Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Course that Makes Ironmen Cry: A Silverman Race Report

When I signed on for the Silverman I thought I had only registered for the hardest iron distance race in North America. Apparently I was mistaken. The Silverman claims to be the “World’s Most Grueling Full-Distance Triathlon”, yes the WORLD’s most grueling full distance triathlon and I have to say that I believe that is true. Professional triathletes Dave Scott, Chris McCormack and Peter Vabrousek all said it was the hardest course they had done and all three of these guys have raced a lot, probably more than any three triathletes in the sport so who am I to argue. The other thing about Silverman, you probably get the best schwag in the sport…seriously it’s almost worth the price of admission.

The course is like a rugged moonscape. If you have not visited the deep desert southwest where the landscape is covered in creosote bush, cholla and big sage and the most colorful things around are the rocks then it is hard to imagine but it is a beautiful place in its own right. Lake Mead is huge and clear and capable of generating the kind of wave action you only find in very large bodies of water. The bike course is mostly an out and back though T1 and T2 are in different areas with T1 at the lake and T2 at a community center in the city of Henderson, NV. The bike takes you deep into the desert on the longest and largest rollers I have ever seen. At about the half way point on the way out we literally rode up and over a high saddle adjoining two mountains, the rest of the 9,700 feet of climbing was just preparation for that monster climb and the “Three Sisters” that you hit at about mile 95. The three sisters are short and steep, three consecutive climbs of 18% grade with no downhill in between just climb, a few yards of flat, climb, a few yards of flat and climb again with the last climb being the longest. When I hit that point the guy in front of me wobbled to the top of the last of the sisters, rolled a few more yards and then got off his bike and started pukeing…that pretty much says it all. The run takes place through the suburbs of Henderson, is two “loops”, pretty convoluted and contains an additional 2,500 feet of climbing and, like the bike course, these climbs were not short choppy rollers, they were long sweeping climbs, at least one was over two miles of steady uphill, which made it a real bitch going up as well as coming down. In short, this course is made to beat an Ironman into submission or, at a minimum, make them realize just how monumental a task Ironman is, I mean realize it in their bones.

My morning started out well and I was feeling great. I ate about 1500 calories for breakfast and headed off to the start. The weather was perfect and everything was calm at the start. The water was 70 degrees and crystal clear. When the starting cannon fired we all headed for the first turn buoy and I was swimming fast. Unfortunately my navigation was very poor so I was heading in the wrong direction very quickly and every time I would sight I was way off course, I kept pulling strongly off to the right. I still have no idea why I was swimming so crookedly but it was terrible, I was all over the place and this was when the water was perfect. I finally got back on track long enough to round the first turn on target and then immediately began swimming way off to the right again out towards the middle of the lake. I know that it is my responsibility to swim on the marked course but I admit to feeling abandoned by the boaters and kayaks that were supposed to keep the swimmers from getting too far off course. I was not just a wee bit off course I was at least 200 to 300 yards off course on several occasions. My problem, sure, but come on I am not too fast for a kayak to catch. After the next turn my problems were compounded dramatically. At this point I discovered that a wind had blown in and the water now had pretty big chop coming from the direction you were trying to swim. Not only that but the course was also set up to have you swimming directly into the sun for maybe as much as 40% of the swim so here I was already swimming poorly with waves slapping me in the face each time I pointlessly peered directly into the sun. It was very rare for me to be able to see other swimmers because it was all a fog of waves and sun. I could see kayakers in the distance as long as they were beside or behind me but I could not see any buoys and the occasional glimpses I did catch of the swim pack only told me that I was straying farther and farther a field.

With the wave action and the constant trying to sight and getting slapped in the face I was starting to take on a lot of water and was starting to feel sick and for the first time ever in a triathlon I began to feel scared. I was out in this huge choppy lake losing strength, losing my direction and the boat support just seemed to be spectators. I finally started bobbing up and down and yelled "Help, I can’t see the buoys!" and one of the kayaker's fired back "Go to the yellow buoy!" I was overwhelmed by anger and knew then that I had to save myself or just swim like a maniac until I was pulled from the water, either way I needed to get to shore or be rescued. I didn't want to take it out on an unsuspecting volunteer so I plunged my head under water and screamed "F&%K!" and just started swimming desperately ahead, to where, I didn't know. Somehow I caught sight of the yellow turn buoy, which was a ways off, and I swam for it, made it and then turned to shore. I still had a hell of a time swimming straight, especially now that the waves were pushing me off course to the right in addition to my mysterious inability to swim straight but at least I could see and sight. I made it to the shore after what seemed like an eternity and noted that my swim time was 1:35 and change, a very inauspicious beginning to what I already knew would be a very long day.

I shot into the changing tent and caught myself feeling pissed about the whole swim ordeal and then reminded myself how bad a day I had at the DeuceMan when I let my emotions get the best of me so I checked my attitude and turned my focus to the bike. I got out of transition pretty quickly because it was a very small and efficient transition area. I don't want to go any further before stating that the volunteers at Silverman are indeed first rate and I can't explain what happened on the swim but I'm willing to consider that my perception was messed up and I developed an unfair attitude. The support was as good as I have seen in any major race.

I hit the bike and it begins with a slight uphill climb, the smallest of the day. Once out on the open road I immediately began to eat and drink and just rode by RPE. I had stripped all my bike computer stuff prior to Soma and left it bare again for Silverman. As the Bigun commented in an earlier post, I did this one Old School. I think that is as it should be because from what I understand about our sport from people who where there in the beginning the Silverman is indeed an old school course. It is not a typical IM course that caters to people's dream of becoming an Ironman, which is fine; it is a course that dares you to race it…I would venture to say that you should probably have done some other, pretty much any other, Ironman first before taking on the Silverman.

Anyway as I headed out on the bike I was feeling very good and was easily gaining ground on people who had beaten me out of the water. Within the first 5 miles I caught and passed one of the Clydes in my age group but he was not exactly competition just a guy out there doing his best. At about mile 15 I got a bit of a surprise when none other than current Ironman World Champion “Macca” pulled up along side, gave me the Hang Ten sign and said “Way to go Mate!” and then pulled on off down the course. Now I’m no expert in Australian culture but since he specifically referred to me as “mate” doesn’t that mean that I’m like a good friend of his…like I could stay at his house if I ever decided to go do a race in Australia? I just may take him up on the offer and remind him pointedly of our little encounter if he tries to back out or calls the police or something. I also got passed by Dave Scott but he was busily fumbling with a Gatorade bottle and according to his later account of his race he was having enough trouble without trying to be kindly to his fan club.

The bike course is a very, very difficult course. The climbs are long and slow but the descents are long and blazing fast but in the end you can not make up for the slow uphill trudges because overall there is more elevation gain than loss, a lot more gain than loss. Most of the roads are smooth as glass having been freshly paved through much of the park. There was one stretch of about 10 miles though that was pretty rough and at one point I hit a patch that was so rough that I later discovered it ejected both my water bottles and caused my bento box to fly open and the entire contents was ejected. I was going so fast at that point that I had a death grip on my handlebars and didn’t dare look anywhere but straight ahead and I just preyed that the terrible noise I had just heard wasn’t something like my bottom bracket cracking open or spokes snapping.

As luck would have it I discovered the complete loss of my nutrition about 7 miles from an aid station where they held our special needs bags. When I hit that aid station it was like a pit-stop. I was immediately swarmed by people who were asking me what I needed and pointing out their wide array of food offerings. One person giving me a hand was Isaac, a fellow blogger who was also volunteering. Thanks Isaac, it was good to meet you! So, I slammed down my Full Throttle energy drink (Blue Agave) re-loaded my bento box, grabbed two bottles of Gatorade and ate a peanut butter and jelly uncrustable and was back off to do battle with the second half of the course. At every aid station on the bike I also grabbed a bottle of water and drank down as much as I could squeeze out before having to dispose of the bottle, probably got at least 20 oz per 10 miles in addition to what I drank in between. I finished with the part of the bike that takes place in the Lake Mead area, which ends about mile 90, and headed into the city of Henderson and its infamous bike path that contains the three sisters. I made it up that evil little series of climbs and got to T2 still feeling pretty good, much stronger than I have ever felt after an IM bike leg.

I moved a little more slowly in T2 because I wanted to be methodical in preparing myself for the marathon after all, if you recall my whole goal for this race was to begin the marathon feeling good and with any luck complete the whole marathon feeling good. When I headed out onto the run I was indeed feeling good even though the run began with a mile down hill and my quads and low back were feeling pretty rugged. The run also consisted of impossibly long and continuous climbs but I was very conservative trying to walk the steepest parts of the up hill and also breaking up the long down hill runs with a little walking so as not to beat my quads to death too soon. It began to drizzle two or three times while I was on the run but it was very light and kind of nice. Again the aid stations were loaded to the brim and the volunteers were first rate. At one point early in the run a Japanese guy started to pull up alongside me while I was running uphill and I noticed he was walking. I let him by so I could watch how he was walking. After studying him for a few minutes I tried to copy his walk and low and behold I cut 2 to 3 minutes per mile off my own walking pace so now I didn’t need to worry nearly as much about losing too much time when switching to the walk.

During the run I kept drinking as much as I could switching between Gatorade, water, coke and the occasional broth and I kept moving forward as best I could. After completing the first loop of the run I got my special needs bag and plopped down on the curb and just sat and rested and drank a second Full Throttle energy drink. It felt so good to just sit there and enjoy my energy drink. I chose not to rush it and savored the moment, gathering strength for my last half-marathon. You will notice my much longer mile split at the half-way point in my Garmin data. After heading back out on the run I was feeling pretty good again but by mile 15 my stomach was starting to go south and at mile 16.17 I stopped to duck behind some bushes where I puked my guts out for a minute or so, rinsed my mouth out and hit the road again.

Somewhere around mile 19 I collected on an agreement I had made earlier. There was one aid station on the run where the people were drinking beer, not a wild party just having a few beers. During my first lap they offered me water, Gatorade etc…and I spied their beer. I said, “Hey, you didn’t mention the beer!” and the guy said, “Is this your first lap or your second?” I said “first” and he said, “When you come around for your second lap we’ll give you some.” So, on my second lap I collected a cup of Guinness Extra Stout, or real beer as I like to call it, and drank it down. Now them is some carbs!

I headed out for my final 7 miles and shortly spotted three guys running together that looked like they could all be Clydes. At this point I thought I was most likely in first place in the masters clyde division because I thought I had passed everyone on the bike and there wasn’t anyone I could identify that was ahead of me on the run that could have possibly qualified as a Clyde. There was no way I was going to lose ground this far into the race so I picked up the pace. I was still in an uphill section but I walked less and jogged more. I knew that about two of the last four miles was downhill and the rest was about 50% flat and 50% climbing. At the beginning of this last 4 mile stretch I decided to spend everything I had left in the bank and do my best to lay in some distance between me and those other guys. I thought about all the bloggy peeps I have met and read, all the people who have been good enough to comment on my blog and support me and gained the strength I needed to push the pace. I was able to lay down two consecutive sub-10 miles and some good distance on who I thought were my competitors.

During the last mile I had a small kitten start meowing at me from the shadows and it started running along side me. I am a sucker for kittens so I started meowing back and calling to it, “Good kitty” it disappeared into a bush but then picked me back up about a half mile later and I repeated calling to it in a kitten friendly voice. It came up to me and I gave it a scratch on the head and spoke to it a little thinking that I was alone in the dark. Right about then this tough looking triathlete that I had been going back and forth with for the last few miles of the run came running by. I stood up, cleared my throat and gave him a manly “good job” and fist pump and then ran off into the darkness. About a half mile from the finish line I peeled off the long-sleeve shirt I had grabbed from my spcial needs bag, rolled it up and tucked it in my jersey back pocket. I straightened up my Outlaws uniform and race number and then started my final kick to the finish. I must have ran down the entire finishers chute in my stupid “finishers pose” because I was DETERMINED to have a good picture once and for all. I think I had a great finishers picture but I’m still waiting.

I had completed the 2007 Silverman Full-distance Triathlon in 15 hours 5 minutes and 49 seconds. While I was the slowest clyde to finish the race I did finish and had my second fastest iron finish yet on a course that was harder by a wide margin than anything else I have done. I blew the swim somehow and my bike split and transitions were comparable to the first and second place clydes. I was blow out on the run but I’m working on that this winter and hopefully I will get just a little closer to really being strong at this distance. Regardless of my results this was an awesome race and I couldn’t be more pleased with my end result. Sure, I could have had a much better swim but even that was a chance to prove to myself that I have learned to take a bad race and turn it around. I applied everything I have learned and thought about all season and came across the line of the world’s hardest triathlon in good shape. Had I been on an easy course I would have PR’d. This is a race that I will probably do again but only if the right people are also racing because while I love the course I have nothing left to prove to the Silverman I would only want to share the experience with friends.


  1. Great race and great report! Congrats!

  2. Fantastic job! I'm so impressed with the way you hung in there under tough conditions!

    I wonder what happened to the kitten?

  3. Great Job and thanks for the excellent report.

    We had a girl from our Tri club that had to DNF after completing the bike.

  4. Doood! You smoked it!

    ha ha! I like the kitten story.

    I knew it was crazy hard - I still can't even fathom the thing. Dave says the bike course used to be in the RAAM. Can you believe that?

  5. Congratulations on a terrific race and a great race report. You rocked a tough one!

    Looking forward to seeing your finisher's photo - the bling looks really impressive and you certainly earned it!
    Yes, an aussie calling you mate definitely means you should go to stay at his or her house, unannounced is fine, even if the place is empty just go in and make yourself at home.

  7. BTW - re the guinness - I wanna be you when I grow up, that's the coolest thing I ever heard LOL

  8. Congratulations on what sounds like a quite wonderful race.

    (I too like the kitten story!)

  9. Congrats on the finish. The race sounds epic.

    Definetly on my list to do. I like a challenge.

    Great job..

  10. Guinness, kittens, bloggers ... and an excellent job of regrouping after the swim. Kudos, SB!

  11. Brian-
    GREAT JOB! That is a fantastic report and sounds like your best race to date in spite of the difficulty! I want to go to Macca's house with you-please?? I love the part about the kitten..you are just a sweet baboo at heart.

  12. Great job-you should be proud of completing this tough race!
    Funny how the ladies pick up on the kitten paragraph...nice touch that you included it in your report. Manly Ironmen can be softees too!
    (After all you drank BEER at an aid station! That's way cool!)

  13. Congratulation on an AWESOME race and fantastic report.

    You are racking up WAY too many "highs" and WAY to fast. ;-)Making the rest of us (mainly me) feel bad/mortal. Your accomplishments are inspiring.

    Keep it up! Congrats again!

  14. Anonymous7:26 AM

    I really enjoyed your race report! That swim sounds frightening...eek. Great job getting through it and turning your attitude around for the rest of the race!

    What a brutal bike course! You must have done lots of hills in training cuz you rocked it!

    The run...OMG! Two sub-10 miles close to the end...awesome! Beer on a marathon...yum! Puking...that in itself proves how hard you pushed yourself. I'd rather get shot in the foot than puke. Awwhh...the kitty...maybe it was Geekgirl in spirt helping you in the end (ok, that's sappy, but ya never know)

    Hope you're reveling in your accomplishment. You really did great!

  15. Thanks for the report. You were prepared, you raced smart, and you regrouped as required!

  16. Anonymous8:53 AM

    Well done, overcoming. You've raised the bar with the kitten and guiness - I mean, what else could compare?

  17. Congratulations!!! What an amazing race for you and wonderful report. I volunteered at the race and saw you before the swim and then between mile 5 and 10 on the bike course. So glad to read that you had such an awesome day and were able to turn it around after the swim.

  18. One thing we have all come to know is that when you set your mind to do something, it gets done. Here is another example.
    Way to survive the swim and not let your anger morph into something bad. That takes a whole lot of mental toughness..another thing you posess a ton of.
    Nice job and if I win the lottery tonight, your my first overall pick for my fully sponsored tri team.

  19. I don't know...outside help rule...being paced by a kitten...'cmon ref, where's the flag?

    Great race Baboo...I'm proud of ya!

  20. Great race report. Glad to hear that you made the race (and with a good time too). It was super tough. I saw a few riders not make it.

    Good meeting you. See you at Santa/marathon.

  21. Wow! That sounded incredibly hard. YOu are one tough dude. Congrats on finishing the hardest triathlon in the world.

  22. Well done mate. Great race.

  23. Great Race recap.. will be training out there for CdA..
    got your call today.. still recoverying..wont make lunch Thurs..was thinking Friday..
    I will call you thursday..


  24. Congratulations on finshing the toughest Ironman there is!!!!!

  25. Dude. You are the man for doing this race.

    Nice Guiness story!

  26. My first response to your race report is, "you got a Guinness ON THE COURSE?" I'm there!

    OK, probably not. I don't think I have the Ironmanishness to do this race.

    But you did, and you did an amazing job! You rocked it!


    Moose and I are in complete awe. We are still in the "Off Season" after Louie. :)

  27. Congratulations! Great race! Great report! Inspiring :)

  28. SB, great race report.
    I know what it feels like to feel abandoned on the swim, and on a difficult (waves, sun, bouy not-in-sight) one at that. It's happened to me enough that sometimes I wonder if volunteers receive enough instruction and specifics on their role in assisting the athlete in the water.
    (Can USAT help with cueing race directors on this?)
    Nice job of focusing on the task at hand, when you started out with such a tough swim.
    Sounds like you did your homework and it paid off. I get scared silly on fast, steep downhills, so I don't think it's the race for me (a la The Ironhorse--in which I was sure I was going over the non-existent guardrails).
    Love the Guinness, kitten, and sub 10 min mile stories.
    Hope your recovery's going well.

  29. Outstanding job and great Race Report!!! I am glad you were able to enjoy a real beer on the course.

  30. Whoa!

    Sorry for the lateness in comment but that is a great performance.

    You are an animal and if you choose to do this race again I hope it's when I'm there.

    It is on my list! And you are on my list!


  31. Anonymous11:12 PM

    OMG, I thought you just did the 1/2 in AZ and realized that this was the full Silverman right afterwards practically back-to-back... WOW, congratulations! Just amazing.