I feel like I need to thank everyone first off here for following me during the race. There have been countless numbers of you who checked out ironman.com and even a few who stayed up until midnight to watch me finish live on the video feed. You all are awesome. And to all who checked my blog on the 15th I also want to thank you. I received 77 hits on that day which more than doubled my previous high. All of you have made me feel very loved. I am honored to have you as friends. Many of you are from Wheatland, and it is starting to feel like home to me there. Thanks.
OK. The details. This may get a bit long so don’t feel badly if you check out early and come back later. Or maybe you won’t come back later. That’s OK. Read what you want to. At the end I will speak to what this has taught me so if you are not interested in the rest, maybe just jump to the end.
The race started at 7:00 AM. I was up at 3:30 AM to shower and drink a couple of Odwalla’s. I know from experience that putting food in my gut on race morning with my pre-race nervous stomach is just not a good idea so I used the vanilla protein Odwalla’s. The were about 800 calories together, and I added a cup of coffee with cream and sugar while sitting by the fire in the courtyard of our hotel, the Tempe Mission Palms. I read Isaiah 44:8 and made my way down to the transition area (the area where all the bikes and clothes were organized for the different segments of the race). Topped off my tires at the bike tech station in transition, added a few items to my transition bags, put my Gatorade and food on my bike, drained my nervous stomach and bladder a few times, found Karmen and The Boys who had made their way down by about 6:30. Near 6:40 I got body marked with my race number and put on my wetsuit. The professional triathletes started at 6:45. The 2200 of us other racers then all got in the water for the deep water start at 7:00. It is rather surreal jumping into a lake with that many other people who look just like you with their goggles, wetsuits, and swim caps in place. The only real identifiers were the girls in pink caps and the boys in blue. I located my family on the bridge above me, but they couldn’t pick me out of the mass of swimmers.
It is also quite a different experience to swim 2.4 miles with 2000+ other people. There is just no avoiding collisions. At least we are all going in the same direction so there is no head on stuff. But I got kicked in the face, in the head, in the gut. I got grabbed and groped. I almost lost my goggles a time or two. I almost lost the timing chip around my right ankle from someone grabbing me there and had to stop and tuck it back up under my wetsuit. But I did my share of grabbing and kicking and groping too. It just goes with the territory. One guy that I came up against acted like he had just had enough and forearmed me in the right ribs. I just popped up and glared at him like, “If you can’t handle it you weenie, get out of the water.” My goal was to finish the swim feeling rather like I had not done much work. And I would have to say that is just about how I felt. The swim has always been pretty easy for me. I am always just glad to be getting out of a medium, water, that is potentially lethal, and into a medium, air, that my lungs can easily handle no matter what. There are always people to help you climb out of the water and then to help you peel your wetsuit off. It was humorous to me to look around and see people soaking wet sitting on the ground kicking while someone else is pulling their wetsuit off. Then we all hop up and run to get our bike clothes and into a tent to change. It really is just organized chaos.
The bike started well but soon became more than any of us had anticipated. It is a course that is about 34 miles. You complete the 112 miles by doing three loops. It starts in Tempe, right by ASU and Tempe Town Lake where the swim took place, and goes out of town northeast onto the Indian reservation and back so the terrain changes from city to desert pretty fast. About 8 miles into the first loop the wind just became vicious at about 20 mph sustained directly head on from out of the northeast. Dust was in the air. The turn around point is at mile 17 and the entire route out is slightly uphill. So to average much more than 12-14 mph into a 20 mph wind going uphill was very exciting. I kept thinking that all I have to do is get to that 17 mile turn around, and then I will fly back into town which is exactly what happened. The ride out took about 1:40 and then averaging about 25-27 mph with the wind at my back going downhill took about 0:40. That 17 miles back into town was awesome.
So by the end of my first bike loop I was about 3 hours into the race. It is 10 AM and starting to warm up a bit. I had predetermined that I needed to drink about 40 ounces an hour and was able to do that fairly well, about half Gatorade and half water. The second loop was about the same. The pro’s began to lap the rest of the pack here, them on their 3rd loop while we were on our 2nd loop. They were able to average 18-19 mph going up hill into the wind. That is just ridiculous. The first male pro’s passed me as I was starting my second lap. The first female pro’s passed me as I was getting to the turn around point on my second lap. The wind was just as ferocious as the first lap, and the downhill back into town was just as much fun. The conditions were taking their toll on the field though. I saw a couple of athletes get hauled off in ambulances from various points on the bike course. There were also rumors going through the field that there had been a couple of bad crashes. The entire course was strewn with water bottles, spare tubes, CO2 cartridges, etc due to the rough conditions, and I counted probably at least 20 athletes who had pulled over along the side of the course with bike mechanical failures. I was lucky to avoid all that. I did drop one water bottle.
As I started my third lap the temperature was now getting into the mid 90’s. The temp reading on my bike computer topped out at 104 later in this lap. The thought in my head was just making it to the turnaround, and then I could rest coming back down into town. But the wind changed a bit and was not nearly as advantageous coming back into town. About the last 10 miles I felt an old familiar problem start to rear its head. In several of the previous 70.3 mile triathlons that I have done and the Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent, I have seemed to hit a wall which I have interpreted as dehydration. My mouth gets really dry. I get dizzy. I feel nausea. I have thrown up before. It has gotten better each race, happening later and later in the race as I have focussed on better hydration. I thought I was going to lick it this race, but there it was again. I took my time in transition getting changed. They had ice there so I cooled down a bit. As the sunscreen gal was lubing all my exposed parts I almost fell over. She escorted me to the medical tent.
There they gave me chicken soup saying that I was likely salt deprived in the heat. And you know what, after about 20 minutes, I began to feel better. Still dry but not dizzy and no nausea. They cleared me to go back out on the course, so I started the run. I figured that I was probably just barely starting to recover so I decided to set as aggressive a walking pace as I could for a few miles and continue to drink soup along with Gatorade at all the aid stations which were positioned about every mile along 8.5 mile run course. I was able to go at just over 4 miles per hour walking. I went through another brief period about 3 miles into the run where I again felt nausea, dizziness, and dry mouth. I increased my soup and Gatorade consumption and by about mile 6-7 was feeling much stronger. At that point I began to run and was able to run 95% of the remained 18-19 miles. As it got towards 5-6 PM and the sun set it cooled off nicely to take the heat out of the equation. It was odd to me how I just felt stronger and stronger as the run continued. Don’t get me wrong. I definitely felt fatigue and tiredness and by the finish was exhausted. But the nausea and dizziness never returned. I think it was because I finally replaced my salt enough along with adequate fluid intake. I was able to run faster and faster and put together an 8 minute mile for the last mile into the finish at 10:30 PM.
So in all, it was a grueling day but also very satisfying. I learned after the race that stats-wise this was the 3rd most grueling Ironman race in history. 18% of the athletes that started the race did not finish. So I feel exceptionally good about finishing my 1st Ironman under these conditions. This week of recovery has been very calm, peaceful, and I have felt centered and serene. And I have an incredible sense of accomplishment. The rest this week has been very enjoyable. I have felt sore, but not horribly, and tired. Yesterday I tried to run a bit, and that was a joke. It is obvious that I have some deep set fatigue and need more rest. I may try again Saturday or Sunday. Most of the advice givers recommend nothing for about 5-7 days and then only light workouts, not longer than an hour, for a couple of weeks. My next 70.3 is June 29 in Lubbock, Tx, so I have some time and am certainly over trained for that. Now for what I learned.
I have felt all along like God brought me on this adventure to teach me something and have been trying to pay attention to what that might be. It has taken several days to process it all and come to some sort of conclusion on that, and I may even have more insight as time goes along and I get further away from this thing. But I think the main thing I have learned is that I believe this is the first time in my life that I have done something totally pure. And by that I mean something that was only for me, where I didn’t care what accolades I got, where what others were thinking was not part of my motivation, where I felt totally engrossed in what I was doing, where I completely loved what I was doing. Most of the other stuff I have done (grades, college basketball, medical school, residency, job changes, church activities) have been done partly for the recognition I think. This was not. This was about me and only me. It was pure, and completing it feels pure and wholesome.
I also learned something about deserts. Paul Hill during one of our Lent services talked about Christ being tempted in the desert and how that was a preparation for confronting Satan rather than just something to make the confrontation more difficult which is what I always thought. He taught that at a time in my training where I needed to understand that concept. I was discouraged and felt weak. That new perspective changed a lot for me. And I now can also see how this race was possibly a desert, preparing me better for life. Karmen again told me on Monday, as she has after other races, that she likes me “this way.” When I inquired as to what “this way” means she said calm, kind, happy, still, at peace, present. And you know, I do feel all those things after a race. And those things are more intense after this particular race, I think just because this is the biggest thing I have attempted in my entire life, and I did it. I feel at peace and purified by the desert. It is interesting that this race took place in the desert. Next to surfing in the ocean, the desert is a place that deeply connects me with God.
So I agree with Karmen. These races do do something for me that I can’t quite explain. They purge me. They reset me. They calm me. They center me. It feels sort of nebulous, and I am not quite certain why nothing else in my life seems to have that same effect. Maybe it is that male instinct for battle and a good fight that I am able to calm or spend by doing this. I am not sure. But I do know that it helps me. It makes me healthier. It makes be a better lover. It makes me a better dad. It helps me relate in a real manner with God. It makes me a better husband. It makes me a better friend. And so I am entered in the 2009 Arizona Ironman.
Thanks again for reading and following along for these months. If I have more insight I will post some more on this. And by the way, the final step was getting the Ironman logo tatooed on my right calf. It is also done. And my favorite rock song began playing as King Pete started my Ironman tatoo. Best of Both Worlds by Van Halen.