Monthly Archives: September 2012

My First Half Iron… Man (Part 2)

(continued from previous week)

The day of reckoning approached fast as I continued to train for the Rhode Island 70.3. Although Brynn continued to improve it soon became apparent that she would not be able to join me on the trip up as spending any more than 15 minutes in the car would start to make her nauseus. As such I packed the car for one (two if you include my bike, which is treated like a baby) and headed up the Atlantic coast once I had finished with work on the Friday evening.

I spent a night in New Jersey, just outside of New York City and got up early on Saturday morning to continue the trip. I needed to get to Providence by around lunch time in order to go through the usual ordeals that accompany a big race. First I had to get to the downtown convention centre to collect my race packet and listen to the race briefing. I also found some cool T-shirts are the Ironman store – one for myself that reads “Irondad” (they must have known I was coming!), one for Brynn with “Ironmate” and one for Benjamin that says “When I grow up I want to be an Ironman” (I promise not to make Ben do an Ironman – at least not until he’s three).

After the race expo I had to drive 15 minutes north of the city to the race start to rack my bike. It was a grey and misty afternoon, so I was careful to cover my bike up with plastic bags so that it didn’t cop too much rain overnight. I had a look at Olney pond where the swim was to take place bright and early the next morning and then headed back downtown to have a look around and get some rest.

I strolled around the downtown area for a short while and took in the local vibe of providence. In a nutshell the place is pretty dead, but they’ve done a nice job of modernizing the main canal – for those in search of a romantic (and expensive) evening you can take a gonola ride (complete with stripe-shirted gondoliers!).  My walk took me around to second transition area of the race, where I would be dumping my bike the next day and getting into my running shoes for the final 13.1 miles. However, I was a little surprised to see that there were bags of gear all lined up in the area – I had heard at the race expo that we were to drop off this gear at the race start tomorrow. I asked one of the organizers there and he told me that I was supposed to check my gear in here by 5pm. Whipping out my phone I checked the clock – 4:55pm. Fortunately my hotel was just down the road so I was able to run back and quickly grab my stuff. Just goes to show that silly things can lead to not finishing a half Ironman!

The world famous gondolas of Providence!

I slept surprisingly well for a night before a big race and woke up to my alarm at 4:20 the next morning. I threw on my race gear and made my way down to the shuttle bus. Once we arrived at the race start I had about an hour to get my transition area finalized before the start of my race. I made sure the gears on my bike were shifting nicely, dusted my shoes with baby powder (helps keep them dry after the swim), attached them to the pedals, taped some energy gu to the frame of the bike and went through my typical pre-race ritual. Before I knew it it we were on the beach of the pond and read for the race start.

My wave left about 45 minutes after the first wave and I quickly found my rhythm in the middle of the pack. As we approached the first buoy we passed somebody from the wave in front. They had left five minutes before us so I couldn’t help but think to myself that this guy was in for a long day! Continuing along the course, which was a long single 1.2 mile (1.9km) loop, I managed to pass quite a few people in the waves ahead. I’m certain I would have been passed by a few people in the wave behind me, but I didn’t notice any which is usually a good sign that you’re swimming well. I emerged from the water in just over 38 minutes and felt strong as I ran into the transition area.

Emerging from the swim leg and running to T1

Out on the bike course I felt good and thought to myself that I should have no trouble getting through this. As the five mile mark approached I started to hit some small rolling hills and at one stage shifted to the lowest gear on my cassette. My gears were making some really weird noises so I decided to shift up a gear and muscle through the hill a little more. It seemed fine until I went for the low gear again and heard a similar noise. Once again I just shifted up and didn’t think much of it.

I got through another five miles of the course and then spotted a bigger hill up ahead. I had been warned that this was a hilly course, so I was not phased by it and just started to prepare myself by lowering gears as I approached it. Once again the strange noise returned as a shifted into the lowest gear. Then suddenly my chain seemed to just slip off and I had no power. Hastily I unclipped my shoes from the pedals, called my bike something I will not repeat and dragged it off the road to start repairing it. Only then did I realise the derailleur (the part that controls gear selection) had snapped clean off the bike. I was screwed!

Shortly before the fiasco

After working frivolously for a while the course mechanic found me and helped me get the bike into single speed, by removing some chain links. This meant I would have to ride the rest of the course in one gear. I’d already wasted about 45 minutes, so there was no chance of a good finish time remaining, but being my first half Ironman I really just wanted to finish the race. I mounted the bike and began pedalling again, but before I had gone even 300 metres my chain had slipped off. I tried stopped and slipped it back on only for the same thing to happen again. Things continued like this for a while and I soon realised the best means of propulsion was the use my bike like a scooter, with one leg dangling off the side to power me along the road.

It was far from the fastest or most efficient way to get around and it must have looked pretty stupid. The fact that the hills kept getting steeper didn’t help and I had to dismount and run my bike up the hill. As I did I had back of the pack triathletes giving me words of encouragement, telling me to get back on the bike, I could make it up the hill. It felt pathetic.

Eventually I hit the first aid station at the 15 mile mark and reality started to set it. Scooting over the next 40 miles was not only going to be exhausting, it probably wasn’t going to get me to the transition area before the cut off time. I stopped and asked the volunteers at the station how far ahead of the “sag wagon” I was. It took them about 10 minutes to tell me that they didn’t know and by that time I’d accepted fate and decided to drop out of the race. I waited around and got a ride back into Providence with one of the race officials, had a wee Guiness and prepared myself for a very long drive back to Virginia the next day.

Providence showed me just how unpredictable the sport of triathlon is and taught me not to take any race for granted. All it takes is one small mechanical failure and even some of the world’s best triathletes can be beaten by some of the worst.  I’m hoping that I’ve had enough bad luck with the half iron distance to last me a while now, hopefully with some good luck I’ll be able to post a successful result next week at Chesapeakeman!

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My first Half Iron… Man (Part 1)

Hi everyone,

Before I get stuck into this week’s post, just a quick note for the technophobes out there. If you’d like to receive each post on this site as an email you can do so by clicking on the follow button, which is located in the bottom right hand corner of the window (or sometimes it’s top left). Also, if you’d like to contribute any comments on any of the posts you can do so by clicking the comments link at the end of the post you wish to comment on.

So I took two days off from training this week after the Nation’s Tri and my batteries are definitely feeling more charged. I’ve now got my eyes on my last triathlon of the year, which is the Chesapeake Skipjack “roughly half iron” distance triathlon (1.2 mi (1.9km) swim, 64 mi (102km) bike, 10 mi (16km) run). This will be my first race of such distance and it should give me a lot of insight into how much fitter I’ll need to be to finish Ironman Lake Placid.

Actually, that last sentence isn’t quite true. Not the part about it testing my fitness, but the bit about it being my first time. Earlier this year I attempted a half iron distance race… but it ended up being more of a saga than a success. It all started back in Sydney at approximately 12:05am on 1st of January this year.

It was, as you may have deduced, the first minutes of New Years Day and Brynn and I were watching the fireworks display across Sydney Harbour. The subject of New Years Resolutions came about and I quickly blurted out “I am going to do an Olympic Triathlon!”.

After a good night’s sleep I reflected on my statement and felt a little disappointed. An Olympic Triathlon? It was something I was already planning on doing anyway. Plus I was already swimming, running and cycling fairly regularly and knew I wouldn’t have many troubles just completing the distance without a set time in mind. I’ve always been one to set lofty goals and it was a habit I was trying to break, but I just felt like I had gone from one extreme to another (for the record I still think beating Usain Bolt is a realistic goal, but maybe not this season).

A couple of months later we found ourselves in America and I started signing up for races. When I discovered that a new Half Ironman event was being held less than an hour away at the National Harbor I couldn’t help myself and signed up for it and increased my training volume. The triathlon gods didn’t seem to be on my side however as Brynn began to get sicker and sicker, meaning we were spending more and more time at the hospital.

Brynn was unable to eat and struggled to hold down water, which led to her spending much of the early parts of her pregnancy in and out of the ER. Her obstetrician was completely useless and just kept telling her to eat crackers or toast and suck it all up. This was all while Brynn was drastically losing weight. We began looking around for another obstetrician, but had great trouble finding one that would take us because our health insurance was refusing the cover the pregnancy. Even though we were willing to pay for all medical treatment upfront out of our own pockets, most would not take us for administrative reasons.

It turns out that all individual health insurance policies have a six month pregnancy waiver. If you are planning on having a child as we were (and you’ve been living in a country where you don’t even need to buy insurance), you are just supposed to pay an extra premium on your insurance and cross your legs for six months. This was contrary to what the insurance salesperson had told me, who explained that the first six months of expenses would not be covered, but the delivery would be because it would be well into the policy. Fortunately, the policy was still supposed to cover pregnancy complications.

However, to further complicate things the health insurance company decided after several hospital visits that the pregnancy itself was a pre-existing condition and did not want to cover any of the costs of Brynn’s condition. This would have spelt financial disaster for us, which was the last thing we really needing in our lives at the time. Where they got this idea I’m still not sure, it certainly wasn’t from science! Thankfully Brynn had had numerous ultrasounds that all proved that conception took place after the policy start date.

Eventually we did find an exceptional obstetrician and after a ten day stay at hospital and the installation of a PICC line Brynn had turned the corner. There were still a few more hurdles along the way (the PICC line becoming infected was certainly not the least of them), but things were moving in the right direction.  I was able to increase my training mileage once again and before I knew it I was back on track for the Half Ironman.

Well at least until the race got cancelled.

I was in shock. Obviously this race just wasn’t meant to be. As a sweetener the WTC (owners of the Ironman trademark) offered me discounted entry into some of their other Half Ironman events. One was in Boise, Idaho. Another was in Canada. The closest race was in fact Providence, Rhode Island – a mere 9 hours away.

I toyed with the idea for a couple of weeks, but had trouble convincing myself travelling up to Providence was a good idea. Brynn being the amazing wife that she is knew that I was disappointed at the cancellation of the National Harbor event and encouraged me to make the trip. She was continuing to show a lot of improvement and had finally stopped losing weight – it was possible she might even be able to make the trip up to Providence. And so it was that I found myself on the entry list. The race was in July so I had no time to lose. I definitely didn’t have the mileage under my belt that I would have liked, but I felt that I was in good enough shape to get through the distance in a credible time.

To be continued…

The Nation’s Tri

Hi again,

I participated in the Nation’s Tri today, which served as the Mid-Atlantic triathlon championships for 2012. Here’s how I did (for full results see http://www.nationstri.com/results-2012-results.html):

  • Swim Time – 29:55
  • Transtion 1 – 1:40
  • Bike – 1:10:30
  • Transition 2 – 0:57
  • Run – 41:18
  • Total – 2:23:18
  • Placings – 17th/266 in division and 119th/3138 overall

I was hoping to break the 2h 20 min mark and get a top 10 finish, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I was happy with the level of effort I put in, I didn’t leave anything on the race course, but I just wasn’t up to the mark on the day.

I left the house at around 5am this morning and packed my rental wetsuit, although I thought the swim would be cancelled thanks to an epic storm the day before. When there are big storms a lot of funky stuff gets washed into the Potomac River, so when I arrived and heard the swim was going ahead I was a little taken aback. Hopefully I won’t be needing any antibiotics!

Furthermore I was unpleasantly surprised that the water was too warm for a wetsuit, so I’d wasted my money on the rental.

Anyway, after waiting around for my wave to start the moment of truth arrived. My wave started about 45 minutes after the first wave and it began with a jump off the pier into the depths of the Potomac. To say it was silty was an understatement – I could not see anything in the water including my hands. My first 500 metres upstream felt really fast and I literally left the majority of the wave in my wake and caught up with the slow guys in the waves ahead. We swam under the Arlington Memorial Bridge and turned around, ready to take advantage of the current and WHAM, the sun hit right in my eyes. I have mirror goggles that cut out the majority of glare, but I couldn’t see the bouys (which were bright orange and about 6 foot high) until I was almost on top of them. I had to stop and breaststroke a couple of times to get my bearings, but otherwise  I felt like I held my technique pretty well and continued to swim strong. Overall it felt really good and I was surprised after the race to find out it was actually slower than my swim at Luray.

After a quick shuffle through transition I found myself on the bike. It was really crowded at first and with all the potholes on DC roads it was a bit dicey. After a few miles I found my rhythm and the pack began to disperse. My bike is still my weakest leg, but I managed to do surprisingly well. The fact that there were no big hills definitely played to my favour. The bike went along the Clara Barton Parkway into Maryland and was very scenic as it parallels the C&O Canal for the majority of the distance. On the course I saw a guy with carbon wheels (which are alone worth more than my entire bike) and an aero helmet get overtaken by an old guy on a mountain bike with knobbly wheels! Fortunately I was able to pass both of them, but it just goes to show that a good bike is no substitute for a good engine.

After another quick transition I had my running shoes on and was pacing around the Washington Monument. I was hoping to break 40 minutes on the run,  but once again it just wasn’t to be. In hindsight I should have hammered out a harder pace at the beginning, but I was passing so many people I thought I must have been going quicker than I was. Mentally I found the run really tough, but I was able to focus on my technique and zone out of the pain pretty well. I passed what seemed like hundreds of people and only got passed by one runner (who just happened to be in my age group), so although it wasn’t quite at the standard I was hoping for it did serve me pretty well.

Now that this race is over I will focus my efforts on the Chesapeakeman Skipjack (121km – 75.2 mi) in two weeks time – my last race of the season.

As for Brynn and Benjamin both are still in great health. We saw the doctor this week and Benjamin is over four pounds, which means he will not be born underweight (which is really common for Hyperemesis babies). He hasn’t been giving his Mum much relief though, every night he’s been kicking and punching and poor Brynn has hardly slept. Fortunately the end is in sight for her though, with the due date now just weeks away.

Back to the Beginning

Hi everyone,

Another hard week of training for me this week as I prepare for my last two races of 2012 this month. The sun has been going down a lot earlier this week and summer is definitely coming to an end so I’m going to have to adapt my training to fit in with that. I went for a 28km run on Wednesday evening and it was pitch black by 8pm, so I had to run the last 40 minutes or so in the pitch black (not a good idea in the land of the second ammendment!) It did push me to run a lot faster though and I felt surprisingly good after doing that kind of a distance at a decent pace. Nevertheless there’ll be no more evening long runs for me for another 9 months.

Brynn and Benjamin are keeping well. Ben is getting a lot stronger and you can really see some of his kicks and punches from the outside now. I’ll have to keep myself in pretty good shape so that he doesn’t get any ideas about kicking and punching me when he’s a teenager! We’ve got another doctor’s appointment this week to check in on the little guy and see what he’s up to.

This week I’ll be taking it a little easier as I have a race next weekend in Washington DC called the Nation’s Tri. It’s actually the regional championships for the mid-atlantic region and a very flat fast course, so I’d like to have a good hit out there and see what kind of time I’m capable of. I even splurged on a wetsuit rental to help float me out of the Potomac in the best time possible.

The course is actually very similar to the first triathlon I ever did – the DC triathlon – back in 2010. Even though it took me another 18 months to actually enter another triathlon I knew I was hooked when that race was over.

I entered the DC triathlon just after completing my first marathon (see last week’s post). I wanted to take a few weeks off running so I was doing a lot of cross training at the gym when one of the people working there told me about a triathlon that was coming up. It seemed to fit in with my training plans so I thought why not?

I started my preparation with a swim in an endless pool (like a water treadmill) at the gym. I did about twenty strokes flat out and then looked for the emergency stop button as I gasped and gagged in exhaustion. Of course there is no emergency stop button so the current just sent me straight into the back wall of the pool. I repeated that a few times and then concluded I really needed to get lessons.

I ended up finding a stroke class at a local rec centre and began swimming there twice per week. I was being taught by an overweight Lebanese man who barely spoke English, but he did an amazing job with me over the next few weeks. On week one I was able to swim 100 metres, but it was literally water torture. My teacher taught me to relax my arm on recovery (he once said “you need to swim like a handicap”, the joys of ESL!) so that I was only using half as much energy and slowly but surely I was able to swim 200m and then 400m. Soon I was able to swim 1000m, which was longer than the 800m required for the race. I was ready.

At the same time I started cycling more to build myself up to what seemed at the time to be a ‘long’ 20km. I thought about buying a used road bike, but I couldn’t really justify the expense, so I just got some “road tyres” for my steel mountain bike. That made it immensely faster, but not exactly greased lightning. And before I knew it the big day had arrived.

The worst part of the race was definitely the early start, I think Brynn and I left the house at about 4:30am. We were still engaged at the time, so when she was willing to drag herself out of bed to watch me swim, bike and run around in circles I knew I’d made the right decision when I’d popped the question just a few months earlier. We waited around for a while and before long my wave was ready to start.

I’d half expected to drift right to the back of the pack when the siren sounded, but I surprised myself as I found a comfortable position in the middle of the pack. We rounded the bouys and it seemed like the swim was over in no time, I even past some of the swimmers in the wave in front of me!

In transition I got dressed in my running gear of singlet, shoes and socks (no fancy triathlon clothing for this one) and grabbed my hulk of a mountain bike. After lugging it across the mount line I swung my leg over my bike and began grinding the pedals. It was at about this stage that the majority of swimmers I passed in the wave ahead flew by me on their expensive triathlon bikes, but I figured I’d get them later on the run. I got passed by well over a hundred people on the bike, but truth be told I was surprised that I was able to keep up with the pace pretty well – I even managed to pass a couple of people on non-Bonzo the Clown bikes. Still, it was by far my weakest leg of the day.

I was a little unsure of how I would go on the run as I had barely put any preparation into it. Once I got out on the course and started passing people though I just couldn’t slow down. Coming from a sprinting background I was used to going out hard and getting passed at the end in longer races, but all the fast runners were already far ahead by the time I started the leg so I only had to compete with the middle of the pack runners. Anyone who knows me knows how ridiculously competitive I am. It doesn’t matter whether I’m running 100m, sitting an exam or playing tag with a three year old, I just have to win (Yep, I’m going to be that Dad and Benjamin is going to hate it!) My dog Timmy is the same way and we have had some epic battles over the years from racing up the driveway to tug-of-wars with rope chews. Anyway, when I started passing these 60 year olds who had killed me on the bike leg my ego just went into overdrive and I started running that race like it was an Olympic final. I made up a lot of time and wound up finishing about ten minutes behind the winner of my age group.

Making up for lost time in the run leg of the DC Tri

After the race I felt great (unlike my marathon) and had some questions I knew I would have to answer. How fast could I go with a real bike? What would happen if I trained for more than a few months? But most importantly, why don’t my legs hurt and why do I feel so great? As a runner I was always having to be careful with my back and my knees, but with all the cross-training I was doing suddenly I found I was hardly ever at the chiropractor. Everything just seemed to be in better balance and it felt great. Although it took me a long time to actually sign up for another triathlon I incorporated a lot of what I’d learned into my training and had a lot fewer injuries.

Let’s see if I still feel that way after Lake Placid!