Race Report: 2014 Surf City Marathon

I had a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations between Sept. 22, 2012, and Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I raced in the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052!

The next adventure is less focused, but with one simple target: BE HAPPY!

Race Report: 2014 Surf City Marathon

Last year I made the mistake of tackling a marathon with very limited training… and it didn’t turn out so well. In my last post I recounted my training approach this time around – limited by move preparations and work obligations – with a focus primarily on sporadic, stress-induced speedwork. How would I fare this time?

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me give the brief back story.

The last time I qualified for the Boston Marathon was at the Surf City Marathon (Huntington Beach) in 2008. I trained for that race like a demon possessed, and knocked out a 14th place overall, 3:07 finish in a torrential downpour with ridiculously heavy winds. Unfortunately, I was unable to run in Boston thanks to a torn Achilles tendon injury that kept me out for about 9 months…

I’ve been running quite fast this past 6 months or so, setting PRs on many runs I’ve been doing for years, thanks mostly to my fitness earned in Ironman Lake Tahoe preparations… and figured I may as well leverage this fitness to get in my BQ (runners’ lingo for ‘Boston qualifier’) early for 2015. So I signed back up for the race I’ve proven I could qualify at… thinking that with a little dedicated run training I’d be ready, and could use this marathon base as a springboard into 70.3 season (St George is in early May, after all).

Well, I’ve already mentioned that training was extremely subpar for this race… but the little training I did get in was at blazing fast speeds. Was there enough fitness remaining from Tahoe to allow me to gut out a marathon? I wasn’t sure… so I had decided to not run Surf City, after all. There are plenty of opportunities to run marathons – I’ll get one in later in the year.

Until the day before the race when I had some free time and decided, “Why not just drive down and pick up my packet and race shirt?” And when I did that, I fell in love with the race shirt… and wanted to wear it… and we all know the unbreakable rule: you NEVER wear the race shirt unless you did the race.

So. I had to run.

And I had no clue how I was going to do. But I wanted to wear that damn shirt!

I showed up early on race morning, bundled from head to toe. On my way to the starting line I bumped into my buddy Craig – he was getting in a pre-race warmup run along the Strand (he’s crazy like that) – and we took some time to catch up on things. We hadn’t seen each other since Ragnar Vail Lake… which I never did a race report on… hmmm… I should remedy that as it was a truly magical experience and a race win… but, oh, back to to THIS story first.

It was a brisk morning. Craig and I are happy to have a chance to catch up pre-race!

It was a brisk morning. Craig and I are happy to have a chance to catch up pre-race!

I jumped into the starting corral – it was quite chilly so I was sporting calf & arm sleeves along with a pair of gloves – and waited patiently for the starting horn… and then we were off! My target race pace in my early training sessions was 6:45/mile, which would bring me in at 2:57. My primary goal when I signed up for the race was to beat my 3:15 Boston qualifying time, but I wanted room to spare… and breaking the 3-hour marathon is one of those badges of honor I really wanted to conquer.

But, I wasn’t anywhere near as prepared for this race as I felt I should be… do I go out at that 6:45 pace and see how long I could hold it? Or do I start slow and pick it up later if I felt good? Silly boy… you all know the answer to this. I went out at 6:45.

The course takes you down the Pacific Coast Highway for a stretch just as the sun is about to rise. The ocean to the left, the beach front shops and homes to the right. With a turn inland and several miles through neighborhoods and large parks… this part of the race is fun as it is rarely straight for long and the miles start to tick off quickly.

For the first 4 miles I stuck right on that pace. It felt great.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
  1  6:50  6:43 /mi 130 bpm
  2  6:44  6:45 /mi 136 bpm
  3  6:29  6:36 /mi 145 bpm
  4  6:44  6:31 /mi 147 bpm

But while in the park I started to pick up my pace and gain some ground on a pack in front of me. As best I could tell, the third and fourth place women runners were just in front of me, running at about my pace, so I decided to hang out with their entourage for a bit. And that is when we all kicked up the pace a bit. The next 4 miles through the parks and neighborhoods were dialed in right near 6:30 pace.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
  5  6:17  6:41 /mi 146 bpm
  6  6:29  6:28 /mi 147 bpm
  7  6:31  6:33 /mi 147 bpm
  8  6:30  6:31 /mi 147 bpm

Mile 9 has the only real hill on the course as you head back toward the beach. And it isn’t much of a hill at all. By now we’d settled into a nice group that varied in size – there were a core group of 4 of us – that would sometimes swell up to a dozen or so as we would catch runners; some would stick for a while, eventually falling off the back… the miles ticked away like this… mile after mile dialed in to a solid 6:30 to 6:40 pace with shifting morning winds. We’d take turns drafting and taking the wind. The occasional chat with our makeshift running group. All focused on one goal: breaking 3 hours.

At the 13.1 mile point we all glanced at our Garmins… we’d all set personal bests at that distance of 1:26 that morning. High fives for everybody! And we just kept on plugging away.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
  9  6:40  6:25 /mi 147 bpm
 10  6:26  6:37 /mi 146 bpm
 11  6:31  6:39 /mi 145 bpm
 12  6:35  6:38 /mi 146 bpm
 13  6:35  6:42 /mi 147 bpm
 14  6:38  6:41 /mi 147 bpm
 15  6:48  6:40 /mi 148 bpm
 16  6:31  6:41 /mi 149 bpm
 17  6:33  6:36 /mi 150 bpm

At mile 17 the course turned back around away from the city and a return trip north along the Strand. And this is where the core group splintered. I’m horrible with names, but the guy wearing the skull cap (I’ll call him SC for the rest of this post) and I were feeling strong… and we just kind of drifted forward off the front for a while. We kicked the pace back to the 6:30 range – we were WAY ahead of 3-hour pace and were feeling strong. The expected bonk at mile 20 that ALWAYS happens… well… it didn’t happen. I just kept on running at 6:30-ish pace. It was weird. Spooky.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
 18  6:24  6:28 /mi 151 bpm
 19  6:22  6:32 /mi 151 bpm
 20  6:32  6:33 /mi 152 bpm
 21  6:32  6:35 /mi 152 bpm

That’s when I realized why the pace picked up so naturally. Right before mile marker 21 the course turns around and runs back up the Strand toward the pier… and that was where I discovered that the winds had shifted and we’d been using a tailwind to generate those speeds! And we had to fight that headwind for the final 5 miles! ARG!

SC and I took turns breaking the wind for each other to draft in… the pace settling in around 6:45 as we battled the headwind. We’d chat for a bit, each expressing shock that we were able to hold that pace… way ahead of 3-hour pace… and that we didn’t bonk at mile 20 like we were expecting. We were working wonderfully together, knocking out the miles, the excitement building of the promise of a goal not only reached, but unexpectedly surpassed…

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
 22  6:38  6:45 /mi 153 bpm
 23  6:44  6:48 /mi 152 bpm
 24  6:43  6:41 /mi 155 bpm

When I heard it. Skull Cap groaned – a soft whimper of a groan – and he fell off the pace. SC bonked at mile 24. I, however, was still feeling great and kept soldiering on. I picked up the pace again back to 6:30 and started picking off runners. In mile 25 I passed the second place lady and she tucked in behind me for a while to break the headwind… until she couldn’t hang any longer.

As I finished off mile 25, the elation set in. I was going to get the 3:15. I was going to get the 3:00. I was going to crush both! Without bonking!

Oh… wait… maybe I shouldn’t have thought that… had I jinxed myself? The last 3/4 of a mile the legs started to cramp up a wee bit, but I forced myself through it, kicked up the pace for the last 0.2 miles to a solid 6:15-ish, and crossed the line in style.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
 25  6:36  6:41 /mi 157 bpm
 26  6:28  6:34 /mi 159 bpm
26.2  1:17  6:16 /mi 161 bpm

New PR: 2:54:10. 11th place overall. 10th place male. 4th place in the M40-44 age group.

An unexpected result. In near perfect running conditions. And with a great group of fellow runners. And with poor training. Do I have a sub 2:40 in me in the future? Maybe… just maybe…

AND! The very best part of all: BOSTON 2015! Oh, yeah!!!!!

While I wait for the downloads from MarathonFoto, here is a montage of proof snippets. Clockwise from upper left: 1. Prerace smiles. 2. Sunrise along the beach. 3. The group I settled in with (the woman is Dolores, and she got third place for the women... and is turning 50 soon!). 4. Me and the former women course record holder (she later dropped out as she was using this race as a training session)

While I wait for the downloads from MarathonFoto, here is a montage of proof snippets. Clockwise from upper left: 1. Prerace smiles. 2. Sunrise along the beach. 3. The group I settled in with (the woman is Dolores, and she got third place for the women… and is turning 50 soon!). 4. Me and the former women course record holder (she later dropped out as she was using this race as a training session)

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Stress running

I had a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations between Sept. 22, 2012, and Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I raced in the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052!

The next adventure is less focused, but with one simple target: BE HAPPY!

Stress Running

A couple of months ago I had this great idea: why not take advantage of my IMLT fitness and scorch a marathon? Even better, return to the scene of my 2008 Boston marathon qualifier at the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach!

The race in 2008 was quite an interesting experience. This was the first race I had ever prepared for with an extended training regimen. There were training runs in Seattle, Portland, Napa… a 20+ miler through the streets of Paris… and then race day arrived in the usually sunny, morning chill/afternoon warmth of southern California. Race day conditions for the Surf City Marathon had always been blissfully perfect… until this race. Pouring down rain. Cold. Winds so strong the palm trees were bent sideways. And yet I soldiered on through the elements to a 3:07 finish and 14th place overall finish. (Only to tear my achilles tendon a few months later, making it impossible to run in Boston the next year).

I had my training plan mapped out again for the race this year. It started off wonderfully… I am faster right now, with endurance from the Ironman training, than ever in my life.

And then real life got in the way. A stretch where I was only able to get a few hours of sleep each night as I was preparing my home to go on the market. The only runs I was able to squeeze in for the entire month of January were runs to keep my sanity: stress runs.

How do those go? You run wicked fast. For a good 5 to 15 miles. Until the stress is gone.

So, we’ll see how well the stress run method of sporadic training in the month before a marathon goes… as I think I’m going to toe up to the starting line of the 2014 Surf City Marathon, and see how it all turns out. This is bound to be interesting…

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It’s been a while

I had a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations between Sept. 22, 2012, and Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I raced in the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052!

So… what’s next?

It’s been a while

My last posts to this blog were of my Ironman Lake Tahoe race recaps: Prologue, Swim, Bike, Run, and Epilogue. Darn  near 4 months ago.

Then the Tri-ing for a Challenge blog went silent. In fact, social media adventures for me in general took a turn during this period.

It wasn’t due to the post-event letdown we all inevitably experience after such an extended, intense period of buildup. Anybody who’s ever built up to a big life event like a half marathon, marathon, triathlon, fund raiser, big work activity, college graduation, wedding, and the list goes on and on… you know what I mean. You are singularly focused on one thing, it comes and goes, and you’re left with a “that was great! But now what!?” hole to fill.

OK, that may have been a part of the reason why I’ve gone silent here, but isn’t the main reason. And, unfortunately, I won’t go into great detail in a public forum what the REAL reason is… let’s just say I’ve decided to make some major changes in my life and am going about making those happen.

I’m packing up my belongings and the fur kids, and making a move back to the Pacific NW. To be close to family and friends. To get back to the area of country I love. To simplify my life, kind of… as I’ll still keep my current job, which means I’ll be coming back down to Los Angeles quite regularly. Happiness every day is the goal, and I’m certain I’ll be successful in that next quest.

Race season kicks off for me, in theory, this weekend with the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach. I had designs on setting down a sub-3 hour marathon and qualifying for Boston! But the bigger goal is temporarily in the way: selling a house and preparing for a move are time consuming and exhausting… so I’ll make the decision to run, or not, as the day itself nears. Training for this race has been scattered, and I’m certain I could finish in a respectable time… but at what cost?

In just a few short months triathlon season kicks off. Ironman 70.3 St George in May, Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens in August, Ironman 70.3 Silverman in October. If the adjustment to the Portland area and regular business travel go well and St George training is solid, I might actually go completely nuts and add on Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June. I have a really solid base to build from on last year, and I’m still able to go out on extended runs and throw down a killer pace – the swim and bike are lagging behind right now, but there’s time to get those back in line. Plus I’m certain to add many races to the calendar in the Pacific NW…

2014 is a year filled with a whole new, exciting set of challenges that will unfold as the year progresses. I was extremely excited to complete my last challenge – fundraising and Ironman Lake Tahoe – but am even more excited to tackle my new set of far less targeted challenges; the prize for accomplishing these successfully will be far greater than the rewards the last time around. Everyday happiness. I’m not asking for too much, am I?

Cheers to 2014!

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IMLT – Race Report Part 5 – Epilogue

I HAD a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I RACED in Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we’ve reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052!

This is the last in a 5-part race report series for the inaugural edition of Ironman Lake Tahoe. So far I’ve posted the Prologue, Swim, Bike, and Run. We’ve now reached the Epilogue.

Sorry about the delay between parts 4 and 5. Some work exercises and a project around the house kind of consumed my free time this past week. In case you need a reminder, go back and read the Run post again…

Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 – Race Report Part 5 – Epilogue

So. There you have it.

My first 140.6. With all kinds of strange twists. Extremely high winds, pounding rain, and SNOW the day before the race. Bitter cold morning temperatures on the swim and bike. The Roman bathhouse debacle of T1. The wicked flip of a bike crash. A bonk of epic proportions on the run. And a very surprising theme song that motivated me throughout the day.

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

And, at the end of it all, I walked away an IRONMAN.

And there it is. The glory pose. Soak it all in...

And there it is. The glory pose. Soak it all in…

Immediately after the flailing, furious blast toward finish line I was greeted by a volunteer who wrapped a space blanket around me. That last finishing burst not only looked strange and awkward, but it took an unexpectedly intense explosion of energy and oxygen to do that… and I was winded and having a tough time catching my breath. The volunteer was wicked awesome and shepherded me through the process. Another volunteer took my timing chip while another handed me the official 2013 Ironman Lake Tahoe FINISHER’S cap and t-shirt. My volunteer angel stayed with me to make sure I was fine until I saw Lauren, Papa Jeff, Suzanne, Kris, and Robin hustling over. I thanked my volunteer – have I said enough how awesome she is??? – and ran over to give the family hugs and show off my war wounds. Somewhere in the midst of this I recall myself saying the words, “OK, I’ve checked that off the bucket list… I’m going back to 70.3’s!”

Of course, I am a choco milk ‘Refuel’ fan, and needed a little post-race replenishment. Lo and behold, there were two people standing behind giant barrels filled with the stuff. I grabbed myself a bottle and started chugging away, and then headed straight for the medic tent to get my wounds tended to – if the race broke me, they were going to fix me. A really awesome volunteer medic made sure I was cleaned up, antibacterialized, and bandaged up!

Do you see a trend here? Everywhere I went: AWESOME volunteers. EVERYWHERE. We then made our way down to the bag and bike reclamation areas to get my gear, then headed back through an eerily dark parking lot toward my rig to head to the condo and celebrate. The parking lot was pitch black, and we were walking along between cars toward the back of the lot, when out of nowhere I found myself bent over a concrete barrier, hanging in mid air. I was shocked. The wind was knocked out of me. And my right knee – pretty much the only part on my body that wasn’t injured from the crashes earlier in the day or three weeks ag0 – took a really hard knock. It took me a few minutes to gather myself and gain my bearings… we threw my gear (and Kris) in the back of the Q5, the bike on the roof, and headed out.

After a quick drop-off of Kris and Robin, along with their navigator PJ, back at their car (way back at the Squaw Valley turn off at the highway – they hiked the 2+ miles to the finishing area) we headed back to the condo. And guzzled fancy beer. And drank fancy wine. And devoured (slowly – I am a methodical eater) a fantastic dinner featuring a giant steak. And stayed up late and chatted. And soaked in the email, text, and Facebook love and did my best to write you all back and thank you individually. And drank some more. Yes, I went for a triathlon of a different sort after the Ironman: beer, wine, AND whiskey. I am relentless. Adrenaline is a powerful, powerful thing.

It wasn’t really until the next morning when I woke up, surprisingly enervated and less sore than I had anticipated (the bike crash and concrete wall injuries were the worst, by far) did it sink in. Yeah. I did that. I seriously did that. I am a freaking Ironman!

I had established a set of goals coming into the race. An unrealistically fast goal should everything work out perfectly: 1o hours. A more realistic goal given the altitude, weather, and ‘uncertainty’ adjustments: 12 hours. How did I do against those goals?

Swim: 1:19:32. This was better than my optimistic prediction of 1:20:00, and certainly far better than my realistic prediction of 1:30:00. I came out of the water 1022 of 2751 overall, 205 of 463 in my age group. Not bad considering how poorly the first 1/2 mile of the swim went.

T1: 0:20:33. Not at all what I was expecting. Nobody expected the changing tent fiasco to go down like that. Far worse than the 5 minute optimistic, 8 minute realistic targets I’d established.

Bike: 6:11:45. Smack dab in the heart of my predicted times of 5:30:00 optimistic and 6:30:00 realistic. This included stoppage time for two restroom breaks of about a minute each, and about 5 minutes for that gnarly bike crash. I had the 181st fastest bike split of the day (well within the top 10%), moving me up to 310th overall and 55th in my age group. Yep… in 112 miles of biking I had passed 712 people. That is pretty crazy. And it felt like it – I was always whizzing by somebody on their left all day long.

T2: 0:04:52. A bit slower than my projected times of 2 minutes optimistic, and 3 minutes realistic. If I didn’t have road rash to check out, and the extra layers of cold weather gear to remove, a 2 to 3 minute time was well within reach.

Run: 4:10:09. By FAR my slowest marathon ever. And boy did I implode. But it wasn’t too much slower than my range of projections at 3:00:00 optimistic and 3:50:00 pessimistic. But, somehow, I still made up some ground even with that abysmal showing on the run. I apparently passed 62 more people on the run. A surprising 287th fastest run on the day.

Total: 12:06:51. Far short of my optimistic 10 hour finishing time… but right in line with my 12 hour realistic target. 248th overall and 42nd in my age group. I placed in the top 10%!

There was a lot to learn with this being my first full Ironman distance race. 140.6 is quite a bit different than 70.3, that is for certain. Immediately after the race I felt that I was now done with this distance – I’d proven that I could do it, do it well, but the toll was too great. That didn’t last long, though. Later that night the demons had settled in… “What if my swim didn’t start off so horribly? What if T1 had gone differently? What if I had better cold weather gear for the start of the bike? What if I hadn’t crashed? What if I pushed myself a little harder on the bike? What if I hadn’t bonked on the run? What if I modified my training a bit to address the bike-to-run fatigue?”

In the days that followed the race, much was made of the race statistics at the triathlon websites and blogs. A whole slew of people that started didn’t make the finish line. So many people, in fact, that folks started saying that the Lake Tahoe course was the toughest Ironman course ever. I’m not convinced that is 100% accurate – not having raced the other courses I can’t make an accurate assessment of their relative difficulty. But what I can say is the T1 debacle added unnecessary time to many people – I know one guy who was pulled off the bike course because he missed the intermediate cutoff window by 2 minutes… partially due to getting stuck in the T1 changing tent for 40 (yes 40!) minutes. He was a victim of circumstance. There were many such victims of circumstance on this first year of the race course. I am confident that they will iron out these concerns in future races.

I also feel that year 1 of this race drew participants that weren’t really prepared for the course – in the excitement of the race announcement, many people rushed to register without understanding what was up with the course. I will freely admit that I was one of them – I was ignorant of the elevation, of the difficulty of the bike course, and of the potential for inclement weather conditions. Future participants will be much more aware, and I assure you that DNF rates in the future will be far less… as the race will attract a different mix of athletes aware of and prepared for the idiosyncrasies of this difficult event.

Two weeks later…

I feel great. The body feels a bit fatigued, but STRONG. The crash wounds and knocked up knee from the parking lot incident are mostly healed. I’m back into training already – Ragnar Trail Relay Vail Lake is coming up soon. Trail running is a completely different beast from long-distance triathlon, that is for certain, so I need to log in some quality miles on the trails.

I’ve also been mapping out my race calendar for next year. I’m already registered for Ironman 70.3 St George. A Ragnar Relay or two; perhaps even go for another Boston Marathon qualification time and an attempt to break 3 hours. Why not? Unfortunately, I’ve missed out on the Oceanside 70.3 registration (drat!), but Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens is looking promising… with at least a few more in the sprint/Olympic/70.3 distances to add to the list. Oh, yeah, and maybe even another 140.6.

Yep. I think I might want to give it another go. And crush my previous time.

I’m a little surprised I feel that way so soon. I walked away satisfied and grateful to finish Ironman Lake Tahoe. But the fire burns in my belly to race it better. The same fire that’s bringing me back to St George.

So… we’ll see…

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IMLT – Race Report Part 4 – Run

I HAD a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I RACED in Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we’ve reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052! The winners of our last fundraising activity will be notified soon.

For the next couple of blog posts, I’ll be giving the race report for the inaugural edition of Ironman Lake Tahoe. I started with the Prologue, Swim , and Bike. Today is the Run. I’ll finish with the Epilogue in the next day or two. Patience, grasshopper.

Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 – Race Report Part 4 – Run

OK. Fine. I’ll admit it. The last part of my previous Ironman Lake Tahoe race report (Part 3 – Bike) was a bit unfair. Downright mean of me. If you haven’t read that post, then you’re missing out, as it ended like this:

Eye of the tiger…

Third and last detour up Carnelian Woods Avenue, and the 100 mile marker! Only 12 miles left! Just keep the legs churning!

fighter…

Third and last climb and descent of Dollar Hill.

I am a champion…

Third and last blast through Tahoe City. Put on the jet packs out of town… churn, churn, churn… 104 miles. Just a few miles left. Follow the white line, catch that next guy…

you’re gonna hear me…

BOX!!!!????????

Asphalt. Sky. Trees. More asphalt. More skies. More trees. Crunching. Blood. Scraping. Grinding. Panicked screaming (not me). Pain. Lots of pain.

Alright, so let me explain. There are two ways to describe what happened. The short way, and the long way.

The short way (2 words): I crashed.

The long way (significantly more than 2 words): I was pushing pretty hard trying to finish off the bike leg really strong. I had my head down a bit and was following along the white line on the right hand side of the road, aware that I was biking alone but with another cyclist about 20 meters in front of me and I was closing fast. I rounded a bend at mile 104, looked up, and saw a giant box straddling the white line and sitting partially in the road. Three feet in front of me. While I was riding in a full aero position at over 25mph. There was no time to respond or take evasive action. I hit it square. The bike launched about 6 to 10 feet into the air, flipping me and the bike over into a mid-air somersault. I landed back-first on my left hip… the bike popped off of my feet, smacking the inside of my left shin, and tumbled away flinging water bottles and Honey Stinger waffles to the left and right… my left ankle and knee came around and smacked into the asphalt, taking a chunk of skin out of my left ankle and scraping up the outside of my knee… at about the same time that my upper left shoulder skidded along the asphalt, burning the skin in a wide swath of road rash… as my helmet scraped and bounced along the road.

Epic crash. At least in my own head. It was probably far less spectacular if you actually saw it happen and weren’t the guy tumbling down the road.

The first thoughts that passed through my mind as I saw the box and as I was in mid-flight:

  1. Box!? What the —-!?
  2. This is going to hurt.
  3. I’m still going to finish.
  4. Oh, no, not again! (Douglas Adams fans will know what I’m talking about…)

After crashing I took a second to take inventory of what just happened. I heard the screaming of the volunteer as she came running over. I looked around to survey the damage. The box (about three feet across in all dimensions) was bashed in. My bike was on its side about 20 feet up the road. Water bottles and nutrition were scattered everywhere. It took a few seconds for me to process all I was seeing, as my eyes were a bit scrambled and not looking in the same direction (much as they did in my crash just three weeks prior).

The race volunteer reached me fairly quickly. She asked if I was OK, and followed with the statement, “I was afraid that was going to happen.” It turns out that I was approaching the ‘bike special needs station’ – before the race you’re allowed to drop off a bag containing whatever you want for use later during the bike section of the race, and this is where those bags were available for you to pick up. One of the volunteers took the initiative to take one of the extra boxes used to hold the special needs bags and hand write a makeshift sign informing the racers of the approaching station… and then placed it on the road. To add insult to injury, the sign was completely illegible. It not only wasn’t helpful… it proved to be an unmitigated hazard.

I brushed myself off and tried to compose myself as the volunteer scurried about grabbing my strewn about water bottles while yelling for a medic. I realized that my vision wasn’t quite right, but would correct itself shortly… so I kept the visor on my helmet lowered so nobody would notice my eyes each doing their own thing. The volunteer had my normal bottles corralled, I regathered my waffles and one of my aero bottles and put everything back on the bike. A quick check of the bike proved that nothing had broken (very fortunate there), and it was safe to ride. The medic arrived just as my eyes straightened back out, he gave me a quick look over, asked if I was doing OK. “Absolutely!” I responded. He gave me the go-ahead to proceed – I jumped on my bike, thanked the volunteer and medic for their help (they were super nice and helpful), and made it my mission to pass everyone that had gone by me while I was on the ground… I had 8 miles to go until transition… hell, the most anybody picked up on me was a mile… I can reel that back in!

The knee was seeping blood. I could feel the cuts and road rash on my ankle and shoulder through the clothing covering them up. My hip was throbbing in pain. Adrenaline… Anger… Desperation… all flowing through the veins. Now the song was tearing through my head… through every pore of my being with a gasping sense of urgency:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

Must. Finish. This. Race.

I WILL be an Ironman!

you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

After the crash: tunnel vision. Only one thing mattered, and that was getting to T2 and out onto the run course. And then finishing this race.

After the crash: tunnel vision. Only one thing mattered, and that was getting to T2 and out onto the run course. And then finishing this race.

I had no clue what kind of damage had been done to me. As I churned away and tried to regather myself I took inventory of the situation. The bike seemed to be running fine. But my left ankle was on fire. My left knee was bleeding. My shin hurt. My elbows were sore from the impact of the crash (I was still in the aero position when I hit the box). My left shoulder hurt something fierce. My left hip hurt pretty badly. My head was still ringing and the cobwebs were taking a few minutes to shake loose. Thank goodness for the cold weather and all the extra clothes I was wearing, as they certainly helped protect me from more serious damage that I would have received had I just been wearing my thin triathlon racing suit. But I couldn’t dwell… I needed to push forward.

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

I was fired up. Mad. I wanted to roar. Who freaking puts a box in the road at an Ironman!? I wasn’t going to let this obstacle stand in the way of completing my mission. My dream.

I had composed myself well enough after the crash to resume riding in a really good aero position on the last stretch toward Squaw Valley... and the transition to the run!

I had composed myself well enough after the crash to resume riding in a really good aero position on the last stretch toward Squaw Valley… and the transition to the run!

There were 8 miles left in the ride… and the cobwebs, though they were shaking loose, were lingering. That didn’t stop me one bit from passing a ton of folks that had gone by during the couple of minutes I was on the tarmac. I approached the left turn toward Squaw Valley – it took a few seconds to process where I needed to be on the road to make the turn, and on what side of the cones I needed to ride. All day long we had been riding on the right side of the road – on the last stretch toward the transition area we were on the left (how I know that the above picture was taken on the run-in to Squaw Valley and T2). The excitement of closing in on the transition helped shake some more cobwebs loose.

It was going to happen. If my calculations were correct, I’d been out on the course for less than 8 hours… that gave me 9 hours to finish off the marathon to beat the 17-hour time limit. I was going to be an Ironman.

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

Even if that meant I had to crawl the course. I could crawl a marathon in 9 hours… right!?

The tents of Ironman Village were coming into view. I slipped my feet out of my shoes, rounded the corner, jumped off the bike and handed it to a volunteer… the bike was now done. DONE!

6:11:45. Right in the heart of my targeted bike time of between 5:30:00 and 6:30:00… and with a major crash. On a brutal course in frigid conditions. I’ll take that any day. Well, this year, at least.

A couple of tentative steps to check out how the body was doing… though tender, everything seemed to be working just fine. I picked up speed and headed into the tent where I was met by a volunteer who shouted my race number to the tables behind her. A young kid signaled for me to follow her as she raced up an aisle between a sea of tables, grabbed my run gear bag, and handed it off to me as I raced on by – with another person signaling me toward the mens’ changing area.

I was mentally preparing myself for a repeat of the changing tent fiasco of T1 as I stepped into the changing area. I couldn’t have been more wrong. An endless sea of empty chairs in a warm, spacious, clean, comforting environment. I picked out a spot halfway down the line of chairs, and was immediately greeted by a volunteer. He told me to sit down and that he was going to take care of me.

T2 was the exact opposite of T1. T2 was triathlon heaven.

I immediately ripped off the helmet. Next I stripped off my gloves, socks, top layer of arm sleeves, and my cycling jersey and put them inside the helmet. While I was doing that, the volunteer had opened up my bag and was sorting out the gear. I had a quick moment to survey the damage now that the layers of clothing were gone:

  • a big chunk of skin was gone from my left ankle and it was bleeding
  • major, seeping road rash on my left shoulder (a perfect mirror image of the road rash that was still healing on my right shoulder from the crash a few weeks prior)
  • the knee was scraped up and bleeding, but it wasn’t all that bad
  • but my hip. It really hurt. I could feel pain high in the hip on the pelvis, and swelling at the top of my femur.

I asked the volunteer if he wouldn’t mind taking a quick look to make sure the road rash on my shoulder wasn’t too horrible – he took a gander, gave a quick grunt, and said it was pretty big, but not too horrible. He handed me the bag containing my products – I apologized for being rude as I smeared anti-chafing lube on the tender bits, a quick spray of sunscreen, applied some SPF lip balm (vanilla flavor… mmm… tasty)… quickly followed by throwing on socks, shoes, visor, sunglasses, race number belt (filled with gels and salt capsules). I had a hydration belt filled with concentrated bottles of my Skratch Labs solution ready to g0 – but I called an audible and opted to leave it behind as I felt well fueled/hydrated coming off the bike, and I didn’t want that belt rubbing and banging on my tender and swelling hip for the next 26.2 miles.

The volunteer started tucking everything back into the bag and told me that he would take care of the rest… now GO! I thanked him immensely for his help, and started running out the back side of the tent, out through the swarm of volunteers applying sunscreen to the emerging athletes, and on to the run course.

I was in my race day gear for all to see now. I was ready to get this thing done! All that stood between me and the finish line was a paltry 26.2 mile run. Piece of cake.

I did the math in my head – the cobwebs had subsided enough for me to resume doing what I do best (for those that don’t know: I’m a mathematician) – and realized that I was still in the mix for my planned finish time. Even with the crash and that ridiculous T1 debacle. But I was certainly out of the running for a prized Kona slot. I still wanted to finish with a respectable time, but now it was all about finishing. Moderation. Making sure I crossed that finish line and could hear Mike Reilly tell me those glorious words as I stepped under the banner as the newest member of the Ironman family.

I devised a strategy. I would run at a comfortable, reined in pace. I would stop at each aid station and take in fuel and hydration. No need to be a hero… I just needed to finish. And I didn’t need the song right now. Logic had taken over.

I was feeling pretty good early in the run. The sun was out providing much needed warmth... but not too warm... Yes, that is snow on the hills in the background.

I was feeling pretty good early in the run. The sun was out providing much needed warmth… but not too warm… Yes, that is snow on the hills in the background.

I started off at a cruising pace around 7:00/mile. It felt pretty good. I stopped at the first of the aid stations around mile 1 and took down some Powerade and Coca-Cola. On to the next station… I was playing the mind game of just getting myself from one aid station to the next.

The course was a double loop. The first loop was about 17.5 miles long, and the second following the same course but doubling back early for a relatively quick 9 miles. Get through with that first loop, get a feel for the course, and the second lap would take care of itself.

The run course followed the bike & run trail from Squaw Valley and out along the Truckee River. It was advertised as being mostly flat. And beautiful. I was less flat than advertised... but certainly lived up to its beauty billing.

The run course followed the bike & run trail from Squaw Valley and out along the Truckee River. It was advertised as being mostly flat. And beautiful. It was less flat than advertised… but certainly lived up to its beauty billing.

The course followed the cycling trail from Squaw Valley out toward Highway 89, taking a right turn out along Squaw Creek Road and around a different section of the resort where we encountered a steep little incline at about mile 3. I had been maintaining a decent 7:00 to 7:30 pace up to this point (not counting the stops at the aid stations to take in my fuel & hydration)… but this little bugger of a hill was steep, and everybody was setting their ego aside to walk up. I saw the wisdom in this decision and followed suit.

The seed had been planted. No shame in walking when you need it.

At the top of the hill I resumed running, made the turn back onto the trail, and soon hit Highway 89. There was a long, sweeping uphill run past Alpine Meadows – my pace dropped off a bit, but I was still running – followed by an odd little downhill trail plummet toward the river and back along the bike path. At about mile 5 I hit the marker for the second turn… now I knew what was in store for the second lap… and it could be managed.

The song was beginning to return, looping in the background… but the urgency was gone. I was going to be an Ironman. It was a certainty in my head… and only a matter of time.

The stretch along the Truckee River was quite beautiful... and a bit of a grind.

The stretch along the Truckee River was quite beautiful… and a bit of a grind.

The run along the river was a gradual climb for about 5 miles. Run… more Powerade and Coca-Cola at the aid station… resume running again… and I finally made the first turn at about mile 9 3/4. About 8 miles back to finish the first loop, and I had a good downhill stretch to do this. I resumed the run back… mile 10… mile 11… mile 12… 13… 13.1!!! Halfway done!

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me GURGLE!?

There is a reason why I only drink Skratch Labs hydration. Gastrointestinal (GI) issues spring up with the syrupy concoctions… but never with Skratch. And my belly was chock full of syrup. And letting me know about it. Stop. Walk it off. Get back to running again. Walk up the weird little trail hill back to the main road, then resume running down the long, sweeping hill. Maybe calling that audible about not carrying my hydration with me wasn’t all that great an idea…

I soon hit the turnoff to Squaw Valley and the big aid station. Almost 15 miles down… No more Powerade for me. Just chicken broth and, when I needed a turbo boost kick, a solid slug of Coca-Cola… and right now I needed to visit a restroom. That GI issue was about to go nuclear. Portapotties on the inbound side of the course were occupied. Dang it! Run down to the other end of the aid station… portapotties on the outbound direction were occupied… and after a good 5 minutes of waiting it was apparent they would remain so for a while. Onward to the next aid station 2 miles down the road. At this point it hurt to run, so I decided to start walking the hills… and there was a hill right there as I resumed along the course.

Crested the top… and started to run again… finally reaching the next aid station and was fortunate to find an open stall… (awkward pause in the story)… business was taken care of and the running resumed. Much happier. Much less gurgly. But my body was tired. The pace was slow. I would occasionally break into a run/walk… but I forced myself to run through the village. There they were! Lauren, Papa Jeff, and Suzanne had fought through the traffic and were loudly cheering me on… telling me to not be a baby… and I made the big turn signifying the completion of the first lap. 17.5 miles down! Less than 9 to go.

I ran out of the village and back out on to the trail with a little extra adrenaline kick from the cheering crowds. My pace kicked back up into the 7:00-ish range. Was I going to be able to rally and finish this race with a mad flurry? Was this possible? Mile 18… mile 19… the song returned:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

And then the wheels came off. The tank was empty. I walked to the mile 20 marker… and then up the punchy little hill that everybody walked on lap 1… resumed running the downhill segment to the base of the long, sweeping hill. Swallowed my pride… and walked it. Down the little trail hill to the river… resume running and about 1/4 a mile later hit the turnaround point. 23 miles down! 3.2 to go! Head back… walk up the steep little trail hill… run back down the long, sweeping hill… take the corner toward Squaw Valley… another dose of chicken broth and a few gulps of Coke at the aid station… walk up the hill… and begin the jog to the finish line.

It hurt. It really hurt. I had to stop and walk a few times. Then run again. Then walk a minute more. Then run a bit more. With less than one mile left to go the course turned into the parking lot before circling around it toward the last big turn in the village and the finish line. As I made the turn the realization set in. I WAS GOING TO DO THIS.

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

The crowd was cheering me on… I was running. I pounded my chest with both fists and ROARED. The most guttural, animalistic, raw sound that has ever been expelled from this body. King Kong would have been proud. This was about to happen! A couple of tears streamed down my face. This. Was. Happening!

But… ummm… that was my finish line roar. I’d been saving that. I still had a good 3/4 mile to go! I wasted that emotional outburst out on the course! What the heck was I going to do at the finish line?

I had always assumed that I was going to be overwhelmed with emotion as the finish line neared and that I would run across, tears streaming down my face, maybe let out a roar of excitement as I crossed the line like I did in St George… but I had left all of my emotion out on the course. The excitement from the crash… the implosion on the run… the yell 3/4 of a mile from the finish line… I was emotionally sapped. The well was now dry. What was I going to do now?

I ran/walked toward the village pondering what I was going to do… as I neared the buildings preparing to run through and loop around toward the finish line I forced myself to pick up the pace, feeding off the energy of the crowd.

What. To. Do????

I rounded the bend, picking up the pace to 6:30… high-fives were doled out by the hundreds as I ran by… exclamations of, “Wow, this guy is finishing strong!” were met with a chuckle by me… if only they’d seen me half a mile before this, struggling to keep one foot moving in front of the other.

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

The sweeping left turn around a building in the village. Arrows point to the left for those starting laps 1 and 2… and an arrow beckoning finishers to the right and down into the finishing chute. The sky was getting dark. Cold. But I felt none of it. Just the warm glow of the spotlights. The cheers of the crowd. The high-fives and accolades from perfect strangers… and that guy 50 yards in front of me nearing the finish line.

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

He was toast.

ROAR!

Something else just took over. I turned on the afterburners… but what to do as I crossed the line? Well… in the excitement of the moment… I did this (video – click the arrow on the picture to play it):

Um. Yeah. Not quite sure what that was.

But it no longer mattered.

I am an IRONMAN.

Jeffrey Oram... YOU are an IRONMAN!

Jeffrey Oram… YOU are an IRONMAN!

The final chapter of the story continues at: IMLT – Race Report Part 5 – Epilogue

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IMLT – Race Report Part 3 – Bike

I HAD a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I RACED in Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we’ve reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052! The winners of our last fundraising activity will be notified soon.

For the next few blog posts, I’ll be giving the race report for the inaugural edition of Ironman Lake Tahoe. I started with the Prologue and Swim,  today is the Bike, and I’ll follow up with the Run and Epilogue posts over the next couple of days. Patience, grasshopper.

Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 – Race Report Part 3 – Bike

A rough start to the swim became a fantastic experience in the blink of an eye – in case you missed it, go back to Part 2 of the race report to read about the swim that started out badly… got worse… and then got really, really good. The mood quickly turned, however. Here is where we left off in the last post:

I ran into the transition area, a volunteer told me to sit down as I was taking off the wetsuit – she meant business, so I followed her direction. I sat on the cold asphalt, and she ripped that suit off me in 2 seconds flat. I jumped up, she handed me my suit, and I was off and running. I snagged my bike gear bag, flung the wetsuit over my shoulder, and headed for the changing tent…

And then the race took an unexpected twist. Something insane that I had never expected to encounter…

I stepped into the changing tent expecting to find a spot with a chair to dry off, change into dry clothes, and prepare for the long bike journey. What I found instead was a tent filled wall-to-wall with a mass of naked and semi-naked guys trying their best to strip off wet clothes and put on cycling gear with about 1 square foot of ground per person.

Absolute chaos.

Yep. The cold weather turned the usually benign T1 experience into an absolute nightmare as everybody was taking lots of extra time to dry off and put on extra layers of clothing. This caused a traffic jam of nightmarish proportions. I fought through the crowds of athletes, found a single square foot of floorspace to drop my bag, and began the process of changing into my cycling gear. Gear that was no longer dry – in the three hours since I’d dropped off the bag, the cold, damp air had permeated the bag. Normally I wear my triathlon suit under the wetsuit during the swim, but for this race almost all of us opted to wear a normal swimsuit under the wetsuit and keep the racing kit dry. After a quick attempt to dry off and taking off the swimsuit, on went the triathlon suit, socks (I usually go sockless in races), toe warmers (first time with those!), two sets of arm sleeves, calf sleeves, cycling gloves (I usually race gloveless), winter gloves (from my it’s really f-ing cold outside non-athletic gear collection), and another cycling jersey… and finally the shoes and helmet. Another handful of seconds to jam my towel, wetsuit, and swimsuit back into my gear bag, knot the ties, fight my way through the masses of people, and toss the bag into the pile of other bags.

What should have taken no more than 5 minutes took 20 minutes. Under normal racing circumstances this would have taken 2 minutes – I had planned on this part taking 8 minutes given the need to dry off and perform a complete wardrobe change. This process took over 40 minutes for some athletes, and would eat into valuable time relative to their race cutoff times. (I’ll describe more about this in the epilogue – the DNF rates for this race were astounding)

After FINALLY exiting the ‘did I just walk out of an ancient Roman bathhouse’ changing tent fiasco I ran toward the bikes, grabbed mine, and headed out onto the course.

I reached the bike mount line, jumped on, clipped in, and headed out. Normally I would run through transition barefooted with my shoes already clipped in to the pedals, do a flying leap onto the bike, and slip my feet into the shoes as I was speeding down the course; only the pros were allowed to do that for this race (understandably for safety reasons – after swimming 2.4 miles, even seasoned age groupers aren’t fully coherent and the chance for crashes increases tremendously with this style of flying bike mounting).

I had done several rides and runs along this stretch of the course during our week at Lake Tahoe, so I knew the terrain well. This stretch of road was FAST! I started gunning down cyclists by the dozen. Adrenaline coursing through the veins. That fracking song pulsing through my ears:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

The beginning of the bike ride. Laser focus. Fully loaded with fuel and hydration. Ready to pass 'em all!

The beginning of the bike ride. Laser focus. Fully loaded with fuel and hydration. Ready to pass ’em all! Not even the double layers of jerseys, arm sleeves, and gloves (look at those gloves) could fend off the bitter cold.

The only problem: even with the extra cycling jersey, second set of arm sleeves, toe warmers in the shoes, and the freaking winter gloves, blasting down the road at over 25mph into 30-ish degree temperatures is FREAKING COLD! Though the sun was coming up, much of the first several several dozen miles of the course was in the shade. Plus, the warm beverage I had poured into my water bottle had turned freezing cold during the swim. Drat! So much for that bright idea!

The bike course - start at Kings Beach, ride clockwise. Two and a half laps! Kings Beach to Truckee: downhill and fast! Truckee to Kings Beach: straight up, straight down, then straight up again followed by another straight downhill.

The bike course – start at Kings Beach, ride clockwise. Two and a half laps! Kings Beach to Truckee: downhill and fast! Truckee to Kings Beach: straight up, straight down, then straight up again followed by another straight downhill.

In fact, the first two dozen miles of the bike course were mostly downhill, with a just few uphill sections and one solid climb up Dollar Hill at mile 8. For the first time EVER in a race, I welcomed and gladly anticipated the uphill stretches. A chance to enjoy the lack of a cold breeze blowing on me, and to warm up a bit as I climbed. Unfortunately, for every blessed uphill stretch, there must be a downhill blast to follow. And each of these was met with bitter, teeth chattering coldness. As I passed Squaw Village and headed north toward Truckee there was an extended stretch of road where I had to back off the gas pedal as I was just too cold – the temperature was dropping toward 30F, long downhill sections were encountered where speeds easily exceeded 40mph, in the shade away from the comforting warmth of the sun, with the chattering of my teeth echoing through the forest. I couldn’t feel my toes, fingers… well, pretty much anything. But I could still hear it:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

Nothing was going to stop me.

The bike elevation profile as downloaded from my GPS. Brutally cold downhills early. Vicious uphills later with steep, technical descents. Rinse. Repeat. Wow, what a tough, fantastic, beautiful ride!

The bike elevation profile as downloaded from my GPS. Brutally cold downhills early. Vicious uphills later climbing up to 7,200 feet high with steep, technical descents. Rinse. Repeat. Wow, what a tough, fantastic, beautiful ride!

After what felt like an eternity in an icy cold hell, I finally reached Truckee. Bless this town! They had shut down the city center and were holding a big festival in honor of the race. Bands were playing and they were trying to entice people to hang out in city center, visit the local establishments, and cheer on the cyclists as they zoomed by – we would pass through here on the second loop, too, so there would be a constant stream of cyclists all day long. There was a fairly decent turnout of folks there clapping, hollering, ringing cowbells and encouraging us to continue along at breakneck speeds. The best part of this segment, though, was the short climb out of town – yet another chance to warm up a bit! After the welcome relief of that short climb it was just another quick downhill blast and a hard right turn before the start of the first series of climbs. Perhaps CLIMBS might be a more appropriate way of writing that. They were significant… ominous… and looming.

Climbing. Find the right gear and tempo. Churn the legs. Keep the butt on the saddle. And don't stop until you get to the top. 'Eye of the Tiger' straight up that hill!

Climbing. Find the right gear and tempo. Churn the legs. Keep the butt on the saddle. And don’t stop until you get to the top. ‘Eye of the Tiger’ straight up that hill!

The first major climb took us through the gated community that we had only been able to tour the day before the race. The road twisted and turned through the hillside. It went up, a little down, then up a bunch more. It wasn’t too bad, though. It was actually quite manageable and fun… until we reached the part of the course that we couldn’t preview at all. The day before the race they said, “Oh, it’s only about 3/4 of  a mile at about the same grade as the stuff you already came up to get here.”

Ummm… wrong. It was much longer than 3/4 mile. And there was a good 1/2 mile stretch in there that was easily the steepest grade we would face all day. Yeah, they fed us some wrong information. Anyway, that climb proved to be a warming, welcome relief and got the blood flowing. I could finally feel my fingers a bit, and was holding out hope that my toes would follow suit soon thereafter. Gear down… keep the pedals turning over at a constant rhythm… just. keep. moving. up. up. UP! Whenever things started to hurt a bit, turn up the volume in my head:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR

The Ritz Carlton signaled the top of the climb, and the beginning of the first long, technical descent. I took some chances, pedaled through some dicey turns at full speed in an aero position, and passed a ton more cyclists on the downhill. I usually make up most of my ground in races on the uphill stretches (and I was doing exactly that today), but the downhills were proving equally fruitful. Indeed… I ROARED! Heck, there is a really good chance I may have actually let out a barbaric yawp of a roar during that wicked fast descent.

After a few minutes of blasting down the road the main highway was reached, and the climb up Brockway Pass began. I knew what I was in for, having driven over it twice in the past few days, and just started patiently and consistently churning my way up the road. The elevation kept on ticking upward. The legs kept on spinning. I kept on passing other cyclists. As the summit neared, the crowds began to thicken, almost like something out of a Tour de France race. No need for the song now… the crowd was giving us all we needed to launch forward up the hill. We got that extra kick of adrenaline we all needed to power on through the summit and on down into the long, sweeping descent. I instantly kicked it into high gear and started cranking – reaching speeds upward of 55mph. Wow! Quite the rush! And, finally, it was beginning to warm up a bit so that rush of wind didn’t completely chill me to my core. Before I knew it I had reached Kings Beach. Lap 1 was complete!

Lap 2 was a completely different experience from the first. The first part of the course was still fast, but there were far fewer people for me to pick through. And, most imp0rtantly, the air wasn’t quite so bitter cold. The focus was squarely on keeping up with the fuel and hydration intake on a regular basis, gunning down the occasional salt tablet to prevent muscle cramping, and just keep moving forward at a steady – but not t00 fast – pace. I gunned down a bunch of cyclists as I raced along the lake for the second time, and jockeyed back and forth with a couple of racers… until the second turn up the quick out-and-back spur up Carnelian Woods Ave started again and I dropped them quickly, never to see them again. This was right near the condo, and I could hear the familiar ringing of the cowbell and cheering from Lauren, Papa Jeff, and Suzanne (with a disinterested Theo in tow). They made it around the course and were cheering us along – right at about the halfway point of the race. An incredibly welcome sight, indeed. Halfway done – and that wasn’t so bad.

The descent into Truckee was much faster this time thanks to the warming of the air. I got into a little back-and-forth with a group of cyclists between Squaw Valley and Truckee – they would accelerate and pass me… I would have a burst a mile later and accelerate to pass them. Now I really began to understand the concept of cycling packs in the pro race: though you can’t draft, having other cyclists around you, taking turns surging forward, can really provide motivation and accelerate the pace of the race. And, yes, every time I made the surge forward, there it was:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

As we passed through Truckee the second time, racing through the cheering crowds lining the streets, and began the quick climb out of town, I lost contact with the pack – they couldn’t hang on the punchy little climb. I was a little sad to see them go, as it was a ton of fun blasting the downhill and flats with them. Oh, well. I still had plenty of cyclists in front of me to target and run down.

Before long I returned to the entrance of the gated community and what was certain to be the most difficult 15 mile section of the race: the twin climbs. The ascents the second time around were a bit more difficult as the legs were starting to get a little fatigued, and recovery took a bit longer thanks to the altitude. Plus, it was starting to get warm. The climb up to the Ritz took a little longer than the first time, but I got there without pushing myself too hard, and was still passing others the entire way. The chorus was stuck on repeat the entire climb.

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

The technical descent from the Ritz this time was even more fun, as I remembered the parts of the hill where I could be even MORE aggressive this time, and I took full advantage of that – I was quite literally FLYING down that section of the course, passing other cyclists almost as though they were standing still. More than once I heard the exclamation, “Holy, —-!!!” as I raced past. I didn’t have the entire chorus in my head now… too many words to process as everything was happening so fast… it was simply screaming constantly in my head:

Eye of the tiger! ROAR! ROAR! ROAR!!!!!

Brockway Pass was also a little more difficult, partially because the field had thinned out considerably, but mostly due to fatigue. Halfway up the pass I heard a whole bunch of hooting, hollering, honking, and cowbells. Yep, Lauren, Papa Jeff, and Suzanne were stuck in the long line of cars making their way the other direction coming over the pass as they were headed to the finish line and T2 area at Squaw Valley. That was a welcome adrenaline kick.

Finally, I got over the pass, assisted by the crowds of rowdy spectators, blasted the descent, and finished off lap 2. Only the stretch between Kings Beach and Squaw Valley – the 1/2 lap in the 2 1/2 lap course – remained. I was going to do this thing!

Eye of the tiger…

Third and last detour up Carnelian Woods Avenue, and the 100 mile marker! Only 12 miles left! Just keep the legs churning!

fighter…

Third and last climb and descent of Dollar Hill.

I am a champion…

Third and last blast through Tahoe City. Put on the jet packs out of town… churn, churn, churn… 104 miles. Just a few miles left. Follow the white line, catch that next guy…

you’re gonna hear me…

BOX!!!!????????

Asphalt. Sky. Trees. More asphalt. More skies. More trees. Crunching. Blood. Scraping. Grinding. Panicked screaming (not me). Pain. Lots of pain.

The story continues, and the mystery of the box revealed, in the next blog post: IMLT – Race Report Part 4 – Run

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IMLT – Race Report Part 2 – Swim

I HAD a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I RACED in Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we’ve reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052! The winners of our last fundraising activity will be notified soon.

For the next few blog posts, I’ll be giving the race report for the inaugural edition of Ironman Lake Tahoe. I started with the Prologue, today is the Swim, and I’ll follow up with the Bike, Run, and Epilogue posts over the next several days. Patience, grasshopper.

Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 – Race Report Part 2 – Swim

We left off the Prologue with a bit of a personal shock: Katy Perry gave me a solid dose of morning motivation.

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar

The Kings Beach area was an absolute zoo, so we wove our way through neighborhood streets, found a decent place to park, grabbed my gear, and began the hike to the swim start and T1 area. It was dark, freezing cold, and there were thousands of us all headed to the same place. I was getting into my mental pre-race place, with that darn song echoing through my head… “Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR!

I flashed my blue Ironman wristband, peeled off the layers so the volunteers could write my numbers and age on my arms and calf – kind of funny, because I would be wearing arm and calf sleeves all day and they would never show… but rules are rules.

Next stop: finish prepping the bike. I went to take off the plastic bags I had put on the handlebars and seat yesterday to keep them dry – recall the monsoon that hit when I checked in the bike the previous day. Taking them off was an, um, interesting prospect as they were completely frozen solid. Seriously. Literally frozen to the bike. After breaking them off the bike I gave the chain a thorough lubing, added the water bottles filled with Skratch Labs hydration, and filled up my front aero bottle with a steaming hot Zipfizz concoction – I was thinking it would be nice to have a warm beverage the first several miles of what promised to be a bitter cold bike ride.

After the bike was ready to rock, I headed over to the bike gear bags, removed the placeholder rock from the bag, and inserted the bag containing my cycling gear. The only thing left to do: take off the warm clothes and put on the wetsuit. That was a quick process, and then we all began the mass migration toward the lake shore for the race start – still wearing my fleece-lined slippers and sipping on coconut water.

Just me and a couple thousand of my closest friends for the day trying to stay warm and not psych ourselves out looking over the 2-loop swim course.

Just me and a couple thousand of my closest friends for the day trying to stay warm and not psych ourselves out looking over the 2-loop swim course.

I thought I was going to be nervous… but it was too cold to be worried about the swim at this point; I was more worried about not losing a toe to the cold! And the snow staring at us from the mountains, not that far above us at all, though quite beautiful, was an omnipresent reminder of just how cold a day we were in for…

At 6:30am the canon BOOMED to signal the start for the pro men – they sprinted out into the water and began their rapid domination of the swim course. Nobody came running back out, and they seemed to be doing just fine. We all were going to be just fine in that water… and in a strange turn of circumstance we were all very eager to get out there as the water was MUCH warmer than the air. I gave up my warm slippers and hydration, made the final decision on goggle selection (it was still quite dark, so the light blue lenses would serve me better than the dark tint), and began the waiting game. Standing in the freezing cold sand.

No nerves for the swim this race. We were calm, cold, and ready to start our loooong day in the cold.

No nerves for the swim this race. We were calm, cold, and ready to start our loooong day in the cold.

The pro women started at 6:35am, a quick singing of the national anthem followed, and then we mere mortals, the age group athletes, had our chance! The race was originally supposed to be a mass start – the gun goes and all 2,700-ish would race into the water at once in a chaotic mass. Due to the anxiety many triathletes have regarding the swim (myself included) they’ve begun what they call the ‘SwimSmart Initiative‘ for several Ironman races. In most short-course and 70.3 races the race begins with wave starts every few minutes based on your age group. At Lake Tahoe they opted to use a rolling, self-seeding start. You queued yourself up based on your anticipated swim time (volunteers were holding signs with general time brackets) – I hung out near the back of the 1:20:00 to 1:30:00 swim group – and at 6:40am we all began our migration toward and into the water.

I arrived at the timing mat near the water edge at about 6:50am – which means my times for the day would be 10 minutes after the start of the age group competition, and 20 minutes after the male pros. My race time had officially begun, and we all began our steady march into the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe.

As the sun poked over the mountains, a steady mist began to rise off the lake. Near the shore it was nearly impossible to see 10 feet in front of you, let alone see the swim buoys… so the best we could do was swim along with everybody else, spot every several strokes and watch for a buoy that was certain to emerge from the mist at some point, and adjust where required.

A beautiful morning at the lake. The early morning mist would start off looking benign... but would later become a soupy mess as the sun came up.

A beautiful morning at the lake. The early morning mist would start off looking benign… but would later become a soupy mess as the sun came up.

Due to the rains the previous day and the cold temperatures, the water nearest the shore was a bit chilly. As we swam farther out into the lake, though, the temperatures began to warm up and became quite comfortable. Not a bathtub by any stretch, but certainly better than standing on 32 degree sand!

I tried to get into an early groove. Slow and steady… breathe from the right side… spot for the buoys every 4 breaths… Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

But a couple hundred yards into the swim I couldn’t catch my breath. The suit wasn’t constricting my chest. I wasn’t swimming too fast. I wasn’t having the usual anxiety attack in the early part of the swim. What was going on? I stopped, looked around, tried to recompose myself, took a couple of breaststrokes and sidestrokes, and resumed swimming. But it happened another 50 yards or so later. Repeat the process every 50 to 100 yards. This was not a great start… not a great start at all… At one point I grabbed onto the kayak of a course volunteer to gather myself.

The Ironman Lake Tahoe swim course. Swim out about 1/2 mile, turn left and swim a couple hundred yards, swim back about 1/2 a mile toward shore... take a left turn and repeat. 2.4 miles of swimming crystal clear waters.

The Ironman Lake Tahoe swim course. Swim out about 1/2 mile, turn left and swim a couple hundred yards, swim back about 1/2 a mile toward shore… take a left turn and repeat. 2.4 miles of swimming crystal clear waters.

As I neared the first turn a swim safety raft was anchored. I grabbed hold and stopped for a second to gather myself once again, and loosened up the velcro fastener at the neck of my wetsuit. Suddenly I could breathe and catch my breath! Dammit! I thought I had fastened it loosely enough while on shore! I started swimming again with ease… a moderated pace at first, and then accelerating as I made my way around the first turn. The swim went from being incredibly difficult and something I was just going to work through… into being a lot of fun!

I rounded the second turn and fell into a solid groove. I was feeling great!

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

I started passing other swimmers by the droves. I fought off a swimmer that was angling toward the middle of the swim course and cutting a bunch of us off – come on, dude, spot every once in a while! – and resumed my swim after a quick curse. After a few minutes the mist started to build back up, the water temperature dropped, and the bottom of Lake Tahoe could be seen through the crystal clear waters – yep, shore was approaching and the end of lap 1 was near! I made the left turn at the buoy… and the water was shallow enough to stand up! Nice! I took a second to stand up and look around. The crowd on shore was cheering loudly, cowbells and airhorns echoing off the water. Yeah. This was pretty stinking awesome!

Most of the swimmers opted to take advantage of the shallow water and walk the 100 yards or so along the front stretch; I kept on swimming and darted by them all. It might be nice to walk, but it was slower and used up more energy that I would like to keep in reserve for later in the day. One more left turn and I was headed back toward the middle of the lake.

Lap 2 was fantastic. No angst, no drama, I made it around without stopping or pausing. In fact, I was gaining speed around the course as my confidence was building. Even louder now it coursed through my head:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

And before I knew it, the shore was emerging through the mist and I was done with the swim. I jumped up out of the water, unzipped my wetsuit, ripped my goggles and caps (yes, I double-capped to keep my head warm) off my head and left them in my arm sleeve as I pulled the top of the wetsuit off inside out, running through the timing mat and toward the transition.

Hey, that's me crossing the timing mat as I exit the water! Hellooooo T1!!!

Hey, that’s me crossing the timing mat as I exit the water! Hellooooo T1!!! Time to get down to business!

Boy was it cold!

And boy did I feel like ROARING! I felt good. Damn good.

But, wow, so COLD.

Did I mention that it was cold!?

My targeted swim time was between 1:20:00 and 1:30:00. Even with that horrible first 1/2 mile I turned in a far better time than planned. A solid 1:19:32!

I ran into the transition area, a volunteer told me to sit down as I was taking off the wetsuit – she meant business, so I followed her direction. I sat on the cold asphalt, and she ripped that suit off me in 2 seconds flat. I jumped up, she handed me my suit, and I was off and running. I snagged my bike gear bag, flung the wetsuit over my shoulder, and headed for the changing tent…

And then the race took an unexpected twist. Something insane that I had never expected to encounter…

The story continues, and the twist revealed, in the next blog post: IMLT – Race Report Part 3 – Bike

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