Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Week in Review: Nov 21, 2012

by Brenda Chroniak

Week in Review took a month (or so) hiatus, but plenty of you have been racing and posting results, so THANK YOU for holding up your end of the bargain, even if I didn't hold up mine. On this fine Thanksgiving-eve day, we bring WIR back so you can read some great race reports and see what your teammates have been up to.

In the "holy crap" category, Matt Pokress, Austin Whitman, Jamie Strain,and Bryan Canterbury all raced the Ironman World Championships in Kona with amazing results (read Austin's race report here), then just a few weeks later, Jamie raced Ironman Florida with Pat Dwyer, who placed 7th in his AG that day and even wrote up a race report. Meanwhile Brett Johnston completed a 7-day 250K extreme marathon through the Kalahari Desert, and finished in 17th place. As his youngest daughter would say- That's CRAY!  Want to see learn about what he went through? Want to see him finishing the race in the Golden Speedo? Read his race report

And any runner knows that fall brings some of the best running weather and a lot of great half-marathons and full marathons with it. For marathons, the Blue and Green represented in Philadelphia, where Mark Vautour and Audrey Perlow both had stellar races, and in Newport, where Braden Larmon got some podium time, with a third place age group finish (11th overall!). Half marathons this fall were plentiful. Laura Miyakawa finished 15th in her age group at the Fattman Cup Chili Half Marathon, Joe Kurtz had a top-10 age group finish and a top-20 overall finish at the Manchester City Half Marathon, Ira Sills finished 10th in his age group at the Baystate Half Marathon, Audrey finished 6th in her age group and was the 10th female overall at the Hershey Half Marathon--clearly a solid predictor of her success in Philly-- and Brett Johnston had a top-10 age group finish at the TARC Fall Classic half marathon trail race.

For shorter-distance runs, Steve Wall had a great day at the Groton Town Forest Trail Race; Ed Galante, Jim Sweeney, and a third mystery person whose name isn't showing up next to his/her results ran the Cambridge 5K Oktoberfest race, Lauren Bonaca had a third place age group finish at the Komen Race for the Cure and was 4th female overall; Mark Vautour, Mary Beth Begley, Maggie O'Toole, and Laurie Damianos all ran the Granite State 10-Miler, with Mark and MB both finishing top-10 in their age groups; and Cory and Chrissie Flashner both ran Bill's 5K where Chrissie finished 10th in her age group.

Back in the multisport world, Janice Biederman took 5th in her age group at MiamiMan (read her race report!), Elaine Metcalf took 5th in HER age group at the Ironman Austin 70.3, and Steve Wall took third in his age group at the Wrentham Halloween Duathlon.

And last but not least, Carrie Mosher has been killing it in Cyclocross this season, racing at least once almost every weekend, if not twice, usually with a top-10 finish, Noah Manacas has had some great CX races this season, and Jess Douglas gave the sport a go, with terrific results in her first-ever cross race.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Race Report: Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon

by Brett Johnston


I am still trying to put this all into perspective, but the more I try, the harder it seems to be, and the longer I wait, the more urgent I feel the need to let people know about this amazing experience. This is a long one, so grab a 6-pack (beer or wine) and enjoy….

Here is a brief explanation of what this race is:

"The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is a self-sufficiency run held over six legs in seven days with set distances for each day, ranging from 30km to 79km.  Participants must carry all their supplies, clothes and compulsory safety/survival equipment for the duration of the event.  Overnight shelter in camps, and water, which is strictly controlled and distributed during the race, is supplied.  The event goes way beyond merely covering 250 kilometers in extreme conditions; it is a challenge to get past what normal people would regard as crazy, and achieve one’s personal goals"

As many of you know, this has been on my list for a long time. In actual fact, I contacted the Race Director nearly 2 years ago and signed up for the race, but naturally as time got nearer, the reality started setting in. 

This is something that I sent to one of the race organizers about 2 weeks before the race:

"It's getting a little more real now that time is getting closer, but at times I still cannot believe what I am about to embark on. If I find it hard to believe, I know that it is harder for my friends to fathom it out, and then you get the "non-athletes", and they just shake their head….
Am I nervous?… Yes, for sure, but in a calm way. My biggest fear is being pulled from the race and not being able to finish…that would be terrible for me, so my mental focus has got to be on finishing and taking care of my body along the way."

I left Boston on Tuesday morning, with a flight to NY, and then a flight from NY to (JHB) Johannesburg (14 hrs there and 16 hours return). I arrived in JHB on Wednesday morning and was collected by my brother-in-law. This gave me a day in JHB to pick up any last minute supplies, or complete supplies if my luggage got lost or all my food was confiscated. Fortunately, there was no problem getting through customs, and I had all my food. With bags packed and then repacked for the next morning, it was off to the bar…surprise surprise!

Thursday morning, those participants that had opted to take a bus trip to the event had to meet at a hotel near the airport at 6.30am to depart at 7, and they supplied us with breakfast and lunch on the bus. This was the first time for many of us to meet each other, other than the odd couple of posts here and there on the events Face Book site. The Bus Trip….oh the bus trip!  Well it didn't start well because before we got to leave, we were told that the breakfast bags that they had given us were not actually for us, and we had to return them, and then wait another hour for new ones to be made up. Eventually, we got on the road with all the cool kids at the back of the bus…no not really, but I was at the back.  Did I mention that this bus was not actually a luxury coach/bus that you would expect…think more along the lines of a ‘Fung Wah’ bus with no toilet!  Fast forward 14 hours, a tire change, about 10 stops for various reasons, about 40 South African farm towns later, which, I was sure were all the same, and someone was just playing a joke on us and switching the names…..we arrived in AuGrabies.  

AuGrabies is a National Park in the Kalahari Desert bordering Namibia, and is famous for its waterfall. (Augrabies Falls, which when in full flow is quite a site). 2 of the bus passengers actually got online during the bus ride and booked flights back instead of taking the bus again, vowing never to bus it again! We quickly got our bags, and room assignments, and then headed off to the lodge to have dinner with all the other racers, crew and staff. Dinner was a traditional South African "pooitjie", which was quickly consumed along with a certain amount of beer and wine.  At some point, the festivities were ended and everyone got back in the bus and headed back to the park where all the rooms/chalets were. Naturally, I (and a few others from "the bus trip") decided to stay and hang out with the crew and staff.  A few hours later, we were  driven back to the chalets. As I walked around the corner into my unit, there was my roommate - Julian - who I had not yet met, setting up his mattress and sleeping bag on the patio outside. Apparently we only got 1 room key, and I had it with me.

Friday morning was to be used at our leisure, which I used to nurse a hangover and explore the falls with Julian. As the morning progressed, more and more people emerged, and groups were sitting outside each other’s Chalets, with the topic of the day being "Weight". How much does your bag weigh? Is that Wet or Dry? (With water added or without your water) How much have you dropped? (As in how much have you gotten rid of since talking to everyone else). Who has extra Hot Chocolate? Are you taking Deodorant? And so on.

My starting backpack weight…DRY…was 12kg (26Lbs, which was a lot more than what I had been training with)…plus add another 2kgs for water which consisted of 2* 750ml bottles on my front shoulder straps, and then another 500ml in the bladder in the backpack…which now put my starting backpack weight at 31lbs.

At 12'oclock, it was orientation, registration, medical and bag check. Sitting in the shade, I was already getting a glimpse at the unrelenting heat and sun that this place has to offer. Once the race director had reviewed everything with us, it was bag check, which meant unpacking and doing a complete checklist of all the supplies, as well as your food for the 7 days.  Then time for a weigh in, and then a discussion with the Doctors (mainly to ensure that you are still actually crazy enough to do this race),  and then you were issued with your number, check-in card, route booklet and 5 liters of water, which was for the rest of the night, and to fill up our bottles for the start, until we reached Checkpoint 1.  Friday night, we headed back to the lodge for dinner, and a few drinks, but it was a very quiet night. Back home to our chalets, final bag checks and then it was off to bed.

Here is brief summary of what my food/nutrition was setup for the race.
Breakfast was freeze dried granola, milk and blueberries.
Dinner was freeze dried chicken breast and mash potato.
There was no lunch, but more a mixture of things that I could eat either during the leg, or at the end of the leg, which consisted of Macadamia nuts, Salami stick, biltong (jerky…only better). 

For nutrition during the run, I was using "First Endurance" sachets, Power bar Gels, Power Bars… (Which I tossed all of them after the 2nd day), and then a First Endurance Protein shake for the end of each leg, salt tablets.
I packed the same for each day, which made it easy to manage and not having me want to dip into Day 4's food on Day 2 etc. 
The First Endurance sachet drinks worked out great, but one thing that I quickly learned is that 18 miles on Day 1, is not the same as 18 miles on Day 3…and I had calculated my nutrition that way. I would have said that this was a rookie mistake, which in part it was, but without the knowledge of the course, route or checkpoint locations you had very little idea other then the distance.

Saturday morning we were up by 5, and ready to roll. The bus and a number of the crew shuttled all the participants out to the start, which was about a 1-hour drive away. Sunscreen applied…lots of it…Pee taken…First of many…prayer said, and then it was off to the races….Holy shit, was this really happening? I had not packed a breakfast for this day, as I thought they were supplying it, but was mistaken, so a Power Bar was breakfast for today.

Checkpoints: As mentioned above, these were usually placed around 4.5-5.5 miles apart throughout the race. However, there were exceptions.  If you looked on your map, and say a checkpoint that was only 2 or 3 miles apart, you knew that there was an extremely tough sand section or climb coming up…it was more based on time that they expected runners to take, rather than distance.  At these checkpoints throughout the race, you would need to announce yourself “Brett…221" and they would note your time of arrival. They then signed your card, and gave you your 1.5litres of water. This is where you could sit down, dry out your feet, change socks, fill up your bottles, get medical treatment etc. and then you would be on your way….checkpoint to checkpoint.) 

Water: Water is strictly controlled in this race, with you being allowed 1.5litres at each checkpoint, and then 5 liters at the end of each stage, to be used for the rest of the day, that night, the morning, and to fill your bottles, until you get to the 1st checkpoint. Oh and one other little point…Its Hot…not cool, not warm…its hot. There is no ice, no fridges, so the water at each checkpoint is just sitting there in its bottles absorbing all the heat. The crew at each checkpoint certainly tried to keep it cool, by covering the bottles in a blanket, and then pouring water over the blanket. I had read about practicing to drink hot water, but never did it.  It was tough in the beginning, but like everything else, you eventually get used to it.  The worst would be at the end of the day, where you have been running for however long, and you get to the finish, and you are handed a 5l bottle of warm water…woohooo…what an achievement.  One way to help "cool" the water when running was to create a "Kalahari Refrigerator" which means that you would take a Buff, soak it in water, and wrap it around your water bottle. The wind over the wet buff, would actually cool down the water.)

Camps: The camps were setup at the end of each stage usually in some sort of clearing.  On Day 1 and on Day 4/5, we were actually on the river (Orange River), which was great. They were comprised of 16 "Gazebos" tied together and legs dropped so that they are low to the ground to try and minimize the heat. There were groundsheet things on the floor, and then you would use your mattress and sleeping bag. No assignments here…grab a spot, put your stuff down and get off your feet. After the first day, you would quickly learn that you need to find the side of the "camp" that is furthest away from the setting sun, because even when its setting, it is hot, and it will be baring down on you even under the shelter. As soon as the runners would start setting off in the morning, the crew would start breaking down the camp and getting ready to move it and get it set up at the next camp. 

Format: Each night, the crew would give us our starting times for the next day. For the most part, we were broken into 4 groups with the slowest runners/walkers going first; to the fastest group going last and set-off times would usually be 6.30,7, 7.30 and 8. 

River Beds: These were the ultimate killer in this race. They are dried out river beds with thick soft, soft sand, and then usually gorges on either side, so there is nowhere for you to go and try and find harder ground. I remember the description in our handbook, which I believe was from Day 2, which said, go for 1km in a Sandy River Bed, then Turn left for another 1.6km on an even sandier river bed…uggghh…how is that even possible, but it is. This sand is soft, and almost impossible to run through. Actually you end up expending so much more energy for little return in trying to run through these which I learnt pretty quickly. Embrace them and look for the end….

Day 1: 30km (+/- 18 miles)(Temperature - Low 100's)(Finish Time 04h52)
The siren went off, and we were starting our journey.  My plan for this race was to take it one day at a time…get through the day, and then worry about the next day. Soon, that changed from day to day, to checkpoint to checkpoint. My run was kind of slow, and I was just hanging in the middle of the pack, which pretty quickly spread out, and before long you were totally solo. Today's run I broke down into 3 * 10k runs. The good thing was that one of the areas that I trained in, was a 10k loop, so mentally, it was 3 loops of my training run. For the first 2 checkpoints, I was still in awe of my surroundings, and just sucking up the beauty around me. The run was mainly on rocky terrain, with quite a lot of up and downs, and a few River Beds. The run finally ended with a long sandy river bed toward the finish, which thankfully was at the river. Got my hot water (Thanks you sir, may I have another!), find a place to crash and headed for the river. The water was ice cold, but great just to stand in it and then dunk yourself once in a while. Day 1 saw 2 IV's administered, but everyone who started made it through. One down…6 to go. 
(Day 1 Video)
Day 2: 38km (+/- 23 miles)(Temperature - 110+)(Finish Time 07h10)
After not much sleep the night before (45 of your closest snoring friends), it was time to get Day 2 started. I was off at 7.30am and it was already hot. Today was gonna be tough, but we all knew this. There was a monster climb out of the river bed of 300m to the top and at Checkpoint 1, which was only about 2 miles from the start. This climb took a toll on a lot of the runners as it was unrelenting. Once we got to the top, it was OK, now the day can start. We have already wasted 2 hours, and only made it a couple miles with 21+ more to go. For the rest of the day, it was all back to rugged terrain, rocks, sand and a lot more sand. This was a tough day, and saw 5 people being withdrawn from the race. 
(Day 2 Video)
Day 3: 30km (+/- 18 miles)(Temperature - 120+) (Finish Time 05h40)
This was by far the toughest day yet. The heat was a complete killer and pegged everyone back. And always looming in the back of everyone's mind was that tomorrow we had 79km's to do, so it almost became a juggling act to try and save some for tomorrow, but you also wanted to get finished and get out of the sun. Today saw another 2 people leave and another IV administered. (If you need to receive a 2nd IV, then the Dr will pull you from the race). Fortunately nobody else left the race….
Again, the course today offered a bit of everything, with the killer being the last 4 kilometers being in a river bed. This literally just went on and on, and of course it was during the hottest part of the day. At one point when I was walking through the sand, and had gorges on either side, I could hear baboons barking, and eventually they appeared walking along the top of the ridge. It almost seemed as if they were following me, waiting for me to keel over. I must say, I was pretty nervous with nobody in site and just a bunch of barking baboons. I quickly went off to the side and grabbed a huge stick and carried on walking with that which I believed would be my defense weapon. They soon departed and eventually I made it to the finish. This camp site was at a sort of cattle farm site, as there was a "pool" that was used to store water that was pumped from the ground, and this was almost as good as the river, as it gave us the opportunity to just stand and pour water over ourselves…it was truly amazing! Tonight was a relatively quiet night as everyone as thinking about tomorrows long day. The times for people starting ranged from 6am through until 1pm. My start time was 10am so I kind of had the morning to relax.
(Day 3 Video )

Day 4: 79 km (+/- 48 miles)(Temperature 100+) (Finish Time: 14h48)
This was the day that everyone had been working towards. This was the monster that was staring at us from the start, but looking back historically at results from the race, and hearing from the Doctor, that everyone who makes it through Day 3, almost always finishes the race…the reason being that by this stage, you have sorted out your nutrition, feet, and hydration, so although it was daunting, we all knew that we could do this.

When we woke up,(about 5am..As the first runners headed out at 6am) it was dare I say a little chilly…it was actually a little windy, and this made it feel pretty cool. This was a good thing to have the wind, as the heat the day before was a killer. My start time was 10am and there was a group of about 10 of us. The order of the day for me was to get through 9 checkpoints…that was it…slow and steady. My strategy was going to be the same as it had been pretty much since Day 2, which was any thick sand, I was gonna walk, and then run the flats and downhill's, and make a call on the uphill's as I reached them. I stuck to this for the most part, and it seemed to work. We knew that the 1st half of this day would be more technical terrain when in daylight, and then the 2nd half would be less technical…which meant one thing…sand! The day went by pretty quickly, knocking off the checkpoints one by one. Checkpoint 4 was what appeared to be an old farmhouse, and they had a "pool" (I use that term loosely, as it is simply a giant fishpond/well that you could wet your head in). This was where I decided to eat my solid foods, so I sat down, took off my shoes and socks, and rested and ate for a good 20 mins. Then it was time to move on. 

From a scenery point of view, this day was the most beautiful that you could imagine, just seeing all the various terrains against a setting sun was unreal. From checkpoint 5 to 6, I had a good burst of energy and was able to run most of it thanks to the good terrain and lack of sand. Running down the one section, I had the sun setting to my left, and then a whole herd of Springboks, came jumping across the path about 100 yards ahead of me…It was good to be in the Kalahari at that time. When I got to checkpoint 6, I was pretty beat by this time, but had caught up to 3 of my "roomies" (Dave…aka "Spice Rack"(more on his name later), Mike and Pete…aka "Riff and Raff") and decided that instead of trying to push on, I was gonna hang with them. Looking back, this was the best decision I made, as from here on in, was where many dark moments arose, and thankfully having these guys around made it far more easy. At this point we had already completed about 45k's and had about 35 still to go. The 4 of us headed off into the sunset…literally…with a walk, run…or as Spice Rack said…"Brett, it’s time for the Ironman Shuffle". Besides the pain that we were feeling, this section was amazing. (Actually our pain was just general fatigue, whereas Mike "Riff" , was suffering from blisters that had surpassed the blister stage, and were literally holes in his feet). 

The sun set, and we had our lights on, which almost became eerie, as your entire vision concept was changing…not to mention the fear of Leopards in the area, so your head is literally spinning from side to side to look around. Another good reason for sticking together. On our approach to Checkpoint 7, the moon started rising, which was just unbelievable. We had seen the Full moon rising every night, but to watch it as you were running was unbelievable. The 4 of us eventually made it to Checkpoint 7 where we could get more water and rest the feet. At this stage I was taking my shoes and sox off at each checkpoint and elevating my feet, as they were killing me. Actually running appeared to be less painful on my feet than walking was, but my body was having none of that…not at this stage. Mike was starting to take a lot of strain at this stage, and took a lie down on the rock wall while the nurse checked him out. Spice Rack and I decided to head off, as Mike needed to wait for the Doctor to get there so that she could clear him to carry on, and Pete stayed with him. (Amazing friendship that these 2 showed during the entire race, with not leaving each other’s side!). 
Spice Rack and I hung together for the next 2 checkpoints chatting to each other, exchanging stories. I remember at one point, I just could not talk anymore, and said to him, I am not ignoring you…I just can't talk…but on we went. By the time we got to checkpoint 8, I was starting to get cold, and knew that I needed to sit down to rest my feet, but also needed to keep moving and stay warm. We didn't spend too much time here, although after sitting and taking my shoes off, it was tough to get going again. One of the best things that I remember here was the music that the medics had blasting out of their car….Song 1 when we got there was AC/DC…..Highway to Hell, and song 2 was also AC/DC … Hell, Aint a bad place to be….which seemed fitting for my mental state at this point. Dave and I pushed on, with finish times starting to come into our minds. Dave had set-off 2 hours before me in the morning, and his goal was to get in under the Ironman cutoff of 17 hours…which would have put me in under 15 hours. We were doing all sorts of calculations in our fatigued mental minds, but figured we could do it. By the time we got to checkpoint 9, I was done, and I was cold. I knew that Dave had his goal of getting in under 17, but I had no goal, so I told him just to go, because I knew at this stage, I was holding him back. We argued back and forth for a minute and then he agreed to go. We started off together walking and then he was "Ok mate, see you at the end" in his wonderful calm British accent, and off he started running. 

As I watched his flickering light wonder off into the dark, I think I got a subconscious smack across the head, saying Brett, what the %&*^ are you doing? I all of a sudden got an adrenalin rush and started running… Damn you Spice Rack…how could you leave me (noooo…it had nothing to being out in Leopard territory all by myself J). I never saw Dave again until the finish, but I chased him the entire way and thanks to him leaving me got me running all the way through to the end. We both made it in before 1am…totally beat…and yay we got our warm water! Found a place to crash, made up my protein shake and tried to sleep, but I was cramping a lot, so decided to try and walk around a bit. Was eventually able to lie down at about 3.  
(Day 4 Video )

Day 5: Rest Day
With people arriving at camp all through the early hours of the morning, it was pretty quiet early on, as people tried to sleep. All the talk that was going around was about Kien (Ken). This is truly an inspirational guy, who had walked this entire event. He was over from Singapore raising money for charity.  A group of us headed up to the finish line to find out if we could get any news on his whereabouts. At about 7am, they said that he had just left Checkpoint 9 and was on his way to the finish. At about 8.30 we got a yell from the finish line that he was on his way down the river bed and then entire group of athletes went up to the Finish line to greet him. What a site to see all of the athletes clapping him in as he crossed the line….26h26 later after starting at 6am the previous day. For the night stage, part of the markers were little flashing lights, which he decided to collect on his way in as mementos…so he came walking down like a flashing Christmas tree…oh and we needed some of the markers for the route out the next morning, but at this stage, that was not important…everyone made it in. We spent the day, relaxing, eating, and washing clothes and socks in the river, taking swims in the river… Yes, this is where the "Golden Speedo" made its first appearance…and thanks to Mike, I was quickly named "Gold Member"….

The rest day was also Halloween, and thanks to Henda, prior to the race, a number of us had brought Halloween stuff to celebrate. I had the Orange Vampire Teeth, another guy had a mask, and Spice Rack had white vampire teeth, and brought a web that he and I set up in the sleeping area. It was good fun. Soon enough the sun had set, the moon was out, and the reality set in again that it’s not over yet…you still have another 28 miles to do tomorrow.

Day 6: 44 km (+/- 28 miles)(Temperature 120+) (Finish Time: 07h21)
This was a tough day…my legs were totally shot. As much as you like the rest day, it gives your legs a false sense of security. They think it’s over…time to go home…no such luck, and my legs just would not get started. We also knew that the Race Director was going to throw in some tough sections as this was the last big stage, and he did not disappoint with the first 7 km being mostly thick sand. The best thing about today was that it was really the first time that you noticed the backpack being empty…as Clint said…he ate all his food, so the "tank is full, and the bag is empty". The course ended with a mainly rugged terrain of up and downs that quickly took its toll, but you knew that the end was in site. When you crossed the finish line on this stage, you knew you were there…it was so close that you could taste that ice cold beer! That night we literally spent throwing out all foods that were not needed. I kept breakfast, a couple gels, and a couple sachets of First Endurance, and everything else went. (You could ONLY dispose of food, underwear or socks…everything else that you brought had to be carried to the end.) 
(Day 6 Video)

Day 7: 24 km (+/- 15 miles) (Temperature 100+) (Finish Time: 2h37)
The strange thing was that each night, the crew would hand out a results sheet of the daily results and the overall standings, which I had never looked at, except for last night. I took a look and saw that I was in 18th place, and that 17th place was about 20 minutes ahead of me. Hmmm…could I make up those 20 minutes on the Frenchman Alain? I figured that I was going to try, because worst case, I would blow up somewhere along the course and have to walk it in, but still would not lose the 1.5 hr lead I had on the next closest place to me, so this was a win-win situation for me. Damn, I was actually going to race this last leg. There were 6 of us in my group, and one of them was Alain. Soon we were down to 4, and it was I, Koos, Norman and Alain. Koos was leading us out, and flying like a freight train, and I was battling to stay on, as were the other 3, but we were able to hold on. When we reached checkpoint 1, I was in and out, and got out in first place, only to head the wrong way and get called back…fortunately. I was pushing hard, as I knew that this was going to be my chance. Eventually Norman caught up with me and the 2 of us pushed on through to Checkpoint 2. I was never looking back until we got to Checkpoint 2 which was at the very top of the hill, and looking back, I could not see Alain. Ok, so we had dropped him, but could I make up the 20 mins. Norman and I headed off with Koos right behind us. When we made it to "moonrock" which is a huge round rock outcrop that you had to summit, Koos came flying by and again I tried to hold on, but could not for a very long time. By this stage, we only had about 4 k's to go, so I was content with where I was. When we got to about 1.5k's to go, there was a little river crossing, and what better time to sport the “Golden Speedo”. My friends the night before had all convinced me to finish in the Speedo, so I dropped shorts, changed into the Speedo and off I went. Running down towards the finish, you had a lot of the crew and staff, standing on the side, and by this stage they all knew your name, so they were all shouting yay…its Brett etc…..but then all of a sudden when the realization set in of what I was wearing, there was almost a wave of silence…I have no idea why. 

Crossing that finish line was truly amazing, seeing all your friends and being welcomed in by the race directors with a massive hug, was truly memorable. Before you could even move, there was an ice cold beer in your hand, which was heaven after 7 days of hot water.

I beat Alain by 22 minutes today, which pushed me up into 17th place, which for me was a great achievement and mission accomplished for the day.
For the rest of the afternoon as runners finished, the beer flowed freely…and naturally we closed the place down. (well they packed up around us and left us drinking).
(Day 7 Video)

Some Final thoughts in no specific Order…..

I am number 221…I will always be # 221 at KAEM, as you get to keep your number for life if you finish.

I think what makes this race are the participants, staff and crew. This is truly a Family, and I am now part of the KAEM family.
I would quite happily run and walk with each and every one of these legends. Below is a list of a few of them that meant a lot to me during this adventure. 
Dave "Spice Rack" Ball … (so named because of the multitude of spices and condiments he brought along) .. who was my savior on the long day, and his wit that kept us all going…and his snoring that kept us awake, and eventually evicted from the area.
Mike and Pete ("Riff and Raff")… Fantastic guys that I cannot wait to hook up with again…hopefully ion Mauritius… Pete, I already miss your laugh!
Adriaan and Johan… making the bus trip bearable and helping me decide not to take it home….it was a pleasure to have raced with you guys.
Julian….my "Roomie"…. Made me proud in carrying whiskey for 5 days!
Clint…for all your knowledge that help me prepare for this.
Genis… because you were "Always Well"
Tiann, Alwyn and Clynton…the elite runners who were just one of us every day…
Shinan…who learnt what "DFIU" means…yup…"Don't %$&* It Up" 
Brigid and Sanet, who were truly amazing women.
Brian and Laura…The Garden Gnomes… 
Phil and Edward…the Old Boys!
Dr Jann, and Dr Johan…who thankfully I did not need to see too often, but knowing that they were there was a great thing.

What I learnt here, is that you will never break this desert, you will never beat this desert, you need to work with this desert to get through this race…

As my friend David said…. "This was not a Holiday, But it was however a fantastic adventure and amazing personal journey"

I would like to finish off with the words of the theme song which kind of puts into perspective what this race is all about.

I want to go where the sun shines.
Where the river flows and the quiver trees grow.
To a place I know my soul will be revived.
I want to go where the rocks and cliffs rise up from the trail.
I want to run through the space into the setting sun.
It’s here I feel alive with a challenge to survive -
Even though I sometimes wonder what’s on my mind.
The sand is like the sea - rough and yet serene.
And the sky runs up as far as the eye can see.
I know I feel the pain as the sweat drops from my brain
Runs into my eyes as I cross this hot terrain.
I have overcome my fear and I know the end is near
I will leave this place - as I know I’ll be back again.
The finish line is near - I can almost taste the beer
As I forge towards the end with quickened pace.
And when all this is done - I’ll be happy that I’ve run
Now I yearn for rivers, rocks and sand and space.
Cause it draws me back again when I cannot feel the pain
Yet the sunsets, rivers rocks and sand and space
Yes, it draws me back again to the desert and the sand
To the sunsets, rivers rocks and sand and space…

Thanks for reading…. So long!!

Race Report: Ironman World Championship

by Austin Whitman

Somewhere along the Minuteman Bikeway in Lexington the word “Kona” is spray-painted on the surface of the path.  I ride or run along this path frequently – sometimes twice a day.  I am not sure whose work this was but when I first noticed it several years ago, it became a subtle reminder of my far-off goal to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Kona.  In the weeks leading up to Ironman Mont-Tremblant this past August, I thought about that word and all it represented.  People asked me whether I’d qualify; I gave it a 10% chance.  Since the qualifying slots are awarded by place, not time, you never know what it will take.  I figured I’d need to cut 30 minutes from my previous Ironman PR (10:11 in 2010) to be in the running – not a small order.

I approached the training for IMMT as I did my last Ironman, favoring quality over volume, and emphasizing time on the bike.  I’ve never been a stranger to injury, and spent all of 2011 recovering from a back injury that put me on the bench.  When asked how he was dealing with an injury, a friend once said, “well, we’re all always injured to some degree.”  And it’s true.  Any given day that nagging tweak in the hip flexor, or the dull ache in the sole of the foot, or the twinge in the shoulder could morph into a season-ending muscle strain, or plantar fasciitis, or a rotator cuff injury.

At the starting line of any big race I always think about the near miracle it took to get there.  In addition to injuries averted, I think of the dozens of things that could have gone off track during the months of preparation: the sicknesses, the business trips that jeopardized crucial training days, the near-misses on training rides.  Challenges on race day are never insignificant, but we’re only lucky enough to face those challenges if we can first overcome the cumulative chance that something could keep us from ever making it to the line.

I followed a self-designed training plan this year, a mish-mash of plans I’d collected and amended in the past.  I combined this with on-the-fly adjustments, a smattering of acupuncture and massage, stretching and foam rolling, and a dose of hope, and managed to get to the race in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec on August 19th no worse for the wear.  The conditions were tailor-made for me: windy, with a technical and hilly bike course, and cool in the afternoon, with rain showers toward the end of the run.  I had outlined and practiced my nutrition over and over, and come race day it all fell into place.  I was the 12th amateur across the line, 4th in my age group, with a 35 minute PR of 9:36.  I was going to Kona.

I had eight weeks between IMMT and IMWC to recover, resume training, and then taper again.  My approach was hardly scientific, more based on instinct and feel than on any formula.  Other than some irritation in my knees (which I traced to tight quads, which in turn I traced to tight hamstrings), I came away from Mont-Tremblant feeling the best I’d felt all year.  The biggest challenge, it turned out, was keeping motivated in the face of shortening days, cooler training sessions, the ending of the open water swimming season, and a creeping sense of burnout.  I’d been at it for a while, and yet I still had eight more weeks of waking up and thinking “okay, what are my workouts today, and how am I going to fit them in?” 

Over the last couple years I’ve come to appreciate the tremendous sticking power of endurance training.  What takes months and years to gain also takes months to lose.  I haven’t forgotten the (scientifically unvalidated) rule of thumb I learned in high school – that it takes a week to lose four weeks’ worth of fitness – but I am convinced this applies mostly to high-end speed, not endurance, and only occurs if you start rested and do absolutely nothing for seven straight days.  With all of this in mind, after IMMT I brought myself back up to 17-18 hours per week and then down again with a 2 week taper, not terribly concerned that I had lost fitness in the taper and recover periods on either side of the race.

It took me a while to grasp fully that I was going to Kona.  Setting and striving to achieve an ambitious goal, it remains abstract, tantamount to pursuing an idea more than a real outcome.  As high schoolers, we imagine ourselves admitted, independent, and enlightened college students.  As twenty-somethings we imagine ourselves mature, successful professionals or happily married and settled down or full of resolve and purpose.  As a triathlete I had imagined myself a Kona qualifier.  In their abstract, goals exist in isolation, a step or two away from reality.  When they happen, they come crashing down onto the pile – thrilling us as they land, but then they simply sit there, another layer added to life’s experiences.  It took some effort for me to stand back and digest it.  And so I would repeat it to myself: I am going to Kona.

During long hours of training I have questioned whether chasing speed is too solipsistic and self-gratifying.  But then I project forward to a time when I’m no longer physically able to ride five hours before lunch, and ask whether I’ll look back and regret not fully taking advantage of my good genetics and cumulative fitness from 20 years of competitive sports.  With this I’m able to reason partway to a justification, but there has to be more to it. It is not complete without the other parts: friendships, born of long hours training together and tales swapped and shared experiences; personal interactions, catalyzed along the way by spontaneous talk about your last ride or your nerves or your excitement; and inspiration, when you’re out there on race day together with thousands of others who are chasing the same immediate goal, each bringing unique circumstances to the game.  When I ran cross-country, my teammates and I would chafe when people claimed it wasn’t a team sport.  True, results are based on individual performance.  But the goals and the outcomes involve so much more than just how fast one man moves through physical space over an interval of time.

We arrived in Kona on Tuesday afternoon before the race, and within minutes I was sweating in the heat of the sun.  This race is going to be hot, I thought.  Really hot.  Immediately I felt the need to start hydrating – and get out of the blue jeans I’d been wearing since we left Boston the day before.  Victoria and I were lucky enough to be staying at her cousin’s cozy and comfortable house just outside of Kailua-Kona.  With that as our home base, over the next few days I did some short swims, runs, and rides and worked on my bike to get it ready for race day.  As with prior IMs, I rented race wheels – a ZIPP 808 for the back and 404 for the front.  I’d ridden 808s in IMMT but had been advised that the wind in Kona would be fierce.  When it came to race day, I wouldn’t regret the decision to roll with a 404.

Kona is the crown jewel of the Ironman race series, and everything about the race logistics reflected this.  Hordes of friendly volunteers made Thursday registration quick and painless.  When I dropped my bike off on Friday, I got a one-on-one walk-through of the transition area with a volunteer who answered every question I could think of.  They do a great job of making you feel like a VIP, and with good reason.  120,000 people compete in IMs around the world each year, many of whom have had a dream of going to Kona.  If people come home from Kona saying that the race was, ah, so-so, the franchise loses one of its biggest customer incentives.

The other noteworthy feature at bike check-in was the collection of marketing interns with clipboards who lined the fences at transition taking notes as athletes walked by: this bike is a Specialized with ZIPPs, that one is a Trek with SRAM, that guy is wearing Mizuno and carrying a Louis Garneau helmet, and so on.  As I glanced over my shoulder at the huge finishing stand being built, and took my tour around transition, I smiled to myself.  Holy shit. I’m in Kona.

Matt had described the underpants run as the “opening ceremony” of Kona, and while it lacked the Olympic torch it certainly featured hordes of the world’s fittest people.  That thong underwear was the standard uniform was a double-edged sword, and I did my best to take a selective eye to the scenery. Perhaps the best/worst uniform out there was Matt’s choice of red-white-blue briefs and a Dartmouth rowing tank top. He’d been cagey when I asked what he was going to wear, and with good reason.  It was a fitting rebuttal to the striptease I did in my Cornell rowing shirt earlier in the season.  Old rivalries die hard.

I can’t imagine how it would have been to go into this experience without the benefit of so much advice from people who had been there.  Whether it was Tim Snow’s admonitions about the heat, or Matt’s suggestions for pre-race eating or his caution against getting swept up in the ceremony and family and forgetting to prioritize my pre-race needs, I was equipped with enough useful information to write a how-to guide.  On the Friday before the race, a comment from Pat kept coming to mind.  This race is a celebration of having gotten there, he said, as much as it is a race unto itself.  Enjoy every moment.  And indeed, when people had asked me my goals for the race, I would respond: first, to cross the line and be coherent; second, to have as much fun as possible; third, to come in around 10 hours.

I felt unusually relaxed on Friday.  We spent some time at the beach and even did a bit of snorkeling.  I think this helped Victoria feel like she was on a Hawaiian vacation.  I certainly wasn’t doing much to help.  

We met up with my parents for dinner that night.  As soon as we arrived at their rental house I figured out that I’d have to cook dinner if I wanted to eat, because my dad was busy spraying the house with insecticide and my mom was recovering from almost drowning in the Hawaiian surf earlier that day.  Classic moments in the Whitman family. They never disappoint.

Jet lag had been on my side all week, and when the alarm went off at 3:15 a.m. on race morning, I was already awake. My nerves were pretty quiet, and when I went into the kitchen I found I was actually hungry enough to put down a decent number of calories.  Victoria gave me a ride downtown to pick up Matt and then over to transition, where I had the distinct pleasure of getting my first body-stamping.  Race number 1509 inked there onto both arms, at least until I sweated it off later.  It wasn’t hot yet but we still had more than an hour to sunrise.  And on this day, I thought, it wouldn’t be so bad if the sun decided not to show up at all.

Matt and I both decided to race in the new giveaway goggles we’d received on registration.  Trying something new on race day is never a good idea, but it turned out that goggles would be the least of my worries.  After triple-checking my bike and eating and drinking some more it was time for the national anthem and the start of the pros.  And then we filed down the ramp onto the beach and into the waters of the Pacific Ocean.  A troupe of Hawaiian drummers set an energetic rhythm from atop the seawall.  Thousands of spectators crowded the shore with binoculars and cameras, watching expectantly as thousands of athletes wetted their caps and goggles and warmed up out toward the start line.

I saw later from Victoria’s series of freeze-frame photos that the swim start went off like a human wave in a stadium, starting first at one end and making its way gradually to the other end. We heard a muffled “go go go go go!” and took that as a queue, but the cannon shot didn’t come until several strokes into the swim.  Miraculously I swam for about 600 yards without touching a soul.  Through the swells and over the coral out past where it turns to sand and then gets too deep to see bottom.  Morning sun shining through the turquoise waters.  This was going to be really fun.

Of course, you can’t have 2,000 people swimming for a single point without hitting a bottleneck, and it’s only worse when the field consists of people who can swim at least well enough to qualify for Kona.  Pretty soon I started bumping into people on both sides, and running into toes.  Either people ahead were getting tired or they were getting boxed in, but I had to break my stroke and tread water or switch to breast stroke about every 100 yards.  I couldn’t quite see where I was swimming, but as long as I had people on either side I figured I couldn’t be going too far off the mark.  

Eventually the mast of the turn boat came into view above the swell and I saw frothy water and a swarm of swimmers in front of me.  It felt like an eternity before I rounded the two turn buoys and I looked at my watch and saw 40:00. Oh God, I thought, this is the beginning of a long day if I’m going to swim 1:20 out here.  Then someone kicked me in the stomach.  I realized how much padding a wetsuit normally provides.  I took a few quick breaths to recover and kept swimming in short, choppy, uneven strokes.  For several hundred yards a small woman swam just off my left shoulder, veering into me every few strokes.  I told myself it wouldn’t be nice to punch anyone in the swim, especially not a girl.

I stepped up onto the swim finish ramp at 1:10 – 973rd overall – feeling relieved to be out of the melee but pretty disappointed by this first split.  Whatever line I’d chosen or pace I’d swum were the wrong ones, and although I wasn’t too concerned about my overall time, I noted that I was starting on the bike 5 or 6 minutes behind where I’d hoped to be.

Most mass-start swims are dramatic and sometimes violent, and this one was no different, but it was also scenic and provided a charge of adrenaline.  The bike is where the fun really begins for me though.  The transition tent was jam-packed so I pushed my way through after putting on my jersey and helmet and shoes and ran to my bike.  When I see my bike at T1 I always smile and feel as though I’ve picked a friend out of a crowd and linked arms.  I ran out of transition to the mount line, clipped in, and started up the hill.  Amazingly I noticed my sister and parents on the left side of the road and I gave them a celebratory fist pump and a smile.  They’d never seen me race before – had never even been to an Ironman – so this was one hell of an introduction to the sport.  I loved catching my dad’s face on the roadside there, screaming full of excitement, and won’t ever forget that image.

The first few miles of the bike leg are a rush.  After an hour of hearing nothing but the sounds of muffled strokes and steady flow of water on your ears, you hear the sharp sounds of chains shifting and cleats clicking into pedals and the claps and cheers along the roadway.  As I had been warned, the crowds of cyclists were thick on the road at that point, and if the ranks had been thinned and dissipated by the swim, it wasn’t by much.  At least certainly not where I was, halfway down the pack.  I fed off of the energy and stepped on the pedals up the 250 ft climb on Kuakini, relieved to be able breathe freely and start working my way back up through the field.  I pushed the watts a bit higher than normal.  It was only a couple of miles.  The descent back into down was short but fast – almost 40 mph – and then after a few quick turns I was up on the Queen K and headed out to Hawi.

My goal for the bike leg was to average somewhere between 215 and 220 watts, keep my heart rate in the low 130s, drink a lot, and eat according to the whims of my stomach.  A good sign of hydration is the need to pee around 2 ½ hours, or as someone eloquently rhymed, “pee before Hawi.”  I pushed the limits of my gut all the way out, drinking more than I thought I could handle.  But when I got to Hawi, nothing.  The rest of my body felt good, though.  I was right on target with my power, and damn was I enjoying the scenery.  I might have spent a bit too much time out of aero position as I looked left over the black lava fields to the ocean, and looked right up the side of the massive volcanic slope.  The winds were tricky, and tough at times, but thanks in part to the shallower wheel I had on front, handling the bike was pretty simple.  The toughest parts were when the road passed through cuts in the lava and the wind would bounce from one side and then the other, pushing me around a bit.  But I could watch the people in front of me and figure out the direction of the next gust and get ready for it.

About midway up the Queen K a guy blew by me and I thought man, that guy is going way too fast.  But I took a look at his legs and they looked unusually thick, sinewy, and up to the challenge.  And then I noticed the name on his shorts: JALABERT.  No way, I thought.  He was wearing his race number and so I looked for a first name and sure enough, “LAURENT.”  Permission to pass granted, sir, without the scornful, skeptical smirk I’d normally give to people riding like you.  Jalabert was the real deal.  This race was the real deal.

I made the turnaround and descended out of Hawi a bit nervous about my hydration, but feeling good.  Past the wind farm where Victoria and I had cycled in 2007, past the fields, and past the steady stream of riders who were climbing up into the headwind that was now at my back.  I watched my speed hover around 38 mph for a few minutes and did some quick math and thought if things keep going like this, I’m going to be happy with this ride.  I’ve found that the minute I start losing optimism on a long ride, it’s a good sign that I’m going too hard or losing too many fluids. Not today, not yet at least.

I crossed 70, then 80 miles and my legs felt great.  But still no pee.  I kept pounding the fluids but every time I went to choke down a Clif bar, my mouth was strangely dry.  I didn’t think I was sweating excessively, but it was hard to tell because I was also dowsing my arms and back with water at every chance.   But I was keeping my power on target, feeling good, and passing people, and so I just kept going.

In spite of the wind, the Kona bike course isn’t especially technical, but around mile 80 I almost made it very difficult for myself.  Coming into the turn at Kawaihae I got frustrated by how slowly a couple of guys were taking the bend, and decided to pass going through the turn. But I cut it close to one of the cones and had to do a last-minute swerve to avoid hitting it. It was careless, and made me realize that simply losing focus, zoning out, and doing something stupid was a major risk on this course. Forgetting to eat or drink, hitting something, falling into a draft zone and staying there just a bit too long -- until I was safely off the bike, I had to keep thinking about so many things and couldn’t afford to lose focus.

At mile 90 the clock said 4:04 and so I decided to back down the intensity for the last 22 miles. I’d been averaging about 22 mph and didn’t want to bike much faster than 5:10.  I needed the time to drink and eat and also needed my legs.  The final stretch was controlled, so far in the zone I almost felt embarrassed, but probably ended up being a smart move.

If T1 was a jolt after an hour of swimming, T2 provided even more excitement after 5 hours along mostly quiet roads baking in the sun and getting pushed around by the wind.  I turned right off the Queen K and cruised down the hill to transition amidst crowds, wondering where I might see my parents, my sister, and Victoria – and then out of nowhere appeared my sister screaming her head off. I waved to her and pulled my feet out of my shoes and hopped off my bike and those wobbly first steps felt as unnatural as ever, but by the time I had my running shoes on I felt balanced and psyched to run.  I saw Cynthia again at the start of the run and got a big smile and more enthusiasm.  What a great way to begin the toughest part of the day. 

The first 9 miles of the run are pretty flat, through town and out Alii Drive to the turnaround.  My plan was to keep my heart rate below 145, but as soon as I started out I realized I’d have to bump that to 150.  It was just too hot.  At the beginning of a long run like this you never know what’s going to work, or how the decisions you make at mile 3 or 4 are going to affect you in 15 or 20 miles.  But I felt pretty comfortable around a 150 HR so I stuck there.

A couple of miles into the run I spotted the BTT banner and across the street were my mom and dad, Shay and the Pokress kids, and Victoria.  I ran up to her and gave her a kiss and gave my dad a high five but missed my mom’s hand and would have to wait until the finish line for another shot.  I saw Matt coming back looking strong as I headed out to the turnaround and guessed he was about ¾ of a mile ahead of me – a distance that I could make up only if things went very well for me, and pear-shaped for him.  Based on his track record, I knew this was unlikely.

My stomach was feeling bloated in the opening miles of the run, and I was worried this could turn into cramps or nausea. I was still trying to solve the mystery of the missing fluids – all that hydrating I did on the bike and yet the equation wasn’t balancing. I put two and two together and decided to take a gamble.  Figuring my stomach was bloated because I wasn’t absorbing all of my fluids, I popped a bunch of salt tabs and crossed my fingers.

The electrolyte gamble paid off.  Soon my stomach felt better and I was balancing the fluid equation.  It was comical, actually, once everything started…er…flowing.  At one point I ran by a group of spectators who were cheering and clapping until I got close, and then their hands dropped to their sides they started whispering to each other and pointing. Well, if you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.

Once the run leaves Alii Drive, it’s 1/3 of the way done, but that means you’re headed out onto the Queen K – the hottest, loneliest part of the race.  I took it easy coming up the hill on Palani, and just as I turned north I saw Pete Jacobs turning down the hill toward the finish.  It was a thrill to be out there on the same course where the top pros were battling for the world title.

I made it through miles 10 to 20 with two goals: 1) stay cool, 2) drink as much as possible.  I made judicious use of ice at the aid stations and put down as many fluids as I thought I could take.  With so much focus on fluids I worked myself into a glucose hole, and when I came up the Energy Lab access road back onto the Queen K I started to feel a bit sluggish. It wasn’t until mile 20 that I realized I had some serious work to do to get through this.  Fortunately I was carrying a package of Shot Blocks, which have saved me many times now.  No matter how I’m feeling or how sick I am of sugary fluid/gel/bars, I can always get these things down.  I decided to stop and walk before the next aid station, eat the Shot Blocks, and the chase them with some fluids.

Early in the run I had decided that I’d ignore the clock.  The more I race, the more I realize that setting time standards and racing to meet or beat them just wreaks mental havoc and leads to bad decisions.  I knew my swim was 1:10, and I knew my bike was around 5:10, but I didn’t have a time on my transitions or know where things stood on the run.  When I stopped to walk I figured I was sowing the seeds for a 10:30 overall finishing time, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.  In reality, as I figured out once I downloaded my heart rate data, I walked for about 8 minutes and had already logged some pretty quick miles.  So it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

With a few miles to go, I felt the energy levels coming back and started to picture the finish line.  I thought about the journey I’d taken to get there, and picked the pace up and bit and realized that between the minor bonk and the heat-induced pace, my legs were actually in pretty good shape.  In Canada my legs were trashed by the end of the run, but that was because I could hold 7:30/mile pace at a 144 heart rate. I was running 8:00/mile on the Queen K at a 152 heart rate.  The upside to this was when I turned right down Palani for the big downhill, I was able to take long, smooth strides and look around and soak up the moment.  People on both sides of the road, the finishing area just around the bend.  Left turn, right, then right onto Alii for the final meters.  I caught sight of my family a couple hundred yards from the end and waved to them and kept my strides long and … oh … my … god … I was done.  Ironman World Championships in the books.

I crossed the line in the narrow space between exertion and exhaustion, comfort and discomfort, just on the edge of the zone, right where I wanted to be.  My legs felt good.  My stomach was intact.  I was coherent, and fairly hydrated.  And best of all, I was able to find my family soon after I came into the finishing chute: for the high five I owed to my mom, the hug I didn’t get in Mont-Tremblant from Victoria, and the chance to look my dad in the eyes and smile and confirm for him beyond a doubt that rather than being just the province of the masochist, this sport is an outlet for determination, a community of energy, a fountain of so many inspirations.

Several days later, I read some words that resonated.  “It’s not about what you do when everyone’s watching on the Olympic stage; it’s about what you do to prepare—what you do when no one’s watching.”  My trip to Kona, and the long road to get there, was possible because of how I made it through those moments when it’s hard to know whether an extra mile or a third lap at Walden is really going to make any difference.  And fatigue tells you to skip out, but something else inside keeps you going.

The truth is, we never do this sport alone.  At every moment, even on the darkest, quietest nights, the challenges of friends echo alongside my footsteps.  Past coaches, teammates, and rivals are there in the many memories they have left me.  And of course there is my #1 supporter who told me not to fear committing to a single pursuit, encouraged me to embrace the risk of failure, and urged me out the door again and again to get the job done.  

No one may be watching, but many still are there.

Swim: 1:10:59 (973rd overall) – 1:50/100m
Bike: 5:12:44 (475th overall) – 21.49 mph
Run: 3:36:13 (407th overall) – 8:15 min/mile
Total: 10:07:27 (407th overall)
94th in age group (M 35-39)

Race Report: Miami Man

by Janice Biederman

The Miami Man Tri is actually 3 races: a half-iron distance, a sort-of ½-iron duathlon (2-56-13.1) and a sort-of international distance tri (.66-22-6.6), starting and ending in a large park with a run through the Miami Zoo.  This was my 3rd time doing this race and I surprised (shocked?) myself with a 10 minute PR!  I love this race.

The swim is held in a very clean lake and, for me, was uneventful.  Despite the smallish size of the lake, there was nearly zero body contact which was pretty darn refreshing after the mosh pit action at Lake Placid.  I exited the swim just 7 seconds off my best time for this course, ran up the short carpeted incline to the wetsuit strippers, and headed to my bike.

After a long run (with the bike) to the exit, there was a 300-or-so yard run over grass, tree roots and stones to the bike mount area.  Given the pathetic state of my running, I lost time here.  Once on the bike, it was smooth sailing, and I do mean sailing.  There were 20-25 mph sustained winds (with the occasional 35 mph gust thrown in for fun) which, with the exception of a 2-mile section, were either headwinds or cross winds the whole way.  My hands still ache from holding on to the aerobars for dear life.  Fortunately, this being south Florida, there were no hills.  I mean zero, zilch, none.  Not even a speed bump. And the roads were smooth.  The only challenge  was the cyclists who didn’t understand that passing on the right is a really bad idea, especially when the cyclist you are passing is only a foot from the edge of the road AND doing a right-hand turn.  Yes, there were a few crashes.  In any event, I rode a bike PR by exactly 1 minute in the windiest conditions I have encountered on the course.

After dismounting, there was the 300-yard grass/roots/stones trek to transition, then a 100-yrad run to my bike rack.  Mentally, I was ready to run but my legs voted not to participate.  The run starts out on a paved path in the park, then onto a crumbling stone and sand former service road in the zoo.   By former, I mean it hadn’t been used in years and was likely last paved during the Carter administration.  It was rough going keep-you-eyes-on-the-ground kind of running here.  About a mile in, a woman in front of me turned an ankle and went down.  While watching her, I proceeded to do the same thing-ouch!!  After uttering more than a few bad words, I got back to the business of running (OK, shuffling).  Mile 2 to 3 is an out and back section and this is where I saw a guy wearing a Purdue jersey. Now a Purdue jersey siting is extremely rare in Florida (or anywhere outside the Midwest, for that matter) and, as a loyal Purdue alumna, this immediately brought to mind the Purdue fight song which I could not get out of my mind for the next 4 miles.  

Unfortunately, the song only has 8 lines and those 8 lines were on a continuous loop in my mind.  By mile 6 I got pretty darn creative with the words…  Anyway, the run takes you past the large tortoises, zebras, antelopes, tigers, flamingos, and chimps - a welcome distraction.  When you run as slow as I do, distractions are good.  The real highlight of this run, for me, was that I actually passed 2 people!!  Holy Toledo! The run finishes back in the park and, much to my surprise, I had a 5-minute run PR. My shuffle has gotten faster.

I ended up placing 5th in my AG (awards go 5 deep so I got a stuffed monkey for my efforts) and a very positive state of mind going into the off season.  I highly recommend this race.  It is well run, has a good expo, and a better-than-average swag bag (T-shirt, hat, engraved beer glass, race belt, custom mouse pad, energy bars, etc).  And, it’s in sunny warm south Florida!

Race Report; IM Florida

by Pat Dwyer

Yesterday marked my 4th attempt at IM Florida.  After several proclamations of Ironman “retirement”, I made a last minute decision to sign up for this race last November.  I had just come off surgery for a sports hernia, and was feeling like I needed to give this race another shot.   For a little background, I hadn’t had a good race here in 3 attempts.  My first IMFL (which was also my first IM) I went in with a very poor mental approach….qualify for Kona or crash and burn trying.  Well, I crashed and burned, and rather than finish the race…I dropped out, at mile 20 of the marathon no less.  I don’t ever recommend dropping out of a race…as that decision lingers with me to this day.  I signed up for the following year.  However, for some reason, perhaps stress, I kept getting less and less sleep the entire week leading into the race.  Come race day, my body was so tired that I felt sick to my stomach on race day.  Although, I did finish in 9:48…I was “flat” all day.  It was not the finish that I wanted.  I came back in 2007, one more attempt to qualify for Kona.  After racing pretty well during the day, I fell apart during the marathon.  I wound up walking the entire last 10k…to finish around 10:30.  So, even though Jenn told me that we were never allowed to come back to Panama City Beach again, I signed up.  Just like I did with Lake Placid in 2010, where I redeemed myself for a poor 2006 race, I wanted to redeem myself for my prior poor races at IMF. 

2012 has been an up and down race season for me….with more downs than ups.  It started at Buffalo Springs 70.3, where I had high expectations, but a subpar performance.  However, I was still able to manage 5th in my AG, which put me just outside of a Kona slot, but gave me a chance to compete in Vegas at the 70.3 Championships.  After competing at AG Nationals in Burlington and some local races, I got ready for Vegas.  Unfortunately, Vegas went even worse that Buffalo Springs.  I had a terrible swim, terrible bike, and pretty much shuffled the run.  I had purchased a new bike in 2012, and while I really love it, and it’s FAST, I had trouble with getting comfortable for longer races.  So, I had my position looked at and tweaked after Vegas.  I was worried that if my position was causing issues for 56 miles, then 112 was going to be a real problem.  Also, in qualifying for Vegas, which is held at the beginning of September, I didn’t really start IM training until after the race….so about a month and a half.   Don’t get me wrong, I had several long rides and runs….but no specific IM training until after Vegas.   This was definitely a concern of mine.

I guess I don’t really have to mention this, but Hurricane Sandy caused travel havoc to Panama City Beach….and just a little stress!  I guess I shouldn’t complain….as there are people in NJ and NY with much bigger problems than getting to a race.  Anyway, after some travel hiccups, we got here on Wednesday night (originally scheduled to get here around 10am).  The race is on Saturday (different than most IMs), so I essentially had two days to get ready.  The days leading into the race were uneventful…a couple of short runs, bikes and swims…and by Friday I was itching to race….and feeling confident.  As many know, I went into this race with high expectations.  I thought I could be in the mix for an AG win, and high up in the amateur overall standings. 

PRERACE:  I got to transition around 5am.  I would have gotten there a little later, but I needed to find a bike pump.   I dropped off my special needs bags, got body marked, set up my bike and then tried to relax.  Very methodical.  In fact, that was my mantra during this race.

SWIM: I love the swim at IM Florida.  I grew up on the ocean, so I don’t get rattled by the swells and chop in the ocean, or gulf in this case.  The water was relatively flat the day before the race, but had picked up on race day.  I positioned myself at the front of the approximately 3000 competitors.  Once the gun went off, I quickly got myself through the surf and swimming.  I got out quick and could tell I was up front.  But, I just couldn’t get going.  My arm turnover just felt slow.  And, I started to get passed and banged around.  There were some big swells on the way out to the first turn.  Having experience in the open water doesn’t mean that you don’t swallow some of it…and I did.  A lot of it.  During the chaotic swim out to the first turn, someone also yanked on my leg and almost pulled off my timing chip.  So, I was trying to be careful not to lose it.  I definitely felt better on the second loop.  If you look at my results, the second loop looks slower than the first, but that’s because it’s longer, as you have to swim horizontally to a buoy to start the second loop.  As I exited the water and looked at my time….about an hour….I was a bit discouraged.  I wanted to swim around 57 minutes.  But, I think all of the times were slow due to the conditions.

T1:  I didn’t have the most efficient T1.  First, even with wetsuit strippers, I had trouble getting my suit off.  The arm got stuck on my watch.  Then, I fumbled around a bit with my gel flask and glasses.  I tried not to worry about it….it’s only a few seconds.  They wouldn’t let the amateurs leave their shoes on the bike, so I had to run through transition to my bike with them on.  So, I did my best not to take a header!

BIKE:  Once out on the bike I started to roll.  I knew I was out of the water in time to be out towards the front of the race, and away from the big drafting packs that plague the middle sections of the race.  However, during the first 5 miles there was a lot of jockeying for position….and I could tell already this drafting was going to be an issue.  Once I settled in, I watched my power and HR numbers and started to get my nutrition in.  I felt pretty good on my bike, and I was flying along at 25-26 mph.  When someone would pass me, I was very conscious to drop back about 7 bike lengths.  Here’s the frustrating part and something I just don’t understand….I pass someone, they pass you right back, then SLOW DOWN!  It’s so infuriating.  Dude, I just passed you….suck it up and drop back!  Anyway, around mile 20, about 3 of the guys I had passed, and about 5 others rolled by me in a pack.  Let me just say this….I’m not na├»ve.  I know that there is drafting at IM Florida.  I knew it coming in.  BUT, it shouldn’t happen at the front of the race, so blatantly, when there’s room on the roads to ride cleanly.  Anyway, I dropped back and sat on the group for the next 8 miles or so.  Even though I was riding legally, there is definitely a benefit to riding behind the group.  Finally, just before mile 30 a marshal pulled up.  I looked over at her and said that it was no coincidence that these 8 guys were bunched up….she agreed and proceeded up to give several of them red cards.  I was so happy to see this.  4 minutes in the sin bin.  Unfortunately, I just didn’t see enough marshals during the day.  I became increasing frustrated throughout the ride as I saw several other small groups….with guys riding out of the aerobars and constantly looking behind them for marshals.  The thing with these drafting packs is that you have to pick and choose your spots.  If you try to pass all of them, you’re going to fry your legs.  So, sometimes it’s better to ride easier at a legal distance and wait for your spot to pass.   The other thing is this….if you’re drafting, the marathon is going to be a lot easier because your legs are going to be much fresher.  So, seeing these guys drafting was really starting to piss me off.  And, while sometimes drafting penalties happen for minor infractions: you don’t drop back or make your pass quick enough….the guys that I was watching were blatantly riding in groups.  To me, if you’re racing for your AG, it’s just not fair.  Might as well be taking PEDs.  Anyway, I finally dropped these guys before mile 70.  

As I was approaching mile 75, I slowed down to relieve myself…and as I jumped back on the pedals, here comes the same freaking group that got penalized at mile 30….riding in the same damn pack, no less.  I guess that’s to be expected if the same group goes into the penalty tent at the same time and leaves at the same time.  I was beside myself.  Here I was busting my ass to ride a clean race, and a group that served a penalty for blatant drafting, passed me again, blatantly drafting.  As the group approached mile 80, a marshal came up, but didn’t issue any penalties…which frustrated me even more.  The group actually got bigger as they picked up a few more riders.  Around mile 80, we turned into a headwind, so, I was able to pass a few of the stragglers in the group that couldn’t hold on.  There’s an out and back section just after mile 90, where I was able to see the front of the race.  I was feeling pretty good, and towards the end of the section, started to roll up on the group in front of me.   This time, I decided to put the hammer down and pass them.  So, I passed about 10 people as we turned back into the headwind…..and dropped them all….with the exception of one or two that tried to stay on my wheel.  That didn’t last long though….as I rode the last 10-15 miles hard.  I finished up with a 4:49 ride.  Now, I know that not only is this a fast course, but also a fast conditions day….but it was still the best I’ve ridden at an IM.  I stayed in the bars most of the day…and rode very strong.   But, the thing I’m most proud of is that I rode as clean as I possibly could all day.  

T2:  I had a fairly quick T2, although I did fumble a bit.  My Advil and salt tabs spilled all over the floor when I emptied my bag….and I missed taking my banana on the way out of transition.  But, I gathered myself and was out on the run course.

RUN:  I had to keep slowing myself down, as I felt pretty good.  I continually watched my HR to keep it in my prescribed zones. It was pretty hot out.  Not Kona or Vegas hot, but hot for this race (mid to high 80s). I was taking in nutrition and had no doubt that I could manage a strong marathon.  In fact, coming back on the first loop of the marathon, thoughts of a 9 hour finish started to creep into my head…and I quickly had to dispel them.  I knew that the second loop was going to be much tougher, and that I was definitely going to slow down.  I had only done a couple of long runs leading into the race, so I knew a slowdown was inevitable.  But, I didn’t anticipate what was going to happen around mile 14.  I saw Jenn at the turnaround and gave her the thumbs up….my signal that things were going well.  But, just after, at mile 14, I had the first signs of “issues”.  My body started to rebel….which I’m pretty sure was from taking in the electrolyte drink of choice which is offered on IM courses (we’ll leave it unnamed!).  In retrospect, I realized that I’ve had issues at my last two IMs where they had this…LP and Kona in 2010.  In fact, at IMLP, not to be too graphic, but I had to empty my stomach right after the finish line.  All of the drink mix came up.  Anyway, once my body rebelled, I had trouble getting anything down.  I just felt sick to my stomach.  I tried taking cola in hopes to settle things down.  But, that was the beginning of the end.  Cola and water were the only things I could take.  I stopped on 3 occasions to try to force myself to get sick, in hopes that I could empty my stomach and keep going.  It just didn’t work.  I was running on empty for the last hour or so….and just forced myself to try to keep running.  I knew that I had given away a few spots in my AG during the last 4-5 miles….but there was nothing I could do.  In addition, I was having issues with the shoes I was wearing….my feet were slipping around and causing a lot of discomfort.  I’ve had a lot of success running in the shoes, but I hadn’t run a marathon in them before.  Anyway, the fortunate thing is that with my stomach issues on the forefront, my shoe discomfort was an afterthought.  As I approached the finish, I mustered everything I had to finish strong.  A few people told me that I looked good finishing….well, I guess I had a good game face on,  because I was HURTING.  After I finished, I found Jenn and my parents (who came down to watch) and just had an emotional meltdown.  For those that have done an IM, it’s such a long day…you know what I’m talking about.  But, I got very emotional….I just felt like I let an opportunity for the AG win slip through my fingers.  And, as I finished, all of the emotions I had through the day just culminated and came out.  I managed a 3:27 marathon, walk/jogging the second loop, and I did finish in 9:24 (almost 9:25), which is nothing to shake your head at.  But, I was hoping for better…and should have done better.

Just after the race, Jenn told me that she thought I finished 5th in the AG.  While that was a disappointment, it still basically guaranteed me a Kona and podium spot.  Only after I got back to my condo did I realize that I was actually 7th in the AG, which put me on the peripheral of qualifying.  I figured that there were 6 AG spots….but with 600+ in my AG, I knew that if one of the older AGs didn’t take the spot, it would roll back into my AG.  Well, as many know, that didn’t happen.  Going into this race, if you had told me that I’d go 9:24 and not get a Kona spot, I would have thought you nuts.  That time has won the AG in past years.  But, it is what it is.  IMFL is a race that, while fast, is one of the most competitive IMs on the circuit due to the European influence.  Not to mention, Kona spots typically don’t “roll” because people have an entire year to plan and prepare for Kona.  Again, what disappoints me is….how many of those ahead of me were guilty of riding illegally in drafting packs?  I have no way of being sure…but I have my suspicions.  And, after dissecting my race many, many times, I realized that if I hadn’t stopped to try to empty my stomach on a few occasions, I may very well have finished 5th or 6th in the AG.  But, hindsight is 20/20.   Other than the stomach issues that plagued me on the run, I really enjoyed the race.  It was one of the first times I felt strong all day on the bike.  That said, I have no plans on going back to Panama City Beach.  Although I didn’t qualify….I’ll consider a 9:24 and a top 50 finish a success….redemption!