Sunday, September 16, 2012

Toughman Tri Recap

It's taken me to eight years to attempt another half ironman.  The first try (tri?) ended with me flying out of Kona with my tail between my legs.  Since then, I've moved to Manhattan and done only running races.  Triathlons were out of the picture because I did not want to swim in the Hudson, and I'm not a very good swimmer.  Fast forward about 8 years, and I find myself at the starting line of the Toughman Triathlon.  What has changed?  In the last year, my boss RK convinced me to join him and a couple of other colleagues, EH and EM.  In addition, one other colleague wanted to bet that EM would finish ahead of me.  I was highly motivated by the bet to prove my colleague wrong.  At 39, I think I'm smarter about racing in general now than I was nearly a decade ago.

Swim - 1.2 miles - 37m50s (rank:  521 of 553 finishers)
One of the main reasons why I agreed to sign up for triathlon was because I knew I could use a wetsuit.  I'm a weak swimmer, and without something to help me stay afloat, I'm at the river bottom.  In fact, two weeks out, I had an anxiety attack during a river practice swim when my feet lost touch of ground.  Pool sessions with my wife and a lake swim with colleagues helped me to gather enough confidence to know that I would at least survive.  On race day, I was member of the final wave to start the race.  RK started 15 minutes ahead of me, and EH and EM 5 minutes. 

The swim itself was out to a far buoy and back to shore in the shape of two long triangle legs.  When the whistle blew for my group to start, I let everyone else ahead.  I wanted to avoid all the kicking, pushing and shoving into the water.  For the next 45 minutes, my existence was defined by swimming buoy to buoy.  On the way out, I surprisingly caught up with a few other swimmers.  Maybe I was a better swimmer than I thought.  Unfortunately, the unexpected company resulted in a foot to my face. 

The turnaround buoy came unexpectedly quickly so I was expecting the same on the swim back.  The Hudson made sure I experienced otherwise.  I felt like I was swimming in place for a while trying to reach the first return buoy.  I had to get on my back a couple of times to relax and also called on to a kayaker for assistance.  The lifeguard threw me a rubber noodle to help keep me afloat.  It was nice to hear the encouraging voice of another human.  When I resumed the swim, I noticed that I was by myself.  Other swimmers were about 20 yds to my right, and my oxygen deprived brain thought they were all off course.  They were swimming straight for the finishing chute.  I was going for buoys that had started to drift off line.  I put a little more effort to reach the next few markers and eventually made it on shore.  I saw a friend at the finish chute and I remember exclaiming, "I'm alive!"  I was so thankful to be out of the water.

Transition 1 - 3m47s (363 of 553)

I really wanted to get on my knees and kiss the sand once out of the water, but I had some people to chase down.  I jogged lightly instead to the transition area to get some blood into my legs and on the way, took advantage of the wetsuit helpers who helped me out of it in record time.  There were still a few bikes remaining at the corral.  I turned on my Garmin, watered my feet clean of sand and mud, put on my socks and biking shoes, chugged down a bottle of Gatorade, pocketed four energy bars, put on my helmet and shades, and jogged out of T1 with my bike.

Bike - 2h58m38s (152 of 553)
Bike elevation profile
"Let the chase begin," I thought as I finally started pedaling.  Unfortunately, my legs weren't in the mood yet, so I spun until I got more blood to the lower limbs.  The course was a hilly loop, which I broke down to 4 x 14 mile segments.  Without prior experience of half iron distance races, I wasn't sure how much effort to exert so that I wouldn't keel over on the half marathon to follow.  I also wanted to see how far back I was, and about 3 miles in, I saw EM heading back on the loop.  By my estimate, I estimated that I was 15-20 mins behind when I reached the first turnaround.

The ride to the next turnaround seemed to take a while.  There were no mile markers so I wasn't sure how far I had gone, and my Garmin 305 was in back tri-suit pocket, which didn't seem to like holding its contents.  More on that shortly.  I made sure to keep drinking, grabbing a new bottle of Gatorade every time I passed the bottle exchange.  In fact, I think I may have over-hydrated.  Along the way, a couple of energy bars slipped out of my pocket, and my Garmin fell out twice.  I lost at least a couple of mins to stop, turnaround, and pickup the darned thing.  Regardless, I was making up time on the bike each time I crossed EM.  I unknowingly passed EH because he was having some mechanical issues, and saw RK on the bike course only once.  I thought he was too far ahead to catch, but I was going to try anyways.

There were two things I was proudest about on the bike segment.  First, I wasn't passed on the bike, except when I had to turn around to pick up my Garmin.  But I passed those riders again.  Second, without maximum effort, I hit 47.4 mph.  Woot!  It's been my goal to hit 50+mph and I think I should be able to with my race wheels.  About half a mile from the bike finish, I saw EM run by.  With the transition, I was just about 5 minutes behind EM.  We were about tied at this point, but I really wanted to catch him.  Then maybe RK.

Transition 2 - 2:16 (174 of 553)
I mentioned earlier that I thought I may have over-hydrated on the bike, so one of the more important decisions I had to make was, "do I take a potty break?"  I glanced at the portapotties but decided to proceed to the run.  I thought I'd sweat it out.  I waited a few agonizing seconds for my Garmin 405 to catch signal after I put on my running shoes, grabbed a couple of Gu gels, and off I went.  I was frustrated about the Garmin slipping out of my pocket near the finish and wanted to make up the time.

Run - 1:49:07 (105 of 553)
Run Profile
I was actually looking forward to the run.  It was the last segment, and I'm most familiar with my body's relation to running than the other two disciplines.  Mentally, I was ready and eager to count down the miles to the finish.  And I've run enough marathons to know what it takes to survive on the run.  This, however, was not a marathon.

A minute into the run, I quickly came to terms that the bike segment took robbed my legs of any running spring.  I was reduced to a quick shuffle.  A couple of other tests for power confirmed there was no juice.  So be it.  A couple of minutes later, I needed to water some plants.  I was annoyed about adding time to my run and losing time to catch EM and RK.

My first mile was 7:41.  Not bad.  Cardio wise, the pace felt easy.  I recalled what a friend had told me about the run segment in these long tri's - no matter how fast you want to go, you can't.  Amazingly, the elite men were near finishing as we crossed paths.  I continued my quick shuffle and pass people throughout the course, which surprised me because I didn't feel like I was going very fast.  The easy pace made the inclines relatively easy, even the 350ft climb up to the top of Croton Dam.  It was the downhills, however, that had me cursing the race planners.  On one of the downhills, I had the epiphany that because of the slower pace and the numerous water stations, I wasn't going to cramp up.  So I decided to run them with a little more reckless abandon.  Too bad that didn't reflect on the pace.

The run about-face was roughly a mile after reaching the top of the dam.  From the top, I kept looking for EM at every turn.  If I saw him, I thought I had a chance to pass him.  If not, he was having a great day on the run and I might lose the bet.  Finally, about 300 yards from the turnaround, I saw him coming towards me.  Great!  I was closer than I thought.  It helps to have rabbits to chase.  I estimated the difference to be 3 minutes.

About 2 miles later, on one of the painful downhills, I came across EH who yelled to me, "EM is 40 seconds ahead.  Go get my donuts!"  Gladly!  (EH was also in the bet, but he was betting on me).   I finally caught up to EM on a steep incline.  Next was RK, but I really was not sure how far ahead he was.  Along the way, I really appreciated all the water stops and the volunteers along the course.  Parents and their children were eager to hand out water, Gatorade, Coke and gels.  I made sure to sip at every station, but stayed with water because I was tired of Gatorade. 

A mental systems check at mile 10 told me my vessel was breaking down.  Nonsense!  I wanted to pick up the pace for the last 5k.  In the battle of mind vs. body, this time, body won.  My pace crawled up to over 8 mins/mile and was passed by two people 1 mile from the finish line.  I pushed, but just couldn't get the motor running any faster.  In retrospect, I attribute it to lack of run training and less so the blisters under my feet. 

Crossing the finish line, I was more relieved than ecstatic.  I could finally stop moving.  And 10 steps from the finish line, I practically inhaled the best slice of pizza ever.  Timing is everything.  I imagine a juicy, salty ribeye would have been just as good, but definitely not cost effective.

Wrapup - Finishing time 5:31:37 (rank 177 of 553)
This race is aptly named.  3,225ft of elevation change on the bike and another 681ft on the run makes sure every competing athlete is challenged.  I could have been smarter in choosing a flatter course for my first half IM effort, but it's always a lot more fun to race with friends.  About the only thing I found unpleasant were the bees choosing to swarm around me exclusively over anyone else.  Otherwise, given that this was my first 70.3 effort, I was very pleased with the entire experience and looking forward to the next triathlon, whenever that may be.