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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