Wednesday, November 20, 2013

IRONMAN Florida Race Report by Dianna Cioppi

I watched my first Ironman when I was in my late teens and was in awe of what the men and women were physically and mentally able to do. The more I watched, the more I had a desire to do the same one day. Fast-forward many years and I began training for my first marathon through Fleet Feet Sports Huntsville. I couldn’t understand why I had such trouble breathing; I assumed I was just out of shape. Two years ago I found out that I had exercise-induced asthma. After trying different inhaled steroids, I still wasn’t much better. Then last year I found out that I’m allergic to all grasses and most trees. I take four medications daily and a rescue inhaler as needed. This has not stopped me from reaching my goals.

My triathlon journey began last year with a sprint, an Olympic distance, and finally with ½ Ironman. This year I have completed seven triathlons and trained non-stop in preparation for Ironman Florida on November 2. The week before and leading up to the race, one of my sweet boys got me sick. The problem with taking steroids is that it weakens ones immune system; So it takes me longer to recover from a cold or flu shot. Two days before the race I was in bed with earache and head congestion. This is not how I wanted to be feeling going into my first Ironman race. So decided to suck it up and start taking DayQuil and ear drops. I woke at 3:30am the morning of the race to eat and get ready. I tried to lie down to relax, but it didn’t help much. On my way to get body marked, I told Marco that I was going to cry. He looked at me like I was crazy. My nerves were getting to me, or fear of the unknown.

Now it was time to get my wetsuit on and work my way down to the beach. Ironman had self-seeding for the swim start. Everyone was instructed to get into groups based on their projected swim times. I had planned on starting with Jodi Bump. As I looked for her, I heard the announcer ask about 1st timers and a lot of people that I was standing around, raised their hands. At this point I moved far right in hopes of finding some room. I felt my nerves getting to me again. I hear a lady behind me praying with another athlete and I start to cry. No I wasn’t PMSing! I looked around for Eric Doehrman’s calming words “easy peasy”, Jennifer Bell saying “it’s ok love”, or Dana DeBardelaben “you’ve done the training, now let it show”.

I couldn’t find anyone.

The gun went off and off I went.

It took me about 20 minutes to get into a rhythm swimming in the human blender. After the first loop the spectators that were behind a barricade were no longer, and were right at the waters edge. Since I couldn’t get past them to go wide I had to start swimming from inside the buoy line out. On my second loop, I saw some familiar swimmers around me. As I passed the second turn, I saw Huntsville’s Duck Dynasty (Clayton Warden), then came the zig zagger (Dink Taylor), and even someone doing the backstroke (Kim Holmes I thought of you).

Coming out the water, I headed to the strippers. My wetsuit got stuck on my watch, and then as the lady was pulling down my suit from my hips, she nearly took my tri shorts with it. I’m glad I had a lady and I won’t forget to tie my shorts next time. I headed to T1 and had the nicest chat with the lady helping me. I gave her a hug and I was on my way.

The first hour of the bike I rode very easy, knowing that I had many miles to go and a full marathon after the bike. Whenever I had a headwind or incline I rode easy and when I didn’t I took full advantage of the free help. At mile 50 the road was horrible. Every four feet there was a bump in the road. For the next 12 miles I was in pain. I was able to see my sweet friend Dana DeBardelaben at the bike special needs station. As I talked with her I squirted chamois cream down my pants and then took some DayQuil and was off again. Around mile 75 I started to loose my appetite for food and my EFS drink. I knew that I had to keep drinking and eating so I alternated EFS with water and took bananas from the aid stations or HoneyStinger Chews. My legs felt great on the bike; it was my belly that wasn’t feeling so good. Around mile 85 I noticed that I was starting to cough. I had already taken DayQuil so I shouldn’t have been coughing. The cough turned into my “barking” asthma cough. I backed off a bit and monitored it.

I felt strong all the way up to the moment I got off the bike. I stopped one other time to close my box that carried my bike supplies. As I headed into T2 this cute brunette asked if I needed help. We both gave each other that look “I know you”. It was Natalie Westbrook. We chatted as I got my run gear on and took my rescue inhaler. Sorry for being so stinky Natalie.

From the moment I got off the bike my legs felt good, but again it was my belly that wasn’t doing well. The first mile I went out a little fast, so I made a conscious effort to slow it down. Miles 2-9 I tried to keep a consistent pace. Any sign of belly problems I popped into a “gotta go” box. I ended up stopping briefly each mile, then after the half waypoint my stops lasted a little longer. I stopped eating during miles 9 and 10 and only took sips of water. I knew I needed to stay hydrated and try to continue to eat. At mile 11 I drank a coke and chicken broth. Yes, this vegetarian drank chicken broth!! This combo was the bomb!

At this point I began walking through part of the each aid stations. Half way through the run I took my special needs bag. I took more DayQuil and washed it down with Pepto. My stomach really started to rebel towards the end of the run. I made any necessary stop for as brief of a time as possible. As I was running in the dark, I’m thinking, “damn it’s dark, I should be relaxing with a glass of wine”. It would’ve been nice to have someone to run with, but either they were walking or running too slow. I thought about Christy Scott, Dana Overton, Dink Taylor, and Eric Fritz running a 100 miles at Pinhoti while I was finishing my run. No thanks guys. I don’t have any desire to run 100 miles!

I saw Eric Doehrman at mile 25 and he ran with me and chatted briefly. I was on my own and headed to the finish. The crowd was incredible, giving cheers & high fives. Once again I started to get choked up. It was almost impossible to cry and sprint to the finish. Yes, I said sprint. I can’t explain why I was upset. Was it the long journey that I’ve been on to get to this point, the wonderful people that have come into my life over the years, or the sadness of my mom not being able to be here to see me. Whatever the reason I made it.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Great Floridian Long Course Triathlon: The End to My First Triathlon Season by Dink Taylor

I must go back to that miserable stay in the hospital back in September of 2012. I lay in the bed with a life threatening condition. Since I was in ICU, I was allowed no visitors except for an occasional 30-minute visit from family. I was, however, able to receive visits from doctors. Since there are a lot of doctors in the area that are physically active, I have had the pleasure of getting to know several of them and many came to see me.

My personal Doctor, Jonathan Krichev, came in too. I don’t remember much about the visit except he seemed calm and confident that I would recover from the stroke. The odd part of his visit is this: He claims that I told him that I was going to get out of that hospital bed and do an Ironman Triathlon. You must know that I just don’t remember that part of the conversation because, at the time, I had no interest in swimming and I did not own a road bike. 

It was February. I sent in my entry to the Augusta 70.3 Ironman. I start going through process of beginning a training program. I went to Bicycle Cove and got myself a road bike. The first ride came very easy and was fun. I grew up riding bikes everywhere I went. It came very natural to me to get back on a bike. I only had to make a few adjustments and get used to the idea of riding with cars on the roads, they made me nervous when they passed.

My mind continues to go back to that first swim. I still remember asking myself just what have I gotten myself into? The swim was a struggle. While the bike came rather easy, the swim did not. I never participated in swim team growing up. I basically just knew how to get around in the water. We grew up jumping off cliffs in Noccalula Falls in Gadsden and playing in the neighborhood pool.  I had no formal swimming lessons.

Although I have been running since 1979 consistently, I had no triathlon training experience. I did a few things. First, I joined Team Rocket Triathlon Club. I felt like I needed to be around some Tri guys and girls to learn more about the sport. Next I joined the Fleet Feet Tri 102 training class. Even though they offered a true beginners class, I felt like I needed to move a little faster and skipped Tri 101. The Tri 102 class is really where I learned the most about cycling from David Rawlings and Donnie Holmes. This is also where I learned about bricks. Running off the bike was easy for me to adjust to.

I sent a text to a friend of mine in Ohio, Jody Herzog. Jody is a fellow Fleet Feet owner and I knew he had done the Florida Ironman. I needed a training guide for Augusta 70.3. He sent me his 6 month training log of exactly what he did for Ironman Florida. In return, I sent him my training logs from my fastest time at JFK 50 miler since he is running it this November. I figured his Ironman training might be good for my 70.3 and then if I ever decided to try a full Ironman, I would have the schedule.
June rolled around and so did my first triathlon at Mach Tenn. The swim was only 0.6 but it was open water. We had a very windy day and the water was rough. I could not get stroke going for anything and I was again thinking, “What have I gotten myself committed to?” A 1.2 mile swim was going to be impossible for me. I thought to myself, there is no way I could ever even consider doing a full Ironman because the swim is 2.4 miles. Once I got out of the water at Mach Tenn and got on the bike, things got better. I had my road bike and I was passing folks like crazy and several of them were on some pretty fancy bikes. Then the run was even better, I felt like I was back at home on the run and ended up with the number 1 run split in my division. This brought my interest level up. I thought, I just started this Tri stuff and I am already leading my division on the run by a nice margin. Even in the overall standing I produced one of the fastest runs. Maybe I should not give up so fast on the Tri scene!

From Mach Tenn I started searching the Tri race calendar. I decided that the more triathlons I could do the better. I needed more experience. I would just keep going to every race in the area and learn by trial-and-error. At every race, I was a nervous wreck about the swim. Looking at the swim courses, they always looked long. I just kept facing my fears time and time again. Things continued to get better and after I continued work on the swim, it got better too. I made several trips to Guntersville Lake and just kept facing my fears by doing as many open water swims as possible. I am still pretty slow by most swimmers standards but I do not care, I am participating.
As the summer months continued, my training continued to get better. I remained focused and disciplined with my training. What I mean by discipline is that I got up many mornings at 4:00 am and took no days off. I made no excuses and just did not miss workouts. 

July 18. This was a special day for me. Suzanne Taylor, Dianna Cioppi, Kasandra Gardner and Suzanne Ericson met over in Scottsboro for an open water swim practice. As usual I was very nervous. We got to the swim site and the water looked pretty smooth. Kasandra pointed to a boat house across the way and said, 'That’s the direction we will swim." She said it was a mile.

I said, "What?? Are we swimming there and getting out and walking back?"

She said, "No. We will regroup over there and swim back."

I basically said, 'No way,' and that I would walk back. Kasandra said she would stay back with me and I said, "No." We got in and started swimming. The fast girls were gone in no time, like dolphins going through the water. That was pretty intimidating for a rookie swimmer like me.

I got my stroke going and things were pretty slow in developing. Dianna was in just her second triathlon season and had just learned to swim, herself, not too long ago. She was not so far ahead of me that I could not see her. This made me feel a little better since the other girls had gone away so quickly. Fifteen minutes into the swim I was about ready to quit. At this point in time, every swim for me seemed like it took forever. If I could just get to the 20-minute point of the swim, things always seemed to get better. I thought to myself I can’t quit

I kept my stroke going and practiced sighting. I worked hard enough so that I did not get too far behind. The next thing I knew, all the girls were sitting there treading water and waiting on me at the turn-around. They said, "Lets go back now."

I said "Okay, I’ll be there when I get there, don’t wait on me." I made it back, dead last, and it took me 1:23:00 to swim two miles. I was ecstatic. The girls looked at me like I crazy (or something), but I was excited to have just swum two miles in open water. It was a new day, and it was that day that I decided that I could do a long course triathlon. If I can swim 2, I can swim 2.4 by golly, even if I am slow!!
The next thing I found myself doing is searching the race calendar for a Full distance Tri. Augusta 70.3, while still a very important race to me, was not going to be my final race of the season. I wanted to go the FULL distance, 140.6 miles. The problem was that all of  the races, especially the Ironman events, were sold out. Not only were a lot of races sold out, I had to make it fit into my calendar. I work a lot of races. My first choice was the Beach to Battleship. I heard good things about that race, but it fell on the same day as the Spooktacular 5k, our race, so that one was out. The only race that seemed to fit was Great Floridian Triathlon. I honestly did not do a lot of research on the race; I just signed up and made the commitment.

The season continued. I continued to make improvements in every aspect of the sport. The distance of the triathlons continued to get longer. Rocketman was my first Tri that took over 2 hours and then Augusta 70.3 was well over 4 hours. I felt like these races were a perfect build-up towards GFT (Great Floridian Triathlon).

I spent the last three weeks, before the race, swimming in the open water only; no pool swimming. At this point in time now, I prefer the open water. It’s almost like comparing running on a treadmill to running outside. I don’t run on a treadmill! I like to run outside. With the temperatures lowering, I also spent the last three weeks in a wetsuit. After swimming all summer without a wetsuit, that first swim at Guntersville Lake was a real eye-opener for me. I could not believe how much faster the swim is with a wet suit! Swimming in a wetsuit also gave me a new swim confidence that I never had before. I now believed the 2.4-mile swim was going to be smooth and easy.

The week before the race I started checking the weather forecast. It did not look so good. In fact, it looked bad. It was going to be hot. Waking up to cool mornings here at home made it just not seem possible that it could be so warm down in Clermont, FL.  I started adjusting some of my last workouts, shooting for the middle of the day and temperatures were still only in the upper 70s. Race forecast was calling for low 90s.

Tuesday. I am preparing all of my equipment and packing. I used a check list and did not forget anything. Water temperature is 81 in the lake at Clermont. Wet suit legal is 76 and below. I am starting to panic. I have now gone from a confident wetsuit swim to likely no wet suit. My confidence was fading. Only one time in the previous twenty-two years had the race not been wetsuit legal. This would surely hurt my swim time.

Wednesday. One final trip to the bike shop and then I hit the road alone. Suzanne was going to fly down on Thursday evening. I stopped in GA on Wednesday night. I was starting to settle down a little and relax.

Thursday. A few hours on the road and I was in Clermont FL. It had been pretty flat driving until I got to Clermont, and then there were hills. Lots of them. I started to realize that this was not only going to be hot, but hilly as well. No wonder it was so easy to register for this event, only few people ever do this one more than once!

I went straight to the race site. I was one of the first ones there. I checked in and got my packet. I had everything with me so I decided to do a short swim bike run. I ask the event coordinators about the lake.

“Do I have to worry about alligators out there?” I asked.

They said, “There are plenty of alligators in there but just stay away from the weeds.”

This did not sit too well with me. The water looked great and there was a nice white beach. No one was swimming. I needed a short swim, and since I had not swum without a wetsuit in a few weeks, I really needed a swim without it. The water felt great and the lake water was clearer than Guntersville Lake. I am here to tell you, I was petrified! Everything that moved in the water might as well have been an alligator. I managed to get in fifteen minutes of swimming, but it was horrifying. Everyone has always told me, 'no open-water swimming alone!' Here I was doing an OWS, alone, in alligator infested waters! I could not wait to get out of the water. As scared as I was, the water felt good and I knew that come Saturday morning, with all the boats and other athletes, alligators would not be on my mind.

I jumped on my bike for a short 22-minute ride on the run course. The roads around Clermont had too much traffic for me and I was not familiar to the area, so I just rode on the greenway. It felt good to be on the bike. I got off the bike and did a 10-minute run. It was hot. Really hot. I felt like I had gone right back to August, and I could not believe it was going to be this warm for my first 140.6. I was off to the airport to pick up Suzanne.

Friday morning I got up and did a 3-mile run. It was very hot. We went back to Waterfront Park, where the race would take place. I checked my bike into T1. It was very sunny and very hot. While I walked around and got familiar with the transition area, I ran into an old friend, David Harper. David lived in Huntsville twelve years ago and had run Mountain Mist several times. He had also completed the Badwater 135-mile run. David was an experienced athlete and I trusted his opinions about this race. He lives in Clermont and he spent the next forty-five minutes giving me full details about the race. He said the bike course was very hilly. He said it was going to be hot. The one thing he told me that stuck in my mind the most was this: “This course wears on you, and it is much harder than anyone knows.”

I took him seriously. I realized then that my plans to “race” must be changed to “survive and finish."

I also went to the pre-race briefing. It was low-key and done by the race director. He said, “Add one hour to your normal Ironman finish time for course difficulty, and this does not include the heat.” I know most people have a time goal they set; myself included. With all my years of experience racing, I have learned to adjust my goals according to the conditions. This is a must. I was very disappointed with the forecast, but finishing was more important than any posted times. Although I had my splits written down, I made a decision to forget the splits and focus on staying in control and finishing.

Saturday. I am sitting in my Tri kit near the beach and it is 30 minutes from the start. I felt like everything at Augusta 70.3 was perfect and everything at GFT 140.6 was the complete opposite. I felt like maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. No wetsuit. I could not get a pressure reading on my back tire, so I just guessed. Alligators in the water, a hilly bike course, and a somewhat hilly run course... things just were not going my way. The forecast was 90F and it would surely get there by the start of the run. I asked Suzanne to get her phone out and search for a song on youtube for me, “Sweater Weather.”

I listened to this song and it got me very relaxed. For whatever reason, this song makes me feel good and it makes me relax. It stuck in my head. The water was smooth. The race officials said smoother than usual. The lake was big and for the first time in my life, the swim course did not look long. Maybe it was because it was a two-loop swim and the lake was so big. The gun went off and the long multi-sport trek began.

It was a mass start but the field was rather small. There were a couple of guys that just had to push and shove me out of the way. I think they do it on purpose. I let them go and just focused on relaxing and keeping my stroke going. I wanted just to stay on course and to not stop swimming. The song continued to play in my head, it made me relax and I felt good. I felt like I was swimming in slow motion, it was not a bad thing. I felt like I was dreaming. I think I was.

With my first loop down, I came out of the water to start the second loop. This was the first time I had ever experienced coming out of the water during a swim. It really made no difference to me. I would just as soon not come out and just kept swimming. First loop was forty minutes (or so) and I was very pleased. As soon as I started the second loop, the daylight broke a little more and along with the daylight, came a little wind. It made the water a bit choppier and, even though I swam a little harder, I slowed just a little on the second loop. 2.4 mile swim done, 1:23:03. I had planned to swim 1:25:00 with a wet suit, so I came out of the water with a smile on my face. It would be the best I felt all day. I felt like I had just done a full Ironman swim legitimately, no wet suit. When I do get to do one with a wetsuit, look out, I think I can take another 10 minutes off my swim time for sure!

T1 was 3:29 and I took my time. I knew the day was going to be long. I had a lot of sand on my feet so I wiped them off the best that I could. A long bike ride awaited.

Since it was a 3-loop bike course, I wanted to spend the first loop getting familiar with the course and the aid stations. Immediately, we started climbing. I was out of the saddle in the first mile. I stuck to my plan of 200 calories per hour and I drank water only. The bike was warm from the beginning and very sunny. I had heard stories of “Sugarloaf Mountain” and how tough it would be. There were so many hills that I asking myself, 'is this the mountain?' I was not sure which one it was until I got there. Sure enough, I had to drop to my small ring and my smallest gear to make the climb up. Several were off their bikes walking them up the hills. I had never seen this before. People were actually getting off their bikes and pushing them up the hills! This became a regular sight all day. Not me!! I have yet to find a hill I can’t ride up. I feel like if I can ride up Keel Mountain in training, I should be able to ride up these mountains during a race.

I kept the bike ride smooth and easy as possible. It was hot, especially going uphill. Everyone, including myself, is surprised to find out that there are hills in Florida. I can tell you, they are there. In fact on several of the downhills, I reached 45 mph. It's a little fast for my comfort zone, but I just remained in the aero position and prayed that I did not crash. I did not feel like my bike was anything special. I actually felt like it was slow, and that maybe the heat and hills were too much for me. My feet started hurting at 100 miles along with my right shoulder, as usual for that distance. I knew with twelve miles to go that the bike was pretty much done. That Sweater Weather song and another song by the Goo Goo Dolls continued to play in my head all day.  I finished up in 5:46:05, with an average speed of 19.4vmph. I thought that was about as slow as I could possible go on the bike. I thought 20 mph would be more my speed, so I was a little disappointed. I also was not taking the hills and heat in to account. It was the hilliest bike ride I have ever done: over 3000’ feet of elevation gain. I know that is not too much, but it is like riding up Monte Sano three times and we all know what that can do to your average bike speed.

T2 was 3:40. I still took my time. After 112 miles on the bike, I felt like there was no reason to rush into a marathon run.
The start of the run was miserable. The sun was shining and the temperature was over 90F. Heat index was 100. It was 3:00 p.m. and I was setting out to run a marathon. My skin felt like it might catch on fire. My first mile felt easy and was just under 8 minutes. I thought, 'I can run this pace pretty easy but it sure is hot!'

I had been hydrating pretty well all day. I had peed three times during the swim and five times on the bike. After the first mile on the run it was already time to pee again, only this would be the final time. Just stopping to pee that first time made me start sweating really heavy. Mile 2 was around 9 minutes. I was able to average a 9-minute pace for the first seven miles. The course would be a series of out-and-backs, 3 loops on the greenway. Half was flat and the other half, rolling hills.

I knew it would be hot, but not this hot. In the world of triathlon, you are not allowed any aid from anyone. You must take your own or get what the aid stations have to offer. On the bike, I had gone through all of my sea salt.  Sea salt works best for me, not the tablets. This was the biggest mistake that I made. I was not prepared to go through so much salt. I thought I had enough for the bike and the run. I should have had another full container for the run, but I did not. My run without salt was going to be a problem and I knew it.

I told Suz the first time I saw her that the marathon was going to take me over 4 hours. She said just get it done. I told her that is was just too hot. I have been doing long distance events for more than 30 years. I know that if the temperature is over 85 degrees, I am going to have problems. I also know that the real problems will start at around 11 hours. This day would be no different.

When it gets this hot I just can’t eat. I took one Gu on the run and then I was done eating for the day. For the rest of the marathon, I could only drink Coke with ice. I put ice down the back of my shirt and down my shorts, it did not help much. From 8-13 miles I averaged around 9:30 pace. I was walking through every aid station.

13 miles is when the real fun began. The cramps started in the insides of my quads. I was totally happy with my 9:30 pace. I ran smooth, but when I cramped I would have to stop and either massage the cramp out or stretch it out. I can tell you that stopping does nothing to help your average pace. From 13-21 miles I could only manage an 11:30 pace.

21 miles in, I had to stop and throw up. My stomach had shut down completely. I threw up three times. I was hoping it would make me feel better. I only had a 5-mile run left. I would have to stop and throw up six more times in the final 5 miles. It was dark by this time, but the heat was still intense. Although I was struggling, I knew that I was going to finish.

I was about 100 yards from the finish. I had just gotten over another cramp. I did not care about my time, I just wanted to be done with this race, just like at Vermont 100-miler last year, I just wanted to be done!

Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was overcome with emotions of finishing a race. I had gotten plenty excited over finishing races before. This finish was different than any other. My mind drifted back to the beginning of the year to when and why it all started. My heart was filled with happiness and I felt like tears were coming to my eyes. Just before the finish line, I pulled myself together and I was done. Despite all the factors that told me that I could not do this I did. I think about one of my most favorite quotes by Sir Edmund Hillary, “It’s not the mountain we conquer-but ourselves.” I faced my fear of the swim, the 112-mile bike ride (I had never ridden that far) and being able to run a marathon at the end, it just did not seem possible to me 6 months ago!

I will be the first to tell you that I was very disappointed with my run. My 4:48:25 marathon was just not acceptable to me. After I finished the race, I just wanted to lie down. There was no celebration.  I was not happy with my overall time of 12:04:48. Yes, the race was hilly and hot; but I really wanted to believe that I could do better.

The girls in the medical tent said I finished 6th. They were actually wrong, I was 9th. I promised myself that my first year of triathlon would be about participating, learning, and getting some experience. Competition would not be important to me this year. With that being said, I must admit when I did see the results of the race, I felt much better. Being patient and cautious with the heat paid off. Not only did I manage a top 10 over all finish, I was 1st in the Men’s 45-49 age division.

My swim was nothing special, competitively speaking, but it was the most pleasurable part of my race, it was the only time I was not hot. It would be the bike that separated me from my competition. I thought I did not ride well, but there were only a few others that rode better. Only one guy managed to average 20 mph. I finished 28 minutes ahead of the second-place in my division (on the bike), which was the difference in the race.  My run was 3rd, but only 10 seconds behind 2nd and 3 minutes out of 1st place. Heck, I spent more than 3 minutes throwing up!

Suzanne Ericson told me one time that the Ironman would be a life changing experience. I must say I disagree. While completing the Ironman was exciting and a major accomplishment for me, it was not life changing in any way. My life had already been changed before the start of the race. What has been life changing, is the sport of triathlon. Whether it is an Olympic-distance race, like Rocketman, Augusta 70.3, or any Long Course Traithlon, the sport of triathlon, and what it takes to complete any race, is what is life changing. Triathlon has certainly changed mine for the better.

Thank you for leading me in the direction of the sport, my fellow Triathletes. I have had several people help me along the way and help me reach my goal. I have shared lots of miles in the water, on the bike and on the run. I have enjoyed every minute of the training. Now, when do I reach “non-rookie” status? I still don’t consider myself a true triathlete yet. Can someone tell me my next phase? I am still learning and if I have my way, I will return to the start of another Ironman. If the day and course are right, I fully expect to go faster... much faster. You can count on that.

Training for this race required a lot of time. I personally like to look at numbers. I picked out the month of September and feel like it was the most important month while getting ready for the 140.6. Here is a quick glance at what kind of training I did to be prepared for the race. This was also the biggest training month of my life:

September 2013, 30 days, no days off:
Swim 13 miles, 11 workouts, 1.2 miles average per workout;
Bike 733 miles, 18 workouts, 40.7 miles average per workout;
Run 200 miles, 26 workouts, 7.7 miles average per workout;
Core fitness, 8 workouts, 30 min each;
Longest swim 2.2 miles;
Longest bike 100.1 miles;
Longest run 26.2 miles;
Total workouts, 63 workouts;
Total time spent working out- 77 hours, 18 hours per week average, 2.6 hours per day average.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Augusta 70.3 Half Ironman Race Report By Timothy Pitt

The plan for this race began quite some time ago with some of my local Arab, AL training buddies.  It has been my experience that the best races always start out that way.  A group of friends planning, training, and completing an epic race together!!  So, up front I have to give a shout out to Joe Bennet, Ricky Morrow, Adam Goss, and the man, the myth, the legend: Mark Dummer!! 

The journey began on Saturday as we departed from Arab just shortly after 6am. We drove the five and a half hour trip without any problems and relatively few stops, which was impressive considering we were extremely well hydrated!!  We arrived at our hotel in downtown Augusta and got checked in.  We quickly headed over to the expo and even though it was busy it did not take very long for us to get checked in and pick up our packets and race chips. After a quick bite to eat we grabbed our bikes and headed down to the transition area for check in to leave overnight.  The transition was huge!!  Lots and lots of bike racks!! We took a few minutes and did a walkthrough of how the race would flow through and to get our orientation to our bikes down.  We all went and grabbed dinner together at a nice local restaurant down by the river walk.  Then it was back to the hotel to get everything ready for the race in the morning.

Race morning started at 4:45am EST.  We all went down to eat breakfast in the hotel at 5am.  I had a quick bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee.  You could feel the excitement of the race at breakfast as we all joked around as we ate.  We grabbed all of our stuff that we would need in transition and made the short walk to the host hotel to grab a shuttle down to the transition area.  The whole town was filled with people and bikes moving around getting prepared for the race start! We made quick work setting up all of our stuff.  They really squeeze those bikes close together in these large events.  After airing up my tires, placing my bottles of sports drinks on the bike, and setting out my bike and run shoes we all jumped back on the bus to head to the race start. 

The bus dropped us off and it wasn’t even 7am yet.  Mark was the only one of us who was in an early wave (7:48am).  Adam and Joe started about 10-15mins before Ricky and I who were in the same 9am wave.  We wished Mark well and the rest of us went back to the hotel to wait till 8am before heading back to the start.  After a few photos and seeing Joe and Adam start, Ricky and I hustled down to join our wave of 80-100 guys.  We fearlessly pushed our way to the front of the group and when it was our turn to walk out on the dock we found ourselves close to the center of the river!!

Figure 1: At the swim start. From Left: Adam Goss, Timothy Pitt, Joe Bennet, and Ricky Morrow.

Swim: At 9am on the dot the air horn sounded and we hit the water.  It was a non-stop fight in the water for the first 400-600 meters!! I got kicked and pushed like crazy! I just kept my head down and swam on.  This swim was fast, no doubt about that!!  It was down current with a wet suit and straight as an arrow. I bet I only sighted six times.  Before I knew it we had reached the boat dock!  I looked down at my watch as I was walking out and was in shock to see 26:xx!!  I hustled my way to the wet suit strippers and the ladies applying sun block. Swim Split: 27:04

Figure 2: 9am swim start wave. Ricky and I are sitting at the far end of the dock.

T1: It was a long run from the boat ramp to the bike! I hustled the best I could and got to the bike.  I threw on my helmet, socks, bike shoes, glasses, and race belt.  I ran with my bike all the way to the mount line. T1 Split: 4:16

Bike: It was great to be on the bike and heading out. We started with a slight head wind and the temps were a little cool.  I made quick work of my first bottle of sports drink and had it down before the 15 mile mark.  The bike course was nice with lots of rolling hills.  My only complaint was that it was very congested.  I tried to keep my effort in check and stay consistent. My goal was to try and average 20mph over the ride.  Over the course of the ride I pushed 5 gels down and 2 bottles of water from the aid stations.  The bike went very well for me and I picked up the pace over the last 15-20 miles with a slight tail wind that helped.  Bike Split: 2:46:55 (20.13 mph avg)

T2: I made quick work of T2. I was feeling pretty good and glad to be off the bike! T2 Split: 3:20

Run:  Ahh, the run. The best part!! I left T2 moving well and trying to make sure I did not get carried away in the first 5k of the half. I did not have a gps watch so I was just running off of feel being sure I was paying attention to my breathing.  The first mile marker I noticed was the 2 mile and caught a quick glance at the watch and saw I was averaging about a 7:15 pace so far and feeling great.  Unfortunately, I had some stomach issues show up before the 3rd mile. All said and done I had to make two quick stops before I made it to the 8 mile mark.  I lost 3-4 mins total to those stops, but I stayed positive noting that my legs felt great and I was moving well.  I came through the 10 mile mark, working harder than before, and noted I was just slower than a 7:30 average with only a 5k to go. For the first time I looked at my total elapsed time. I saw that I had 21-22mins until I hit the 5 hour mark!! I was already feeling bad and just quickly dismissed that thinking that 5k was too far to put that pressure on. I just kept pressing at the pace I had been running.  When I hit the 11 mile mark I knew it was still possible to break 5 hours, but it was going to hurt! I needed to run 6:45s or better and I was already hurting. Ugh!! I went for it!! I just ran as hard as I could, motivated knowing it was only 2.1 miles to the finish line.  Just like it had been since starting the bike, the course was crowded! Maybe even more than ever. I was weaving around people. Finally I made the final turn and saw the finish line. Once my eyes focused on the clock I saw I had a min to reach the finish line but it was still so far away (over a tenth for sure). I began sprinting as hard as I could. Would I make it?? Run Split: 1:38:24

I finished. It took about 20mins before my head came out of the clouds.  It was worth it. Finish time: 4:59:59!!  At the end of it all it really is about the friends and family that share in the experience with you. Without them it would be for nothing.  Thanks to everyone that was a part of the training and race!!

Each of us had great races!! Mark Dummer finished in 5:36:09 with Swim Split (28:09), T1 (5:48), Bike Split (2:48:52), T2 (5:04), and Run Split (2:08:16)!!  Joe Bennett finished in 5:38:41 with Swim Split (29:06), T1 (3:50), Bike Split (2:56:00), T2 (2:57), and Run Split (2:06:48)!!  Ricky Morrow finished in 5:44:31 with Swim Split (27:30), T1 (5:36), Bike Split (2:57:51), T2 (6:53), and Run Split (2:06:41)!!  Adam Goss finished in 6:03:38 with Swim Split (28:20), T1 (7:55), Bike Split (3:06:02), T2 (6:46), and Run Split (2:14:35)!!
Figure 3: Glad to be done!!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ironman Augusta 70.3 by Dink Taylor

A very detailed and personal race report of my first Half Ironman. It is lengthy and some may find it a little boring, but here it is.

Back in February, I was browsing the web site for the Ironman Augusta. I decided since having the stroke that running alone was not good enough for this aging male. I must get myself in better shape. I can tell you that I did not browse long and in fact went straight to filling out the registration form. Before I could finish it, I decided I better become a member of USA Triathlon first. I had a feeling that I may need that Member number. So, I got the number and then finished the application for Augusta 70.3. This became my number one goal race for 2013.

I put in my credit card, $300, for a Half Iron Man I thought? Well they must be pretty proud of the name. Done. Registered. I just made the commitment despite not having a bike and not even having swum 50 yards in over 30 years. The thought of swimming 1.2 miles was very intimidating for me. I have absolutely no swimming back ground. I did have a rode bike back in 1987 but had not ridden the roads since 1988.

My original thoughts were to make Augusta my first Tri. I am glad that I nixed that idea. I am very thankful that I was able to start with sprint distance Tri’s in June and complete several Tri’s including Rocket Man. It was a perfect way for a beginner to work their way up to the Half distance and get some experience. I can tell you that being a beginner is hard work. Learning to swim is very difficult and I still have a lot to learn about the swim. I am being very patient.

Fast forward to September. I have remained focused on training. September has turned out to be my biggest month ever training. It is Thursday, September 26. My day started like most at 4am. First 30 minutes, core and upper body work at the gym. Next a 3 hour bike ride followed by a 45 min run. 4:15 of training for the day. Suzanne says, “Augusta is Sunday, aren’t you doing too much?” I am not sure just what all I said except, “I know that you are worried that I am doing too much, but I know what I’m doing.”

I am not a big fan of long tapers for races. I have found that they leave me feeling flat and out of rhythm. I like to train. I enjoy it. I train daily. I do take days off occasionally; in fact, I took one off on June 29, doctors’ orders. That is a whole other story and I would rather not even discuss it unless I absolutely have too. While I don’t like to take days off I do however take easy days and lots of them. I promised myself for Augusta that I would take it easy two days prior to the race.

Friday. I did an easy 30 min swim outside in the pool. The water was cold and it felt good. That was it. I definitely felt like this was a rest day, especially since I did not run. I typically run more than most triathletes. I usually run 7 days per week and sometimes 6 if I feel I need a break. Friday was also a pack and travel day. If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that you got to have a lot of “Stuff” to do these Tri’s.

We pick up the Skylor from school at 2:15pm and hit the road, 6 hour drive ahead. Immediately, the child starts complaining about going to yet another race. He is in the 7th grade and has now decided he wants nothing to do with any more travel and races, he prefers time with his friends. It became a constant battle for the next 3 hours. I was almost to the point of turning around and going back home. I felt like the stress of this situation was going to have a negative effect on the event that was my number one goal for 2013. It was draining my energy. Things eventually got better and I tried to encourage Suzanne to go back home on Saturday morning and I would find a ride back home after the race on Sunday. She would have nothing to do with that idea.

Saturday morning. I got up and went for a 3 mile run. Sunny and gorgeous with a nice crispness in the air. My legs felt a little flat. It was hilly and I just ran from the hotel. Since this was my first time to Augusta and had no idea where to run and since it was only a scheduled 25 minute run, why go to the trouble. I got the run done and felt better the last half mile. Now I started going into my relax mode. Yes, I still had to go get my race packet and take my bike to transition, but mentally I was going into relax mode. I just had two easy days in a row.

What better way to relax than a trip over to Starbucks? We sat outside, drank coffee, enjoyed the weather and then went to the Expo.

The expo was pretty big. We timed it just right. Not so early that we had to deal with the early goers and just before the lunch crowd. We had no wait. The race organization was very good. I got my race packet. Next I bought some Ironman 70.3 items. Why do I mention this? Because I just don’t buy much stuff at races! I have been running races since 1979 but I have never been to an Ironman event.

I got my bike over to transition. It was fun to see all the bikes. Lots of nice ones. My bike was the first one on my rack. I used this time to look around at the transition area. I checked out the exit of the swim, the bike out/in and the run out. I like to get myself very familiar with the transition area. This was the largest Ironman 70.3 race of them all; they took 3500 entries this year. I knew it was important to be familiar and not waste any time here on race day.

Next, I went back over to the river. I checked out the big orange buoys in the water. Each one was numbered; the last one was number 9. I made a mental note of this. The river looked wonderful but it was a windy day and the wind was strong blowing against the current. I thought, everyone has made a fuss about how fast this swim is, downstream and it was looking like just the opposite. I thought, just my luck.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a swimmer. It is without a doubt my weakest event. I stood and looked up river. I could not see the 1.2 miles back to the start. I took a picture with my phone and put it on facebook along with a few other pics. Lots of my friends were commenting on the pictures. I am also notorious for looking at swims and saying, “that swim looks long.” Dianna Cioppi sent me a message on facebook and said “don’t look at the swim, just swim.” That is exactly what I needed to hear to put this behind me and I continued to feel relaxed.

Suzanne decided we needed a light lunch since it was already getting late and we had an early dinner planned. Panera bread was perfect. It also gave me a place to pick up a bagel for breakfast. If there is one thing that is new to me in the triathlon world, it is food. What do I mean? I have never been a big eater. Food has always been unimportant to me and lots of times it is just plain ole inconvenient. Over 90 percent of what I eat is strictly for fuel not fun. I make healthy choices and I feel my diet is as about as good as anyone’s. Food has become more important to me since I started doing the Tri’s.  I am constantly hungry, thinking of what and where my next meal is coming from or what I am going to eat. I am consuming more calories now than at any other point in my life. I eat lots of fruits, vegetables, yogurt, lean cuts of meat once a week, chicken and lots of seafood. I definitely have been making the best eating decisions of my life.

We went back to the hotel. I wanted to relax and check out some of the Alabama football game. Auburn was off this weekend. Suzanne was going to make a trip to the grocery store and pick up stuff we had decided we needed or just forgot to bring with us. I don’t believe I have made it to a Tri yet with everything I needed, not once.

Dinner was at “The Pizza Joint” with the Fleet Feet Huntsville Tri 70.3 training group. Everyone was there and excited about the race. Everyone looked pretty nervous and tense, especially Melissa Johnson, sorry Melissa, you were a wreck! I was still relaxed. Call me crazy but I drank 4 beers. This is nothing new to me. I have 3 or 4 the night before every race, no exceptions. I have a routine. It consists of 3 and no more than 4 beers first, and then I eat dinner. I require no special dinners. I make healthy choices and eat whatever is available. I had vegetarian pizza on this night.

We got back to the hotel early. I turned the TV on football and cranked the AC down. I was already dozing off before 9pm. Although I went to sleep early, I did not sleep that well. Sleep for me is very inconsistent. I typically sleep well about 2 nights per week; this was not one of them. I sort of woke up around midnight and never slept sound after that. This does not bother or concern me. I take this time to just relax and rest my body; you can do this without sleeping. I got a good 3 hours first before the frequent wake ups starting occurring.

I had an alarm set for 4:30am. Of course, as usual, I did not need it and went ahead and got up just before 4am. I went through my usual routine. I had packed everything and had it ready to go the day before. All I had to do was get dressed and have my coffee. I usually have one or two cups and then that is it for me, no more caffeine for the day. I was anxious and ready to get over to the transition area and get my bike ready. I wanted to make sure my bike was ready to go before I ate breakfast. Coffee is my first priority and since I was a little nervous, I did not have an appetite.

I made it to transition by 5:30, two full hours before the pro’s would start and an additional 30 minutes before my start at 8am. I got to my bike and I already knew it was going to be a good day. The bike to my left was a no show and the two bikes to my right were no shows! I could not believe it. It was wall to wall bikes everywhere expect by me. Tim Pitt came rolling up and he said “They knew whose spot this was!” I was in disbelief that I had a lot of room to work with. I filled up my aero bottle plus two other water bottles below, water only. I decided that I was not going to depend on aid stations for my fluids. 3 bottles should be enough for me. I also loaded my snack box with GU. 6 Gu and roctane on the bike and a small container of sea salt. 2 GU by my running shoes for the run. My plan was for 8 total, 100 calories every 30 minutes from beginning to end.

I was fortunate to have Suzanne to drive me back to the start. I did not have to ride the buses. The walk to transition was long enough and I considered that enough warm up. We drove over to the swim start. I walked up to get my body markings, checked things out in reference to where we were parked. I was only parked about 100 yards from the start of the swim. It was still dark. Although I was not hungry, I ate my whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and honey; One Honey Stinger waffle and a bottle of water. I was ready to get my wet suit on.

What did I forget? My ear plugs and sunblock. I like ear plugs because they reduce the noise in the water. I usually swim without them anyway, so this was a minor detail. Sunblock. I forgot to bring it. Suzanne bought me some the day before on the grocery store run and I still forgot it. Another minor detail, I have trained all summer long and my skin could handle a day without it just fine. I do prefer to use it but it was not a factor on the sunny day.

I got my wetsuit on and got with my group. This would be the first Tri I have done that was not a time trial start. It was a group start and I really liked it. Ironman folks did a great job with this part of the race. You started with your age group. I had around 130 in my group #8. We all had lime green swim caps so you knew who was in your age division. What I did not know was that men 45-49 was so big that there were two groups of 130+ each.

We walked down the pier; it was a floating pier close to the water. We sat down on the pier, 60 across the front and one person stood behind. My goggles got something in them but they felt right. I was afraid to take them off so close to the start. An older man was standing on the pier, a volunteer. I walked up to him, grabbed the bottom of his shirt and ended up wiping the goggle lens off. He said “I hope that helps.” And it did. Vision was clear and fit was right.

I felt very relaxed before the start. The horn sounded and off we went. My goal was to get my stroke going and stay with it from start to end. I also wanted to keep a straight line. In the beginning I was getting kicked a little and a few guys were just getting in my way. I back off a touch and just let things clear out. It did not take long for me to realize that the entire fuse about the swim was true. I breathed to my left and saw buoy #3, I had just started and already did not see the first two.

Breathing to my right I could see the boat docks and houses just flying by. Being the slow swimmer that I am this just blew me away. I had my Garmin set to alert me at 1000 yards. It beeped and I glance on a breath and saw 12 minutes. I was in disbelief. I thought, I like this swim. Let’s do this. Sub 30 minutes in going to be in my range. 30 minutes was my “A” goal swim split. My projection came from past results, I saw where David Rawlings had done 30:59 and if there is one person I can out swim, it’s David. Sorry Dave.

I came out of the water in 28:10. 102nd in my age division. I knew the transitions were long but I had not done any research on just how long. I wanted to be on my bike at 32:30 (A goal) and I was exactly there. I got through transition fast enough without panic or being rushed. Since this was my first race over Olympic distance, I could only go on my training and feel for the ride. At all the sprints, you go hard and make the quads burn from start to end. I went out on the bike and rode comfortably hard. No quad burning.

I turned on my bike computer. My Garmin was set to alert me every 5 miles. This is how I train and I am more familiar with transferring minutes to MPH in my head. My bike computer was set on total bike time and MPH. This way I could get an idea of current MPH. The very first thing I did on the bike was take a GU. I had been told that things would be different at this event. The big dogs were going to be here and don’t expect things to be like back home at the local Tri’s. Since I am a slow swimmer, I typically get on the bike and pass from beginning to end. This Ironman event was not to be any different. I spent most of my time in the left lane passing. One thing that was different was I did get passed for the first time during the bike, I got passed twice. I resisted the temptation to race and stuck to my plan. I went through the first 1/3 of the bike at a little over 22mph and felt comfortable. The next 1/3 the roads were a little rough and there were a few hills. The side winds on some of the 40mph downhill’s were a little nerve racking. My goal on the bike was to stay in aero and pedal the entire 56 miles. I came out of the saddle one time briefly on the biggest hill. The middle part of the bike I averaged a little over 21mph and I was questioning my ride a little. Was I not riding well? Or being too conservative.

At 39 miles I decided I had to pee. I had been told to pee on the bike but I never had. The problem was I just could not pee and pedal at the same time. So, I found a big downhill, stopped pedaling and peed, right through my Tri kit, down my leg and right out of my shoes! I found this rather amusing. I finished right at the 40 mile marker and then decided that I had been taking it easy long enough.

One of the things that surprised me about the bike ride was not only did people try to draft off me when I passed but they also had pace lines going! I had never seen this before in a Tri. I stayed away from them and did not participate in any way. Another thing that made the bike ride fun was the men in my age group. If I passed them, they usually would try to pass me back. Some did, only the second time I passed them it was always for good, but it made the race a little more fun.

So, from 40-45 miles I averaged just over 25mph. I thought, now this feels more normal. Quads were burning a bit and the field was clearing out. By 50 miles I could not see another single rider. I was totally alone. My average for the last 1/3 of the bike ended up just over 24mph. The 56 miles was soon done at an average of 22.6mph. I was happy with that. I had moved from 102nd in my age division off the swim to 16th at the start of the run. My bike was the only one back in my section, this was a first. I knew I wanted to be starting my Half marathon run at right around the 3:05:00 mark and did.

The skies were sunny and 75 when the run started. I eased through transition, wiped my feet off, put socks on and made sure my laces were just right.  I went out on the run comfortable. I focused on relaxing, keeping my form smooth and finding my pace. I began passing tons of folks right off the start. They were throwing up, walking and having all kinds of problems. I was thinking to myself, Why do people kill themselves for a fast transition when all they are doing is throwing up and walking? Kind of confusing to me. An extra :30 in transition may save you 30 minutes on your overall time. I believe transitions should be quick but in complete control and smooth, no mistakes. Transition also allows you a quick little recovery time that may prove beneficial later in the run.
First mile, 6:20. My first thought was that was a little quick but it was not stressful at all, maybe even easy. Maybe it was wrong? Maybe I was excited to be on the run? Next mile 6:20’s. 3rd mile 6:32. I had originally thought my pace should be 6:48 per mile based on Andrew Hodges advice. I ran 6:48 pace at the Boston Marathon this year and he said that should be my run pace for 70.3 run. Mile after mile I continued to run no slower than 6:30’s. I decided that my “A” goal run time of 1:29 was not going to be a problem.

This course was extremely flat. It ran through downtown Augusta and had lots of spectators. It was also good because I could see Suzanne several times and she was feeding me information about my age division. She said “you are ahead of pace and you are plowing through your completion!” “You started 16th but you have already moved up to 9th.”You are making it look easy.” I was having fun. Every time I saw a guy with age 45-49 on the back of his leg in front of me, he became my next target. My original thinking was I may have a shot at top 10 in my age division if things went well. This really wasn’t important to me, finishing it with a good run time was, since I’m a runner.
When I started the second loop of the run, it got crowded. I was not happy about moving through the masses. I could no longer pay much attention to my age division competition because it was simply too crowded.  I also got worried about knowing where the turn to finish was. It felt like I was going to start a 3rd loop of the run. I did not want to start a 3rd loop!

11 miles into the run. All of my miles had been 6:20’s and 6:30’s. I was starting to feel tired for the first time. It was beginning to become real work. My 12th mile was 6:40’s, I thought damn, I’m crashing! The good news was I knew even if I slowed down I was not only going to beat my “A” goal time of 4:34, but I was going to break 4:30! Wow. 1 mile to go, I hung on for another 6:40 and came into the finish and boy was I pumped up! I yelled “That’s what I’m talking about!” The guys in medical ask me if I was okay. I said of course I’m okay; I am just a little excited about my time. I was totally blown away with my first Half Iron Man time of 4:28:17 and half marathon split of 1:24:47 (6:28 pace)

I would end up 4th in the men 45-49 out of 262 finishers and 50th overall of 2600 plus finishers. They tell me I qualified for World Championships with the roll down process. I did not even stay for the awards because my child was ready to get back home and I wanted to please him. I’m not concerned with any World Championships. I am not ready for such a competitive event and I won’t be until I learn to swim.  I set a goal back in February to finish Augusta 70.3. Looking back I feel like I had the perfect race and made my best effort, that’s all I can ask of myself and I am happy with that.

This is what I put down on paper 1 week before the race. I like to have goals even though I had not done 70.3 before. Sometimes you can just wing it but I felt I needed a plan.

A Goal projections Actual
Swim 31:00 28:10
T1 2:30 (total guess)      3:40
Bike 2:26 (23mph) 2:28:34 (22.6mph)
T2 2:30 3:04
Run 1:29:00 1:24:47
70.3 4:34:00 4:28:17