Standing waist deep in Smithville Lake preparing to swim 2.4 miles I kept telling myself, “This is the easiest event of the day, relax and enjoy the swim”. Prior to the morning of September 25th, the longest continuous distance I had swam in my life was 1.2 miles, yet here I was waiting for the start of a triathlon that would require me to swim 2.4 miles as an “easy” warm up to what the day had in store.On Friday I arrived at the race site to pick up my race packet and check in my bike. As is customary at most larger triathlons, there were multiple vendors set up hawking their supplies. Of particular interest to me was the “Aquaman” booth which had a sleeveless wetsuit on sale for $168. I came really close to buying one as I was concerned with the 2.4 mile swim in my full wetsuit due to the added constriction the sleeves place on my arms and the possible resulting fatigue. However, I ran into Dwayne Miller who happened to have a sleeveless wetsuit in Columbia that he was interested in getting rid of. So Dwayne left a message with his wife to bring the wetsuit with her when she left Columbia that evening. Nothing else of interest happened Friday evening and I left the race site having decided if Dwayne’s suit made it here by morning I would use it, otherwise I would use my full suit.
Once back at the campsite, I proceeded to prepare my race bags for the following day. Unlike a typical triathlon where an athlete prepares a “transition area” with all their racing gear next to their bike, in an Ironman event, and athlete must decide what exactly they need for each event and place the items in a bag which has their race number on it. Then, as the athlete finishes a discipline, volunteers hand the competitors the appropriate bag and the competitor hopes they remembered to place all the necessary items in the bag. I remember reading about one competitor who forgot his biking shoes and was forced to ride the whole race in his running shoes, a mistake I did not plan on making… After a brief and welcome distraction to greet some friends who would be sharing the campsite for the night, I returned to my tent and was just about wrapping things up when I stepped on something and heard a “pop”. I looked down to discover I had stepped on a packet of “hammer gel” and now I had a sticky mess on the floor of my tent and all over my special needs bags. Not something you want to deal with when you are trying to get to bed early, but I eventually got the mess cleaned up. I finally got to bed around 10pm and with the newly acquired heater from Target I was able to get a warm and comfortable 7 hours of sleep.
Five in the morning and my radio alarm wakes me up. First things first, I start chowing down. I had read I should get anywhere from 600 to 1000 calories for breakfast, so I ate a breakfast bar (120 calories), a packet of pop tarts (400 calories), a banana (@100), and a small cliff bar (90 calories) for a total of 710 calories, around 1/12th the amount of calories I would burn by the end of the day. After a brief stop by my parent’s suburban to say hi and pick up a slice of pecan pie for my run “special needs bag”, I arrive at the race site around 6am. The next hour and thirty minutes were spent checking and double checking everything. Something could be said for being a little more confident in your pre-race preparations and just showing up 30 minutes before a race and getting that extra hour of sleep.
Initially the swim didn’t look good; a fog had blown in making it almost impossible to see the marker buoys. However, once 7:30 rolled around, most of the fog had cleared. I must say, it was a strange feeling to be standing in that water with several hundred other athletes knowing what lay ahead of us. I couldn’t decide if I wanted it to start, or if I was happy for the 10 minute delay we ended up experiencing. I’m not exactly sure what time the race started as I had decided to swim without a watch, but eventually after the slight delay we were off!
Swimming for the first time in a sleeveless wetsuit, things felt pretty good. Surprisingly, despite a relatively small field, the start seemed rather hectic and I got hit and kicked several times more than normal. Sighting the buoys remained difficult even without the fog as the distances between them were fairly far, several times I would be sighting in on one buoy, only to realize it was the wrong buoy and I was swimming off course. Eventually I made it around one lap. While I should have kept swimming, I removed my goggles and ran in chest deep water for about 100 yards until I remembered I was going to get to do 26.2 miles on my feet later, right now I needed “relax and enjoy my swim” so I resumed my swimming. 1.2 miles later I was done. Total swim time 1:18:12, though I’m not sure where the chip timer mat was, I think it was up a slight hill that I casually walked up, I wasn’t in any hurry at this point.
My first transition was a slow 7:04; I completely changed clothes, drank some fluids, and ate a little. I also put on my heart rate monitor which I was counting on to gauge my cycling effort by. Once off on the bike, I tried to settle into a rhythm. It took a while, but finally I seemed to get my biking legs going. As it turned out, the toughest part of the bike leg would be trying to keep from going to fast. With both the full and half racers competing at the same time on the same course, there were multiple triathletes competing in the half who were ahead of me on the bike and I was passing them one after another. Of course, every time I passed someone it would put me in “race/competitive” mode and then I would have to remind myself I was supposed to be following the heart rate monitor, not racing. My goal for the day was to keep my heart rate around 150; I knew I could go all day at that rate.
I hadn’t really decided what my plans were for hydration/nutrition; I had just packed my cycling jersey with plenty of gue and a couple of power bars. Once out on the bike course, I decided I would do a gue every 10 miles and just try to drink “often”. I had started the race with Gatorade in my aero drink system as well as in my water bottle. Throughout the rest of the ride, i would alternate between Gatorade and water, resulting in there usually being a 50/50 mix in my aero bottle.
The majority of the ride went well (other than covering both my sleeves with snot from my runny nose). I continuously passed people and moved up through the field until after the first turnaround I was in around 30th place and by mile 84 I was around 25th or so. However, at about mile 80 my feet had started hurting really badly, I believe my shoes are too small, so I ended up taking my feet out and biking for about 5 miles on top of my shoes. When I reached the aid station at mile 85, I stopped and took some ibuprofen for a developing headache, got some Gatorade and then put my shoes back on. This would work until around mile 102 when once again my feet started hurting really badly so once again I took my feet out and started biking with my feet on my shoes. I can do this without stopping, however, the Velcro straps on the shoes were flapping and rubbing against my cranks, so I eventually had to stop and fix this. I would end up biking the final 10 miles like this. Proper fitting cycling shoes are definitely my next triathlon investment. My final bike average was 19.9. After the first half I had been at 21.2 so I had slowed down a little in the second half.
Coming into transition area, my legs felt remarkably wobbly as I got off the bike. Who would figure that after biking 112 miles I couldn’t just hop off the bike and run into the changing tent? But I made it in there regardless, and after another slow transition (5:24), I was off on the marathon. Of course, first I asked my dad how far back Mark Carey had finished in the Half and he said that he had been about 10 minutes back, so I knew all I had to do was finish in order to win the Ultramax series. The first mile felt great and I ran it in around 7:30 or so. Then I remembered my heart rate monitor and I looked down and it was up to about 168, too high! I also remembered that all I had to do was finish, so at the 1 mile marker, even though I could physically keep running, I began walking.
I’ll never know if I could have run the whole marathon, I won’t even know if I could have run half of it, because I didn’t. Mentally I had no desire to run, occasionally I would run for a little, to catch someone, run with someone, or just because I wanted to get to the finish a little sooner. For the most part though, I just walked and told myself over and over that I wasn’t going to do this again…
Anyways, after a lot of walking, I finished the marathon in 5:07:02 for a total time of 12:15:11.
Looking back, especially on Sunday morning when I missed 4th place in my age group and a trisports gift certificate by 1’23” and 3rd place by under 7 minutes, I’m a little upset at myself for not running a little more. Or, for that matter going a little faster in the transitions. However, I have to remind myself that I did finish my first Ironman distance race, I did win the Ultramax series, and I did all this after a season with Achilles tendonitis, Patello-Femoral syndrome, and a cold the week leading up to the Ultramax (and during the race). This year placing in the Ultramax didn’t matter. And yes, contrary to what I told myself over and over again on the Ultramax run, I am going to do this again next year, after all, it is going to be free!
A little interesting story about the run:
About 5 miles into my first lap, in one of my brief periods where I felt like running, I ran past a triathlete that looked fairly bad off. At this point I was talking to just about every person I passed or who passed me so I said “good job, hang in there”. He replied that he thought the second place guy was gaining on him. I just kind of laughed at that and figured he was joking around like I tend to do, pretending like I’m in the lead and joking with the volunteers. After getting about a 100yards ahead of him I started thinking about it and realized, he probably was in the lead, just that he was on his second lap and I was on my first! So I started walking again and let him (Mike) catch back up and then I ran with him and talked for a little while. Eventually I stopped running and he moved on. However for the next 10 or so miles I would catch back up and run with Mike occasionally, run a ways ahead of him, and then falling back behind him. Eventually, when Mike had about 4 miles left to go, I stopped running all together and let him go on. I knew Dwayne would be catching up to me soon, and I wanted to see how he was doing. When Dwayne caught up, I talked with him a little bit, tried to encourage him on, and told him that Mike was hurting and that he could catch him if he kept up his pace. Of course while I know and am friends with Dwayne and I wanted to see Dwayne win, I had also done everything I could to encourage Mike as well. Maybe it would have been different if I had felt more competitive in the run, but for the most part I was just out to encourage everyone I could. However, it was funny the following day at the awards ceremony to hear Mike Larsen talk about the “spy” who ran with him on the run. He referred to me as this “spy” who would run with him for a little bit and then stop and walk. He couldn’t figure out why I didn’t just keep on running, he thought from my form/cadence that I ought to be running a lot more than I was. Then he saw me wave to Dwayne and started thinking that maybe I was a spy and when I eventually dropped back towards the end, he figured I was back reporting everything to Dwayne. The funny thing was, he was partially right, though I hadn’t been intentionally “spying”!
Sweet race report Tony. keith and I rode 75 up to Iowa on sunday ad are planning on k loop today and keith wants to do a hard 20 miler on wednesday if you wanna go. I will have to check to see if 5 works for him. Congratulations again.
Awesome job with the Ironman Tony! You’re an inspiration to us all. For a bike geek like me just having a novice interest in triathlons, I really enjoyed your great race report here. Keep up the great work. Wow, if only I can do my Century ride this weekend in 5:37…and you did that riding 12 more miles than I’ll have to! Thanks for the inspiration.
Hey Tony – Congrats on your first ironman! You made some big strides this year and I predict only bigger and better things to come. Keep up all the hard work and enjoy the off-season!
You rule Tony! I can’t wait for the day when people will be amazed when I tell them that I have trained with THE Tony Rigdon! Thanks for writing about your racing and training adventures! I love reading about what you are doing! Come visit me in AZ!!
Lots of love and hugs!