Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This story started two years ago as I was playing the role of sherpa (gopher, waterboy, …) for Muna as she did a few triathlons. She finished the 2013 triathlon season with her first Half-Iron triathlon at Atomic Man in Lenoir City, TN. I saw how much effort it took. I had to admit that it looked fun. I bought my first triathlon bike in November of 2013 and began to ride. I intended to try my hand at this triathlon thing. I was already an established runner, having qualified for Boston 3 times. I knew that I was a competent swimmer. Cycling was going to be my challenge.
I rode a little bit in December as I took a break from running. I did my first few 20-mile rides and then got hit by a car in February 2014. Hit and run. A concussion was the worst part physically. I was in training for my first Boston Marathon and lost a little more than a week of training. I was thankful that it was not worse.
I picked up a used road bike and started riding again. I did not ride regularly, but I was riding. Boston did not go well, which is not too surprising since I had taken the entire month of December off from running and then dealt with the bike wreck. After that, I rode a bit more consistently. In 2014, I completed my first three triathlons. I started with a half-iron, then a sprint triathlon, and another half-triathlon. I really never had interest in the shorter races. I was interested in triathlon mainly to get better at marathon fueling and hydration. Hence, it makes sense that I wanted to do longer races.
While I added my first triathlons, Muna worked towards her first Ironman. She completed Ironman Louisville 2014. She did it with style. Once she got through the swim, she couldn’t stop smiling. She didn’t try to race; Muna just wanted to enjoy the ride and run. And she did. It was fun just to watch her go by with a big smile and words of encouragement for everyone around her. I decided right then and there to follow that example. I would do an Ironman triathlon in 2015, but I would not race. I would train enough to enjoy the ride and then follow through on race day with a relaxed attitude.
2015 Race Season
I began 2015 training for the Boston Marathon, my first goal race of the year. This year, my health and luck were a lot better. I added swimming and cycling as small parts of my overall training plan for Boston. This served as cross-training, but also served as an initial foundation of my triathlon training. I had a very good race at Boston this time, finishing in 3:23:39. This was fast enough to qualify for Boston again, so I was happy with it.
As soon as I recovered from Boston, the running goals took a back seat for a while. I had a half-ironman triathlon to complete in just 8 weeks. I had done some cycling and swimming, but not nearly enough to prepare for a half. I had a long way to go in that 8 weeks. I was not only ramping up my speed and endurance in those, but I was also laying the foundation for a short summer track season. I was a busy guy. I had a few lackluster local running races before I reached the Challenge Atlantic City Half-Iron Triathlon. My main goal for this event was to have a good ride. Although my overall time was about the same as my previous half-iron races, my bike ride was definitely faster. Since that was my goal for the race, I was happy with it.
My second goal race for 2015 was the 800 meter run at the USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Track Championship. I was gradually increasing my cycling and swim bases while I ran a lot of speed work. In hindsight, I was trying to accomplish too many things at once. I did not have a good day at that track meet. I was close to my personal record, but I fell very far short of my goal. I learned what to do for next year. I will spread my speed training throughout the year rather than trying to cram it into one little chunk of the year.
And on to the Ironman…
With that fiasco behind me, I was now free to focus my training on my next goal: complete an iron-distance triathlon with a smile. I had 51 days between the track meet and the Ironman. I did a lot of careful mathematical analysis. I used TrainingPeaks.com to analyze my current fitness level (CTL). My aim was to double my fitness CTL score from the time I completed the half-iron in Atlantic City. At Atlantic City, my CTL was about 30. That score peaked at 62.7 just ten days before the ironman. All of my distances for Swims, Rides, and Runs increased gradually over a 6 week period. I completed my first century ride (100 miles) 5 weeks before the race. I did a 2.5 mile swim 4 weeks before the race. I was already solid in running. I had the foundation. I had the fitness. I knew I could go all of the distances. What I had left to work out was nutrition and hydration. I had a very careful plan. I had electrolytes, fast and slow carbohydrates, protein, and amino acids all in my custom-made sports drink (Inifinit). I had Honey Stinger chews for when I wanted something “solid” to chew. I had a Base salt stick as a backup in case I started cramping.
I was incredibly nervous for about three days before the race. I was scared to death I might forget something. I was so glad to have Muna there to remind me of what I needed. She helped calm me down. I needed that greatly. This was especially true since there was talk of possibly cancelling the swim. The weather was rough the day before the race. The winds had blown the race equipment around and even capsized the boat that was setting buoys for the race. I was almost in tears. I had worked so incredibly hard to have the fitness level peaked enough to be ready. If the swim was cancelled, I would not be an ironman this year. The thought made me sick.
Thankfully, the bad weather had also cleared out the algae that had plagued the marina at Cedar Point. As a result, the race was allowed to use the marina area for the swim. The weather finally settled. On race morning, the weather was cool, but relatively calm. There was lots of wind, but half of the swim course was protected by the breaker wall for the marina. We got to swim!!
The course was a simple loop around the breaker wall for the marina. The full iron-distance athletes would swim two loops. We entered the water two at a time. I was thankful for this because the original plan called for a mass start with everyone entering at the same time. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like the beating you get when swimming in a tight crowd. The time trial start (two at a time) went smoothly. We started on the smooth, protected side of the breaker, so the first part was relatively easy. It took me some extra time to get my goggles settled in properly, but it was calm and the wetsuit helped keep me floating even when I stopped to adjust the goggles.
After turning the corner to the unprotected side of the breaker wall, I felt the waves of Lake Erie. On the first lap, the waves were not a big issue. The wind picked up significantly by the time I got around to that point on the second loop. I could no longer define my own timing. I had to time my strokes and breathing with the waves to make sure I was making progress and getting the air I needed. I remembered that I was not in a hurry. That helped. I cooperated with the waves instead of forcing the pace. Despite the difficulties and a little extra distance, I still completed the swim about 10 minutes faster than I had anticipated. I stepped out of the water just in time to hug Muna, who was waiting to enter the water with her wave of the half-iron triathletes. Good finish to the swim.
It was about half a mile from the swim finish to the transition area and the bikes. I had flip-flops on instead of shoes because the original plan had a much shorter jaunt between events. I walked a little and jogged a little. I reminded myself to smile and wave at the crowd. This was not a race, this was an experience. I was supposed to enjoy the ride; so I did. I grabbed my bag, put on the bike gear and rode away. Only 112 miles to go on the bike before running a marathon. The thought was so absurd that it made me giggle a little.
The course was cool and windy. I think it slowed me down about 1 to 1.5 miles per hour on the average and extended my ride significantly. Some to the roads were rough. That being said, however, I enjoyed the ride. I refused to hurry. I stopped at the porta-potties frequently. I smiled and waved at the volunteers and police lining the route. I thanked them for being there. I had little conversations at the aid stations. I met lots of nice people.
There were hills, but I am from East Tennessee. These were nothing. The wind was the tough part. I drank a lot and stopped more than I intended to, but I was relaxed. I could have gone faster on the bike, but it would have hurt my run. I did not train to race. I had trained just enough to finish with a smile. The only part of the bike that sucked was those last miles on an incredibly rough road leading back to Cedar Point. I had to slow down because those bumps hurt. Every few seconds I stopped pedaling and braced for the next impact. My average speed for the entire ride dropped by 0.3 mph on that last stretch. But I finished.
Muna was waiting for me in the transition area. I got my hug and went to change into my running clothes. One more hug and I was off for my 26.2 miles victory lap. Okay, it was really two 13.1 mile laps, but you get the idea. My entire plan revolved around getting my pacing and nutrition right on the first two parts so that I could enjoy the run. I did. It was not without aches and pains, but the run was full of joy. I got to talk with people all along the way, not just the water stops. I also ate and drank quite a bit. I had my Infinite drink, but also ate bananas, chicken broth, and Honey stinger chews.
I started out a little too fast, but I slowed it back down to even out my pace. I gradually slowed as the run went on, but it did not matter. I was meeting my goal and I did keep my cadence around 170-180 steps per minute. I was healthy and happy, especially considering the challenges of the swim and bike. Just like the swim and bike, Muna was waiting for me at the end of the run with a smile and a hug. I am blessed.
Any remaining self-doubt had been washed away in the swim. I knew I would finish. The only question was how long it would take. Based on my training, I had estimated that it could take anywhere between 13 and 15 hours, depending mostly on weather conditions. The weather was a little tough on the first two parts, so I finished in just under 14 hours. I did not track my time during the bike or run. I knew I was following my plan and that the time would be okay. My time landed me in 10th place out of 16 in my age group that completed the entire race. 13:59:43.123.
But I met my goal. I have had three goal races in 2015 and I met my goal in two of them.
Oh yeah… and one more thing…
I am an Ironman.