“Listen to me! Just listen to me, all right? It sounds great when you say it like that, but all that stuff was luck -- I didn't know what I was doing half the time, I didn't plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of … and I didn't get through any of that because I was brilliant at Defense Against the Dark Arts, I got through it all because -- because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right.”
I think the further I progress in any given event - or any particular sport for that matter - the more I realize just how fortunate I am to be there, and how grateful I should be that things happened the way they did.
But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit – because when we last spoke, I was exiting T2 to start the marathon portion of the Vineman triathlon.
The Run: Help at the Right Times
As luck would have it, I took less than ten steps on the marathon course before encountering my first aid station.
The Vineman marathon is a 3-loop course, with aid stations at both turnaround points, and three more in between. Doing some simple math in my head, I knew I would never have go much farther than one mile to reach the next station. That’s nice reassurance to have as you’re starting a marathon in 95 degree weather.
The other comforting thought was that I had finally made it to the run course. Because despite everything I said in the previous post about my magical bike ride, the aspect of the race I was most anxious about was simply making it to T2.
My greatest fear during any triathlon is some type of mechanical failure during the bike segment. I know it only takes one flat tire to blow my whole split time - or any variety of malfunctions that could derail my race completely. There are just too many slings and arrows of circumstance to potentially strike us along the way – consequently, I consider the bike segment as much of a disaster aversion exercise as it is an athletic competition.
So it was a relief to set foot on the marathon course, and know that I wouldn’t be undone by mechanical issues or other complications beyond my ability to overcome. This was the first point of the day when my destiny lay in my own hands – and it was the first time that I was certain I would finish the race.
From this point on, all I needed was time and determination – and I knew I had plenty of both.
The first thing I noticed on the marathon course was how many other people there were. Until now, I had forgotten that three other races were going on simultaneously, and they all shared the initial portion of the Vineman run course. So after spending the past six hours with only a handful of competitors, all of a sudden I was accompanied by hundreds of runners.
Full Vineman competitors had different colored bib numbers than everybody else, so all of the spectators and other runners knew who we were as we passed by. This arrangement was the perfect antidote for hardcore exertion under the sweltering sun.
Countless times when I passed other runners or spectators, I’d hear an encouraging “Nice work, Ironman!” or “Good job, Ironman”. I must have been called that name 20 times during the first loop of the marathon course. It was a significant source of encouragement, and made two thoughts come to mind:
1. It’s obvious that NOBODY in Sonoma County reads my blog, or knew of my little M-Dot dissertation from the week before the race. However …
2. Hearing the name over and over from so many people was the first time I started thinking of myself as an ironman. And once I did, it felt unbelievably cool.
In particular, there was one college-aged girl about a half-mile from the start/finish area who was incredibly inspirational. Every time someone with my bib color passed by, she yelled, “IRONMAN: HELL YEAH!!” at the top of her voice, and slapped high fives with anyone who would take it.
In fact, I got such an adrenaline rush when passing her, I was concerned about overexerting myself too early in the race. So when I approached her at the end of the first loop, we had this exchange:
Her: IRONMAN: HE--
Me: Not yet! I’ve got two laps to go.
Her: OK – I’ll be here!
The first loop of the course was finished, but I could feel myself running out of steam on the outbound portion of loop 2. The course has several rolling hills, and is mostly uphill on the way out – so I told myself that I only had to keep working hard for 4 and a half miles to the turnaround point, before cruising the downhills on the way back, and by then I’d have only one lap to go.
I also broke the course down into one-mile increments, with my primary focus of jogging from aid station to aid station, and taking as much time as I needed each time I stopped.
At each station, this was my routine:
* Dump one cup of water on my face, another on my back, and occasionally one on my shoulders.
* Empty one cup of ice in my hat, and place on my head.
* Drink one cup of cola with ice, carry ice cup with me to next aid station.
By this point, I had become sick of Gatorade, and couldn’t tolerate any gels or solids, so I was banking on the cola to keep me fueled for the duration. Aside from some persistent stomach cramps, this system worked fairly well.
Having frequent aid stations was a HUGE factor in making the marathon segment a less daunting task than it otherwise could have been. Nevertheless, during that second loop I felt like I was melting in the heat, and my pace was slowing precipitously. 8-minute miles were turning to 9-minutes, and jogging from station to station grew incrementally more difficult each time. This is where my decreased caloric and fluid intake on the bike was coming back to haunt me.
Yet somehow, I was able to keep cruising along … and guess who I caught up with during the second lap?
ULTIMATE FIGHTER NICK DIAZ!!
He had slowed to a walk by this point, but briefly tried to jog after I came alongside him. The final skirmish didn’t last long, though – it was only a few strides before I was past him, and he resumed walking again.
This may sound odd … but as competitive as I claim to be, I didn’t feel great satisfaction in passing him at this point in the race. In fact, the first thing I felt was respect for the kid – a 24-year-old who came to his first ironman race and grabbed it by the throat before running out of steam just a little too early. I have a feeling his future in triathlon is a lot brighter than mine.
I’ll also say this for Nick Diaz: I had to work my tail off to catch him. That guy really knows how to fight.
The third lap of the course was similar to the first two, except that my mile splits were closer to 10 minutes now, as the walking breaks grew longer each time. Eventually I reached the final turnaround point, and had less than 5 miles to go.
Have you ever torn through a great novel, then purposely slowed your reading pace down in the final chapters, because you didn’t want to finish too quickly? Even though the ending is inevitable, you want to stretch the experience out just a little bit longer. Well, that was me during the last 3 miles of Vineman – slowing things down, burning as much as possible to memory before the inevitable conclusion.
I didn’t care about the time, and I didn’t care about my overall place (although I occasionally glanced over my shoulder for good measure). I just wanted to enjoy the moment – and in all my life, running 10-minute miles never felt so good.
Then once I was less than a mile from the finish, I remembered that there was somebody I wanted to find.
I started looking around for the “Ironman – Hell Yeah!” girl - and found her right where she said she’d be. I pointed to get her attention, and we had this exchange:
Me: OK – say it now!
Her: IRONMAN – HELL YEAH!!
I gave her a high five and thanked her for her enthusiasm before making my way to the finish line.
The finish chute is about 100 yards long, and once I got there, I had it all to myself. I mean … is there any better way to finish a race? The crowd cheered while the announcer said my name, and the volunteers across the finish line gave me cool sponges and cold water before guiding me towards a shady place to sit.
This time, I knew I could stay seated as long as I wanted. My work for the day was finished.
Run stats: 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 2 minutes. Average pace per mile 9:13.
Epilogue: Merely a Muggle
(Admin note: this is the dime store philosophy portion of the post. If you just wanted details from the race report, I’m all done with that – so feel free to click away to your next destination. Leave a comment if you'd like to, and thanks for stopping by.)
I think that whenever someone writes a 5000-word recap, there’s a tendency to think of the event in somewhat epic terms. So with these final few paragraphs, I’m hoping to bring things back down to Earth a bit.
People often read ironman reports and find them absolutely amazing – and by extension, they think the people who do them are amazing, also. They may believe that only special people are born to do such tasks, and those people must be instilled with lightning-scar caliber powers the rest of us don’t have.
But from the other side of the glass, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, doing this event makes me realize how lucky I am just to be a part of it, and how dependent upon others I had been all along the way.
I wouldn’t be telling you about Vineman if about 100 little things hadn’t fallen into place for me over the past several years. If I had a different family, a different job, or lived in a different place, I probably wouldn’t be writing this report. If I didn’t have support from my training partners, or encouragement from everyone who has contacted me through this blog, or – perhaps most importantly – assistance from the countless volunteers, spectators, and fellow competitors on the course, my experience would have been far less fulfilling.
I’m not an amazing guy. I’m neither magical nor brilliant. I don’t even have a scar on my forehead. I’m just an ordinary dude who guessed right a few times, lucked out a lot more, and ultimately relied on the help of others to accomplish something fantastic.