The alarm went off at 5:00 for the 7:30 race start but I was actually awake about 10 minutes before that. I had a light breakfast of bananas, granola, a bagel, and some GU Chomps. I had eaten plenty the night before at the pre-race dinner. I was not nervous at all...just excited to get the day started. It was great having Jen along not racing because she was able to drive me to the first transition where I could drop my T1 gear bag with my warm bike clothes and get my bike ready for the ride with my nutrition and wheels pressure set. After taking care of those things I was able to get a 1.5 mile run in and some stretches. Local triathlete and friend Jason Rangel had arranged for a business trip to the Wilmington area and had worked it out so he could attend the race. It was great having Jason around. Jen and Jason drove me out to the swim start which was 2.4 miles from T1. The weather was nice with not much wind but the air temps were freezing. It was 37 degrees outside when I put on my sleeveless Xterra Vendetta wetsuit. The water temperature was warm at 70 degrees. The race could not start until 7:30 because the sun doesn't rise in Wilmington this time of year until 7:26. I warmed up in the water for only about 200 yards before they called us to the starting line. It was freezing cold standing on the line when I was wet. It was a beach start and we only went about 20 yards into the ocean channel before heading north for most of the 2.4 mile swim. The race director had told us at the meeting that the channel was not moving so it would be a legitimate swim without the aid of a big current that this race typically has.
SWIM: On the horn I dove in and did a couple dolphin dives before starting to swim. Unfortunately I got some water in the right lens of my goggles. I thought about stopping to get the water out but I didn't want to do it until the race thinned out and I was no in risk of getting run over. I started swimming breathing every 3 strokes with long smooth strokes that I've become used to swimming under the guidance of Stacey Zapolski. Leading up to this race I had done over 20 lake swims in my 6 week build. I was confident in my ability to swim the 2.4 miles breathing every 3 strokes. I've learned from my many loops around Lake G that I'm only about 15 seconds faster on the loops I push hard and they take about 30% more effort so the hard swimming time savings is not nearly worth the trade in effort. I was very relaxed and found myself in a big group and kept waiting for it to thin down. I could see 2-3 guys away from us quickly off the front but the rest of us seemed content to stay in the big group. It was extremely easy being in the group. At times I found myself on the front, at times in the middle, and at times sliding towards the back. Some of the time we were swimming 2-3 guys across at the front and sometimes it was just one guy leading the charge. I stayed in this pack and the further we got into the swim the easier it felt. I kept reminding myself of all the long swims I had done at Lake G and I knew the further I got into the swim the less likely it would be that I got dropped. I sighted often because I wanted to make sure if anyone made a break from our group that I was not left behind. It felt easy and in most of my open water swims I worked on changing pace doing intervals within the long lake swims. I knew I had the gear change in me if it was necessary. If I noticed one side of our group moving faster than the one I was on I switched lines and joined the faster side. I got kicked in the goggles at one point but that just tightened them to my face a bit more. The most interesting moment came about 3,000 yards in when we made our first turn around a big red buoy. I saw someone to my right panic and lift his head. I lifted mine to see what was going on and there was a Golden Retriever swimming right in the middle of the group. I laughed to myself about this and kept going. I'm certain someone was out on a boat watching the race and the dog got the itch to do the Ironman swim with us. Thankfully I avoided his paws. I could see a big building along the marina getting closer and knew that would be the end of our swim. The time had gone by quickly but I didn't know what to expect when I got out. I was guessing 57 minutes. By where I was in the group and knowing not many were away from our huge chase pack I knew it was a good swim. When I hit the dock and climbed the ladder I was in disbelief seeing my watch at 52:40. It made me realize 3 things...1. I had the best swim of my life and all the open water lake swims had paid off. 2. Despite what the race director said we did have some sort of current with us. There is no way I can swim close to 52 minutes for a legit 2.4 mile swim. 3. I LOVE swimming in my Vendetta Sleeveless. My arms were never tired. I felt like I could have gone on for quite some time at that effort. After climbing the ladder onto the dock I raced through the marina feeling like I had more energy than I started the race with. I asked someone how many guys were through and he said I was the 4th one in! No way! Swimming is what I'm not good at. I told Jen I'd probably be around 50th place out of the water. The swim ranking tells me it was easily my best swim ever. I also felt at this point like going under 9 hours was a certainty. My official swim time was 52:43 and it was the 4th fastest of the race.
T1- Things got interesting in T1. I've never in my life had to add layers for the bike ride during a race. This was going to be different. The air temperature was still hovering around 40 degrees and my feet were freezing running the 500 meters or so from the channel to T1. I entered the change tent and was excited. I quickly tried to put on my long-sleeve tight fitting shirt but it didn't want to go on over my wet, cold body. I asked a volunteer if he could help with my shirt and he pulled it down. The arms on the shirt were tight and I had to pull them up one section at a time like you would when you put on a full-sleeve wetsuit. I put on a skull cap over my helmet and put socks on before making the dash to my bike. When I got to my bike I started to put my gloves on and that was no easy task. I had to work to get them over my freezing fingers. Finally they were on and I grabbed my bike and ran out to the road to begin my 112 mile ride.
BIKE- Out on the bike I began taking in fluids and salt pills. My hands were freezing and it was difficult getting to the salt pills in my Zipp Bento Box where I keep my food and salt pills during and Ironman distance race. I passed two guys early on and Jen had told me I was the 5th one to hit the roads with my bike so that meant I was in 3rd place. We went through the Wrightsville Beach area and over a grated bridge. The road conditions were nice after that and we were going through busy streets that were well blocked off and patrolled by many volunteers. They said this race had over 1,500 people volunteering to help keep us safe. I knew most of the first half of the ride would be into the wind. The way the course was laid out with the separate transition areas we would actually be riding into the wind more than we would have it at our backs because the first 20 miles essentially took us to the spot where we would end the ride and those 20 miles were mostly into the wind. Around mile 10 a guy passed me and he was a huge guy. I knew it would be the perfect chance for me to sit back 10 meters and let him do some of the work. Mentally it would help to have someone along for a ride I knew had the potential of getting lonely. I did not know it at the time but the guy was doing the race as part of a relay. The effort didn't feel too difficult so I went with it. Before long Jen and Jason drove up beside me and said I was 2 minutes back of the leader and about 1 minute back of 2nd place. It wasn't more than a few miles when we passed the guy in 2nd. I looked back to see if he was going to go with us but he did not. About 5 miles later we passed the guy in the lead and he did join up with us. At one of the aid stations he passed me and took over the 2nd spot so I dropped back 10 meters from him and took the 3rd position. We had a race official riding right behind all 3 of us to make sure we stayed legal distance. I was planning to split each 14 mile section of the race and hoped to be 36:30 or under which would lead to a 4:52:00 bike split. I was hoping I could do that easily and maybe even shave some time off those goal splits. I went through the first on in 36:20. I knew this was good because it included the slow start getting out of Wrightsville Beach and it was all into the wind. The next 2 splits were both about 34:30. I was well under goal pace as we approached the 50 mile mark and I knew the return trip after mile 60 was where we would start to pick up the tail wind.
It was great having Jason and Jen along the road or even driving up alongside me to shout encouragement. Jen had me wave for the kids at one point. As easy as the first 45 miles felt things started to get tougher in a hurry after that. Between 45 and 50 I started noticing that my back was getting tighter. I also was getting cramps and pain in my left piriformus. This is a muscle located deep in the butt muscles. It is a muscle I had a lot of problems with last year but had not experienced any discomfort throughout 2013 until mile 45. I sat on the end of my seat and tried to push on the piriformus to get to loosen up. It would not. I decided I better grab my special needs bag at mile 55. I had been like a yo-yo off the back of this 3 man group for 5 miles. I would fall to 25 meters and work really hard to close it back down to 10 only to let the gap open again. I decided I better get my special needs and relax the effort a bit. I was hoping I could afford to give up some time on the bike the last 60 miles that I could gain back on the run. I had a coke and a 2nd bottle of Ironman GU Brew in my special needs bag. The first bottle was already gone and it had 750 calories in it. The 2nd bottle was important for me to get. I was also craving the coke. I didn't really want any of the solid foods I had packed into special needs so I left them behind. Besides the coke and Ironman Brew the only thing I was drinking was water. I drank quite a bit of it and by mile 60 I had to pee for the first time. I am not very good at doing this while riding and it slows me down. I have to stand up and coast to get it started and then soft pedal while standing until I'm done. Unfortunately this was just the beginning. Over the last 52 miles I peed 9 more times on the bike! That was a new record for me and it was very frustrating not being able to get into a rhythm for very long before having to go pee again. Jen and Jason were letting me know how big the gap was growing to the top 2 riders. They were still together until around mile 80 and I was down 4 minutes already. I knew I was going to have to pick the effort up the last 20 miles if I wanted to keep the gap under 10 minutes. My average speed was falling even in the section of the course where the slight winds were at our back. I was starting to get frustrated with how I was riding because I thought for sure I was going to ride under 4:52 without much effort. Now I was working hard and I was uncomfortable and I was falling off the pace quickly. The last 20 miles I was thinking about how I wanted to get the run started. I finished the bike in 4:50:52 which was under my goal time but the effort was much higher than I would have preferred. My bike split was the 3rd fastest of the race behind the relay guy and the race leader. I knew I was going to have to run 3:08 or faster for the marathon to break 9 hours and I still thought that was going to be no problem.
T2: I moved well through T2. I was excited to get this run started and find out how far up the 2 guys ahead of me were. I was also excited to run because of how much running I had done leading into this race and knowing how my run fitness had progressed. I grabbed my run gear bag and put my shoes on after changing into a fresh clean pair of dry socks that did not smell like pee. While I was changing one of the medical personnel asked if I needed any medical attention. I said, "No, I'm about go crush this marathon." I was staying optimistic and then reality hit when I exited transition and began the run.
RUN: Immediately after leaving transition I got worried. My heart was racing faster than I can ever remember it racing in any competition. My back was tight and my legs did not have the springy feeling I've had twice at Ironman distance events. I was running slowly and knew I was not going to be able to continue at my current state. I had to stop and try to relax my breathing. Taking deep breaths proved to be difficult. I felt like I had a lot of mucus in my chest keeping me from getting good air that I wanted. Last Monday I woke up with ear pain and went in to have the doctor tell me I had an ear infection. I was put on antibiotics which I did not want to be on the week of a race. I don't know it I had some congestion in my chest or what but it was not good. I tried hard to cough some of it up and was successful getting some nasty stuff to come out. It made breathing easier. I stretched to loosen up my back and continued on my way. My GPS came on and I was running about 7:00 mile pace but that's where I started last year in Arizona when I fell apart to run/walk a 4 hour marathon. As the early miles passed I was able to cough up more and more junk until deep breaths were not so difficult. I was never feeling good but I had gotten to a respectable state. I knew the pace I was running was not going to be good enough to break 9 hours. I still wanted to find out what kind of gaps I had to the leaders. At the first turnaround I found out I was only 90 seconds back from the leader. That was a big boost of confidence after what I had gone through. I had stopped 3 times in the first 2 miles but was now going without stopping and my pace was hovering in the 6:40-7:00 range. At mile 9 I caught the leader and realized the other guy who had gotten off the bike with me was on a relay. I focused on running with good form. I repeated phrases in my head from my Barre563 class where I tried to block out any pain and just focus on the task at hand. The volunteers and aid stations were excellent. Any time I felt cramping coming on I took in more salt pills. I knew I had to stay relaxed and stay at the 7:00/mile pace for as long as I could. At the 1/2 way point of the run I got another time check. I was 4:00 in front. When I saw Jen and Jason I told them I was up 4:00 but had a lot of work to do. I've raced this distance enough to know that 4:00 is nothing if things go bad. Jen and Jason took a picture to capture their excitement at the news...
On the 2nd half of the run I continued to think about how much I needed to be willing to suffer. Everyone hurts in an Ironman. I knew the suffering would be worth it if I could just hang on for the last 13 miles. I also knew I would get my final time check at about mile 20. I wanted badly to extend the lead through mile 20 to give myself a little cushion if things went sour. I had taken my own GU gels along for the run because the course served Hammer products and they are not what my stomach is used to. I took in 16 GU's during the run. I also had most of a bottle of coke at special needs and a Red Bull. I wanted to make sure I did not bonk. I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I thought about a student in my class that has been nominated by our teachers for an iHope award. I kept telling myself if I could hold on to the finish we will make this gift happen. I tried to get songs in my head to keep the rhythm going. 10 miles to go...less than any long run I did in my Ironman prep. 8 to go...only an hour left. 7 to go...just a Bix at 6 training run...6 to go...on the way back to the finish. I got my last time check with 6 miles to go and the lead had grown to 10 minutes. I knew if I could keep running I would win. I also knew the last mile was mostly downhill and the spectators in town would give me the lift I needed. I was suffering but surviving. I remembered that local Leadville and motivational speaker John Byrne had told me the times we suffer the most are the times we get the most gratification from when we complete the challenge. This was the time for suffering. 5 miles...that's a lunch break run...4 miles...a run with Owen on his bike...3 miles...high school pre-meet...2 miles...the run I did with Jen just yesterday...1 mile...downhill and this thing will be over. I got really excited as I was coming in to the finish line. I had not felt nearly as good as I expected going into the race but it was going to be good enough to win and earn the iHope Foundation $1,000.00. It was also the first time I've won a race over an Olympic distance. It was one I'll remember for a long time.
My overall run time was 3:13:32 and it was the 4th fastest run split of the race unless the 2:31 time for the fastest is legit...but I'm thinking that was a timing error since the splits don't seem right on that finisher. My overall time was 9:04:49 which was a new Ironman distance PR. Although I was thrilled to win the race I am still not satisfied that I have given Ironman my best effort yet. I know my fitness the last couple weeks was higher than I showed. I also know that if this had been a WTC pro event my effort would have placed me in the bottom half of the pro field. After the first 45 miles of the bike I did not feel good the rest of the race. A huge congrats to all the finishers of the Ironman distance race. I'm a big believer that the real warriors are the ones who are out there for 15...16...even 17 hours. I think my 9 hour day is tough...I can't even imagine what those guys and gals go through. I was thrilled to hear local triathlete Eric Nordstrom finished and he even placed in his age group. My college teammate Chris Sweet had a huge PR in his first race as a pro finishing 4th in 9 hours 22 minutes. Complete results from the race with splits can be found by clicking here.
Overall I couldn't be more excited about how the entire year went. I set out with a goal of raising $1,500.00 to provide iPads for low-income students with great character and work traits. I raised $4,000.00 in my races. My parents graciously matched that. Many other businesses and individuals have helped in TREMENDOUS ways with contributions. Just last week Beach 2 Battleship sent out an e-mail profiling why I was competing at this event and we had almost $600.00 contributed that day. I met with our Superintendent last week and we are going to be able endow a permanent $1,000.00 scholarship that will be given to 1 iHope recipient every year when they graduate high school if the decide to continue to some level of post-secondary education. That was a great way to tie the gift of hope through the iPad to the reality that we believe these students can continue on with education and do great things after high school. By Thanksgiving we are going to be awarding at least 1 student with an iPad after this race effort...maybe even 2. If you would like to help the foundation by making a tax-deductible contribution click here.
This race would not have been possible without the love and support I get from Jen. She's always been Super Mom and without her I wouldn't have been able to put in the 6 week block of 25 hour training weeks. She supported me through all those long Saturday rides and Sunday runs, swims, and more rides. She was also there cheering like crazy and her enthusiasm gave me a great lift. Big thanks to Jason Rangel and all his cheering and support on the course.
Also, big thanks to the individuals and businesses that supported iHope this year. Racing for a cause like iHope made motivation to train and race easy. By your support of iHope you gave me a reason to work hard and DREAM BIG.
After last year I wasn't sure I wanted to continue trying to race competitively any longer. After a disappointing finish to the year I took 10 weeks away from anything resembling workouts or triathlon. When I thought of racing for others and giving everything away it made the decision to keep going easy. Now that I've had a chance to see the life-changing impact it has made for iHope recipients it fuels me to continue on trying to improve every year so I can do my part to impact our society in a positive way. I would not be able to do this financially without the support of some great companies that help make my racing possible. Kaminski Pain and Performance Care, Healthy Habits, Barre563, Xterra Wetsuits, Zipp, Kiwami Triathlon Wear, and GU Energy have helped me so much. I cannot thank you enough. This has been a long one but I have 2 videos to finis it off. The first is from the PPD Beach 2 Battleship site and is a recap video that briefly shows me coming down the finish. The 2nd is one I created using my "less than tech savvy" skills. This was the first race of mine Jen has been a spectator for during the 2013 season so I took some of the photos of the weekend and put them to one of the 2 songs I had in my head throughout part of my Saturday...Phil Wickham's This is Amazing Grace. Thanks for reading and following this journey. I have reached the top of the mountain that looked oh so far away when I began training back on February 11th. You, too, can reach yours...DREAM BIG!!