2016 Ironman Maryland
Race Report – Part 2
79/216 AG 424/1890 Overall
October 1, 2016 – Race day is finally upon me. I spent a moment reflecting on how I came to be on the cusp of tackling a full Ironman triathlon, and it goes back to my 2013 New Year’s resolution to get in the best shape of my life. 2013 began with running and P90X, along with some obstacle course racing. I stumbled into triathlon by accident in 2014 (Read about it here ), and by 2015 I had dropped the obstacle course racing entirely and had committed to triathlon. I completed my first half-iron triathlon in May of that year, and had signed up for IMMD that Fall.
I didn’t have long to reflect since there was a lot to do before Busher and I headed out the door. On went the trisuit and tri-tat numbers (with a little help from Leigh Anne). I lubed myself up with sunscreen, even though the forecast was for rain and wind, and then I grabbed my gear and off we went.
We took Busher’s car to the nearby school that operated as a staging area, and we had to catch a shuttle bus to transition. When we got to the school, pandemonium was beginning to ensue since all of the parking spots were taken and there was no one directing traffic. Up went my stress level as I imagined scenarios that involved missing the shuttle buses, and then, the swim start. Busher took the initiative in creating a new line of parked cars in an unoccupied portion of the bus loop, but then we had to stand in a long line while waiting for more buses to arrive since the one that had been there when we pulled in had already filled and departed. After 10 minutes or so (which felt like an eternity at the time), several buses appeared and we managed to get on board one. At that point, cars were still rolling up to the school in droves, and I have no idea where the remainder ended up parking. Even the bus loop had completely filled up by that point.
The bus ride to the transition area was only 5-10 minutes, and my stress level had reduced a bit by that point since we were in route with plenty of time to spare. Busher and I had even remembered to bring a pair of nail clippers with us so that we could cut the zip ties that were keeping our bikes from blowing of the bike racks overnight. If you read Part 1 of this Race Report, then I’ll bet you were thinking that we’d forget about that, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, just as the bus was pulling up to transition I realized that my two 900-calorie nutrition bottles for the bike leg were still safely cooling in the mini-fridge back at the Day’s Inn. Commence full-blown panic mode.
I didn’t have my cell phone with me and neither did Busher. Thankfully, the lady in the seat directly in front me had one in her hand, so I asked her if I could use it. Since the bus was starting to empty, she was a bit concerned, and was probably wondering if I planned on taking her phone and running off. Busher, sensing her hesitation, yelled, “He forgot his nutrition bottles and needs to call his wife!” She reluctantly relented, and I managed to get Leigh Anne on the phone and asked her to make an emergency trip down to the transition area. Since many of the roads were closed, however, I was concerned about whether she could even get to me before the swim start, let alone find me in the throngs of people.
Roughly 20 minutes and three borrowed cell phones later, I finally managed to find Leigh Anne and grab my bottles. Crisis averted, but I’d certainly wasted a lot of extra heartbeats in my anxious state that might have come in handy a little later in the day.
Now that the bottle-fiasco was over, I could finally focus on getting ready for the swim and in getting into my wetsuit. At that point, the wind was blowing hard and the Choptank River still looked really rough. After lining up in self-seeded swim waves, an announcement was made that the swim was going to be delayed for thirty minutes due to the rough conditions. If the waves didn’t die down some during that time, then the swim was going to be cancelled. Thus ensued thirty minutes of waiting and wondering. More anxious heartbeats wasted.
At the appointed time, another announcement was made that the swim was being cancelled. A collective groan went out from the athletes, and we were told that a “time-trial” start would begin for the bike leg in thirty minutes. The lowest number would begin first, with athletes being sent off every 5-10 seconds. Since I was bib 1442, I knew that I was going to have to wait awhile. Interestingly, there were a handful of athletes who grabbed their gear and bailed. I can’t image spending so much time and money on a race, only to quit due to a swim cancellation. But I digress.
Back to transition I went and off came the wetsuit. I didn’t have anything but my trisuit to wear since my long sleeve shirts were already in my gear bags and in the special needs bags that had been turned in to the race volunteers, and as soon as the wetsuit came off a chill began to set in. Busher and I moved into the transition tent, but all the chairs were already occupied, so we were forced to either stand or sit on the cold concrete. I was in the tent for over an hour waiting for my turn to take off on the bike, and in that time, I began shaking from the cold. Many of the athletes had long sleeves for the bike leg, but I had decided that it would be warm enough to ride in just my trisuit since it was supposed to be in the 50s and 60s. I began having serious reservations about that decision, and wondered if I’d set myself up for trouble. I am, admittedly, a total wuss when it comes to being cold.
After what felt like an eternity, it was finally time for me to get out onto the bike course, and I left Busher behind in the tent. Unfortunately for him, his walk up registration left him with one of the highest bib numbers, so he had about another hour to wait. I wouldn’t see him again until the run course.
Bike: 5:07:59 (19.48 mph)
My conservative goal for the bike leg had been to complete the original 112 mile course in 6 hours or less, which equates to 18.6 miles per hour. I knew that such a pace was more than doable since Coach Erin had me in good biking shape, and I was actually setting out to shoot for the 19-20 mph range. Still, I’d never run a marathon after riding 112 miles (or 100 miles as it turned out), so I didn’t want to overdo it on the bike and end up walking on the run course. I was going to err on the side of caution instead of pushing my luck.
The bike course was two loops after an initial 12 mile ride out of town. Its very flat, and even though the official course map claims that it has ~1400 feet of elevation gain, I can’t recall that much elevation change. The tough part of the IMMD bike course is the wind, and that part didn’t disappoint. It was blowing out of the northeast pretty steady at about 10 mph, and must have been gusting to 20 miles per hour or more. The wind, coupled with on and off rain, made for a challenging ride.
At my coaches’ direction, I eased into the bike and didn’t let the initial surge of adrenalin control my pace. Any fears that I’d had of freezing on the bike evaporated after about five minutes, and I was plenty warm for the rest of my time on the bike. I immediately noticed, however, that the high humidity was going to be an issue all day, and my glasses and helmet shield kept fogging. I finally had to stow my sunglasses in the front of my trisuit and rode with just the helmet shield for the remainder of the ride.
Around mile 12 I got out onto the “loop” portion of the course and passed the local high school that was doubling as an aid station and the special needs area. Shortly thereafter, I was riding in relative proximity to several other riders and noticed that the guy behind me was riding on my tail. Interestingly, as soon as I noticed it a marshall came up from behind on a motorcycle and gave him a drafting penalty. They are pretty good at sneaking up on you, and I’d see several marshalls on the course throughout the day.
From miles 13-30 I was able to make pretty good time since the wind was generally at my back. It was during that stretch that 5-6 guys went by me in a pace line like I was sitting still. They were blatantly drafting and riding together, and I don’t know if they ever got caught, but I was certainly hoping that they would.
From miles 30-40 the course turned to the north-west, and the favorable tailwind turned into a cross-wind. This made things more difficult, but still manageable. From miles 40-51, however, the course was headed north-east – directly into the teeth of the wind. For the vast majority of that stretch we were on an open and unprotected portion of the highway. I saw my speed dropping to 15-18 miles per hour, and I fought the urge to pedal harder to keep my pace up. The goal was to ride at a fairly even effort all day long, and I didn’t want pride to sucker me into fighting the wind and blowing up later because of it. That part of the course wore on me a bit mentally, but I knew that loop 2 was going to be even worse.
Around mile 51 I hit the turn to start the second loop and saw my family on the right side of the road just before the high school. I hadn’t expected to see them until the run, so that was a nice surprise. Shortly thereafter I pulled into the aid station, but didn’t actually need anything from my special needs bag. My first nutrition bottle was kicked, and I needed to refill it from the second bottle, which was hanging off the back of my bike. There was no safe way to do that while riding since I needed to remove the screw top from my original bottle, so I stopped for about 30 seconds to take care of business. Then it was back out on the road for loop 2.
The second loop of a two-loop course is interesting in the sense that you are tired, but you no longer have to deal with the mind-f*ck that comes with seeing the second loop’s mile markers on loop 1. For example, the 40 mile marker on loop 1 came just before the 80 mile marker for loop 2. Thus, you end up telling yourself how much you’d give to be passing the 80 mile sign instead of the 40 mile sign. The second time around, even though you’ve gone 80 miles and your butt hurts, you thank God that you’re not actually at that the 40 mile point. There are plenty of mind games that get played when you’re on a bike for 5+ hours, at least in my brain.
Everything went well for the majority of loop two, and it was nice to pick up the tailwind again between miles 51 and 70. I started seeing long lines for the porta-potties at the aid stations, and wondered how much time people were losing just to empty their bladders. Karen had told me to just go on the bike, which is not as easy as it may seem – particularly after you’ve spent nearly 40 years telling yourself not to pee your pants. The first time is definitely the hardest, but it certainly helps when its raining. Once the seal is broken though, you feel like you have to go every 5 miles.
Miles 78-91 were back into the teeth of the wind, and were the worst part of the ride by far. A larger guy passed me somewhere in that stretch and I accelerated a bit to stay behind him in order to get a little bit of relief from the wind. I made sure to stay at least 5 bike lengths back from him to avoid a drafting penalty, and its a good thing I did because the marshalls came back around again.
At mile 91 I took a left turn to head back towards town and finally got out of the direct headwind. At that point, I still believed that the bike course had only been shortened from 112 miles to 104 miles – per the Facebook posts the night before – so I thought I still had 15 miles to go. As I got closer to town, however, I realized that I was running out of course, and later learned that additional flooding had caused the course to be shortened to 100 miles. So, no swim and a loss of 12 miles on the bike. My 140.6 had been turned into a 126.2. Well, at least not many people can say they’ve done one of those.
As I rolled back towards T2 I felt pretty good, and I had never gotten to the point were I felt like I “had” to get off the bike. Fighting the winds on the bike had taken its toll on my physically, but my training had held up and I felt ready to run. Thanks for all of those Sweet Spot intervals on the trainer Erin! My family was off to my right as I came into the transition area, and it was nice to see them again. After crossing the timing mat, I was off my bike and on my way back to my transition spot.
It was a fairly long run around the transition area to rack my bike and then to get my run bag from a volunteer. I had an assigned spot on a rack that was well off the beaten path, so it took me awhile to get there, especially since I had to run on the asphalt in my bike shoes. I then headed into the transition tent that I’d spent over an hour freezing in earlier in the day. Off went the cycling shoes and helmet, and on went my race belt. Time was spent applying liberal amounts of Bodyglide on most every area of my body, and I was willing to take a little longer in transition to prevent some serious chafing issues later.
Immediately outside the tent was a volunteer, and I inquired about sunscreen. There were several bottles for you to use on yourself, and I was a bit disappointed since at Ironman 70.3 Raleigh in 2015 they had volunteers who would smear it on you, which was much faster. Thus, a bit more time was lost in trying to make sure that I was fully coated. I then handed off my bike gear bag to another volunteer and headed out onto the run course – passing my family again as I left the transition area.
Run: 4:27:48 (10:13 min/mile)
Miles 1-3 (9:44)(9:59)(9:59)
Karen had given me strict instructions to run the first three miles at a 10:15 pace, and then my plan was to try to hold 9:45 – 10:00 min miles thereafter. Coming out of T2 I felt really really good, and the crowds were spurring me along. Unlike the start of the bike course, I was unable to keep my adrenalin from taking over and I was running faster than planned. I remember looking at my watch and thinking that Karen was going to yell at me, but I felt like I couldn’t run any slower. I tried and tried to slow down, but I was feeling great and felt like I’d have to walk in order to hit the 10:15/mile time goal. I sure wasn’t about to walk in the first three miles of the marathon, so I kept going and knew that I’d hear about my disobedience later.
Miles 4-6 (9:59)(10:11)(9:53)
The first six miles of the marathon were probably the quickest and easiest six miles of my life. Not in terms of pace, but the miles just seemed to fly by. I was seeing the run course for the first time and there were a fair amount of spectators on that part of the course to keep me energized. My pacing remained pretty even around 10:00/mile, with the only deviation coming in mile 5 due to a quick stop at the porta-potty near the turnaround point. I was then headed back towards the transition area to begin the downtown portion of the first run loop. So far, so good.
Miles 7-9 (10:01)(10:18)(9:53)
If the first six miles were a cakewalk, the next twenty were about to get crazy. At mile 7, I saw Busher for the first time since the early morning, and he was just heading out onto his run due to his later bike start. Around the mile 8 point I had to run back around the transition area to head downtown. See the picture above labeled “Entering T2.” Unbeknownst to me, the transition road had flooded in the hour and a quarter since I came out of T2. At that point, the water was just over ankle deep and was about a city block in length.
Without thinking or slowing, I trudged into the water but then saw a bunch of people stopping to take off their shoes and socks. I immediately regretted my decision to keep my shoes on since I’d have 18 miles of wet feet, but I did have an extra pair of socks in my special needs bag. I tried to run through the water without walking, but high stepping was pretty tiring. Thus, I walked a bit to keep my heart rate under control and waved to my family as I went by. My pace for mile 8 jumped up to 10:18 due to the slow down, but I was able to maintain a positive outlook nonetheless.
After rounding the transition area and turning towards the finish line and downtown area, I realized quickly that keeping my shoes on and plowing into the water had been the right call. There were two more flooded areas ahead of me, and these seemed to be deeper and longer than the first. Basically, two more city blocks of water to run through. Did I mention that IMMD has a three-loop course? This meant that I had to run through each flooded area five times – approximately fifteen city blocks worth of water jogging. Turns out they didn’t cancel the swim, they just combined it with the run.
In a weird way, I liked the flooding issue because so many people were mentally defeated and were doing a lot of vocal complaining. I’m usually a glass-half-empty type of person, but I somehow managed to put a positive spin on the situation and I kept a good attitude about it. Karen had said to take the course as it comes the night before, so that’s what I chose to do. That being said, trudging through the water was exhausting.
Miles 10-12 (10:00)(10:00)(10:19)
By mile 10 I had escaped the water and was in the downtown portion of the run course, which was filled with spectators. A local brew pub is open all day for the race, and there were a lot of inebriated people out there. Some beers and kisses were offered as I passed by, but I politely declined and kept moving forward at my 10:00/mile pace.
By mile 12, I had gone back around the transition area, through the flooded transition road again, and was onto loop number 2. It seemed as though the tide was still coming in because the water had gotten a bit deeper. The early-run euphoria had long since faded, but I was still feeling OK.
Miles 13-15 (9:51)(9:50)(10:08)
Miles 13-15 were on the most boring portion of the course, but it was completely dry so I was able to make decent time. I still had enough juice in my legs to run some sub-10:00 minute miles, and when I got to the turnaround cone at mile 14.7 it felt good since I knew that I’d never have to pass that point again. There are three run loops, but the third loop is a bit truncated on the part away from town.
I’d tried to stay on top of my nutrition on the run, but unlike the bike, I didn’t have any nutrition with me. I was taking a gel about every other aid station, along with Gatorade, but was worried that I might need some additional calories. I also dipped into my medicine bag at that point to take a couple of Tylenol, some salt tablets and a Diclofenac, which had been prescribed for my ongoing left-sided piriformis issues. I’d fought those issues all year with varying degrees of success, and had even undergone physical therapy. Thankfully, the combination of Tylenol and Diclo was working well-enough, so the piriformis pain was at a minimum. I’d learned my lesson at the Patriot’s Half-Iron triathlon three weeks before about putting pills in my trisuit pocket, and had wisely put the pills for IMMD in a small baggie to keep them from dissolving.
Miles 16-18 were still free and clear of water as I wound my way back towards the transition area once again. Fatigue was definitely setting in, but I was still able to run a sub-10:00 minute mile for mile 18. It would be my last such mile of the day. I found myself taking longer to get through the aid stations, and every time I slowed down it took more and more effort to get back up to speed. I’d begun to see A LOT of people walking on the course, and not just in the areas of the standing water. Mentally, I was still strong, but my body was starting to wear down. Sadly, I still had three more trips through each of the three areas of standing water still in store for me.
Miles 19-22 (10:41)(11:14)(11:02)
I hit the transition area flooding again at mile 18.5, and damn if the tide hadn’t come in even more. I tried to run through it, but eventually was reduced to a walk. Then a run. Then a walk again. Once I got through it my legs felt like I’d just gotten off roller skates. If you haven’t tried it, its a fun feeling with more than 7 miles left to go in a marathon. On the upside, I hadn’t felt any blisters develop, which was a miracle in and of itself. Score one for my liberal application of Bodyglide in T2!
After getting through the water, I rounded the transition area again and headed into the two other flooded areas on my way to the downtown area. Those were now out of control, and the water was getting close to knee level in the deepest parts. I tried to find slightly shallower parts to pass through, but that was like trying to nail Jello to the wall. I made it through and then headed back towards the nightlife near the brew pub. That area was a nice pick-me-up, and I was seriously considering snagging a beer from someone.
Even though my spirits were good, my body was rebelling and my quads were burning. My pace deteriorated into the 11:00 min/mile range, which was OK, but I was worried about blowing up and having to walk it in. I was determined to continue running, and to only walk in the flooded portions and at the aid stations. As I came through the flooded transition area again around mile 21.5 I saw my family and told them to go ahead and head over to the finish line. They were shocked to see the other two flooded areas on that part of the course, and thought that the flooding had been limited to one area.
Miles 23-25 (10:47)(11:17)(11:39)
I’d read about the “dark times” of the Ironman run and experienced that first-hand between miles 22 and 25. You know you’re close to the end, but it still feels a long way off. I began to be reluctant to slow at the aid stations. Every time I did so, my legs tightened up and it was hard to get back up to speed. Night was falling, and there was the carnage of walkers all over the course by that point. They began giving out glow necklaces at the aid stations, and I was told that the athletes had to put them on, but wasn’t sure if that was correct. I think I wore one for a mile or so, then felt silly and threw it away at the next aid station.
In the first two loops of the run, the turnaround cone for loop three had taunted me and I’d looked forward to finally getting to go around it myself. That finally occurred around mile 22.6, and then I was on my way back to the transition area for the final time, and then back downtown.
My 4 hour 30 minute goal for the marathon was attainable if I kept running, even with the unexpected combination of the swim and the run. My legs felt as though they could give out if I got slightly off balance, but I was able to keep running, even if my pace continued to degrade. By the end of mile 25 I came up upon the finish line, and turned right to head towards the brew pub one last time. I could hear the finish line music playing and began to laugh because it was that hilariously terrible song from the beginning of Dumb and Dumber, Boom-Shak-A-Lak. Google it, you’ll laugh too. That brought me out of my dark time and I got excited since the finish was almost upon me.
Mile 26 (10:53)
Upon rounding the final turn near the brew pub, I took one of the American flags that a volunteer was handing out. It was then pretty much a half-mile straight shot up to and through the finishing chute. I’d run past the finishing chute five times by that point, and it was nice to finally be able to head into it instead of around it. There’s nothing quite like seeing the red carpet (literally) rolled out for you and being called an Ironman for the first time. I managed to pick up my pace a bit just prior to crossing the finish line, but it wasn’t a sprint by any stretch of the imagination. I crossed the line in a total time of 9 hours, 44 minutes and 9 seconds.
In the weeks leading up to the race, I was wondering if I’d break down and cry upon finishing, as many Ironman finishers do. My finishing moment was the culmination of three and a half years of training, a lot of which was done in the dark, the rain, the heat or in pain from nagging injuries. Had I thought back to all of those moments as I ran through the finishing chute, I certainly may have broken down, but I was focused on the moment and on seeing my family in the grandstands off to my right. Quite frankly, it all happened really fast and before I knew it, I already had my finisher’s medal, a t-shirt and a bottle of water.
My family met me just beyond the finish line, which included my wife and kids, my parents, and my uncle Jeff and aunt Marcy. All things considered, I felt pretty good, and we chatted for five to ten minutes about the race. Once my heart rate came down I began to get cold, so Leigh Anne gave me a long sleeved shirt to put on. I’m not quite sure what happened, but I really began struggling with my fine motor skills and couldn’t put the shirt on. Jeff noticed what was going on and suggested that Leigh Anne take me over to the medical tent.
The medical tent was maybe 50 yards away, but the closer I got, the worse I felt. I began to have to lean on Leigh Anne to stay upright, and then I started getting tunnel vision. By the time I got inside the tent I could barely see since the sides were closing in and I was close to passing out. Thus began an hour stint in the medical tent on a cot, and I was given a bag of IV fluid since my blood pressure was low. I had promised Leigh Anne that I wouldn’t try to do another full Ironman in 2017, and she took that opportunity to tell me to remember how I was feeling as I laid on the cot when I started thinking about doing another one.
I still felt pretty shaky after leaving the medical tent, but after downing a Pepsi, everything got back to normal. I was then able to walk back to the transition area to get my gear with Busher (who’d finished in dumping rain while I was convalescing), and then he, Leigh Anne and I hit up the McDonald’s drive through for some much needed calories. Then it was back to the Day’s Inn for our fine post-race meal and a couple of beers, but exhaustion soon set in and we called it a night. Sleep has rarely come so easy for me.
Overall, IMMD was a great experience and I was able to meet my performance goals, even with some adverse conditions. Due to the swim cancellation and the shortened bike course, however, I was left wanting more, and had (and still have) reservations about calling myself an Ironman. I’d also planned on getting an “M-Dot” tattoo after the race, but ultimately decided against it since I didn’t want to have to tattoo an asterisk next to it.
Still, I’d managed to bike and run for nearly ten hours in a single day without dying, which would have been impossible for me a few years prior. The road to IMMD had been long, with many ups and downs – but mostly ups. Thankfully, I had a lot of support from my family, which made the whole endeavor possible.
IMMD marked the end of my 2016 tri-season, but I still had the Richmond Half-Marathon on my calendar in November – even if that was something of an afterthought to IMMD. I was glad to be done with my high volume training weeks for awhile, but dedicated training for the half-marathon was going to commence as soon as my body recovered from the 126.2 miles of IMMD. I was still pining to tackle the 140.6 miles of a full Ironman, but I’d already made that promise to my wife to wait until 2018 before doing another full. If only I could find a loophole to get around that agreement…