Monday, July 21, 2008

Becoming Ironman: Spirit of Racine Half Ironman Race Report

The short version: 5:35:04
The long version:

In a fitting bit of karma, Team Erin and my Team joined forces for this race, it making sense for us to carpool together and handle travel logistics, etc. I say "fitting bit of karma" because Erin and I were kind of unintentional training partners these many months leading up to Spirit of Racine, our frequent "hey how was your long ride" emails becoming diagnostics, advice, and analysis of each other's training and strategies going into the race. With my friend Mike coming to town to come offer race support, and throw in one Chief of Stuff, we had a solid contingency making our way Eastward to the shores of Lake Michigan.

The night before The Big Game a bunch of us met at Olive Garden. I can't think of when I've laughed harder or longer in a long time. While Amy stayed back at the hotel with Dakota (both tired, one because she's 9 months old, the other because she'd been rafting in New Mexico for a week and had jumped a plan at 4:30am to meet us in Racine), we had a great group - CznE was there with some friends, my buddy Mike, Erin and Chief of Stuff, Thomps, and some new friends who's blogs I've frequented but had never met - Alili with her husband Jerry, and Megan. These are some of the most lovely, charming, hilarious people I've ever met. My face literally hurt after dinner for all the smiling and laughing. Thomps had to bow out early, but here's the rest of us Racine racers -

Megan - seemingly basking in the light of Jesus; Erin, Alili, me

A solid night's sleep at South Milwaukee's most posh hotel - the Days Inn - and Erin and I were on the way to raceday by 5am the next day.

Were it not for the sight of other human beings with bike pumps obviously moving in the same direction, I think we might have missed the race location altogether, even though it was only a few hundred yards off of the street we were on, for how insanely thick the fog was. While setting up in transition we listened as the announcer told us we'd delay for 15 minutes...then 30...then 45...finally, an hour after the original start times, we were cleared for go. Racine is a point to point swim, so you leave transition and walk 1.2 miles thataway. Erin and I joined the mass exodus and headed down the shore to spend some time acclimating to the water.

At registration the day before, they had a note that water temperature was 56 degrees. I blinked the first time, thinking I'd read it wrong - it must be 66. We've had a weird spring and summer here, and I don't know that any lakes have had a chance to warm up much at all. But 56 degrees??? Official raceday water temp was a balmy 55 degrees. This is colder than the water that comes out of your tap. If you've ever done an ice bath sans ice, and just sat in the tub chattering in the water while your lips turned blue - this is colder than that. With the delays we had 15-20 minutes to spend in the water, and it was painfully cold. No attitude adjustment could change that fact. First your feet throb, then several minutes later they go numb. The wetsuit does wonders, of course, but interestingly getting your hands acclimated is really tough - it just hurts so bad that you instinctively remove them from the water. Finally, after several minutes, you can submerge your neck, and then when you dunk your head - you literally do lose your breath. It was insane. But 10, 15 minutes in, and the body somehow adjusts. I was really glad, though, to had spent that time, because I think if you were just to run in off the shore at the gun, and have to do that adjusting while in the midst of the race, it would really be havoc.

Chief of Stuff heading into the mist. Somewhere down there is the swim start

Erin and I getting ready to rock. We're not really smiling, we just can't feel our faces.

Between the fog and the freezing water, it wasn't the most auspicious start to a day I was hoping to excel. But once lined up with my wave and ready to roll, the calm came over me. I've been here before - subject to elements, to the long list of Things I Can't Control. And I've learned to hold them up, scan them for anything actionable, then simply toss them out of my mental space.

Game on.

I ran into the water with the rest of my wave, positioned to the left so I could go a bit wide around the turn buoy. The water was shallow for awhile, then a bit deeper, then shallow again. I got into my stroke right away, stood up and jogged another short bit, then finally dove in for the long haul. The turn buoy was only 100 yards or so offshore, then we'd turn right and stay parallel to the shore for the 1.2 mile swim before turning again at a final buoy to make our way in.

Sighting was easy - I stayed positioned away from the shore, so I could really just watch all the swimmers further in to gauge my general position. I breathed on every stroke on my right side to avoid the gentle rolling waves of Lake Michigan, and make sure I was getting plenty of oxygen to keep myself warm. I felt great. My stroke felt great. I was right in the thick of everybody - being passed occasionally as usual, but doing a lot more passing than I'm used to as well. I only zigged or zagged to a point of needing correction twice, and otherwise was able to focus on my technique, on a powerful kick, and a smooth stroke. The cold was a non-factor for me - though I passed lots of guys doing a backstroke to avoid having their faces in, or swimming with the heads up. On such a big lake I expected the chop of Lake Monona from Ironman or the swells from Lake Mendota from Capitol View, but the water was mostly still, if a bit rolling. Except for the temperature, conditions were actually quite ideal.

We finally turned the last buoy, and I was physically right on point. I'm hearing rumblings now that the course was a bit short, but it didn't feel like it to me - in any case, I had no sense of time or how long I'd been out there, but I was glad that the cold and distance didn't seem to have put me in a bad place before getting out of the water. As I finally stood up to strip off the top-half of my wetsuit and jog onto the beach, a quick glance at my watched showed me 36:something, which was perfect. I was right on schedule, when I saw Mike and Chief of Stuff as I approached transition I gave them a fist pump. With the hundred yard or so run up the beach to transition, my swim was 37:10, which I was perfectly satisfied with.

My strategy was to be smooth and relaxed in transition - I had pockets to fill up with nutrition, and didn't want to forget anything out on the bike, or hurry along so that I'd be digging through pockets out on the course looking for this gel or those E-caps. I had a long run with Vapor through transition, and was finally out of there in 2:38

I was feeling great when I got on the bike. Very fired up, with fresh legs and feeling strong. CznE snapped this one as I left T1, giving her the universal hand signal for Pick It Up And Set It Down.

Right away I settled into my plan - smooth and stupid easy. I let my cadence get up to 96 or 97rpm before I'd shift. I wanted to feel no stress or strain on my legs at all. Two irritating things happened in the first 5 miles - my pack of chopped up Clif bar fell out of my pocket - I guess in my commitment to not carelessly throw things in my pockets in transition I carelessly threw it in my pocket. And when it went, it apparently took with it my 5 Hour Energy drink, which I take a shot of at around mile 40, when I start to mentally fatigue. I had a PB&J with me that I eat at about mile 42, so I devised to each chunks of that in lieu of the Clif Bar if needed, and would just have to forgo the energy drink. No worries.

So I settled in. Conditions were perfect - overcast, not too warm (yet...), and no wind worth mentioning. I knew if I could put it together and stick to my training, if I could let me ego go and not worry about how fast or how strong, that I was prepared for a great day on the bike.

That first hour was a lot like Ironman - so many people that it's impossible to spread out. Bikers everywhere, and we were all jockeying for position. I'm happy to say that only once or twice did I see what looked like organized, intentional drafting. Otherwise we all just tried to do our best out there. I snagged a few more gels the first aid station, about 15 miles in, and figured my nutritional needs were set.

When training, I have a sort of internal gauge for a pace. Barring anything unexpected or weather influences, I cross 18.5 hours at about the 1 hour mark, give or take a minute or so, and this generally puts me across 56 miles in 3 hours, give or take a few minutes. I then have a brief conversation with myself where I audibly discuss how it's going. I think probably this seems stupid, but it's worked for me since before Ironman - I'm able to take a sort of objective approach to myself, and ask me how's me. Then I reply to me, and together we do any diagnostics and make a plan for me. My cursory glances at my Garmin told me I was making good time, but I wasn't expecting this as I hit the LAP button at 18.5 miles:

Control: are SEVEN MINUTES ahead of schedule.
Me: Oh shit, I see.
Control: How are you?
Me: (scans self) Really good, I guess. A little worried about the Clif bars I lost. My legs feel great. I swear I'm not pushing at all.
Control: Don't worry about food, you've got the extra stuff from the aid stations, and there will be others if you need them. We need to keep an eye on this speed. If your pace is much slower at all at 37 miles, we're changing the plan dramatically. Like, you'll get off your bike for 5 minutes to settle down. Copy?
Me: Let's cross that bridge if we need to. I'll continue to be watch RPE. I'm fresh right now, let's keep going.
Control: Roger that.

So I didn't change a thing. I ate according to plan. Instead of Clif Bars it was a bite or two of banana, or a bit of gel. The course was great. Winding now and then, then straight ahead for awhile. There was a smattering of fun spectators here and there, and they offered up encouragement. The wind was sometimes present, but never an issue. I was having fun. Chatting with other cyclists, looking up to enjoy some scenery. The machine was running smooth as silk. Everything was on point.

At miles 37 I hit LAP again - I'd lost almost exactly one minute off of my first lap's pace. Like NASA Mission Control when something exciting is going on, I sensed the rest of me buzzing in apprehensive excitement.

Control: You are about 13 minutes ahead of schedule. This is unprecedented.
Me: I'm killing this thing. Killing it.
Control: This will be totally pointless if you can't run. Are you SURE you're okay?
Me: I'm sure.
Control: You need to be really disciplined now - don't go chasing some new time goal just because it might be possible. Stay back, stick to the plan.
Me: Copy.
Control: This is it then. Get it done.

At mile 42 I ate my PB&J, sweet nectar of the gods. I tend to take about a 3 mile break at this point, where I stop "working", and just focus on the nutrition. Eating takes a bit, then chase it with some E-caps and a few swigs of Gatorade. By the time I really lifted my head again I only had 10 miles left. I was feeling a little bit fatigued, mentally, but it wasn't anything that I felt deeply concerned about.

Before I knew it, I was on the home stretch, getting out of my shoes at Mile 55, heading into T2. I jumped off my bike with fresh, strong legs. A little warm and mentally a shade blurry, but feeling pretty much great. My bike split was a blistering 2:42:43. My pace was an absurd 20.6mph. Now, full disclosure, if you're going to PR and ride a bike fast, Racine is a great race to do it. It's very flat, the roads are generally in good condition, and the race support - managed intersections, etc. - are great. But still. Nearly 21mph? I didn't even know that was possible in any conditions. In 25 miles, sure, but sustainable over 56 miles? Totally, totally unexpected. And I was consistent - my first lap I averaged 21mph, my second was 20.7 and my last lap was 20.6. And none of that was full effort, or even close. I could not be more surprised, or pleased.

2:09 later I was out of T2 and onto the run course. By now the sun was out in full force, and the heat was getting serious. I just focused on running comfortable. I didn't glance at my watch or obsess over pace - just keep a comfortable stride, keep my body loose, keep my steps light. The course is out-and-back twice, with aid stations at about every mile. I drank at every aid station - water and HEED (by the way, the flavored stuff isn't nearly so objectionable as the unflavored) - and managed the heat very well with sponges; one of the best decisions I made all day. Every other aid station I'd soak two small sponges and tuck them into either side of my tri-top, on my chest. Combine that with water over the head, ice in my hat, and cups of ice to chew on between miles, and I felt pretty good. I was okay walking through aid stations as strategy to collect my nutrition/hydration needs, and then keep on keepin' on.

I finished the first loop at right around my goal 9:00 pace. The run course is mostly flat but for two significant hills at the beginning of the loop and a bit of a descent at the end of the loop. The second hill this time around caused some problems for me - my legs both cramped up really severely. I walked the rest of the way up the hill, then paused for a few seconds to stretch and massage them. Unfortunately, I couldn't shake the cramps the last 5 miles. I chose to walk through some of mile 8 to see if I could get them to relax, and felt good picking the pace back up through mile 9, but was having to constantly restrict my movements, or slow down, or shift the way I normally run just to avoid cramping. I think my heat management was actually adversely affecting my hydration a bit - I was feeling dehydrated, and I was drinking plenty, but I tend to need a lot more than seems reasonable on really hot days. I was dehydrating pretty significantly (I'd discover later), and the cramping was just out of control. Even so I kept on, running at whatever pace my legs would allow, and never felt like I was in survival mode - even though I was slowed, I was still racing, still working hard. I finally came in to the finish chute, cheered on by the Team, and crossed in 5:35:04. I didn't reach my 2-hour goal for the run, going instead at 2:10:25 - at 9:57/mile I was a full minute off my pace. But, it wasn't because I'd sabotaged the run on the bike, and that's a significant success. I would've liked to have handled hydration better, even though I was being diligent, but sometimes, on hot days, that's just the way the race is run. I was still pleased with my run, feeling like I avoided any major meltdown, and if not overcoming, at least not letting the tough circumstances get the best of me.

In the end, I PR'd the race by about 56 minutes. I crushed my goal of 6 hours. I crushed even my top secret goal of 5:45. I PR'd the run by 21 minutes. I had a nearly perfect day, the run being the only place where smarter hydration might've meant a better performance. S'okay - just more to work on and learn from. I couldn't be more satisfied - thrilled, in fact - with the day. And I say that without much intended self-congratulation...though there is some - I take more pleasure in the objective evidence that yes - if you work smart rather than hard, if you train with discipline and intention and purpose, if you let yourself determine your limits instead of whatever outside influences might be found in other racers, or conditions, or myriad Things You Can't Control, it really can all come together. Anything really is possible.

From here? Well, first up is some rest. I drank 4 or 6 17 ounce bottles of water after the race, and still didn't have to stop for a bathroom break on the way back to Madison - and even after all that, my urine was literally the color of rootbeer when I got home. Not good. I felt a little drunk after the race, and a little hazy all afternoon. My dehydration was palpable, and it's definitely an area I'll need to continue to experiment with and perfect in race days to come. My right achilles is quite tight and sore - I've been dealing with some minor issues there for the last 6 weeks or so. My legs generally otherwise feel okay - a little crampish still, but okay. A few of the usual blisters. So, lay low for about a week, then next week start run-specific training for the Twin Cities Marathon in October.

Where does this race performance reside in the archives? Well certainly it doesn't mean I'll be aiming for a sub 12 hour Ironman next year, or anything like that. The important lessons learned, like at the Half Marathon earlier this year where I also obliterated an old Personal Record, is that I can do this. That I can train smart, achieve results, get better. That I can expand my personal limits into what's achievable. As those are the important lessons and benefits from Ironman anyway, these experiences just add to it. This race was a significant deposit in the IM account. For withdrawal next September.

Some bits and pieces:

Congratulations to everybody who toed the line at Racine!

I thought the race organizers did a great job. They were constantly communicating with us about the delays before the race. Everything was top-notch and well organized, things felt safe and well controlled. It was a great venue and I hope to do it again sometime. Maybe somebody could see to it that the water's warmer, though.

I want to send a huge thanks to the Team for being out there and cheering me on. As always, you provide so very much for my race day. I'm so thankful and grateful for your support of this thing in my life that, if perceived one way, could "take" so much away from all of us - our time, cheeseburgers, several beers, late nights - but thank you for perceiving it how I do - that it adds so very much more. I had specific goals I was hoping for in this race, and it's not lip service to say you helped me achieve them. I've said it before, but I mean it anew each time - it's not that I couldn't do this without you. It's that I wouldn't even try.

Despite my best efforts, it's impossible not to wonder/worry about my daughter when I'm out there for 5 and a half hours, knowing she'll be getting restless, or needing a nap, or if she's reaching Defcon One out there and her mother is having to scramble madly to keep some peace. Thanks Mike and CznE - and of course and especially constant Captain Amy for keeping her the priority above all else when she's along to cheer on Dadd.

And on that note, just a quick thanks to Erin and especiallly Chief of Stuff, seen here with with Mike carrying my kid across the beach - his idea - for being so flexible with the whims of a 9 months old during our trek East. The rest of us are kind of used to it, but lesser people could have felt pretty infringed upon, especially in all the race day stuff that's otherwise going on . Thanks for keeping things fun.

Onward! Here's to the pause before the next starting gun!


Erin said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome. Picking it up and putting it down, indeed!

Despite the occasional hiccups (umm, like the 55-degree water) that was a really, really fun weekend. Great sharing it with you and your team. Thanks for letting us tag along :)

J-Wim said...

Excellent race, you did awesome. Sorry we missed you all there.

TKS said...

Congrats man, way to crush it!

Sorry I couldn't find you for the life of me out there yesterday until the end with about 100 yards to go. It was great to say hi and finally meet D albeit for 5 minutes.

Keep on keepin on my friend.

Team Brazo said...

I knew you'd crush it -- just a matter of by how much. Very cool to follow you on your MISSION -- set the plan, do the work, and let it rip. That'll bring results every time.


richvans said...

NICE JOB! Wow, you've given me hope that if I'm just a little smarter (and better trained) I can actually run the run on a half. Way to go! Sounds like Racine is a great venue - I'll have to put it on the list.

Anyhow - Congrats.

Alili said...

Fan-freakin-tastic! You absolutely crushed it and I am SO happy for you! You were working it out there. It was so great to meet you this weekend. I laughed until it hurt at dinner.

I heard you were having an epic day out there when I pulled into T2--way to crush it. PR by 56 min in a HIM?! Simply awesome.

TriSaraTops said...


I knew you would!

Congrats, buddy! :)

YOU KILLED that bike course, holy SHIZZ! Rock on, brutha--so proud of you!

KodaFit said...

Absolutely Awesome!!! Fantastic Race Report too, you're definitely an inspiration for those of us trying to get to that next level!!

Iris said...

Great race report - congrats on your PR!

RobbyB said...

You STUD! Way to put it all out there.

Now get your but in gear for Twin Cities! Look to see you up there.

Megan said...

Dang! I can't get rid of that light of Jesus - and it's simply killing the love life, you know?

But more important than my holiness is the crazy great race you had! I loved reading that everything went as perfect as possible, and that you were happy with the results. Your times are tremendous! Such a great report, and I am so happy for your success!!!!!!

Thanks for all the positive words of support you left over at the Project. I am very grateful for them, and they were very true. It was such a pleasure to meet you in person after hearing such great things about you from Erin. Madison 09 it is, my friend. See ya there.

Borsch said...

Way to crush both numbers for a good and great day!

That is amazing!

Get that leg loosened up and start the TCM training! I'll be the guy finishing some where behind you. :-)

Valerie said...

Awesome work in the race! Not sure if you remember me, but I sat next to you for pasta dinner at WIBA. I love following your blog and thanks for great stories and especially your two cents. Happy training for TCM!

Steve Stenzel said...

Nice job!!! That's was a cold morning! Great job all around! And that WAS a crazy bike split!!!

Holy crap - nice job!!

p.s. I copied your pic on my blog....

xt4 said...

Hey Valerie! I remember! Thanks for checking in! Long live M-Town!

Anonymous said...

Awesome job! I've been lurking on your blog for a while, and I always enjoy your race reports and training details. Congrats on absolutely crushing your old PR!!

RunBubbaRun said...

Great job out there, A huge PR..

Sorry to miss you out there, I was looking out for you. But I guess you were going way to fast..

Great job, you the "MAN"..

qcmier said...

Nice race out there...Sorry we couldn't meet up anywhere....I'm on to Mad-Town!