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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.

48 Hours.

15 September 2017

In 48 hours I will be immersed in a salt-water canal adjacent to an abandoned airport in New Jersey. And no, I’m not a mob informant.

The triathlon kicks off in 46 hours and 45 minutes, so in precisely two days I ought to be swimming. Hopefully about a 50 minute swim followed by a 5 minute transition followed by a two hundred and ten minute bike ride followed by a five minute transition followed by a one hundred and sixty minute run. That’s what I’m hoping for. That gets me done in just over seven hours.

I think I can do it. I don’t know if I can do it. But I think I can do it. I’m gonna try like hell.

The Taper Crazies.

13 September 2017

My knee hurts. Like, worse than it has in a while. My knee hurts a lot and I’m tired of it, but I don’t think there’s anything to be done about it short of surgery and I’m not getting that. Especially not before I’ve tried resting it. But I haven’t been able to rest significantly for the past two years because of training. So my knee hurts.

I’m tired, I’m sore, I’m worried about the weather, hydration, fuel. I’m worried about my bike. I’m worried about my competence if I need to change a tire. I’m worried about my swim speed. I’m worried about hyponatremia. I’m worried about the alarm clock. I’m worried about having to go to the bathroom on the course. I’m worried about getting lost.

I’m worried that this is all a big stupid vanity project and I should just be quiet. Half the reason I’m doing this is so that people will be impressed with me. Hell, probably two thirds. I want people to see this and admire me. I’m shallow, and I know it. I have this stupid need for people to value me.

Last night, my father called in the middle of the night asking me to pick him up from the nursing home, and bring him home so that he could commit suicide. He’s in a place, mentally now, where the moment he isn’t being attended to by someone he regards as family he is furious and pretend-suicidal. He tries to threaten suicide so that people will pay more attention to him.

It’s infuriating and sad. But am I really any different? I’m doing this thing to say, “look at me, pay attention to me, I’m amazing, be impressed!” It’s a need for external validation. A need to have other people celebrate me, instead of being content with being able to build the capability to do something difficult.

I think I’ve decided not to have a “ten years of sobriety” party. It’s just an excuse to have people tell me I’m great. Sure I’d love it. But it’s not good for me. It’s an ugly impulse and having the ability to look, myself, and the things given to me and be grateful and satisfied without being praised is a critical tool in my sobriety tacklebox.

My father was demanding external soothing last night. I tried to coach him into self-soothing. “You have the ability, dad, to decide that you’re being irrational and go to bed, and look at things in the morning again.” He just said, “Nope.” And then he hung up on me.

The most critical skill I have learned in sobriety is this: My problem is me.

So I’m going to go compete. And I’m going to try to do it for me. And not expect anything from other people about it. And when my ten years sobriety comes up, I’m just going to let it go by. I’ll mention it at a meeting. I’ll write a blog post about it. And it’ll be what it is. And I’ll be what I am.

Sunday, I have a race. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be long. And it’s going to be mine.

Six Days.

11 September 2017

Well, I have done all the things. This week I have small, short maintenance runs and rides to keep up my fitness and rest up before the big race Sunday. I’m fit. I’m as ready as I’m going to get. And I’m nervous. but not so nervous as to be concerned. I can do this, I think. It’ll just be hard.

And it may be harder than I’d hoped. Currently, the weather is projected to be about as bad as it can be for me on a race day: 70 degrees and 99% humidity. That’s the temperature and conditions I wilt in. And it’s a long day to risk wilting. I sweat too much, it doesn’t cool me because it won’t evaporate, and I overheat and dehydrate.

If the weather is like that all day during the race, there’s a good chance I end up walking a lot of the half-marathon, simply due to core temperature and hydration issues. If that’s what I have to do, then that’s what I have to do. It’ll be a long, ugly day. But that’s what it is. I can only be as good as I can be.

Eleven Days Out.

6 September 2017

In less than two weeks I will line up for my half-Ironman. I’ll be dipping in to the saltwater canals around the old Bader Field airport in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I’m ready. Well, I’m as ready as I’m going to get. I’ve done about 90% of the work my coach assigned, and I did all the long runs and rides. I’ve done 60 miles on a bike, and 14 miles on my feet. I swam a long swim of 1.5 miles. I did a two-hour ride followed by a one-hour run.

Yesterday I spent 40 minutes on strength at the gym, followed by an hour ride and a ten minute “shakeout” run. I’m still having trouble with my front derailleur. It’s driving me crazy and I recommend no one buy anything made by SRAM or Specialized. I’m so frustrated with their inability to build reliable equipment. I will likely be replacing my road bike when this is all over.

I have my final call with my coach Monday. I’m excited, scared, and eager to get going. I know it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt a lot and for a while. But I think I can do it.

That is, if we get to race. Hurricane Irma currently looks poised to hit Florida or Georgia, possibly the Carolinas after shaving her way up the coast from Miami. this could easily result in tropical storm-force winds and rain soaking New Jersey by the end of next week. My race getting canceled is among the least important things that can result from a hurricane, so I’m not going to ask for any pity. But I do hope I get to race.

 

The Next Steps.

4 September 2017

I’ve been reached out to by an academic hospital, not MECMC. I sent them my resumé in response to an advertised position for a new Quality Director. They reached out with some additional questions. They’re narrowing down an interview list. I’m hoping to be on it.

I’ve been thinking about what my next steps are. What do I want? My dream of being the director of advanced engineering at MECMC is feeling more and more remote. My boss is a good boss. But she doesn’t seem enthusiastic about advancing my career. At least, not according to the visions that I have.

So I ask myself. What’s next? Do I want more administrative responsibility? Do I want to be an executive? Where are my best options for growth and impact? What mark do I want to leave on healthcare? Is it arrogant to think I can even have one?

I feel like I have a reasonably impressive resumé at this point. But it’s full of heavily academic accomplishments. I have been consciously trying to expand my experience along the management track. I’ve taken short courses in management. I’ve published papers in management journals.

But am I a director? That starts to get into serious responsibility.  Accountability for hospital-wide initiatives. Accreditation. Liasing with governments and hospital membership organizations. Administrative bureaucracy on a logarithmic scale.

I’m a lazy person.  I barely work 20 hours a week most weeks. If that. Being a director would require many more hours, and it would mean mostly abandoning the subject matter expertise that has been the hallmark of my competence for the past 20 years.

But it would also mean having a much larger footprint on an organization. A much larger ability to influence how care is provided. To design and implement programs designed to make lives better. Patients’ lives. Employees’ lives.

It would likely also mean a much larger paycheck. Though it’s hard to know for sure. MECMC is an enormous, wealthy institution and the hospital I applied to is neither, to my knowledge. I am satisfied with my compensation at my current job, but like most people, I’d take more if I could get it

So I have a lot of thinking to do.

 

Sixteen into the Wind.

1 September 2017

Yesterday was my long ride. The longest before my race. Sixty miles of road bike monotony. Just me, the bike, and the road. I put down about 600 calories and 60 oz of liquids during the ride, which included a spectacular cloudburst at mile 18 that meant I was riding wet for 42 miles. I averaged 15.9 mph for the whole thing. And I hit 56 miles, the length of my race, at 3:28:15 or so, which is exactly where I want to be. 16 miles per hour.

The whole ride out was into the wind, and marking time was a challenge but good. A little uphill, along the banks of the river. A little into the wind. Out at the turnaround I nearly got a little lost as I ran out of trail and rode on streets. But I figured it out and maintained a good speed regardless. As time wore on, it became more difficult to keep pace, as my legs burned. But I did it.

A lot of stuff goes through your head on a 60 mile ride. I don’t ride with music or anything, so it’s just me and the road. One thing is, WHY THE FUCK WON’T MY GODDAMN FRONT DERAILLEUR WORK LIKE IT’S SUPPOSED TO. That lasted about 14 miles. I’m taking it in to put it into race condition and I have confidence in my local bike shop.

But mostly, long-distance cycling is contemplative. I am mostly on flat ground, so I’m not pushing myself from a cardiovascular perspective really hard. It’s mostly about the slow burn of about 60 calories a mile. I’m feeling capable. Ready. Strong. I’m still a little heavy, but that’s just what it is. Now I have two weeks until the race. Hopefully Hurricane Irma stays away from the East Coast, and I can get it in.