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!



  1. You're awesome! Good luck on IMAZ.

  2. What an amazing race. You actually raced during an IM. Amazing.


  3. OMG, Brian - what a great story! I love your attitude - good race! Well done - congratulations!

  4. Superb. You did great. 3rd place!!!! Congratulations on a tremendously planned and executed race.

  5. Congratulations!! What a great report! Just goes to show, you can be an Ironman and have a fun attitude too! Way to go!!

  6. Congratulations, IronMAN, 3rd place!! now that's racing. Good luck at IMAZ.

  7. Anonymous12:18 PM

    I like your tri-attitude - I read all the time about how triathlon is about the journey and it doesn't matter what place you come in, you race against the clock, etc. Folks don't understand the Clydesdale category and feel like racing age group is just fine, when in reality a clyde's got just 2 chances against AG'ers - slim and none! Racing to beat that other big guy who's got the same challenges you do is what makes it for me, and it looks like for you too. Keep chasing down those Clydes, and if we happen to cross paths in a race some day, I promice not to make it easy for you.....cheers!

  8. Congrats on your Ironman finish. I'll get there and just reading blogs like yours is part of the journey. Too cool!