make sure I hadn't lost mine. I hadn't. Yet.
Buying another pair—because I was down to one pair, although the previous paragraph suggests others might be floating around—was as mind-numbing as usual. The goggles I loved but lost were TYR but I had no idea what model and all the big goggle makers have a blizzard of models with stupid names. (There are three or four basic formats, but a million stupid-name models.) I searched for the TYR pair that looked like the beloved lost ones, but couldn't find them. I bought two pair of Speedo goggles because they were on sale.
I wore the new goggles today, swimming for 55 minutes, 2750 yards, mainly 100-yard efforts trying to stay between 1:40 and 1:45, resting for 30 seconds. It was a good swim. The goggles were fine. They're in my swim bag. I hope.
Also today: An hour on the bike, still spinning at a good cadence but going with a slightly bigger gear for a little more intense workout. Twenty miles. Peroneal problem (PP) feeling better.
We're under the three-week mark to CDA now. All the deposits into the Bank of Ironman have been made. The hay? In the barn. (The comments section is now open; post your favorite aphorism that means, basically, if the big miles haven't been put in by now, forget it, there's no point.)
Still, that doesn't mean the coming 19 days are meaningless. For one thing, the sentiments in the first paragraph of this post actually do not apply to one-third of the triathlon disciplines. Indeed, when it comes to swimming, there's no doubt that over the next couple of weeks I can and should do tons of swimming, as much swimming as I can stand, and that will make me better, stronger and faster come June 21.
But when it comes to the biking and running, it is henceforth all about finding the fine line that allows the body to rest and the hard work of the past five months to be absorbed without losing the mojo, the edge. Because of my PP (peroneal problem; see last Friday's post), the running will be shaved back more than I'd like, but who knows, what I like would probably be too much. So maybe this is a good thing. On the bike, I'll probably do a couple of rides in the 40-70 mile range next week, with a few bouts of intensity, but otherwise will be backing off big-time this week and the week directly preceding the race. (Today was a good example: An hour of intense but easier-gear spinning, 18 miles. I might do the same thing tomorrow, plus a swim.)
Hard to believe it's all zoomed ahead to this point. One-hundred and sixty-three days by in a flash. I'm tempted to launch into a list of training regrets. Then again, fuck that.