Lake Tahoe Ironman 2013
This was a very strange race for me. I had plenty of time to think. I did a few ‘firsts’ this Ironman, and with as many Ironman races as I have completed I thought all of the firsts had been done. I realized that there is ALWAYS something to learn no matter how experienced we are, or how fast we go.
First – Was warmer in the water than outside the water.
First – Wore full bike gear including leg warmers and cycling jacket.
First – Walked the entire marathon and finished with my head up!
Had this race taken place on Saturday they would have cancelled the swim, and most likely, the race as there was snow on the road and various portions of the bike course. Most likely they would have done the race on Sunday as a 70.3 like they did with the New Zealand Ironman in 2012 due to inclement weather. Lucky for us, the race was on Sunday and the thermometer that morning read a stellar 35 degrees. There was an awesome mist rising off of the water as the water temp was warmer than the air, and the spectators and athletes were freezing waiting for the race to start.
I kissed Sunny and my very loyal and very freezing daughters before heading to the swim start. The coldest part was waiting in the swim chute on the freezing cold sand. Many of the athletes (myself included) wore socks that we were willing to take off and abandon just moments before the swim start. With the new ‘rolling start’ I positioned myself almost front right side in the corral. After the national anthem, the gun was fired and we were off. My emotions were a mix of excitement at being back at the start-line of an Ironman, and also massive disappointment knowing I was not in physical shape nor health to compete at the level I usually do.
Rewind back to the final weeks of 2012 just after I completed my 30th Ironman of the year…I felt good and mostly recovered, but DEEP down I was torn up and not one hundred percent. I rushed the process as I wanted so badly to get my speed back and into racing form. I started to push in order to get ready for the St George 70.3 race in May. I felt decent, and although I raced well I was still unhappy with my progress. Unfortunately, I had already loaded up my race season thinking I would be recovered and feeling strong. The opposite happened, and my body deteriorated and worsened as I continued to push harder. I should have taken several months off before increasing my speed and intensity.
Fast forward to the weeks leading up to the race. My ab, hip flexor, and groin were to the point where coughing hurt and running was very painful. However, we had everything all planned out, and the kids were excited to go. Also, my ASEA sponsor had pulled many strings to get me into the race, so I wasn’t about to squander the opportunity to go and ‘preview’ the course. I knew going into the race there would be a high likely hood that I would be walking my first ever Ironman marathon.
Ok back to the race. Where was I? Oh, yes the freezing sand on my feet just before the swim start. I removed my socks only 5 seconds before the gun fired. I took off running and high stepped my way till the water was deep enough to dolphin dive and start swimming. The water was not swim-able until about 100 or more meters from the shore– most likely my fastest 100 meters of the day. I settled in and was pleasantly surprised with how nice and warm the water was. The water temp was 63 degrees and was the perfect temperature for swimming. Luckily, with the rolling start there was no chaos in the water, and I was able to settle down and do a nice warm-up for the 2.4 miles of swimming that lay ahead. There was only one problem: no one could see the buoys, and many of us had a hard time knowing where we were supposed to be swimming. This played a big role in many of the athlete’s unusually slow swim times. My Garmin had the swim clocked (the way I swam) at just over 4400 meters meaning I swam an additional 500 meters. At this distance I averaged 1:40 /100 meters which I am pretty happy about. The swim was a two loops, and upon completion of the first lap the water was shallow enough to walk. I took this opportunity to run along the shoreline with the water height just above my waist. I was able to run as fast as many of the swimmers around me. It was a good opportunity to regroup and get ready for the second loop. The water was clear, and by the middle of the second loop the sun had come up and the mist had lifted. My last 500 meters went super smooth, and I was happy with my pace.
It was a quick run out of the water and through the chute, and there was so much congestion that I never saw my girls who patiently waited for me at the swim finish. I grabbed my bag and entered the T1 tent, or should I say the ZOO tent. I have never been in a transition tent with so many athletes in it. Normally, athletes are in and out and rushing all over the place, but not today with the colder temps. Athletes were taking off all of their wet items and putting on layers of gear in an attempt to stay warm on the bike ride. Every single seat was taken, and even most of the standing room was occupied. I walked all the way through the commotion and ended up changing just outside the tent. I kept my tri shorts on, and put my bike shorts on overtop, threw on full leg warmers, a bike jersey, cycling jacket, booties, and gloves. I was all set for a warmer ride. The few extra minutes it took me to put on all this gear was well worth it.
I headed out onto the bike and HOLY CRAP my face was freezing! Oh, and my feet were still frozen from standing in the icy cold sand. From miles 5-25.5 I averaged just under 22 MPH and remember thinking;
Well, the real climbing started at mile 40 and kicked you in the face all the way ‘til mile 50! Without knowing the course I had no idea when the climbing would end. At around mile 45 I was tired, had heavy legs, and started to question why I was out there. I was cold, injured, and not in condition to be competitive. I kept thinking about quitting, and despite doing 30 IM’s last year I wasn’t sure I was going to find it inside me to finish this one out. As many of you know, I have 5 kids and, more often than not, kid’s bop of some kind is playing in the car. For some reason the song ‘gum drops’ came into my head and I started signing it over and over again……
“If all of the rain drops were lemon drops and gum drops, oh what a rain it would. I’d stand outside with my mouth open wide signing ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah……” BOOM Shoot me in the head right now.
I FINALLY summited the last climb before screaming down the mountain back towards king’s beach. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do all that again. It was at this moment that I remembered my day last year with Dayton in Arizona. The thought came into my head:
‘Dayton can’t ride a bike and you get to ride your bike’
This helped push me through the next section of hard miles. By mile 65 I could finally feel my left foot again. I stayed on my NEW nutrition plan and slowly I started to come around. About half way through the climbs on the second loop I started to feel really good. I looked down at mile 82 and was finally in a rhythm. It took this long to kick off the rust from almost a year away from racing Ironman. I thought I was going to feel like death the entire day, but what did I expect with no training for 6 weeks and a very injured ab, hip flexor, and groin?
The final stages of the bike were rolling but now into a headwind. I was still feeling great and cut through the wind to wrap up the final miles of the 112 mile ride.
I rolled into transition decidedly unexcited about what was about to happen. Knowing my current level of fitness and physical health there was a huge probability that I would be walking the majority of the marathon. I had joked with many of my athletes that I would easily break 12 hours in this race, but looking down at my watch I noticed my current race time was 7 hours and 58 minutes. There was no way I was going to break 12 today. This was one of the hardest bike courses I have ever done, and honestly the only race I can think of that was tougher was the 200km ride I did in France through the Pyrenees. This transition tent was just as bizarre as T1, but for different reasons. Athletes were just sitting on the chairs almost motionless. I went through my entire transition and the guy beside me didn’t move, still in his bike shoes. I think he was contemplating whether or not he wanted to run after that ride.
Here’s some interesting stats I found on the race totting the seconds highest ever DNF in Ironman history – no wonder so many athletes were sitting lifeless in the transition tent – http://triathlon.competitor.com/2013/09/race-coverage/ironman-lake-tahoe-sees-20-dnf-rate_85150
Not really thinking ahead I just threw on my running shoes and sleeveless top (total routine). I was so accustomed to doing sub 12hour Ironman races that it didn’t dawn on me that when the sun goes down the temperature goes down with it. I headed out onto the run course and just felt like starting out with a walk. There was an aid station pretty quick, and I made a stop. Chips, pretzels, grapes, and coke all went down the hatch – and tasted so good! I started running and didn’t have much pain. The air temp was perfect, and I thought maybe, just maybe I would be able to run slow and get this thing done is a reasonable amount of time. Reality set in at about mile six when the pain started to mount, and it became decision time. Should I run through the pain and possibly add weeks or months onto my recovery time OR add several hours (5) to your day and minimize the damage? I quickly made the decision to stop running and walk the remaining 20 plus miles of the marathon. I can see how quitting or not finishing is appealing, and that would have been super easy. But this cowboy doesn’t quit. There was still time on the clock and I had able, walking legs. So I walked…and walked, and walked.
The course layout was such that the turn around on lap 1 and the turn around on lap 2 were different. Normally, they run you around and you end up back at transition for the half-way mark at 13.1miles. But not in Tahoe! Once back at transition you had covered 17 miles. After waiting all day in the cold and sitting in traffic for 3 hours the girls thought they had missed me coming through at mile 13. When in reality I was still walking and had 4 miles to go ‘till I got back to transition to head out for my last 9 miles. At mile 9.5 I asked a volunteer at an aid station if I could borrow her phone to text Sunny and give her an update. I told her that I was hurting pretty bad and that I was walking. I said it was going to be a long night, and she could leave if she wanted. I requested for my hoodie and my daughter’s angry bird hat. Not expecting a response, I handed the phone back to the volunteer and continued my walk into the night. At the far turn around of the run I stopped and marveled that some people were STILL on their bikes. Right then, a dog escaped from this young boy who tried to hold him back. The dog pulled the boy into the street and BAM. This poor cyclist who was just about to wrap up the toughest ride she had most likely ever done nailed this kid and went flying into the street. The boy stood up and limped back over to the curb and the woman lay lifeless in the street. I felt bad as this unfortunate incident suddenly ended her day. SO much effort and sacrifice goes into a day like this it was heart breaking to see this happen. I walked away thinking how grateful I was to be still moving forward toward the finish line.
Sunny and the girls waited and waited expecting me at 13 miles…. which was really 17. At around 15 miles they were handing out silver blankets. I was elated to take the space blanket as I was chilled to the bone by this point. The temp was around 40 degrees and dropping. I walked through the turn-around at transition, and didn’t see Sunny or any of the girls. When my times posted online through 13 miles they figured they had missed me, and Sunny took the girls to our friend’s to take them home. I was devastated hoping for some warm faces and warm clothes. I rounded the turn around with only my blanket and disappointment. I felt awful that my biggest fans waited all day to cheer me on with their smiles and cowbells and they never got to see me ;( Walking through the dark I allowed myself to shed a few tears as no one would be able to see.
A good portion of the run course was on a path down by the river. It was beautiful in the day and pitch black in the dark. On my way back out they were handing out headlights for safety- glow sticks weren’t going to cut it in Tahoe. Once down on the path it was an amazing sight. One big long line of headlights bobbing up and down in the night. I have never walked a marathon in an Ironman before and have never seen first-hand the masses out here fighting to finish their Ironman. I could have easily quit. I could have easily notched my first DNF, but I would have missed seeing all these people fighting for their finish.
One of the biggest take aways on the day was proper training and proper preparation for an Ironman. What do you think gives out first in an Ironman?
2- Muscular Endurance/Strength
3- Heart and Guts (what are you really made of)
4- Mental (quitting or giving up)
The answer, in my opinion, is #2: muscular endurance. In an Ironman your legs will fatigue and get heavy long before your heart and lungs (cardio or #1) gives way. All workouts in Ironman training are key, but if you miss your weight sessions and your low end high intensity work you will be in trouble. Ironman racing is very different than half-ironman races, and practically a different sport than sprint and Olympic distance triathlons.
I thought it was amazing and generous of many athletes to offer me their additional layers of clothing. I must have looked colder than I thought! I rounded the final corner of my very long walk and saw Sunny right before the finish chute. I walked up to her and said; “I’m sorry I took so long.” She gave me a kiss, and I ran through the finish! This was one of my worst Ironman finishes, but also one of my favorites. I would love to return to Lake Tahoe and take another crack at this course, but healthy and prepared next time.
A huge thank you to Bill, Jackie, Scott and ASEA for making this day possible. As always none of this would be possible without my incredible wife, Sunny Jo Mamma and my biggest fans Lucy, Lily, Daisy, Dolly, and Quinn. 20% of the field didn’t make the finish line making it the second highest DNF in Ironman history only behind the now famous 2012 Ironman St George. I am happy to say that I have finished the 2 hardest Ironman races to date in Ironman history. And just FYI neither of these course hold a candle to the test in Altriman in Les Angles France. I don’t take for granted for one second the incredible support system I have around me and how grateful I am that I get to do what I do for a living. I am blessed and very happy. But for now my season is over… let the healing begin.