Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Strength and Determination Redefined

"Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing in the world to do.  But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength."

All of us who spend umpteenth hours at the pool, the lake, the bike or the pavement training our bodies to endure punishment beyond unknown limits.  The sometimes pain is something that we feel during the hot, cold or otherwise unpleasant training runs or rides. We prepare our bodies for certain events and we follow plans that take us from the first stroke in the water to the last step on the run and everything in between.  Anything and everything the course has to offer we have probably seen and are ready to endure.  After all, that's what we do.

What we cannot prepare for, train for, or foresee is the totally unexpected.  The totally bizarre.

On Saturday, August 14 my wife and I took part, along with several of our teammates, in the Mountain Lakes Triathlon in Guntersville, Al.  For a good portion of us, it was a return trip.  For my wife it was her first time. 

It was also her first open water triathlon.

She had prepared for the event like everyone else.  She put in her time.  She swam her laps, rode and ran her miles.  She was ready, focused and excited.

Upon arrival at the site she racked her bike, eat a banana and proceeded to warm up in the lake, just like most everyone else was doing.  All was great, it would be an event to remember.  She was about to complete a challenge she had imposed on herself a few months back.  You could tell her excitement by the smile on her face.  Nothing was going to get in her way.

Or was it?

Her bib number was 849.  This placed her towards the back of the field.  She's not a fast swimmer, just an adequate one.  This positioning didn't face her.

As she approached the timing mats she could hear numbers being called; 847, 848...849.  Off she went.

Second step into the water her foot found a rock.  A rock with a sharp edge.  A rock was was not willing to move, budge or get out of the way.  She felt a sharp pain come through her foot.  She took a quick look and saw what she thought was a scrape.  So on her way she went.

The further in the swim she went, the sharper the pain became.  So sharp at times, she thought she was going to loose it.  She kept her cool, she knew this would not be a good thing.

Upon exiting the water she took a quick look and saw blood gushing out.  She knew she needed to get it looked at.  Along with the help of one of the race directors and our friend Charlene, she made it to the medical tent where the paramedics proceeded to clean it, tape it and bandage the two inch gash.

"I have to get going.  I have to continue."  She told them.  "You're going ahead with the race?"  They asked in disbelief.  "Yes, I am" she quickly replied.

She found her way to transition and to the bike.  And off she went.  The pain at times was so fierce that she had to stop to catch her breath.  She could feel the swelling of her foot and could see her bike shoe stained with blood.  But there was a race to finish.

On to the run.  A slight relief when she changed from her bike shoe to her running shoe.  The running shoe has a bit more of a give.  It wasn't so tight.

As I was coming in from the run, she was going out.  I high-fived her and encouraged her on.  I had no idea what had happened.  I just knew that my wife was about to complete her triathlon.

Several of us waited for her at the finish line.  But she wouldn't come.  I was concerned because it was taking more than I thought is should.  So I went looking for her.  When I found her about a quarter of a mile from the finish line, I just gave her two thumbs up.  But as I approached her, the look on her face told me something was just not right.

When I made it to her, she broke out in tears.  Immediately she told me to look at her shoe.  It was soaked in blood.  She told me she had been cut in the swim.  I could tell the pain was beyond anything I could comprehend.  I ran next to her until almost the finish line.  Then I got out of the way and let her cross it alone.  The glory was to be hers and hers alone.

We went to the emergency room a couple of hours thereafter.  The nurses and doctors could not believe that she had done what she had done with the cut she had.

The courage, the determination, the strength, the fortitude, the power of mind over matter that my wife exhibited during this race is something that I will draw from every day of the rest of my life.  Nothing that I will ever encounter, nothing that is ever tossed my way will be difficult to overcome if I just think of this particular day and this amazing woman... this woman who just happens to be my wife!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Whirlpool Ironman 70.3 Steelhead

Lets dispense with the formalities right off the bat... Although not a blazing time by any stretch of the imagination and no where near a slight threat to anyone on the course last Saturday,  I still PR'd!  And because my goal coming in was to beat last year's Ironman 70.3 Augusta time, I am happy!
I came in race day with a plan.  I tried, for the most part to follow the plan.  Because plans need to be flexible, I was forced, at times to make certain adjustments which had I not, I would probably still be out there somewhere on the course.

We arrived in what we had thought was plenty of time.  Registration opened at noon.  We were there at 11AM... or so we thought.  The time zone had changed on us and we didn't realize it.  It was already noon. We were now on EST. Good thing we were there early because the line was already huge.
The registration could have used a bit more help.  A bottle neck was created due to only two people checking ID's at the front desk.  Once you passed this point it went smooth and fast.
"Course Talks" were scheduled every 90 minutes.  We waited for the one at 1:30pm.  In the mean time, we had pasta lunch provided to the athletes by Pizza Hut.  It was great!
Biggest news to me was the fact that this is a WTC and USAT sanctioned event.  No big deal except they kept emphasizing the difference in the drafting rules.  4 bike lengths.  They would be very strict on this.  Also, men would have to wear tops on the bike and the run.  They would be very strict on this.

Other than the Ironman shop, there really was not much to get excited about.

 We made it to transition around 3pm on Friday.  There was already a bunch of activity and plenty of bikes were being racked.  I have been accused of getting overly exited about the small things.  Finding my bike spot marked with not only my number, but also my name, was very exiting to me.  How cool was that?
The temperatures in the area had been very high, mid to upper 90's,  for the previous two weeks.  For race day it was predicted low 80's and 30% chance of rain.  The water temperature on Friday was 76ยบ.

We left the hotel at 5am.  Started raining about 5:05.  The temperature was cool, verging on the side of cold.  The wind as a bit gusty, the sky was covered with heavy clouds.  It did not look pretty.
At transition everyone was talking, including the PA announcer about the big system coming over the lake.  They were keeping an eye on it.  The race would start as planned.

One thing I learned is that you have to bring a "rain" plan to transition.  Even if you don't use it you gotta have one.  I did not!  I arranged all my gear under the only trash bag I had brought with me.  I hoped for the best, expected the worst.  I thought and just knew that I would have to do the entire event with wet gear.
I left my area as organized as I could.  Took my wetsuit, cap and goggles and headed to the starting line.  But it was still early, so I took cover under a passage way.  I was getting cold, wet  and felt miserable.  I think a lot had to do with nerves as well.
Most every athlete taking cover at this point was wrestling with their wetsuit.  I never realized how difficult it is to put on a wetsuit when you're wet.  Lesson #2 learned.  But when I finally got it on, I immediately started to warm up, and felt much better.
Now it was time to head to swim start.  Had thirty minutes to walk the one mile on the beach.

I arrived at swim start when they were playing the national anthem.  Which mean that I only had four minutes  before my wave would start.  This was a blessing because it didn't give me time to dwell or think about things.  Just got there and off we went.
The wave was very large.  Must have been 50 to 75 of us.  Men and women.  I waited a bit to get a spot in the back and to the outside.
The water was wonderful.  Just the right temperature, I thought.  Clear as could be.  Could see the bottom of the lake the whole way.  It also rained the whole way.
I followed my plan to perfection, maybe a little to perfect.  I wanted to go slow and smooth.  It took me 52:02 to finish the swim.  I still need to work on direction.  This was the longest 1.2 miles I've ever swam.  I wanted to do the swim in 45 min.  I will keep this as my goal for future races.

Taking of the wetsuit proved to be as difficult a task as it was putting it on.  Not sure if all the sand had anything to do with it, but it took me forever to take it off.
Getting the gear out of the plastic bag was another time consuming chore.  It had remained dry, for the most part.  But that didn't last, for it was still raining.  Total time in T1 was 8:38.


It continued to rain for the first 15-20 miles of my bike leg.  Everything was wet. The wind was getting cold.  The roads were slippery and the bike didn't like that.  My socks were soaked and I wonder if I'd have to run with wet socks?  I remember thinking that I have to train sockless.  This would be helpful today.
After the rain passed, the skies cleared and the sun came out.  It wasn't much longer before I was dry.  Even the socks were dry so I was happy.  At this point I cranked it up.
The bike course was nice.  Lots of newly resurfaced areas. Flat for the most part, slight rolling hills here and there and no big hills (that I can remember) to speak of.  A good portion of the road, however, was not in good condition.  Lots of holes and bumps and debris .  Saw at least 15 athletes fixing flat tires.
Oh yeah, regarding the drafting rule... only saw one judge and he did hand out a red card.  There were several pelotons that passed me.  Although illegal, it was cool to see this.
The bike-in portion of the course was amazing.  Coming in with the course lined with people yelling and cheering was surreal.
Total bike time was 3:17:24 which was a bike PR.

Not as slow as T1 but still slow.  6:33.  Trying to think back, I can't point at one thing which made it so.

After the run experience in Augusta last year, I ran the first mile or so very cautiously.  Feeling with every step, every muscle in my legs.  Wondering if at any minute I would cramp like I did before.  It did not happen.  When I realized that my legs would be okay, I set in my pace and went off.  And then there was the first hill.  A big, steep, long hill.  Made it up, no problem.
The course was nice and well supported.  Plenty of water, sports drinks, gels, fruit, ice, etc.
I ran the course as I had planned.  Slow and steady.  Walking only through the water stops.  Took an ice cup at each along with water on one and sport drink at the next.  The ice I carried with me to help me stay cool.  It was hot at this point.
The course took us through two loops of the Whirlpool campus.  Outside the campus, you would turn right.  Right into another mother of a hill.  Twice!  Walked up half the hill both times.
As I kept track of my time, I knew that if I could just crank it up, I could make my goal time of under 7.  Every time I did so, I would feel like I would loose my legs, so I gave up on the under 7 goal and went for a PR.
The road to the finish line was also lined with people.  Everyone yelling and screaming and encouraging everyone.  You would hear your name being yelled.  That was cool!
Total run time was: 2:43:57 which was a run PR.

As I made the final turn towards the finish line, I saw the official time clock.  I knew then that I had my PR.  Nothing else seemed to matter.
Total overall time was:  7:08:34.  A PR by 11:11.

On a scale of 1-10, I would have to give this event a 9.  The support throughout the race was fantastic.  The volunteers, staff and organizers did an outstanding job.  My hat's off to them!

Would I do this one again?  You bet!