Monday, September 25, 2006

I am an Iron kind'a guy!

I don’t know what it’s like to complete your second or third or fourth iron distance triathlon but I can tell you that completing your first is a deeply personal experience. To the anonymous reader my report will echo other reports written by that minute percentage who have ever completed an iron distance race, to my friends and family it will be personally meaningful in ways I can not anticipate, for me, it is a recounting of something wholly unexpected, something that I still don’t understand as anything more that a personal process that has been set into motion…not a goal that has been achieved.

There is the idea of Ironman, the image and the mystique…and then there is the actual distance itself, a gulf of time and space that can only be spanned by one person on one day…one stroke, one pedal push, and one step at a time. My journey began September 23rd at 7:15 am on the shores of Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The winds were high and the lake was low, exposing the blood red clay of the Oklahoma soil. There was 104 yards of red mud standing between us and the 108 yard stretch of 1 to 3 foot deep water that served as a time sink before we were able to reach the actual swim start. The athletes preparing to race as teams, Aquabike, 70.3 and full iron all lined up ankle deep in the 70 degree water facing into the 16 mph wind contemplating the day that lay ahead, and more immediately, how they were going to approach the swim with such heavy chop. In true western fashion the start of the race was signaled by a single shotgun blast…BOOM…we were off!

The full iron swim was two loops around a triangular course and I hit the first loop easy wanting to carefully conserve energy for the day ahead.

Here's some theme music in keeping with the conditions of the lake.

The swim was crazy! There was the usual jostling and bumping for position but the wind that was driving the chop just kept intensifying. People were getting thrown all over the place, sometimes you could be in a trough and see a swimmer above you or you could look down and see someone below you. People were swimming at crazy angles trying to stay on track or simply because they were disoriented. There were several times when I had people swim straight across my front at a right angle to the direction I was heading. I eventually got into a groove by running the theme song from Hawaii Five-O through my head; hey, whatever works right? Besides, with the waves crashing and the swimmers in their mod eyewear it fit quite nicely. I did the first loop in about 48 minutes, off pace but I still felt very strong so I picked it up a bit and finished the second loop in 45 minutes, which was almost dead on for my predicted iron swim, actually it was probably a bit faster given the fact that we had 108 yards of running in knee deep water and 104 yards through the mud before hitting the timing mats.

I took my sweet time in T1 wanting everything to be right before heading out on the bike. I sat down and dried off my feet being careful to get rid of all the mud then I slid on my socks and smoothed them out making sure there was no bunching. I put on my cycling shoes, grabbed a cliff bar to eat and hit the restroom. Came back to my bike, looked it over real quick, snapped on my helmet put on my gloves and left transition at an easy jog. Total time was 9 minutes flat.

By the time I headed out on the bike course the winds had reached about 20 mph with gusts to 30mph. The course was two 56-mile loops on country roads through a landscape of rolling hills, corn and sorghum fields, cows and bright red squares of soil where fields had recently been plowed under after another growing season. The ride, though tough, really was beautiful in a Midwestern farmland sort of way. It wasn’t until I hit the bike that I was able to start spotting my competition, fellow Clydesdales roaming the Oklahoma countryside in search of good grazing at the next aid station. It was on the bike that I began judging how I should go about the remainder of my race. The excellent thing about a non-WTC iron event is that there are few enough people that you can actually race, even if you are not necessarily Kona material.

I knew there were at least 8 Clydes and I was able to spy four of them on the bike; one was at least five miles ahead, two were at least five miles behind and one was right with me. The Clyde that was way ahead was a real big boy and I estimated that I could run him down in the marathon if I played my cards right on the bike. The two that were way behind didn’t bother me because they weren’t in play yet. The Clyde that was right with me was a strong looking guy from Louisiana; I’ll call him Louisiana Clyde. He looked to be a formidable competitor, him I had to work on. I beat him out of the water and was gone from transition before I saw him. He powered passed me with authority at mile 10 on the bike going uphill and into the wind. I thought, “Man, this guy is strong” and I decided to see if I could stick with him, just enough to keep him in my sights but not try and go for an immediate retaliation. Biding my time, I was able to keep an eye on him through mile 30 and then I started to slowly reel him in as his pace seemed to slow. At mile 40 I passed him and took my first psychological shot. When I passed him it was going uphill, into the wind but I took it more slowly because I had a Cliff bar in hand and as I passed him I looked over mid-bite and said, “Oh, hey, how’s it going?” like I hadn’t noticed him and was just casually pedaling along having a snack. I didn’t see him again until I stopped for my special needs bag at the turnaround point. He didn’t stop for a bag and just kept going. I caught him again at mile 60 or so and looked over and said, “Great kite weather, huh?” and kept on pedaling, shot two fired. By this time the sustained winds were at 25 mph with 40 mph gusts and it was work to keep the bike at 12 mph.

Mile 100 on the bike provided me with the day’s most startling experience. I passed through an aid station manned by a Cub Scout troop. I was full on food and fluids and only had 12 miles to go so I decided to just fly on through. I was going about 20 mph with the wind now at my side and I was feeling very strong. These kids at the aid station were leaping up and down screaming and yelling, “Go man, you can do it!” “Yeah, Go, Go, Go!” they were just going nuts and I was suddenly overcome with emotion and the thought went through my head, “You aren’t a fat kid any more.” When I was a kid those same kinds of regular sized kids used to tease me pretty relentlessly about being fat, now they cheer me because I’m some schmo crazy enough to pay good money to race in what has been called the most grueling single day event yet devised. My reaction was completely unexpected and was there and gone in the span of 10 minutes. Ironman means something different to everyone and that meaning is both deeply personal and completely unpredictable. Apparently after 40 years on this good Earth, to me, Ironman means I am no longer a fat kid, who woulda thunk?

I hit T2 with a much slower bike split that I had wanted, 6:40:06, but I figure that factoring in the wind I was doing about as well as I dared given the fact that I still had a marathon to run. I also took a good amount of time in T2, again drying my feet, changing socks and checking my gear. I was sitting in T2 taking care of business when my old friend Louisiana Clyde arrived on the bike to begin his transition. He sat down and said, “Man, I wish I would have done the half today.” I smiled and replied, “Well then what would you have done with the rest of the day?” with shot three fired I went off to use the restroom. By the time I got back he was out on the run already. My T2, 11 minutes 6 seconds.

Now the marathon and my new goal, chase down the Clyde that was so far ahead of me on the bike. I caught Louisiana Clyde at mile two where he was taking a walk break, I increased my pace and ran past him saying, “Looking strong man.” Shot four fired, he was done and I was on the hunt. I still felt strong and didn’t have any problems going from the bike to the run. At mile 2.5 or so I saw Wife on her return as she was finishing the 70.3. I stopped to give her a kiss and tell her she looked good and then was off again. I finally ran down the other Clyde; let’s call him Big Clyde, at mile 7. At this point, if the route was straight enough, I could look back and see both Big Clyde and Louisiana Clyde so I just kept running to try and put some distance between us. I hit the turnaround point for the marathon in a blistering 2 hours and felt like I had put a decent cushion between myself and Big Clyde so I slowed it way down. It was then that the second curious notion of the day struck me. I thought to myself, “This is the last time I will ever do a first Ironman; I’m going to savor it.”

I began taking frequent walk breaks, stopping to talk to the volunteers at the aid stations and taking the time to cheer on my fellow athletes. I was like some crazed good will ambassador set loose on the course. I was very popular at the aid stations and volunteers were yelling “GO OUTLAWS!” while my fellow athletes were looking at me with a mixture of friendliness and suspicion. At this point I knew I had at least four Clydes behind me and figured that if any were ahead I could not identify them and there was no point in just trying to chase down the unknown. I was interested in holding my position and wanted to make sure I had something to fight back with if it became necessary late in the marathon but by god, I was going to meet people, laugh and joke and watch the sun set over Lake Hefner.

I never did have to fight back any attacks; I just spent the rest of the evening enjoying myself. Honestly, my feet began to hurt from being on them for so long but I was having the time of my life. Some of my fellow would be Ironfolk looked happy and some looked haggard. The only thing these people had in common was their determination to finish an iron distance race; it was an awesome spectacle. I finished my own race in a leisurely 14:24 and change. A stunning 5 hour and 50 minute marathon…socializing sure takes a lot of time. Despite the slow finish I felt like a superstar, like the greatest athlete there ever was, it was as if everyone was there only for my benefit…I was the main attraction. I also ended up with a 3rd place finish among the Clydes. It’s quite something to end up on the podium in an iron distance race. Next up, Ironman Arizona. I guess IMAZ will have to be for the PR since any podium finish is going to require a lot less socializing and a lot more speed. However, the reason I am most looking forward to IMAZ, I’ll be doing it with a bunch of fellow Outlaws, some of whom will be in their first Ironman. I can’t wait to be a part of that experience again and a partner to their experience. GO OUTLAWS!

And here is my finish…pure joy!


Friday, September 22, 2006

15 hours & 53 minutes to iron

The days is finally here and I am pretty excited. Wife and I slept in today and then went on an easly little 2 mile run. After the run we had a big breakfast, went to Starbucks, loaded up on coffee and then went and drove the bike course. I remember reading the description of the bike as being flat with some rollers. I would describe it as some flats with rollers. There is good and bad points to the bike. The bad part is that there are large sections of the road that have very rough spots, lots of potholes, both filled and not, and portions of the road that are warped. The good part of the bike is that the rollers are exactly that, for every up there is a down, they are pretty long and shallow and they are pretty evenly spaced.

Wife and I also checked our bikes into transition this afternoon and there were a lot of Redman staff setting things up. From what I see it looks like it is going to be a very well run race. I think that all things considered this is going to be a good event for a first full. The course is going to be fairly mellow while still offering variety and the organization looks good.

Tomorrow, Iron.
Fortitudine Vincimus!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

We're in High Cotton now: A Cotton Country Race Report

Well, another year at the Cotton Country Sprint Triathlon is done and I am happy to announce that no Outlaw in attendance left without some hardware or software as the case may be.

First place awards at this race are a miniature cotton bail and I now am the proud owner of my second as is Wife. I beat my time by last year by about 2 minutes despite the heavier wind and ever so slightly longer course. Wife beat her time 6 minutes.

The race began at a very civilized 9am with the flat out and back run. By the time the race began the wind was strong out of the south and growing stronger. My plan for this race was to take it easy and just get in a good brick and test out my bike in race conditions for the Redman next weekend. I took out on the run at a quick but comfortable pace and thought I'd go ahead and keep good ole Steve O in my sights since he represented my toughest Masters Clyde competition this day. Woops, did I say competition? Yep, I was truckin along and thought to myself, I'll just hang back and keep him in my sights then I noticed that I was matching his pace exactly and maintaining about a 10 yard gap between us.

I thought to myself, "Self, you could just kick it a little and reel him in, tuck in behind him and get a nice draft going" So, kick it I did and then I tucked in nice and quiet like. He let me ride for a while but when the road turned into the wind he glanced over his shoulder and tried to shake me. I hung on wanting to grab a nice draft but he wasn't having any of it. I though, what the hell, I'm just here for a workout so I pulled up along side him and said "Go ahead and jump in behind me, I'll pull." He told me I'd need to grow another foot...ouch. It's true though, he is probably a good 4 inches taller than me but I still could have cut him a nice wind free swath. I could see his shadow and could tell he was drafting a little but then he started falling back so I just tooled on down the road. After I had put the turn around about a quarter mile behind me I saw friend and fellow Clyde Arnold C chugging along...he has had a cruddy last half of the season with work and school so he's been off the training for a while. He was hurtin for certain. I ended up with a run time of 25:10, which was around a 7:30 mile given the extra distance.

I cruised in to T1 with Steve O not terribly far behind and I just strolled transition like a tourist. There was no way I was going to risk ANYTHING buy speeding through transition. After a leisurely 1:30 T1 I jumped on the bike in time to see poor Steve lose his shoe, he was trying the shoes clipped into the pedals thing. I sped off on the bike to fight the now monstrous headwind. It was probably a sustained 20 mph with gusts. I was moving along when I saw friend and fellow mental health professional Stuart C up ahead on the bike. He had passed me in the run and was departing transition as I was entering. He must have been having the bike of his life because he was dropping people and moving right along. I pulled up and dropped in a couple bike lengths behind him and decided to just match his pace for a while.

Just before the turn around I decided I wanted to jump ahead before the turn around and kick in the after burners. I passed Stuart and a couple other folks and then turned and hit it. I got quickly up to 30 mph and started dropping people like flies. I was able to spy teammate Willy Wonka ahead, he had smoked me on the did Muffin, and Sharkbait, and Bones but it gave me some folks to chase, all the Clydes were well behind me by now. I chased down Willy Wonka and started working on Muffin, who was waaayyy ahead. I finally caught him pulling in to T2 but then I did the tourist thing and strolled along taking care not to twist an ankle or step hard on a rock. My bike time was 35:23, somewhere around a 22+mph pace, not bad considering the wind. Oh, the bike is in tip-top race shape.

I jumped in the pool for the amazingly short 300 yard, 5:53 swim and was cruising along for an uneventful finish. The Outlaw dujour was Bones with an incredible 3rd overall. Unfortunately #2 overall was also in his age group so he took 2nd. Sharkbait took second in his age group as did Muffin. Willy Wonka, Double-barreled (Wife) and I all took first in our groups. We had a great time after the race talking with friends and eating the lunch that comes with the race entry fee. The Cotton Country is one of those little local races that you just don't want to miss because of the hospitality and the feeling of camaraderie created by an intimate gathering of local athletes.

So... maybe I didn't take it as easy as I planned but it was a good workout and a great time. Total time, 1:09:23...good enough for government work.

Next weekend I become an Ironman!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Twenty Years in the Making

Last night my mom called me to wish me a happy 40th birthday. We got to talking about the iron distance event that I'll be doing on September 23rd. I said that I thought that I was in about the best shape now as I have ever been in my life. This morning I was on one of my mid-distance weekday runs thinking about this. There is a lot that I could do at age 20 that I know I can't do now. A good exapmle is rugby. I tried that about 5 years ago and spent the next 3 days laid up in bed. However, one thing that I may not have been able to do is complete a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike or a 26.2 mile run. Youth and stupidity might have seen me through any one of those events individually but I'm not even sure about that. I have now completed all these events individually and am confident that I can string them together in one day. I'll get my chance September 23rd at the RedMan.

It's funny to look at old pictures of yourself and consider all that lies ahead of the person you are looking at. It's also funny to consider how similar or different you are to the younger you. Interestingly there is quite a lot that I have in common now at 40 with the 20 year old me. For example, I have returned to being much more physical. At 20, in Marine Corps parlance, I was a "lean mean fighting machine" now I am a slightly chubby amicable triathlon participant...those are pretty similar...right?

In any case, over the past 20 years I've been pretty busy. I have:
1. Served 5 of my 6 years in the Marine Corps
2. Lived in Southern California
3. Played Rugby for the Marine Corps in the Military National Championships
4. Got out of the Marine Corps and moved back to New Mexico
5. Got married
6. Earned a Bachelor's degree and worked full time in a psych hospital
7. Moved to South Dakota
8. Earned a Master's degree
9. Got divorced
10. Got married again (weird but PG rated story but that's a non-public post)
11. Moved to Texas
12. Earned a Ph.D. and got a "real" job
13. Moved back to New Mexico
14. Earned a second Master's degree
15. Wrote the grants for and developed a residential program for homeless veterans that is now pushing 90 beds
16. Wrote a grant and developed a program that helps unemployed veterans return to work
17. Won 3rd place Clydesdale in the Southwest Challenge Series 2005 (covers New Mexico and West Texas)
18. Got Wife and step-son into Triathlon and Duathlon
19. Won Champion Master's Clydesdale 2006 for the Southwest Challenge Series...and
20. For my 20th year since my 20th b-day, in the month of my birth I WILL complete an iron distance triathlon.

I did other stuff too but I wanted the list to go to 20 so I just picked some highlights and one particularly low point that did at least contain some good lessons.

You know, probably the most important thing that characterizes me at both 20 and 40...I love life! I can hardly wait to live another day. Some has to do with the way I've come to think about life, some has to do with my work and some with my play. I have to give a large part of the credit to my marriage, which is fantastic! I'm not saying there aren't bad times, there are, I'm just saying that in my line of work I get to see A LOT of very messed up lives. Heck, even just being a member of our society I see a lot around me that suggests that while I may not be on top, whatever that might be, I have it damn good.

Oh, and my haircut is virtually identical.