A blog for (semi) athletic middle-aged men (and women) holding on to (the last vestiges of) their youth
by training for and competing in running, cycling, swimming and triathlon events!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Ironman 70.3 Boise, Part 3 (The Run)

I managed a quick burst of energy to smile
and pose for the official photographer
Exiting the bike-to-run transition my left foot was throbbing, my left knee was aching and my legs felt like they could seize up at any moment. Other than that I felt great. Oh wait, there was the stabbing pain between my shoulder blades (I believe resulting from my head out of the water "polo style" swim three hours earlier). How can I forget that?

As I headed through downtown Boise (aka BoDo) on the 13.1-mile run course, I came across the Team BEEF cheering section: Traci O'Donnell (and her husband Jim), Katlin Davis (and her parents Phil and Yvette), Janice Streng and Jesse the intern from the Idaho Beef Council, Idaho beef producer and blogger Kim Brackett, and Wyatt Prescott from the Idaho Cattlemen's Association were there, I think (I know there were all at the race but honestly can't tell you for sure if they were all together at this point). Seeing them provided a great boost of adrenaline. Time to dig deep. Finish strong.

An unknown Team BEEF member approaches
the finish line
By the time I reached the Greenbelt path I knew I could do this. The flat, shaded bike path along the raging Boise river (near flood level) was just what the doctor ordered. The two-loop, out-and-back course meant I'd see lots of other Idaho Team BEEF athletes at various stages in the run. Some would be completing their second loop headed towards the finish line. Others, like me would be on their first loop with miles to go.

Everytime I saw another Team BEEF member I shouted "Give me some BEEF!" and high-fived them. The camaraderie was tangible. We supported and encouraged each other to keep moving. Eventually the high fives turned to low fives and then a wave or slight hand motion or head nod in their direction as I felt the sharp pain between my shoulders blades every time I deviated from the steady, even running motion. Even taking a Dixie cup of Gatorade from a volunteer and tilting my head back to drink it became a problem.

Dane is looking strong as he strides toward
the finish line
Around mile three on the first loop of my run I saw Team BEEF elite athlete Dane Rauschenberg approaching from the other direction, completing his second loop. Dane's wave began five minutes before mine and by this time he had opened up about an hour-and-a-half gap (he finished in 4:52). Amazing, especially considering this was Dane's first Ironman 70.3 distance event.

There are serious athletes like Dane and then there are weekend warriors like me. And then there are professional athletes like Ben Hoffman from Colorado, the overall winner, who finished about two and one-half hours ahead of me!

The highlight of the run, by far, was the Boy Scouts at Aid Station BEEF. Every time a Team BEEF athlete approached they began chanting "BEEF!" and didn't stop until you were trailing out of sight. After the first time through I began looking forward to seeing them on the return, then again on the second loop and one last time towards the end. Like a Hot Wheels track motor they sucked us in one side as we ran low on momentum and shot us out the other with a fresh burst of speed.

OK, so maybe speed is a bit of an exaggeration but they kept me going. As I left them for the last time I knew the end was near. I can't remember how far that last stretch was, maybe 1.5 miles, but every stride was painful and I was running very low on fuel. Exiting the Greenbelt for the last time onto the streets of BoDo I saw the finish line in the distance. I didn"t have any kick left. As I crossed the finish line my right hamstring cramped and a "catcher" steadied and walked me towards the official photo platform, draping an emergency blanket around my shoulders. I worried I might hurl at any moment as wave after wave of nauseau came and went.

Exhausted, relieved that it was over, I waited in line for my official photo

I managed a quick burst of energy to smile and pose for the camera but I had nothing left. I left it all on the course, which is the way I try to finish every race. If you feel fine within five minutes you left too much in reserve. It took me over an hour to feel like a human being again. But later that night I had enough energy to go out and celebrate with Leslie, Dane, and the Idaho Beef Council and Cattlemen's Association team that had been grilling and serving beef sliders to all of the finishers for over six hours in the BEEF Recovery Zone.

I finished in 6:30:48, the slowest of my three
Ironman 70.3 events. But I finished.
My third Ironman 70.3 distance triathlon is in the books. So what's next? I think I'll sign up for the Denver Triathlon in July. So should I go for the shorter sprint distance (800 meter swim/23.5K bike/5K run) or the longer Olympic distance (1500 meter swim/40K bike/10K run)?

Hmmm. Given that the bacteria sampling results for E. coli in Sloan's Lake are approaching advisory level, I'm thinking shorter may be better :)

Ride on...


Monday, June 13, 2011

My Ironman 70.3 Boise, Part 2 (The Bike)

The swim to bike transition is one of my favorite times in a tri...second only to crossing the finish line!
Exiting the water I was happy the brutally cold swim was over and my favorite part of every triathlon lay ahead: The Bike. I was a cyclist for several years before my cycling friends talked me into attempting my first tri in 2003. I've always considered the ride portion to be my strongest of the three events.

The wet suit strippers
Running up the long hill into transition I stopped, dropped and let the wetsuit strippers pull off my synthetic rubber whale skin. More than 1,200 volunteers, nearly one for every athlete, did a great job throughout the course, guiding us at every turn, handing out water, Gatorade and Power Bars and Gels at the aid stations and offering words of encouragement.

Wet suit off, helmet, gloves, glasses and cycling shoes on, I began the 56-mile ride. But it quickly became apparent that the leg cramps in the water were going to make this ride painful. And the headwind on the descent from Lucky Peak Reservoir meant there would be no coasting on the ride. But the worst part of the ride, by far, was the long, desolate stretch of road through an industrial section of town highlighted by its total lack of scenery to keep my mind off the pain in my legs.

Heading out on the 56-mile bike course (#865) I was hopeful I could pick up
some of the six minutes I lost on the swim. 
After 40 or so miles of bleak terrain and unforgiving wind (apparently not as bad as last year) the ride reentered Boise and headed back towards the capitol. The final ten miles of mostly downhill were welcome but at this point I began feeling the dreaded hot foot that plagued my first Ironman 70.3 in 2007.

Hot foot is caused by pressure on the nerves that runs between the metatarsal bones in the ball of your foot. It's called hot foot because your toes feel like they are on fire. The pain can be excruciating on the bike, but even worse when running, as the pressure on the nerves intensifies with every step.

I stuck my bike dismount, stopping just short of the line. If there had been judges on this part of the event I would have received all 10s!
Crossing the bike finish in 3:12:21 (17.5 mph average) and a total elapsed time of 4:11:06, I knew my goal time of six hours was shot and my PR of 6:06 in Boulder was safe. There was no way I was going to pull off a sub two-hour run. I thought I might possibly be able to better my Vineman time of 6:28:43. Possibly. If I could run at all.

As I sat on the ground to put on my running shoes I contemplated quitting once again. But once again I told myself, "Just finish." I decided then and there that even if I had to walk the 13.1-mile run course I would cross the finish line. So I got up and headed down the long aisle of bikes towards the run exit.
Heading out on the 13.1-mile run course, the final leg of Ironman 70.3 Boise
As I started to jog I felt the familiar stab of pain each time my left foot hit the ground, my left knee ached and my right calf and hamstring felt like they could both seize up at any moment. Clearly, then pain would continue for at least another two hours.

Next up: The Run.
Ride on...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hot, Cold, Cramps and Pain...My Ironman 70.3 Boise Part 1 (The Swim)

As I stood sweltering in my wetsuit approaching the dock on Lucky Peak Reservoir I watched as the first waves jumped in the water and began the swim. I quickly noticed people struggling and one woman was pulled from the water shortly after she began. Thus began my Ironman 70.3 Boise.

When the time came for my wave to jump in the water I didn't hesitate. I wanted as much time to aclimate as possible before the horn sounded. The shock to the system was immediate. As cold flowed down the back of my neck into the wetsuit I gasped for air. "Just breathe," I thought, and got calmed down. But then my hands began to hurt. The only part of my body that was covered, other than my face.
Arms raised...trying to exude confidence as my mind was saying "Don't do it!"

When the horn sounded I started swimming, head up (polo style is what my swim coach Nancy Strickland calls it). The first time I put my face in the water the gasping returned. Just breathe. I couldn't. It was like sticking your face into a bucket of ice water. So I continued swimming polo style. Having practiced this in the pool for short distances I knew I couldn't do this for 1.2 miles. Too inefficient. I would expend too much energy. So I stuck my face in the water and tried breathing on every stroke. Gasping. Just breathe. I couldn't do it.

That's me just to the lefts of the yellow starting line bouy. Just breathe!
Bouy to bouy I headed towards the first turn. One thing about swimming head up was that I swam straighter than normal. I have a major issue with weaving in the water. I knew if I could make it to the first turn I could finish. I thought about quitting and remembered the look on the face of the woman as she left the race minutes in. All that training, anticipation and angst for nothing. "Just finish," I told myself.

Rounding the first turn I settled down and was able to keep my face in the water for brief stretches. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Breathe. Then the cramps hit. First my right calf. Then my left. Then my right hamstring. are you kidding me? Half a mile in to a 70.3-mile race and I'm cramping. Not good. What do you normally do when you get a calf cramp? Scream, right? Then what? Stand on it or grab your big toe and pull, right? How do you do that treading water? It's not easy.

That's me in the center of the picture approaching the loading ramp. Face in the water!

Rounding the second turn I was now breathing OK and able to keep my face in the water, but was dragging my legs uselessly behind me. I couldn't bear to look at my watch, thinking I was probably approaching an hour in the water. I thought of Leslie standing on the shore getting worried. I could see the swim finish now. The light at the end of this very dark tunnel. So I picked up the pace and finally reached the dock. Then I saw the concrete of the boat ramp below me...then the carpet they laid for us.

Struggling to get out of the wetsuit.
Happy to be on land...alive!
 Standing, stumbling, I ripped off my goggles and neoprene hood and screamed, "This sucks!" As I crossed the swim finish timing mat I looked at my watch 51:xx. Slow, but not as bad as I thought. More important, I was alive. And the swim was done. But the pain was just beginning. Next post: The Bike.

Ride on...


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Let's Do This!

Dane and I check out the swim course at Lucky Peak reservoir
"More than 1,450 triathletes -- professionals and age group athletes -- are registered for the fourth annual race that starts at noon in the cold waters of Lucky Peak Reservoir," reads the front page of the Idaho Statesman.

The noon start is a strange twist for this event. Typically I'd be at the starting area getting ready to swim at this time of morning. Instead I'm sitting in the Metro Cafe at Hotel 43 enjoying a latte and bowl of oatmeal. Doesn't seem like race day, but it won't be long before we head out to catch the shuttle to Lucky Peak Reservoir.

The water temperature, reportedly 53F, remains my biggest concern. Leslie, Dane and I drove up yesterday to drop of our bikes and stick our feet in the water. Sure enough, it's cold. Dane doesn't seem too worried. But then again he plans to spend about 28 minutes in the water (my goal is 45). I was encouraged, though, by the clear water. This will be the first triathlon I've done in water with visibility greater than 1-2 feet!

While we were at the reservoir we ran into Pam Reed, who back in 2000 became the first woman to win the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon outright (which climbs from the lowest point in the country in Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48!).  She repeated that feat in 2003.

Pam Reed (center) tells Dane and me how much she loves BEEF!

When Pam saw my Team BEEF shirt she immediately said, "I eat a steak the night before every race." She also shared the story of her 490-mile run in the Self Transcendence Six-Day Race (she is the American record holder in this event). What she told us is that she craved steak throughout the race. As she wrote in her book, "The Extra Mile, One Woman's Personal Journey to Ultrarunning Greatness," "We all went back to the hotel, where I had a bath -- I couldn't even stand up to take a shower. Then I put on some clean clothes and went to dinner." Her friend Craig Bellman explained, "Pam wanted, I don't know -- a hamburger or steak. Some large slab of beef."

At 5'3" and 100 lbs, Pam told me she used to eat pizza and pasta before a race but she couldn't ever eat enough to really fuel her body. Beef, she said, fills her up; and gives her body the nutrients she needs. I think I love this woman!

Traci O'Donnell (left) and Idaho Beef Council staff took Dane (right) and I to dinner at Fork in Boise
Of course we took her advice and fuled up on beef last night at Fork in Boise with the staff of the Idaho Beef Council. Beef is the official protein of Ironman 70.3 Boise and beef council staff and volunteers will be handing out beef sliders at the finish line in the BEEF Recovery Zone. I can't wait to see them there and celebrate with other members of Idaho Team BEEF

Well, it's time to pack up my run gear bag to take to the bike-to-run transition (T2), then catch the shuttle to the start. Let's do this.

Ride on...


Friday, June 10, 2011

Facing Fears and Overcoming Anxiety

I woke this morning a strange bed at Hotel 43 in Boise with my heart and mind racing. I was thinking about tomorrow's swim in Lucky Peak Reservoir, the first leg of Ironman 70.3 Boise. The swim leg of every triathlon causes me the most anxiety. I suppose its the fear of drowning that brings on the waves of trepidation.

Makes sense, I suppose. After all, I nearly drowned in my first triathlon back in 2003. My first open water swim event, I was not prepared for the frenzy of arms and legs that looks like a school of piranhas attacking their prey. One hundred yards into a 550 yard swim I was in trouble. Panicking and gasping for air I couldn't put my face in the water so resorted to breast stroke, back stroke, side stroke and dog paddling my way through the rest of the swim.

I could have quit. Triathlon organizers take swim safety very seriously. Spotters in kayaks and boats in the water keep an eye out for swimmers in trouble (and they were watching me!). All I had to do was raise my hand and they would have plucked me from the goose-poop infested pond they call a lake at Heritage Park in Olathe, Kansas. But I knew if I gave up my first triathlon would be my last. And here I am in Boise preparing to compete in my 10th tri.

Tomorrow's swim is just a little longer than that first one...1.2 miles to be exact. I've done three swims at this distance but this will be my first one in cold water. The water temp in Lucky Peak Reservoir is a frigid 53F. Doesn't sound that bad until you consider I'll be bathing in the cold water for approximately 45 minutes (I am not a fast swimmer!).

Of course I will be wearing my wetsuit. But for the first time I will also don a neoprene swim hood in spite of the advice at yesterday's athlete briefing from an experienced Escape from Alcatraz triathlete. He said doubling up the latex swim cap is sufficient and that a hood covering your ears can mess with your sense of balance (I always swim with earplugs anyway). I'm wearing the hood, thank you.

Crossing the finish line in Boulder this past August.
There's always plenty of people offering advice at these events but I find that the more I listen the higher my anxiety level rises. The best advice I've ever received came last year before Ironman 70.3 Boulder when USA Triathlon Coach Nancy Strickland told me to visualize the swim, coming out of the water, getting on the bike, running, breathing hard and crossing the finish line.

It works. That's what I did lying in bed this morning to bring my racing heart back to normal. And that's what I will do today when I am driving the course with Dane Rauschenberg, my Team BEEF friend who will be competing in his first Ironman event. Dane is an amazing athlete and spokesperson for Team BEEF who always has an encouraging word. As he told me once, "You can't cross the finish line if you don't show up at the starting line."

Dane appeared on KTVB's News at Ten last night in Boise talking about beef's role in a healthy diet. Check out the great BEEF ad in the background!

I will face my fears, overcome the anxiety and show up at the starting line tomorrow for my heat at 12:39 p.m. My goal is to cross the finish line at 6:38 p.m. completing the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1 mile run course in under six hours and setting a new personal record at this distance (6:06:20 set this past August in Boulder).

Regardless of whether I break my record my ultimate goal is to cross the finish line and head straight to the BEEF Recovery Zone sponsored by the Idaho Beef Council. I'm visualing it now...and my mouth is watering.

Ride on!


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tapered, Rested and Ready (or not)...Here I Come Boise!

The usually deep blue Colorado sky is hazy steel blue thanks to smoke from the Arizona wildfires. From left: E Rock 2011 crew: me, Troy Lewis, Craig Yenni and Dan Hettinger
 I have never been very good at tapering. The idea that you should reduce your workouts in the final 1-3 weeks prior to your big event of the season just seems fundamentally wrong to me. I always feel like I should keep swimming, biking and running up until the last day. But this week I was forced to taper by a confluence of events called weather and work.

I scheduled the Elephant Rock 62-mile ride as my last long workout one week before the Ironman Boise 70.3 triathlon, my big event for this summer. Is one week a long enough taper? I don't know. I've run my two fastest half marathon times last year after doing my last long run one week out. It seems to work for me. But some schools of thought say longer endurance events should be preceded by longer tapering periods.

Regardless, I rode in my third straight Elephant Rock with a group of strong riders and had a great time. The bigger question in mind is whether it was smart to ride 62 miles in a haze of smoke blowing up the Front Range of the Rockies from the Wallow wildfire in Arizona! I woke up Monday morning completely congested and have been sidelined all week from either the lingering effects of the smoke, allergies or a summer cold. Whichever, it was tough to skip the Dip and Dash (open water swim and run) I had planned to do Tuesday evening.

So here I sit at the airport in Denver waiting for my flight to Boise. I haven't run or swam in over a week or elevated my heart rate since Sunday. Guess we'll see how this whole tapering thing works when you take it to the extreme! Stay tuned for updates from Idaho.

Ride on!