Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ironman Maryland

Michael’s Race Report

Ironman Maryland (IMMD)
Being an Eastern Shore-man who lives by the weather, I knew that excessively high tides were in order after 4 days of strong winds out of the East.  Watching the Ironman Village battle flood tides last week made me think this Ironman was in trouble.  As the wind forecast crept up for Saturday’s Ironman, I was not surprised, nor too disappointed in the swim portion cancellation. 
Up at 0330, breakfast, shower, transition by 5:30, shoes off to get through tide, body marked, friends and volunteers, Tina, Allen, Sara, Steve(s) and more, CMS, fun, coach help, bike setup, drop bags, get in wetsuit… ready, whew! 
At 0630 as my support crew gathered around me near the corral for the swim-start, the river did not look promising.  My 86 year old mother was standing next to me having the wind beat at her back, “her 52 year old boy is not really going out there, is he?” I saw my sister shake her head, “there’s no way they’re going to let you in the water”-look.  I felt I could have swum the course and fared better than most; I was not too anxious about it (most of my anxiety was for the run).  The swim is my strongest leg in an Ironman.  But, I was concerned for those not as comfortable in the water as I was.  It was a Hemmingway/Castanza moment, “The sea was angry that day, my friends…”.  By now, 0730, while waiting in my wetsuit for the swim start, the bottoms of my feet raw from too much walking on the asphalt, we awaited the obvious news.   

After a 30 minute delay to see if the “sea” would lay down after sunrise, the race committee cancelled the swim portion of IMMD.  My 2000 friends and I herded towards the gear bags and change tents to ready ourselves for a time-trial style start of the bike leg, which would begin in 20 minutes.  The volunteers were so wonderful, and so were the athletes around me (I heard others were not so pleasant).  The tents were designed to only hold 75 athletes at a time, so I changed out of my wetsuit and swimwear in the wide-open for all to see; most of us did that, we had no choice.   

Several athletes had some chilling discomforts resulting from them having done a warm-up swim and/or having relieved themselves in their wetsuits (a common practice just prior to your swim start). Not me, I learned of this later this week on the IMMD facebook page; tmi for sure.  
Each athlete started one at a time in a time-trial fashion every couple of seconds starting with the lowest to highest bib numbers.  Mine was 420.  Bibs went as high as 2700 which meant it would take two hours to start all the cyclists; a long time to wait…and get cold. 

With the east wind comes the tide.  The bike course (2 laps) was shortened by a total of twelve miles, cutting out a six mile section of road near Andrews in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which was a foot under water.  With no swim and a shortened bike I decided to pace a bit faster on the bike then I planned, which I did. 

The bike was fast and I was having a blast, saying polite and witty things to other athletes as I passed them, “Good morning!  Lovely day (which it wasn’t).  Nice bike!  Good pace!  Whose idea was this?  Watch out for eagles!”  I pushed a bit harder every time I felt the wind not in my face.  This extra “push” was controlled and practiced, never over extending my efforts.  Even with four stops (1 planned, 3 unplanned) I did the 100 miles in just under five hours, my fastest ride of that length ever.   

My first stop was on the Golden Hill Road when my right knee hit the bottle I was refilling my tank with, sending it flying into the middle of the road.  Though nearly empty, I went back for my bottle.  Several cyclist whom I had passed just, recently, said positive and complimentary things to me as I stood on the grass, both feet on the ground, holding my bottle and bike in my hands.  No littering penalty for me. 

The second stop involved me relieving myself at the Aid Station potties on Route 16.  As I approached I saw it was a good time to stop with three potties and only one bike hanging on the parking rack.  It took all of a minute for that stop. 

The planned third stop was to refill my fluids at Special Needs.  George Robinson yelled, “420!” in his gloriously, booming Eastern Shore voice as a lady volunteer helped me manage my stop.  I, also, had a chance to say hello to some of the volunteers, including Kathy, who worked the Eagleman finish line for me in June.  It is amazing what it means to these volunteers to work these events.  I’m so grateful for their time and enthusiasm. 

The fourth stop was to check my tires for the “tap tap tap” I had ever since leaving Special Needs.  Surely, I thought, there was something in a tire.  I stopped after four more miles when I saw Cory in the TriCycle and Run bike-support truck.  She ran over to me and we looked together at each tire and found nothing.  Later I realized the “tapping” was fluid hitting the rubber valve in the new bottle picked up at Special Needs.  It sounded like a thumbtack lodged in my tire when pedaling.  A shout out to Cory for great bike support! 

There was plenty of wind and rain on the course.  The last hike up Route 16 from Taylor’s Island was the slowest of the ride with a healthy headwind.  There were some interesting Pep-chalk paintings on the course done by supporters.  One painting looked like a crime scene with the outlines of people laying on the road in various dubious positions.  Another had red chalk which, momentarily, made my front tire turn red; that freaked me out! 

Coach Will, Carita, Melissa and Steve, Sara, Anna were all at or near the bike dismount alley, cheering me on along with hundreds of others when I came through.  Adrian, who rode with me a few weeks back, assisted me in the tent with my nine minute change into my run gear and mixing of my nutrition.   
Out into the mud toward the run course I went, drink in hand, gels in thigh pockets, salts and more drink mix in my rear pocket.  In a moment I was past the cheering of my personal supporters and of the partying mob, making a solid 9:15 pace… right on plan.  Other than stopping to pee at 1.5 miles and down a gel at mile 3, I followed my plan and kept running until my first official stop around mile 8.  The plan from there was to walk all the Aid Stations (one every mile or so), and ingest at regular intervals my salts, hydration, and nutrition. 
 It was after mile 8 that the terrain got funky.  There was ankle deep water to go through in GMP and then mud for 300 yards with loose footing.  At mile 9ish the streets were under water and grew in depth to over 18 inches for several more hundred yards.  These were not ideal running conditions, but the water felt good on my legs.  I was not able to run through some of the deep water.   
Add to those obstacles, something was not right with my plan, I was wanting to walk more often and when running I could not hold my competitive race pace; my competitive race was done.  I slipped into a dark place for the next several miles; I couldn’t even smile back at Carita with all her joyful cheering and love. 

But, something hit me in the ass and by the half marathon mark I was a much happier camper, though still not able to maintain my targeted race-pace.  This points to where I got in my training.  The sickness I had five weeks prior to IMMD put an end to the longer runs in my training.  My right knee issue, which affects the whole leg from hip to calf got the better of me, too.  One can see in the race photos a distinct right-side favoring in my run form (I’m determined to improve this issue).   Excuses, right? 
But the highs well out numbered the lows in this race.  The highlights were the light in people’s eyes that I know and love along the race course.  Carita was constantly cheering me on, as was my coach, CMS friends, my weekend hosts Paul and Michael, Carlos on the High Street post, anyone local who saw my CMS kit, and those who met me from speaking on stage at the Opening Ceremonies. 
Tracy, Rebecca, and Ben who were wearing the CMS green kit, too, inspired me during the run to run faster (don’t know how I missed Sam and Steve??).  Cindy at High and Water Street was in her element having so much fun.  Sara has the most patience and endurance of any of us as she managed the bike area, took photos, and cheered me on every time I ran through the flood.  Michele gushed with encouragement.  Anna looked hot in her boots.  Chris’s encouraging hand fell on my back at one point.  And having Dean pass on the small American flag for the finish line was like manna; the rest was, literally, downhill over the High Street bricks to the welcoming arms of the finish line. 

Joanna and Amy were the first to greet me, Amy taking me through the finish-line conveyor belt to Carita and Margaret, the photo booth, and more friends and family.  I was stoked.  It took me a good half an hour to get feeling well enough to have something to eat in the athlete-food tent; thanks Matt of Rhode Island for dining with me.  After food and a 10 minute massage, I was good to go. 

It was awesome to be with friends under the Tomeley’s party tent when the deluge of rain hit; hot off the grill cheeseburger in my hand, sitting with Carita and friends rehashing the race and hearing plans for IMMD 2017. 

Training for an Ironman takes a large chunk of time out of one’s life.  And, even though I dedicated myself to this process over the past twelve months (and years leading up to this), I fell short of being as prepared as I wanted to be for a competitive Ironman for myself.  That’s okay.  So, for now, I say I’m DONE with the full distance Ironman, but look forward to many more triathlons, including Eagleman!  I plan to continue to make “training” be a way of life for me, but will tackle only enough as to allow the rest of life to flourish. 

Being surrounded by the like-minded people of Cambridge Multi-Sport, TCY Masters Swimming, the YMCA’s of Easton and Dorchester, and my family makes this “way of life” fulfilling, fun, and life-giving.  It is a privilege, that I take heavily, to race Ironman Maryland; I am blessed.  My gratitude goes to every person that has touched my Iron life.

Stats:  Bike 4:59, Run 5:08, T2 9min, total time 10:17

The projected finish time with all the missing portions of IMMD added back had me besting my previous Ironman time by close to half an hour. 
with Gratitude ~ Michael