Sunday, September 11, 2005

Prairie Man 1/2 Ironman Race Report

It's now 8:00 pm on the day of the race and basically every muscle from my waist to my toes hurts. I have pain in places I didn't even realize muscles are located and I have completed a Human Anatomy course. All that aside, I had a great day and enjoyed every moment (well, almost every moment).

The morning began at 4:30 am after a good nights sleep--unusual for me. Typically I don't sleep but a few hours the night before a race. For some reason last night my head hit the pillow and the next thing I knew I was awakened to the clock radio. After loading up the truck with all the necessary paraphernalia--bike, water bottles, lawn chairs, a million energy gels, bike shoes and my wife I was off to the race.

The arrival went well--until it came time to unload the bike. I dropped the tightening cap and spring from off my front wheel assembly into the tall grass (in the dark at 5:30 am). This cap screws onto the front axle to hold the wheel onto the bike and you CAN'T ride without one. My eyes had keyed in on the approximate location of where it fell but I couldn't see it at all. Carefully, I reached down into the grass, not wanting to disturb it and have it fall deeper into the undercover. Of course what I thought was the cap was just a round black "object"...probably dog poo or something. I reached for the next black "object" and BINGO I found it. Miracle #1 of the day has been completed--call the Pope. As I carefully picked up the cap I tilted the wheel to far to one side and the skewer (the part that travels through the axel of the front wheel) fell out and its pieces are now precariously balanced on top the grass. Bring on Miracle #2. Somehow I found those pieces on my first attempt. At this point Jenny (my wife) commented on how calm I had remained during the entire situation. I think I was more in shock as I envisioned having to wait for the sun to rise in order to find the missing parts. This would have significantly jeopardized the race day since the swim started at 7:00 am (just after sunrise). She was relieved because she pictured herself standing in the grass for the next 90 minutes to prevent anyone from trampling on my precious bike parts until the sun could rise.

With crises Numbers #1 and #2 averted and Miracles #1 and #2 highly appreciated I headed off to the transition zone to get marked with my race number, rack my bike and pick up my timing chip. I'm not sure what type of "paint brush" they used to apply the number but I have the largest '170' (race number) tatooed on my arm and thigh and a huge '32' (my age) on my right calf. Usually these numbers wear off over the course of the day and certainly can be mostly rubbed out in the shower afterwards. Not this time. I will be sporting this race number for the next several weeks.

With my bike racked and all my necessary equipment carefully laid out to the side (shoes, race belt and number, socks, helmet, shades, a million energy gels, and my Camelbak) I was ready to head to the water for the start. Although the bike course had several aid stations stocked with water and Gatorade I elected to wear my Camelbak filled with water. I agonized over this decision. Triathletes can worry about the craziest things. Of course there would be plenty of liquid support. Why would I need to carry my own on my back? Well, in the end I decided it would be smart to carry the pack given I had used it during every long training ride this entire summer training season. It might have cost me some weight but I sure appreciated the convenience and the fact that I could speed through the aid stations without slowing down for a bottle hand-up.

As the time of the swim start neared all the racers began to mingle and gather near the water. Chris Legh--the professional triathlete from the Gatorade commercials all over tv--was racing today. Of course he is in my age group which meant I would have him chasing me down all day. Correction, I would be watching him burn up the course like only a professional can do. What an amazing athlete! While standing there waiting for the start and listening to Jack (the military-like race director) ramble on about HIS rules, etc. it began to sprinkle. At that moment one of the most colorful rainbows I have ever seen arched across the morning sky. It was amazing. You could see both its start and finish. Surely this must be a good omen. You know, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow--maybe a 1/2 Ironman finish. Suddenly, a second rainbow appeared and hovered just above the first. Now I'm ready to tackle this course. I've always been a very superstitious racer--same towel, same water bottles, same shades, same race attire, and same old socks. Clearly, the presence of the ever amazing "double rainbow" was the beginning to an unforgetable day.

My age group was the second group to start. As we edged our way into the water (84 degrees by the way) I couldn't help but think about all the hours of training I had put in to reach this point. I worked hard for the past 7 months in order to guaruntee a successful race. Unfortunately so many factors can bring the day to a close. Could this be a touch of foreshadowing? Read on to see.

The gun sounded and we were off...Men ages 30-34. The water churned and before I knew it I was sandwiched between a guy with a noseplug and some other random swimmer. My first decision of the day was to not be beat out of the water by a guy wearing a noseplug. Come on my friend learn to blow bubbles! As the "Todd sandwich" continued to close in on my space I decided it was time to move out in front and leave these two behind. I was able to squirt out ahead and never saw noseplug again. However, just after I averted that crisis I found myself swimming next to and stroke for stroke with another of my fellow age groupers. Unfortunately, he also had a tendency to drift closer and closer to my left side. I gave him a little room and he got closer still. We were neck and neck and were only 300 meters into the swim. At that point he crossed a line and hit me in the lip and nose (acidentally I'm sure, but come on you have an entire lake and choose to encroach on my water). I'm pretty sure I tasted a little blood. I thought this was a non-contact sport. I reached out with my left arm on the next stroke and got ahold of his right shoulder and gave a well-timed pull backwards and push sideways. He got the idea as he drifted back out of sight.

From here the I just tried to settle in and keep my stroke length long and smooth. No need to sprint because the race is never won on the swim. I rounded the first turn it saw there were still several of my starting group with me. We all seemed to be pacing each other. We progressed down along the back stretch of the course (about 1000 meters) and that's when I got wrapped up in one of the ropes securing the buoys to the bottom. This always happens to me. Perhaps I swim to close to the buoys or maybe the ropes have it out for me. Before I knew it my right arm was caught in the rope but fortunately I was able to free it quickly. The swim continued on uneventfully. As I turned for the final homestretch I realized that my favorite portion of the day was nearly over...and this was the easy part. I made good time as I headed for the beach as the winds were blowing on shore a bit. Up out of the water I rose and saw a couple of friends cheering and my wife videotaping my exit. What a crowd! Everyone lined the swim exit most of the way up to the bikes. Total swim time 34:22. That was good enough for 2nd in the age group and 29th overall. Miracle #3 has now been completed. I've never done that well in the swim. Come on rainbow power.

The first transition went well. All necessary clothing items went on without difficulty, the energy gels were stuffed into my pockets, and the Camelbak was firmly strapped to my back. Total T1 time: 1 min 43 sec.

I settled in on the bike rather quickly and found a good cadence that kept me moving at about 23 mph but didn't leave me breathless. This day is all about pacing and I had to be careful about hammering too hard on the bike. My biggest focus at this point was to eat and hydrate. Let the consumption of the gels begin. My plan was to consume 1 gel every 20 minutes and chase it with about 1/3 of the bottle filled with Accelerade. This worked out to about 300-350 calories per hour. I kept to this strategy fairly well but did back down a little at the conclusion of the bike to let my stomach empty. I can't stand that sloshing sensation.

Overall this bike course can be quite fast. I have ridden it several times with my training group. There are a couple of short climbs but most of it flat. The only problem occurs if it is a windy day. Guess what we had today--wind. The headwinds were probably 15-20 mph. The winds picked up as the bike leg continued. By the time I started lap #2 I really felt myself slowing down. My goal before the race was to average 20 mph for the 56 miles. After lap #1 I was averaging 21 mph. Suddenly I realized I had a chance to really beat my goal. I stayed out on the aerobars and continued to move my legs. The cadence was good but my butt was starting to hurt. Without going into too much detail suffice to say I had developed a problem with my seat rubbing me wrong. Next plan divert my mind from the "pain in my ass." Okay, think about something else. Unfortunately the only thing I could think about was an old Fleetwood Mac song we heard in the truck on the way to the race. Dammit.

Eventually I began to think about my precious two little girls at home with my parents. I envisioned them eating pancakes and watching cartoons. This helped tremendously. Before I knew it I had made the turn for the final 10 miles of the bike course. I was still on pace for about 21 mph. That's when the headwinds from hell hit. Suddenly I was reduced to about 15-16 mph and it took everything I could muster to get the legs to move forward. I tucked my head and rode on top of the white line separating the traffic lane from the shoulder of the rode. I kept my head down for at least 5-8 minutes at a time without looking up. It helps to have a line to follow and a mental image of the course from all those Saturday rides. Finally, the turn for the final stretch. The wind is now at my back. I needed to make up some time and started to move my legs. I looked down at the speedometer and see 22 mph, 23 mph, 24 mph. So much for pacing myself. Get back into transition and get this half marathon started. Too bad I've never run a half marathon before today.
As I turned for the dismount line I suddenly felt that the finish line was attainable...if I could keep my legs moving.
Total bike time: 2:45 Average MPH: 20.4.

Transition #2 was uneventful. I had decided to change my socks and put on dry ones because my feet sweat like a one-legged whore on a pirate ship and I hate that "squishing" sound wet socks and shoes make. Not to mention the fact that I was worried about blisters. Total T#2 time: 1:45

Let the run begin. I have dreaded and agonized over this run for the past 7 months. I am not a runner. I don't even pretend to be something that resembles a runner. I've seen runners and I am definitely not one of them. My plan was to keep my feet moving and try to run from aid station to aid station (separated by a mile). I would walk through the aid station to ensure I got enough fluids and then run to the next station. Amazingly my legs felt great coming off the bike--perhaps too great. I clocked off the first mile at an 8:10 pace. Way too fast for my not so nimble legs and my huge size 15 feet. I quickly backed the pace down and began to settle into a rhythm. At about mile 1.5 one of my training partners passed me. Kyson went on to have a great day and placed 3rd in his age group. Not bad for his first 1/2 iron distance race. I reminded him this run was just like our usual Sunday morning run at the lake, only we had just swum and biked a hefty distance.

Miles 2, 3, and 4 went by without much fanfare. Run to the aid station, walk through it and then run to the next station. Somewhere between miles 2 and 3 Chris Legh (the Gatorade guy) was on his way back in to the finish line. He was smoking! His total time was 3:59. Unbelievable!

The bulk of this run (miles 4-11) take place along the dam that borders the lake we swam in. It is elevated about 50 feet up from the water with sloping embankments. Unfortunately there are no trees or shade of any kind. Last year the temperature was in the high nineties and the sun was full. As you can imagine everyone SUFFERED. This year was a different story. Bring on miracle #4.

The entire race took place with overcast skies with a temperature of about 86-88 degrees. The skies opened up while I was on the dam and we were blessed with rain! So much for the dry socks/shoes plan. I'll take it. Usually by about 12:00 pm the air is so hot and humid it burns your lungs to breathe. Not today. The only thing burning were the muscles in my legs. I think at this point I still had some muscles left but they were beginning to revolt against me. I could picture them chanting in unison "Hell no we won't go...Hell no we won't go." Oh yeah, we'll see about that.

I continued on with my strategy and managed to run all the way until mile 6.5. At that point the course goes up a short, steep hill and then turns for home (the 1/2 way point). The hill did me in. I had to walk at this point. I now adopted a strategy of walking when necessary but still pushed on for each aid station. Miles 7, 8, 9, and 10 were agonizing. My right quadricep muscle began to cramp up and I developed abdominal cramps. In my infinite wisdom I reached down to pull up on my ankle to stretch my quad only to discover that this was just the opportunity my right hamstring had been waiting for. Suddenly I found my self having to alternate between a quadricep cramp and a hamstring cramp. I'm sure it was funny to see me hopping around out there. I only learned later that the best way to work on a quad cramp during a race is to squat. Of course this always raises the issue of trying to stand back up. I decided to just live with the cramps and press on.

Miles 11 and 12 consisted of my run-walk strategy. It was at mile 12 when I saw my wife that I suddenly realized I was going to finish this race. Up until this point I really wasn't sure if the finish line was possible. I guess I've always been a "glass 1/2 empty" kind of guy. There was no stopping me now. Of course in typical cruel fashion you get to see the finish line at mile 12 (you can hear it from mile 10) and then turn to the left in order to complete the final 1.1 mile run before you get to actually cross the line. As I rounded the final turn for the finish line I felt both exhausted and exhilarated. My legs and feet hurt with every foot placement. I had pain deep in my thighs and buttocks. Somehow that didn't matter at this point. My only focus was to reach to finish line. Suddenly I heard my name announced: "Here comes Todd Hooperman." Yes, the old Hooperman line again. I've just learned to live with it.

Arms raised in joyful celebration and I suspect a bit of disbelief I crossed the line. Run Time: 2 hr 13 min Pace: 10:15 min/mile. Not the best run time but I still got a finisher shirt!

Final results:
Total time: 5 hrs 36 min 18 sec
Overall place: 63 out of 235
Age group place: 15 out of 43

It's now complete. I've made it back home. I've showered and kissed my girls. What a great summer and what an amazing experience. I had to type this tonight because after sitting down to check the results I realized I was too sore to stand back up. Hopefully I won't have to sleep in this chair tonight.

I've learned alot about myself this summer. I've made some really good friends and I've gotten into the best shape of my life. My wife and family has been so supportive. I can't wait for the Full Ironman next year. They will all be there for that finish line. It won't be just a doubling of today's race. There are mountains and hills galore. I've got a alot of work to do between now and then but for now it's time to savor this one and rest up a little.

As I close out this race report I believe I can truly say I have found my pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Final Preparations

It is now 4 days before the 1/2 Ironman race. It's hard to believe it is so close. This week I have greatly reduced my training volume. As best I can tell the week of the race is supposed to rejuvinate my tired legs, back, and shoulders. So far I have only felt sluggish. My body had grown accustomed to the previous training volume I was logging. I guess that's a good sign--that I want to do more miles and more time. However, everything I have read indicates it is necessary to really take it easy this week. I need my legs to feel completely rested on Sunday morning. I guaruntee they are going hurt immensely by mile 5-6 of the 1/2 marathon.

Training for this race has really made the summer go fast. It has been extremely hot these past 3 months and somehow we (me, Ed, Kyson, and Jason) managed to force ourselves to ride every Wednesday evening despite the 100+ degree temps and red ozone days. The miles have been logged and the injuries have been tended to and now it is time to put it all on the line and get to work. This will be the longest endurance event any of us have ever undertaken. That being said I believe I am more ready for this than any prior race. Of course can you ever feel completely ready?

My regrets: 1. Not practicing running after finishing the long bike rides on Saturdays 2. Not swimming as much as I wanted these past 2-3 weeks.

All told this weekend will prove to be an extremely challenging one. I know that my legs will want to quit at some point but hopefully my mind won't let them. Hydration and nutrition are vital in a race of this distance. Pacing will prove to be essential. The race is not won during the swim or the bike. Rather it is survived during the run. I'll try to post again right before the race and definitely after the race. I can't imagine what it will feel like to cross that finish line.

Final Training Totals (since Feb 2005) Swim: 130,000 yds Bike: 1,995 miles Run: 360 miles.

Remaining Totals: Swim 1.2 mile Bike 56 miles Run 13.1 miles