A year ago I expected I'd be writing this blog post about my first Ironman, excited to have finished, exhausted from a long season and maybe psyched about a Kona slot for 2010.
But, as Andre 3000 said, you can plan a pretty picnic but you can't predict the weather.
And that's exactly what happened.
Mike Zero and I signed up for this race this time last year, and immediately I had a grand vision of the two of us training together, racing together and then getting out to Arizona, where we would start the swim together. Yeah, gay, I know. But at least one of those happened.
Thanks to my corporate sponsor, Justin, who had bequeathed me a free flight on Southwest, I made it out to Arizona on Thursday prior to the race. I love Arizona but hate the flights there and back. They just feel unnecessarily long. I met JK and Z at the airport and we made our way to our home for the weekend - Days Inn on Apache Blvd. The best news was that the new-ish light rail stopped right in front of the place and was a 3minute trip to Mill Ave, the heart of the ASU campus.
We were hungry, so we hit Chronic Taco for some dinner before retreating to the hotel. Friday morning we went to the expo and check-in. Thanks to the predictably awesome weather, they can have it outside. That made it pretty awesome. Checked out some fly gear and then waited in the long line to check in. After this we all split - Mike to do a ride, Jen to do a run and I met with some people about hosting a Skirt Chaser race in Baltimore next year. We reconvened later and met Mike's parents for dinner.
Saturday morning we decided to go for a little swim. I thought I had heard the water temp was between 66 and 72 usually. I definitely heard wrong. 63. That's the 2nd coldest water temp I've ever raced in, behind the 61 of Columbia 2003. Zero and I jumped in and I immediately wanted out. It was mind-numbingly cold. We were two of the only ones without swim caps on, although that would have only offered marginal relief. We swam just a few hundred meters out and back. The air temp, even at 9am, was cool. In fact, the temperature never really went much higher than 75 I'd say, certainly not above 80. The sun is so strong out there, though, that it feels a lot warmer.
We took a little trip up the mountain that was right there, and took in the sights. It was an amazing view and we were able to see all the buoys for the swim course. Man, 1.2 miles looks far. Came back down and Mike and Jen went for a little run, and I just chilled out. The Mashners and the 3 of us went to lunch, where Mike's friend Gee also met us. We ran a few other errands and then it was time to chill out.
Mike and I stayed at his parents' hotel room Saturday night, to make it a little easier to get to transition in the morning. We woke up just after 4am, and were at transition just after 5. It was cold, maybe in the high 40s or low 50s, and windy. And super dark. After getting Mike's various pre-race necessities in order, we got into our wetsuits around 6:20, and at 6:45 were being corraled into the water.
The water, which had felt ice cold the day before, didn't feel as bad when the air temp was cooler. It was about 200m swim to the start, so Mike and I made sure to get in front, get a good position along the start line. Darude's "Sandstorm" blared over the speakers and the gun sounded. 2400 athletes went from vertical to horizontal and it was honestly the craziest thing I've ever seen. Despite being really far up front, I was instantly swarmed by swimmers. As my knee began to get assaulted by a flurry of hands and feet, I started to freak out. Had I been too ambitious in my endeavor? Too zealou in my attempt to return to racing? What had my doctor let me do?! I looked for an opening to try and swim over to the side, just to get out of the way. No chance. I was in it, now, and it was sink or swim time.
Swim I did, and did pretty well. I settled down and got into my rhythm. I would catch up to a pack, weave through them, and catch another group. As we went under the far bridge, and a couple hundred meters further to the turnaround, I was amazed at how many people were still around. We turned back and now the sun was coming up to our left, which is the side I breathe on typically so I was temporarily blinded. I looked up ahead to the bridge we had to swim to - geez did it seem impossibly far away.
I held my effort steady, and finally made it under the last bridge. We had one more turn, now directly into the sun, with maybe 150-200m to go. I lined up the best I could with the little steps they had set up for us to climb out of the water. That in itself was a task, as my knee didn't want to cooperate. I was out of the water and saw the clock read 1:12. Yikes! Then I realized that it was on the pro start, so minus 10 minutes. I walked through the area where volunteers help take off your wetsuit, each of whom was asking if I was okay since I was walking.
I felt a pat on my back, thinking it was just another athlete urging me on - but it was Mike! We had finished the swim within seconds of one another. I encouraged him through T1, and then I sat there and watched the other competitors head out for about an hour and a half. So many people, so many bikes. Amazing that some can't make it through the 2h20m cutoff. And more amazing is the bikes they are riding for not being able to swim! The cold water was taking its toll on a few people, as well.
The rest of the day was tiring. Ironmans are hard events for spectators. You're on your feet for so many hours, cheering for everyone, not eating, moving around. We walked out a few miles to watch Mike on the bike course, and then walked back to watch the run. I've perfected my spectating skills to an unbelievable level. I know everyone appreciates it.
I obviously wish I could have gone on, but it just wasn't my time. Zero, on the other hand, had a great race. A 5:41 bike and a 3:30 run lifted him to his debut Ironman finish in 10:22:58, good for 28th in his 30-34 age group and 226th overall I think. And afterwards he seemed pretty fine. The toughest part of the day was controlling our boners - no joke we're sitting in the finisher's area (thanks to my number, I had an all access pass and could go wherever I wanted, very helpful) and there is a dude and his girlfriend next to us. The girlfriend had really nice...boobies...and she kept leaning over. You couldn't NOT look. Mike will concur.
We headed back to the hotel to clean up, and then back downtown for CHRONIC TACO 2: Revenge of the Taco. Much quieter in Tempe on a Sunday night, I presumed it was because of the holiday. I figured a lot of kids went home early since ASU is a joke and they probably cancel classes for the whole week. Then we went back over to the finish line to cheer in some more people. The jams were kicking and our dancing was inspiring. People were in awe of us, they didn't even know how to react.
Ironman finishes are amazing. There are a lot of people in the race, but by comparison to something like a marathon, for the most part each individual has a chance to cross the finish line by his or herself. Nothing is more amazing than when an athlete like Rudy Garcia-Tolson finishes.
So that is my Ironman story. Incomplete. The part I did finish I was pleased with. 1:02:23 for my first ever 2.4 mile swim. It was good enough for 216th overall and, more significantly, 13th in my age group. Of the top 10 finishers in my AG, only 2 swam faster, and the guy who won the AG swam slower. That's promising for the future. A few years ago I didn't think I'd ever swim faster than 1:05. But most importantly I did get to be there, with Mike, at the start line, and be a part of his experience.
I made it back on Monday to Baltimore, and all the psyched I had accumulated rolled out when I arrived to cold rain. It's going to be a long few months. Tuesday I had to head back up to NJ to see the doctor, who continues to be pleased with my progress.
I managed to run/walk 2.4 miles on Wednesday with my sister. 3 laps of the old 0.8 mile loop we have at one of the parks. I started by walking 1 minute, running 2, and then after the 2nd lap I went to 1min/3min. My laps were 8:27, 8:26 and 7:55. Just about 10 minute pace for the whole thing. I met up with my friends on Wednesday night for our traditional dinner, and then went out for a bit. Today I celebrated the holiday as per usual with just my immediate little family. Tomorrow I'll run again and hopefully hit the mall for some Black Friday madness, and then Saturday is the 10 year reunion that has consumed my energy over the last few months.