- On April 25, 2017
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Craig’s Race Report: How the Tortoise Finished an Ironman
This is a story that will take a moment or two to read, but I sincerely hope that it brings you pleasure and you find it worth the investment of your valuable time.
We drove up Thursday morning for registration and I was able to meet up with Johnny Z, Brice, Paul, and more. I got my new Ironman bag and got all the paper work filled out. I got my rented race wheels added to the bike. We hit the athletes briefing then headed to lunch. Later that afternoon my Sherpa and I made it to the welcoming banquet. It was very inspirational to hear from Dave Scott, the original Ironman. It was also great to find Erika there with her Sherpa. On Friday morning we hooked up with the PH crew for the practice swim and then headed to lunch with everyone. Bike check in was next and then we had to figure out what to do with the rest of the afternoon. Catherine and I decided to take in a comedy movie. At the end of the movie, as everyone was filing out, there were red wrist bands everywhere as apparently going to the movies to turn your brain off for a little while is a popular distraction with potential Ironman participants. We got in our pre-race dinner and then turned in for the evening. Not much sleep to be had, but I tried.
I woke up at 4am and had my pre-race breakfast exactly as Melanie and I had decided. My phenomenal first time Sherpa had prepared all of my meals ahead of time and we got a hotel with a fridge and a microwave in the room. That way my pre-race evening meal and breakfast could be exactly what I had practiced. All my bags were prepared the night before so we set out to my first transition set up. Got everything set up and drove over to the swim start. We hooked up with PH folks and I got marked. I was so out of it I never realized that J.T. was the one talking to me about running for Rachel.
GREATEST REGRET: I did not get R4R on my arm.
We gathered together and everyone was getting loose. All the nerves seemed to slide away as I fell into my routine. I sprayed down with glide, I got the wetsuit on and before I knew it they were calling wetsuits to the front for the start. I kissed my Sherpa goodbye (doesn’t everyone?!?!) and headed for the water.
My first mistake was following my instincts here. In every aspect of my life I always choose the shortest line and I followed that instinct here. Mistake. The shortest line was outside to the left and the result was being funneled directly out to the center of the lake on the buoy line. Where is the worst crowd, the worst water, and the hardest to swim for someone who likes to swim as clean as possible? The buoy line! I was stuck in a mass of humanity that could not swim straight, sight, or go more than 50 feet without coming to a complete stop. I have made better progress in Houston traffic in rush our. Over the course of the first 3 buoys I put years of experience playing the arcade game Frogger to good use and worked my way to the outside right. Finally getting into a little clearer water I dropped into my groove and stroked cleanly all the way to the first left turn. Then it was back to working through people until we completed the second left turn. After that I had clear water all the way to the canal and I made good use of it. Trusting my training I swam by feel alone until things started getting tighter at the channel entrance. If I thought the buoy line was bad, nothing was like the channel. We were salmon swimming up stream in a washing machine that smelled like, well you know what it smelled like. I finally got tired of getting hit, picked a line on the right edge of the buoys in the middle and started swimming hard. I never gave up my line. I did not hit or retaliate, but I also did not yield. I was swimming straight because I learned how to hold a line swimming with PH athletes in a pool and I was going to hold my line now. The strategy served me well. I am very happy with that result. Score one for training . . .
and Frogger! Swim goal: 1:30 at a 2:06 pace Swim Actual: 1:32 at a 2:32 Though my watch said 1:31 at a 2:06
The T-1 Experiment
The next test was how I would get through T-1. I have never changed clothes at a triathlon between sports so this was a first. I grabbed my bag, ran into the tent, found an empty seat and got to work. I was disappointed that there were not more volunteers to help with things but I feel like I did pretty well here. All of my stuff had been prepared and organized using the incredible knowledge gained through our PH pre-race meeting. I got everything changed, wetsuit and other gear stuffed in a bag, handed that off and headed to the bike. T-1 goal-15:00 T-1 actual-17:31
The Bike-Part 1
I clipped in and got going. I immediately started eating as was the plan. That first run out down Woodlands Parkway got things off to a great start. That is until the turn around. When I got there I realized that I could not get either foot out of my pedals. I started calling for someone, anyone, to catch me. A very large officer reached out and grabbed me in bear hug while another officer grabbed my handlebars until I could unclip. A spectator ran over and dug out the mud in my cleats with his car keys! He waited to be sure I could clip in and out and I was off again. I had a great ride to the Tollway. I have a killer pic at one of the turns that shows I was having fun.
The first half of the loop on the Hardy was uneventful. I was passed by some people I know, I got to know the overpasses, and I arrived at the turn around in good time. As we turned I knew the wind was in our face, but it didn’t seem too bad. However, as we reached the halfway point of the northbound portion, I felt Mother Nature turn on the air conditioner. I looked up, saw the clouds, and I knew that the real wind was coming.
MAJOR BLESSING #1-There was no rain on the Tollway when this happened, and we all know from living here there should have been!!!!
As the wind picked up I knew I still had one more trip up the road and I started to feel discouraged.
When I reached the turnaround I got just what I needed. My wife/Sherpa had volunteered to work that aide station and seeing her I knew I couldn’t quit. (She has another major role in this story, but that comes later!) As I made the turn and felt the wind at my back I looked at my time. I was fine for the hard cutoff, but I knew I had to get back to the south turn around as quickly as I could. I jumped into zone 3-4 and pounded my way south as fast as I could, eating and drinking all the way, letting the wind carry me as much as possible. I stopped twice, once at special needs for a much needed chamois cream refresh and at the last aide station I had them sunscreen me up, and I was prepared for the journey home. Or so I thought.
The wind hit me like a sucker punch when I turned to head back up that overpass. Though I thought I had prepared myself, I was not ready for the drudge march that came next. So I choose to do two things: Only watch the power meter and not worry about miles (and never mph) and stop to rest for 30 seconds to a minute whenever the legs got really bad or the heart rate really started to climb. I stayed on my nutrition and hydration plan even when those bars started tasting like gravel. I just kept going. It had been really discouraging to see all of the groups drafting going north as I was screaming south because I knew even if I was tempted to draft (and I was, I admit it), for those of us straggling at the end, I was certain at one point, had been left on the Hardy to die!!! No more motorcycles screaming by with watchful ref’s or photogs on the back. No more SAG vehicles. Just a steady stream of lonely riders each stroking along in whatever personal pain locker they were dealing with. That last major fly-over overpass between 1960 and the Grand Parkway exit was my worst moment. I got about half way up and my heart rate spiked. I knew I had to stop. But now with no momentum, what to do? I walked! When I got to the top my legs were refreshed and I was able to ride it to the end of the tollway, once more receiving the gift of seeing my wife at the aide station, cheering me on.
GREATEST MOMENT OF TRUTH: That last flyover was so daunting, but I WOULD NOT BE DENIED!
Once I was off the tollway it was like I received new legs and new enthusiasm. I yelled my thanks to every volunteer flag person and stop sign holder and I thanked and joked with every officer. The riders around me were shaking their heads but I didn’t care. I was off that tollway and I was going to enjoy the last of the ride. When I got to the dismount line I literally let out a long yell of relief, much to the amusement of the spectators, and I told the catcher they were free to sell, give away, or even throw away that bike for all I cared!
Bike Goal: 90 watt average, 7:30 time, 15 mph ave Bike Actual: 103 watt average, 7:43 time, 14.49 ave
The Ear Worm–On an interesting side note, I had memorized several inspirational quotes to go to when the ride or run got hard. I mean, I had some really good ones. But somehow and ear worm infected me and the only thing that kept coming into my head was the chorus of Dreams by Fleetwood Mac. That’s right, for miles and miles, hour upon hour of the hardest ride of my life, all I kept hearing was Stevie Nicks singing, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining / Players only love you when they’re playing / Say women they will come and they will go / When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know, you’ll know.” And no, I do not apologize for infecting you now as well!!
It’s Time for T-2
I am not sure why this took so long, but it did. I had a great volunteer who I ended up giving my armband to. He helped with everything. I got all me gear swapped over and I was on my way.
Tip: If you use Nip-Guards, try to remember where you put them. I know I lost at least 3 minutes trying to find them.
T-2 Goal: 15 min. T-2 Actual: 20:13
It is always difficult for me in triathlon knowing that I finish with my worst discipline where most people are finishing with their best. But it would be here, on the run, that my family and Powerhouse Tribe would show me how much I am cared for and about. I hit the trail ready to finish this race and the first person I see is Nicole McBride. She is shouting for me. Me! I was ecstatic and I hit my first run session of my walk/run pattern and I hit it hard. I got through the first mile, looked down at my watch and realized there was NO WAY I was going to be able to keep that pace for the entire distance. I backed it off, got into my training rhythm and proceeded to knock off the first loop. I saw Melanie just before the PH tent and she told me I had people waiting for me. And I sure did! That first pass through the amazing PH family was so encouraging. Jason ran with me part of the way making sure I was alright and asking if I needed anything. I saw my wife and son right after that and then it was through Hippie Hollow and all the rest. The specators on the Waterway are simply amazing. I still had a smile on my face as I started the second loop.
I stayed disciplined and on nutrition/hydration until the backside of the second loop when fatigue started to set in. I had a real loss of time at special needs trying to put on some sleeves because I was getting cold.
As I approached the Enchanted Forest for the second time I was really slowing down. Just about that time Melanie and Jason appeared and stayed with me all the way to the waterway. At some point in there I switched off the gel/water combo I had been using and went to the Coke. This settled down the GI distractions that had been coming on. As I hit the Waterway and I was once again encouraged by my Powerhouse team. This time it was Russ who ran with me a bit to be sure I was alright. I was fine, but I was tiring quickly. Now it was aide station to aide station for my hit of caffeine and sugar. As I started loop three I was in real danger of not finishing. My left ankle had started to burn and felt like it was swelling. Then my left knee began to feel like someone was stabbing me with a knife when I tried to run. By mile 17 I was running less than 30 seconds at a time before the pain was too bad.
At that moment, just past transition my son met me on the trail and informed me that he would be running with me the rest of the way. At mile 19 my wife joined us, and with her on my left and my son on my right, we proceeded to attack the rest of the last loop. We were walking hard, running some, encouraging each other and trying to boost the morale of every runner we passed. If you have never been on the this run course after dark you have no idea how lonely it can feel after all the raucous people have packed up and gone home. Melanie and Jason found me once again just before the EF and stayed for a little while. But they could tell I was in good hands and went to help others. We made it back to the Waterway and I was so excited to see Heidi waiting to high five me as I went by. Then later, Jim and Brice picked me up for a bit just to make sure I was moving before they headed to the finish line.
Brice’s last words to me really stuck as I entered the chute. I walk/ran/shuffled from side to side, slapping every hand I could. After MR called my name and said I was an Ironman, I slowed down even more, drinking in the sights and sounds. When I finally crossed that line I let everything out in a yell and found myself “caught” by Richain. I, the Triathlon Tortoise, was finally done. I was an Ironman.
Run Goal: 6:30 at a 15:00 average Run Actual:6:39 at a 15:15 average
Finish Goal: I just wanted to finish, but I was guessing a 16-16.5 Finish Actual: 16:33
I did end up in the medical tent after the race. I got light headed and they discovered my body temp was only 91. After they warmed me up I was fine. But I WAS NOT dehydrated! I had hit all of my nutrition goals and almost all of my times. I discovered the truth: I got back from the race what I had trained for going into the race. I am satisfied with my training, my plan, my execution, and my finish. I am so grateful to my family, my coach, my team, and my friends. I am a fortunate individual who learned a lot about myself internally, and about how many wonderful people truly care about me, my well being, and my success. This has been an amazing journey.