Watching the Sun Go Down

Revolution 3 Full Rev
Cedar Point, Ohio
September 9, 2012

In the beginning was the Word. . .
It all began at the team dinner the night before.  Oh no, I hear you groan.  This is going to be one of those race reports.  You know the type:

“And then I carefully ripped the top off my first gel, leaving it just barely attached so the tab wouldn’t contribute to the consumer-driven degradation of our environment.  I took a slurp.  Then another slurp.  I was focused, in the moment, so I took a third slurp.   By this point I was having trouble getting the last part of the gel out of the sachet so I had to dig deep and remember my training and concentrate on correct thumb and forefinger pressure.  But in the end it was all worthwhile and the last of the sticky sweetness slipped slickly down my throat.  Then I was ready to take my first salt tab.  Carefully, I opened the packet. . . “

No, this isn’t going to be one of those race reports.

Or maybe it is; I don’t really know yet.

The pre-race team dinner is a tradition with Team Z before each and every Ironman.  This was the third one I’ve attended (I was at Mary’s in 2009 prior to her first Ironman at Placid) and I can say that this was hands down the one I enjoyed most of all.  And the reason, oddly, was that there was barely a mention of the Iron and Half-Iron distance races the next day.  Oh sure, we were all talking about them among ourselves.  But when the coaches came to give their pep talks, it was all about the sprint-turned-5K from that morning.  If you read my last entry you know what a shitty amazing time that was.   Those of us who had supported the race received a gift from the Rev 3 people (a rain poncho, of course!  For some reason I am particularly amused by the fact that the little packet says “Adult Rain Poncho” on it; it seems to promise something vaguely kinky and extra-marital).  The coaches had spent the day assembling a hilarious package of gag gifts for the sprint/5kers so that they would be prepared the next time a race director tried to cancel the race on them.

And all of that felt really good.  I’ve always worried that for people who join the team late in the year, when the Ironman training is in full swing, it must seem as if that is the team’s most important focus, all that we do.  And it isn’t.  The number of people who do an Ironman is still pretty small, and seems to be staying roughly consistent year after year, even as the team grows.  But Iron distance races are enormously demanding on resources, both those of individuals and the team, so they loom disproportionately larger; this year, supporting two Iron distance races in different places on the same day really stretched us.  But the team is about helping people achieve their goals, whatever they might be.  It felt good to be honoring my team-mates who were enduring their disappointment with good grace and class, even though to some of them that sprint has been as important a goal as the Full Rev was for me.  The side effect of all this was that while I had felt more anticipation for the last few days than with my first Iron distance race (not nerves, and not anxiety, but definitely a kind of constant, low-level churning of the system) I felt relaxed and had one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had before any race.

How the hell did you get your leg up there?
It seemed no time at all between when Mary and I had woken up at 3:15 to eat something and the moment just after 7am when we were wading into the water.  On race mornings time usually crawls for me, but with both my Iron distance races whole chunks of time seem to have dropped out of the normal flow of events and disappeared completely.

In marked contrast to the washtub frenzy of Lake Erie the day before, on race morning the water was about as calm as you could wish for.  The lake is very shallow near the shore so the start was a lot like the start of Musselman: a lot of wading (or aquajogging) until the water became deep enough to swim.  This was a mass start but the field was nothing like the size of one at an Ironman race, a little over 350 Full Rev competitors (with significantly more doing the half, starting the swim an hour and a quarter later).  Yet I was beaten up worse on this swim than during the frenzy at Wisconsin.  There were the usual elbows to the head, and the panicked breast-strokers lashing out to get you in the kidneys.  Seemingly impossibly, someone managed to get their leg up under me; by some miracle they missed planting a heel in my willie and instead settled for kicking me in the nuts.  Whew.  That was a close one.  The piece de resistance came as a result of the fact that many people insisted on continuing to run through the water even when you could make much better time swimming.  I had started to swim and was searching for open water when some guy (I hope it was a guy, because he/she/it gave a very manly grunt) decided finally to stop playing at water aerobics and to start their swim by bellyflopping on top of me.  Apparently the sight of churning water and flailing limbs was not enough to clue him in that there was someone in front of him.

What Phill Liggett and Paul Sherwin love to call “argie bargie” continued off and on to the first turn.  I’ll be honest though, the visit to the prison laundry room was in large part my own fault.  Buoyed by a newfound confidence from my Half-Iron races this year I decided to once again pretend that I was a swimmer.  I  put myself right on the buoy line; I didn’t back off or hang back but charged in there with all the real swimmers. those whose training seems to consist of a healthy dose of mixed martial arts.  Note to self: for next Ironman, go East young man, and learn the ways of the shinobi.

There was a little more swell when we got further out but the water was lovely, I got into a good rhythm, drafted when I could, and finally we were back close to the shore, getting ready to do the aquajogging thing again in preparation for our second loop.  I looked at my watch: 41 minutes, almost exactly.  Amazingly, despite the ruptured spleen and burst testicles that time was on par with my best half-Iron swims.  Suddenly, the last remaining anxieties about the day melted away.  I felt on it.  It was going to be a great day.

The second loop was a little tougher.  We took a different route in toward the swim exit and we picked up some kind of cross-cut following sea that I just couldn’t figure out and couldn’t get in sync with.  I swallowed a lot of water and had to stop at one point to cough a lot of it up.  All in all, though, it wasn’t that bad; Musselman this year was more choppy and that was calm compared with some of the open water swims I’ve had.  When I came out of the water and looked at my watch I let out a whoop that would have woken the dead.

IM MOO swim time: 1:42:49.
Rev 3 swim time: 1:27:35

That might not seem like much, but it is basically like knocking almost 40 minutes off a 4 hour marathon time.

I wandered lonely as a cloud. . .
Unfortunately the euphoria over my swim result had the effect of completely disorienting me.  I stopped to pee (in the designated facility, I should add, rather than in my own portable portalet) and then spent some time wandering back and forth outside the transition area, looking for the water to rinse off our feet we’d been promised, not seeing it, starting to go back toward the transition area, doubling back to the aid station to get my own water, finally going and picking up my bags and getting into the changing tent.

Which was packed.  One of the side effects of having made the transition to middle of the pack in the swim is that the pack, like most things in the US, is thick about the middle.  The tent, which seemed so big from the outside, was jammed with men all of whom seemed twice my size (must.  refrain.  from.  too.  obvious.  joke.) in various states of undress.  Most of the chairs were occupied and those that weren’t seemed to have acquired a disturbingly slick sheen.  When I did finally get a seat I was a little flustered.

It was always going to be a longish transition because I’d made the decision to do a full change into cycling bibs for maximum comfort during the ride.  Yet maybe I was also a little spoiled by the concierge treatment in the transition area at IM MOO.  Cedar Point was simply a tent with sides that flapped open and a bunch of chairs.  Now I have no problem with public nudity.  I really wouldn’t mind if we had to strip to the buff in the TA (whose initials would then quickly come to mean something else).  However, maybe I’ve lived in the US too long and I’ve got that lurking fear that I’ll be sued if some poor kid claims to have been traumatized by the sight of a water-shrunk johnson glimpsed briefly through a tent crack.  Regardless, it took me a long time to get my act together.

In which our hero discovers a singular meteorological phenomenon
When I’d biked the entire 112 mile course back in July I’d done it in about 6:30, but that had been with 40 minutes worth of stops added on top of that.  Nevertheless, I felt pretty confident that I could hold a 17mph pace and bring it in about 6:30 or a little under.

I knew we would have a tail wind for the first part of the course, including the long, deadly, false flat, so I pushed things a little.  Yet even then I was surprised to see that after 20 miles I was averaging almost 19mph.  Predictably, after that the pace dropped, but not by that much.  Looking back on it now, there was so much going on during that ride, apart from the usual routine (trying to stay upright, passing people, etc.).  I began to get the same kind of stomach cramping that I’d got at IM MOO; just very low level, but always there.  Since I’ve never experienced this in any other race, I’m forced to conclude that swallowing large amounts of US lake water (the common denominator) does not agree with me.  I also found that the solid food I’d brought with me was not really doing it for me.  Then there was the wind.  At a certain point the wind shifted and started to come from. . .everywhere.  It wasn’t super-strong (about 10mph) but it was insistent, and a constant noise in your head.

There were a lot of people fixing flats or other mechanicals by the side of the road during this race, more than usual it seemed to me.  About mile 40 I looked up the road, saw someone else on the verge fixing a bike, and realized it was Mary.  I slowed down beside her and asked her if she needed anything.  What happened next is a matter of some dispute.  Mary claims that a) she didn’t realize it was me, and that b) she was concentrating hard on the repair and said neutrally that she was OK.  What I heard was Mary snapping that she was fine and didn’t need any help, in a Marital DefCon 5 tone of voice.  My spirits dropped; I reluctantly rode on, upset that she seemed to be having a bad day.

I hadn’t been planning to stop at special needs, but with my stomach feeling a little dodgy I thought it might be a good idea.  As I pulled into the aid station I caught a glimpse of a woman  making her way down the gentle slope toward the porta-john, only to lose her footing and faceplant into the side of it.  If anyone was inside at the time I’m sure it that it would have speeded up their process markedly.  Yes, it is cruel to laugh but sometimes you need a bit of comedy to keep you going.  I took a couple of Gas-X strips (note: don’t do the strips again, they are almost impossible to get apart in a hurry); the only thing I grabbed out of the bag was some replacement Gas-X and about half a dozen Pepto which I dropped into the bento box, just in case.  But the Gas-X helped and although the discomfort never quite went away, it wasn’t too bad.  By this time I realized that despite my best efforts I was going to be closer to 6 hours than 6 and a half, so I ignored the solid food and just took the Infinit which worked fine.  From the training ride out here I knew I would be slower on the second loop, so I didn’t let my steadily dropping average discourage me.

I played leap frog for a while with a team-mate on the second loop as we both watched ominous Mordor-style clouds gathering on the horizon and inch closer.  I wasn’t that worried; after Musselman, anything less than a tornado was distinctly unimpressive.  Wait, in this part of the country they do get tornadoes, don’t they!  But the storms passed to the south of us, and before I realized it we were at the hundred mile mark, and then entering the more built-up areas.  Once again we got to enjoy the testicular jackhammering that was the half mile stretch along Jim Campbell boulevard.  One of the enduring questions I had as I left Sandusky was: “Who the hell was Jim Campbell and what indecencies had he perpetrated on the good citizens of the area to get this POS road named after him?”  The funniest thing about this stretch was that the race organizers had, quite responsibly, started to mark all the hazardous broken areas with orange paint, but you could see that someone gave up about half way along when they realized that they were essentially spraying the entire road.

The last few miles along the causeway were torture.  I was tired, having to pause to stretch often, finding it hard to stay aero, worrying that I had compromised my run,  and was becoming heartily tired of the wind.  I received a momentary jolt of encouragement when a group of us passed someone at mile 106 changing their tire by the side of the road.  “Glad I’m not that guy,” someone muttered.  Again, cruel, but sometimes you need a little schadenfreude to get you through.

I felt as if I was slowing much more than I really was.  So I couldn’t believe it when I stopped the bike computer at 6:06.  My watch told me that between special needs and a bathroom break I’d only added another 4 minutes.

IM MOO Bike: 7:22
Rev 3: 6:10

From “Oh.  My. God” to “OMFG, this run is like so totally my new BFF!!!!!”
Another relatively slow transition because I again chose comfort, changing pretty much all my kit.  Thankfully the change tent was a little less crowded and it was actually a lot of fun, with people joking, commenting on the ride, etc.  But, you can only procrastinate for so long: that marathon isn’t, unfortunately, going anywhere.

This season I’ve had a history of going out WAY too fast on the run; my plan this time was to really slow things down.  I mean way down.  My typical zone 2 pace is about 10:30.  I decided to try and run at least a minute slower than that.  So I decided to walk every aid station to try and keep my effort measured, my heart rate down, and to stretch out my muscles a little bit.  None of this, however, seemed like it was going to work in practice.  I felt really bad.  At less than a mile into the run we had to cross a bridge in the causeway, a pretty small climb all things considered, but it felt mountainous, and the thought of doing it three more times when I’d barely gasped my way up it once almost killed me.  But I stuck to the plan, hoping.

There was a moment, somewhere near mile 3, where I remember thinking: “This really hurts.”  Then there was a voice in my head that responded “Of course it bloody well hurts!  You are running a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles.  What did you think it was going to feel like?”  Just like that, it began to get better.  I walked the aid stations but tried to keep those breaks relatively short; ran in between but tried to maintain an even cadence but keep the speed controlled.

The run is the leg where, oddly enough, I usually have the least accurate idea of how well I’m doing.  That, however, is why we have data!  When I looked at my official run splits, I ran that first really painful four miles at a 10:42 pace.  Then I settled into a a consistent 11:20 pace for the next 8 miles, right where I wanted to be.  As I worked my way around the course I set micro goals for myself.  You’ve got a good half marathon in you, I told myself.  Then, when I achieved that, I told myself to keep up the run walk until 14.  Then keep it up until 16.

By the time I reached the halfway point, I was feeling pretty good.  After feeling the Team Z love while changing my socks and re-stocking nutrition at the run special needs (and by love, I mean CoahEd yelling at me “Come on Mullen, it is special needs, not nap time!”–in my defense, I was sitting down because my attempt to change my socks while standing up had resulted in me almost pitching headfirst into the bin of special needs bags) I started the second loop and as soon as I hit the causeway I saw my team-mate Patti, first, and then Mary who stopped to give her an encouraging hug.  As Patti continued on her way, Mary and I gave one another a huge hug, and then stopped for a good 5 minutes by the side of the road to have a natter about how our respective days were going.  I’d heard from someone as I headed back in that they had seen Mary and she hadn’t looked particularly happy, but by this point things seemed to be going a lot better.  I was also able to reassure Mary that no, I hadn’t in fact beaten her in the swim!  Mary said afterward that she almost felt as if she stopped too long since it was tough to get moving again.  However I felt so energized at seeing her and knowing she was having a good day that I picked up the pace straight away.

Maybe a DQ would be worth it
I saw a striking example of the kind of race experience I was not going for somewhere around mile 7 or 8.  I was running up one of the Sandusky avenues as runners were coming the other way.  There was a young boy, maybe 7 or 8 who was running along the side of the road yelling at the oncoming runners: “Keep running!  Run Faster!”  One of the oncoming women snapped: “Well why don’t you try running along with me, then.  Jeez, seriously kid!”

I don’t think the boy heard her, fortunately.  This reminded me of the woman in Gran Fondo who went all grumpy fuck on us when we were trying to cheer her up the final climb.  There’s a word for those people: pricks.  Now I know what it is like to have a bad race; I know what it is like to have an Iron distance race that isn’t going as well as you would like it to or that you expected.  In such moments though, I typically turn in on myself.  I’d like to think that I’ve never taken it out on the crowd.

After all, they don’t have to be there.  You paid money for this, so unless you are a member of the 1% who delights in throwing money away on things like Nepalese quilted poodle jackets and ornamental Porsche collections, then you kind of have to see it through.  But no one is obligated to come out and cheer for you.  You should be happy that anyone is out there at all.  Particularly in a place like Sandusky.  Yes, the crowds were sparse to non-existent in the town area.  But that just made the people who did stop to cheer all the more special.  This is not a town like Placid, or Madison.  Sandusky is tired, and struggling.  But struggling implies there is still some fight left and there still seems to be energy there and an unwillingness to abandon the town to inevitable decline.  The Thursday we arrived there was an art walk; on the Friday and Saturday the downtown was taken over by a classic car show.  The presence of the race itself was evidence of the town reaching out to try new things to bring life to the place.

For a while I wondered about how oblivious you would have to be to be that woman.  Triathlon, particularly iron distance triathlon, is a sport of wealth and privilege (although, just like everything else privileged in the US, there is an entrenched belief that it is really “middle class”).  By contrast, I was occasionally offered shouted encouragement from a porch or the driveway of a run-down house with a car out front that was probably worth half of what that woman paid for even an entry-level tri-bike.   There were quite a few volunteers who thanked me for coming to their town, which always makes me feel manifestly unequal since I am shamelessly reliant on their generosity to keep me fed and watered for hours on end.

Lesson learned (or rather lesson reinforced), I didn’t dwell.  But I had that woman in the back of my mind when I had my own encounter with the junior league of Sandusky, about mile 17.  I’d managed to keep the run+walk aid stations routine going up until that point, much to my surprise.  Then my body simply said OK, that’s enough, need to walk now.  But I still felt pretty good overall and, more importantly, mentally positive.  So I decided that I would make this walk a decent one: I would power walk for the next mile and try and stretch out some of the muscles while doing that, and give my feet (now beginning to ache a bit) a rest.

While I was doing this I was passed by a guy on a cruiser.  He was older, and with his long grey beard, board shorts and flip flops, looked as if he had just returned from a pilgrimage to Tibet by way of Venice Beach.  He was moving hardly faster than I was, barely turning the pedals, one child balanced on the bar in front of him and three more (somewhere in the 6 year range?  I can never really tell with kids) behind him on their own bikes.  The little boy biked up beside me and kept pace.

“Why aren’t you running?”
“Because I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“Because it hurts too much.”

He seemed to have trouble processing this and settled for putting in a savage burst on the bike to catch up with his Dad.  Next up, his sister.

“Why aren’t you running?”
“Because I can’t.”
“Where are you running to?”
“We need to run back to the amusement park.”

Her eyes went wide and she mashed the pedals, yelling “Joseph!  Joseph!  They have to run all the way to Cedar Point.”

They paused at an intersection, circling and miraculously avoiding running into one another or anything else.  I caught up with them, and suddenly the boy was beside my side.  His next question surprised me.

“Would you rather be on a bike?”
“Definitely.” (I briefly thought of asking to borrow his).

His next question surprised me even more.

“Which did you enjoy more, the swim, biking or the run?”

I gave him the answer that any sane person would give (the bike) and as a group they ambled off into a nearby park, the small retinue torquing their bikes and shouting loudly for ice cream.  Me, I couldn’t stop smiling.

From this point on I generally alternated between running a mile and walking a mile; at one point I did run two back to back miles because so that I would be able legitimately to walk the mile between 24 and 25, something I’d had in the back of my head to do (reasons why in a minute).

The walk breaks were great.  In Wisconsin I was walking because I had to; every step was in my mind a sign of defeat rather than a sign of the victory that was continued forward motion.  Today, however, it gave me a chance to look around, chat with the volunteers, cheer on other runners that passed me; I made a special point of thanking the Rev 3 volunteers doing the lonely duty at the run turnarounds..  Every time I passed the mobile Team Z cheering station (each loop in a different place) I stopped to chat.  I was the poster child for what not to do if you are a Type A racer.  At one point, as I was approaching an aid station, I was feeling something that maybe perhaps felt like it might soon be starting to resemble cramping in my legs, so I decided to pop a couple of salt sticks.  I pulled the container out of my belt, emptied two into my hand. . .and then missed my mouth completely.  I decided to pour them directly from the container into my mouth and, incredibly, missed again with one of them falling down my shirt.  I looked up to see an entire gang of teenage girls trying to look every which way but at me.  “Stop looking at me!” I begged, “I’m not usually this uncoordinated!”  That gave them permission to laugh.  I ran past them, then turned around and jogged back: “Wait, none of you took a photo of that did you?”  They laughingly assured me they hadn’t.  But of course, I would say the same thing even as I was uploading said footage to YouTube.

So, from one point of view, I shamelessly dicked around on this run.  But I remember the moment when I passed mile 20, looked at my watch (which was only keeping my cumulative time) and realized, with a mixture of incredulity and joy, that I had two hours to go 6 miles and thereby break the 14 hour mark that I had thought was out of my reach.  I could crawl it if I needed to.  Enjoy this, I thought.  Enjoy it, and work hard to cheer on all your team-mates who are still on their way out on the second loop.

The shortest mile
The high point of the race for me was mile 24-25.  I was pretty tired (duh!) but even so, I could probably still have run a bit more.  But I decided to walk it.  In part this was to be absolutely sure that I would have enough energy to finish strong.  But the main reason was simply so that I could slow myself down, take the time, and relish the moment.  In Wisconsin I was hurting so badly (or rather the pain was so much more than I had anticipated) that the last part of the day (with the significant exception of passing the final Team Z cheering station) was a bit grim.

This time, as I began walking, I was possessed by a contentment that rapidly grew to exhilaration.  I was now sure that I was going to finish with a time that exceeded even my wildest expectations, even if I walked the final two miles.  As I began the trek across the causeway, the sun had just gone down and the Western horizon was a brilliant display of color behind the sparse shadows of cloud banks.  The colors were intense, and grew more so; when I flipped my orange sun-glasses down they became positively magical (there’s a metaphor for ya, the world through amber-tinted lenses).  As I watched, all the lights on the rides at Cedar Point suddenly came on, the Ferris wheel and the various torturous roller-coasters banded and flecked with neon.  Off in the distance, backlit by the sunset, the grey skein of an approaching squall wafted towards us.

I thought about how hard I’d worked for this, but how I’d worked much smarter this year, much more within the limits of what my mind (and lifestyle) could accommodate, and that as a result my body seemed to respond more positively.  I couldn’t have asked for a better year.  With only one exception, I PRed every event I entered, even won some bling, and had taken on a couple of extremely tough cycle challenges and loved them.  I’d shared some tough times, but great times, with some great people.

The sunset faded.  It grew dark.  The neon beckoned.

Half-blinded by the headlights of the steady stream of cars leaving Cedar Point, I offered what encouragement I could to the people just heading out on their second loop of the run.  I’d been there, I knew how it felt.  Others passed me and I congratulated them.  I paused briefly at the final aid station to thank as many people as I could and to peel of my sweatshirt; when I crossed the line I wanted my team colors showing, to honor the team that had made this all possible.

As I entered Cedar Point I was surprised to see that there were a lot of people lining the last stages of the run course and they were cheering enthusiastically.  I was approaching the finishing site when I felt the first spots of rain.  I was in the finishing chute, literally reaching out to high-five the first of my team-mates, when the heavens opened.  It was funny really; I’d spent much of the day, particularly on the bike, convinced I was about to get rained on, and then I finally get rained on in the last 20 seconds of my day!  But in keeping with my general mood, I loved it.  Myself and maybe half a dozen people got rained on at our finish; it felt both biblical (it rained pretty damn hard there for a while) and special.  All in all, the rain last maybe ten minutes and then disappeared completely.

When I came over the line, I made a spectacle of myself.  I celebrated like a boss.

IM Moo run: 6:06
Rev 3 run: 5;25

Final time: 13:26:27.  Two and a quarter hours faster than Wisconsin.

Building a Mark II Mark
My main goal for this race was to do it faster than Wisconsin; I had hoped that I might be able to break 15 hours.  My stretch goal was to finish in the lower 14 hour mark.  This finish time, therefore, was WAY beyond expectations.  With something like an Iron distance race there are a lot of components that need to come together.  These are a few of the things that I’ve been able isolate that helped to make this such a great day:

  • Training your weakness: I worked hard on the swim all year.  And I’m really proud of that.  Because nothing I’ve done this year has increased my love of pool training one iota.  Things really got better for me after Mary bought me sessions with the Optimal Swimming program which completely changed my ability to actually train the swim rather than suffer through a series of more or less meaningless workouts.  And train I did.
  • Embrace the Unexpected Strength.  As much as I hate pool training is how much I’ve grown to love actual race swims.  I swim much faster in races than I do in the pool; a lot of that is obviously the wetsuit.  But it is also because I just feel really relaxed out there.  If there’s a swell or the conditions are choppy, it generally doesn’t freak me out; in fact, I really like the feeling of rolling with the water, not fighting against it, trying to swim with it rather than over it.
  • Last Minute Swim Prep.  My two best swims this year have been at Kinetic and at Cedar Point.  The week before each of them I went and did a group swim out at the Gainesville quarry solely with the intention of practicing my sighting, my weakness.  And in every race this year I’ve been able to sight pretty well, which has enabled me to swim a very tight course, much tighter than I used to.  I’m not losing all the time I used to by taking scenic cruises to Greek Islands in the middle of every leg.
  • Train your strength strong.  I’m a pretty capable cyclist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get better.  This year, I trained for the mainly flat course. . .by doing a lot of hilly rides.  Including some mountainous rides.  Hills just make you stronger, whatever kind of riding you are doing; moreover, they give you some of the skills you need in order to ride well on flats (patience, pacing, consistent cadence, etc.).  And they are brutal teachers.  If you just train for flat courses on the flat, you are not training to best advantage.  Sure, Cedar Point was flatter, which makes comparison with Wisconsin difficult.  But it isn’t Florida or Cozumel flat, and an hour and ten minute improvement over any 112 mile ride is a pretty big lift.
  • Simplifying.  My bike race and nutrition plan for Wisconsin was way too complicated.  This year I opted to try Infinit to see if I could get as much of my nutrition/electrolyte needs in one easy package.  This worked well and helped to reduce the mental overhead on the bike, meaning that I still had enough brainpower to make some crucial decisions on the run.

All of that, however, was the easy stuff.

I have several friends who have done multiple Iron distance races spurred on by strong positive mantras such as “race with joy” and “race with gratitude.”  I admire them but I’ll be honest: that kind of attitude is hard for me.  I’m definitely up for a good time, but I’m not by nature a happy-go-lucky person.  In fact, happy-go-lucky people piss me off.  Severely.  We don’t live in a happy-go-lucky world.  You can only be a happy-go-lucky person in a non-happy-go-lucky world by maintaining your happy-go-luckiness at the expense of others.  You have to be fabulously wealthy, determinedly delusional, or completely stupid.  Sometimes you get people who are all three.

Racing with joy and gratitude however is not the same thing as the heedless haplessness of the chronically chirpy and despite the many events I’ve raced and the many that have gone really well for me it is has taken me until this year to really figure out how to tap into that.  I knew one thing when I started this year, and it was that I didn’t want this Iron distance race to be like Wisconsin.  One of the things that made Wisconsin so tough for me was that I had a great time. . .but I also didn’t.  The race was much more of a mixed experience for me than I expected and it took me a better part of a year to untangle some of that and to think about the ways that I could have realistically done things differently in a way that would have impacted the overall experience.

Doing the second Ironman was, for me at least, way better than doing the first.  The whole experience was much better.  I knew what to expect, but I also had a better sense of how to try and keep everything (including the feeble remnants of my life not related to training) in balance.  From having done it once I knew that physically at least I could do it again.  So, oddly enough, the elephant that fills the living room of every triathlete–can I physically do this distance–was never there for me.  Instead, I wanted to concentrate on the quality of the race.

So I spent a lot of time this year training my mind.  Trying not to let the negative thoughts in, to remain positive even when we had to do that bloody Culpepper ride twice.  Even when we rode through a monsoon at Musselman.  Through early season injuries and pains and late season swims where I felt as if I was drowning my way through the water.  I carefully nurtured my stock of experiences upon which to draw.  Nothing on the Cedar Point bike ride could compare with the Gran Fondo.  Nothing on the Cedar Point run could compare with that endless gravel road hill climb in Musselman.  Nothing on the swim could be as bad as Rumpus and Kinetic (my very first two swims as a triathlete). . .although that last one almost didn’t work!

The mental training worked.  I stayed positive throughout the day, even when there were a few setbacks.  I enjoyed myself immensely.  I deeply appreciated being out there and sharing the race with my team.  The irony of my time goals for the day is that I vastly exceeded my expectations, but as you can see from the above I left a lot of time out on the course.  Yet I wouldn’t have traded any of those “delays” (talking with team-mates, conflabbing with Mary, laughing it up with the teenagers at the aid station, etc.) for a faster time.  Because I just don’t think I would have enjoyed myself half as much.

This was pretty much the perfect day, and the only downside is that it is hard for me to imagine ever having another iron distance race this amazing ever again.  Given the events I would like to do in the future, I certainly won’t be this fast again!  But I hope I will have just as much fun.


5 responses to “Watching the Sun Go Down

  1. I LOVE this race report. I laughed. I cried. I remembered. – Tracy

  2. This was a great race report, Mark! I lol’d at times myself. Thanks!

  3. Mark,
    You are the best blogger in the world. I loved your race report and you definitely captured the essence. It is not about times, placement, but instead the whole experience. Congrats on your accomplishment.

    • I’m blushing. Although I’m definitely going to use “best blogger in the world”–Donna, as a pull quote for my first book! I think you may be running me a close second, however. I loved your Savageman report; congrats on that by the way. I may have completed to iron distance races but I still haven’t had the huevos to attempt Savageman.

  4. Beautifully written race report, Mark. Hilarious and inspiring. Congrats on your strong finish!

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