Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Great Buckeye Challenge Half Ironman

After watching the Ironman World Championship yesterday.  I was inspired to finally share the story of this journey.  For those of you not family with a Half Ironman.  Its a 70.3 mile race that consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile half marathon.  

This journey began back in the Spring of 2012.  My dismal performance in the 2012 Cleveland Marathon left me feeling lost.  I was burnt out from training and racing.  Retreating to the world of cycling, I began to find myself again.  I started tagging along with some friends who were training for a Half Ironman that Fall.  After a month, they confronted me with....Your already training for this race.  You might as well sign up and do it.  My intention wasn't to do a race of this distance so soon, but to just get in better shape.  As race day approached, I began to panic about the swim and pulled out of the race.  I promised to return a year later, ready to finish the challenge.  The offseason was spent focusing on swimming and attempting to become more comfortable with that discipline.

The weather this Spring wasn't conducive to early season multi-sport speed.  The races I used to prepare for the Half Ironman this Fall were as follows:

Revolution 3 Knoxville:  DNF

Nordonia Hills Duathlon:  2nd in AG.

Clays Park Triathlon:  1st in AG.

Twinsburg Duathlon:  Qualified for National Duathlon Championship

Munroe Falls Triathlon:  1st in AG.

Huntington Beach Duathlon:  1st in AG.

The rest of the summer was spent focusing on increasing my endurance and perfecting my swim.  I made the decision to compete in the Buckeye Challenge Half Ironman as it was an inland lake swim and I felt more comfortable with this over a Lake Erie swim.  Training had been going perfectly until the morning of August 4th.  I was about 25 miles into a 56 mile ride / 6 mile run brick when I got into a bike wreck.  It was my own fault as I was not wearing cycling gloves on a very humid day.  I hit a bump at 25 mph and my hands slipped off the handle bars.

I finished the 56 mile ride, but didn't run.  You should have seen the weird looks I was getting while riding. 

It was a miracle that I didn't break anything, but my right side was riddled with road rash and I bruised my ribs after landing on a curb.  This was a complete disaster and I wasn't able to swim until a week before my race.  It also hindered my ability to run as it felt like someone was poking me with a knife in my ribs every time my right foot landed.

I thought long and hard about pulling out of this race.  The only real training the month leading up to this race was cycling.  Even that wasn't great, as I was too skiddish to ride my TRI bike and just stuck to my road bike.  I made the decision to finish what I started no matter how much it hurt or how long it would take.

In the days leading up to the race, the nerves began to set in.  It seemed like each day, the forecast became hotter...80's...90's...100.  I increasing became nervous about hydration as I've had cramping issues in the past during hot events.  I spent the days leading up to the race drinking anything I could get my hands on.

Believe it or not...I fit all this in transition. 
My bike set up for the big race. 
Saying this was the most important part of the day would be putting it lightly.  I've had my issues with swimming and I was beyond nervous.  I wasn't paying attention and left in the wrong wave and even made a wrong turn at some point too.  I was attempting  to focus and push the panic out of my mind.  Stroke, Stroke, Breath..Stroke, Stroke, Breath...Shit this is insane.  Stroke, Stroke, Breath, Fuck! why am I doing this.  I pushed on as my shoulders burned.  I could feel the flutter of feet in front of me and settled in attempting to benefit from the draft.  My nerves calmed a bit as I hugged the shore praying for it to be over.  Finishing the swim in 44:37.  A rush of excitement engulfed me.  I had made it!!!

Transition 1
It was a bit of a run up a hill from the beach to the transition area.  I made my way to my bike.  So excited that it felt like I was floating.  Off with the wetsuit, shoes and helmet on.  It was time to ride.  I opted for a standard road helmet over an aero as I thought the cooling benefits would be more important than aero.

Full of adrenalin, I monitored my heart rate a lot the first few miles to ensure I didn't go out too hard.  I was one of the first waves and I was coming up on the people racing the sprint and olympic distances.  It wasn't overly hot yet.  Even though the road was rolling a bit, it was smooth as silk.  There was a steady stream of slower riders on the right.  I just kept to the left as I passed one after another.  It was the perfect balance of speed, focus, and barely any effort.  It was cycling nirvana.  After passing through the turning points of the shorter races.  It was just me and the road.  It was a smaller race and there wasn't anyone else in my immediate area.  I could only see the next rider on long straight aways about a half mile ahead.  It was just me, the countryside, and the hum of the wheels cutting through the wind.  Everything was going well until mile 24.  I began to have discomfort in my left hip.  I'd never experienced anything like this and fortunately it went away.  My bike was set up with 3 bottles full of electrolytes and I was burning through it, but still on pace to make it do mile 36.  We had 3 options for a package drop and I selected mile 36.  It was starting to get warm out as mile Garmin temp gage was reading 99 on the road.  I was looking forward to a break as I approached the checkpoint.  I had caught and passed that rider in front of me finally, speeding away to the water stop.  The volunteer were great and found my bag quickly and I refilled my 3 bottles before heading out.  It was a quick right and a climb into a headwind.  I quickly began to worry as I didn't feel right.  My legs just didn't have any power left.  The temp was now reading 105.  I made it through the next 5 miles and the sun was just frying us out on the road.  Cramps in my quads had begun to set it.  I stopped a couple times in hopes that it would work out.  Counting down the miles, I just prayed for it to be over.  Shaking my head and cursing myself...I made it do the finish.

Transition 2
I caught a small 2nd wind as I whipped around the transition to the bike mount.  The road was lined with people who were cheering us on.  I dismounted and made it to my designated spot.  I was shocked at how many bikes were still missing.  Despite all the issues, I was still towards the front of this race.  Cycling shoes off, running shoes on.  It was time to finish this.

I eased slowly into the run.  My legs were full of spasms and the temp was still pegged at 105.  The run was a two loop course that was flat except for 2 climbs up to the turnaround point.  It was primary a bike path with almost no shade.  I clomped along for the first mile and those spasms turned into cramps.  My leg completely locked up.  I just stood there in a panic.  Tears began to well up, was this it?   Am I done?  I made it through the swim, how could this be happening?  After a few minutes the cramp released and I began to walk.  I would the jog and cramps would set in again.  I knew if I was going to finish.  It was going to be a fight and it was going to be harder than anything I had tried before.  It was a walk...jog..cramp..walk...jog...cramp...walk.  I made it through the first loop in what seemed like forever and a day.  I was mostly walking at this point and my garmin was telling me it was a blistering 106.  To this day, I don't know how I made it those last 6.5 miles.  I had cramps at one point or another in my legs, arms, face, and hands.  My legs locked up on several occasions and it was so bad that my foot turned into what felt like a ball.  I just kept shuffling along, refusing to be denied.

Certainly, the result wasn't what I expected and it was a small miracle that I even finished.  It was an even bigger miracle that I still finished 2nd in my AG.  Judging by the splits, I had an hour lead at one point.  Sometimes I wonder what may have been if I didn't have issues, but it was never about time.  It was about finishing what I started way back in 2012.  I feel more like a Half Ironman survivor than a finisher.  This was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done.  They always say you don't know what you're limits are until you push them.  I pushed them this day.  Pushed them farther and deeper than I ever imagined were possible.  I'm not sure what the future holds.  I had planned on doing an Ironman in 2014, but I can't imagine doing double what I did this day.  I don't have any desire to do long course triathlons again, but I learned a long time ago to never say never.  Plus, who knows.  I've been known to make some crazy race decisions after drinking a few Christmas Ale during the offseason.


it's all about pace said...

105? yikes... well done sir

Anonymous said...

I will forever be jealous of your half ironman. It's on my bucket list but I know I'll never actually do one.