WOW. What an absolute incredible day! I am still beside myself at what just happened.
It POURED, and I mean, POURED POURED POURED all day during the race. Tough swim, extremely fun bike with descending splits, my first marathon had descending splits too. Final Time: 12:10:18 - EXACTLY when I projected to finish.
Treat the first loop of each leg as a warm up to the second loop. Treat each leg of the race as a warm up to the next. DON'T allow myself to get caught up in "it". Also, on the bike, if I think things are easy, then go one gear easier. Fellow Iron Teammates Mike Hartnett who did this race last year, said he passed 300 people on the second loop last year because he rode the first loop conservative.
Also, be prepared to completely throw my race strategy out the window when/if necessary.
I also realized that I was going to have to dig deep into the Pain Cave, and that it would be a total new experience for me.
4:15am EST wake up call, followed up by a 15 minute very hot shower. Threw down some oatmeal and coffee, and we were out the door to catch the shuttle. As I was getting off the shuttle, the woman behind me mentioned that there was a 60% chance of rain, with the potential for flooding. I figured there were going to be some passing showers over the course of the day.
We got down the transition area, did the normal pre-race stuff (including gawking at Ms. Ficker), make sure I had everything in my bags, and then I headed over to the lake to greet our support team and families. It was good to relax a little bit, and then all the participants started heading to the water. The swim start is a floating start, and all athletes are basically in this large coral just off the beach. I was lucky enough to find an area without a ton of people around me, and spent the next 5-10 minutes just absorbing it all. I can honestly say that this was one part of the race that I was looking to the most - the 5 minutes before the start: the energy, the anticipation, the nervousness, the cheering, the chaos, the helicopter - everything. I was just spinning around in the water taking it all in. It was really cool. I said my thanks for being able to "toe" the line, and within a few seconds, the cannon went off, and all 2500 or so athletes were making there way.
Swim: 2.4 miles; 1:12:56
I made sure there was no feet in front of me kicking, and put my head down to start swimming. Within 3 seconds, my goggles completely flooded. This is the FIRST time all season that this happened. So, I pulled them off, drained them, and put them back on. 3 strokes later, they were completely flooded again. So, I decided to pull the straps one notch tighter, which resulted in the strap coming completely unhinged to the locking mechanism.
So, I pulled them off, and floated there trying to get this small piece of rubber, in an even tinier space. This went on for a solid 3-5 minutes. Meanwhile, half the racers just passed me. I finally got it to lock, put them on my head, pulled the straps to make them tighter, and they came undone - again. I toiled with them again, this time a bit quicker, and was on my way.
As a side note, there were so many people generating so much current, that I was actually pulled forward while fixing my goggles.
I thought my goggles were fixed, but they really weren't. I would take about 5 strokes, and then they would be near flooded again. I considered just throwing them, but wearing contacts while swimming is a recipe for not being able to see anything on the bike.
This went on for the first third of the first lap. As you can imagine, I was kinda beside myself at this point. I was already planning on asking any spectator/volunteer when I got out of the water at the end of the first lap if they had any. I finally just took them off, tightened each side by 3 notches, and slammed them onto my face. It worked 100% for my left side, but there was a little bit of leakage on the right. I took solace in my belief that everything happens for a reason, and just got on with it. I figured I would just deal with the slight leak for the remainder of the swim. I quickly found my stroke, and realized that since 80% of the competitors had passed me, I was swimming an uphill battle. I also realized that I am by far NOT the worst straight line open water swimmer out there :)
I finished the first lap, got back in the water, and just got angry. Anyone who was in my way was essentially man handled: swim in front of or across me, and I grabbed your legs and pushed you out of the way; if you were in front of me, I swam over you; if your head was where my arm was going for entry, then you got dunked. I also realized that people were swimming like 7 wide to the right of the buoys, so I took the inside track and actually swam on the left (something the announcer said we could do). This generally worked out really well.
I finished the swim, and noticed two things:
1. It was pouring out
2. My right eye was very cloudy
I found myself a wetsuit peeler, got peeled, and ran down to transition.
T1 - 8:00
I took one look at the changing tent, and the amount of people waiting in line, and said "No Way", so I just changed outside. Because my right eye was all cloudy, I actually took my contact out to let my eye clear a bit, and it ended up being a huge PITA to try and get the contact back in (in the rain). I finally did everything I was supposed to, and was on my way.
Bike - 112 miles; 6:13:08 (18.01 mph)
The strategy for the bike was to negative split the course. I have been doing a lot of big gear riding lately, but drawing from Marty's Tri 101 experience last year where his front derailleur broke and couldn't shift into his big ring, resulting in him saying that he had fresh legs for the run, that was going to be my plan for at least the first lap of the bike - stay in the small chain ring as much as possible, unless on downhills. My 39/13 and 39/12 were very popular combinations as it allowed me to keep a fair amount of tension on the chain, and still keep a high cadence.
My nutrition was 2 water bottles of very concentrated infinit. I definitely want to say thanks to Mike, the president of infinit, for bending over backwards to get the product to me! So, I basically put 7-8 scoops of it in each bottle, with just enough water to keep it liquid (more like, very thick). I would keep one nutrition bottle in a bottle holder, and just water in my aero drink. So, for every sip of concentrated infinit, I would take 2-3 sips of water to allow my body to absorb it all.
The first hour of the bike, I was just kinda pissed. I mean, seriously, it was POURING. Plus, the bike course was very convoluted. There were people everywhere, and with the slick conditions, safety was primary concern, and I just didn't trust the other people on their bikes. The 9 mile downhill to Keene was very congested, but once we hit the flats to Jay, things thinned out a bit.
There were quite a few people that were passing me, and some other guy and I were amazed at either the amount of good cyclists, or the amount of people that we were gonna end up passing on the second loop. I mean, some people that passed me like around mile 15 were just hammering. I mean, gritting their teeth in way too hard of a gear. Meanwhile, I just switched to easy gear, kept it spinning, and just shrugged it off.
Then, a lady passed me, and said "Are we having fun yet?", and I thought to myself "I like her attitude - this sucks big time for everyone, and it doesn't look like it's going to let up anytime soon, so all I can do is have fun with it". My attitude went from "this sucks", to "I'm doing an Ironman in the pouring rain - this is gonna make for GREAT stories!!!!" The change in attitude immediately resulted in an increase in speed almost immediately. I also realized that I was going to earn this race - and then some, with these weather conditions. I took the left at Jay and went up and down the rollers, and then onto the out and back section to Black Brook. This was a lot of fun, since I was in total time trial mode now. There were a lot of people, so drafting was inevitable in certain spots. The out and back is flat to rolling, and generally, a ton of fun.
Once I finished that out and back, that puts me at about mile 40, and coming up on the most challenging portion of the course. The next 16 miles are generally uphill, with no aid stations, minimal crowd support, and this section really separates those that can climb, and those that can't, so you generally have quite a bit less people. You are pretty much left with just your own thoughts. Finally, I hit the final hill, Papa Bear, and it was like the Alpe D'Huez. People and noise and drums and cowbells line the entire hill, and then you take a right to head back to town. The crowd support in town was unreal, and it felt like Le Tour to be TT'ing through town with people screaming. My nutrition strategy seemed to be working very well for the first half of the bike, which was extremely pleasing since I never did this in training (nothing new on race day, right? :) :) :) I stopped at my special needs, and picked up my second bottle of drink, and some tylenol for my throat. Overall, I was pleased with the first lap.
The second loop was generally less crowded, which meant I actually was able to crank on the downhills (within reason of course). I was feeling like a million bucks, and felt like it was time to turn it up a bit. I kept it in the big ring for the flats to Jay, and was cruising. When I took the left, I saw an old college mate Ben Knight, so I yelled "Knighter!!!!", and he is like "Denner! What's going on?" "Eh, you know!" I felt like I may have pushed the flats a little too hard, so I took it a bit easy on this roller section, but by the time I got to the out-and-back TT section to black brook, I was feeling really good again, so I started to crank. I also realized that I had pee'd 7 times already (all on the bike of course, which as a side note, was actually kinda nice because it ended up warming my feet up a little :) ), and realized that I may be over-hydrating a bit, so I decided to cut back a little. I was just so pumped on the way back from black brook - I was FLYING. I actually said to myself "I [expletive] love time trialing!!!". Plus, Marty's 606's just sound so f'n bad ass when you get those things moving - they just sound like thunder rolling down the street. I also dropped a "I [expletive] these wheels!!!"
On my back from blackbrook, I was well into "the zone", and then all the sudden, I hear "RYAN DENNER!!!" I knew most of my friends were behind me at this point, and didn't recognize the voice, so I looked back, but there was like 3-4 people around. Here is how the conversation went:
Mark: "IT'S MOONPIE!!!!!!!!!" (I just recently stumbled upon Moonpie's Blog through a fellew blogger a few weeks ago)
It was totally unexpected, and a HUGE rush! I put my head down and just continued to crank crank crank. I hit the notorious 40-56 mile stretch, and could tell that my legs were starting to feel it a little bit, but overall, I was happy with how I felt. My taper went really well, and I think having a high cadence for the first 90+ miles or so was paying dividends. I went in and out of feeling good and feeling tired, but I knew it was all going to be over soon. I cruised through town, and prepared to get off the bike.
T2 - 7:19
I knew before the race that I would need a few extra minutes in transition to just kinda sit and relax a bit after the bike. I felt like I paced my bike really well, with a healthy dose of pushing it.
I jumped off my bike (shoes still on the bike), gave it to a volunteer, and started running/jogging/shuffling/bouncing to my bag and changing area. Let me tell you - those first few steps after 112 miles are SO AWKWARD!!!!! I hit the changing tent, sat for a few minutes, gathered myself, dried myself off, and realized that the outside of my right foot was hurting quite a bit. I think it's from using race wheels, which are significantly stiffer than training wheels, and all that added pressure just caught up on my foot. I guess that just means I need to get a pair of my own (again) :) I tried to stretch a little bit, gathered myself, grabbed my salt pills (I put 20+ inside a nuun bottle, which doubly served as something to grip while running), and walked out of transition. I really wanted to ease into the run (with emphasis on ease), and walking out would allow my heart rate to fully recover and start finding my legs.
Run: 26.2 miles; 4:28:55
Although I was very happy with my bike split, I am most proud of the run - my first marathon, which I negative split my almost 14 minutes. My longest run to date was 13.1 miles, and this run can easily be broken up into 2 sections - the first loop, and the second.
Strategy: Walk every aid station, run in between them. Lather, rinse and repeat.
I got some cheers from spectators right out of transition to the tune of "Take it one step at a time man!", and "I like it!! way to prepare for negative splits!!!" I walked for about 100 yards or so, and once I moved in my shuggle/jog, I got quite a few cheers for picking it up. Once I started "running" on my right foot, I knew it was going to give me issues. I kept it at an easy pace for the few miles so I could ease into things. I kinda cruised through the first few aid stations, and knew that it would take me probably 20-30 minutes to really find my running legs. I made it to the out and back section, and was feeling OK. The good attitude that I had on the bike quickly left, and I was in an OK state mentally. The out and back is tough - it seems like you have to go to the end of the adirondacks just to hit the turn around point. Further, to complete a loop, you have to go back into town, and then go on another out and back, which means you have to pass the finish area to do another out and back, so I was kinda out of whack with miles and so forth. I quickly realized that I shouldn't be doing math, so I pretty much stopped paying attention to mile markers in general. The first 10 miles were OK. I definitely ran them conservative, and when I saw my dad at mile 10, I gave him a "Do I really have another 16 miles of this?" look. The last 2.5 miles (which, to most people, we think is measured extremely conservatively - ie. it seems more like 3 or 3+ :) ), is just about all up hill, with 2 steep sections.
By the time I got to the uphill portion on the out and back, I was walking quite a bit. I was miserable. I hurt, a lot. The motivation wasn't there, and the mental aspect was starting to get defeated. Of course there was thoughts of walking the rest of the 16 miles. At one aid station, I pretty much stopped, grabbed some cookies, some water, some gatorade, cola and fruit, and just chowed. When I hit the turn around, I basically said to myself "This SUCKS. I don't want to do this, I don't want to feel this." I was urging myself to do something. Then I started getting philosophical with myself. I asked myself:
"What is pain?"
Was I feeling pain, or was this discomfort? I thought about it for a few minutes, and I came to a few conclusions:
1. Pain prevents someone from doing something
2. Discomfort doesn't
3. Running a marathon with sore feet is nothing compared to my homeboy Jeff going through cancer. Twice.
4. Running a marathon with sore feet is nothing compared to what Jeff's (#232) family has had to go through.
So, I started running. I completely bypassed the shuffle and jog, and just started running. I was probably running at 8 and change minute miles. I kept this on the downhill to town, and then something weird started happening.
It felt good.
My cadence, my foot strike, my body - it all just flowed. It almost felt effortless. It didn't hurt. I didn't feel the need to stop at aid stations. I started getting into the zone, and I was feeling good. I couldn't believe I was doing this on the second half of my first marathon. I started gritting my teeth (and squeezing my nuun bottle), and told myself I wouldn't stop until I hit the turn around at the mid way point on the run. I saw one of our Iron Team Member's Erik a few miles in, and he gave me some words of encouragement. I passed an aid station, and figured that I would like to get calories and hydration at the same time, so I was looking for fruit. There was a woman who was standing with a box of fruit, and I was calling out to her, but she wasn't responding. I finally came right up on her, stuck my hand in the box, and grabbed a HUGE bushel of grapes - easily 1.5 handfuls full - still on the vine. I think I scared her because no one within sight was running this fast. I was feeling good, and I knew that our support crew was about a mile up the road. Not wanting to put the plethora of grapes to waste, I kept a few so I could throw them at my friends. I totally caught them by surprise!!! I was feeling great, cruised on the downhill, and was able to keep my pace all the way to the turn around, which is about mile 18.5.
At this point, I knew I had to take a break. I realized that part of my second wind came from some advice I read in a Gordo article. He basically said that if you are feeling bad on the run, stop at an aid station, take in more calories than you would normally take in, walk for another .5-1 miles, let your body absorb them, and then start back up again. The discomfort in my body was being replaced with pain, and I had to stop for a bit, stretch, and gather my thoughts. One of my thoughts was that I was actually doing this. I was ~132 miles into this thing, and I was cruising on the second half of the run. I gathered myself, and started back up again. I definitely wasn't feeling as fresh this time around, and the next few miles were a struggle. I hit the mile 20 sign, and remember someone told me "a marathon is a 20 mile warm up to a 10K", and I cursed them at this point.
Then I started walking. I couldn't take it anymore, I was hurt up. I stopped and stretched again, and realized that I may have gone to the well just a little too early during the race, and started coming to terms that I may have to walk the last 5 or so miles. Because I wasn't running, I started getting cold. I saw a lot of people with the space jackets/blankets, and I was jealous. All in all, I realized that I could be happy with the effort I put in on the day.
Then some people started passing me. And they just kept coming. 1 by 1, 2 by 2, people were passing me. And although I don't ever compare ages in triathlon (since the older people get, the faster they get), most of them were almost twice my age, and I started getting pissed. I said F-it, and started the iron-shuffle. About a minute or two later, I heard "There's the big dog!", and it was Jeff, all smiles, running in two space coats. It was huge! About a minute later at a checkpoint, I saw on the sign up ahead "R.DENNER, Pick up the pace, cracka!" I knew it was from Jeff, and found it quite ironic. Then, the music was blasting Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark", which, again, ironically, is a song I had stuck in my head at Vineman last year, EXACTLY one year previous to the day.
It was on.
I had 4 miles to go, and it's time to HTFU. Pain is temporary, Pride lasts forever. I started passing people like they were standing still. I grabbed a gatorade cup at an aid station and crushed it so I could squeeze something in both my hands when I had to dig deep. As I was getting into town, I started getting excited. I was about 3 miles out, and a smile was on my face - I was close. As a side note, you get SIGNIFICANTLY more cheers from people when you smile, rather than looking like crap :) I had to walk the steep hill getting into town, and then came the out and back section - it was tough. I had to walk once or twice - it hurt, a lot. But, I was slapping hands with people to sap every bit of excitement out of them. I finally hit the turn around, and then all the sudden without thinking about it, I just picked it up. Cadence, turnover, speed - it all just jacked up. I was cruising. I gritted my teeth. "Suck it up Denner" I said to myself. Even though I was about .6 mile away from the finish, it took so much mental will power to just put one leg in front another, and push through the 139 miles of pain.
I started approaching the downhill, and I just started smiling from ear to ear. There was nothing that could have taken it from me. Once people saw what was happening, I swear I had 200+ of my own personal support crew cheering me on. People were just absolutely screaming at me! I saw my Mom right before the entranceway to the olympic oval, threw my cup, charged the oval, made sure no one was behind me (Hey, I want my damn glory), stopped as soon as I hit the finish chute to slap hands with everyone, walked up to the finish line, grabbed the banner, and raised it over my head at 7:10:18 pm.
A volunteer greeted me with a space jacket (it basically looks like a big piece of aluminum foil), a finishers medal, a hat and a t-shirt. I responded by putting my head on her shoulder and giving her a hug. After she (I?) let me go, I took a few steps, stopped, looked up at the sky, raised my arms and just screamed "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
I had just about everyone with 50 feet of stop dead in their tracks and look at me with a concerned. So, I of course smiled back at everyone. My next few steps were so emotionally charged. I had a death grip on my finishers jacket like no other. I felt like a warrior who just went to battle, and came away victorious.
I made my way over to the food tent, chatted it up with some people, and then got a massage.
As I was making my way over to the shuttle, crew support chief Adam and Moog found some groupies who apparently really wanted to hug and Ironman finisher, so I helped fill their void when I saw them. Because I was "walking" in funny, I received quite a few smiles and congratulations from other people on the sidewalk. It was amazing - I felt like such a superstar. I came back to the Iron Pad, took a shower, called Paul Jesse in a very loud way, and chatted with my Mom and Step Dad for a while.
I made my back over to the race to watch Jeff finish around 11:15pm. I saw Erik and Dan, and Mike just finished, and we were all a little worried about Jeff. We knew he was about 4 miles out, with 45 minutes to go, and those are a tough 4 miles. Honestly, we were all a little worried that he might not finish. Around 11:55(ish), I made my out of the transition, and decided to walk in the opposite direction of course to find him. As soon as I made my way towards the out and back, I saw a huge crew of people running with someone, and then realized that someone was Jeff. It was insane. They were screaming and Jeff was smiling. I went ballistic!!!!! I started screaming at the top of my lungs, and started running with him - we charged through the oval, and I scooted out before the first IM sign. Everyone cheering knew what was at stake, and everyone went nuts. He finally crossed the line at 16:56:32, and was the last official person to cross the line. I personally feel like it was scripted this way. 15 months removed from his second battle with cancer and a stem cell transplant, he closes the books on the 10th anniversary of one of the most wild, insane Ironman events in history.
* Am I an extreme geek for thinking about writing this blog post during the race? All points lead to yes.
* It's a long day - it's hard to keep focus for that long, but I think I did pretty good
* Pretzels and cola on the run are MONEY
* Crowd Support was incredible at this race
* Just as everyone says, there are good points, and bad points - you just have to find a way to get through the bad points
* Crossing that finish is something that can only be experienced
* I can't believe I am writing this, but I can see myself doing another Ironman in the future
* I went up to a (42 year old) woman towards the end of the run when I was in a good mood, and said "excuse me, but I have to say that you are extremely hot (because she was)" She was a bit surprised, but extremely appreciative!!!
* Bragging rights: I had a faster marathon than professional triathlete Bjorn Anderson (might have had something to do with a 4:42 bike split though)
* I did not race with a watch or a bike computer, and was SO glad that I didn't. I realized that those gadgets take my focus away from racing.
* Even though the weather conditions were what some would say "less than optimal", I WOULD NOT HAVE WANTED IT ANY OTHER WAY. I thought the weather added SO MUCH to the experience - one that will stay each and all of us forever. I feel like I earned that Ironman title.
* I am glad that I stuck my strategies ALL race.
* One of the best parts about doing this race in the rain - I NEVER got hot!!! (always an issue on the run)
* Although there was a passing T-Storm around noon today, it's been sunny and beautiful ALL day
* Fortunately, even though I ran 26.2 miles in the run with shoes that were essentially sponges, I somehow managed NOT to get blisters or lose toe nails!!!
* Walking is rather laborious today, and my left and right groin muscles feel like they are going to detach themselves from my body. It's not really comfortable :)
TOTAL SWIM 2.4 mi. (1:12:56) 1:55/100m
FIRST BIKE SEGMENT 56 mi. (3:09:37) 17.72 mph
FINAL BIKE SEGMENT 56 mi. (3:03:31) 18.31 mph
TOTAL BIKE 112 mi. (6:13:08) 18.01 mph
FIRST RUN SEGMENT 13.1 mi. (2:21:07) 10:46/mile
FINAL RUN SEGMENT 13.1 mi. (2:07:48) 9:45/mile
TOTAL RUN 26.2 mi. (4:28:55) 10:15/mile
Swim Rank: Overall - 1080; Division - 75
Bike Rank: Overall - 819; Division - 71
Run Rank: Overall - 806; Division - 66