Friday, October 23, 2015

Ironman Maryland Race Recap by Greg Davis

Six friends traveled across the country to compete in Ironman Maryland last weekend.  We ended up with five PRs, one Kona Qualifier, and one DNF.  I finished in 11:18, well above my 12:15 goal time.  My friend Greg Davis recorded his thoughts about the race and sent it to me.  With his permission I share his story here.  

 Overall, the race is in a great location.  It is a charming town – typical of the mid-Atlantic – although it is on the eastern shore which is a little rural or rednecky. It has an interesting history of race riots in the 60’s when supposedly the town was set on fire. You can still see an invisible line acting as a divider between the good side and the bad side of the tracks.  Still a great place – many good food options.

The course was awesome.  The Choptank River can get rough because it is so close to the Chesapeake Bay, but much of the swim is protected by a marina and a little bay that was formed – unless there are gale force winds (see below). The bike course is stunning.  Gorgeous.  You do two loops through farmland with the trees changing colors for the fall and then into a wildlife refuge that is a coastal tidewater area. It is awesome.  The roads are smooth and are made for a fast ride – unless there are gale force winds (see below).  The roads are also flat.  The run does 2.5 loops which was a little weird.  It was hard to do the little half loop when you felt like you should be done.  You run along the water for some of it and through downtown - very pretty.  Overall – I loved the course.  Registration went smooth.  All of the Ironman Maryland gear was 40% off which was a sweet bonus to compensate for the race being delayed by two weeks.

Race prep went great on race morning.  Conditions were calm until about 6:00 am when the wind started blowing consistently strong.  We were all ready to go and lined up for the swim.  At 6:40 (20 minutes before the start), they announced that because of winds from 15 mph – 30 mph, they were going to have to shorten the swim to 1.2 miles. There was a small craft advisory and it wasn’t safe for the boats or the swimmers as the water was too rough.  Obviously, we were very disappointed as this puts an asterisk next to our race.  The race was going to be delayed by 30 minutes also.  At 7:15, the winds had calmed a little (down to 10 mph – 15 mph) so they announced that we would do a 3,000 meter swim which is basically 1.9 miles.  None of us understood why at that point we couldn’t just do the full 2.4 miles swim.  It was a bummer to miss out on half a mile of the swim.  Basically, we need to make stickers for our cars that say 140.1 instead of 140.6.

At 7:30, the race started. Lorie Tucker and I went in together.  Ben and Mike were at the front. Jacque was a little behind Lorie and me. I don’t know where Mark was. It was rough in the water, but not terrible.  The wind created waves that pushed us down the outside of the buoys – helping the time.  There was lots of bumping and grinding at the start of the swim which is to be expected.  At the turnaround, I really focused on getting on someone’s feet to draft and block the waves which were now head-on.  It was two loop for 3,000 meters.  Sigh. I kept it very under control during the swim and felt great coming out of the water.  It was 54 minutes which would have translated into a 1:08 – 1:09 for a full Ironman swim.  That is basically what I was expecting so I felt good about.

T1 took forever to put on arm warmers.  I realized at that point how cold I was.  Wind was blowing hard and the temps were in the 40’s with wind chill in the 30’s.  I also couldn’t get the pee going in the wetsuit so I had to stop in a port-a-potty and I peed for at least two minutes. Grrr.

Got on the bike and hurried out of transition.  It was a long way to run before the mount line.  I waited to turn on my bike computer until I was on my bike – learning my lesson from Ironman Florida.  Ironically, my Garmin would not turn on – WHAT?  I had tested it the day before with no problem.  It was just sit there on the start-up screen.  I think because the wind was blowing so hard, it got stuck trying to find a signal although it wasn’t even showing that it was looking for a signal.  I turned it off and on four different times.  I tried different positions.  Finally, I gave up and hoped it would eventually find a signal.  At this point, I had no data – no speed, no power, no heartrate.  I was just riding by feel. I was trying to keep it under control and slowly warm up. It was clear that the wind had picked up again although I didn’t know how much until later.  Finally, after 8 miles, the computer turned on and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was nice to see what I was doing.

I tried to be mellow for the first 50 – 60 miles.  My target heart rate was around 115 bpm and I wanted the power to be around 180 watts.  However, I found myself consistently higher as I fought the side wind that was growing.  Heart rate was closer to 118 – 122 and power was over 200 all the time.  It felt comfortable so I went with it.  The first 30 miles went by fast and I kept thinking how nice it was – sun was out to warm us up, the road was smooth, and the scenery beautiful.  Wind was strong, but from the side and occasional at the back to help the speed.  I knew it was going to be rough once we turned.  The rest of the bike ride was a challenge.  I tried to stay positive, but it was pretty brutal.  The wind started shifting around and I felt like I fought it hard for most of the next 80 miles.

It was blowing so hard that even in areas where trees/reeds might have blocked it in a reasonable wind (5 – 10 mph) that the wind pushed right through the trees.  I looked down several times and was holding 240 watts and only going 15 mph.  That is discouraging to be working so hard and going so slow.  I know from experience that with my race wheels on with an aero jersey and aero helmet, at 240 watts on a flat road, I should comfortably be going 22 – 23 mph.  Instead, I was seeing 15 – 19 mph.  My average speed dropped from 21 mph to 19.5 mph. I averaged 205 watts over the 112 miles which was definitely above my target. There were some dark moments out there – which was universal to everyone who did this race.  The gusts were crazy strong and knocked us around.  The wind never abated and kept shifting directions. Since we were going in a circle, I kept waiting for the tailwind, but it came much less than I would want.  I felt that it was mostly a headwind or a sidewind that still slowed you down.  We had a few miles of tailwind on lap two when you could go 25 mph by lightly peddling. There was also an 8 mile section from miles 90 – 98 which were a life saver. Unfortunately, after that, the next 12 miles were some of the worst and directly into the wind. The final two miles were a tailwind.  I was definitely fading over the last 30 miles and really struggled from Mile 98 – 112.

As seems to happen in every Ironman, my stomach started to feel very queasy around Mile 80.  This is so frustrating because I train my nutrition and it seems to work during the training, but something switches in the race and I always struggle.  I stopped taking in calories from that point on and barely drank for the next 30 miles – trying to get the stomach to settle.  Basically, it just stops digesting and absorbing food/water so anything I add in there just sits on top and makes me feel more bloated and full.

I finished the bike in 5:42.  I was hoping to do 5:15 – 5:20 and at the power I held, I should have been 5:10 or less on a more normal day.  I also dug deep to even do 5:42 so I was a little worried about the run.  I had one long pee in a port-a-potty at mile 50 – otherwise held it until the next transition.  T2 went okay, but I was a little woozy.  I was surprised how few bikes were there so I guess I had a decent ride considering the elements.

I started the run at an 8:30 pace.  This was very comfortable and was hoping to build to an 8:00 minute pace eventually.  About mile 4, the stomach kept getting queasier.  I knew from past experience that I couldn’t get much in so I tried to sip a little Gatorade and water at the aid stations – definitely no gels or food.  Every time I put anything in the stomach though it made it worse.  I decided to try Pepsi at mile 8 and 100 yard later I almost threw up everything.  I stopped all nutrition and hydration at that point.  From mile 8 – 18, I did nothing at the aid stations.  Effectively, by mile 18, I had had almost no nutrition for the last 3.5 hours (since I basically stopped at Mile 80 of the bike).  That is a bad combo when exercising that long. I started to get woozy and dizzy. I knew I had to try something.  My strategy to that point was to try to run to the aid stations and then walk the aid stations even though I wasn’t getting anything from them.  It gave me a goal and something to look forward to.  My run times were drifting higher though – I was running 9:30’s now at best.  I also had to walk a few times between aid stations.  At mile 12, I had to throw up and went through the motions, but it was just dry heaving.  I don’t know why it didn’t all come up, but I didn’t force it out.  That happened a few times. Finally, at mile 18, I knew something had to change or I wasn’t going to make it.  I was getting dizzy.  I channeled my inner Ben LeSueur at Ironman St. George and grabbed a handful of potato chips and then walked for a while.  This made a huge difference.  I was able to keep it down and started running again. From mile 20 on, my stomach settled somewhat and I was able to run between 8:00 – 8:15 minute pace.  I had also been working out some of the bloating / gas in the usual way in those middle miles which helped it to settle. It was nice to finish strong even though I was still very tired.  I think my last 5k – 10k was the fastest part of my marathon.  I had a little nauseous bout around mile 23, but it passed in a moment and I ran it in.  Run time was 4:14 which is a bummer.  I should always be under 4:00 hours in an Ironman run.

Total time was 11:08.  I was disappointed not to finish under 11:00 hours. Even with the slower bike, I thought that I would be a lock for a sub-11:00 hour race because I am such a better runner now.  I am pretty sure without the stomach problems and lack of nutrition, I would have done it comfortably – acknowledging that it would not really have been a sub-11:00 hour Ironman because of the shortened swim unless I did it around 10:40.  I saw my brother, his wife, and their triplets at Mile 20 on the run and that was fun to stop and say hi to them.  They were at the finish line also.  The culmination of seeing them at the finish and the emotional burden of the challenge I had just completed caused me to cry a little.  I was weak and my stomach hurt badly. It was cold and the wind was howling. I only talked to my brother’s family for a few minutes and then they had to go home.
I went into the food tent and just sat down. I was delirious and couldn’t move – my stomach was hurting badly again.  It took about an hour to feel better. Chicken broth helped the most. Ben gave me his space blanket to help me stop shivering.  I don’t think I had a bad race, but still didn’t put it all together.  Weather made it harder too.  I can’t stress enough how strong the wind was blowing which affected the run too.

Overall, this is still an awesome Ironman race. With normal weather conditions, this is a really fast course. If you had normal winds of 5 – 10 mph, we would have flown through this course.  Jacque sat next to a guy on the plane home.  This was his 16th Ironman.  He said it was the 2nd worst weather he has had in his races. Most telling was this – he did this race last year and his bike was 30 minutes faster last year – and he had a flat last year.  That would mean at least 35 – 40 minutes faster on the bike.  And you would be less wasted from mentally and physically fighting the wind.  I know it had a huge impact on our times.

Some other thoughts.  Our race support friends were awesome.  Greg Arnett, Emily LeSueur, and Todd and Scott Tucker were awesome. At first, I was a little hesitant to give them high fives because of how sticky / dirty my hands were, but by the end, I embraced it and they were a huge lift for me.  These guys were so supportive throughout the whole race and helped so much before and after also. They were awesome and I am very appreciative.  We all stayed together in one house which was a lot of fun.

For the rest of the crew, I was really impressed with everyone else’s times.  Ben was Ben.  Of course, he crushed it.  It was 9:41 which would have still been a sub-10:00 hour time with a full Ironman swim – even in that weather.  That is amazing.  He was 3rd in our age group and qualified for Kona.  He looked strong all day, but couldn’t believe how hard the wind was either.  Mark Hatch improved by over an hour on his best Ironman distance and looked strong all day.  His time was 10:32.  Lorie Tucker was amazing.  She was dialed in.  She finished at 11:18 barely behind me.  She would have passed me on the run if not for the potato chips at mile 18.  This from a girl who for years said she couldn’t bike or run with us because she was too slow. I am so happy for her. She looked strong all day and was 7th in her age group.  Jacque Arnett was amazing also.  This is her first Ironman and did 12:10 in that weather.  She was positive all day and did so well.  For a first Ironman with that wind, that time is a huge accomplishment.  Sadly, our two-time Kona-qualifying leader, Mike Wares, had an awful day. The chest cold that he was trying to hold at bay bloomed into a nasty chest infection on race day.  With the cold temps, cold water, and strong wind, he was freezing all day.  He banged his head on a kayak during the swim and was disoriented. He couldn’t breathe well and finally had to stop at mile 10 of the run.  It was too cold to just walk the marathon because the wind ripped through you.  All of the volunteers were bundled up in thick winter coats and we were doing the marathon in tri-clothes.  I was cold the entire run even though I was running.  Once Mike started to walk, he knew it would be too cold.  It is a huge bummer that he won’t be going to Kona with Ben next year.

That is all.  It was hard.  It always is.  Probably my last Ironman. I say probably.  It for sure won’t happen for five years or more.  Work needs to be mellower and the kids need to be more grown.  In five years, we will almost be empty-nesters so I won’t say never, but it is unlikely.  I still PR’d in the race which is not a bad effort four months after knee surgery. I still feel like I have 10:15 – 10:30 potential if I can ever get my stomach to settle during a long race.

As usual for me, this was more about the training than the race.  I love doing the hard training.  I love being with my friends doing hard stuff.  Eventually Ironman training gets to be too much – but at 60% - 70% of the required Ironman training, I love this stuff.  That is where the good memories are made.

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