A Dream Come True

Posted: October 16, 2012 in Race Reports

I have come to believe that some of life’s most meaningful moments come when you dream big and persevere until your vision is realized. That is what happened to me 12 hours ago. As a kid, I dreamed of being an Olympian. Several of my college teammates (Nordic skiing) made the U.S. Team – I knocked on the door but it did not open. I thought my window of opportunity for world championships had closed as my 20’s came and went – as did my 30’s. At 40, I tried my first triathlon. I soon set a goal to one day qualifying for the Ironman World Championships, aka “Kona” – the Holy Grail of long distance triathlon. Eight weeks ago, I broke my curse of just missing – I qualified for Kona at Ironman Mont Tremblant in August.

While the thought of jumping right back into training mode after Tremblant was less than thrilling, I knew that if I just worked hard for a few more weeks, my Kona dream would come true. With this being a potential one-in-a-lifetime experience, I decided to splurge and bring my kids so they could see their old man compete with the best in the world. Thankfully, my dad and his wife decided to join us, which greatly helped with logistics once I went into pre-race mode.

After arriving on The Big Island, I had a few days of light training and dozens of logistical items to attend to before race day. Soon enough, I was watching the sunrise across Kailua Bay as the top long distance triathletes waded into the warm waters. I worked my way through the pack to get a few rows back on the starting line. I took in the moment. This is the world championship, and I had made it. The beauty and spirit of the island was all around us.

Within a few minutes, the calm treading of water turned into a chaotic froth, and we were off. I stayed left of the main pack, which made for less (incidental) pummeling but also kept me from catching a draft. It seemed to take forever to get to the first turn (1+ miles), but soon I was heading back in the direction of transition. Finally, my feet were on solid ground again.

Swim: 1:19

Transition was busy but well organized. I took my time to make sure I had everything on, including another layer of sun block. Soon I was peddling away. The first hour was pleasantly uneventful, but then the crosswinds started to howl. I kept as aero as possible and carefully monitored my heart rate. We made to turn up to Hawi, and the crosswind seemed to becoming from both sides without any rhyme or reason . . . but soon turned into a brutal headwind. The turnaround in Hawi was a welcome sight – not only as a mental point of reference that I was now “heading home,” but also because it meant we’d pick up a tailwind for about 10 miles. Once back onto the Queen K Highway, we were hit by a crosswind that turned into a headwind. There was no escaping it – just has to grind it out. I wondered how much a toll these tough conditions would have on my run. I stayed focused on heart rate and power readings, as I kept telling myself that I have stuck to my targets and that all my training has prepared me to run well. It felt awesome to finally get off the bike!

Bike: 5:32 (20.2 mph) 

I could finally slip on my running shoes and not worry about potential mechanical problems or crashes – better yet, I could get my butt off that saddle! I eased into the run at just under a 7:00 minute pace, taking time to soak myself with water and ice at the first aid station. Mile 2 was a real treat because I could high five my kidlets, which I did again at mile 8 – this gave me an enormous mental boost, which I needed because mile 9+ brought a steep quarter mile hill on Palani Road. I knew once I crested the climb, the terrain would become quite steady for a while. I was now watching the pro race evolve in the opposite direction, a reminder that the world’s best were suffering in the lava fields too.

As I descended into the infamous “Energy Lab”, where the road surface was 115 degrees I’m told, I still felt fairly strong as I entered what has been deemed the hardest part of the run. I worked through some side stitches and made it to the turnaround at about mile 18. Soon I had to climb out of that section with a mile long ascent. I reminded myself that I trained regularly on much tougher hills. I also reflected on the beauty of the island, and how lucky I was to be there.

At mile 20, I was definitely feeling fatigued and had a couple of 7:30 miles. I decided in the moment to do two things to help me get home. First, I started drinking cola at the aid stations. Second, I dedicated each of the next six miles to people who have made such a positive impact on my life. I had a mile for mom – and thought of all her kindness and support . . . and for dad who is always there to go the extra mile for me . . . and for my kids, Evelyn and Ross who bring me such happiness in life. With the combination of caffeine and powerful thoughts, my pace quickened back to a 7:00+ pace.

With a mile to go, I could hear Mike Reilly announcing at the finish line. Goosebumps overtook my arms. My eyes welled. I turned onto Alii Drive for my final turn – something I had dreamed of for many years. My feet were floating. I felt no pain. There it was – the finish line. I was so pumped. My dream came true!

Run: 3:07 (7:10 min/mi)

My friend and chiropractor, Mike Santipadri greeted me with a bear hug. He had put me back together so many times over the past few years, and I am so grateful. We shared the moment of accomplishment. Before long I greeted teammates and friends.

A half a day after the race started, the best part was getting huge hugs from Evelyn and Ross as they gushed about how proud they were of me – little did they know how they helped me reach my dream through their love and support.

My Kona dream came through. For me and I suspect most Kona athletes, this was more than a race . . . and the preparation was more than simply training. When life becomes turbulent with highs and lows, the regimen of training provides a steady rhythm that helps keep one balanced. When I hit a point in a workout when I begin to doubt if I finish it, I remind myself that my competition is out there somewhere with that same choice – cut the workout short, or finish it off strong. Having chosen the latter almost every time, I then draw upon those moments when the going gets tough in a race. The deeper you dig your well, the more you can drink in a drought.

I am so very grateful to everyone who enabled me to reach and achieve – family, friends, QT2 coaches/teammates. Mahalo!!!

Final: 10:09, 22 out of 236 in my division.

Konabound

Posted: August 25, 2012 in Race Reports

“Konabound2012” became my password on several accounts in the past year (no, you can’t raid the $2.50 in my bank account). I’m betting that most of you were getting pretty darn tired of hearing me say, “Well, I had a good race, but missed Kona by one place again.” True, I’ve had a few heartbreakers, but I have become quite skilled at getting back in the saddle – more importantly, I have been so very fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends (including of course the QT2 coaches) who patted me on the back and believed in me. With all this in mind, please allow me to recap Ironman Mont Tremblant (IMMT) . . .

Alarm clock. Applesauce. Pump bike. Chills. Cannon. Chaos. Pummeling. Did I mention chaos? Swam 1:10. T1. In the saddle. Cool. Crowds. Hills. Wind. Biked 5:18. T2. Light legs. Seeing friends. Focus. Dig deep. Ran 3:08. Finished 9:47.

So, is 37 words too lean for a race recap? Did you know that Dr. Seuss only used 50 different words in Green Eggs and Ham? Do you think I was just being lazy? Actually, I had a normal version that was about 500 words (drop me a line if you really want to that version – I’m sure my inbox will be full in no time). No, I thought it might be more interesting to share my thoughts on my Kona quest . . . since that was so painfully long.

I have been bit several times by the Kona bug. I was channel surfing in 1982 and saw the grueling finish of Julie Moss – and wondered if I could have persevered the way she did. In 1995, I watched Paula Newby-Fraser run out of gas so close to the finish but got up eventually despite knowing Karen Smyers had won – and wondered if I would have been able to get back up. I made a habit of watching NBC’s coverage every year . . . seeing the raw duels Tinley/Scott to Scott/Allen to Baker/Newby-Fraser to Badmann/Bowden to Crowie/Macca to Chrissie/Rinnie and all the others in between. I screamed at my live feed on my laptop to watch my QT2 coach/teammate/friend Cait Snow run down the field and finish as the best placing American in 2010 and 2011.

I got to actually go to “The Big Show” in person in 2008 and 2009  — not to race but to be part of a support crew. The whole scene ignited the tropical air. The sense of accomplishment there is just not comparable to anything else I have experienced.

My intrigue at actually earning a slot and racing there took an interesting turn at about 11:50 p.m. at the finish line in 2009. I had returned to the race course to cheer in the last finishers. Because I had volunteered earlier in the day, I got to be “on the inside” behind the finish line where many past champions were hanging out, putting finishing leis on those crossing the finish line. While rubbing shoulders with those celebrity tri folks was a hoot, it was a conversation with someone I didn’t recognize that truly put me on my own path to Kona . . .

Her name was Cherie Gruenfeld. I naively didn’t know that she was perhaps the most accomplished master athlete in triathlon history. I later learned that she did her first Ironman at 48 and went on to be the first woman over 55 to break 12 hours . . . and that she has won her age group at Kona seven times!

Back to the finish line scene in 2009 . . . Cherie had just won the 65-69 division (in 13:22, two hours ahead of 2nd place!). She returned to the finish line to cheer on the last finishers. She didn’t tell me about her win but Mike Reilly spotted her and introduced her to the crowd. She was quite humble. She asked if I raced, and I told her that I do but not at this caliber and that I was here in support mode. Cherie pressed. I told her I trained hard for the past three Lake Placid Ironmans but that my results had plateaued at about a 10:40 result – not enough to get me to Kona. It then happened . . .

With a backdrop of a raucous crowd and blaring music as Mike Reilly whipped up the scene, Cherie (25 years my elder and taller than me) put a firm hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “Ted, of course you can do this . . . you just need to believe it and work hard. I expect to see you racing here.”

Her words rattled through my brain all the way back to Massachusetts. Within a month, I signed with the up-and-coming coaching program of QT2 Systems. Their personalized, analytical, and proven approach provided a great fit for me. Fast forward to IM Lake Placid in 2010, I took 40 minutes off my PR, finishing in 10:02 – a mere 19 seconds off a Kona slot. I was devastated. The QT2 coaches helped me pick myself up – and I signed up for IM Cozumel (4 months later). I took another 15+ minutes off my PR, finished in 9:46 – again, painfully close to a Kona slot. I got back on the horse but again just missed a Kona slot at the 2011 IM Cozumel and the 2012 IM 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake.

The QT2 coaches never lost faith in me, and I entered IM Mont Tremblant with cautious optimism. I knew there were only three things that would keep me away from Kona slots: 1) Poor pacing, 2) Poor fueling, or 3) an accident/mechanical beyond my control. So, the plan was to just focus on 1 and 2. Mission accomplished. I took 4th AG, 39th OA (chicked by 2, including my teammate and overall winner Jessie Donavan). It wasn’t until I actually had the coveted Kona slot confirmation paperwork in hand the next morning when it hit me that I had actually done it. I broke down, unexpectedly.

I share all this not only to describe a successful recipe: support systems (family/friends), superb coaching, perseverance, blood, sweat, and tears – for all of that is true and necessary to reach higher places . . . but I also want to share the power of influence . . . of those that have come before us, showing us how grit and suffering are just experiences on the path to victory . . . and the influence of those such as Cherie, who have a very special ability to meet a stranger and instill hope and confidence.

I owe a huge thanks to so many people. As my good friend John Krebs (who can’t stomach race reports) often quotes, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

Konabound at last . . .

Syracuse 70.3 seemed to be just what the doctor ordered . . . a half dose of IM with a dash of convenience being in the northeast, all positioned reasonably well to prep for my next “A Race” in Cozumel in November. In only its second year, this 70.3 had already bagged last year’s run course, but by all accounts it was a “fair course” with a mix of reasonable challenges.

Training had gone well, despite a naggingly tight right hamstring, which had never bothered me before. Twice in the two weeks preceding Syracuse, I had foregone a training run because the leg just didn’t feel quite right. “Why push my luck? It is not as though I’m going to gain speed right before a race. I’ll be fine,” I told myself.

Arriving in good old Syracuse reminded me of my college days at St. Lawrence. Not that I spent much time in Syracuse (was never sure there was much more to do other than watch the Organgemen of SU), but the countryside of upstate New York was like an old friend . . . plenty of rolling pastures, the smells of manure, and cow road signs with bullet holes. Yup, been here before.

The tour of the course confirmed the “fairness” factor . . . decent (i.e., calm) swim course, hilly bike but almost no extended climbs) . . . but then came the run course – a double lollypop with a big climb followed by a quarter-mile wall – ouch! But hey, I’m live at the top of a hill in Harvard, MA so everyone run ends with a climb.

Okay, enough preamble. Race day comes after two cold nights (in the 40’s). Water was mid-60’s. With a few minutes to go to the start, I noticed the starter was wearing a St. Lawrence hat. I introduced myself and found out he was a fellow alum and a current parent of SLU. Before I could chat it up, I was in the water and the horn blows.

Decent start. Got free from the chaos. Moving well until the first turn when I got a double challenge – sun just came up and smacked us directly in the face and we got a wave of novices from the wave in front of us. It was very hard to see, and I know I bummed out a few people by swimming right into them. By the time I could see again, the swim was almost done and I realized I felt much too energetic and had loafed most of the swim when I couldn’t see. Note to self: buy some tinted goggles.

Decent T-1. Put on some socks which I usually forego in a 70.3, buy hey my feet were numb and it was only 50 degrees out! I pushed the whole bike pretty hard. At first I passed folks pretty consistently with the occasional youngster buzzing by me, but the last 20 miles were pretty much a solo ride. I drank almost three bottles and peed twice (is that TMI for a blog?). Enter T-2.

I hit the run hard, knowing that I would have some work to do to make podium. 6:35 first mile and told myself I just needed to average just below 7’s to place – so, I backed off just in time to hit the first big hill – tough up for ¼ mile followed be steady up for about a mile. The course then had a ¼ mile steep down followed by a ¼ mile wall up. Near the top of the wall, the inside of my quads cramped hard but brief. From that point on, my right hammy was complaining. Hmmm . . . what to do? Stop here? May just go a bit more and stop if it gets worse . . . I kept going.

Mid-way on the run my average pace was 6:55 and other than the right hammy, I felt full of energy. I battled back up those hills on the 2nd loop and then began the decent. At mile 10, both hammies knotted wildly, but then released. Then it happened . . . my right hammy “popped” as if a knife jabbed me. Not good.

I hobbled to the next feed station. I tested it a couple of times but just couldn’t run. I decided to walk back to the finish area. After about a mile, I noticed that only one person in my age group had passed me, which meant I was in fourth. I continued to hobble and one passed me just before my finish  . . . 5th.

Light massage, ice, and a five hour drive. Not happy. Time for some serious the leg therapy to get me ready for IM Cozumel . . .

“The West” has always called out to me, and I am quite jealous that my little sister settled in Ketchum Idaho (home to Sun Valley skiing and Hollywood celebrities). After finally nailing IM Lake Placid last year (after three mediocre attempts), I looked for something different. IM Coeur d’Alene (CDA) seemed to fit the criteria of beautiful and different with great reviews. My QT2 coaches agreed and I signed up last August with 20 or so teammates . . . and then seven of my local tri friends also joined me.

Fast forward to this past spring . . . with a solid base under my belt and improving tempo and speed workouts, I was starting to get pumped for IM CDA and the high volume weeks ahead, but I “spoke” too soon. In late April, I experience a sharp pain in my left calf while hill bounding. I took it easy for a week and then unwisely entered a spring race. Since it was an interval pool start, I did not know how I was placing but I thought I had a shot at my first overall tri victory – albeit a small, local race, but hey, you gotta start somewhere! With a half mile to go on the 5k run, the sharp pain returned and I stupidly pushed it to the finish. I finished 6th (about a minute out of first). I didn’t have time to stay around to collect the cheap medal  (for winning my age group) . . . so I hurt myself for nothing.

I ended up getting treated by an amazing doctor (Mike Santipadri) and also completely shutting down my running (except pool running) to heal, which I did . . . just in time to taper into IM CDA . . . with my long run being my 70.3 run in San Juan in March. Onto CDA . . .

The eight of us arrived Wednesday afternoon and hunted down our house rental on Lake Hayden – turned out to be a beautiful, secluded spot. We quickly learned that the CDA water temperatures were some 10-15 degrees below normal due to a cold winter and spring. Apparently we arrived just in time for the snow in the peaks to be melting quickly into the lake.

On Thursday, we registered and set-up our bikes. We even found some rare deals in the Ironman store. A quick brick previewed part of the bike and all of the run course. We bought some fresh wild salmon for dinner and crashed.

Friday brought a new wave of nervous energy. We decided to go for a quick swim. Suited in neoprene from our ankles to our heads, we entered Lake CDA. Zikes . . . crazy cold. Face-stinging, heart-pounding, and breath-gasping cold. Althgouh several of our group made it a half mile or so, I didn’t last for more than 8 minutes before “waving the white flag” and hauling my frozen ass into the warm air. Worry set in. Another quick brick thawed me out.

The final day before the IM adventure was upon us. We racked our bikes, had a pasta meal with incredibly slow service at Tony Macaroni’s, and headed back to our abode to relax. We did make it to the Welcome Dinner where I was amazed to learn that a record 27% of the competitors were women, 900 competitors were IM virgins (1 triathlon virgin!), and some nut was going to do his 121st IM (talked about time and money on your hands!).

Later that evening, I reviewed past IM CDA results and my pacing plan that I had confidence in. I lay in bed thinking and believing that I didn’t need to do anything crazy to gain my first, elusive Kona slot. Follow the plan and the results will be there. That was my mantra as I nodded off.

Finally, race day arrived. Nerves. Repetitive mental checklists. Pre-race meals forced down gullets. Gels, bars, fluids, and air added to bikes. Double checked transition bags. Stuffing ourselves into neoprene. The anxious walk to the beach. National Anthem. Countdown. Starting cannon. Chaos running into the water. Froth. Kicks. Punches. Elbows. The usual.

After the first moments of absurd pandemonium subsided, it then hit me hard that it was just unbelievably cold (53 degrees I was later told). It reminded me of sprinting out of a sauna or hot tub in the winter and rolling in the snow, but with one obvious difference, there was no cozy place to retreat into. By the first turn, I was doing everything I could to relax and catch my breath. The swim back to end the first of two laps seems to take a long time. I exited the water and glanced at the clock. 37 minutes . . . about 5 minutes off goal, but I’d be happy to exit the 2nd lap in 1:14 in conditions like these.

Off I went into lap two. I got maybe a quarter of a mile and looked up to sight. Instead of seeing the buoys and picturesque horizon, I saw just about nothing. I completely stopped, blinked wildly, and looked again. I found the horizon but it was moving. The mountains were moving, or so my frozen brain thought. Not good. I remember swimming in what I thought was the right direction. I don’t know how much later, I bumped into something hard. A kayak that spoke to me. “Dude, your going 90 degrees away from the course. Turn around.” I really don’t remember much other than I lost control first of my fingers, then hands, and then forearms. I was thrashing not swimming, but did make some slow forward progress.

I exited the water and looked up. 1:25. Damn. 20 minutes off pace. I couldn’t unzip my wetsuit but staggered to some burly volunteers who took care of that. “The warming tent is over there,” someone said, “you need to thaw out.” I was shaking uncontrollably but was aware enough to know that I now already faced an uphill battle toward a Kona slot without sitting around to get warm. I decided to warm up on the bike.

I headed into the transition tent and sat down. More chaos around me as my hands violently shook and could not even open my T1 bag. All I could do is wait for a volunteer to free up. Finally, an extremely helpful man opened my bag and started to sort out what need to go where. Socks, vest, race number, helmet, and gloves. Not a long list, but when your extremities are completely zapped of strength and shaking, the most simple things take forever.

Onto my bike. My shaking turned into shivering. Shivering into cold. Cold into my old self. All this took an hour, but my heart rate and power were right on target. I gathered myself together and said some things right out loud. “Your Kona slot is about 30 minutes in front of you. You still have over 7 hours of racing to do. Be patient, but stay on the edge. No room for error now, but plenty of time to chip away. Just do what you have trained for. This race is not over!”

I ended up passing hundreds of people on the first bike lap, but even though I stayed steady, I was catching stronger riders more slowly on the second lap. My fueling and pacing were spot on – perhaps a tad too fast but I knew I had to push it a little. I would later learned that I passed over 900 on the bike. Within my division, I finished the swim in 163rd place and completed the bike in 52nd place. I needed to pass another 46 to claim a Kona slot. Of course I didn’t know these details but had a good sense that I would have to keep the pedal to the floor.

Running felt good. It was nice and warm with a light breeze. The legs were following very order without complaint, which was so very welcome after a spring of injury-recovery and a morning of overall body/mind pain. It was great to see fellow competitors eye to eye. The QT2 elites were flying . . . Tim with his “how ya feelin’?” (as he joined Craig Alexander to be the only two of the day to run under 3 hours), Cait with her seemingly effortless stride and ever-present smile, Doug from Boulder who ended up being the first amateur, Pat smoking to his AG victory, Jesse with his ever watchful eye on his flock, Rob who was having a great race and looked relieved and psyched to see me, Pattie whose smile said it all “I am running an IM the way I always knew I could”, and many others QT2ers to follow. Other friends fought on well too, Mauren, Steve, Dickson, Gary, Della, Mark, and Ian. Each in their own battle. Each dealing with discomfort. Each persevering.

I fell off pace only twice when the porta potty was just too good to pass up. I willed myself to keep pace. “Kona is in front of you. Go get it,” I’d say to myself. No one passed me during the run, and I gained some energy for each pass I made (which I later learned was about 300). It was becoming harder to find those in my division to pass. Eventually, with a few miles to go, I threw caution to the wind, and instead of my focus on fueling, pacing, etc., I just went. “20 more minutes. Anyone can suffer for 20 minutes . . . 15 minutes. Anyone can . . . “

At last, I reached the last half mile. Gradual downhill on the main drag to the clocktower. Crowds were thick and boisterous. I saw one more I could pass if I hustled. Maybe he was Kona. I gave it my all and later learned that my last split was under 6:00 minute pace. The Kona imposter turned out to be a 20-something who stayed just out of reach. I was done. 10:33. Between the swim and the finish, it turned out that I needed to pass 157 in my division to make it to Kona. I passed 150 and ended up just out of the running in 14th place. Defeated by a cold swim, but was pleased with my 5:32 bike and 3:21 run (2nd best in my division).

Kona will have to wait until 2012. Onto AG Nationals, Syracuse 70.3, and yes, IM Coz.

Hardware in Puerto Rico

Posted: April 1, 2011 in Race Reports

After a l-o-n-g winter in New England with many more dreadmill workouts than I care to admit, I planned and prepped for an early season half iron race in Puerto Rico – the inaugural San Juan 70.3 on March 19, 2011.

For those of you who know me, I seem to experience some version of Murphy’s Law when I travel – no matter how much I prepare. This trip proved no different. Thankfully, one does not need a passport to travel to PR – so, there would not be repeat of my IM Cozumel travel fiasco.

I had two medical appointments that had been snowed out twice this winter . . . but rescheduled on March 16th, the day before I headed out of Dodge to PR. Why the day before I can’t quite say, other than it was the only day both doctors had availability for the foreseeable future. I started at the dentist who had multiple projects in store for me: drilling, bonding, drilling, scraping, and drilling. Did I mention he drilling? Needless to say, he kept injecting Novocain as he asked me how to solve his running injuries and how the pace on a treadmill compares to the open road. Ever tried to answer questions with hands and needles in your mouth?

I left the dentist with new fillings, etc., but also with two lips that were completely numb. In fact I bit one without knowing it – so, I had a nice bloody drool seeping out. This is how I arrived at my next appointment – the dermatologist, whom I had never met. When the doctor finally arrived, he introduced himself and shook my hand. I then proceeded to talk with my numb bloody mouth as if I were either insane or drunk – or both. His smile quickly left his face and his attention promptly shifted to my hands that had some unusual blemishes. “Yup, these are pre-cancerous and need to come off. We are going to freeze these spots (about a dozen of them). Just a little sting . . .” Now, I swear, the smile returned to his face as his sprayed liquid nitrogen, which felt like bee stings on each spot as the skin turned white and frozen. “There you go. See you in a year.” With swollen, blistered hands and a fat, bloody lip, I returned home to finish packing.

Thursday morning came quickly. My bags and bike box cost more than I did – thank you American Airlines! The warm, humid weather was a treat to venture into after the crap weather at home. I located the condo, which turned out to be about 100 yards from the airport runway, above “Pablo’s Cantina,” and across the street from “San Juan’s Best Cockfights.” Whoa, not quite like pastoral Harvard, MA where I call home. But hey, the weather is hard to beat! After assembling bikes, I went for a quick spin and a run. Lots of traffic and pot holes, but no snow and ice.

Cockfights at Club Gallistico

Friday started with an incredible breakfast with my QT2 teammates. Our last big meal couldn’t have been better. They even had the real deal maple syrup for my big stack of pancakes and French toast. Everyone was psyched to race, especially after Coach Jesse and Chrissie handed out the new race kits. Several QT2ers who had biked the course the day before provided some helpful feedback. Coach Tim said to pay attention to “these animals . . . not sure what they are called . . . little dragon things that dart across the road like squirrels.” Jay, with his usual enthusiasm, warned that these iguanas were everywhere – dead and alive – but the road was pretty smooth.

Puerto Rican Squirrel

I went for a quick swim on the course, avoiding what race organizers called “sharp coral” but I could plainly see beer labels on these moss-covered shards. A final tune and rack of the bikes completed my pre-race tasks. Time to relax for a few hours before crashing.

RACE DAY

In true Ironman fashion, I got up insanely early, downed my applesauce, and quickly entered the day’s first race . . . for a parking spot. Who would have thunk that dozens of police would have set up roadblocks with barricades, flashing lights, and an armed SWAT team? On a whim, I approached the dude with the biggest gun and asked his advice on parking. Miraculously, he opened the barricade for me – and I scored a premium place to wedge in the rental van. Time to relax again.

Just as I counted out my fuel for the 10th time, I got that all-to-familiar sinking feeling that something was missing. My swim goggles. They were in the bag yesterday but not today. I mentally kicked the crap out of myself which helped nothing. When my QT2 teammate and good friend Della came up with an extra pair, I was greatly relieved no matter how scratched they looked.

At 5:30 a.m., I went to transition for the final set up of my gear. As I looked over my bike and stashed it with fuel, that stinkin’ Murphy’s Law hit me again. The cable housing for my front derailer had committed hari kari overnight. It had simply exploded into a nasty configuration of corroded strands of metal and plastic. I checked with the mechanics that were there but no one had the needed parts, and the race was now only an hour away. It will be fine, I told myself. As long as I steered straight, the cable tension was fine. If I steered left, the gears would shift. Just go with it I told myself.

Mechanical!

After a 15-minute walk, I arrived at the start scene which was chaotic but thankfully with plenty of porta potties – not too shabby for an inaugural race. The pros went off early. My wave was 30 minutes later. For the first few strokes, I was so pleased that I had escaped the mayhem without any elbows or feet in my face, and it looked like clear sailing. Then . . . both sides of my goggles filled, as these loaners just didn’t fit quite right for my apparently oddly-shaped eye sockets. The next 1+ mile was my rendition of Mr. Magoo Swims a Tri. I hit bodies, buoys, and boats, but finally made it. I exited the water side-by-side with my teammate Rick – quite the coincidence.

After a quarter mile jog to T1, I grabbed my bike and headed to the transition exit. The cable problem quickly pulled the front wheel to the left which then caused the front derailer to drop the chain. Jeesh, not exactly how I had envisioned my speedy mount onto the bike. In a quick moment, I was off and buzzing through the street of San Juan and onto a highway. Interesting course layout – essentially, you go out about 12 miles and do an 8-mile out and back section twice. Wind was tough but mostly I tried to ignore and just watch my heart rate. The out and back provided glimpses of everyone from World IM Champ “Macca” to first-timers. It was great seeing QT2 teammates, including Custie who buzzed by me with 10+ miles to go. I picked up the pace to keep him in view, but soon backed off when the heart rate went above what I thought was sustainable for the 2+ remaining hours of the race. Custie ended up backing off and we entered T2 together.

After a pretty quick (for me) transition, I gave it some gas as I started the run. Oh boy, now I could really feel the heat (in the 80’s) and humidity. The first couple of miles were the typical “heavy leg” struggle. We then hit the first (literal) wall – about 100 feet steep up and then gradual up after that. I found my legs by mile 3 and just kept a steady heart rate. The 3rd and 4th miles on the course were uniquely San Juan – cobblestones, rock arches, and a 10-foot wide path that followed the bay beneath the historic fort that saved the city from its enemies centuries ago. Of course by mile 5, it was all business – no more fun sightseeing, time to focus and run down as many as possible. I hit the turnaround near transition and felt strong heading to the second half of the run, yet I really did not have a sense of where I was in my age group. With some 3+ miles to go, I passed a fellow age-grouper Steve Kukta, who I met at IM Cozumel. He blurted, “Nice run, Ted! You can run yourself into 6th.” Whoa, that got me pumped. I pushed hard and knew I passed at least one more on my way to the finish. I realized, as I wrapped up the race, that the QT2 training truly had me prepared – as I felt, for the first time at a finish, that I was ready for more.

So, enough of the serious race talk. Before I could catch my breath, I knew I needed to take care of a blister I could feel on my toe – where no socks had saved some time in transition, but now I was going to pay the price. I headed to the medical tent. It was then I was reminded that I did not speak the native tongue. It happened that the doctors and nurses had been waiting for hours for some business, and I was one of their very first customers. Their focus quickly went to the dozen blood blisters that still covered my hands form my sadistic dermatologist. One blister had been scraped open on the swim and oozing some really cool-looking stuff. Before I knew it, they had me in a cot, taking vitals, hooking up I.V., and lancing everything that resembled blister on my hands and feet. Things started looking up when a masseuse worked out some tough spots on my legs. I gave my “gracias” over and over before heading out into the finish line chaos.

I searched hard for food (hadn’t eaten anything but bars and gels for quite some time) I hunted down some pizza and scarfed big time. It was then I was told I finished 5th – wahoo!

QT2 gear frequented the podium at the awards ceremony. Cait Snow took third overall after her blistering trademark run. Other teammates who “placed” were Michelle Joaquin (2nd F30-34), Hannah Freeman (3rd F25-29), QT2 Founder/Head Coach Jesse Kropelnicki (5th M30-34) . . . I was especially impressed with Keith Manning who gutted out a near photo finish to win the M50-54 age group. Keith, you are the man . . . el hombre!

Dinner with teammates the next evening was a hilarious collection of race stories. I ordered a local specialty called “Mofungo.” I sensed Chrissie thought (albeit correctly) that I might not be a connoisseur of  Puerto Rican cuisine when she asked me what I was eating. I recited what my dentist had just told me while happily drilling my teeth – that Mofungo was a signature dish in Puerto Rico, made with mashed plantains and can have a variety of meats added. Convinced I absolutely full of crap, she gave me that look of disbelief that we decided was the same expression couch potatoes give when you answer their question about the length of the Ironman distance – you know, that “all in one day?!” look. The expression is now known as the “Mofungo look.”

Mofungo

Oh, oh, did I mention it was my first podium finish in the triathlon world? 5th M45-49. My first IM trophy (a very expensive hunk of Lucite, but hardware nonetheless). I needed to find another 11 minutes for victory . . . that must be in there somewhere . . .

Swim 36:48
T1 4:19 (includes the 400m run to transition)
Bike 2:33:43
T2 1:39
Run 1:31:38
Total 4:48:07

Hardware Collected

Adventures in Cozumel

Posted: December 6, 2010 in Race Reports

My adventure at Ironman Cozumel began two days after Ironman Lake Placid, where I missed a Kona slot by 19 seconds. After 48 hours of my moping around wondering what I could have done differently to make it to the Big Show on the Big Island. So, I decided to get back on the horse at IM Coz.

Instead of my usual lazy fall, I entrusted my athletic life to Coach and Pro Triathlete Tim Snow of QT2 Systems, who patiently and promptly answered every one of my questions throughout the fall. I followed the program exactly. As my tri friends took time off in the post season, I found myself training solo – swimming at the phenomenal Swymfit facility in Boxborough, MA – running with Moab, my trusty black lab, in the dark before the start of my LONG commute that starts at 6:30 a.m. – and biking to Netflix in the basement, slightly overdressed without a fan to try to acclimate to weather south of the border.

After months of hard training and all my gear and bags packed, I went online the night before departure for Coz to get my boarding pass. I was, by the way, going to be travelling on the busiest travel day of the year – the day before Thanksgiving. As I logged onto American Airlines, it explained some new regulations about more personal data needed to fly internationally . . . date of birth, passport number, etc. I cracked open my passport that I last used in 2009, and my eyes fixated on the expiration date that had just passed. My forehead was on the table. Not good.

I spent the night formulating options. Try going with the hope it will get overlooked. Unlikely. Fly to Texas. Drive over the border and then fly to Coz. Nope – just changed the laws so passport needed to drive over the border. In the end, I planned was to camp out on the Passport Office’s steps and try to get an appointment. I looked online and found a flight out of Boston at 2:30pm to Cancun and booked it. All was going as planned (even found a 24-hour passport photo service for my mug shots) until the Passport Office’s phone lines opened at 8am. After trying various stories with three different reps, I was told in no uncertain circumstances that the soonest I could get an appointment was after Thanksgiving on Friday.

My stomach re-knotted. Then the last rep said, “Can you get to Norfolk, CT by 11am?” Before I could answer, the car was in gear. It was now 8:30am and my GPS said it was a 3 hour drive. Needless to say, I took my chances on the speed limit and started bombing down the Mass Pike. I then realized that it would be impossible to make the 2:30pm flight in Boston, and I called the airlines. For an extra $1,200, I could make a flight out of New York – no way, José. Then I asked about Hartford. There was a 2:30pm flight to Cancun, and I booked it. I made the passport appointment by one minute – 45 minutes later, I had a valid passport. Breaking some more speed limits, I started racing to Hartford though holiday and made the flight by 6 minutes. I made my connection in Miami by 10 minutes. I landed in Cancun to find out that the last ferry of the day to Cozumel leaves at 10pm from Playa del Carmen – It was now 9:10 and it was usually an hour drive. I loaded my bike box and bag into a taxi van – with extra pesos in hand, more speed limits were broken and was dropped off in the Playa del Carmen marketplace at 9:57. I ran through the marketplace, pulling my wheeled bike box as the crowd parted with expressions of “Crazy Gringo must have stolen big box on wheels.” I made it to the boat with a scant 30 seconds to spare. After weathering some nasty swells, I grabbed another cab and made it to the hotel by midnight. Holy mierda!

I spent the next few days recovering from my exciting travel and acclimating to humid 85 degree temperatures with high humidity. Coz was beautiful. The course looked great, except for the wind and some sections of less-than-smooth roads. My pre-race fueling went as planned until I looked for applesauce. Rookie mistake – should have brought some. I went to the “Mega Store” where you could by your tires, tacos, and tequila in the same aisle. Everything but applesauce. About to give up, I went by the bebé section and found little jars of Gerber baby food “manzana – 100% fruitas” and bought a dozen.

Race day took forever to arrive, and then it was there all too quickly. Forecast was for 85 degrees and sunny – a steamah! After a 10 minute drive from the hotel, I arrived at T1 to check on my bike. By chance, I exchanged well wishes with my two QT2 teammates at IMCoz, Dede Griesbauer and Tara Rasch. All looked to be in order, but something was missing. That knot in my stomach suddenly returned. My shoes! I left them out of my transition bag and planned to put them on my bike race morning. Luckily, I found a teammate who was there to spectate and offered to go retireve my shoes from the nearby hotel. Could I have added any more stress to my pre-race routine?!?!

I found myself treading water at 6:50 am with 2,300 others. Suddenly, a horn blew and the washing machine ramped up. I got a pretty clean start – off to the right as Tim had recommended. I didn’t realize how strong the current was until I aimed wide of buoy and then almost got pushed right into it. It was your normal slugfest, but not too bad. I was hoping for 1:01-1:04 split but got out at 1:06. Oh well, plenty of race ahead to make up for that. T1 was pleasantly uneventful.

Swim: 1:06:36, 78th AG
T1: 0:04:17

The bike was the toughest I’ve ever had. Three loops of the south half of the Island – sort of a modified triangle – 20 miles of gradually increasing headwind, 10 miles cross wind, and 9 miles of tailwind. The wind got stronger as the race went on but I kept my wattage on target. I drank a lot and took a water from ever station to drench myself to stay cool. I made it through without incident in 5:18 – right on pace. T2 was a breeze – used my only porta potty break for the whole IM – by far a new record for me.

Bike: 5:18:46 (passed 50 to move to 28th AG place)
T2: 0:02:57 (including porta potty)

I knew that finishing under 10:20 last year here earned got a Kona slot in my division. So, being what I thought was conservative, I figured “all” I needed was a 3:25 marathon to break 10 hours and get that slot. I started out at what felt very easy – after three miles, I had back way off slightly to hit my target of 7:20 pace. Following Tim’s guidance, I locked into this pace that included walking through feed stations every couple of miles. The first of three laps came in at 1:04 – right on pace. The second lap, with the exception of wiping out (decorative concrete with a shiny surface was very slick, so I discovered) at an aid station as I tried to reach for their last gel, went as planned – another 1:04. I then heard I was 12th in my division. I thought, “How could that be?” If I hold pace, I’d finish in a time that got at least 3rd place last year. The last 8.9 mile loop took a lot of mental and physical effort to stay on pace. With 5 miles to go, I was in a world of hurt but kept pace. I power walked feed stations at 21 and then again at 23, and then just gutted it out. Man, the miles were going by slowly now (but I later learned were my fastest at a 6:50 pace). Mile 24. Mile 25. Hands and face tingling and numb, I gave it everything. What felt like an eternity, I finally got within sight of the finish, and then I was done. All done. Ran a 1:05 last lap for a 3:13 marathon. Legs started to go to rubber as I finally succumbed to the heat . . . into the medical tent I went and absorbed two bags of I.V. An hour later, I walked out to find that I had done a 9:46. 9th place in age group.

9:46! Holly excremento, a 16 minute PR. 9th,WTF! (Out of a Kona slot, again – last slot went to one place better, again.) Some food, two bottles of Coke, and a massage, I came back to life and walked a mile to the hotel with IM Coeur d’Alene on my mind as the next ticket-to-Kona opportunity . . .

Run: 3:13:35 (new to me, but not uncommon for QT2, no one passed me during the whole marathon)

The whole island put their lives aside for a day to support the race. Out on the bike course in some rural areas, grandmothers and toddlers alike were on their feet, dancing, and/or beating drums to give athletes that extra boost. Water at feed stations was given out in nice water bottles with M-dots – they were hard to give up in the designated trash areas but I then realize that dozens of kids were scurrying for these “treasures” with huge smiles on their faces. The bike, T2, the run, and the finish were all in (or passed through) the center of Cozumel where the crowd support felt like Boylston Street on Patriots Day. Even before and after the race, the locals always voiced support and admiration for the Ironman athletes who stood out clearly among the throngs of soft, cruise boat tourists. Cozumel is friendly, beautiful, and the dollar goes a long way. I’ll be back some day.

Total: 9:46:11, 9th AG, 60th OA, PR

Another great adventure that will be engrained forever.