Saturday, January 31, 2009

Move Along - The All-American Rejects

As I came to the end of the first lap and the beginning of the second, the crowds were still out cheering on the athletes. I found a little energy and started jogging slowly through the masses. The sun was starting to go down by this time, so as I started the next lap, the volunteers gave me a glow ring to wear around my neck. I put it on and immediately it hurt – the back of my neck was raw from the chafing. I kept jogging to the first aid station, took a sponge, squeezed out the water, and tried to use that as a pad on the back of my neck.

About that time, this chipper young girl came up, wearing a turkey hat – it was stuffed and made to look like a just-cooked turkey – a reminder that all the calories I was burning would be regained in the form of turkey, mashed potatoes and more. I couldn’t wait.

After she passed, I slowed down again and walked to the Pit Stop aid station, and had them give me a full leg massage – calves and quads this time. The masseuse was impressed that I had as much flexibility as I did when she went to stretch me out, so I thought that was a good sign.

After the aid station, I went up an incline and over a bridge, then started to jog a little on the decline. It felt pretty good, and with the sun going down, it seemed that I was better able to keep my heart rate from skyrocketing. I ran almost to the next aid station since it was flat terrain, but then walked a large portion of the lap – through the aid station (where all the water and Gatorade now wanted out) up the hill and through the big Ford display – they had a message board for the athletes to cheer them on (most of the spectators put their messages in at the transition area booth, and we could see them as we ran along).

By this time, I was starting to feel the need for more energy sources than just Gatorade. I had left my fuel belt and Clif bars behind, so I knew I needed a little more energy. At the next aid station, I grabbed a cup with pretzels, just as my bladder needed emptying. I stepped into the portajohn, set my cup on top of the TP dispenser, and as I turned to lock the door, the cup slid off and right into the latrine. So no pretzels for me.

The next aid station, I ate the pretzels BEFORE the portajohn so there would be no repeat. When I got to the special needs area, I grabbed the ibuprofen and cheddar Chex mix. It tasted awesome, but my throat just couldn’t handle the scratchiness of the food – it hurt to eat after a few handfuls. So I had to toss it at the next aid station.

I ran a couple more times, and was happy that my heart rate was staying in range. I knew then that if I could get my legs to cooperate, I might have a chance at beating 15 hours.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Born Too Slow - The Crystal Method

I had made up my mind to walk the entire first lap, just to give my calves a break. As I started, there were a ton of people cheering on the runners – and I felt like an idiot walking when everyone else was running. But I couldn’t run. Even when I tried to take a few steps at a slight jog, my calves howled with pain.

At the first mile marker, I saw that I had taken about 16 minutes to walk that distance. I did a quick calculation and knew I would make the 17-hour cut-off, even if I walked the entire run course. I didn’t like it, but I knew that my best run time over a long distance was about 12 minutes per mile. That meant that I only ran 66 percent faster than I could walk at a fast clip. I was willing to give up a third of my speed to have the energy to finish.

At the next aid station (complete with Pit Stop theme), I was so thankful they had a massage tent set up for cramps and aches. I told them what had happened with my calves, and they gave me a nice 5-minute rubdown of them. It felt so good!

Knowing how dehydrated I had gotten on the bike, I grabbed a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade, especially since I opted not to take the fuel belt. I walked the next mile to the next aid station (rock’n’roll theme again), and again, water and Gatorade.

The run course brought us into the transition area twice each lap, and we had a ‘special needs’ bag in that area. I had ibuprofen and Cheddar-flavored Chex Mix (I needed the salt!) in my bag. I had been taking salt tablets throughout the bike leg, and was taking them on the run, too. I debated whether or not to take my special needs bag now or wait to the next lap – I decided to wait.

The next aid station was super-hero themed, complete with a guy dressed as Batman, and one dressed as the Incredible Hulk. Everyone else had home-made capes on, and there were pictures of comic-book superheroes everywhere. Of course, Ironman had a nice big picture. I took on Gatorade and water and kept walking.

The next aid station also had a hero theme, but this time, it was inspirational signs with famous quotes of what made a hero. Again, more water, more Gatorade.

After that, the loop took us over a bridge (one lane was closed but traffic was going through both ways), then down through a gravel parking lot, along the bank of the other side of the river, and towards what seemed to be another aid station. By this time I was starting to get re-hydrated and was looking forward to the portajohn – my kidneys were about ready to burst. But at the last minute, the course took a hard right, away from the portajohns and the relief they promised.

Remember that horse-manure scent I thought I smelled in the swim? Turns out, it was – there was a horse corral that we ran by next. Then we started to go under a bridge, and into a park-like area. I didn’t remember that as part of the course – it seemed like we weren’t going the right way. But there were signs and volunteers marking the way, so it just seemed like I was getting lost.

So, through the park, past the people grilling hamburgers (I mentally abused them for having such tasty delights that tempted me!) and on to the next station, a military fort theme, where more water, more Gatorade and finally the portajohns awaited me.

The next part of the course was a nice ¾-mile or more climb up a pretty steep road section. The mountains/hills that surround Tempe had a few smaller relatives in this park, so it was pretty neat to be running along and all of a sudden – Bam! - there’s a mound jutting out of the ground next to you.

After that climb, there was a nice long descent to another aid station that was under a bridge where they REALLY cranked up the music. They were having a lot of fun, and it was hard not to poke a little fun at them for being “trolls under the bridge.”

After that, we ran past a marina and to the aid station that our course veered away from earlier. This one had a “Shootout at the OK Corral” theme, and there was a big, jovial guy there that I asked if he was nicknamed Cookie – he laughed and kept encouraging us along.

From here, we mirrored the course back to the bridge, back over, and along the river on the south side bank, past the other aid stations (hero, superhero) but these were the back-side of the aid station so there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement. I guess being a half-mile from the end of the lap was excitement enough.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bleed It Out (Steve's Ironman Edit) - Linkin Park

I got to the end of lap two, and the people were still cheering and shouting, but I knew I had lost time – and not because of the stop. My average speed had dropped to 17.6 mph. I headed out on lap 3 knowing that it was going to be the hardest bike ride I’d ever done.

Sure enough, my back started recruiting other body parts in its screams of protest. My shoulders, neck, calves (which just hurt, period), quads, hands – everything – joined in the cacophony of agony. I rode upright – knowing this would slow me down, but felt soooooo good on my back.

I stopped once on the way out and twice on the way back to stretch out my legs and especially my back. I could feel that my body was dehydrated – even my contacts were starting to get cloudy and dried out. I tried drinking, but it just wasn’t enough.

As I rode closer to the transition area, a few hardy souls were there, but most of the cheering crowds had left. What was a mile of people packing the streets like a parade was in town had become a ghost town. They had moved on to the run, and as I came into the transition area, I could hear them cheering for the people that were already running (or in the case of the professionals, coming into the finish area).

I coasted into the dismount zone and gave the volunteer my bike. I stiffly walked to get my bag of gear for the run, walked into the change tent, and found an unoccupied chair. I plopped down, and slowly began taking my bike stuff off.

Inside the gear bag I had a fuel belt to carry gel and water. But it seemed to weigh so much – I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to wear it. I didn’t want to drink the gel anyway, since I had had enough on the bike. I found the compression socks I had bought the day before that went up to my knee and knew I had to wear those for the run. After a 9 minute stop (which included going to the med tent to get saline solution to help my dried-out contacts), I started out on a fast walk to begin the 26.2 mile marathon final leg.

There was no way I could run.

Why Do You Love Me - Garbage

The bike course was 3 laps of an out and back course that took us through the Maricopa Tribe reservation and just into the foothills of the mountains. Each lap has about 350-400 feet of climbing, but very gradual, though most of it is the last 9 miles before the turnaround. I was very excited about riding on this course, since my size usually is a detriment to me on the bike; yet I still consider the bike to be my strength in triathlons. But I was also nervous, since I had spent so much time in training on my weakness, the run, and hadn’t logged as many miles on the bike as I knew I should have. I was relying on experience to help me through on that one. I was also concerned because of the time lost training thanks to the car accident – right when I would have been putting in the most miles, I had to sit out for a week to let the wounds heal. The longest I had ridden this summer was 75 miles… and that was only one time.

But of the greatest concern was how my calves would affect me. I needed them for the bike, and they were already blown out.

So after downing a GU/PowerGel (chocolate – YUM!! Like chocolate frosting!), I headed through the cheering crowds (That was very cool to experience!) out on the bike. I think I had a little bit of adrenaline going, because I started passing people like crazy. I thought to myself, wow, I do like biking the best, especially if I can do this to all these others.

Here I was on my homemade bike, passing these $5000-plus full-carbon-fiber rigs with super aero carbon-fiber wheels. They have the latest in bike technology; I have decade-old technology (of course that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to upgrade, I do have a carbon-fiber crankset that I picked up on an on-line clearance sale for super cheap, and I have a nice aero frame, even though it’s a production over-run from 3 model years ago).

There was a bit of a head-wind on the way out, so when I got to the turnaround and saw that I had averaged 17.5 miles I was super pumped. I started the ride back, and I hit 30-35 mph pretty regularly. When Lap 1 was over, I had averaged 19.5 mph. I thought if I could keep that up, despite the blown calves, I would be in very good shape to not only beat my goal time of 13:30, but I might even be able to get my dream time of 12 hours.

Alas, it was not to be. The wind started shifting, and I started to have problems staying hydrated. The aero position I was in made it hard to get water digested. I had planned to eat a Clif bar on each lap, and I could barely choke one down on the bike. I also started having gas from the air I swallowed during the swim (it’s tough not to). I had made up some gel that became awful – it was designed to be more of a drink than a gel, and tasted very granular. I kept adding water to thin it out, and that helped a little, but I still cringe at the thought of it.

As I came into the turnaround for the start of the second lap, the streets were lined with people for about a mile before the turnaround, cheering, shouting, ringing cowbells – it was like I was in the Tour de France. I headed back out for lap two, feeling good in spirit.

But my body started to feel worse. My neck started to hurt – the wetsuit had chafed it, and now the sun was beating down on it. I could feel that I was dehydrating, too. I kept forgetting to drink, and when I took a big drink, it hurt my stomach. I couldn’t eat the Clif bar, and my gas was so bad, I had to make sure that any rider behind me was at least 50 feet back. And I wasn’t really sweating, instead, my nose was running horribly – I had to keep shooting snot rockets to the side of the road. It was pretty gross.

At the half way point, I made up my mind to stop, stretch my legs and especially my calves, slather something on my neck, and take my time to get a Clif bar down so I could have enough energy for the third lap.

I think I had a nice 5-10 minute stop, and ended up chatting with one of the volunteers about my car accident and legal drama. Each of the aid stations had a theme; one was Pony Express, where they dressed as cowpokes, another was rock‘n’roll themed with a blasting sound system, and the turnaround was the North Pole, where they dressed as elves.

I got back on my bike to ride to the end of lap two, but something had changed. The wind was now blowing from the side, and I had no tailwind to help me back. I still cruised down the hill, passing other athletes, but it wasn’t the same. Soon, about 15 pros passed me in short order as they finished their last lap and moved on to the run. And my back that had been sore all week prior to Ironman started to REALLY hurt. Plus, I had forgotten to do something about my neck.

So I stopped at the next aid station, grabbed a glob of Vaseline, and slathered it on my neck and my now-chapped lips. It felt really good to stand upright – the hunched over position made my back scream and my shoulders ache.