In the 2013 second chance tour, I’m batting 1.000.
2012 25K Hyner Trail Challenge: DNS. 2013 25K Hyner Trail Challenge: Finished.
2012 Devilman Half-lite: DNF (bike fail). 2012 Devilman Half-lite: Finished.
2012 Eagleman 70.3: DNF mile 66. (hot mess, ride in a police car, manhood in question)
2013 Eagleman 70.3……………………………..
So there’s the bottom line. Eagleman wasn’t easy, I didn’t hit any time goals, but I officially finished.
OK, that’s the short race report. But NPH has a question.
I won’t say my race had as much pointless suffering as that movie, but there were many attractive people in tight fitting clothing making pain faces, so that’s something.
I doubt you’ll read this very often, but I can highly recommend sleeping on a camp cot the night before and after a half ironman. We camped about an hour away from Cambridge, in a quiet campground along the Nanticoke River. It’s a very deep and wide river, really more like the Chesapeake itself than the Choptank. I’m sure a local hotel would have been comfortable, but our family includes a dog, and the motels sold out months ago. It also provided the fun of setting up camp in pouring down rain, and striking camp in rain. But it was worth it just for this picture.
OK, before I get to the actual race, I have to talk about the day before. The experience of triathlon as it is today extends to the expo, talking to old friends, and in cases like Eagleman, the pro forum and getting photos and autographs. I know that hardcore old-school athletes find this kind of thing the downfall of triathlon, turning it into a participation sport more than a real serious one, but oh well. I enjoy the Disney-fied elements. And as this was a WTC affiliated race, the “whole experience” aura is amped up. Hipsters stay away.
Right in the door, I found my number, and picked up my packet, weighing in to confirm my Clydesdale status. Right behind that spot was the stand from Competitor, signing up Triathlete subscriptions and promoting the TriRock series and Nations Tri. I recognized the staff guy, Mike, from both years at Annapolis. He called me over and told me that he was just talking to someone about the canceled Annapolis race, and how he wouldn’t see The Doughboy. I was flattered to be remembered, and told him I’d be at Nations.
I immediately got in line to meet Andy Potts, who had a half hour session in a booth before the pro forum. I was still 5-6 people away approaching 2:30. Man, it’s not even race day and I am already being chased by a cutoff clock! I got up there in time, and introduced myself and asked him to sign the magazine cover to The Doughboy. He saw the jersey and said “oh please tell me you have a kit for that!” It took a minute for me to realize that yeah, my tritop is Doughboy on Board. Andy was taking time to answer real questions from people one on one, and smiling as much as TJ Tollakson was last year. Every pro triathlete I’ve met in person has been a happy, positive individual. I’ll say the Australians tend to be stone faced by nature, but that’s just a default look, they are just as open and kind. But Andy was effusive.
The pro forum began a few minutes late, and aside from the usual questions, the one really standout, potentially controversial question was about the Kona points system for pros. For those not in the know, basically if you want to race the world championship Kona event that is on TV and to many laypeople, the definition of Ironman, you need to accrue points at other officially branded races. That means you can be first place at Wildflower, Beach to Battleship, or any Challenge series event, and it won’t mean a thing when it comes to qualifying for the “world championship.” The most strong opinion, unsurprisingly, came from James Cunnama who does more non-WTC races. I talked to him briefly after the forum and told him it was good to hear his honest perspective on what a “world championship” should mean. Andy Potts is well-known in WTC races, but also added “I race for a lot of things. Points isn’t one of them.” I believe him.
The forum from left to right: Greg Bennett, Laura Bennett, Andy Potts, Meredith Kessler, Mirinda Carfrae, James Cunnama.
The Bennetts and Potts talked about the experience of the Olympics, and both Greg and Laura had the heartbreak of fourth place. He was commentating on her race in 2012, and remembered the feeling from 2008. But being an Olympian, medal or not, is still a great achievement. It was great to hear about. Other topics included race day ritual/prep, nerves, and the reality of a totally flat course. Rinny rightfully advises to respect it as a constant challenge, with no let up for downhills.
After the Q&A, they did some meet&greet photos and signings. Andy Potts was off like a shot, so I was glad I got in to see him prior. I was equipped with my fanboy pack as I called it. I had a Rinny cover this time (couldn’t find one last year), and a both-Bennetts cover. I practically apologized to Meredith Kessler for not finding a cover of her, but she said a Lava magazine was coming out soon, and thought I was very sweet to even look. Meg and I were both impressed with her attitude and demeanor last year, and count ourselves as Meredith fans.
I didn’t have anything on me with James Cunnama on it, but I was very psyched for this next piece of ultimate WTC swag. Last year I got an Eagleman car magnet for all the pros to sign, which is on a desk in my office. I didn’t see them this year, which was disappointing, but the IM store had something even better. This poster has the names of all competitors on it. My name is just below the E in June. I got all five pros who stayed after the forum to sign it.
I don’t know which concert poster will come down to put this up, but it is definitely going up.
Just about ready to leave the expo for a grocery stop and return to the campsite to feed my family, I saw one more familiar face to check in with. I swim at Susquehanna University, where there are a few other triathletes. A real solid contender for a Kona and/or Vegas slot is a guy who swims there all the time, Marty Owens. Marty is the track and field coach at SU, and qualified for and raced Kona twice before. He has been in this tri game for a long time. I was hoping to see him do well.
I still had to check in my bike and then I was done for the preparations.
Finally I got my fill of the scene. It’s like tailgaiting before a game, or scoping the lot at a Phish show. Except there’s no alcohol, no drum circle, nothing being smoked, and everyone is in bed by 10pm, and up crazy early. Time to eat, sleep, and get off the feet.
Hey Did You Actually do a Race or What?
Up at 4:45, off the cot, and the whole family is in the car on the way to Cambridge. As I got out of the car and started walking to transition, I suddenly realized I did that rookie thing: I forgot my timing chp. I had placed it in the new backpack I was given at packet pickup, but never transferred it to my transition bag. Oops. Luckily, they figure on a few of doing this, and I got a replacement chip with no worries. Another racer who left all his important stuff behind was really anxious, and was pinning his bib to his trisuit, so I offered up a spare race belt which seemed to make his day. I may be slow, but I like being helpful. I left a few sharpies at the pro forum since no one seemed to have brought any. For anyone who may have tried to track me on ironmanlive.com, this is why I appeared to be invisible. My original chip wasn’t live. Results are accurate though.
I was fortunate to be in an early wave. National Anthem was 6:40, pro men at 6:45. I went in the water for a 7:15 start. Some people had to wait until 8:30. I had enough time to watch the pros start, get in my suit, and get ready to go. I asked a spectator with a cell phone to snap one and send it to my number. Thanks random dude!
I have a suggestion for anyone DJing races. Look and see what Age Group is lining up to go into the water next, and play a song that was popular when those people were 20. I entered the water with Clydesdales as well as all men over 55. I was glad to hear some Black Crowes. Too much Black Eyed Peas otherwise. Hey, I take music seriously, OK? This is where I came up with my useless wave-start DJ idea. I need to think about something other than the race. I’ll psych myself out if I dwell on the reality of the mileage ahead too much.
Two waves before mine was the 55+ women. I stood right along side the entrance, just impressed with this group of women in their 60s and 70s about to do this thing. There was one woman over 80 who started. I had wanted to meet her at some point, and this became my chance. She is Sister Madonna Buder. She has the world record as oldest woman to complete a full Ironman. She wrote the book pictured to the right. Alongside me, talking to the women in the wave, was the man I recognized as the race director/founder Robert Vigorito. I asked him if that was the sister, and told him “well, you have at least two clergy racing today.” That comment got his attention, and he wanted to know who the other was. When I told him “me!” he quickly got Sister Buder’s attention and introduced us, and I shook hands and wished her well. I told her my only goal was to try and catch up to her. Within three minutes, they were in the water, and the announcer handed her the microphone where she gave some nice words on the blessing of the day. I don’t have this book yet, but it is in my top five next-purchases.
At 7:11, we entered the water, and I had one more fun side experience before actually swimming. I had bought this set of goggles at the expo the day before, I love the style, but they’re actually functional, as they are polarized. All my dark or mirrored goggles have been less than helpful for open water. I have to say the polarized lenses are definitely worth it. They do stand out though, and I figure that last place may as well travel in style. I get in the water with my wave, and a man in his 70s is wearing a pair. I say “hey nice goggles!” He says “you too!” I add “I just bought them yesterday. I love the polarized lenses.” He is surprised. “You bought them here? I thought they only gave them out at Kona last year.” This is what we call a backdoor brag. And it was the best one I heard in a long time.
Time To Swim
Anyone who reads this blog knows that my biggest love/hate is the swim. I want to become a distance swimmer. I know that I could do well right now even with the weight. But still, my technique is terrible, and I am as slow a swimmer as I am a biker and runner. But I have accepted this truth for race day, and I go steady, and easily. It’s a long way. I don’t really have much to say about this swim. At the second turn around, I found we could stand up quite easily, and I remarked to another guy on his feet “hey, I ain’t too proud to wade.” As I breathe on my right, the sun was now in my face for the last leg, and the investment in the awesome goggles was paying off.
I ended up swimming a 57:29, far slower than last year’s already slow 50:47. Hey, I was happy to be on land. I spotted my family along the exit where there were many spectators. I tossed my goggles to my son, Mean Joe Green style. “hey kid!”
In transition, I had to make a decision. I had already decided ahead of the race that I would be doing a newbie thing, even though this was not my first race. I still struggle with comfort on the bike. I am sure more time, fit and saddle adjustments will help. But right now, I know that when I ride longer in bike shorts, I do so much better than I do in my tri shorts. So the plan was to change into bike shorts, then running shorts. The extra time it would take in a port-a-potty would be worth the comfort for the hours I’d be out there.
But then, I realized that unlike 2012, there were no port-a-potties inside transition. And even with a towel wrapped around me, I’m not as smooth as Lori Petty in Point Break. This change isn’t happening. I’m not about to get a DQ for public nudity. So, the bike shorts go on over my jammers.
Is This an Xterra Race?
Great Marsh Park is appropriately named. We had great weather following the pass through of tropical storm Andrea, but the rain took its toll. Getting in and out of the bike course was a mudfest. Most of us carried our bikes to the line. My bike shoes look like they went on a trail run.
On to the course, and biking away.
56 Miles to Go
I have to take each leg of a triathlon of this length one at a time. I can’t even think about doing the next step. Just do this piece, then think about the next later. If I were a hard-charging Zone 24 guy, this would be a bad strategy. But for me, it’s necessary. I made a plan to stop at each aid station to get off the bike. I had done that last year, as well as about 4-5 unplanned roadside stops. My bike split in 2012 was 4:15:21. I wanted to break 4 hours this time. That would be in line with the course cutoff and expected pace of at least 14mph. I had a cushion of time with a very early wave start, but I assumed I would need much of it for the run.
My first ten miles, I checked the time every lap. I was averaging slightly over 15mph. I got a bit faster after the first two. I was comfortable with this. I knew I would likely slow down at some point, but keeping under four minute miles was all I could focus on. Steadily do that, and I will get it done.
I did see a few pacelines go by, a topic of great discussion at Slowtwitch, but I couldn’t put any energy into caring about that. I had a race against one, the 2012 DNF. I took advantage of my planned stops. I should have stopped at the penalty tent area, because the smaller aid offered there meant that the next full station would be much farther along. I pressed through, and remembered the exact roadside spots where I had sat in the grass before. Just passing them was a victory.
I Finally Know the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.
For those familiar with 1980s sci-fi comedy classics, the answer is of course……
The joke of the series is that while the supercomputer built to determine the answer spit out this number, the question wasn’t clear. So what is the question then?
For me, it is this:
how many miles will I complete on my bike before doing something stupid and almost ruining my race?
Yes, at mile 43, I stopped at the last-chance-for-gas aid station and used the port-a-potty. I took my shoes off as my feet were starting to scream in pain. I stepped into the port-a-potty which, like another on the run course, was so tilted from its placement against the road grade, that I really imagined this happening.
With care, this did not happen. My balance issues are probably all in my head, as we discovered at the Hyner Challenge two months ago. I returned to my bike confident. I checked my watch and saw that with a steady effort, I should easily make that four hour split with room to spare. Awesome.
And then I promptly fell down.
Yup, I clipped in on the right, and started out, forgetting that I was in the biggest gear, my balance shifted to the right, and I went down, hard. And what did I land on? Of course that would be my right knee. That’s the knee that I damaged in 2000, tearing the meniscus ligament. The same knee that came back from Hyner with a major wound. The wound was, as of two days ago, a scar/scab. I forgot about it. Well, that scab was a convenient section of skin to rip off altogether. Before I even looked down, I knew. I just knew.
But there would be no milkshake.
I do a lot of movie references. Try to keep up.
I bled fast and furious. It was dramatic. People were not sure what to do. I got a bottle of water and rinsed it off. It bled brighter. I used a second bottle. It didn’t stop.
What am I going to do, stop racing? It seemed to slow down, but was still trickling. I got on my bike and continued. I’m not letting a little something like missing flesh stop me. I’m not exactly wolverine, but skin grows back. I am overdue to donate blood, so I have at least a pint to spare. I was mostly mad that blood was getting on my brand new $14 socks.
The knee was definitely a bit stiff, but I could function. I had a renewed energy, the endorphin rush from pain. I used it to try and catch up with lost time. Approaching the finish, I saw a sea of people on the run course, going in both directions. A bit more energy to finish strong. There is a big house party that cheers everyone on in town, part of both bike and run courses. I rolled by and squirted a row of party goers with my last water. As I rolled into transition, I knew I was seconds away. I missed my goal by less than a minute, logging an official bike split of 4:00: 53. OK, close enough. It’s not like 4 hours is some grand goal time anyway. I’m still on track.
In transition I stripped off the bike shorts, changed shoes, and went running in my jammers. The run course starts with a wide swing around the finish area, then runs parallel to the finish chute. Andy Potts was standing on our side, cleaned up and finished. I exclaimed “hey it’s Andy Potts!” He shot back “hey doughboy! Good to see you!” I asked who won, and he did. Off to finish this thing.
At this point last year, my wife met me at the street corner and told me “I’m already impressed.” I knew she had the kids and dog back at the campsite this time, and I was glad they were relaxing. Triathlon spectating is hard enough,but when you’re dealing with record setting slowness, it’s excruciating.
I was settling into a decent pace for me in the first mile, when I saw a guy wearing vibrams. Here’s the start of the conversation.
“Hey, nice vibrams. You run in them a lot?”
“First time in a tri.”
“I only go short distances in mine. I did a whole sprint beach tri in them once. That was fun.”
“Um, do you blog about racing a lot?”
“Yeah actually I do.” – point to racing kit name
“Dude! I read all your race reports! I read about your DNF last year, and your broken spoke race, and the mountain run….”
So that was cool. We talked for a while. He was doing his first triathlon. He ran the Marine Corps Marathon in the vibrams. And how’s this for a similar story: he was on a bike that someone handed him for free too. When I asked how he came across my blog, I loved the answer. “Well, I decided to do this, and googled things like first half ironman, fat, slow, old, race reports.” I suppose he hit the motherlode of keywords with me!
I only got your first name at the time, but I found one Rex in the results, and you finished with a solid first timer experience my man. Well done sir.
Like last year, a lot of people commented on the name on the kit, some knew it from BT, some knew my blog. That is always amazing to me. I’m still old enough to think of cyberspace as not really existing. Yet someone reads this, and I get to meet a few of you. Awesome.
At mile three I saw this sign.
I knew what I’d see after the next turn. At mile 4/9. there is an aid station. Last year it was my Waterloo. As I got there on the way out, i told them that when I come back, don’t let me sit in a chair.
I did my best to stay positive and focus on making it to the turnaround strong. Then it’s just getting home, right? I heard more people going by the other way who seemed to know me, saying things like “see man, you did it!” or “I knew you would get there!” And every time, my response was some varaiation of “I’m not there yet.” I remember feeling decent at mile 4-5 last year too. Things happen.
At aid station mile 5, well, you have to PM me on BT for the inside joke if you want to hear it. I won’t put it out publicly, but I had a very funny exchange with some great volunteers.
Approaching the turnaround, there were fewer people to be seen. I was still getting passed quite a bit. Remember, some people started this race 75 minutes after me. I was no longer convinced I would make a clean 8:30 finish, which the last wave would have to do. I had bonus time from my start. That may not be fair, but I hear through the rumor mill on the course that if you come in past 5:00, they let you finish, it’s just not announced at the line. Look, cutoffs, waves, and fairness are all for another article.
Getting to the turnaround, it is hot. Africa hot. Tarzan can’t take this kind of hot.
OK, still not as hot as 2012. But pretty flipping hot.
Why Triathletes Don’t Play Ball Sports
At this point I am trying to keep up with another goal. Thank every volunteer. These folks are out there all day, in the heat, catering to our needs. And we are dirty. You fast people who go through a race first never see this. But when you’re last, you see all 10,000 cups on the ground at the aid stations. They clean up with rakes, shovels, and walk a mile or more each way to get the straggler cups that people hang onto and let go way too late.
Can anyone possibly get their cup into a trash can? There’s a reason we’re not basketball players apparently.
Wait, I’m Still “Running”
Oh, but it’s a long way yet when you’re this beaten up, this hot, this fat. I got this far last year. I did not finish then. Focus man. Keep happy. Keep joking with aid station volunteers and other racers.
The ambulance was coming for someone who cramped up and stopped at the turnaround station. The day is taking its toll. At this point, I’m meeting CJ of Lucky Lizard Studios. Please check out that site or visit her etsy shop to support some worthy charities. I’m picking one out tonight. I have trouble remembering everyone I met, but if I have it right, she is doing IM Louisville. Keep on training, you’ll get that 140.6.
What can I really say about the last miles? I was slowed to a 21-22+ minute per mile pace. My feet were screaming. The knee was dramatic, and everyone agreed it looked badass, but the real difficulty was my feet. I was convinced that I must have enormous bloody blisters in those shoes, but I wasn’t going to look.
I jogged for short spots, not for speed, but to get a different pattern of pressure on my feet. That worked a bit. Just forward bipedal motion is all I could muster.
Somewhere around mile 8.8-9, two women passed by that seemed pretty energetic for the time of day. One saw my shirt and asked if I did a race in Jersey last month. She was at the finish line of Devilman when I came in dead last. Their encouragement was one more piece of pick-me-up that I put to good use.
In the distance I saw it. The mile 9.5 aid station. This is where I melted down last year. This is where I quit. This would not a repeat. This was not going to be a finish line. I was just as weakened, stiff, sore, slow, and with messed up feet as I was at this point last year. But I had something in me that I didn’t have last year. More will? Determination? I don’t know. I just know this was not a good day to quit. I approached the station as a family of volunteers came out with water, still packing away most of the station. A woman at the table remembered and said “well there you are. Keep moving.”
And I did.
I got to see this sight behind me for the first time.
Now, I declared, this is what I came to do. I came to do 70.3 miles, sure. But mostly, I came to do these four miles. These are the ones that count. They will be slow miles. They will be borderline pathetic miles. They will be torturous miles. But they will be done. Some quick math determines that I am still on track to beat the 5pm cutoff, but not by much. No longer do I think I will get to listen for familiar names at the 4pm Kona slot rolldown. No, I just need to get there before the finish line closes.
Even now, I refuse to entertain any ideas of “You did it!” I could still stop. I could still lock up, fall down, and pass out. Those were all real possibilities.
Back through the “lava field” mile, and into town, looking for that block party. I knew it would be smaller, but their mist tent would still be going. It was. I made more on-course late finishing friends.
Getting to the last mile, I knew I was cutting it really really close. I could see the finish line, but knew it was far away. The last on course support that really made me smile came within the last half mile. There was a really nice house along the waterfront street, where a dog, Mom and kid were still out in the yard. The boy looked to be about Jack’s age. He was wearing a full Imperial Stormtrooper outfit, holding the helmet by his side. I thanked him for wearing it as it made me smile.
Close to the line, people are getting in to cars and leaving, volunteers and athletes alike. Some look at me and provide encouragment, some look puzzled, as if to say “holy cow, he took HOW LONG?”
I make the last turn before the park with less than 12 minutes before 5pm. I still don’t know if I will make it to the finish, probably 1/4 mile total, in that time.
But I do. I finish with a smile. I finish without sobbing. I finish happy.
After a medal, some wet towels and an ice cold bottle of water, I exit the finish chute to see my family. It is a good day.
The Damage Done
The massage tent is breaking down, but I practically beg for one more, and they take pity on me. Here’s another group of people who put in a harder day than us. Hearing them compare notes, it is clear that a first timer to an endurance event finish line is in for a heck of an experience. Each one of them handled over 20 people, one after another, and they didn’t mess around. I got worked over by a very large, strong, therapist named Greg, who combined massage, reflexology, chiropractic, and yoga-against-your-will into a session that I will not soon forget.
The call for transition closing was being made, so I limped to gather my things. One more smile for the camera.
For The “Fallen”
Whether a pro, a first timer, a celebrity, or a Kona hopeful, things can happen.
Mirinda Carfrae dropped out on the bike for the second year in a row,. She tweeted that her hamstring locked up.
My poolmate Marty had a rough day. He broke three spokes and DNFed. His tale is here
Sister Madonna logged a swim split slightly slower than mine, and a transition time. She DNF’ed somewhere on the bike course.
But the worst situation of the day befell Meredith Kessler. She was hit head-on by an AG male who crossed the yellow line to make a wide turn. She was knocked unconscious and was hospitalized with a concussion. I hope to hear of a full recovery for her soon.
Out of 2100 starters, there were many DNFs, a few DQs (finished but unofficial for violations) and always some DNS.
Today I was not among those numbers. I was an official finisher. Says so right here.
The 2013 second chance tour continues at the Lewisburg Sprint Triathlon (bike stolen/lost/abducted by aliens). possibly Dewey Beach (bike fail dnf: bandited run), Chilli Challenge (went off bike course: self-DQ).