This past Sunday I competed in the Maytag Ironman Steelhead 70.3 race in Benton Harbor, MI. For those that just want the basics, I’ll spare you the details and just say that I was disqualified from the race for not completing the whole course. I missed the turn for the second loop.
For those that want the details of the race, here we go!
I was impressed by the organization of the race. From the pre-race emails, to the check-in; the volunteers, to the aid stations…it was a class act. I had a question about my registration, and received an answer within a few days. Parking was about one half mile away from the event, but we didn’t have a problem finding a spot to park, and shuttles were available if you didn’t have a bike. We chose to walk each day, so I can’t comment on the shuttle service. Packet pickup was quick and very well organized. You went from table to table to get your bib number, sign your waiver, get your stickers and bib, and then get your T-shirt. The whole process took maybe 10 minutes.
We (my wife Angie and I), then went through the gift shop. There was plenty of Ironman branded things to buy, from T-shirts to jackets to coffee mugs to stickers. I bought a mug and sticker. :-)
I checked my bike in, and then we went to the pre-race meeting. The courses and rules were discussed, as well as the penalties for rule violations.
We drove back to the campground and ate dinner. After several times of making sure I had everything packed for the race, we drove to a nearby beach and walked out onto a pier to watch the sun set.
Sunday morning we got up early, ate, and headed to the event. There were volunteers to guide us where to park, and it was another short half mile walk to the start. Again, there were shuttles, but we passed. I arranged all of my stuff in the transition area, then headed out to find Angie and wait for the start.
The male pros went off at 6:45, and the women pros at 6:50. The rest of us went out based on our projected finish times. Based on previous swims, I seeded myself in the 37-40 minute group. Every 5 seconds 5 people were released to the water. About 7:17am I hit the water.
If I can back up, a few days before the event I had been watching the weather. It was projected to be a 2mph wind, and about 65 degrees F. The water temp was low enough to be able to wear a wetsuit. I assumed that this would be perfect conditions for a race. But as of 5am Sunday, the official water temp was taken. It was 76.4. If it was over 76.1 you could wear a wetsuit, but would not qualify for any awards. I didn’t think I would qualify for any awards, so that didn’t bother me. But the wetsuit wearers were also put at the back of the pack, and would go off last. Since I knew that the temperature was going to get hot and muggy, I wanted to finish my race as soon as possible. I chose to line up without a wetsuit.
Also (and more troubling) the wind had picked up overnight. The waves were about 2 feet high. When my turn came I ran into the surf, jumped over as many waves as I could, then began swimming. Within 20 strokes my left goggle filled with water. So I began treading water, dumped out my goggle, hoped I didn’t get slammed into by another athlete, and began swimming again. The waves were such that it was hard to find a comfortable rhythm to breathe. For the most part they were coming from the 10 o’clock position, so I tried to breathe to the right. But every now and then I timed it wrong and would get a wave crashing over my head as I was trying to breathe. A couple of times I had to stop and cough up the water I had ingested.
Meanwhile, my left goggle began to slowly fill with water again.
When I made the first turn, the waves were now coming at me from my 8 o’clock position. I had to breathe to my right, but again would occasionally time it wrong and catch a wave of water. At this point, it seemed like we were all in a washing machine. Everyone was getting slammed into each other, and it was hard to find a clear path to swim. It seemed like I was overtaking more swimmers than were overtaking me, and I assumed that many people had overestimated their swimming pace.
At the second turn, it was much of the same. The waves should have now been at my 3 o’clock position, but it seemed like they kept changing. I tried breathing on my right, my left, my right some more….right seemed better (which didn’t make any sense). At this point it really didn’t matter. I was just trying to get to shore. I felt good, I wasn’t breathing hard, and I thought I was doing well.
My left goggle was full of water.
(I usually average about 1:50 min/100 yards in the pool and open water. My time showed 2:08/100 yards. So it took 18 more seconds for every 100 yards in those waves!)
However, I sighted very well and seemed to swim a straight line. This is something I’ve been working on since my last race, so I am happy with that result.
The swim/bike transition was not good, but I’ll get to that later.
As for the bike, I loved it. It was a well marked course and fast. As I went out my average pace was 19.5mph, which is a little fast for me, but I assumed the wind was at my back. I intended to keep my average power output at 165 watts, and my speed at about 18mph. At the turn it didn’t seem like the wind picked up at all, and my pace remained the same. I ended the bike split with a 19.3mph avg, and my output was 149 watts. I had made up for the time I lost in the swim, and did it at less effort! It was a win-win situation. I left the bike/run transition in under 4 hours.
(Side note: When I was in T2, they were announcing the winner of the pro female. Really??? In the time it took me to swim and bike, the first woman already did the whole course?)
I had told Angie that I would finish between 6 and 7 hours. I was hoping for 6:15, and had a stretch goal of under 6 hours. Since I was under 4 hours, I thought I had a chance of realizing my stretch goal. I didn’t want to push it, but I had planned on running a 9 min/mile pace. This would put me at just under a 6 hour finish time. It was also the pace that I had been training at. I often ran faster than this, so I figured it was very possible.
To back up, when I came out of the water I took off my goggles….and couldn’t see out of my left eye. It looked all cloudy, like maybe I had something in it. I rubbed it, but it didn’t help. As I ran through transition (which was .29 miles long) I continued to rub my eye trying to clear it out. Did I get some sort of fungus from the water in my goggle? Will this be permanent? Should I be concerned??
Since there wasn’t anything I could do about it, I decided to ignore it as best I could. Sometime during the bike it cleared up and I forgot about it.
Okay, for all that I mentioned about the organization of the race being spot on, the transition area is the worst I have ever been to. It was about 100 yards long, and you had to run between the bikes the whole way. Most events have racks to either side and you run down the middle. Not here. The wheels of the racked bikes were about four feet apart, with people doing their transition in that space. As you were running and pushing your bike, you had to navigate all the people in the way. Basically, you had to walk the transition.
I was lucky enough to have a paved section for my bike rack. Just opposite of me, the people were standing in sand! Imagine trying to quickly get your shoes on, without getting all that sand in your shoes! And then they had to push their bike through all the sand (or carry it) until they got out of transition. Bad call Ironman!
I started the run feeling fine. Even though I biked faster than I planned, since my power output was lower than planned I was feeling great. I knew I hadn’t overdone it. I tried to keep my running pace at a 9 min/mile, but was a little fast, which is normal after getting off the bike. Within the first mile there was a very steep hill. Most people were walking it, so I decided it was a good time to walk and adjust my pace. After the hill, I started running again, only to find that I didn’t have any energy. I was surprised since I had eaten three Clif bars on the bike, and had drank two bottles of water. I walked for a bit, found an aid station, got more water and a half banana, then tried running again. But I just couldn’t find the energy to pick my legs up.
Okay, so I needed to reassess my goals. Under 6 hours was out of the picture, but I could still make 6:15 if I just ran at a slower pace. However, every time I tried to run I could only go about a tenth of a mile before my legs would give out. I would walk for a minute or two and try again. But then every time I tried to run I would want to throw up. 3 times I ran to the ditch trying to puke, but I couldn’t. However, when I would run I would start gagging on my vomit. So walking became the norm, and running was a forced activity. I drank water at every aid station, but it wasn’t helping. The majority of the course was in the open sun, and I was getting heat exhaustion. I put ice down my suit, but it didn’t help. I was also getting chest pains, although my breathing and my heart rate were normal.
I stopped on the side of the road and stretched for a bit, hoping that it would be a magic cure, but it was fruitless. I was just going to have to suffer this one out, and hope to finish in about 7 hours.
Somewhere around 6.5 miles into the run I remembered that there was a second loop I should take, although I didn’t know where it was. Since there was always plenty of runners around me, I figured it would be obvious where the decision point would be. Some would go left, and others right. And there would be a volunteer, of which there were many on the course, which would be directing traffic so to speak. I continued following everyone ahead of me, and eventually came to a steep downhill.
This was the same hill that I had walked up early in the race. From previous conversations with people that had done this race, I thought I remembered them saying something about running this hill twice. So I thought the turnaround would be at the bottom of the hill.
At this point several spectators were cheering on the runners, saying “only 2 more miles”, or “the finish chute is right around the corner”. It seemed odd to me, but I figured that they assumed I was on the second loop, not the first. I continued looking for the turnaround.
And then it hit me that I had missed the second loop.
Should I go back?
How far back?
Was it a quarter mile? Half mile? 2 miles?
I really didn’t know. And by then I realized that I was only 1 mile from the finish line. I tried to do the math with my foggy brain, but really couldn’t remember where the loop was supposed to be. I was 7 miles into a 13 mile run. How big was the loop? 3 miles? 4 miles? Was it worth running backwards to try to find the loop?
I decided to keep going, knowing that I would get a DNF. I was very frustrated at this point. I was questioning everything I had done in my training. I have logged over 1500 miles on my bike this year and ran almost 500 miles. I’ve ran 3 half marathons this summer! Why couldn’t I get through a few miles without walking???
Was it nutrition? Angie says that I don’t eat enough, but I eat according to my hunger…and my digestive system. I’m not normally hungry. Even with all the training I do, I rarely feel hungry. I normally train on a fasted stomach, and don’t eat right after my workout. I also get a bloated/gassy stomach very easily, so I have to watch what I eat. Often times it’s easier to not eat than to eat and then have stomach issues. I tried to get enough calories during the race. But I can’t control nausea.
Was it hydration? I drank two water bottles filled with electrolytes and a hydration formula. I grabbed another water bottle, but it got ejected from my bike when I hit a bump. I made sure to drink water at every aid station on the run.
Was it fatigue? This is what I’m leaning toward. I did taper for two weeks. The first week I cut my training by about 30%, and the second week by another 50%. (10 hours normal, 6 hours, then 3 hours) However, I don’t get much sleep. Working third shift, I average about 4 hours/day plus a nap. Leading into this race, from Thursday at 5pm until Sunday at 3:30am, I slept about 12 hours. Recovery is a big part of training. If you don’t recover, your body just doesn’t have the ability to rejuvenate itself.
So I completed 65.9 miles of a 70.3 mile race. I was 4.4 miles short. I should have turned around. I didn’t complete the race I started.
In the bible, Hebrews 12 says (in reference to the great men of faith in the Old Testament)
1 ¶ Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
I didn’t run the race “marked out for me”. On a spiritual level, I fell short of the goal. I “grew weary and lost heart”. This only encourages me to run this race again. Not only to prove to myself that I can do it, but to make a statement for myself that I have the stamina to run the race that God has planned for me.