- Total Calories Consumed: 2400 + ~200 from various cups of Coca Cola, so about 2600
- Number of Times I Peed Myself: 6
- Number of Times I cried: 2
- Number of Post-race Beers: 0.25 (that’s all it took)
Swim – https://www.strava.com/activities/1107950281
Bike – https://www.strava.com/activities/1107940123
Run – https://www.strava.com/activities/1107950318
The swim went fantastically. I begrudgingly wore the wetsuit because it was legal, but would have preferred us all to wear swim skins. I broke an hour and exited the water very pleased. The bike was also fantastic. I may have started a little too fast, but settled in and only felt flat for the last 20 miles or so. Taking in 1600 calories went smoothly. I lost my chain on a bumpy road and had to stop for that. I also broke my steer tube and luckily didn’t end in catastrophe (will need to be replaced ASAP). The run wasn’t so great. I started too fast (like everyone told me not to) and suffered through the middle 15 miles or so. I picked it up a couple times, including the last 5k which felt incredible to have a surge after 15 miles of cement-legs. My legs were just toast and I’ll blame it on running the first 7 miles at 7:30 pace. I’m still figuring it all out. I finished in the top 50 overall and almost broke 10 hours. I’ll take it!
When the waterworks began, it’s like my whimpering and sobbing washed away actual physical barriers. They say endurance sports are 90% mental. We train to reprogram the central governing system (see Central Governor Theory) of our brains to teach our bodies our real limits and how to carry on when our survival mechanisms are telling us to self-preserve and stop or slow down. So when I cried for the first time during my first Ironman this past weekend after two hours and 24 minutes into the marathon run, I may have actually given my body a mental-jump-start that it needed to not totally crumble. Looking at my mile splits, however, you’ll see that my first loop pace at a solid 7:30min/mi did indeed crumble at the end of that nine-mile loop. There were still two laps more to go, though. So after an hour of 7:30-miles I fell to about 9-minute-miles. With the cry that was somehow initiated by some cheesy lyric from Black Eyed Peas blaring through a sound-system, I picked up my pace to 8-minute-miles. It fell back down to 9’s, but then with 5km to go, I cried again and opened up! I tapped into something incredibly powerful and mysterious that gave me goosebumps and uncontrolled tears (more of that whimpering.) It allowed me to finish with a sub-8min/mi pace passing a handful of dudes and feeling strong and proud despite an abysmal crumbling for the majority of the middle part of the run.
Let’s back up a bit. I’m going to try to recap this 140.6 mile race without writing a 140.6 mile essay. So let’s get to it, shall we.
The whole start was a new one for me. There were lots of new rules for the first transition area, T1. I had to make sure all of my bike gear (including helmet and shoes—everything but nutrition on the bike) were in my bike gear bag. The swim start was another new one for me. We were corralled into our self-seeded swim time estimates. I jumped into the sub-60 minute group. There were no waves, just one rolling start. Of course, at the final hour the water temperature measured at 76.1*F that morning after a few days of temperatures well above that. The days leading up to the race, Ironman race directors were telling everyone it would likely be a swim skin swim (non-wetsuit legal). I am confident that Ironman does this to make sure everyone buys all of the swim skin available at the expo and then at the last minute rewards the majority of racers who are slower and less-confident swimmers with a coincidental water-temperature reading that allows it to be wetsuit legal after all (Within 0.1 degrees of the threshold is hard to believe. Nothing like panic to get triathletes to purchase whatever is necessary). I had both options available, so I put on the wetsuit like most of the lot and got over it.
The swim was beautiful for the first lap. The sun hadn’t risen, and Lake Sonoma waters were clean with decent visibility. My sighting-training (even in the pool) and an increase in swimming volume throughout the year via the awesome coaching of Matt Dixon and Purplepatch Fitness proved beneficial. During the 2.4 mile swim, I never once felt off-track and knew where each buoy was. Even when the sun rose and the lake-steam started to rise with blinding glare, I knew where to go. After getting out to start the second loop, I was at 28 minutes and change. I smiled and threw my hands up in excitement and dove right back in. Sadly, the slower swimmers hadn’t even gotten in yet. There were about 1000 swimmers yet to get in the water. I felt bad for them as they were getting clobbered by us sub-60 minute swimmers who often have little mercy when we’re charging through the water. After knocking some legs out of the way, I made my way to the epically steep T1 boat ramp cracking 60 minutes on my first 2.4 mile swim race. I made my way slowly into T1 to keep the heart calm and head focused.
After changing, I was clip-clopping to my bike in my bike shoes like an awkward, wet centaur. I put my Co2 and sealant canisters in my back pockets and got my Picky Bars ready. I mounted and heard my sister and family yell “Sore like an Eagle dude!” What a sendoff. It wasn’t too cold as I was wearing socks for the first time on the bike during a triathlon. The first little rollers warmed me up and it was all aero from there, downing a Picky Bar and guzzling my first round of water from my cockpit-mounted bottle within the first hour. My Aerojacket from Wheelbuilders held up nicely and almost sounded as badass as a real disc wheel. I was pushing the first hour at about 210 normalized watts. My target for the whole ride was 195-205w with minimal spikes and without bursting out of 160bpm on my heart rate. I was trying not to keep track of my time as coach advised, but I was noticing sub-14-minute 5-mile-laps and that was encouraging as that would average to about a 5-hour bike split!
It was a fair ride with the exception of a few annoying riders who didn’t know how to keep steady power (you know the ones who overtake you to slot into the legal distance you have with the guy in front of you? Then they force you to drop back further as they slow down on the descents? Yeah there were a few of those. Here’s my advice: easy on the climbs and charge hard on the descents!) I only noticed one blatant drafter for only a mile or so. But from where I was (top 50), I didn’t notice anything too horrendous (see Worlds 70.3 2016 post, but know that I’m not as bitter anymore!). My fueling was on point with 400cal down the hatch via two caffeinated Picky Bars, about 6 bottles of water (refilled the XLab Torpedo bottle about five times cruising cautiously through the aid stations) and two other bottles of concentrated, custom Ininit adding up to about 1600cal and 500mg of caffeine on the bike in the end. My saddle-mounted rear-bottle-cage lost one of four of its zip-tie attachments as I yanked the thick bottle out with vigor as it was so sticky with solution it stuck into the Gorilla cage. I had to chuck the bottle after transferring the fluid into my conveniently empty downtube bottle with about 40 miles to go.*
The trickiest part of the ride came in the last two loops where we were riding on some back-country farm roads. The pink tape marking the potholes was kind, but when we came up Willowside road and a few others, parts of the roads seemed to be painted with pink tape! It was like a minefield. I didn’t lose anything thankfully, but I did cross-chain after switching gears too fast to slow down and had to dismount and put the chain back on the rear derailleur. I was just grateful for no flats on my sweet, new 26mm Specialized Turbos. I lost the pack I was working with, but I probably only lost less than a couple minutes. The worst part of these chunky roads was that I was riding the bullhorns out of the aero-position for the most part. Somehow I must have put too much weight on the bars because I felt way too much play in the stem. I knew exactly what happened: my steer tube had cracked. It’s a freaky feeling knowing that you could suddenly lose your handlebars and indo head-first into oncoming traffic or a barbed-wire gulch next to you. I held it together, but check out the pictures to confirm that my fear was real. Hopefully the boys at Bikeworks can sort it out and help me prevent that from happening again (this is the second time this has happened to me).
I felt flat the last 20km of the ride, but managed to finish the 112 miles of riding in five hours and change. A dude who was riding with me the whole ride crashed as he dismounted. I avoided his spill without thinking. I really hope he’s OK. I took my time at T2 putting on my run gear as I did at T1. I was in no rush. A 3-loop-marathon laid before me. It was about 6hrs and 15min into the race that I started the run. I started with a 22-year-old young buck who eventually passed me during the last 10km. I joked with him that he was too young to be racing and that he should be getting drunk at some lit BBQ with his college buds! A good dude, Ignacio from Miami, laughed with me and then we began the journey at a healthy clip.
Ignacio had the same pace as I. We were just going by feel and it turns out we ran the first six miles at a very consistent 7:30min/mi pace! We were chatting and laughing a little, and even peed together (Yes, that really happened. I hope this gets leaked later on. #goldenshowerboys) We found out we have friends in common and laughed at how tight and small the triathlon community is (Hi Tim and Elise!). I let him go before we finished the first loop, though. I was fading and he was holding strong. My heart was happy, I was staying cool, but my legs were heavy. They were feeling like they were stuck in asphalt. My cough didn’t help either. I still have a cough after a sickness I caught almost four weeks ago. The cough made my head hurt and abs sore, but still my legs were the main thing slowing me down. I went too hard that first lap and had to pay. When my old buddy from Oakland, Adam Carlson came roaring by at a healthy 7:00/mi pace, it looked like he was running a 10k! He blew me a kiss and I’ll never forget that ridiculousness. Adam and John Savage of Team EMJ helped me out big time before the race and both ran insane marathons with top AG finishes in the end! You’ll see them in Kona!
I’ll share with you a fraction of the emotional roller coaster that weaved its way through me in the middle 15 miles. I was a wreck physically and emotionally. Imagine your feet in shoes made of gallons of hot tar, pissing yourself only to have that moment of so-wanted-relief to be replaced with burning, urine-induced pain invading your already chafed cracks and crevasses while knowing you have more than a half-marathon to go. Imagine having run marathons before at 7:00min/mi pace and under and then realizing that 9:00min/mi is literally as fast as you could go. And even that is painful. Imagine that what you’ve done for most of your adult life that has brought you joy and stress-relief, your passion and raison-d’etre—becoming your worst enemy and most precise pain-point. I felt truly insane and thoughts like “I wonder if my health insurance covers therapy?” were real (for the record, I still think going to therapy would be a good idea, that’s another story, but definitely no shame there). Imagine questioning all that you’ve worked, prepared, saved and trained for and asking yourself, “Why am I still running? Why don’t I just hide behind that nice tree and wait for everyone to go home?” I wanted to hide–from the race, the fans, the photographers, the rest of the marathon, the aid stations, the social media, but most of all—myself. Clearly I built up so much pressure to preform at this race despite all of the warnings and advice to not do just that. I thought I could run faster than that. I know I could. But I was not. And that reality of feeling yourself—and I mean your self, as in your body, your muscles, tendons, flesh and bones—as not yourself, is one that makes me spin with confusion I am still processing.
That said, there were incredible highs** and moments of true ecstasy. There were blissful tears of joy and smiling and laughter that overwhelmed me throughout the day. Seeing my family and friends on the course, friends in the audience cheering, high-fiving, and showing boundless support, feeling the energy and encouragement from my friends and family abroad tracking me online and sending messages on social media or texts were all so powerfully motivating. These shows of support are what made me not curl up behind that tree and hide. These people—YOU people—are who made me keep putting one foot in front of the other. The words of advice before the race from triathlon-veterans, rookies, pros, elders, and people like you, made me truly believe I could tackle this beast of a race. And that belief is what is necessary to stay on the path. To stay with the forward momentum every single step required me to harness the love and encouragement from everyone. I cannot thank these people enough.
I’ll end here with this show of gratitude. There are so many people to thank and you all know who you are. But I must shout out to my mom, dad, and sister for going above and beyond the call of duty to get me ready for this race. From the meals, the rides, the lodging, and the crazy logistics—they made it all possible with ease and patience. The hope is that from all that I have received, I am able to give back even more. I like to think that I can tangibly give back to my community through my profession as an educator. If what I can do for you is to inspire you to not hide from yourself, to not hide from the pain, and to face it and move forward with the love that your people and even strangers have for you—I’ll be happy with that too. You must believe that people support and care for you even if you think it’s just a few. It may be hard to believe sometimes especially when you’re hurting and the elements seem to all be against you. But you are loved. As strong and as independent as you think you are—you need these people.
Have fun with the photos and stats below. While you read this, I’ll be preparing my classroom for the 2017-2018 school year at the incredible Konawaena High School where I get to teach mathematics for a fourth year in beautiful South Kona, Hawaii. Aloha and keep moving forward. And remember, if you have to cry to face your pain, fears and yourself, then do it—release, refocus, and charge forth.
*No gorillas, bottle cages, or caged-gorillas were harmed in the making of this race.
**Caffeine from my Hawaiian Ola shots, Red Bull and good old Coca Cola greatly amplified these highs.
3 thoughts on “My first long distance triathlon: Ironman Santa Rosa”
So proud of you David, you are so strong and compassionate. Love the tears.
Blessings many blessings. Thank you for the support. Tangible and intangible. Lots of love.