As promissed, here are the dirty details of how I survived the event.
I made sure to have a full week of tapering – just one hard workout the week before and one mild one to stay loose. The swim was what I was most nervous for because I know the run would just be managing the pain and I’d be almost done so I was counting on those built up endorphins and adrenaline to see that part through. The swim though… I had no idea.
It also was the first time I swam with other people in my lane, and I was instructed to stay on the right side near the lane separators; already throwing variation into the mix. Within a few seconds I was on-top of another swimmer and I had to “go around” them forcing me to swim faster than I wanted to or I would not be able to keep a steady pace as I was used to in practice. For the next 4 lengths/2 laps I continuously had people in my way. The problem was that even though I would pass them and get to the end first, those 50 meters wiped me out every time, and I had to wait so long to be able to “go again” that they would get to the end and start out again before I did. After 2 laps of that, I started leaving before they made it to the end, and I guess that is how I took my average time of 40 minutes to an average of 31 to complete those 700 meters. Certainly not a good time for a good swimmer, but it beat my best by at least 5 minutes, and I was just happy to get out of the water.
Now came my event. I was super psyched to get on my bike, and I was ‘flyin” for me. There was a circuit involving a hill that you would climb 4 times. Every time I hit the climb, I pounded it all the way to the top, typically passing everyone I could see. In practice when I rode this route, I was in Zone 2 after the swim for the first lap, then Zone 3 on the second lap, and then Zone 4 after that. I felt like that could give me a pretty good time without crushing my energy. Well, my adrenaline and enthusiasm got the best of me and I hit Zone 5 right out of the gate on the first lap. I spent 26 minutes in Zone 5 and 14 in Zone 4 with zero in Zones 1, 2 and 3. My times would confirm I was in the top 3rd of all bike times for all age categories. My secret weapon was my music mix. I spent several days picking the most motivating and super charged music that kept me pushing the entire time.
Ruffling Club Style
So now was time for the run (or “ruffle” in my case – that’s the combination of running and shuffling). Here is where “fate” and other unexplainable things come in. Just as I’m crossing the bike course (the only place runners cross after their ride to start the run), Cathy is coming up the hill on her last bike lap at the precise same time and location. What’s the mathematical probability of that one!?!
With super good vibes I head into the woods, with my music still providing motivation and energy, I felt like I might even have a chance of beating my girlfriend. This was not ever mentioned out loud, but how could I not think about it. I know she is an experienced runner with multiple full marathons under her belt, and well… I figured she would catch me on the run, but now that I was in front, the old “racer mentality” kicked in and I was on a mission to not let her catch me!
In training sessions I could only ruffle for 1 to 2 miles before the pain was too great to continue. My hips might be made of steel now, but many of the muscles around them are a combination of scar tissue and whatever else causes pain when I have impact on them. My music would get me through again because I started dancing through the woods just to keep moving forward and distract me from the pain. The last mile was excruciating, and as I emerged from the woods to the final 300 feet or so before the finish line, my daughter was there ready to run the last bit with me and cheer me on. When she told me to “GO, GO – I’ll run with you!” I told her I could hardly walk let alone run, and then it happened: a guy with my same age written on his calf passed me with the finish line just in the distance. “Oh NO!” I thought – “I’ve not put up with this pain for the last 40 minutes to be last in my age class”. So I did what any crazy competitive person would do – I sprinted to the line, beating the guy who would in the end, be the last one in our age group.
My legs were shaking at the finish line and I collapsed to the ground for about 3 minutes before I could even stand up. This is indeed why I can not do another triathlon. Not sure what toll this one took on my artificial hips, but I wanted to do at least one in my life – mission accomplished, one more thing I can take off my bucket list – and oh yeah, I beat my girlfriend by 6 min. I have bragging rights until she can beat my times, but I promised to help her train to do it. I have no doubt she will kick my ass before she’s done doing triathlons.
I’m sorry, but fake news seems so popular now, I thought I’d try my hand at it LOL. Actually, I am a double hip replacement, and I did do my first triathlon, and I wasn’t last in the race or my age group. So, perhaps that’s what makes fake news so believable, there are elements of truth mixed with “other stuff”. So I would not say I “rocked it”, but I did much better than I thought I would.
I’ve not blogged about my journey for these last 3 months as I needed a break from blogging after almost 3 years of writing for Cycling Fusion and the Post Gazette, a few months off seemed reasonable. So here is my summary of what I thought was not attainable once I got my first hip replacement (right hip). That was about 20 years ago. Oh yeah, then I got my second (left hip) replaced about 10 years ago, and I was glad I had no interest in triathlons since it was now certainly out of the question.
Well, then I met my crazy girlfriend that, despite being the same age as me, still acts like she is 30 years younger and continues to push me to do the same. Clearly swimming was not going to pose a health risk, but I was never taught the right way to swim or do laps. My first 3 swim practices I looked more like I was drowning than swimming (my coach’s words not mine). I eventually, after multiple lessons, learned how to breath and do the correct freehand stroke, but that didn’t change the fact that I felt like I needed a defibrillator at the end of each pool length – a mere 19 meters. How in the world would I swim a 50 meter length 14 times at the start of this triple endurance event?!?
I knew it would get better though, and yes I improved to the point where I could go out and back before feeling exhausted and having to stand and catch my breath at the end of the pool for 15 to 20 seconds. Still, that was only 40 meters – best I could do and I would have to just “deal with it” when the event day came and forced me to swim 50 at a pop.
When I tried to “train” for the run, it was everything from comical to very sad. I could not run more than an 8th of a mile before my hips would be in excruciating pain. So I tried to run just an 8 count of steps/pacing and then walk some. That didn’t work very well either. Then it hit me. I can play 2 to 3 hrs of tennis without hip pain. Why and how did I do that?!? It’s because in the back court you are taking side to side shuffle steps, not running per se except when approaching the net, and that was just a few steps. So, I found a pattern of running forward, and then shuffling sideways, going forward, and then shuffling the other way (first time right leg first, the second time left leg first). I called it “ruffling”.
Yes, people did look at me strangely, as Cathy and I did some group workouts with others training for the same event where we would ride our bikes for so long then get off and run. Surprisingly, I could do about 13 minute miles on the first mile, then the second one would increase way up to 18 and I could never get past mile two as I could not even walk after that. So like the swim, on the event day, I would just have to deal with that last mile somehow.
The day before the event, we went to yoga at the Pittsburgh Botanical Garden to keep our taper and mellow mindset on track. Afterwards we went to get our race packets and get “painted”. Yes, we got numbers written on our legs and arms – making my girlfriend declare “now we are real athletes” LOL. Tru dat.
On my next blog post, I’ll give you all the dirty details of how we survived the event.
It’s not fair to you the reader, to try to know someone after just one reading of a blog post but before I give you a brief recap of my amazing race day Canada, let me back up with some background.
My life has been filled with amazing journeys to exotic locations to race this humbling sport of triathlon. From Panama City, Fl to Lake Placid, NY to Kona, HI, this path for me has been such a blessing on my life.
This past weekend, I toed the start line in picturesque Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, for my 13th Ironman distance race. After discussing with my wife about this being my last Ironman race for a couple years, I came into this day without any pressures, just leave what I had on that course.
Situated in the mountains of a small ski town, Mont-Tremblant presented a racecourse suited perfect for my strengths. Rolling terrain on the bike and a smoothly and not technical run course and most importantly, cool temperatures which gave us the perfect setting for a wonderful day.
Having the experience of racing in the Ironman World Championship, which takes place every October on the second Saturday, I went into this race with no outward expectations of returning - I felt my first time was meant to be my last. Kona is a special place that I shared with my wife and friends and enjoy every step of the race … however, in the back of my mind, qualifying ONE LAST time at Mont-Tremblant would be very sweet!
Race morning is always a puzzle of nerves, anticipation and excitement – you try and piece them together and not explode before the cannon goes off. Cool temps greeted athletes with a light mist grazing over the mountains and the small French town. Perfect!
I made quick work of my transition area; setting up my bottles on my bike and taking one last calm 360 degree look around at my playground for the next 10 hrs. Let’s go to work
The moments before the start of any race are emotional. For me the moments before an Ironman event conjure extreme excitement I can’t find anywhere else. Reminding myself that I deserve to here, with 2500 athletes, vying for the right to call them an Ironman, can be very overwhelming.
Before I knew my 35-39 age group wave was in the water and starting our 2.4 mile tour of the local lake. It was setting up to be a great morning with the mist backing up and settling far above the mountain peaks. I had a perfect path to each bouy and make fast work of the 1 loop swim course in 1:04 hr. Upon exiting the swim finish, I proceeded to my bike, a .25 mile run to pick up my bike transition bag. The volunteers were great in helping me gather my helmet and bike shoes and direct me to the bike out exit.
This course did not disappoint with stunning, sweeping views of the mountain ranges, as I sat in on my pre-race plan of taking the first loop of the bike out strong but not at a sprint-like pace. The key to Ironman racing is patience, however, you have to stay in the moment as to your effort. I repeated this throughout and hitting the second loop of the bike it was my time to start the push. My body was responding perfectly – I was taking in the needed hydration and my nutrition was on point, with taking in the amount of gels and calories set for me.
At mile 90 of the bike, I caught the pro women leader, which gave me huge confidence rolling into the run transition. In past races, my thought process was always ‘get me out of the swim and onto the bike’ which is my strongest discipline of the three; this time around, with a concentrated run training block, my mindset switch and instead was ‘get me off this bike and onto the run course’. My bike time was 5:13. Right where I wanted to be.
You can always gauge how you are going to feel by the first couple steps upon dismounting from your bike – for me, GAME ON! I felt great. I ran into T2, bike to run, calm and collected, and ready to tackle this last leg. I grabbed cups of water and Coca-Cola on the way out and started ticking off the miles. My pace was consistent and strong.
You have a lot of time to ponder various thoughts on a 26.2 mile run, however, in an Ironman, staying focused on the task at hand is crucial. I had to maintain my hydration and not get ahead of myself. Throughout the first 13.1 mile loop I had the pleasure to run with the lead women, one of who was a local Pittsburgh athlete, Beth Shutt, a second year pro out of Natrona Heights. We worked together over the first half and when we broke apart I knew I was on track to do something special.
Coming back through town is always huge boost energy wise. My wife and friends were stationed at a turn to see me run by with loud and emphatic cheers! 13.1 mile to go and I was starting to feel the effects of the long day. I really had to buckle down and keep the mindset of ‘just keep moving’. At some point, you hit a breaking point in a race – that deciding moment when the voices scream for you to stop, just for a couple seconds or minutes … the good athletes tell those voices to go away. I had to try because I was hurting. I gathered one last push up the last two steep hills – I could here the crowd at the finish waiting for me … I could feel the cramping sneaking up … it took everything I had to muster up one last gasp up the last remaining hill and the turn of my life time into the finish chute.
The finish line of an Ironman is something special. It can be described but never duplicated or felt by someone else. As I ran down this ‘yellow brick road’ to my time in the sun, I truly felt this is where I belonged. I took a moment to think about everyone – family, friends and life acquaintances - who had helped me along this journey to MT. My wife, who never ceases to amaze, who handles long training hours, but is right by my side; my family, which embodies ‘it takes a village to raise an Ironman’; and my great friends, who never fall short on inspiration … all join me in spirit to cross the finish line in 9:56 hr. This time gave me 11th in my age group and 52nd overall in the race. This was a personal best time for me in career.
My post race activities switched quickly to recovery - thinking about the unspoken goal of potentially claiming one of the coveted slots to Kona. The afternoon turns into evening and evening into nighttime, all the while dreams are fulfilled with athletes crossing that finish line up until midnight. Mont-Tremblant gave these phenomenal athletes everything it had – tough course, beautiful countryside and the hospitality fit for a royal family.
My utmost appreciation to the lovely residents of Mont-Tremblant.
Oh, and about that little race in October on the big island of Hawaii, in that quaint little town of Kailua-Kona, with 2,000 of the worlds best athletes, ready to tackle sports most challenging day of swimming 2.4 mile, biking 112 mile, and capping the day with a 26.2 mile marathon … see you all on October 11, 2014, as I humbly test myself against this amazing athletes! We are so excited.
Stand by to stand by for that race report. Aloha!