Thursday, November 09, 2006

IMFL swim, bike, and run

I still owe you some details about the rest of the day! I may keep adding to this as I remember more things, but here's the gist of it:

Swim: I was less nervous at the start than I expected. The start was much more civilized and with less contact than I expected, too. (That was a huge relief to me, since it was the part of the day that I feared the most going into it.) We who stood in the back all just waded out together slowly into the water and started swimming when we were deep enough and had room. I never experienced any rough contact. The outermost buoy turns were crowded, but I expected that and just held my position through the turns.

It was a difficult swim for me because (even though I had lots of open water swim practice this year) I had no preparation for swimming in big ocean swells. I had to keep reminding myself not to fight the water, to relax and swim forward. Several times I had to stop and wait to be lifted on top of the swells to sight the next buoy, even when they were using 8-foot-high turn buoys.

I have to say that I was shocked by the scarcity of on-water support. I saw one boat, a couple jetskis, maybe 4 kayaks. For 2200 athletes spread over 1.2 miles of rough ocean water. Most of the time I believe I was at least several hundred yards from any potential source of aid if I got in trouble. We were mostly on our own.

"The water is my sky." There were sparkling blue lights underwater which looked like beautiful stars (probably bioluminescent dinoflagellates which we were disturbing). I also watched one small ray swim under me and settle into the sand below. A few small fish, nothing else. No sharks, no jellyfish.

Due to my inexperience in ocean swimming, I had the same difficulties reading the currents that Shirley describes. There was a current going east and a wind going west blowing up choppy waves. I managed to swim on an angle into the current for 3 out of 4 legs, when I could have run up the beach further between the two laps and avoided some of it. I swallowed ocean water two or three times, but not in huge quantities.

I tucked a gel into my wetsuit sleeve and took it at the midway point, which I think helped a lot in keeping up my energy on the second lap.

In the shallows I might have improved my time by a minute or two by dolphining more instead of being periodically held back by receding waves, but without practice at that it might have tired me out more, too. Hard to say. The water appeared shallower than it actually was, and I tried to set my feet down too soon several times.

I was ecstatic to be finished with that swim! The wetsuit strippers and the showers at the swim exit were new for me. I just followed the strippers' directions, and I took some extra time to get my hair and face fully rinsed free of saltwater.

T1: Was uneventful - got all my cycling gear put on and headed out. I avoided using "helpers" in the tent since they didn't really save me much time at Chesapeakeman. The volunteers outside had unracked my bike and handed it to me, which saved me maybe 30 seconds or a minute.

Bike: I started comfortably and drank water until the hill at mile 12, then picked it up a bit and started the race-day nutrition (until going back to water and gel at mile 100). My tongue felt swollen for an hour or two after getting out of the salt water - that was yucky!

I maintained a reasonably comfortable pace for the rest of the day, and I think I kept my heart rate well below 155 most of the ride. The course was much hillier than I expected, since I come from the TRUE flatlands without a single hill at all. I never dismounted on the course, but I stopped about 4 times to put in eye drops and peed then, which worked reasonably well. My bike seat got very uncomfortable and is a real limiting factor - I have to keep trying new ones. No back pain at all, hurrah!

We had headwinds for the first fifty miles which kept me very slow on the first half. Then later on the winds died off a little, so I didn't get the full benefit of a tailwind, but still rode a big negative split. About 20 miles of the course were on rural backroads with no shoulder and a very bumpy washboard surface - it took me a long time to figure out it was smoother if I rode directly on the rightmost white line (which took some attention, with no shoulder to swerve onto).

It was just too long for me, and there was very little scenery to distract me. One hundred miles of pine trees, sand, and trailers. I got very bored and tired of being out there.

There's something very weird about riding your bike and watching the sun get low in the sky, and knowing that you've been going hard since sunup, and that you still have to get back to the start before sundown, and still have a LOT of miles to go after that.

T2: They took my bike from me to rack it, and I clomped along a long way in my bike shoes. Might have been faster to just take them off and run in my socks. I changed fully to running clothes for a fresh start. I had a jacket and warm top tied around my waist against the impending cold, although I didn't really need them until I was done running. I just didn't want to put an expensive jacket in my special needs bag because it might have gotten thrown out, but I did find it annoying to carry them that long when I wasn't actually wearing them.

Run: I started out at a marathon shuffle pace, walking at the water stops (which I later calculated gave me a 13:15 min/mile pace to the first turnaround). I tried to eat and drink something at each aid station, but I may have let slip the consistency of my caloric intake by then. When it got fully dark it was psychologically very tough. I had hoped to be able to recognize some of my fellow triathletes along the way to soak up their energy and offer some good cheer, but that was impossible. On the course were huge floodlights which shone a half mile down the road, totally blinding anyone running towards it, silhouetting the other runners, and making it impossible to see the actual road most of the time.

The aid stations were numerous and well-stocked with everything that one might want in terms of food or drink. The volunteers were enthusiastic and I did try to thank them as often as I could and let them know that we appreciated all their hard work. There were a few ambulances parked out on the course, but Ellie describes them better than I could. There were also lots of long, dark, lonely and forbidding stretches where it would have been easy to stumble or fall and have no one spot you for quite a while. In the neighborhoods there were also a number of cars driving over the dark run course between the exhausted participants, which didn't seem very safe.

About mile 8 I started walking full time, unable to resume running. I saw Ellie for the second time and told her I didn't think I could make it. (We each had flashing necklaces on which were perfect and allowed us to spot each other in the dark.) Some other athletes invited me to walk with them and started trying to engage me in talk - but a few minutes later they took off running. It felt pretty lonely after that, especially when I was thinking that most people were on their second loop and I would be all alone after the turnaround. I was starting to weave and stumble even while walking. I thought hard for about an hour about what to do. (I later calculated that my pace going back on the first loop had dropped to about 16:10 min/mile, and that was still half jogging).

Stopping: I crossed the timing mats, picked up my special needs run bag, and ate my M&Ms. I sat there a while. They didn't help. I was just too exhausted to contemplate going back out into that darkness for another half marathon, and didn't think I'd be able to walk it in by the midnight cutoff (Which I think was correct - I would have needed to average better than 18 min/mile to finish on time, and I don't think I could have done that for 13.1 miles more). Running any more was out of the question. I took off my timing chip and trudged toward the finish area to turn it in. Fortunately all my friends were there, and their supportive presence saved the day for me.


Fe-lady said...

Thanks for update and thoughts...and the information on Mr. Rice. I sincerely hope he had a heart attack or some ailment and wasn't drowned by other swimmers swimming over him...
Sometimes Ironman stuff is just not worth it..
Hope you are feeling OK and getting some rest!

21st Century Mom said...

Thanks for filling in the details. It sounds like the bike rider kind of took it out of you and you did really well to cover even half the marathon. You did the right thing by stopping. There are many IMs every year but only one person your babies call "Mommy".

So sad about that guy drowning or having a heart attack. It seems like too many big events have one of those (SF Marathon, MCM, IMFL). I guess we have to take comfort that these men (as it has been in all cases) died doing what they love.

Shelley said...

I saw those shiny things down there in the water too. I couldn't figure out if they were bubbles with the light hitting them or what? It kind of spooked me to keep seeing them, but it didn't stop me from swimming.

ShirleyPerly said...


You did great to get through that horrendous swim, the mind-numbing bike ride and go as far as you did on the run. Hopefully you feel as I do about the race, namely, stronger for having tried your best than not at all.

Rest now ... you earned it too!

Geek Girl said...

"I tucked a gel into my wetsuit sleeve" what a neat idea. I'd have never thought of it, but I'm thinking of it now! Thanks for giving us all the details, it helps us to see how other people handle various aspects of the race.

jeanne said...

Truly an epic story. You done good! i bet you will never forget this day.