Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rev3 Cedar Point Iron Man

This here is my race report from the Rev3 Cedar Point full triathlon on September 12th. It was an Ironman distance race--2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run. Katie and I have been training hard for the race since January. This post is long, but I get paid to write long, boring, over-technical drivel and that habit is tough to shake.

Leading up to the race.

How the heck am I so calm before this race? That’s what I kept thinking to myself. The months leading up to the race had been a complete mess. Two bike wrecks in July, abnormally insane workload, and three days before the race I managed to catch a nasty cold. Complications from one of the bike wrecks kept me out of the pool for quite a while. I only swam four or five times in the five weeks leading up to the race. I should have been super nervous. But in a weird way, all of that stuff might have actually calmed my nerves. When the race weekend finally rolled around, I was so relieved just to make it there before the wheels rattled off completely that I didn’t get nervous. At all. And that’s strange for me. Even little sprint triathlons can make me a bit anxious.


Katie and I went for a relatively short ride the day before the race, loaded up the car and then headed to Sandusky. We hit the expo, dropped off the bikes in transition, covered them with drop cloths to keep the rain off and then checked into our hotel. Then I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was a Rev3 staffer. My rear tube had just exploded. It blew the tire bead off the rim and tore a big hole in the tarp. I feel like the Rev3 folks really went above and beyond. That call saved me a ton of stress on the morning of the race.

That evening we went out to eat with our Bike Authority/Fleet Feet teammates at a crazy Italian restaurant. You had to ring a doorbell to get into the place like it was some sort of speakeasy. Katie’s mom and dad joined us and we all had a nice time. Before calling it a night, Katie and I caught up with some of our cheering section who had come up from Cleveland to watch us race.

When we got back to the room, I took a Tylenol PM and laid down to read a bit before that stuff knocked me out. In the meantime, the wife was cracking me up. She bolted out of bed more than once to give the some folks in the hallway the stink eye. The nerve of those people! Gabbing in the hotel at the ghastly hour of 9pm. Next time, I’ll make sure to slip a Tylenol in Katie’s drink at dinner.

Race Day
At 4:30, I woke up, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank some Accelerade. Katie and I grabbed our transition and special needs bags and walked down the beach to the transition area. With everything set up there, it was time to head back to the hotel to grab the wetsuits and get ready to race.

The swim.

When the pros went off, ten minutes before us, it was the first time I felt any nerves at all. My warm up swim wasn’t great. I felt a little panicky in the water. It was colder than I imagined and I hadn’t swum for two weeks. In the chute, I lined up next to Katie about a quarter of the way back from the very front. The horn sounded and we took off into the water. I dolphin dived as much as I could in the crowd and started swimming as soon as it was deep enough to get a full pull in the water.

It took me about a quarter mile to shake that little panicky feeling that I sometimes get in open water. My heart rate shoots through the roof and I feel like I can’t get enough air. Luckily all of that passed before the first turn and I settled into a nice and relaxed stroke. Stroke long and smooth and don’t take any risks is what I kept telling myself. Katie heard a good analogy from a friend that resonated with me throughout the whole day. He said, act as though you have a book of matches. Each time you stand up on the bike or go too hard during any part of the race, you burn a match. If you burn through all of them before the end of the race, you’ll shit the bed. 26.2 miles is an awfully long time to run with a bed you have already shat upon. Needless to say, I was determined not to burn any of those puppies in the swim.

When I popped up out of the water after the first loop, I was right along side Brandon from the Cleveland Triathlon Club. We chatted a bit on the run to the second loop and got back in the water for the next 1.2 miles. At that point, we were a bit off of the lead swimmers, but had managed to get some distance on the main throng. That meant a lot less contact. No more people swimming halfway up my back or other idiots who randomly started breast stroke kicks whenever I tried to go around them.

The second loop was over before I knew it and I ran out of the lake. That was easy. I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but all in all, I wasn’t disappointed. The long point to point swims Katie and I did with some of our CTC buddies were absolutely key. I cannot recommend them enough for folks racing the longer races.


I took my sweet time in transition. One of the awesome volunteers sprayed me sunscreen and helped me bag up my stuff. On the way out, I hit the port-a-potty then grabbed my bike. It took about six minutes. That’s pretty bad—even for me.


112 miles. Holy crap. This is going to be rough. Just don’t overcook it. If you bike too hard, you’ll beg for death during the run. Why am I passing so many people in the first few miles? Heart rate? It’s low, ok good. The only other long race I did this year, the Musselman half iron involved a lot of walking. I executed poorly and didn’t eat or drink enough on the bike. Repeat those mistakes and the wife will hunt you down and crush you with impunity.

My goal for the bike was to average 20mph over the 112 miles. That’s not screaming fast, but respectable, at least as far as I am concerned. With the wind coming out of the west at a pretty good clip, I knew I would have to be fast for the first 40 miles or so before the wind starting working against me. I hit mile 40 averaging 21mph. I had lost a bit by mile 60, but I was still under the 3 hour mark. I saw the CTC/BAFF lunatics all over the course. Their yelling and screaming helped more than you can imagine. At about mile 50, teammate Steve Thompson screamed past me after saying hello. Steve rocked the half iron course. Dude is fast. Right about that time, I was starting to get a bit uncomfortable. I had been eating and drinking a ton and my stomach was starting to hurt. I backed off on the nutrition a bit by skipping one of my 30 minute feeding times and then went back to normal.

Mile 80 I stood up on the bike to let some air out to help the old gut a bit. There wasn’t anybody around me, so no one would hear a thing and at that point I didn’t care anyway. Wait! Did I just mess my drawers? You idiot!!! I had 32 miles left to bike and then 26.2 miles to run. And no clean shorts to change into. How do you run a marathon in shitty drawers? I thought, “Maybe you didn’t—maybe you’re just sweaty. Maybe someone will have a hose I can use.” Messy or not, there wasn’t anything I could do about it now. So, I just pushed on.

Those last 32 miles were right into the teeth of the wind. They were absolutely brutal. I watched my average speed drop like it was hot. 20.6…20.5…20.4…20.3…20.2…20.1. You get the picture. With about 20 miles to go, I got dropped by a group of riders. I knew a couple of them. It was a test. Do I stand up and run them down or stick to my plan and ride to run? I let them go. Sticking to the plan sucks. The final 4 miles of the bike took approximately 11 months and I wanted off of the bike. What sort of moron runs a marathon after this? If there had been a bridge near the transition area, I might have thrown my bike off it. I was having little daydreams about my running shoes, which is not like me at all. Normally, I love my bike. I keep it in the dining room, not in the garage with the mountain bike. But right now, I wanted it to disappear.

As I got back into Cedar Point, I completely forgot to take my shoes off before I got to the transition. Once the race volunteer grabbed my bike for me, I ran to my bike to run bag in my bike cleats. Dummy.

Another slow transition. Sunscreen. Bathroom. Immodium. I can’t pee while I am swimming and I refuse to do it on my bike. Tons of people do, but like I said, I keep that thing in my dining room. That means I had to use the port a potty. That cost me a minute or two. And in case you’re wondering, I did not check the status of my drawers. I just didn’t want to know. After that, I grabbed my water bottle and I went out for a jog.


I had never run more than 20 miles, so this ought to be interesting, I thought. My goal was to try to run the whole way and keep my heart rate in check. Hips out, shoulders back, feet landing underneath me. Run like you’re getting pulled by a rope around your waist. I’d be lying if I said that was how I expected it all to shake out, but that was the goal nonetheless. I started slow—more or less a trot. It wasn’t quite a shuffle, though that would come later. There were aid stations every mile and in the end that was crucial. It allowed me to break the race into manageable chunks. I ran from water stop from water stop. The race, they say, begins at mile 18. I just wanted to get there before I was out of gas and running on guts. Oh, and I wanted to get there before Katie ran me down. Seeing my family and friends spread throughout the course helped me too. They were spread out at three or four different points on the course and they gave me something to look forward to. Running that distance can give you a bunch of time to think about things like how bad your legs/feet/back/feelings hurt. They helped me avoid that.

I ran with BAFF teammate Janet a couple times (she chicked me, by the way.) I ran with CTC teammate Brandon for a little while. He was running strong and smooth. I ran with the Masters swim coach who gave me some lessons this spring. Christian, my insane BAFF teammate who was volunteering that day, rode along side me on his bike for a couple of miles. He was playing inspirational ring tones on his phone for me. If that sounds ludicrous, that’s because it was. But it got my mind off the various body parts that were starting to hurt. You can’t put a price on that. Friends Erin and Patrick were volunteering at the water stop at miles 9 and 22. Those two are terrific athletes and were super encouraging. I loved seeing them out there. Katie’s family camped out near the start/turn-around/finish of the race. They were incredible with signs, balloons and Team Z t shirts. My friends Katie, Megan and Melissa were there too. Going nuts. Megan apparently got warned by a race official for running along side of Katie and me. They had some awesome signs. The best read “Josh runs like a girl.” That one made me laugh. If that means I run like my wife, then consider me flattered.

At about mile five, I really started feeling like crap. Come on, Immodium. I ditched the rest of the Accelerade I had been drinking and switched to ice water. The week before the race, one of my best buds, Rocky, who is a pretty successful ultra runner, gave me some advice. If you run out of gas or hit the wall, just keep pressing as hard as you can manage. You will come out of it if you stick with it. At mile 9, I finally started to feel better and picked up the pace. Now I was back scorching the earth at a 10:00/mile pace. I’d quicken the pace even more as time went on.

At about the halfway point, I started feeling a little emotional. I thought to myself that I had better start watching some football or something because I was turning into a sissy. A little later on, the burn in my hamstrings, calves and the vertical muscles in front of my hips erased those silly thoughts. Thank goodness.

In the sun, it was starting to feel pretty hot. I topped off my bottle with water and ice every water stop and took my Gu and salt pills every 40 minutes just like I planned. I dumped cups of ice into the little pockets over my kidneys. After a while, the Gu started to taste like turkey buzzard vomit. Worse than onions. I kept on it though. At mile 20 I damn near puked after eating a Gu. That will be enough of that. I switched to drinking coke and eating grapes at the water stops in stead. Man they tasted great. At mile 22, I felt like I was home free and started to push a little.

After a few minutes, I was back in Cedar Point. I can’t describe the feeling of finishing this race. I am still processing it now. It was unreal. I can definitely understand how people get hooked on it. I floated the last couple of miles. Nothing hurt. I finished in 11:40. Katie came across soon after and looked strong. What an awesome day. I stuck to the plan and didn’t beg for death even once. And those matches I mentioned earlier, I didn’t light any until the last few miles.

In the week since, I have been thinking about ways I could have made the race even better. Maybe I should have biked a bit harder, or swam a little faster, or pushed a bit earlier in the run. That’s exactly what is so diabolical about this sport. You control almost everything but the course and the weather. You don’t have to worry about anyone else—just the clock. And that son of bitch is relentless.

So now that I got that out of my system, what’s next? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll learn karate.