Friday, December 28, 2012

Ironman NYC 2012

Ironman recap

Thanks to my wonderful training plan which consisted of not training for an Ironman triathlon, I was a lot more nervous going into this race then I thought I would be.  Now let me be clear.  By saying I did not train for the Ironman, I am not being honest.  I trained a lot, and I had intense and long training sessions.  However, I only swam two times (1:15 and 50 minutes) and did one true bike workout (~30 miles), and those three sessions came the two weeks prior to the race.  All of my training was related to running.  I’m curious to know how many people did a 100-mile race in training for an Ironman.  My guess would be more than you would think, but not a lot as far as the percent of Ironman participants go.  I really wanted to see if the endurance aspect I had as a result of my ultra-marathons would carry over into an Ironman.  Obviously, I was quite certain that the aerobic capacity was there, but I thought it would be another thing altogether to not do any cycling over 30-miles in probably four years and then all of a sudden go out for a 112 mile race and then have to run 26.2 miles after that.  It was always my belief that you should do a lot of BRicks (Bike to Run) training so that you can run fast right off the bike and not need a lot of time to adjust from the bike legs to your running legs.  There are always a large percent of participants who for some reason, can’t seem to adapt to that transition and their run times are much worse from the get-go than if they were to just go out and run a marathon.  So yes, I had some doubts.

My goal for this race was really to just finish and have fun.  Because of what I mentioned above, I couldn’t know how fast I could swim, bike, and then run this race.  I knew there was a possibility that I could go under 12 or 13 hours if everything fell into place.  But I was well prepared and would not have mind going over 13 hours since it would still be training for my next 100-mile race in September.  About a week before the race, I was fairly nervous about swimming.  I really did not want to spend ~90 minutes swimming.  I don’t like swimming.  I don’t like panic attacks in the water.  And if I didn’t mention it, I don’t like swimming.  Our swim however, was supposed to have a favorable current.  And the current was supposed to get stronger in our favor as the swim progressed.  For those elite athlete’s and age groupers that love being in the water first, well, they just don’t get the same advantage.  I also learned that the more terrible a swimmer you are, the more the current helps you out, because a good swimmer is practically on top of the water, while a bad swimmer (me) is usually heavy legged and therefore, the current pushes the legs and body faster than someone who is a more efficient swimmer.  Suckers!
So onto the recap of the day:

I started out with me waking up at 2:50AM.  For a local race, this is absolutely absurd.  But this local race (It’s called Ironman NYC) actually starts in New Jersey.  The transition area, where we set up our bikes and give in our drop bags are located at the Ross Dock, which is about ½ mile or more north of the George Washington Bridge, at the bottom of the cliffs of the Palisade’s Park in NJ.  How does one get there for the race?  Well, one has to catch a 3:45AM ferry from a Pier around 42nd street and the West Side highway.  So I had to catch a cab to get there.  The ride was very quick and I got there probably around 3:25.  It was a humid and warm morning and I waited outside the ferry terminal.  I bumped into Brooklyn TNT coach Joel Tse, who was going for his first Ironman.  We chatted a bit and then lost each other when it was finally time to enter the terminal and get in the line to board the ferries.  The ride took about 45 minutes.  I walk into transition and get my number markings (number on arms and age on calves).  Then I get to my bike and take all the rain covering (read – garbage bags) off of it.  Then it’s off to find a pump to inflate the tires.  The line was ridiculously long for the official pumps.  So I asked someone nearby using their own pump if I could borrow theirs.  It was an odd pump but it sort of did the trick.  I didn’t fill the tires up as much as I could have, and hoped it would be enough.  Oh yeah, I don’t like cycling that much either anymore.  Too much equipment to deal with.  Why do a race that I complain about 66% of the disciplines?  Good question! 

After pumping the tires, I made sure I had what I needed in my “bento boxes”, little containers that you can attach to your bike, including spare inner tube, CO2 cartridge to pump up said spare tube, and some Kind Bars.  From there, I kind of just wandered around, waiting for 5:30AM when I was to meet with a friend, John Tan, who was going for his first Ironman and was a bit nervous about pretty much everything, as should be expected with the first one.  I finally meet up with John and we wander on over to an area that is strangely less populated - the port-o-potties.  John tells me he’s going to take his third of what will be or six stops in that tiny box BEFORE the race starts.  So I go and sit down on the curb nearby.  As I’m sitting there, Joel (from above) wanders by and I call him over and he sits down and we chat again.   John comes back and is very confused because Joel is Asian and so is John, so John thought I found myself another Asian to be friends with for the race or thought I just got confused and thought Joel was John (it’s all a very easy sense of humor).

Anyway, we hung around that area for a while and about 3 minutes before we decided that a really long line was indeed forming to board the ferries that take us to the starting barge, I yell out my favorite quote for this race, courtesy of Frank Drebbin from the movie “The Naked Gun”, when he is shouting out his phrase “I love it” so that help could be sent to him as he is infiltrating the bad guy’s base.  Instead of recreating that here, just watch it on Youtube.
Someone overhears that, starts laughing and comes over to talk to me.  Turns out he is a reporter for the NY Times and asked me a few questions.  Basic stuff;  is this my first Ironman, am I concerned about the sewage spill – oh maybe now would be a good time to refresh your memory about a faulty pipe 50 miles or so north of where we were swimming which caused that facility to dump treated sewage into the Hudson a few days before the race.  After many tests and concerns, the EPA or DEP and probably other agencies deemed the water safe to swim in where we were going to be.  I haven’t found the article the guy wrote or if I was used in it.  If you can find it, I’d like to read it. 

So we board the ferry.  Oh, the second to last ferry.  John is already fully dressed in his wetsuit.  I only put mine on up to my waist.  I knew we had a 30 minute ferry to the start barge and didn’t want to overheat while waiting.   John was sweating the entire way from a combination of nerves, but mostly for being fully zipped up.  Experience counts.  So this race has time trial start where once your ferry arrives, you exit onto the barge, have a chance to use some more port-o-potties (John did), then you cross a timing mat and that is when your race time begins.  All athletes have 2 hours and 20 minutes to finish the swim from the time the last swimmer crosses the starting mat.  However, all athletes have only 17 hours from the time the first non-professional swimmer (pros go out 15 minutes earlier) crosses the mat.   To me this is not fair.   If you happen to be on one of the last ferries (like me) then you have 20 minutes less time to finish the race than someone who was lucky enough to be in line sooner and board the first ferry. 

John and I had a plan to start the race together.  But not just that, we planned to hold hands, shout “Care-Bear Stare!” (his idea – not mine) and jump in.  I don’t think he thought I would go through with that, but we did.  I think it helped calm him down a little.  I just wanted him to have a great race ahead of him.  I remember my first Ironman and I was incredibly nervous and was all alone in Panama City Beach, FL in an ocean swim.  Anything to help calm down for the swim is a good thing.  Well, what helped me calm down for this swim in NYC was knowing the current was going to be in our favor from the start, and only get stronger as the swim moved along.  Right after we jump in, I  look for John to see if he’s ok, he says he’s good and I tell him to have a great race and I’ll see him on the bike.  I have my usual panic attack in the water but it is very quick this time.  I get my breathing under control, tell myself that the current will be amazing and then get myself in a rhythm.

I feel like I’m moving well.  The buoys seem to be coming up fairly quickly.  But I’m not trying to break any records here.  Just swim straight and easy and soon enough, I hope to be done with my least favorite part of a triathlon.   I finally get to the big buoy that tells me I’m  half-way done.  I get there in 34 minutes!!!  Holy cow!!!  That puts me on pace for a 68 minute swim time but I know I may be faster because the current is only supposed to get stronger in my favor and I am not having any panic attack, even if it only was for one minute at the start. So now that I have a great feeling of invincibility I try to be a better swimmer the second half.  I’m not trying to swim harder, I’m just trying to be more efficient.  I’m trying to take one or two extra strokes per breath to minimize the drag I create when I breathe and/or sight.  Finally, the Ross Dock is almost there.  The river ground below is hitting my fingertips as I pull the water to propel myself.   And  then I think I can stand and I try and I almost vomit at the  feeling of the muck under my feat.  I wish I can truly describe it because it felt like stepping in filthy goo and that if I tried to stand, my leg would sink further into it.  Wow, it gives me chills and nausea just thinking of it now.  I should mention that from the start until about 200 meters to the finish, the water was much clearer than I expected.  I was able to see a little passed my outstretched hand.  Compared to the NYC Triathlon in 2005 which takes place closer to the Manhattan side and about 6-10 miles south of where we were for the Ironman, where I couldn’t see passed my shoulder.  Well that’s what it was like at around 200 meters to go and it eventually became pitch black.   Finally, someone gives me a hand out and up.   I proclaim that this stuff at the end is disgusting and the guy replies, “sorry, that was my fault” (another soul with a good sense of humor).  As I head up the few stairs I look at my watch and it says 58 minutes.  I am absolutely thrilled.  I can’t believe I just did a 2.4 mile swim in under one hour.  My previous best was 88 minutes.  This now got me thinking that I may be able to do this race faster than my previous best Ironman time of 11:54.  Hell, maybe even sub-11 is possible.  Since I took 30 minutes off the swim, and I’m a much better runner now than I was in 2008, maybe I can push a little on the bike and see what happens.  It’s all for training for the 100-miler and fun anyway.  By the way,  as fast I finished the swim, I  was 1931 out of 2142 starters, so basically, bottom 10%.  Quite possibly though still one of my best performances!

So I head into the changing tent, get all my bike stuff I need out, on, and ready, and then head out and grab my bike.  Because my bike was not completely fixed (I didn’t want to spend a couple hundred dollars on new pedals after spending one hundred on a tune-up and cleaning after four years of neglect), I had to carry my bike to the “Bike mount” line because one  of the pedals had my bike shoe attached, so wheeling it would cause the  shoe to hit the ground and cause other issues.  So I looked like a strongman carrying my bike while others wheeled their bikes out. 

So I’m out there on the bike, and trying to ignore what will be 6-7 hours (hoping for 6 or less but don’t care as long as I eventually finish) and taking each boring moment as training for running 24 hours or more in the 100-miler 45 days away.   I drink my UCAN  which I had as one of my bike bottles then toss the bottle at one  of the  drink exchange / aid stations and pick up a bottle of water.  The course is a double out and back on the Palisades Interstate Parkway.  Bike out of the Ross Dock and head up the long hills out of the Palisades Park and enter the Palisades Parkway  to start the double out and back, beginning at Exit 1 and going up 27 miles.  The turn around 27 miles and repeat, heading back down the palisades park to the Ross Dock.   Aside from seeing lots of people I knew cheering along some parts of the course, it was a very boring course as far as scenery goes.  I mean, we are just biking up and down a highway that is pretty well shaded by trees on both sides (although not in the shade of the trees unfortunately).  One thing about this course was the number of potholes and just overall bad pavement that we had to ride on.  Fortunately, some really bad spots had some cones placed near them or red chalk or spray paint to warn us but there were too many other bad spots that had me praying my bike didn’t fall apart.  At one point, I swear I heard something crash off on my bike when I hit a bad bumpy section.  I looked everywhere on my bike and nothing sounded or felt off so I continued.  A few weeks later, I realized that it was one of the bike reflectors that fell off the wheel. On my way back from the first turnaround, the bikes ahead began to slow down.  A few minutes later I realized why ass a cyclist was on the side, laying there with a few people and a medic.  There was a lot of blood and the person wasn’t moving.  No one ended up dying on the bike (one person from Hong Kong died during the swim) but I don’t know what happened to this individual who got into the bike accident.  I could make some good guesses on what caused it.  The road was so terrible, that everybody seemed to lose their water bottle from their bottle cages on their bikes.  These bottles were basically all over the course making it another hazard to watch out for.   I saw John on my way back and I figured he was about 20 minutes behind me.   I never saw him again during my race. 

I finished the first half of the bike in 3:03.  I tried pushing a little the first half and that may have hurt me for the second half as the course was a little harder than I expected and it was getting hot out there.  I was trying to stay hydrated and fueled.  I abandoned my strategy of UCAN lasting longer and started to eat my Kind Bar and then anything else offered on the bike course which was bananas, energy gels, and Bonk Breaker Bars (an energy bar).  To be honest, I was fairly miserable the second half.  I just wanted to be off the bike and running.  I kept trying to estimate when I  would be done biking but I kept slowing down and not maintaining a steady speed so when I though, only 90 more minutes to go, after about 10 minutes, it still somehow came out to 90 more minutes to go!  Maybe that’s due to trying to calculate pace and time and distance while being tired and miserable, but that’s what I was coming up with and that’s how it felt. 

Finally, I was about done with the bike.  I sailed down the hills that I knew later I would be running up.  Got to the bike dismount line and gladly got off my bike.  Finally! 6:31 was my bike time so a positive split by 25 minutes (which is bad).  I moved up 731 spots on the bike and now was 1193 overall.  But who cares? My event, the run is now up!  But so was the sun, heat, and the course!  It was a long way up the hill but I wanted to shake out my legs and I ran up it.  Hmmm.  Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.  I turn the corner to see another hill.  I decided to be smart and think about all the walking I would do up the hills in Ithaca at the 100-miler so decided to walk.   This portion of the run was hot and humid but thankfully it was shaded.  My stomach wasn’t in the right place though.   I had no desire to eat anything, at least anything they offered.  I knew I needed salt.  But I dropped my enduralyte salt pills somewhere.  When I got to the aid station at mile 4,  I asked if they had salt or salt pills and they only had potato chips.  Seriously?!!!  No table salt at an endurance event?   I tried a few chips but it made my stomach feel weird.  It wasn’t until about mile 13 that I started eating Gu Chomps.  The consistency was about what I wanted. It didn’t seem to upset my stomach (which was just feeling very full and sloshy), and it had some electrolytes which was helpful.   All along the double out and back course though the Palisades Park for about 14 miles were lots of great camaraderie with the athletes and spectators.  I knew so many people doing the race that it was great seeing them multiple times on this part of the run.  Sure, most of the time they would see me as I’m walking up a hill, but some got to see me fly down the hills too.  At the major intersection which was where you turn around for loop two or head south and out of the Palisades Park,  was a huge congregation of my old Team in Training Triathlon Teammates and they were awesome.  I stopped for a minute to chat with them.  I had all day to complete this race, so why not take some time to enjoy the support?   Then came the long hill up and out of the park.   Yeah, this course was pretty tough for an Ironman, even for road marathon it was tough.  But that’s what I like. When I go to the  steps to climb up (Oh yeah, there’s something like 80 steps to go up and down to cross over the north side of the George Washington Bridge to get us back into Manhattan) I run up the steps.  This is fun!  And I run down too.   I fly across the bridge and take in the views of Manhattan.  Then I start trying to pick up the pace as I know (or though t I knew) the rest of the race was flat. 

As I approach the first small hill where we turn into Riverside Park, I’m met with a huge cheering section led by Team in Training who had a ton of people volunteering at this aid station.  I acknowledge the support and head on my way to this really annoying section.   I guess it was annoying only because I did not plan ahead to see where the course takes us.   I just didn’t comprehend running 5-6 miles in this area, which is not that big.  So it was a bunch of long out and backs and then out and backs somewhere else and it just looked like there were runners everywhere running in one direction or the other.  Yet, I still had to get to where those runners were running.  And  I did forget the training we used to do there when I was on the Team in Training Tri Team.  There are lots of rolling hills in that park!  But again, I saw lots of spectators there and many people I knew that were great at cheering and getting me going, even though I didn’t care about my time at this point.  With all the walking and random chatting I did with other participants and spectators, my chance at hitting an Ironman PR went out the window long ago.  Or at least I told myself, I probably wouldn’t enjoy trying to crush the last 8-10 miles of the course just to get close to my best Ironman marathon time.  So I walked the uphills in this section too.  I could have run them, but I really had more fun walking up them and running fast on the downhills and flats. 

Finally, the course takes us back to that Team in Training aid station on the other side of it and I get all the cheering again.  This time though, I stop and talk to the people there.  I ask if anyone has heard about John and they said they hadn’t heard anything except he did make it off the bike in time, just barely!  And then people start trying to get me to stand still so we can get some pictures.  I was also pouring some water on my head because it was still hot out there.  So after chatting a bit more, I decide it is time to finish this race.  I take off and now am focused on finishing fast.  I know where I am now and can figure out about how far away the finish is so I set myself on a pace that steadily increases.  I make a quick left turn up one last hill and then see the finishers chute.  Now I really open up my stride and cruise into the finish.  I felt great!  I was happy to be done with my fifth and final Ironman.  I did the marathon in 3:58.  I had a nice negative split and averaged probably 9:30 minute miles the first half and 8:30 the second half.  Most importantly, I got the very long training I wanted for Virgil’s Crest 100 the next month and proved to myself that in just trying to finish these ultra-endurance events, one of the biggest strengths you need is the mental training and toughness to keep going.  Yes, you need some athleticism and aerobic fitness but if you have a weak mind, your body will be mush.  If you didn’t do enough training and your body and fitness are weaker than you would like it to be, well a strong mind can block out any pain and get you moving forward.  And the final time was 11:41:35, a 13 minute PR and I moved up 698 spots on the run to finish 495th overall, including professionals. 

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