Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dealing With Adversity...Ironman St. George Race Report & Results

On Thursday at 3:45 a.m. my older brother Justin arrived at our house to take us to Midway Airport in Chicago, IL for a flight to Las Vegas so we could make our way to Ironman St. George. Before I left Dan Angell from the Quad City Times ran a really nice story on my journey that can be found by clicking here. My training buddy Adam and his girlfriend Flannery would be making the trip with us. Adam and I have been training together for this race most weekends since February. He is a tremendously accomplished runner and I knew he would be one of the top amateurs in the race. It's awesome how this sport has helped us develop a new friendship through training.
We had no problems getting to Las Vegas and then getting our rental mini-van so we could get to St. George for the "mandatory" athlete check-in by 4:00 p.m. We got there with 7 minutes to spare. I was pretty sure we could have stopped to take some pictures of the awesome scenery driving through Arizona and we could have walked in to registration at the last possible minute. We picked up our race packets got ready for the stressful day of gear checkin that we would be faced with on Friday. When I unpacked the bike I found it was not in the perfect working condition that Healthy Habits has put it in before we left for the trip. This is another reason I don't like flying with my bike...besides the costs of bringing the bike on the plane. Inevitably the bike gets moved around much more than I want to imagine and the shifting was no longer perfect like it was before I packed it into the box. Moved to the top of my Friday list was getting the bike fixed by an Ironman mechanic.
Friday we got the bike fixed early and then took our run gear to the transition area. The two transitions were about 20 miles apart from each other so we would have to drop our bikes out at the Sand Hollow Reservoir where we would be swimming. I was able to get all my GU's taped to the bike and probably had more nutrition than what I needed on the bike. I think I had stockpiled over 3,500 calories onto the bike and about 30 salt tablets. After we dropped our run gear we went to drive the bike course. Since the course had 2 loops we didn't actually have to drive 112 miles. We knew it was a tough is rated the toughest Ironman in North America. Despite knowing it would be tough Adam and I both thought it looked easier driving it than we had imagined. Don't get me wrong...there were some tough climbs on the bike but more of it was rolling climbs than steep. There were about 4 climbs that looked like they would be pretty tough...and those were to be repeated on the 2nd loop. The run course was a different story. It looked plain ridiculous. One huge hill after another. Up and down with very little flat spots to get a rhythm. Following the drive we went out to the lake to drop the bikes off and get a short swim short I mean I was in the water for about 1 minute. It was 62 degrees and I didn't want to put my wetsuit on knowing it would still be wet in the morning making it a much bigger challenge to put on.
Race Day: On race morning I was up at 3:15. My wave was scheduled to begin at 6:45 and I wanted to be finished with breakfast 3 hours before the cannon shot. Jen and Flannery drove Adam and I to T2 where our run gear was. That is where all the athletes would drop off special needs bags (bags of extra nutrition that can be picked up 1/2 way through the bike and run course if desired). After dropping our special needs bags we then boarded a shuttle that would take us to the lake. Upon arriving at the lake I pumped my tires to 110 psi and make sure everything was ready to go with my bike. I normally pump them to 120 for a race but the morning temperature was about 55 degrees and the afternoon highs were expected to hit 91 so I knew the tire would be expanding a little and I didn't want to blow a tire by filling to the max and then having it over expand in the heat.
SWIM: This was my 1st Ironman swim. The professional men and women pros were starting together which I was excited about. With swimming being my major weakness I hoped if I couldn't catch any feet of the guys to draft on I would at least be able to get on some of the girls feet. When the cannon sounded we took off and I was in the group. It was awesome. In San Juan I got my doors blown off from the start so this was a much better feeling. I stay in the pack for about 600 yards when I began to feel my shoulders getting tired. My plan for the race was to stay really conservative until late in the bike ride or start of the run so when I felt like the swim pace was getting too difficult for me to sustain I slowed it down and focused on long relaxed strokes. I knew there were some swimmers behind me and I hoped to jump on their feet to draft them. This is exactly what happened. One of the pro women was swimming at a pace I could sustain without much effort at all. I believe her name is Uli Bromme. I hope I didn't upset her too much as I stayed right on her hip in the perfect drafting position. I felt like she was annoyed by me as I bumped into her on more than 1 occasion. When I would pass her my level of effort increased a lot and I wasn't going too much faster so I decided it would be wise to stay on her hip and take the free ride into T1 without costing myself any energy. I knew it was going to be a long day with the heat expected to be so high and I didn't care if I was 5 minutes slower than my goal time with the amount of energy I was saving from drafting. We exited the water in 1:04:03. It was faster than 1 other male pro. I felt awesome and the time in the water passed by so quickly with someone else next to me. I shot up the boat ramp feeling supercharged heading into transition. I was excited to get on my bike. I wanted to skip the changing tent so I ran right towards the bikes. The volunteers yelled to me that I had to go through the changing tent even if I didn't want the assistance getting my wetsuit off so I turned around and headed toward the tent...but went to the female entrance! I was diverted once again toward the guys entrance and ran through it to find my bike waiting for me in transition. The volunteers in Ironman are amazing! They will do everything for you minus the swimming, biking, and running. They will put sunscreen on you if you want, they will let you lay down and they will take your wetsuit off...I was in a hurry and didn't want any of those things done for me. I got out of the suit quickly and was off on the bike within about 2 minutes of getting out of the water. Despite all the extra running around in transition it was right in line with the other pro times.
BIKE: The bike is where I typically begin to enjoy races. I get far behind in the swim but then hope to ride my way up the pack during the bike. I hoped to get myself into the top 12 by the end of the ride. The race began with 23 pro guys. I was off and moving well without going too crazy early on. It was not long before things started to go sour. The course begins with a 22 mile stretch that takes you into town. There are some hills but nothing too crazy. I was averaging 24.5 miles per hour through mile 18 when all of a sudden psssssssssssss....I heard this terrible hissing sound from my front wheel. This could be only one thing...a flat tire. I couldn't believe it! I haven't flatted on a training ride in over 3 years and haven't flatted in a race in 6 years. Here I was 18 miles into my Ironman debut and I had a flat front tire. Thankfully at the last minute before leaving home I decided to pick up a Vittoria Pitstop (flat fixer) from Moon at Healthy Habits. Moon went over with me what to do if I had a flat. My Zipp wheels have tubular tires (they are glued to the wheel with no tube in them). I have never flatted on a tubular wheel and the process for ripping off a glued on tire and trying to glue a new one on is not something I want to get into. When they glue the original tire on the wheel they let the glue set for 4 days before riding it. My only chance was the Vittoria Pittstop to get the puncture sealed and new pressure into the tire. I said a quick prayer and pounded the pittstop onto the tire. It let out a crazy hissing noise and I could see the glue coming out of the tire onto the road. I took Moon's advice and spun the tire to let the glue settle. I felt the pressure and it seemed like the wheels was full of air again so I got back on the bike and continued down the road. The total time lost was just under 3:00 so I didn't let it bother me. I knew it would be a long day and although I would prefer not to lose time 3:00 is nothing in the big picture. As I took off riding I could still hear the tire hissing so I knew it wasn't full of air. I was hoping it had enough air in it to make it 95 more miles.
I made my way through the 1st of two loops once I got into St. George. I was feeling pretty good about things. I thought about the flat and realized that God challenges us through adversity. We are faced with stressful situations because how we handle those is what leads us to becoming stronger. I passed a few of the pro guys on the first loop and someone told me I was in 17th place. I could see another guy up ahead and passed him just before we began the long and fast descent into town. On this descent my speed hit 47 miles per hour to give you an idea of how fast these were. We went up a short hill and then began descending again really fast. I hit a bump and my chain jumped off the bike. Not only did the chain fall off but it wrapped itself up and I couldn't get it untangled. I wasn't even able to pedal forward or back. It was completely stuck. I tried to reach down to untangle it while flying down the hill at 40+ mph but I couldn't reach it. When we got down to a flat stretch I had to pull off the road in an attempt to untangle the chain and then put it back on the bike. More adversity. This stop only took me less than 2 minutes. The chain had wrapped itself up pretty good. I had to force it to untangle the mess and then put it back on. I began riding but something wasn't sounding right. I didn't know what the problem was but when I pedaled I was getting a strange clicking noise. When I went up hills the chain was slipping off the gears in the back and it was like it was shifting on it's own but the chain wasn't catching on the gears so I was pedaling but not going anywhere. It was a terrible grinding noise so after 5 miles or so I pulled off the road for the 3rd time to see if I could find the problem. As I looked things over some nice specatators applied sunscreen to me. I found the chain was bent. It was not fitting over the gears (cassette) like it is supposed to. This was not good. I still had 45 miles to go and I couldn't pedal up hill without my chain slipping. I decided I needed to keep going but within 5 miles I realized when I got to the big hills I would have to walk my bike up if I didn't get this fixed. I began asking every spectator I passed if they had any pliors. I thought I might be able to bend the chain back if I could get some. Thankfully at an intersection one of the police officers directing traffic told me he could get me some pliors. I pulled off the road for a 4th time and waited for him to find them. By this time my goals for placing in the top 1/2 of the pro field were completely shot. The adversity had worn me down mentally and I began to reassess my goals. I now knew I would be racing to finish this Ironman. I had lost too much time to the pro field. All the guys I had passed were now well ahead of me. I used the pliors and to my disbelief I was actually able to bend the chain enough that it would stay on the gears without slipping. I got back on the bike and continued on to finish the last 35 miles of the course. I wasn't riding nearly as fast as I thought I should. I noticed my front tire was making some really weird noises that were getting worse with every down hill. I began to wonder if my front tire had lost so much pressure I was basically riding on the rim. Over the last 15 miles I was getting quite scared by the noise. I was getting back to the really steep downhill section of the course and I knew with my tire low there was a chance it would roll off the wheel. I was using my breaks down the really steep descents but was still approaching 30 mph on them. Many riders from the amateur wave began to pass me and even some of them who were still on their 1st loop began passing me. I had a lot of people riding by me saying, "There's something wrong with your bike" as if I wasn't aware of my situation...I was just hoping to make it into T2 so I could head out on the run. Adam came flying by me with about 7 miles to go on the bike. He looked awesome and said, "Jump on my wheel" hoping I could stay close so we could head out on the run together. He looked awesome and was in about 15th place for the amateurs. Just as I was finishing my 2nd loop with 4 miles to go there was a short steep downhill into a 90 degree right turn. I slowed down as much as possible entering the turn but when I made it my bike shot out from under me launching me off the bike where I would skid across the road. It didn't feel too good. I was yelling in pain and thankfully this turn was well staffed with a lot of volunteers who raced to my aid. I was in the road where other riders were turning and I tried to move but my back hurt so bad I couldn't move out of the way. The volunteers surrounded me and diverted the riders around us. They told me if they helped me in any way medically I would not be able to continue the race. I was scraped up pretty good with blood coming from my hand and various scrapes on my right side. Due to the fact that I couldn't stand up or move out of the way I told them I needed help and my race was over. They brought a stretcher since I couldn't move on my own. I asked for a phone to call Jen. This was the toughest part of the entire day. I had been training for this race for 6 months. I'd invested hundreds of hours into this and so had Jen. Now I was going to have to call her to say I wouldn't be able to finish. It was tough to hold back the tears during that call. In the ambulance they gave me and IV and transported me to the medical tent where I was taken care of. My back had been tight in the final miles of the ride and it completely went into a spasm with the accident. It took awhile for it to loosen up but eventually I was released with no major injuries. As much as it sucks to DNF this event I realized I was pretty lucky. Had that tire given out down any one of the earlier downhills this could have been so much worse. The highlight of the day was watching Adam finish the race. He was awesome. He finished as the 8th overall amateur, 2nd in his age group, earning him a spot to race in the world championship in Hawaii next October. It was awesome to see him finish. I'll live to fight another round. There will be another Ironman in September for me and there will be plenty more races before that. I had planned to take a few weeks to recover from IM St. George but that won't be needed now. Jen and I even kicked around the idea of going out to Ironman Coeur d'Alene in Idaho next month since I wasn't able to finish in St. George. When we checked the calendar we realized that date is when we planned to take the kids to Adventureland. Ironman can wait. My family has been tremendously supportive and patient with me in training for this race and I want to enjoy the time with them at Adventureland on June 26th. It looks like I'll be in Madison, Wisconsin on September 11th for my Ironman debut. Although it sucks to not finish the race the journey goes on. Through training I got in the best shape of my life, made new friends in Adam and Flannery, and I have lived to tell about the 1st experience I had in Ironman. Congratulations to all the finishers! It was an extremely tough day. We went back later that night to watch people finish who had been out on the course for over 14 hours. It was pretty inspiring to see what those people could do! Thank for reading. I wish it was better news...but looking back and dwelling won't make anything better so I'll wake up tomorrow and the days to come with complete optimism. The glass will always be 1/2 full for me. DREAM BIG! (I'll post pictures in the days to come. It's late and we got home just a few hours ago. Results from the race can be found here.


Michelle and Jim said...

Jeff, these "flat tires of life" serve to test our vulnerabilities, which make us human. It's how we navigate the challenges that distinguish champions from the ordinary, uncommon from the common. You remain uncommon.

LittleRachet said...

Wow, so sorry to hear how your day unfolded. You are right that it could have ended much worse if you had gone down on one of those previous descents. There's always another day, and another race - you just have to be able to get to the start line! Enjoy your shortened recovery period!

Joe Mann said...

Chin up Jeff. I know how you feel about investing time and money to an event only to DNF. One of my favorite quotes is "Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try nothing and succeed." You will bounce back even stronger mentally and physically. Keep it up.

Bruther said...

That totally sucks - but keep fighting, your bad race is out of the way and your luck will change