Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Virginia Triple Ironman

Once again I find myself trying how to even begin to put into words, an experience that seems to rise above explanation. This past weekend I competed in, and FINSHED the Virginia Triple Ironman! Most people on just hearing the name, as I first did, think...wait a triple what...no it can't actually be a triple ironman, since that in itself is supposed to be one of the toughest and most admired of endurance sport tests. So there can't actually be a TRIPLE Ironman could there? Well yes there is...7.2 mile swim, 336 mile bike, and 78.6 mile run...NON-STOP!

When I first read about it and then decided to sign up, I had every intention of swimming...but after looking into the race and discovered you can choose to swap the swim for a kayak paddle (much longer of course) a little bell went off in my head, since I'm an avid Stand Up Paddler and pretty passionate about it. So I decided (not because I didn't think I could swim 7.2 miles...but more because I love to SUP) it would be cool to be the first person to ever SUP in a Triple Ironman...hell there aren't many firsts around anymore and I don't particularly like to swim, and never do it unless doing an Ironman. I've done a local Half Ironman for 3 years straight just because it was close, and those 3 swims had been my ONLY 3 swims since doing the famous Hawaii Ironman World Chmpionships back in 2004. And in the summer, I love to Stand Up Paddle on flat water and also SUP surf and didn't particularly want to give up that time to swim..hell, I was already going to give up SOOO much time training for the bike from scratch, and also running a lot, so it all seemed like a great idea. And after some convincing, the race director seemed on board with it too...and so that's how the very first SUP in a triple IM came about!

So I'll skip the hours and hours and hours of HOT and LONELY summer training days I spent preparing for this race. Just know that a LOT of work went into it and a lot of sacrifice not only from me, but from my wife, who had to take up the slack in taking care of our twin daughters (currently 19 months old). I owe her a huge thanks for putting up with it all...and she didn't "always" put up with it..as we had more than a couple arguments over my commitment to this!! I had to watch many of my beach friends relaxing on the beach and going out to dinner here, or a few drinks there and 90% of the time, I couldn't join in..so there was definitely a huge level of sacrifice involved!

I'm usually not the most organized of people, and that also translates into racing as well. I'm also not the Mr Fix-it either and that also translates into my gear...I know next to nothing about my bike, of which I've done a couple of the most hardcore cycling events in the world. So only a few days before this race, I thought hmmm....maybe I ought to take my bike in and get some things checked, after a friend Jamie (one of my crew) mentioned some obvious issues with my bike (well, obvious to HER as I had no clue) that needed fixing. I took to my local shop and after confirming that yes, it needed this, that, and the other...BUT, guess what, "you have a crack in your bike frame" he tells me, and "we can't legally touch it!!" WHAT? I'm a bit more laid back than these guys and my reaction was basically "come on dude, it'll be fine..just tune her up and I'm on my way..thanks" And he's like "no, this is a very serious issue and we can't legally touch your bike". "ok, how bout you illegally touch it and fix it because I have to ride 336 miles in a few days and this is my only bike..I'll sign a waiver...pretend we never had this conversation..whatever...PLEASE??!" So the end result was NO..and I ended up blowing off all the advise I received about getting another bike to ride, and chose to put some solid tape over the crack to hide it and taking it to another shop...and oops, failing to mention this little issue!! As it turns out, they didn't notice it and fixed everything...not before the guy called me and mentioned more that needed done, and asking me "hey man, did you not hear all that noise coming from your bike". And I said "uhhhh...not really..oh THAT noise...you mean it's not supposed to sound like someone jammed a stick in my spokes?" He says...after a long silence..."no"... "oh" I say, "well thanks for taking care of it for me".

Ok...on to the race...I start to hear about guys entered in this triple, doing it multiple times, and once again start to wonder what I was thinking for signing up! As usual, everyone seems pretty damn fit looking and I start to wonder if I had done enough. I was also slightly worried everyone was going to have an issue with me SUPing the swim portion, but everyone ended up being really cool about it and interested...and everyone was really friendly. As it would turn out, this race is one of those so hardcore, that most everyone was into helping and encouraging one another 1st, and then racing 2nd...which was really nice! And just for the record, I'm convinced that SUPing that distance is easily equal to the energy output of the swim!

The gun goes off and all the swimmers swim one way for their many laps, and off I go in the other direction for my 4, 4 mile loops (16 miles). It was so foggy this morning that they had to assign a guide boat for me to follow. At points, I couldn't see 50 feet in front of me...and since I wasn't familiar with the route I was to paddle, or even Lake Anna for that matter, I was damn relieved to be able to just put all my energy into SUPing, and not worry about navigating. Although it was so thick, that even the boat driver who lives there, had me zig-zagging and went straight towards land a few times, before getting back on course. But after 2 laps (8 miles) the fog lifted to reveal a gorgeous glassy lake with blue skies overhead...beautiful!!! I got into rhythm, and knocked of the 16 miles in about 3:30.

I transitioned to the bike, on my own (since my crew wasn't due to arrive later) and was on my way! This portion is what I  dreaded the most since I'm not really a cyclist per say. I find it really uncomfortable, and only bike when I sign up for something like this...never do I keep up cycling on my own. So anytime I enter a race that has cycling in it, I always have to start training from scratch, and this race was no different. I did do a lot of cycling for this race, but that only seemed to amplify my dislike for it! Anyway, I wanted to get as many miles in as I could before dark and so went at a pretty good pace for the first 6-7 hrs and knocked off the 1st 112 miles in about 6:45 I think. But at that point, I was already feeling it, and with nightfall arriving and a COLD night is was going to be...and my crew still not there (I was the only one with no crew at this point) I was really fantasizing about getting this thing done, but I knew I had to slow down if I was going to make it. The next 112 miles took me much longer.....and it was a LONG and cold night..but I kept moving and once my crew showed up at about midnight, it made things a bit easier. I no longer had to get off my bike every two hours to mix my drinks, and plus I felt like I wasn't so alone anymore...and since believe it or not, I've NEVER changed a flat tire, I knew my crew was finally there in case I got one, so I could relax a little bit!! The last 112 miles...and especially the last 30 of that, I hammered out!! I just wanted to get my sore ass off that bike seat and be DONE with this portion...and I visualized stepping off the bike and throwing it right in the trash can that I passed god knows how many times....which is exactly what I did!!!! Ahhhhhh...glorious relief!!! Oh, and the reason for passing the same spot so many times was because the bike course was a 5 mile loop (2.5 miles out, u-turn around a traffic cone, and 2.5 miles back...for 336 miles...WOW!!)


So this glorious relief I mention lasted for all of about 3 minutes...when I went to actually "run" on my legs, and realized they didn't want to MOVE, and that somehow I had to make them for 78.6 miles....WHAT?! This just didn't seem humanly possible!!! But I knew that it actually was...and that ANYTHING is possible and so I needed to start just putting one foot in front of the other. So that's what I started doing. The run course was a lovely 1 MILE out, and 1 MILE back...so 2 mile loops we had to do for 78.6 miles...another WOW!!!!! I tried every kind of mental math trick I could think of to make it SEEM easier...but in the end the only way it worked was to start knocking those miles down!! The first marathon seemed to be going at a snails pace...but I had a nice surprise when my family and some friends dropped by. I wish I could say it gave me a physical boost, but really this was when I was at my worst of the entire race and was in a massive hole for 6-7 hours that I just couldn't seem to get out of!!!

I had Jamie from my crew do a couple laps with me, but the pressure of keeping her pace was just too much so I told her I would do it on my own...so I did some..then my brother-in-law hopped in for a lap, then my neighbor who came by with his family did 6 miles with me..then another neighbor/crew Ann had brought her teenage son Sean with her, and he popped in for 2 miles...so they helped me get through 10 miles...but it just seemed like that took forever in my mind and I just couldn't fathom how I was going to do another 60-some miles...Oh my God!!! But one step at a time, and one mile at a time, I finally finished off the first marathon in about 7.5 hours. And although it seemed like twice that time, I did feel good knowing I had killed 1/3 of the run and so "only" two more marathons to go!!ha

My family and friends had left, and although it was great to see them, I felt too much pressure to stop and chat because I felt bad them taking all the time to come out, and me just run by...and even though it was so wonderful seeing my wife and girls, I just wanted to hug them and quit this shit...so I was glad when everyone left so I could keep focused on the real business at hand...finishing this *ucker!!!!

Sleep deprivation is probably the hardest thing about races like this!! One night awake is pretty doable, but the SECOND night with no sleep is just HARDCORE. Most of the people decided to stop and sleep for just a little bit..maybe 20 minute here and there, or a solid hour or so..but I prefer to just forge on through. I don't necessarily think it helps me, although for me it IS really tough to get started again if I take a break...but I mostly just consider it more of a challenge and want to see if I can do it...not that a Triple Ironman isn't challenging enough right?! I had expected it to get tough sometime after midnight on the 2nd night, but I was surprised and downright scared, that as soon as the sun set, my eyes get heavy and I started to "lose it" almost immediately. I have hallucinated before in races, but never to this degree...not big purple monsters or anything...and not scary or surprising...and just peripherally at first...as I looked straight ahead through my head lamp, as it lit the immediate area in front, I started to get tunnel vision and the woods on both sides of me were turning into rocky cliffs. It was amazing actually....and of course I KNEW there weren't cliff there, so I kind of tried to just enjoy the show!! I'd turn my head towards them, and they would turn back into trees...for a while that is. Then as I would look at them, they would stay cliffs...and I was just amazed at what I was looking directly at and still seeing. It was then about midnight, and I had my phone in my pocket...so I called one of my crew Jeff and said "hey man, I'm TOTALLY losing it and my eye lids feel like someone is hanging on them...maybe could you come out and help keep me awake". When I got back to the transition area, Jeff was already standing there and ready to go!!! I'm not sure if he jumped in right then, or just woke me back up and sent me on my way...things start to get REALLY hazy here...and the hallucinations only got more weird and intense...and I saw some REALLY crazy things out there!!! WOW I finished my second marathon at about 2am...I was falling asleep WHILE running...I never thought that was possible, but believe me, it is!!! It was so crazy to NOT be able to keep my eyes open and feel totally out of control of my own body...I really didn't know if I was going to make it until sunrise. Jeff finally talked me into sitting down for 10 minutes and closing me eyes...he tried some hypnosis on me and it may or may not have worked...I stood up in 10 minutes, and he told me to change my clothes...more reason to try and believe I had just started, instead of been going for 43 hours STRAIGHT!! So I put on new shorts, socks, and shirt...and thought to myself...WOW, I STILL feel like total shit and my legs hurt like *uck..but I didn't tell Jeff that because I didn't want him to think his hypnosis didn't work. So I kept my mouth shut, and off we went on the LAST (thank you Lord...I think) marathon. The first couple laps SUCKED because I had stiffened up already in just that 10 minutes...but then slowly I loosened a bit. Then I started looking at my watch and realizing I had a chance to break 50 hours, which would be really amazing. I starting to TRY and add numbers in my head to figure out if I ran "hard" for one hour, then I could go pretty slow for the rest, and still just break 50 hours..and this really motivated me!!! So all of a sudden, Jeff and I were cruising...really moving legitimately and passing everyone...wow, "I can't believe I'm doing this" I thought. Don't get me wrong, it hurt like hell, but the adrenaline that I had been looking for for HOURS, had finally generated and I was feeling it!!! And I was also being fueled by the looks of the other runners as I blazed by...like "holy shit, go dude" were basically the comments..and when I ran through the transition...people's eyes were opening wide as they saw me cruise in and out like I was actually in a hurry...WOW, what a moment, and one of my best recoveries ever...I (we) managed to knock off that last marathon in about 5:10 and that was still with some stops and many piss breaks...so we had a damn good pace going for the first 3 hours of that, and held it pretty good until the end!!! The last 100 yards was me holding the American flag and running towards the finish with our National Anthem   playing...talk about an emotional moment!!! INCREDIBLE feeling of triumph, and RELIEF!!! The only downside of finishing in 48 hours (crushing the 50 hour mark) was that I had told Chelsea to not expect me for a few more hours and being 7am, it was way to early for her to make it to the finish w the girls...so when I called her and said "honey, I'm finished", her response was "WHAT!!"..ha...classic

So that was it...another 48 hours of testing myself...seeing what I'm made of...pushing my limits...holding off the ghosts of giving up...until next time...

I was the 1st American off the bike...finished in 6th place out of 18 competitors (3rd American out of 11 Americans) with a time of 48:03!

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