Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Johns amazing FIRST Ironman

I pulled into Coeur d'Alene Idaho on Friday afternoon just in time to check in and get my gear ready. That evening there was a large pasta dinner where they were showing films from prior Ironman races. It was incredibly motivating to watch clips of people crawling across the finish line or competing with amputated limbs or listening to stories of the guy who was participating in his 46th Ironman! It quickly put everything into perspective that in this race it is all about you accomplishing your individual goals, it isn’t about beating anyone else.
Saturday I went for a quick swim in my wetsuit (I had never used it before so I thought it was a good idea to feel what that was like) and then did a quick jog before indulging in pancakes for breakfast. That morning was gear check-in where you drop off your clothes/gear for the transitions and your bike. After that Kelly and I drove the bike course so I could understand what I was in for. That was a good thing to do as it put some fear into me as we drove what seemed to be a never ending route of uphill climbs. Dinner at the Olive Garden and early to bed finished the day.
Saturday I woke up at 4:40am and started eating pasta, peanut butter sandwiches and Gatorade to hydrate. It was expected to be 95-100 degrees (which was accurate) so I knew it would be important to stay well hydrated. At the race site they write your race numbers on you with permanent marker first and then I did some last minute organizing of my gear, threw on my wetsuit and it was time to go.
7am: It was a mass start meaning 2700 people all run into the water at once. I am not a particularly good swimmer and so I tried to stay on the outside and wait 15 seconds for the rush of people to go by. It just didn’t matter. It was total chaos and I really thought my race was going to end just a few minutes in as people are swimming over you and pulling your legs under water and kicking you (not on purpose, but there just isn’t enough room for everyone). At one point even my hand was in someone else’s mouth. I felt like I was going to drown and so I stopped to doggie paddle even further to the outside and to try to relax and catch my breath. Finally I was able to get so far out there were no other swimmers to deal with. The course was two laps of a long rectangle (2.4 miles total). After my near death experience I thought there was no way I’d be able to hit my 1 hour 30 minute target. However, I just got into a rhythm and focused on technique and completing each segment of the rectangle. Luckily the day before I overheard someone say something prescient, “it’s just an hour or so of a very long day.” This thought helped me keep going and put things in perspective. As it turned out I swam much faster than I expected and exited the water in 1 hour and 13 minutes, 17 minutes faster than I expected which put me in 959th place (out of about 2700 participants).
From the swim I ran up from the beach to a bunch of volunteers who help you pull off your wetsuit. I was wearing my bike shorts and shirt already underneath my wetsuit so I could save time from having to change. I threw on my bike shoes, helmet, drank an Ensure and ran off to grab my bike. Luckily biking is my strength (that’s good because you’re guaranteed to be on it for at least 5-6 hours). The bike course was two, fifty-six mile loops, each with four major climbs on the way out and a steady uphill on the way back. I just focused on maintaining a physical output level that was just below the level where I’d start to overdue it – probably at that point between aerobic and anaerobic. The strategy all day was to ignore other riders and just go at a pace that I thought my body could sustain for all 112 miles. This and eat and drink as much as I could. Food for the bike and the run was mostly cliffshots, power bars and endurolytes. On the bike it was possible to eat probably 200 calories/hour on avg. During the run that dropped to maybe 100 as my stomach was done with food by that point. On the bike the hills were hot and the uphill on the way back was against the wind the whole way. However, I think this played into my strength though given my training in the mountains (for the hills and for my red blood cell count) and my natural strength in flattish grades. Except for the climbs I was in my aero bars the entire time (yes, my back hurt by the end among other body parts). I was able to pass 673 people on the bike, finishing in 286th place with a total time of 5:31 (20.3 mph) on the bike. This is something I am proud of as the time beat all but 8 pros (out of the 20 pro-females who raced) and was only about 15 minutes off the pace of the top male riders.

The transition to the run went smoothly as I just had to change shoes and grab some more food. The course was two flattish loops with only two manageable hills each loop. The challenge at this point is consuming calories (it’s hard enough to eat anytime you run, but it is even harder to put anything in your stomach after you’ve been feeding it energy bars/pills for seven hours already) to sustain your physical strength. I did the best I could, especially with the heat in the mid to upper 90s at this point. My strategy was to pick a spot and run to it without stopping and then pick the next spot to run to. I would also imagine I was back in Denver and break the course down in my mind into short runs that I did throughout training. I tried to drink a glass of water (or Gatorade) every mile at the aid stations, and ended up not eating for the second half of the marathon. I also would fill my hat up with ice cubes which would melt and evaporate in a few minutes – but this technique really helped keep me cool. The heat really started to get to people as I was not setting any pace records, but was still able to pass another 71 people. I ended up completing the run in 4 hours and 15 minutes, about 15 minutes slower than I wanted.
Physically I am lucky as I felt good (relative term) the entire race. My back ached and my feet hurt on the bike, I got a blister on the run and my stomach ached for the last two hours, but that was all. I saw a lot of people throwing up, pulling muscles, a couple bike crashes, bonking, etc, but I generally felt as good as you can hope to (thanks Lisa for the great training schedule!). My total time was 11 hours and 12 minutes (an hour better than I thought I could do) which put me in 215th place, or the top 7.9% of all participants.

Let me tell you about this guy! he not only trained for his first Ironman he is also training to run the 150 mile Atacama desert race next month and on top of this getting married in the middle of it all.
John did very little swimming due to his focus on his running. 1 hour faster than we thought he was going to do on a very hot day in Idaho. Jim your talent, focus and dedication to everything you have going in your life really shows.
Rest up kid and enjoy your bachelor parties!

Happy Feet!
Lisa Smith-Batchen

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