I found my old race photos so I'll go back and add the ones I have to the Florida and Canada entries.
I remember catching up to another bike sporting a pair of older vintage Vineman water bottles on a ride home from work one day. As we slowed through the tourist mess of Sausalito, we struck up a conversation. I found out that he used to race, but had burned out. At the time it seemed like a huge shame as he seemed to have a lot of the cycling background that I was trying so hard to acquire. That day was the first day I considered what it must be like to continue to train and race without making improvements.
My first two seasons of triathlon competition were a complete blast. I gained experience and my times improved. I reached a new level of fitness. I grew new muscles. I beat my times from the previous year on the same course. Ironman Canada 2000 was the peak of my 2nd season and by all means a great race for me. I moved to San Diego to ride through the winter and see how far I could go.
The first race of my season has always been Wildflower. The Wildflower long course is simply a great race. It is tough enough to leave you completely destroyed well before the finish line but it is also short enough to warrant a full effort the entire way. I find that the last few miles of the Wildflower run course are very similar to how I feel on the last ½ of an Ironman run course. So it was somewhat disconcerting to end up 20 minutes slower at this year’s race, with the majority of the difference coming out of my run split. Running is my background and my one strength in the world of triathlon. I have grown accustomed to gaining ground throughout the run on all of my good races, so I know when people start running by me that things aren’t going very well.
It is easy to write off a single poor performance. It is a bit harder to write off a 20 minute difference, and even harder to accept a poor performance prior to a big race. So, when I bobbed up to the Ironman California starting line on May 19th, 2001, I already had my doubts about my abilities. I chose to race without a watch so that I would not be influenced by my splits or HR. The canon fired and the washing machine kicked into full gear. For the first time, I my goggles got knocked hard enough to fill with water. I stopped to clear them and continued. It wasn’t so much that people were overly aggressive, just not particularly cautious. There were countless times where the swimmer on the left of me and the swimmer on the right decided to put the sqeeze on. In many cases, I found open water on one side. I was slightly annoyed that my fellow competitors did not share my desired to swim unobstructed. I came to the natural conclusion that I was swimming a bit slower than I would normally (which was pretty easy to predict given my Wildflower swim split) and that the course was a bit more congested than my two other Ironman swim courses (which I realized ahead of time, but was not aware of how much.) So I tried hard to hold a steady, “all-day” pace through the swim. I did find some brief periods of open water. The fatigue I felt at Wildflower was noticeably gone. I climbed over the sand bags and onto the ramp. I felt good, but had no idea of my swim split. Assuming that it was slow, I cranked through T1 (second to Tim DeBoom by only 1 second) and out onto the bike. After the race I would learn that my number had been taked down for skipping the change tent. Had it been a great race for me, that simple mistake could have become a huge issue. However, as it ended up, the 10-20 seconds it would have taken me to run through the tent vs straight to my bike after getting my helmet and glasses from my bag would not have changed anything. I was fortunate that the powers that be decided it was not necessary to give me a penalty for a simple misunderstanding.
I got into a rhythm on the bike fairly quickly and proceeded to take my place in line for the crowded part of the ride. It was noticeably more crowded than my 2nd Ironman, much closer to the position I was in at my first Ironman. There is a big benefit to saving 5-10 minutes on the swim because you have a lot less people to deal with. And other cyclists are your worst enemy on the bike leg because of the drafting rules and the dangers of riding close to a bunch of hammerheads. So I tried to take it easy and keep myself under control. I felt pretty good as the miles clicked by. I started taking in fuel, and I was drinking well. The conditions were perfect: overcast and light to no wind. I did not feel a supreme elation, but I had a significant absence of negative input. What kept me from being truly excited was not knowing how slow I swam, and watching how fast everyone around me was riding. I heard someone mention 1:08 for the swim and I got a little more depressed. I got a chance to see the majority of the racers ahead of me on the first out and back. I was a little behind where I wanted to be, but not more than 10 minutes. Ten minutes in an Ironman is not particularly significant, but it can be a good indication of what to expect later on. In my case, I intended to go out at a reasonable pace and try to pick it up on the second lap. I ended up starting slow and getting even slower.
We hit the backside of the course where the hills take over. At that point I was holding the pace I wanted to hold. I would give up some time on the climbs and make it back on the descents. I used my 55/11 and my race wheels to my advantage. I really took it easy on the climbs, not wanting to give up more than I had so early in the day. I could not help but notice how many were able to put me to shame. I did not have the confidence to assume that they would blow up on the second lap or the run. Indeed, there were too many of them, and only some could be considered idiots for riding outside of their abilities. Without a watch or any other gauge of my effort or performance, I began to sink into a state of blah when I should have tried to just keep humming along. I was correct in my interpretation of my overall place in the race, but not particularly cognizant of my performance on the first lap of the bike. By all means, despite a slightly slow swim I was still doing pretty well by the time I turned onto Vandegrift (aka the wind tunnel) and headed back to transition to start lap 2. I did lose a bottle of fuel on the turn on the tracks, so I circled back for it. I lost less than a minute, but I was not willing to risk losing the entire bottle of food. I discovered that the fall had cracked the top. I tried to get some of the food into my front water bottle, but ended up making a big, sticky mess on my hands and bars. I gave up and tossed the bottle. I had two more waiting for me, but one was a different mixture and I had intended to use it only as backup. I knew that I could finish reasonably well on only 2 bottles (700 calories/bottle) but I wanted a little bit more than just enough.
Coming through the transition area at the end of the first lap was an incredible feeling. The streets were lined with people like it was the tour de France or something. It is strange to go from a completely deserted bike course (except for the aid stations) to a completely packed one with everyone cheering like mad. That moment made me appreciate the people who cheer at Richter and Yellow Lake on the Ironman Canada bike course. A little bit of encouragement at the right time can mean a lot. I got my bike special needs bag from the volunteer who was extremely helpful. I grabbed my two bottles and took off. So far the casualties were 1 bottle and a slightly slow swim which put me a little behind where I wanted to be, but not anywhere near the danger zone.
I had a bit more space going out on lap 2 as many of the riders I had seen on the first lap had moved ahead of me. In particular, a friend from San Francisco had passed me on the first lap and was within striking distance. I tried to push it on the flats during the front section of lap 2. I knew that was where I would make or break my entire bike split. I wasn’t feeling destroyed yet, but I wasn’t feeling a great strength from holding back on the first lap. Instead, I felt like I had during the swim, a continual blah of apathy. Why I would feel apathetic during an Ironman race completely baffles me, but I had none of the intensity which had been my adversary and my foe at Canada last year. I was just riding along, getting progressively slower, and watching as the hairy-legged riders with dorky bikes kicked my butt. I got passed by a special interest case with the camera crew in tow and that was enough to really piss me off. I passed their motorcycle on the left, very close to the yellow centerline. Although the day was not terribly windy, there were a number of packs and not as many officials as I would have expected. I chose to not draft as I usually do, although the temptation was not overwhelming by any means. I find it very uncomfortable to ride in a pack during a race, perhaps that is my guilty conscience speaking.
Conventional wisdom says that an Ironman race starts at mile 80 on the bike. I suppose for strong cyclists this might not be the case, but for me it is very true. I start to fall apart over the last ¼ of a 112 mile bike ride. It’s pretty consistent when it happens. I just lose my strength and pedal slower and slower. I tried to take in the contents of one of my bottles, but I had mixed it so thick that it would not come out. I checked it before the first hill, down to one bottle and the minimum calories I needed to complete the race. So, I was not terribly surprised to watch more cyclists pass me on the hills. In a way, I just kind of sat there and watched my PR slide away. I knew I was supposed to crank through the last stretch. But I didn’t have the leg strength nor the mental game to do much of anything. So I settled in for a slow pace on the flats, even slower on the climbs, and as fast as I could go downhill.
At the top of “dead man’s curve” I had been all but deserted by my fellow competitors so I opened it up and let it rip. I was fortunate (or lucky) enough to be holding my crossbar instead of my aerobars. There was a marine at the top telling us to slow down. I feathered the brakes a bit, making sure they were there if I needed them. But I’m pretty sure I had it up past 40 when I noticed the body. I didn’t swerve, so I rolled within a couple of feet of Perry Rendina’s legs. He was still in the middle of the road. I could tell it was a very bad accident, but I did not know he had died until Roger caught me on the run and told me they had put a tarp over his body. I estimate that the accident happened less than 5 minutes before I arrived. It looked as if there had been enough time for the blood to mark the road, but not enough time for the marine at the top of the hill to know (he gave no special indication) or the marines at the bottom to have the situation under control. There is no doubt in my mind that it could have been me lying there, face down, skin shredded, bleeding to death if not already dead on impact. I can’t say exactly how this accident affected me, but it certainly did nothing to my already waning internal drive.
Fear and loathing on Vandegrift is all I can think of for my last 10 mile limp home. I was done, put a fork in me. I watched a few riders pass by. One particularly petite female followed by 4 strong male riders in obvious violation of drafting rules. I let them gap me and watched as she shifted and they regrouped behind her. Considering none of the men near me on that stretch had any hope of a kona slot at that point, it was pretty shameful. I was unimpressed with the officials. I did see a couple of them enforcing drafting rules. Those of us who choose not to draft are in the minority. I suppose we are the stupid ones. It would be a more significant issue on another day, but on May 19th it was a lonely thought that soon departed.
Ironically, the temperatures ended up closer to Canada and very different from last year’s race. When I got into T2, it was a lot warmer than out on the bike course. I ended up getting an ugly singlet tan (yuck.) And I had been close to a little too cold along the last few miles of the ride. It’s a great feeling to come off the bike and feel the sun. I had a more reasonable T2 and was out on the run. Sunshine and an afternoon marathon. Oh well, I didn’t have much else to do today.
|Tim and Tony behind me, 1 lap ahead|
As soon as I was out on the run course I was told to “stay to the right, runners coming through”. Not knowing how far back I was, I asked who was winning the race. As I was told “the DeBoom brothers” they came into view over my left shoulder. I stole a glance back and asked them “who wants it more?” Pretty stupid thing to say, but that’s all I could come up with at the time. They cranked past me and I tucked in for a couple of minutes of virtual fame. I considered killing myself to run with them to the turnaround until I heard someone say that their first lap had been a 1:20. My ½ marathon PR is a 1:21, so I knew that trying to stay with them would be a whole new world of hurt. So I just sort of shut it down and let them fade off. I settled into what felt like a 10 min/mile pace and took it out as easy as I could. The miles rattled by as the course seemed different with all the people on it. I ate a gel, had some water, one cup of Gatorade, and took a little bit of a mental break from the race for those six miles. I ran without determination or reason, I just ran.
To say that Roger was a big part of my race is an understatement. He showed up about a minute behind me by the turnaround. I figured he had been running faster than me, but I also figured that I stood a better chance of getting the race over with if I stayed with him than if I ran alone. So I stopped at the bathroom and by the time I came out he was well ahead of me. I ran as hard as I could and caught him by the next aid station. We chatted a bit. He was feeling OK, having a pretty good race. I was a little disappointed with my performance so far but very happy to have found a friend. We ran past the pier and everyone recognized either Roger or myself, not both. Roger was definitely better at noticing other people, as I was kind of withdrawn. As we hit the sand toward the end of the first lap Roger checked his watch and mentioned that he thought sub 11 was a possibility. I said “sure” before I even asked what time it was. Before that I hadn’t even considered how I would feel if I didn’t break 11 hours. I remembered the joy I had felt at Florida, my first Ironman where I ran a 3:40 to break 11. Sub 11 was a legitimate goal given how the race was progressing, and by choosing to tackle it I felt a reason to keep going. We hit the timing mat just before 9 hours, and I thought that a half marathon in 2 hours was a piece of cake. Especially considering I had gone out so cautiously and that running was my strength and Roger was on my side. No problem I thought as we headed out for the second lap.
Of course I forgot that I had wanted to walk as early as mile 2. So what started as a piece of cake quickly became really tough. I had loosened my elastic laces before the race but they were still a bit too tight and my swollen feet were starting to ache. My legs were stiff and going up the inclines (even the short ones) really took a lot out of me. All of my personal pride in running was put on hold for a 9 minute shuffle. But Roger dragged me through my rough patches and I could only hope that I was dragging him through his. I let him get a little ahead of me at times, and I waited for him at times, but we kept within 100 meters of each other and I fed off my obligation to get him home in time. The last 6 were a bit of a blur as you keep fooling yourself into believing that once you get to the pier it’s all over, then the harbor, then the sand. Finally on the sand Roger checked his watch and realized he had screwed up and we actually had less time than he thought. I said we have to make it and he seemed a bit uncertain. Not knowing the time really freaked me out and I just kicked it into high gear. I skipped the last two aid stations and ran what felt like an 8 minute pace. No way was I going to go down without a shot. I kept signaling to Roger to keep going and he held up just behind me. I wanted to get back there and push him, but I didn’t want to stop for fear that he might slow down too and I wanted him to do it all by himself. It’s weird how wanting something for somebody else can motivate you when wanting it for yourself does nothing. I thought about how bummed I would be if we were right on the edge. I decided that no matter what our finishing time was I was going to get a picture with Rodger if it killed me. I rounded the corner but still couldn’t see the clock. About halfway down the chute I finally saw 10:57 and I knew we had made it. I turned around and walked backwards waiting for Roger to catch up so I could get my damn picture. I took off my hat and glasses. Roger started spazing like a 5 year old kid. It was wonderful. I am not one for finish line antics, so I just tagged along and watched him work his magic. He didn’t notice the 3 or 4 others we shared the chute with. Some ran past us, others were passed, and nobody really cared. I think everyone was in a bit of a sub-11 daze, and I felt like the sole observer. Not that I wasn’t affected by the situation, but more that I wasn’t feeling any internal joy at my own accomplishment. Instead, I felt everyone else’s joy and it made my day. I hope I managed to sneak in next to Roger for the finish photo, but I haven’t seen it yet. Even if it doesn’t come out, the race was still very special because we got to do a large part of it together.
In retrospect, I am not particularly unhappy with my swim. It was 3 minutes slower than Canada on a fast (for many) course. But I got more than my share of bumps and I kept the swim aerobic. I am not unhappy with my first bike lap either. I was basically on pace until the second lap of the bike. I just let it fall apart there without fighting. I can’t help but be jealous of the others who managed to hold it together. I didn’t think I went out too hard at all. I just didn’t come through when it counted. The run I can write off. It was my slowest marathon, but it was also one of the most enjoyable ones. I don’t really care what the time was, I got the job done. I am a little nervous about how the rest of the season will go, but I suppose this race was not a setback by any means. I gained experiences and those are worth more than PR’s. But I really would like another IM PR before I die, and Canada is an easier course…