Transitioning from Bike to Run
On Ironman day, we are all Jedi and with it we have all of the powers and duties that come with the position. Already on this day have I traveled from (what seems like) one galaxy to the next. Instead of Endor or Hoth, we traveled to systems known as Keene, Jay, and Wilmington. Currently, the rebel base is set on the Lake Placid High School's skating oval.
Upon arriving into port, I hop off my bike and use my Jedi mind trick on the nearest volunteer. I wave my hand and speak out loud, "I don't need to rack my bike. You will do it for me." The volunteer laughs because, in this situation, I am the weak minded fool and my powers do not work on him. Still, he obliges my request by smiling, grabbing my bike and sending it off to docking bay 1355. I walk, not run, to the exact same place where I found my bike bag 6 hours earlier. On a hook just below my bike bag (which has miraculously reappeared through no fault of my own) are 2 more plastic bags, each with my number. The bag on the left has all of the stuff I wore in the morning. The bag on the right has everything I packed for the marathon. In this case, I have a pair of socks, pair of shoes, and 3 gels. I tend to pack lightly.
Again, there is a volunteer standing over me like I am a king and his duty is to serve. He does his job well. Since there are only 3 items in my batch, he sets them out in front of me in an orderly fashion. I do like to be doted on. I half expect him to have a few chocolates nestled on a silk pillow for me to sample but I sense a bit of urgency in the moment. It is a race after all and I am not inclined to make idle chit-chat during competition. While he's setting up my run stuff, I remove my bike stuff. Off with the helmet, sunglasses, gloves, and shoes. On with the socks and shoes. Into the rear pouch go the gels. I search my pockets for a tip to hand my waiter, realizing that not only don't I have any cash, I also don't have any pockets. I hate to dine and dash, but that's what I did. Sorry dude, I'll get you next time.
The run starts off down hill. This is nice. I had a dream of a 4 hour marathon. I did the math. In order to have a 4 hour 26.2 mile jaunt, I needed to average roughly 9 minutes per mile. This means getting to the 6.5 mile mark at 59 minutes and finishing the first lap in just under 2 hours. I also have this calculated out to the quarter mile. I set my Garmin to beep every 0.25 miles. I use this to my advantage in many ways. First, I use it as a reminder to check my heart rate. In racing, I can get caught up in the moment and sometimes my perceived levels of exertion lie to me. My goal was to stay in upper zone 1 or lower zone 2. For running, this equates to between 155-165 bpm. Second, I use the alert to check my pace. For example, if I am running at 8 minutes/ mile the beep hits every 2 minutes. At 10 minutes per mile, the beep is at 2:30. Simple addition is something that I am capable of mid run and it keeps my mind off of more distracting things, such as
The first beep hit at 1:50, or a 7:20 per mile pace. At this stage of the game, I am unconcerned. I check my HR and it is sitting comfortably at 146, well below target. I know that I am running downhill and I have a strength in this skill. I also know that I have to come back up this hill in another 11 miles or so. Still, it's fun to look back and think about all the different emotions and inner chatter that go through your gray matter. In this instance, my brain is yelling "Banter, you are gonna rock this thing." Who am I to argue with my brain?
At the bottom of the hill, there is a short uphill followed abruptly by yet another big downhill. So virtually the first 2 miles of the marathon involve being pulled in a positive gravitational field. What's weird is that I am holding back on purpose. The theme of the day has been conservation and I planned on seeing it through till the end. Even with doing, what feels like, no work, I am in at the 2 mile mark in under 16 minutes. I am already a full 2 minutes ahead of schedule. Worse, I know it and I start to gloat. Can you believe the nerve of this guy? He's got 24 miles left to run and all he can think about is how awesome his most recent quarter mile split was. Utter moron.
I had a race nutrition and hydration plan that went as follows: If you look at the picture closely, you'll notice that I have some gels in my hand. I wanted them in my pouch on the back of my jersey but that proved to be too much bounce. So, I carried them. At the aid stations, which are about 1 mile apart, I would take in a minimum of 4 ounces of water. Every 2 miles, I would walk the length of the aid station and take in 6-8 ounces of water. Every 30 minutes, or roughly 4 miles, I would walk the length of the aid table. During this time, I would eat one gel and take in some water. Each gel is about 100 calories, giving me about 200 calories per hour. I have done the calorie thing in practice without any problems. Not only would my plan help get fluid and calories into the system, but it would give my legs a breather. After the first 4 miles, the plan seemed to be working famously. Even with the walking, my 4th mile split was a modest 9:30. I am now more than 4 minutes ahead of goal pace and feeling fine.
A bit of background for those of you who are new to the site. In late May/ early June, I developed a knee injury that was run specific. Translation, I couldn't run. I pretty much took off the entire month of June to recover from said injury. At the beginning of July, I was struggling to run a full 6 miles straight without walking. Alas, I did manage to get in 2 long runs before IMLP, one of 16 miles, one of 14 miles. That's all I had time for before the big race. I was hesitant of doing longer distances for fear of re-injury and fear of lack of recovery. Well, the injury started to creep in around mile 6 of the run. Gone was the smugness of an accomplished athlete. Gone was the ego. Gone was vision of a PR. All of this was replaced with a guy who was holding on to the edge of a boat for dear life.
The knee had not gone into full blown pain, just more of a discomfort. Every once in a while, I would land and the knee would sting me like a bee defending it's queen. But, for the most part, the concern was relegated to background noise. My pace slowed from 8:30s to 10:30s. I was still following my nutrition and hydration plan.
It was around this time that I had noticed one particular runner. He was a long haired, beatnik type with a super-funky running style. He was more of a shuffle than a run and his pace was slow and steady. I came to find out later in the day that his name was Pierre and he was from Quebec. The main reason I noticed him was that I passed him roughly 10 times during the race. Remember that I was walking the aid station tables. Pierre would jog (?) past during my stroll. I would start running and retake the lead in our 1-on-1 race. In the mean time, countless other people were passing us both. They didn't matter as it was Pierre versus me. He wagered a beer on the outcome of the race, loser buys. So we kept battling in the classic his tortoise versus my hare rematch. Only this time, the tortoise won. Crap, that's exactly how the fable predicted. I really need to read more children's stories in preparation for race day.
At mile 10, we started up those glorious downhills. Except, they seemed to have grown since the last time I saw them. Maybe the race organizers gave them some water and food while I was running down by the river. They were definitely taller now. I was tackling the hills with all the fervor that I could muster (read- I was walking) and the amount of time it took me to catch Pierre was longer and longer. My pace had now slowed to the 11:00 per mile range. Despite the slope, I was able to finish the first lap in around 2 hours. I needed under a 2 hour for a goal time. But, if I went under a 4:30, I had a chance for a PR (or so I told myself).
I was holding steady at somewhere between 11-12 minute miles. Then, I had an epiphany. Parts of your body speak to each other without you knowing it. How did I come to such realization? I found it in my left knee. See, the knee injury happened in my right, so I was expecting issues to pop up there. But, somewhere around mile 15, my left knee started having sympathy pain. I remember stating in my race preview that your legs might fall off below the knees. I was wrong. My legs stayed attached, only my knees wanted to remove themselves. To make matters worse, my hydration and nutrition plan was falling apart.
My stomach, for some reason, wanted to join in the pain fest. I could not imagine a situation, after mile 15, where I could open up one of those gels and actually eat it. I felt like I was going to hurl. It never happened and I tried to imagine what would make it's way out of the canal should the old heave-ho give it a go (correct- counterproductive line of thinking here). There can't have been much down there. The last thing solid I ate was a Cliff bar at mile 8 on the bike ride. That was over 130 miles ago. The peanut butter goo had to have worked its way out of the system by now. Regardless, something was down there and it wanted out. I had 3 more gels left in my hand that were scheduled to take me through the next 11 miles. I tossed them into the trash at the next aid station and trudged on.
One of the mainstays in any form of sport is flexibility and ability to adapt to new situations. I'm smack dab in the middle of my second lap and in desperate need of a new run strategy, new hydration strategy, and a new nutrition strategy. The new run strategy went as follows: walk for 0.05 miles. Run until you hear the beep, about 0.20 miles later. Repeat. The new hydration and nutrition plan were combined as follows: take one cup of Gatorade and one cup of water at each aid station. Oh, just a tip for all of you would-be Ironmen out there: If a nice volunteer asks you if you want any warm chicken broth during the race- answer with "YES!" Oddly, that's the way it happens too. The other volunteers stand in a line shouting out advertisements for their products. The chicken broth person politely asks if you would want some. Never has there been a tastier, more refreshing beverage.
As I limped through the rest of the run, my average was hovering around the 12 minute range. I did my best to stick with the plan. That was, of course, until I hit the monsters again. At mile 20, more pains began to pop up. My feet started to hurt. Not the bottoms, but the tops. I bet my body was starting to swell and the feet were simply sick of being in shoes. My waist hurt where the band touched my skin. My tri-shorts felt like they were choking my legs. 'But, I have only 6 more miles,' I pleaded. Begging for mercy means nothing to an aching body. If someone would have granted me permission to stop the race, to give up, I might have accepted it.
Right around that time, I saw Bill (not his real name as I don't actually know his real name). I met Bill at check-in on the Thursday before the race. Bill was an Ironman several times over, but this was his first big race since the cancer. His treatment had wiped him out and literally sucked all of the testosterone from his body. His training was down, his muscle mass was down, but his spirits were up. This was the last horrah at this distance and he was determined to make a day of it. So, while I walked/ ran with my pansy on, Bill saw me and shouted a greeting. He was on his first lap to my second and looking great. Thanks, Bill. I needed the motivation to continue and you provided it nicely!
Another 2 miles completed and the hills had returned. Mile 22 encompassed the first big hill and was easily the slowest mile of my life since I was in diapers. When I look at the lap data on the Garmin, mile 22 clocked in at a whopping 21 minutes and 31 seconds. Whose the tortoise now? I trudged on.
Once you make it to the top of the hills, the spirits start to lift. For one, there's no more hills. For two, there are streams of people clapping, singing, dancing, yelling, cheering. For three, you can feel the end. All of this screams, 'Get you @** moving." So, I got moving, as much as my body would let me. My paced was back into the 12 minute range. One more turn around and it's off to the home stretch.
When you come back down Mirror Lake, the course splits into 2 lanes. The left side is for those who have one more lap. There were still plenty of runners in that boat and I was happy to know I paid my dues. The lane on the right brings you to the finish line. Again, there are scores of people lined up on the course. And, from a finisher point of view, most of the people had not finished. So, when an ugly, sweaty, gimp of a man takes the right hand road, they are willing to look past the superficial goo oozing from my body and allow themselves to go a little wild. I have had this experience before and I will have it again. There's something special about entering the oval for the final 0.2 miles of a 140.6 mile day. No pain. No suffering. Just you and all the glory beset upon you and your accomplishment.
My run time was an unimpressive 5:05. Out of all the athletes on the day, the run itself was good enough for 1482nd place. When you combine the swim, bike, and run together, I had an overall official time of 12:16.09 which was good enough for 844th. I missed a personal record by 43 minutes. I am not, in the least bit, unhappy.
I'll see you at Ironman Lake Placid in 2012.
P.S. Pierre- I owe you a beer.