Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ironman Arizona -- My Perspective

I watched this year.  I saw the first trucks full of gear -- ice chests, tshirts, kerosene stoves, can openers, pallets of water - pull into the dusty lots near Tempe Beach park one week before race day.  The Aid Station rental rigs were lined up in organized rows and filled with everything necessary to accommodate an IM athlete throughout the day and night of November 18th.

I saw the "site" build up.  The gates, the tents, the scaffolding, the finish lines.  I witnessed Tempe Beach come alive for Ironman week.  The ant hill stirred on Thursday morning with athletes anxiously arriving to register and realize their dream.  Friday was a repeat of Thursday:  registration continued and the village grew.  Saturday: bike drop off, excitement grew, and no one slept.

Sunday:  Race Day.  My day started at 4a.m.   Athletes began arriving soon after.  The light towers illuminated the transition areas.  I could hear generators, the snap of bike pumps,  but voices were hush and tensions were high.

At 6:45 a.m. first the cannon boomed-- pros swimming away in the sunrise.  Then, the age groupers tentatively hopped into Tempe Town Lake.  No one ducked their head underwater at first.  Too cold.  Too nervous.

A second cannon blasted at exactly 7a.m.  Overhead the whirl of a helicopter announced itself to all the spectators -- something big was happening.  Ironman Arizona 2012 was underway....and so it began.

Through the next 22 hours I witnessed the best of human spirit.  The joy of completing the swim.  The agony of missing cut off times.  The fatigue of riding and running in full sun, then twilight, then darkness.  In my ear, the radio kept me up to date with the action on the bike and run course: "Comm, I have athlete number 1012, a DNF" as participants recognized their limits and passed their chips to staff members.  Others were injured, and some, spent.  But most carried on.

A few of us waited at the run cut off point at 10:15p.m.  "Sorry, you may not start your third loop".  There were tears of defeat, but also of accomplishment.  You've come so far... be proud of this much now.

As thousands of athletes crossed the finish line, Mike Reilly never wavered with joy and elation, announcing to the victors: "You are an Ironman!"  The crowds swelled in the early evening, then waned in the later hours.  Amazingly, they grew again at midnight as the last participants made their way across the finish line -- each with their own story of how and why they got to this place.

And then, as loud as it had been for an entire 17 hour day,  the hush fell once again.  And lone athletes crossed unannounced and unrecognized.  For any who made it after midnight, the staff dropped what they were doing an applauded.

From 12:30a.m. on,  it was all torn down and cleaned up as quickly as it was built up the week before.  Mylar blankets were gathered, food was collected, participants picked up their belongings, others braved the serpentine lines of 2013 registration. And Tempe Beach was back to normal.

Witnessing an Ironman start-to-finish is a life-changing experience.  It is a testament to the kindness of strangers.  It is the the realization of dreaming big.  It is the accomplishment of a goal thanks to personal determination and guidance from the race directors, volunteers, family and friends.

And just like that, the circus packs up and moves on.  It will happen again in 364 days for 3,000 more people who need to hear that cry..."You are an Ironman".   And those of us who are athlete junkies will be back again for more.

I can't wait.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

I Like Reason #1

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Resilience

Some times things don't always go as planned, but you find the inner strength to complete your goal, anyway.  Here's Greg's race report from Ironman Florida.  We are proud of you, Greg!

When I signed up for Ironman Florida it was to be my piece de resistance, the bow on top of my Ironman career.  While it was not much of a career (3 races), I was hanging it up after this race.  At this stage in my life with family, church and work, I just couldn't handle the training load for full Ironman races.  I had really wanted to get a good time and this was the race for it.  My first Ironman was all about finishing.  I didn't know what I was doing and I was just trying to finish for the incredible goal of simply being an Ironman.  In my second IM, I was definitely racing, but doing the inaugural Ironman St. George was not about getting a good time.  The course had over 10,000 feet of climbing on the bike and the marathon was uphill or downhill the entire race and included incredibly steep climbs of 8% in a few places.  That is a tough course for a normal marathon, yet alone as part of an Ironman.

So Florida was to be it.  I would nail this race and get a fabulous time as I retired from Ironman racing forever or for at least a very long time.  I worked with a fabulous coach this year (Matt Dixon at Purplepatch fitness).  I bought a power meter to govern my effort on the bike portion. I was ready to go.  Mike and I had a pacing plan that got us to under 10:00 hours.  We knew it would be tough and the weather would have to be good for it to happen, but we both felt like it could happen.

Once Saturday morning came, we knew the weather gods were against us and the 10:00 hour goal would be tough.  The ocean which had been totally calm on Friday was in turmoil on Saturday morning.  There were big swells coming in that lasted the entire swim out to the turnaround. The temperature was climbing all week and peaked on Saturday.  I think the official temp was 85, but it felt hotter to me.  Away from the coast on the bike, it was definitely hotter.  The humidity rose like crazy on Saturday too.  I don't know why.  It had been pretty dry, but Saturday morning, everything was wet from the moisture in the air.  It was even foggy in places.  Mentally - I was okay with it. I adjusted my expectations.  I would still be really happy at 10:10 or 10:20 or even 10:30.

In brief, things went okay during the early part of the race.  The swim was tough, but I felt pretty good as I got through it.  When I stood up, I was at 1:11.  Little slower than projected, but okay.  Got on the bike and felt good.  Unbelievably though, my power meter did not work.  It has never not worked on any ride before. I was so frustrated because I literally bought it for this race and had my entire bike strategy was set up around holding certain power and cadence levels.  I had to push it out of my mind after 5 - 10 miles because it was bringing me down.  I was so frustrated, but mentally, I had to push it away.  I basically would just use perceived effort and mph as my gage like I had done in the other Ironman races.  Overall, the bike went well.  I realized that somehow my timing chip had come off so that is why nobody was getting updates on my splits.  My wife was worried that I had crashed, but I was okay.  It was a great course, but it definitely got very hot.  The wind really picked up and I felt like we fought some heavy headwinds and crosswinds.  Still, I was coming in around 5:15 and I felt good.  I had some fatigue in my legs, but I was ready to run.

I had trained all summer to run a 3:30 marathon.  I had done it on several long training days in the Arizona heat.  I was ready for that pace.  I knew I could back off if necessary and still come in around 4:00 hours.  Because of the heat and humidity, I realized early in the marathon that I would probably have to back off.  It was going to need to be a 3:45 - 4:00 marathon.  That is okay - I would still come in around 10:20 - 10:30 overall and be really pleased with that. Got to the turnaround at 6.6 miles and felt pretty good, but the stomach was tight.  I was not able to get in much water, Gatorade or Coke.  There was no way food was going in.  I saw Mike at the turnaround and I was about 2 ½ to 3 minutes behind him.  Based on all of our training, I expected to catch him during the 6.6 - 13.1 mile stretch. I figured we could run together for a while and make sure he got to his Kona slot (which he did - he got passed in the last 300 yards which meant he didn't win his age group, but still got 2nd and a spot to Kona - yea!)

On the way back, I really started to not feel good.  I was getting very nauseous. My pace was dropping.  I still felt like I could bang out a 4 hour marathon, but it was going to hurt.  At the half way mark, I was getting bad.  I saw Demi and Vicky and told them I was hurting.  I knew I need to walk a for a minute.  I thought I would walk and then settle my stomach and then get back to it. That is when I started throwing up.  Basically, over the next 13 miles, I threw up over 25 times. I lost track in the high teens, but it was definitely over 25 times.   My body literally shut down.  I had to lay on the ground a few times for 10 minutes or so because I was so dizzy.  I couldn't even walk at times. Several times, the volunteers or spectators would tell me I needed to drop out and get medical help. I needed to DNF.  I really thought about it. I wasn't trying to prove anything.  My "good time" was out the window.  I had already finished two other Ironman races so I didn't need to finish for that.  I really didn't want to quit though. I wanted to finish.  There were several times that I didn't know if I could.  I didn't think I could walk the distance.  I literally could not run anymore.  My body would not let me.  I did try a couple of more times, but I would cramp immediately and then throw up. I tried to slowly get fluids in me on several occasions, but I would only throw it up a couple of minutes later.  At those moments, when people around me were telling me I had to quit, it was very tempting.  Even when there were only three miles left, I didn't know if I could finish. I was still debating in my mind if I could go on because of the dizziness I was feeling.  I would just pause (or throw up) and then slowly keep moving. Lots of life lessons there - not the throwing up part.

This is why I say it was a spectacular success.  In many ways, this embodies the true Ironman spirit.  I was done.  I didn't think I could go on, but I found the internal strength to keep going.  This was different from other races where you are in pain and want to stop, but that is more based on the pace.  In this case, my body had shut down, but I found a way to keep going. I walked the entire second half of the marathon. I had to stop several times.  I threw up many times along the way. With the throwing up, it meant I had no liquids or nutrition for about five hours, but I kept going.  The second part of the marathon took me over 4 ½ hours to finish. That is a long time. It felt like forever.  What that means is that people who were just getting off the bike when I was half way done with the marathon still passed me in the marathon.  The swim and bike portion took me about 6 ½ hours and the marathon took me about 6 ½ hours.  Definitely not to plan.

I feel okay about this though.  Of course, I am very disappointed that I didn't get my solid Ironman time.  I feel like I never lived up to my potential at the Ironman distance, but I am not hanging my head.  Just to finish in the condition I was in is very inspiring to me.  I realize that nobody else will fully get that, but it means something to me.  I really should have quit, but I kept going.

Thanks, Greg, for your honest and sincere report of your race.  You're a three-time Ironman finisher.  And no one can take that away from you.  
Que lindo es sonar despierto.
How lovely it is to dream while you are awake.

Dreams That Have Come True