I kept my goals and my dreams simple and obtainable for the road to my first Ironman. I wanted to finish! Despite the increasing expectations that I received from many around me I did not have any time goals, competition placing on my mind or plans to qualify for Kona. I wanted to take the entire experience with me, share it with my friends and become an Ironman! My ignorance of my first Ironman bliss was even better because this was the inaugural Saint George race and everyone racing was going in a bit blind. That was probably best for all of us.
The catch was that I wanted to do it (training and the race itself) the right way and to me that took on a number of details that I will spare you from… It was more important to me to get the journey right than the race itself. I got to train and race along side of my wife and some of my best friends were either racing, at the race or watching online. A huge team effort and I was lucky to benefit from. That is what made the race special to me. Success to me was about what I was doing, who I was doing it with and my motivations while I was “stacking the hay”. Most of that was already complete by the time we arrived in St George and in many ways made me feel so relaxed during the race and the final days before.
I made plenty of mistakes during the race but that is all part of the fun. In a race this long there is plenty of time for forgiveness along the way. I learned so much and I have collected a lifetime of encouragement from the team I got to work with leading up to the race. That’s good news because this will not be my last Ironman but more on that in a bit.
Getting everything setup before the race actually started was a huge production. In one way I was totally relaxed by the time that the race rolled around and I was stoked I got to see so many familiar faces before the race. The morning of the race was pretty cold so I just sat in the transition tent for as long as I could. I started to head down to the swim start with my buddy Luke and we walked into a huge line of people before we got anywhere near the water. A few of our friends from Vegas had rode their mountain bikes down to the start and I got to chat with them while I was waiting in line. That was very cool. I managed to work my way to the water but I didn’t realize that the pro wave already took off and when I heard the canon blast I really thought it was for the pro’s. It was not! The race was on.
Oceanside was just about a perfectly executed swim for me because I got to draft for the majority of the swim until the end and got out of the water feeling like I was just warming up. Pretty much the opposite from how my swim worked out this time around but no complaints here at all. I still had a good swim and was pretty stoked to finish it out in under an hour. I don’t consider myself a “fast” swimmer so I decided to start on the far right side of the swim lineup. All the fast athletes were staked on the left side which was the inside of the swim course (all left turns). I took this same approach for the swim at Oceanside but the difference was that the distance between the left and right sides was about 5 times of the length this time. I lead out a pack of swimmers and saw the groups to the left start to take off. I tried to merge over but it was a long way! The benefit is that I got clean water but I really don’t mind the body contact of the swim start. Lesson learned. Next time, I will start in the pack!
As we made the first left turn we started to swim directly East and into the sun. Quite blinding but it was only a short way before we would make another left and begin to head back North. Unfortunately, I missed that buoy and kept swimming directly East into the sun. It took me a while to realize I was going in the wrong direction because I was still pulling a group of guys with me off course and blinded by the sun. No worries. I made the correction and headed back on course. Still in no mans land I was trying to catch another group of guys up ahead as I was merging back to the buoy line. I started thinking about this being my longest continuous swim ever and I was doing all the work! I knew I could manage it alone if I had to but I would prefer the draft! I made three solid “efforts” to catch the next group ahead of me to no avail. By this time I was back on course but all alone. I was already swimming harder than I did at Oceanside but I decided to make one good push to catch the group ahead and then rest. I gave it 40 hard strokes. HARD! I was breathing every stroke and began to question my strategy and the long day ahead. The effort got me within about 30 yards of the group so I sucked it up and put in another hard effort until I was onto some feet. Was I blowing it? I got in the draft just before we reached the final left turn that would take us to the boat ramp to finish the swim. I sat in, recovered and was stuck like glue to some guys feet. By the time we got our feet on the ground I was recovered and ready to ride.
All of the transitions and special needs bags were pretty new to me and I made a few big mistakes but I expected that part. In a way I think this race really spoiled me actually. I would have never guessed that this was the inaugural race because it was so organized and well supported. The views from the swim start to the snow covered mountains and deep green trees on the bike made me forget I was even on the road. I was wrapped up in trail time and didn’t even know it! The weather was a big crazy the day before and after the race but it was near perfect in my book for the race. The recent rain enhanced the red rock and the clouds offered some escape from the sun and a glow over the town of St. George that could be seen from the bike and run course all day long.
The first few miles of the bike were quick and cold, putting on a long sleeve shirt turned out to be a good idea. I hit the 20 mile mark at just under an hour, 40 miles at about 1:50 and I was eating like a champion! By the time I finished the first loop I had peed off the bike five times. FIVE! I was actually laughing so hard at one point… I had some confidence I would not get dehydrated by the time I started running.
The wind started to pick up when I hit the canyon on my first lap so I made a decision to ride a bit higher than my “goal watts”. This may have blown me up a bit for the run but I knew the longer I was on the bike the more my power would go into the wind. Should I stick to the numbers or take a chance? I inched my watts up at Oceanside and still had a PR run off the bike so this was another chance I was willing to take. I was planning on holding about 210watts on the flats and 260 watts on the climbs with a cap of about 290. I had to decide if I was making an emotional call to ride above this or if it was a good dynamic strategy. This is where things can get sticky in a race. I already let all the hammer boys fly by me on the climbs and rode most of the bike alone when I made the decision so I was trusting it was not based on an emotional drive to try and keep up. I rode the rest of the flats at about 240 watts and the climbs between 260-300 watts. Way more than expected and even higher than what I was pushing at Oceanside but it felt steady and I limited my time in the 3XX range. The sound of tubular tires ripping across the road can do funny things to your perception of hard. I was aware of that and just focused in on my breathing and nutrition. I took down three bottles of Vitargo (900 calories each) plus 4 bars and some random gels. My heart rate was low and I was just rolling at steady and thinking about the run.
The wind was shifting on various parts of the course. The descent on my first lap has some gusty cross winds and by my second lap it was more of a cross-tail wind. Lots of guys started popping up on the bars and just bracing with the gusts. I stayed tucked and just tried to keep the rubber side down. After becoming accustomed to descending shale rock single track on a mountain bike the wind did not feel so bad. I had a wide road to swerve and just reminded myself that going fast is fun. I stayed in my aerobars until I spun out my 54 tooth chain ring and then I just got small and let it rip. I was averaging between 45 and 50mph and maxed out at 55.7mph. Fun!
I recall passing everyone that was gear smashing the climbs as they passed me on the last few climbs. I was not even pedaling when I passed them so I had to smile as I rode by.
I got back into town and got ready to transition to my feet. The excitement of “did I push too hard, too easy” was matched by the crowds of people lining the street and cheering. Unbelievable! This was the best supported race I have ever been a part of with an entire community wrapped around the course. I had an almost surreal feeling ridding down the last road into T2. I cannot really explain it but I felt like I was just floating through the race in my head. I had “just showed up and pressed play” and I was watching my day unfold. No stress, no rush…just letting it happen and trying to soak in and remember every second of it. Loving it!
Time to run a marathon. Holy crap… was I really going to run a hilly marathon after all that? It is funny that the thought never crossed my mind during the race but it was all that I thought about in the final weeks leading up. This was my biggest fear going into the training for an Ironman soon became my most anticipated excitement about how race day would play out. Would I hit “the wall”? How was I going to feel after mile 19, 20… Was I going to find my limit to endurance and walk to the finish? Would I experience total quad meltdown on the final descent into town? I was so excited to find out!!
I took the first 3 miles easy. It felt SO EASY! I was checking my watch out of T2 about every 10 seconds at first because I kept seeing 6:30 pace and had to slow myself down again and again over the first couple of miles. I knew better…my healthy fear and the wisdom from my coaching team was working and if I was going by feeling at this point I would have blown up without even realizing I was going faster than I should have out of the start. By the time I reached the first turn around at just over 6 miles I felt like I was just getting my feet under me and I was ready to run. I just stayed focused on getting in more calories and taking it easy and smooth. This was fun!
On my way back into town I started noticing that I was passing people. Some had 30-34 numbers on their calves and for the first time I started to think about “the race”. I am usually the guy who is running scared and worried about longer runs because it is only a matter of time before I get passed and now I was the one running people down. What the freak was going on here? Running felt so natural and as I headed back out for my second lap I was just running at a steady race pace. . . just like in training and all of that steady t-run training that Gordo
had me doing. Imagine that! All of the “don’t crush it, just do it” had me absorbing my training and running at a realistic pace and maybe even saving my best for race day. I had ridden above my training watts and I was already running faster than I had planned on pacing the marathon. I don’t want to say that I was content but I was pretty darn happy at this point that things were going well and I was enjoying the hills.
My GPS clocked 3,720 feet of gain
My breathing and effort never felt like I was reaching my ends for this long run and I knew it would come down to my specific running muscles being the limiter. I pushed a much harder pace at Oceanside on the run and that distance and pace was pretty painfully focused in the final miles. I can handle life at steady! I started to lift my effort in the final 10K and it was a balance of pushing my pace and not letting my quads melt on the final downhill to the finish. I started thanking volunteers and the reality of finishing started to come into focus.
The last mile or so was indescribable . . .running in dreamville. If you have been there I am sure you know what I cannot describe and if you have not I cannot begin to express it. I was floating to the finish while I was running back and forth slapping high fives to the crowd. Crossing the finish line completed a deeply fulfilling journey for me. I am an IRONMAN!
I didn’t even look at the clock when I finished and had no idea where I placed. What I did know was that I had reached my goal and it was the result of a big team effort. I was grateful and lucky to be on the receiving end and be a part of the team. I also crushed my dreams and was not even aware of it yet. I remember telling the volunteer that helped me after the finish that “I learned a lot about a lot”. That was about all the wisdom I could muster when I finished but there is wisdom in there somewhere and that makes me happy!
My Offical Splits
I was ready to celebrate with the rest of my friends out there. I got cleaned up and headed back out to watch everyone finish. I hung out with Beth
, Sully and a few friends while the txt messages, facebook updates and tweets started filling up my phone. It was crazy how many people knew I was racing and were watching…even people I work with whom I am sure did not even know what a triathlon was about. I walked up the run course a few miles and started thanking volunteers and cheering everyone on. The sun was setting and I saw Monique
, Heidi, Keevin and Chuck all run their way to the finish of their first Ironman too. That was awesome.
My buddies and I always joke about “crushing dreams”. Sometimes we joke about crushing each others dreams on a long climb or how we escaped a crash that may have crushed our dreams of ever walking normal again…well, you get the idea. To me, the truest since of “crushing your own dreams” is to exceed your own expectations so much that it may have been a bit better than you even dreamed about…
I didn’t expect to “race” something of this distance. I had planned my nutrition for a seven hour bike ride and a four hour marathon. I was fully prepared to enjoy a long day. I called my friend Sean
who has been a huge part of me getting to the starting line of this race and learned that I got 3rd place in my age group, 5th amature and 24th place overall. That also qualified me for a slot to race in Kona at the Ironman World Championships. I told myself I would not sign up for another Ironman until I finished the first one and less than 24 hours later I was signing up for Kona. They call this “the big show”
Learning about my results, getting encouraging messages from so many people while I watched my friends cross the finish line and seeing the sunset over Saint George was more dream crushing than I ever imagined. It made me feel so big and so small all at the same time. It crushed my dreams! I guess I will need to dream up something new for the next time around!