Ironman Kansas 70.3 (June 6, 2010)
This story doesn’t actually start when I “toed” the starting line. It started in December when I made up my mind to do this race. But, that would make this story far too long. Let’s just say that after searching for a reason to continue my training and a goal to inspire me, I found myself considering whether I could do a half Ironman. Keep in mind that at the time I decided to do the Half, I hadn’t even raced the Olympic distance (0.9 mile swim, 24 mile bike and 6.2 mile run). But, I decided that with more than 6 months to go before the race, I could train and do the half Ironman distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run).
The training was anything but uneventful. There were many triumphs such as knocking off 7 minutes from my Memphis Mile swim time (simply because of my training) to finishing the Memphis in May triathlon (my first Olympic distance triathlon) without feeling challenged at all. And there were many tragedies too, such as being hit by a car during my 62 mile bike ride after making it only 57 miles, destroying my new bike and putting me out of training for 2 weeks.
But, with all of that in mind I set out to Kansas on Thursday, for a Sunday race. We stayed in St. Louis the first night and I was able to keep my mind off the race by doing some work with a client in St. Louis. We left for Lawrence that Friday night and arrived safely at our hotel without incident. I was still fine. But, that Saturday, we were required to check in our bikes so I put my bike in the car and off to the race site we went. When I got there, I found that it was really hot and the parking was miles away from the race site in this park. My concerns are already beginning to swell. Then, while getting registered, I hear that the water temperature today is 80 degrees meaning that the race wouldn’t likely be wetsuit legal, something that I had counted on. In fact, it had never even crossed my mind that I might have to do this race without the comfort and security of the extra buoyancy of my wetsuit. Even worse, we walk the mile from the bike to run transition down to the swim to run transition to see the water and check in my bike and I see white caps on the water. For those who don’t know, white caps are large waves, large enough to make the water turn white as it churns. Now, I’m absolutely horrified. I see Leslie Brainard from Memphis Thunder Racing and she is not concerned. She says that it will be nice and calm by tomorrow morning and it’ll be cool. But, I think to myself, that’s easy for her to say, she’s the swim instructor that teaches most of the Thunder members how to swim at master’s swim classes. The white caps are probably only a minor hindrance to her. Besides, it sounded only as if she was doing wishful thinking rather than stating her knowledge. I think, it is only noon, the water couldn’t be that different in only a matter of hours. I buy a speed suit just in case it isn’t wetsuit legal. At least that will add something to my buoyancy even if it doesn’t give as much as a wetsuit. The body normally floats anyway…doesn’t it.
I go back to the hotel and I’m trying my best to keep my mind off of the lake. But, it isn’t working. I have dinner late and don’t eat much and we go to bed. I don’t sleep well. Instead, I’m waking up every half hour to hour. I may have gotten 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But no more. The alarm clock goes off at 4:15 a.m. and I’m up and getting ready. We drive to the race and I’m still really nervous but getting better. I go take my gear to T1 and T2 and I hear that the swim is wetsuit legal. Whew…man I’m feeling better. But, my nerves aren’t clear. I still have to worry that the bike accident will affect my ability to ride the bike for 56 miles and still run a half marathon afterward. But, at least I know that the swim won’t be that bad, psychologically speaking, that is.
I was so focused on my own race that I walked right past the professionals, Andy Potts and Chrissie Wellington and didn’t even notice them. One of the other racers pointed them out to me. Unfortunately, I was still unconcerned (unless they would carry me along with them. Fat chance of that…).
The swim was a deep water start. I hadn’t counted on that either. The thought of that scared me too. Just think, I have to tread water for a minute or two while waiting to start a race. In case you didn’t know, treading water for me, with all of this non-floating muscle of mine, isn’t’ exactly resting. But, as it turns out, the deep water start was a blessing. It wasn’t long and I was able to float in the water without problem and without much effort. As a result, however, I was able to calm to my breathing before the race even started. In effect, this acted as a great warm up before the race. When the starting horn went off, I was already in perfect position and I swam in my groove, watching the pretty blue sky every time I came up for a breath. It was actually really great. Before I knew it, I was turning the corner to come back to the swim finish and I was at the finish before I knew it too. I has just swam 1.2 miles in a lake (the longest lake swim I had ever done). Now, on to the bike.
My bike start was uneventful until I reached mile 4 and was leaving the park. I dropped my food that I had brought for the ride. I still had Hammer Gel. But the cookies that I had to buffer my stomach, had just fallen out of my side pocket. I was not stopping. I’d have to do without it.
The ride was indeed challenging as the brochure says. There were many hills and lots and lots of long downhills with coasting at break neck speeds just to slow back down to a snail’s pace going back up the next hill. In fact, there was one hill that as we crested it we could see the next mile or two and a police car off in the distance. The problem was that the entire distance was all up hill. All I could do was get down into the aero position and keep pedaling. I just kept reminding myself that I would get to go down that hill on the way back. Then, at about mile 44, I dropped my Hammer Gel flask. It just fell right out of my pocket like the cookies. Luckily, I had picked up a couple of packs of power gel from an aide station and I took one of the power gels as I could feel my energy level waning. Then, at mile 50, the race officials threw in a cruel and inhumane hill. At my lowest gear, I still could barely do more than 9 mph. I think I could walk up that hill faster. But, at mile 50, even a speed bump would have looked like Mount Everest. But, I made it up the hill, realizing that this is the very hill I went down on the way out from the bike start. So, I was on my way back to the park. I would be finished with the bike soon. That really lifted my spirits.
Then, it was on to the run. Really, the run was uneventful. It was just sunny and hot. At least I had the foresight to spray on sun block before I left the transition area. The run had only one real hill but otherwise, it was flat. During the run, I saw most of my fellow Memphis Thunder Racing members. I saw Leslie again, her husband John, Chris and Sarah. Each one of them encouraged me as they were finishing their own runs. The run course was a double loop around the camping areas. So I actually got to pass my family, sitting at a camp site that I rented for Memphis Thunder Racing. They were sitting under the tent/gazebo and playing games and grilling hotdogs. I passed them 4 times and on the last time I told them I would see them at the finish line. I was only 0.3 mile from the finish. I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face. I had done it and I made it with lots and lots extra time to spare over the cutoff.
I don’t really have a way to sum up how I felt. The race itself was a challenge but not enough to break me. In fact, as soon as I was done, I was already planning what I would do next. I would recommend this to anyone. It really is a true test of your mental endurance. I saw many people walking and running the last leg and I truly understood that anyone can step up and do this. It just takes perseverance.
But, as Jeff Galloway has said about the marathon, “there will be times when you think that you can’t do [an iron man], but a lifetime knowing that you did.” I am an Ironman triathlete.
While I was at work on Tuesday evening, I heard on the radio that there was a fatality on Walnut Grove Road between Farm Road and Humphreys Blvd.. As I’m sure most of us do, I began to catalog where my family was at this time. Being approximately 4:30 p.m., I realized that my wife and two sons would be nowhere near that location. I must admit I felt immediate relief and moved on.
But that afternoon I spoke with my wife and found that a friend of hers had a son involved in the accident. Apparently, the son was at the hospital in serious condition and, at the time, we thought there were two girls with him who were both killed. I later learned that only one of the girls was killed but the other was seriously injured.
As we know the details, it appears that the friend’s son was driving the vehicle which hydroplaned, flipped over and then was struck by other cars. My first thought was remembering the time that I was driving along, not much rain but some, and I hydroplaned on an interstate in Brentwood, Tennessee. I recall that the car began to fishtail and as I corrected once and even twice, the car continued to move out of control as if it were moving on ice. As an engineer, I know that hydroplaning is serious business for a car. Unfortunately, there is very little that a driver can do other than attempt to correct as much as possible, bleed off speed and wait for the vehicle to regain traction. But as an engineer, I also know that the conditions that cause hydroplaning indicate a problem with the road.
With that in mind, I mentioned to my wife that I thought that the accident must have occurred on the new section of Walnut Grove which is mostly bridges. Why is that the case? Well, you need standing water in order to hydroplane and the section of Walnut Grove near the park has the appropriate slope and ditches for drainage on its sides. On the bridges creating the new portion of Walnut Grove, the roadway relies on drains to get rid of the excess water. Depending upon how quickly the water comes down from the sky, it may or may not move quickly off the roadway. In fact, that portion of the road, i.e., Walnut Grove, is basically a big bridge and, unfortunately, by design, a magnet for water to gather.
I heard on the news today, while they were reporting that the teenage driver was driving with a limited license, something that was much more important. It was something that was probably missed by most listeners and definitely missed by the news. What I heard was confirmation of my guess that the accident occurred on the bridge over Humphreys Blvd.. It means that standing water is possible on that bridge despite it being newly constructed. It also means that many more accidents are possible and probable.
Turning to the parent in me, my heart turns flips as I think about what this young man will have to deal with in the future. First, the self guilt of being one of two survivors from the crash, of being the driver, and of the circumstances, especially due to the media, which seem to vilify him. Certainly, this tragedy could be a turning point in his life. As parents, as his community, we owe him a duty to recognize that he is also a victim as well. If we don’t, then we may create a monster. Second, since one child died in the accident more likely than not claims, financial strain, and even, possibly, lawsuits will most certainly follow.
The lawyer in me knows that our society has changed over the years. We have become more litigious. We no longer believe in a true accident or tragedy. Instead, someone has to be at fault. We tend to point the finger of blame and we point it at each other, never ourselves.
Knowing this, I know that there will be no less than a herd of lawyers offering their services to those who were injured in the accident, offering to sue or represent the ones being sued. In the end, they know, that they, as the lawyers, are the only winners.
I simply urge my friends, since we cannot avoid the legal ramifications of these incidents and there is nothing that I can advise you to do (or not to do) in order to avoid this type of tragedy, to remember that there are two sides to every coin and sometimes incidents like this make victims of both sides.
Our hearts go out to all of the families involved and affected by this incident. May God grant them the peace and joy that surpasses all human understanding.
To say that I was a little nervous about this race is to say that the Sun is a little light in the sky. I began to get anxious on the Wednesday before the race. Of course, being fresh from the memory of the problems and anxiety associated with the swim in the lake during Xterra Memphis in April, I was more than a little worried about the swim leg of this triathlon. Although it was shorter, only a ½ mile compared to an entire mile for Xterra, I was still nervous.
Things were going well up to the day of the race. The family decided to go with me and we slightly miscalculated the time needed for getting to Sardis, Ms. So, upon leaving I was extremely anxious because of our tardiness
I had taken my bike apart to fit it in our family car so I needed time to put the wheels back on it and test it to make sure that it was true. I also wanted to put on my shoes, clip in and leave the shoes clipped to the bike for my first transition. I wanted warm up on the bike and in the lake and, of course, if the race was wetsuit legal, I needed time to put it on. Being late, however, I didn’t get to do most of that. I got to put the bike together and walk it to the transition area only and then get my transition area laid out before putting on my wetsuit and getting ready for the swim. But, after that, it turns out that I had plenty of time, although not enough time to warm up.
As I moved down toward the water, I got more and more nervous about my swim and I continued to talk to myself about this effort. I was in the third wave of swimmers and it seemed like, too soon, it was my turn to start. I started out off to the side and behind the rest of the group. But, immediately, I had a problem. I found that my goggle over my right eye was leaking. I tried to ignore it knowing that I was probably in deep water already and I did not want to stop in any event. But, the problem kept nagging at me and ultimately, it blocked my view. So, now I’m worried about the panic feeling again. So, I turn over on my back and get a huge surprise. With the wetsuit on, I float. I mean really float, like a cork or a boat. I don’t have to move at all and still float. Note that with my muscular legs, this is not the norm; usually I sink, and quickly, if I don’t keep moving. Well, all sense of panic is now gone. I can even raise my hands out of the water while I’m on my back and still float. So, I drain my right goggle lens and then turn over and start to swim again.
But the goggle kept filling up and would continue that way throughout the entire swim
I now know what Michael Phelps felt like in that one race where he came out of the water complaining that his goggles failed and he couldn’t see. I couldn’t see either.
I’d like to say that my next problem came up because my goggle filled with water and I couldn’t see. But, I know that that was only part of the problem. But, the next thing that happened is that I noticed that I was way off course. I was swimming to the left when everyone else and the turn was ahead of me were to the right. In fact, every time I would pop up and breast stroke to see where I was going, I’d have to look all around to locate the buoy’s and the proper swim course. Usually, I found that it was behind me and I was headed away from it, (nearly every time) . I’m sure that I swam an entire quarter mile more because I kept straying off course. And because I went off course so much, I would have to turn over on my back more to rest and drain my goggles. Anyway, pretty soon I turned the final buoy and started the leg back to shore. I still swam off course which made getting back to shore a lot harder and longer. But, ultimately, I made it.
I felt great though. I had really conquered the fear of the lake when I was in a wetsuit. No more worries about that, at least until I couldn’t wear the wetsuit. But, that would have to keep for the next time.
Next was the bike. This time I wasn’t the last person out of the water, but there still was only a few bikes left. So I moved quickly to get my wetsuit off and get my bike shoes on (remember that I didn’t get to put them on the bike before I started). I then jogged out with my helmet on to the pad. I talked with my swim coach briefly and then ran to the mount line and got on. I got up to speed and then took out my Gu and downed it. I didn’t have my spin yet and my pace was slow at first. But, then the power kicked in and soon I was doing a consistent 19 mph. I thought to myself at least no one will pass me at this rate. I was wrong. A couple of slower swimmers but apparently faster bikers did pass me, probably going 25 mph or more.
I also passed a few bike riders myself. I did notice that the riders coming back had their heads bent in concentration. I would learn later as I turned around that they were doing this because the wind on the way back was wicked, to say the least. The 9 miles out to the turn around point was pretty unremarkable. I do remember however, a gleeful smile and cheer from a couple of riders as they came down a steep hill that I was going up. On the way back, I got that same feeling as my speed hit 30 mph. WOW! What a blast.
But, on the rest of the way back, the wind won out. My speed slowed to 15 mph and that was hard to maintain. I took another Gu to help and to give me energy to start the run. As I made it back, noting that the ride was a little longer than 18 miles according to my GPS, I prepared to leave my shoes on the bike and come out of them on the run. I had practiced this before, but I wasn’t very good at it. This time, I managed to make it work although it wasn’t graceful. Instead, I was stopping at the line and popping both feet out of the shoes as I stopped. But, it worked.
Now on to the run. Transition was unremarkable and all of a sudden I’m on the run. I realize that I’m running a little too fast. It is the riding and spinning that makes you want to run faster to get that feeling of speed you just had on the bike and the fact that your legs are use to moving at a 90-100 rpm pace that makes you want to run too fast. I think about dying at the end and I intentionally slow down. I was doing an 8 minute per mile pace and I slowed to 10 minutes. I kept that up until I got to the trails. Unfortunately, they were extremely muddy and I had to slow down even more just to make sure I didn’t slip and fall.
I kept running however and I had plenty of energy. I took another Gu just to make sure and I keep pushing. Some relay runners pass me
…I rationalized that they have completely fresh legs and are only running a 4 mile trail run while I, on the other hand, have already finished more than 18 miles, a part of which was in the water, so I didn’t need to try to keep up. I kept my own pace and then as I headed back to the finish line I could feel the call of the “barn.” I began to speed up. My pace went from 10 minute miles to 8 ½ minute miles and finally to a sprint to the finish line as I got into the finisher’s chute. When I got to the finish line, the announcer said my name and my youngest son’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. He was at the finish line volunteering by handing out Gatorade and taking chips. He stepped over to me as I crossed the finish line and yelled “Stop!” while holding his hand out to stop me. Then, he reached down and gleefully took off my chip while proudly telling everyone that “this is my daddy.” He handed me a bottle of Gatorade and then hugged me. There is no metal in the world better than a 6 year old hug at the finish line. It was the perfect end to a great race.
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