Any 140.6 mile triathlon is going to have its own set of unique challenges. Today was no exception. I'm incredibly grateful to my body for allowing me to train and race these crazy things, and to my wife and family for putting up with all of the strange smells and demands that Ironman training puts on them as well. This race day was a culmination of a 23 week training plan where I covered a total of 2609 miles of swim/bike/run training over 262 workouts. And it all started on a dark beach before sunrise...
|The F stood for Full, but it really stood for Dumbass|
|In TA all wetsuited up|
|Got to rep the sponsors, X-1 Audio|
|Incredible sunrise just starting to show as we were walking up to the swim start|
|At the swim start loosening up|
|ready to race!|
|Sun is up and we're getting quite a crowd!|
Screw Lake Erie. I don't know if you've ever tried to swim in one of the Great Lakes, but it has to be more pleasant other times than this swim was. As an east coaster, I know a freaking ocean when I see one. Lake Erie looks like a nice ocean, with a good sandy beach and decent waves.
But this abomination has fresh water, and there are no seashells. And you can't see the other side, but that's Canada up there? and I know I'm in the middle of the country. So freaky!
|Crowds of swimmers loading into the water|
|That's me right under the banner looking back and waving at my sweet lady|
|220 swimmers came out of that water, no idea how many went in. Crazy chop!|
|Kelley captured an amazing sunrise shot. Notice those waves....|
|Another great shot of the swim start from a friend. Notice that chop?|
The wind is very strong over the water, and it creates swells, which are different from waves. Waves come in a steady rhythm with small variations in size. These swells have an asynchronous pattern and variant height, so you never know what you're going to get or when it's going to hit you. It is completely disorienting.
The course is 2 loops around a triangle with right hand turns every .4 miles, and after the 5th leg swimmers head to the swim finish instead of back to the swim start. This means that you swim directly out against the swells until you hit the first turn buoy for leg 1 and 4. Legs 2 and 5 (finish) are sort of parallel with the swells, and leg 3 is kind of parallel but against the grain of the swells.
I honestly did not think that I was going to make it to the first turn buoy after we started. Then, I didn't want to make it all the way to that buoy. I would stop and tread water for a bit and notice that the people that were swimming furiously around me also were not making any forward progress. it was insane!
When you turn to the right to breathe, I was just as likely to get air as I was to have my head 2 feet under water. And since that isn't actually a breath, I would go face up to try and see when the next swell was coming only to discover it was already hitting me in the face! Other attempts to breathe did actually get me some air, but then turning to put my face back in the water also got me some air. And when the water is suddenly 2 feet below your face, it kind of hurts when the two meet again. I literally could not get three consecutive strokes in the water. It was disorienting and amazingly difficult. I may have cried.
Kelley comes with me to a bunch of these crazy open water things, and she's seen dozens of starts and finishes, and it's very rare that somebody has a tough time and has to be pulled out of the water. It's usually nerves or a panic attack. This time she saw 17 people get pulled out of the water for physical or mental reasons. I really thought I was going to be one of them. It was that hard just to hit that first buoy.
After that first turn I could breathe to the right pretty consistently and as long as the up and down motion created by the swells didn't make me puke (which it totally did) then it wasn't too bad. I made the second turn and headed back to the starting buoy for lap #2. That leg was very confusing. I would breathe once and have the sun to my right, then the beach to my left, then the beach to my right and the sun to my left on consecutive strokes! and I was kind of swimming straight. The swells just were that disorienting.
Back at the first buoy you could stand again, the lake is pretty shallow there. My goggles fogged and I may have stopped, cleared the goggles, and cried again before deciding if I wanted to walk back to shore and turn in my chip or face that direct swell access again.
I did of course choose to go back out for lap 2, and this time I found the secret. Breast stroke keeps most of the body underwater and moving forward most of the time. When you come up for a breath you never really know where your head will be or how painful it will be to get back underwater, but I could at least keep moving forward most of the time. I felt much better the second time I hit the first turn buoy, but still not exactly "great". But from there it was a straight shot to the swim finish.
|Wetsuit half off coming out of the water|
|So freaking glad to be done|
I swam in a speedo and wetsuit knowing that I would then change into regular bike gear. In an Ironman, I know that's long, but I am only going to ride 112 miles in as close to comfort as possible.
Bike 112 miles: 7:11:26, 143/220 overall, 19/27 age group
|Running out of TA|
|Cool shot along that fenceline|
|starting to ride|
|still kind of pukey after the swim|
|that head down says it all|
|aaaaaand I'm gone|
Around mile 40, I saw an alpaca farm. There was a lot of farmland, mostly corn and soybeans. It was a beautiful day, sunny and in the low 70's. If there is a time to enjoy cycling, it's taking on a perfect course on a perfect day.
Around mile 45, I realized why I hate cycling: it sucks.
More specifically, riding a bike is boring, uncomfortable, dangerous when there are cars around, and it takes forever.
yea I said it. My name is John, I'm an Ironman triathlete, and I hate cycling. And riding 112 miles is a special kind of torture.
Usually when I finish an Ironman I hang up my bike for the winter, but the next spring the idea of the wind blowing as I'm flying down the road for hours on end seems very appealing. This year that feeling never really materialized. I never found my motivation to keep biking like I should, and my training plan had about 1000 miles less biking than last years plan did. Of course, my final time this year was only 6 minutes slower than Beach 2 Battleship was last year, so you could argue that the missing miles didn't matter. You could also argue that with a more ideal course and a perfect weather day I should have been better conditioned and put up a 6:30 split.
By the halfway point I felt a little fatigued, but overall ok. By mile 65 I was done mentally and ready to be off of that bike. By mile 80 I was in shock that I still had 32 miles to go. And as they all ticked off one mile at a time I was just glad to see them go away. I finished that beautiful course and was glad to be done with the bike.
Also, I suck at it. Maybe I would enjoy it more if I was actually good at cycling, but I'm not. I started biking in 73rd place after a slow T1, and finished in 143rd place overall. That means that a full third of the field (70 people) passed me on the bike, but those were just the full riders. There was also a half iron race going on too, and most of the half iron people were pushing much faster than the full people were so they went flying past me. It is kind of demoralizing, but I tried to consistently only run my race. I don't have to keep up with anybody else out there, just get my miles done.
With my bike in the rack again, I left my shoes and helmet there and changed out of the bike gear and into full run gear. I thought it was going to be a bit cooler than it was, so I had a black shirt and black visor, running at 4 pm when it was 78* outside. So that could have been planned a bit better. There wasn't a cloud in the sky so I loaded up on sunscreen and headed out to the course.
Run 26.2 miles: 4:49:25, 102/220 overall, 15/27 age group
|Out of TA, get some water, good to go|
|Got water and advil, ready to run|
|I got my kiss, ready to go run|
|What's 26.2 between friends?|
Usually I want to finish before daylight ends, but this time the sunset was a welcome relief from the heat. I picked up some strange sunburns but no arm or nipple chafing, luckily so I could deal with that mess. There was a few out and back spurs, a few timing mats to send splits online, and the rest of the course was pretty uneventful. Plus, at the time, I wasn't exactly in a mental capacity to remember anything.
|Kelley found a cool spot at mile 8 and mile 21 on the loop|
|This must be mile 21, it was a zombie parade at that point|
|Eventually the moon came out and the sun went down|
There was a moment that I will snapshot for as long as I can remember it. After dark, walking back across the causeway to the park, the lake was lit up with a couple of boats and the roller coasters were all lit up and moving. Cars were exiting the park rapidly, some honking at me. I had 1.5 miles left. Sometimes it is important to live in the now and take appreciation for the moment you are in, and how you got there. In that moment, I didn't care what my finish time was, how fast the marathon split was or what was fatigued then. There was only an overwhelming sense of satisfaction that I was able to train and push my body in this way to lead me up to this very moment. This snapshot is amazing.
Finish: 13:52:20, 102/220 overall, 15/27 age group
|Bring it on home!|
|Number 3 is done!|
|Medal, visor, towel, official finishers photo time|
|This is a happy ironman|