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Race Recap: I am Half an Ironman.

18 September 2017

I did it. And I did it right. And I got lucky. Everything came together for a fantastic day. A couple of small curve balls like you expect in any race. I had a plan, designed by my excellent coach, Marcy Gialdo, and I executed the plan perfectly. Even though I’ve only done one other actual triathlon, where all three events took place. Even though I’ve never done anything this long, or this hard, or this complicated. I’ve always been good at learning and repeating what I’ve learned. And I got it right yesterday, and Marcy set me up for success perfectly.

I arrived at 0530. Set up my transition area. BB accompanied me and was the best pit-crew I could ever ask for. Helped me carry things, got my bike after the race, took pictures, and supported me every step of the way. I finished setting up at about 0610, and then had a wait of about 90 minutes before I got into the water. It was a smooth start, self-seeded, and so I just gathered with people expecting to take about 45 minutes for the swim.

I was among the only people not wearing a wetsuit. The water was 75 degrees, which is plenty warm for me. I just swam in my tri shorts, topless. Very few people were similarly outfitted, but I made a choice not to be ashamed of my body or embarrassed by being different. I was there to compete in a 70.3 mile triathlon, and I was going to finish. My body was going to get me from the start to the end and I would not be ashamed of it.

When it came time to start, I had no time to think. I stepped to the dock, and then the beep sounded, and I jumped in the water. My feet sank into some muck at the bottom, and then I bounced back up and started the crawl. The swim was essentially an out-and-back, and there was a very slight current. It helped me on the way out, which took me about 20 minutes, and made the return leg a little tougher. It was 28 minutes back in.

At one point I swam smack dab into a buoy, and at one point I switched to breaststroke to pee. The first curve ball of the day was that my right armpit chafed pretty bad in the water. 24 hours later, it still hurts, and is red and inflamed. I wandered on the course a little bit, and there was some jostling and kicking, but nothing too bad with regard to collisions with other racers. I passed through the final gates, and found the exit ramp.

The first transition went smoothly. I consciously chose to move deliberately, but steadily. It took me 7 minutes, but felt like three. Shoes, helmet, bandana, glasses, gatorade, and onto the bike. I saw BB and stopped to give her a kiss before heading out for 56 miles.

The bike course was basically three loops, about half on the turnpike, and half through countryside roads. There was great support, bottle exchange, and snacks. I had scratch-blocks, clif-bloks, Krave beef jerky, and a powerbar. I had my pump, and an inner tube, and felt like I knew what to do.

I found myself making very good time. My knee was cooperating, and I executed my anti-numbness campaign perfectly. Standing up in the pedals regularly, shaking out my hands. I was able to keep up a pretty steady 18 mph. Overall I averaged 17.4, on a course which was slightly long (my watch and the race app both had it at 57.1 miles). I actually even got off the bike twice – at mile 20 and 40 – to pee. My big hope was to average 16 mph, which is a 3:30 bike split. But at 17.4, I finished the bike course in about 3:16. The second curveball was a piece of beef jerky with habanero in it. SPICY and I feared for my stomach. No problem, though.

The bike will humble you. More than once I was passed by, for example, 60+ year old women who I would not have guessed were in better shape than me. They were. And because it was a looped course, the elites passed me too, blazing by on $10,000 bikes at 28 mph that sounded like being passed by a spaceship. I saw lots of people changing out flat tires. And I saw one woman, who I ended up running with later, who fell and had a couple of horrible strawberries.

Finally finishing the bike course, I came in to transition and hung up my bike. Changed shoes. I had planned to change socks, expecting to sweat like hell on the bike. But I didn’t. The weather was perfect. Day started at 69, got up to about 77. Humidity was high, according to the weather report, but it didn’t feel that muggy. There was a light breeze throughout, and it was overcast. I ended up with a lot of color from the UV anyway. I tend not to wear sunscreen, and so I’m glad it wasn’t sunnier than it was. I will wear some if I ever do this again.

The run started on the airport runway. I started a bit fast, and was watching my pace. Thinking I’d been running for a while, and was approaching a mile, I looked down and saw I’d gone 0.28 miles. I was afraid it was gonna be a loooong run. I stopped at 1.5 miles for a porta-potty, and then ran through downtown Atlantic City and onto the boardwalk. The slats of the boardwalk were flashing by and making this hypnotic illusion as I ran. I was starting to really think it was going to be a long day.

Then I ran into someone wearing a shirt from an organization I know in ECC, and started chatting with her. Turns out she works at MECMC too. Then that woman who fell on the bike course caught up with us and joined in. We chatted together as a group of three for about 8 miles – from two to ten. It saved my race. I got out of my head, out of my pain, and into a good run. We just started knocking down 11 minute miles, one after another.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep up with them anymore. I let them leave me behind as I faded a bit. But I was determined not to have to walk except for the water stations. I jogged slowly, even turning in a 14 minute mile at one point, but I kept jogging. My hip flexors were screaming at me, and my glutes were completely cashed in. As you go on in a long race, your gait changes to recruit muscles that aren’t as tired into the effort to keep going.

Except that after 68 miles, everything is tired. Everything is in pain. My core, my butt, my hamstrings, my quads, none of them had anything left to recruit. Until I finally saw the finish line. A shot of adrenaline made my legs tingle, and someone I was running next to said, “let’s go”, and I lengthened my stride and ran through the final arch at a real running pace, as they called my name, in six hours and fifty-two minutes.

The run itself took me 2:33. That’s five minutes faster than my first half-marathon, in Pittsburgh, three and a half years ago. And for that one, I didn’t swim and bike first for four-plus hours first. The change in my fitness is amazing. The capability I feel is amazing. The things I can do when I accept that they’re hard and just try to keep going are amazing.

I did it. I completed a half-Ironman triathlon, 70.3 miles, and maybe a touch more. I didn’t start to feel really gassed until mile 10 of the run. I trained well enough, for 8 months. I had setbacks, I had triumphs. And in the end, I performed better than I imagined. Initially afraid I would be in danger of the cutoff times, I actually finished with more than ninety-five minutes to spare.

I was almost perfectly smack-dab in the middle. Overall, I was in the 51st percentile (where the first is the best). Among men, I was in the 58th percentile, and the 62nd percentile among men in my age group. So I was in the slower half, but not by a whole lot. I was decidedly mediocre, and not bad. And the fact that I can finish in the middle of the pack among people who recreationally compete in 70.3 mile races? That’s amazing to me.

I feel like an athlete today. I feel proud. And sore. And tired. And a little hungry. And I think that’s exactly where I should be. Not bad for a formerly obese, pack-a-day smoking alcoholic. Not bad, really, for anyone, I think.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 September 2017 11:54

    Oh my God, this made me cry! I am so so so so impressed with you. Please revel in those lovely feelings of athleticism. Don’t diminish them.

    I get kind of weirded out when people say they are proud of me, because I think “what are you, my mom?” So I hope you don’t think it is weird for me to say – I am so proud of you! You have come so so so far. In a relatively short period of time.

    Thanks for the great race report. I am so happy for you.

  2. Aimee permalink
    18 September 2017 13:19

    Congratulations, bro. You rock.

  3. 18 September 2017 18:46

    I am truly impressed and incredible.

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