Sunday, November 06, 2011

Redman Triathlon 2011

September 24, 2011. Lake Hefner, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Weather Nearly perfect. Warm but never too hot. Wind was nearly non-existent until partway through the bike but never horrible. Humidity low.
Distance This was a full-distance triathlon, meaning a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a full marathon (26.2 miles). It is the very same distance as an Ironman. The word Ironman is trademarked by an organization (WTC) who puts on the Ironman Races,  so unless you are doing one of their races, you can’t technically call it an Ironman, even though it’s the exact same distance. So people call them a “full-distance” triathlon. But anyone who finishes still tends to be called an Ironman.
So I’m an Ironman.
Result 13:32:03. Swim 1:33:07, T1 5:06, Bike 7:05:45, T2 3:42, Run 4:42:42. 6th of 14 in the 50-54 male age group. (Two of the 14 did not finish.) This was far better than I really felt I could do. So it was a great day!!

Winter/Spring/Summer Training
The training for this lasted about one year. Although actually I should go back five years ago, in 2006, when I moved to Burlington, Iowa for a job. Until then I had spent about five years running, but doing no swimming or cycling. I had purchased a used Trek road bike (mid 90's model) for $150 a couple of years earlier, but had never ridden more than about ten miles on it. The other thing that happened was that I was tending to get injured running, with typical problems like plantar fasciitis and IT band issues. I was hurting myself, it seemed, by running too often. My body didn't seem to thrive on running six days per week. The final piece of the puzzle came in the form of Team BEAST, the triathlon club in Burlington. There is no running club there, and Team BEAST is the place to go if you like to run. I owe a lot to Team BEAST. Great bunch of folks.
Since I was in a triathlon club, and since I needed to implement some cross-training to avoid injury, it was natural to start cycling more with the members. And I got some informal swim lessons as well. Enough to get me started. I've never struggled so much with any physical activity in my life as swimming, and still feel quite awkwards, often, when swimming. But I guess I've come a long way. Since the Summer of 2007 I have done triathlons, short ones at first and building up to longer ones. I didn't use a wetsuit or use bike shoes or aerobars until 2009 or 2010 (forget which), and didn't get a new bike until 2011. Even my new bike is not a tri-bike. It's a Specialized Roubaix carbon-frame road bike. It's a nice bike!
In 2008 I moved to Iowa City and thus left Team BEAST, but continued to do triathlons. 2010 was a poor year. My main problem was cramping. Especially in one particular race, the "Pigman Long" race. This is a half-ironman. I did this in 2008, 2009, and 2010. All three years I had major cramping issues with my calves and my inner quad muscles. Usually I'd cramp right in the swim, more on the bike, and run in near-agony. The 2010 Pigman Long was my worst race of any sort, ever. While in 2008 and 2009 I finished in around 6 hours, I took nearly 7 in 2010. I cramped hard in the swim. Then on the bike I cramped so badly I had to dismount and try to stretch. Upon starting up again, someone creamed me from behind. We both went down in a tangled bruised mess (disabling my rear brakes in the process). I gingerly biked the rest of the way, then started the run and at about mile 1, I cramped so badly in the inner quads that I laid on the ground for probably a good 15 minutes. One volunteer suggested I quit, which I should have. I basically walked the majority of the run, taking about 3 hours to do it. 

I didn't know what the problem was, but deep down I suspected I was just racing too hard (which in retrospect is likely partly correct). I therefore had this logical insight: In a half-ironman, I go too hard and cramp. So I should do a FULL ironman which will make me slow down, and I won't cramp. Did I say this was logical?

I did do one smart thing. I hired a triathlon coach by the name of John Hunsaker out of Burlington. One of the Team BEAST guys. He's an excellent triathlete and a certified USAT coach. He put me on a winter build-up program which I began in probably October-ish of 2010.

Seven days per week: 
Monday Swim
Tuesday Bike
Wednesday Run

Thursday Bike
Friday Swim
Saturday Long Bike
Sunday Long Run

I followed this routine religiously until race day. Furthermore, he put me on a program of core work and stretching, which I did roughly five days per week on average. (I'm not giving out all the details. Hire John if you want that.)

Over the next ~ten months, I worked out seven days per week, and missed very few workouts.  For example, I see that in Jan 2011 I missed two days. Two in February.  Zero in March (yes I worked out 31 of 31 days). One in April. And so on like this up to race day. Granted in a number of cases my only workout was the core/stretching. Or maybe a weak 30 min bike ride. In fact I did a poor job of doing the long bike rides all winter. I also rarely did the full swim workout he wanted me to do. On top of this, I was nursing a weird foot injury that crept up on me over the Summer. Somehow I injured my plantar plate. This is the same plantar ligament one hurts in plantar fasciitis, but I hurt it at the other end, under the second toe of my right foot. I could not push off. In November of 2010 I did a marathon and finished in 4:43:03, my slowest by over thirty minutes, because of my foot. (Compare to the fact that at Redman I finished in 4:42:42, done on two runs per week, and after biking 112 miles.) For a full month in February I wore a boot and could not run, and was barely running much the months before that or the month after. I did aquajogging instead, or an extra bike, or something. This has been very very very slow to heal. As I write this (Nov 2011), it still isn't totally healed. In a sense, it was good to be training for a triathlon since I only had to run twice per week. So, point being, for the first many months I did a good job of showing up for the workouts, but my volume was rarely what Coach John wanted. (The good thing about that is if I ever actually DO put in that volume, I should improve!)

I found it interesting that John never prescribed brick workouts (bike, then run) which are popular with triathletes. Turns out they don't seem necessary. Having said that, I did do three triathlons in preparation for Redman. The Galena sprint triathlon in May, the Lake Geode Challenge (olympic distance) triathlon in July, and the Pigman Long (4th try!) again in August. Each of these races is a bit longer than the one before. So these races were my "brick" workouts and places where I could assess my fitness and check on the cramping.

John had me use a heart monitor in my training. He provided heart rate zones for me to use. I had to keep my heart rate below a certain point. I think this helped, in training. It taught me to slow down. And I managed to keep the cramping at bay. I think the three factors that helped were the consistent and harder training, the stretching, and forcing myself to go slower in races. Also he made me relax more in the swim. And finally he had me taking in more sports drinks than I usually did in races and training to keep up the calories and salts. There were times when I started feeling pre-cramping of sorts, but slowing down a bit kept them from happening. I also learned that on the bike and run I could simply stop and stretch the inner quads quickly and that helped too. Time lost on the stretching was worth it.
My toughest training week came three weeks before the race: A 108 mile bike ride on Saturday, a 22 mile run on Sunday, and a 2.5 mile swim on Monday. A lot of work went in to building up to that.
The race was on a Saturday. On Wednesday after work I headed South. Fortunately almost exactly halfway to Oklahoma City is Lansing, Kansas, where my old buddy Merle lives. I stayed at his house that night. I headed to Oklahoma City in the morning and arrived at my hotel in the late afternoon. I drove down to the race site to check it out and ride my bike a bit, and had dinner (Chipotle). Some of the pics I took on my bike ride:

 Lighthouse that is right on the run course.

 Oklahoma, like Texas, is in a severe drought. Look how low the water is. All of that sand (more like clay) should be under water.

 Panorama shot of lake from along the bike course.

 View from the run course.

 This is hilarious. This is all the stuff I brought for the race. Triathlons require so much!

On Friday I did a short jog, then did packet pickup and got ready for the next day. Light lunch at Schlotsky's. Dinner at Fazoli's. The swag was pretty good I thought. Some pics I got on Friday:

 Cool kids area!

 My official bike spot!

 Swag! The backpack is kinda cool. I like the hat too. The bags are drop bags for race day. At one point on the bike you could stop and get stuff out of it. Also on the run. Volunteers quickly could get your bag for you. Very useful.

 I had to put all those 224 numbers somewhere. On me, on my bike, on my helmet. The 140.6 stickers are just fun stickers. In case you don't know, 140.6 is the total miles of the day when you add up the swim, the bike, and the run.

 See? It's kinda hard to put those on by yourself. I saw a number of folks who had numbers backwards. Oops.

 Helmet ready to go.

Race Day
I think I was up at about 4:00 am. I had some oatmeal and a banana and got down to the race site. (Note: John helped me with nutrition too which is why I was eating oatmeal. However I didn't really do a good job of following John's nutritional advice. My diet is pretty bad.) We had to park about a half mile or so from transition, but I had already left my bike and lot of stuff there from the day before (yes they guard it all night), so I really just needed to organize transition, get my tires pumped, get my water bottles on the bike and that kind of stuff. And get my wet suit on. I stretched as much as I could before the swim. I saw my coach John as well as Burlington folks Cosmo and Shawn and Craig who were doing the race. Coach John's job was done. He did well. I sipped on my sports drink. About fifteen minutes before we started I took in a full shot block (worth about two Gu's). And more salts.

 Early morning. Walking past the lighthouse from my car to the start.

 Start/finish area.

 Morning transition.

Yes the sun was up by the time we started the swim at 7:15. Here is the swim course as well as the run course. We had to use the optional low water swim course.

As I mentioned at the top, the weather was quite ideal. It wasn't cold or hot before we got in. We didn't get to get in the water before the start. I didn't know that. I had to pee just before the swim. So I did what I had to do. I stood on the beach and peed in my wet suit. Kinda weird, but so far I've never been able to pee while swimming, and since I'm a bad swimmer I tend to suck in a lot of water and end up with an uncomfortably full bladder, plus I had been sipping on sports drink all morning. We did the mass start thing so there were many starting at once (186 finished). It was pretty nuts. I hung back since I'm a slow swimmer, but I didn't hang back too much so as to give myself a big disadvantage. The water felt great. All I wanted to do was to relax, to avoid cramping. Relax relax. The course was a 1.2 mile triangle that we had to do twice. I was surprised when I found people still near me at the end of the first loop (which seemed to take about a hundred years). I actually had hid a gel in my wet suit so stopped to take that before starting the second loop (yes I could stand in the water there).  I continued swimming, always thinking I might cramp, but I did good and had no problems. And when I finished, there were still people near me. I was amazed. Even more astounding was my time. In training I had taken about 2:10 to go 2.4 miles. I finished this in 1:32! I could hardly believe it.

 Coming out of the water. Get the goggles off!

 An extremely surprised and happy guy here, 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
I ran out of the water. Thanks to the drought and low lake levels, we had to run about 50 yards up to transition. The first part was in the mud and I took about three steps and went right down on my butt. For some reason this annoyed me, getting my wet suit all muddy. I made it to the top and stupidly started trying to clean off my wet suit in the little wading pool they had! Then I realized I could clean it later. The "wet suit strippers" were there. I laid on my back and put my legs up in the air and they peeled the wet suit off my legs. Funny. I had never known how they did that.
I had a decent transition (T1). No problems. Some folks went into a changing tent and completely changed into bike clothes. I wore my one-piece Hawkeye tri-suit the whole race so my T1 was faster. I got going on the bike and tried to focus on not going too fast since I had a long ride ahead of me. I sipped my sports drink and took in some energy gels and salts (and caffeine tabs). 

Here is the bike course.

The good weather continued on the bike ride. It can be very windy in Oklahoma but that wasn't the case on race day. The ride (like the swim) is a loop (actually an out-and-back) done twice. In this case 56 miles each. There were aid stations about every 10 miles. About 5 miles into the ride I passed Cosmo (one of my Burlington buddies). When that happened I actually yelled, "Oh shit that shouldn't happen!" because I know Cosmo is a bit stronger on the bike and that meant I was going too fast. I instantly slowed and a few minutes later Cosmo went by and I never saw him again until the run. I'm actually grateful I saw him and slowed down. Speaking of Cosmo, he had given me a tip just a week before the race. He said he started out in his small ring (easier gears) for the first part of the race because that forces him to go slower at first. I did that too, and in fact never went into my big ring! This is interesting since virtually all of my training is in my big ring. In retrospect maybe I overdid it, going so slow, but I think it was worth it for my first ironman. Before I knew it, I saw John coming back. He was flying! Turns out he had the fastest bike split of any racer! Amazing. (Note: there was a half-iron race going on as well so I saw many bikes on the first loop.) Shawn, who is fast on the bike as well, was behind John a ways but way ahead of me.
The bike course was not particularly beautiful or anything, but I'm not focusing on my surroundings much anyway so that's okay. There were some poor road conditions here and there. Lots of potholes. Enough that a little cussing was called for. But nothing too horrible and they helped keep me alert. As I learned from my previous races, I stopped around miles 28, 56, and 84, stretched each inner quad about 20 seconds, and got back on my bike. It seemed I could actually feel the loosening upon doing this. I think it also makes me re-focus on taking it easy as well. Although I had used my heart monitor in training, I can't say I did in the race. I just went by feel. So for me the heart monitor is a nifty training tool and that's all. Others use it very seriously in the race, I think.
The one and only logistical mistake I made the whole race is that I meant to put a Clif Bar on the bike and I forgot (it was sitting at transition). Luckily there were granola bars at the bike aid stations and I nibbled on a couple of these during the bike. Near the turn around (back at transition) we were allowed a drop bag. I stopped to exchange bottles and got going again. I drank two bottles of sport drink per loop (Cytomax or Ultra from Succeed), plus Gatorade they provided and some more water. I took in an energy gel each hour as well as Endurolytes, Succeed salt caps, and 1/4th of a 200 mg caffeine tablet. Sometimes a bit of potassium and magnesium and calcium as well (from tablets). I stopped once to go pee and slather on some more chamois butter (stuff you put in your suit to keep your butt from getting so sore). On lap two I certainly was feeling it more in the legs, but I was doing okay. It was during this second loop that the only weather-related nuisance happened. The wind did pick up some, and unfortunately it was in my face a good portion of the last 28 miles. This part was tough. My legs were hurting just from the constant pushing. Although the wind wasn't too strong, it was pushing the wrong way at the wrong time, and it meant I couldn't coast for even a second or two on the way back. Just constant pushing. And although the course could not be called hilly, it's not totally flat and thus there was some uphills on tired legs. My butt hurt as well as my upper body and neck from tholding the cycling position. I was very glad to get to the finish. It took me 7:05. This wasn't particularly fast and I think could be improved upon. On the other hand, I did not trash my legs on the bike. (I'm betting many did.) I had energy to run. So while my bike split was a bit slow, I gained it back on the run. And even more amazingly, I began my run at under 9 hours! I had hoped to be starting at 10 hours so I was over a full hour ahead of schedule. 

Hey thumbs up!
A bit about my race goals. I always have three goals for major races. First the "I'll take it" goal which isn't great but at least it's something. In this case, that was to just finish the race in under 17 hours, which is the time limit for most ironmans. My second "day goes as my training indicates" goal was 16 hours, via a 2 hour swim, 8 hour bike, and 6 hour run, roughly. My "miracle" (if everything goes awesomely well) goal was 14 hours (say, 2 hour swim, 7 hour bike, 5 hour run).
The bike-to-run transition (T2) also went fairly swiftly. Again, no changing clothes like some did. The run course is perfectly flat, and it's four out-and-backs of about 6.5 miles each. What's nice about this is that there are folks cheering you on pretty much all the time. Again I started slowly. I saw my buddies running. I knew John was way ahead and indeed only saw him a couple of times before he finished. There were lots of aid stations. Maybe more than one per mile on average, which was nice. I began by doing a 26 minute run, then 4 minute walk. This is what I did in training for my long runs (I used the 4 minute walk to refuel.) Naturally my legs were pretty weak and tight, but nothing horrible. My foot was in a tiny bit of pain but no problem at all. I kept taking in energy gels as much as possible, and salts and sports drinks at the tables. (At least one energy gel every hour.) I also found a table with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, one of my very favorite foods during long efforts, and had some of those. I avoided the real junk food like M&M's, knowing I could eat all that I wanted when I finished. Actually I did take in a bit of coke, which just seemed like it would be good. But I regretted it. It didn't sit right in my stomach.

While the four out and backs meant lots of aid stations and people cheering, it can be a bit daunting when you're hurting on the second and third ones, knowing you still have more to go. About mile 15 I switched over to a 15 min run, 5 min walk. I was starting to hurt pretty good in the legs. Just getting weak. I assumed that eventually I'd have to resort to at least a 10 min walk, 10 min run, but I actually managed to hold onto the 15/5 to the end, which was nice. I never got nauseous, which can be a big problem, but I did get to the point where sucking down another gel seemed really unappealing, so had I had to go much longer things could have become a problem. Near the end of the third lap the sun was going down, leading to a BEAUTIFUL sunset!! Red/orange sky over the water. Wow. Finally on the last lap it was completely dark, and volunteers on bikes handed out glowing necklaces to put on so we could see other runners. There were some patches where it was a bit hard to see where we were running (a headlamp might have helped) but it was okay. Below are two pictures of this great sunset, sent to me by Jim Glickert. (You'll meet him below.) He didn't think these did the sunset justice. He's right. It was amazing. But this gives a nice idea. Imagine much deeper and richer colors though.

Finally, with about a mile or so to go, I considered walking it in, but went ahead and ran about the last 3/4 mile. I suppose I could have bested 13:30, but I was so happy with where I was that I didn't care. I crossed the line at 13:32:03. This was thirty minutes faster than what I thought I could do on a perfect day. Only once before have I beaten a "miracle" goal time by so much, at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile race (blog post somewhere below). Furthermore, my 6th of 14 was better than I do in most triathlons, where I'm lucky to be in the upper half of my age group. This seems to confirm the fact that while I'm not fast, I have some endurance.



Afterwards I got a finisher's shirt. I stumbled around awhile, tried to eat a bit of this and that. I didn't managed to catch up with all my friends. I imagine I could have if I had put in a better effort but I was wiped out. It was a great day.

Coach John had a great day, finishing 8th overall in a time of 10:33:20 Not only that, but he had the fastest bike split on the course (5:07:20). I told you he was good, didn't I?

I should mention Jim Glickert. Leading up to the race I ran across a series of race reports he had written about Redman. I read them and emailed him, thanking him for them because they gave me some good information. We went back and forth a few times. We met up on the bike and of course a few times on the run. He's a really nice guy. In fact here's what he did in the race report for this one.

Cool, huh! What a nice guy. I gotta say I felt a bit like a jerk after the race, since I had written to him just hoping I could do it in 16 hours. But really this was an unusual finish for me, as mentioned above. Check out Jim's full report (GoJim's blog). By the way, in it he mentioned that it got up to 88 degrees by late afternoon and sure it was a bit hot and sweaty, but it wasn't much of an issue after training in the very humid and hot Iowa summers. (Although do you see the white on the front of my singlet? That's salt which soaked through.) Funny thing: for some reason they took no official race pics of me while running (for most folks there are a lot). So Jim captured my only run pic! Here's Jim crossing the finish.

Another fun fact: For whatever reason, people LOVED my Hawkeye racing singlet. Not only were there a few Hawkeyes fans, but even those who weren't just seemed to like it. All during the run I'd hear, "Go Hawkeye Guy!" or something similar. It was really fun. Great folks come to races to cheer you on. This brings up another group of folks as well: the volunteers. They were awesome. Long day for them but they were always friendly, positive, and very helpful. They'd come right up to me holding drinks in case I wanted one. They were constantly asking what I wanted. Really great!

Plenty of folks, like John, finished when it was light out. I finished in the dark. Then again, my finish was about average. Many more were to come in after me. This is the last hundred yards to the finish line.

Check this out.

Transition Cats! These kittens were in transition in the morning, and still there in the evening! No idea where they came from. They had to avoid a lot of traffic all day.

Below are the other Burlington guys. Everyone did great!



 Coach John, ponytail flapping in the wind.