By Bart Stevens
My name is Bart Stevens. I competed in Ironman Coeur D’Alene 2012. It was my second full Ironman, and my first as a member of Endurance Nation. I have been involved in triathlon since 2009, when I did my first sprint. Since then, I have completed multiple sprints, Olympic distances and several half-Iron distances, including Ironman Galveston, Buffalo Springs and Austin. I tackled my first full Iron distance at Ironman Texas in 2011.
I joined EN in January 2012, after several sub-par performances in 2011. I realized then that I had reached my maximum potential as a self-trained athlete, and would need additional insight and training to improve. I jumped into the middle of the Intermediate Half-Distance EN training plan in January for 2012 Ironman Oceanside 70.3, and then transitioned into the middle of the Advanced Full-Distance training plan in April 2012 for CDA 2012.
It should be noted that by traditional EN standards, I would probably be considered very average in all three disciplines, even after a full Advanced IM training cycle. Which is sad, but you are what you are. I had never notched a positive running performance before EN, even in a full stand-alone marathon. My Ironman Texas run was not where I wanted it to be (5:20), but it was my first and more of a test than anything. I had never swam competitively before 2009, and like many new adult-swimmers, I could barely swim to the other end of the pool without stopping to rest. I believe that I am now two-years into a five-year process of actually learning how to swim properly. My technique is shockingly bad. I am deeply claustrophobic. And I frequently forget to breathe. When I do, I need a lot of air and usually resort to single-side breathing as soon as my heart-rate increases. I am neither especially lean nor heavy, so buoyancy is a struggle.
My bike would be considered my strength, but only in comparison to the other two sports (which is not saying much.) I did not own a bike until 2009, when I purchased a cheap road bike off Craigslist that wasn’t even the right size. I only leaned in the past few years that bikes actually have different lengths. Nevertheless, I found that I much enjoyed cycling and so I saved up for two years to buy a clearance Cervelo P2 in my size (56) in 2010. It’s my pride and joy, and due to a hectic professional schedule working 50-60 hours a week, I also decided to ‘invest’ (ha-ha) in a Computrainer in 2011 to train indoors. The Computrainer is the second most expensive piece of equipment I’ve ever owned, and I ate Ramen noodles for a long time to be able to afford it. I love it, but I hate the silver man.
And just when I thought there was nothing left to buy in this money-pit hobby, I refinanced my house to purchase a Quarq Power meter this past spring (not really, more of a coincidence), because so many folks in the haus were having so much fun with their PM’s, and I didn’t want to be left out.
When I first started tracking it, my FTP was in the neighborhood of 160W. Which was humbling to say the least. I believe that six months later it’s probably closer to 240W, because I can average about 180W on 5-6 hour rides. So I’m getting there. I don’t think I’ve necessarily improved that much as much as I’m just now finally working harder when I train, instead of just lolly-gagging. These days, I just get on the trainer and ride whatever length of time that RnP tell me to do, maintaining the levels they dictate, so I don’t always get around to tracking and posting my information. You have to prioritize these things. Other members seem to have much more enthusiasm about their strength, so I believe it evens out across the team.
This should give you some perspective on where I’m coming from. Which is not a foundation for a litany of excuses to follow, but merely a glimpse into the character sketch I am attempting to formulate which will in turn better explain some of the ensuing commentary.
I love triathlon. It has literally saved my life. But it is simply one aspect of my life, and I refuse to allow it to control and damage it, as it has the potential to do. In addition, as Coach Rich always says, it’s supposed to be fun. It’s a game. I aim to play it to the best of my ability. But I try to keep a healthy balance. I don’t need to beat everybody else. I just have to beat my old self. When I can no longer improve or learn or enjoy the process, I’ll probably walk away from the sport and start putting the rest of my life back together again.
Triathlon has three main purposes in my life:
- To establish new boundaries of my body, mind and soul. The proverbial ‘comfort zone’ that our brain has deceived us into accepting as fixed.
- To know pain and suffering. Which is useful, largely absent in our modern society of convenience and comfort, and will become more prevalent as the American experience transforms in the coming years.
- To be able to create a Plan B, when things don’t go as planned. As they often do not.
This is the beauty of triathlon. This is why it’s is superior to almost all other forms of recreation. This is why the development and strengthening of ourselves in this lifestyle has such profound overlapping benefits on our family, social and professional lives. Or at least that’s my paradigm.
IM CDA 2012 was a learning and character-building experience for me, which is to say that I did not perform as well as I expected, reach my potential or achieve some of my goals. The race had the nerve to not go as I had planned it, and several extraordinary factors contributed to what can only be described as a challenging weekend. I have immense respect for all those who did perform and reached the top of their age-groups.
But I am proud of my performance and encouraged by some of the massive process goals I will take with me from the experience. I look forward to applying both the successes and failures from the weekend towards becoming a smarter and better triathlete. I’m in this for the long haul. It is my hope that this report will assist others with similar challenges, limiters and struggles.
This race report is excessively comprehensive. Which is to say that it is extremely long and verbose. Scroll down and see for yourself if you don’t believe me. You are unlikely to finish this report quickly so my advice is to allocate sufficient time before undergoing the commitment. This report is also probably unlike any other you have read or will read, because it was originally a journal entry that I was simply too lazy to modify. I believe you will find it entertaining, enlightening and ultimately time well-spent. Many will be amazed and amused. Some will be skeptical or maybe even turned off. A few may be offended. Such is life.
I live in tiny Kerrville, TX, a small community about an hour outside of San Antonio. I train alone about 95% of the time, simply due to demographics and schedule. As a result, my previous training before EN was essentially random, unstructured and haphazard. Basically suboptimal and not appropriate for long course. EN has provided major value in this respect, providing all the resources that I could hope for but not attain this far outside a major metropolitan area.
When I first joined EN in January 2012, like many I was completely overwhelmed. With the Wiki, and it’s extensive treasure-trove of information. With the constant triathlon dialogue, commentary and feedback. And most importantly, with the incredible volume of physical labor involved (i.e. ‘work’). This was a revelation as I originally understood EN to promote less volume, but this was a misunderstanding that less volume would equate to less effort. I questioned whether I would ever be able to acclimate to the frequency, volume or intensity required, but in hindsight have come to see all previous training preparation as ‘mickey mouse’ in comparison to what I can now harness.
Coming out of the 2012 Ironman Oceanside 70.3 Intermediate plan, I felt strong and comfortable enough to load the Advanced training plan. At the least, I felt like I was probably a ‘tweener,’ falling somewhere between the Intermediate and Advanced plans in my ability to absorb the workload into my existing lifestyle. So I decided I would tackle as much of the Advanced as I could, knowing that some workouts would fall a little short.
But I can say that in the past 12 weeks I have been able to do about 75% of the Advanced Training Plan in preparation for Ironman CDA 2012. And the bulk of that which fell short- perhaps 75%- was the swim training. I lack the endurance or strength in the pool to train for more than an hour at a time without losing focus or technique. But the work required on the bike and the run were largely achieved. My workouts have been incredibly productive and performance-enhancing- each building on the previous ones. I felt great heading into IM CDA, and excited to test out my new ‘vehicle’ against others.
Traveling to Coeur d’Alene was a stressful and disastrous ordeal, and the first true harbinger of what was to come that weekend. Early Thursday morning, I made the mistake of sleeping through my first (3:30 AM) alarm, but fortunately caught the second at 3:45 AM. This may sound insignificant, but that 15 minutes would prove to be incredibly important. I live about an hour outside of San Antonio and arrived at the terminal by 5 AM. I had printed my boarding pass online the previous day, so I felt comfortable I had sufficient time for my 6 AM flight. I was wrong.
The security access points at SAT are poorly designed and administered, and when I entered the concourse there were two lines moving slowly with about a hundred people in each. At 5:15 AM, the power went out in all eight security screening terminals. Note, that the airport itself was unaffected, as well as the Starbucks and retail shops. Only the security terminals were down. This was disconcerting.
After about 20 minutes, TSA officials pulled their three brain cells together and hatched a plan to manually search all luggage and perform full pat-downs. By then, I was about thirty people from the license screener, and becoming quite nervous. Needless to say, others were becoming concerned as well, as screeners were taking about fifteen minutes per person. I arrived at my still-disabled terminal at 5:50, thinking that this would be a very close call.
Unfortunately, by 6 AM, as I watched my plane taxing to the runway to depart, my carefully folded clothes were being strewn across the screener table. At this point, I was pretty numb to it all, and had already navigated the seven stages of grief:
- Shock & denial (Delta will hold the plane for me/us, right?)
- Pain and guilt (I should have woken up at 3:30 AM. I am such an idiot.)
- Anger & Bargaining (TSA is a giant kindergarten class of miscreants)
- Depression/Reflection/Loneliness (It’s just a few thousand dollars and 9 months of my life I’ve lost this morning)
- The Upward Turn (I’ll catch the next flight)
- Reconstruction (Wait. It’s Spokane. It’s Ironman. I’ll never get in before the race)
- Acceptance & Hope (I’ll sue the airport/TSA/al Qaeda for my registration fee. Yah, that’s what I’ll do.)
Obviously, I was in a pretty dark place. As I sprinted down the corridor (my gate was the very last of course), I was met by the other passengers who had missed the same flight. There were three of us. The door was closed. It was 6:04 AM. A lot of other terrible stuff happened after that, but it ultimately came down to my best option was to take the last seat on a plane to Minneapolis/St. Paul (MPS), then the last seat on a plane to Seattle, and then if Jupiter aligned with Venus, I could possibly fly standby to Spokane. But that last flight was oversold by five, and there was no guarantee I wouldn’t spend the night in Seattle and have to drive to Spokane (which was about a four-hour drive).
As the enormity of the situation set in, and the stages of grief cycled again, I initially decided to drive home, start drinking heavily, and just see how the rest of the weekend played out. But, I finally realized the only legitimate option was to roll the dice and travel to Seattle. So I did.
At MPS, I sat in standby as I watched three planes of mostly triathletes fill to capacity and depart for Spokane. So many tech-t’s it was silly. Even guys in compressions socks and shorts. I continued on to Seattle, more than once wondering what the hell I was thinking. It’s Seattle. The closest large city to Spokane. There was no way I would get a seat on to that flight. At that point, I also realized how large and remote Idaho is. I did some quick checking on Google Maps on distances from Boise and Missoula, and discovered it was truly Seattle or bust.
You wouldn’t have known that from the Delta rep in San Antonio. She informed me that the next open trip from San Antonio to Spokane was Saturday. Wonderful. She enthusiastically encouraged me to consider flying into Portland and then driving. I asked her if she knew Portland was in Oregon. She then suggested connecting through Atlanta. Which seemed preposterous only to me apparently. You know, I’ve never, ever considered harming a women, but at that point I admit that I seriously considered pulling her hair. If that makes me a male chauvinist pig, I guess I’m guilty.
I got on the flight from Seattle to Spokane. God is good. I don’t know how, and I didn’t ask. I’ll tell you one thing, though: I’ve never been so happy to ride in the middle seat. My best guess is that some folks must have caught earlier flights. I didn’t care. I was on my way to Spokane, baby. I would be landing at 8 PM instead of 9:30 AM, but it was still Thursday. And Thursday was not Saturday. I was pretty well trashed at that point, though. I had just discovered upon arrival in Spokane that the TSA screener in San Antonio forgot to put my laptop back in my carry-on bag, and it was gone. I was too distressed to even care at that point. To this day, they claim they can’t find it. I’m sure they cannot.
I committed to making up for lost time on Friday by swimming in Lake Coeur d’Alene at 7 AM, to replicate what it would feel like at that time for the race on Sunday. It was about 52-53 degrees. I was shocked. It looked so peaceful and pristine from the shore, but upon entering my entire body seized up. My feet and hands quickly went numb- which was a blessing- but my forehead was pounding.
I pulled my neoprene cap down as low as I could up to my goggles, but it didn’t seem to matter. That strip of forehead was like a ten-minute ice-cream headache from hell. I tried dipping my head under water several times to acclimate, but it took awhile just to be able to hold it there. Of course, within a few minutes, my body resumed it’s normal functioning, and within about twenty minutes, I was swimming in the lake. I wasn’t sure how efficient this strategy would be on Sunday, but I figured I’d come up with something by then. I wouldn’t necessarily call the temperature of the water refreshing, but it was no longer debilitating either. It definitely wasn’t like the 80 degree water back home.
I saw some guys swimming sleeveless, and thought they must be insane. And that was the official introduction to a feeling that is near and dear to many new triathletes before Ironman: insecurity. I live in a small town. It’s one of the most unhealthy, least fitness-minded communities in the country. I’d say about 90% of the populace is somewhere between unhealthy and dying. And, of course, after a while, like everything you just kinda’ adjust and don’t even notice. You actually start to think you’re looking pretty good yourself.
And then you purposely drop yourself into Ironman Village (the expo), where there is not a lump of body fat to be found. Everybody is fit, tan, attractive and super-cheery. It’s intimidating. It’s overwhelming. It’s obnoxious. It’s almost stupid. Even the spouses look like models. The kids are doing pull-ups on tree branches. Their purebred dogs are lean and behaved.
It’s at this point, in my experience, that you have to consciously remind yourself that this isn’t some fun-run, and it’s not your local sprint. This is Ironman, it’s a full Ironman, and one of the most popular races on the circuit. People don’t stumble into this race on a dare or a last-minute whim. These people signed up a year ago, and they’re just passing through on the way to world fitness domination. Or at least they look that way.
After awhile, you’ll actually discover that below the pro level, you cannot derive Ironman race performance by looks or physiology. True Ironman pedigree is largely internal. You have to have a powerful engine, but lots of super-fit folks are walking the run course by mile 6. But I’ll get to that later. The point is one should be prepared for the experience, and be willing to keep away from the Village as much as possible. It’s not healthy. You really don’t need more Creatine-enhanced shakes, laces made from Tibetan goat hair and carbon fiber IT Band rollers. Surrounding yourself in that environment will drive you crazy. My philosophy is to get in, get out, and enjoy the rest of the experience. These people are as nutty as you.
With that mindset, I committed to knocking out as much pre-race admin as possible that morning. I picked up my race packet, signed all of WTC’s liability waivers, and then headed over to TriBike Transport (TBT) to pick up my bike- which had been shipped from San Antonio the previous week. This was my first experience with TBT and I must say that I was quite pleased. They have a cozy relationship with Ironman that allows them to be the one and only bike transporter located in the Village. They’re not cheap, but compared to breaking down and shipping your bike via the airlines, I would say they’re a good value. I was not feeling love for the airlines at that moment. And if you book with TBT before the first of the year, they also offer you a sizable discount, free personal gear bag shipped, and a wheel bag if you race on different wheels than you train on. They also ship your bike in one piece, requiring only that you remove pedals and any saddle hydration systems (like those from X-Lab and Profile Design.)
From there, I decided it would be prudent to take the bike out for a quick spin on the course. My plan was to loosen up the legs, make sure nothing was damaged in transport and just get familiar with the course terrain. However, in the first mile I discovered that my Quarq power meter was no longer sending a signal to the computer, which I found odd since I always replace my batteries the week before a big race. I was thankful to learn this on Friday and not Sunday. As I returned back to town, I fell in behind a young women rider; and as she was riding at about my speed, I resigned myself to draft off her for a few minutes since the road was windy and still open to traffic in both directions.
Then, as we were descending one of the steeper hills of that section of the course, I suddenly heard a pop and a hiss- like a firecracker going off. Immediately, I could tell that I had popped a tire, or what I call “blowing a tubie.” As the young vixen rolled off into the sunset with nary a passing glance, I was forced to steady my rig to prevent running into the side of the hill or crossing into oncoming traffic. My last three bike accidents have occurred on descents, so I really was quite nervous until coming to a complete stop at the bottom of the hill.
This was an unfortunate occurrence for several reasons. The first, and most immediate, was that I would be forced to replace a tire, of course, which is way down on my list of favorite things to do. For those who may not be aware, replacing a flat tubular tire is not as easy as your standard clincher tire. With the latter, one removes the tire from the rim, pulls out the damaged inner tube, and replaces it with a new one before reinstalling both.
Replacing a tubular, on the other hand, can require many hours of effort over several days in a controlled environment. This is because a tubular tire is composed of a inner sub that is “sewed” inside the outer tire, which is then glued down to the rim. Done properly, this gluing process should take place over several days, as the rider applies multiple layers of glue to both the rim and the tire separately and then allows each to dry several times, before finally pulling the “sticky” tire over the “sticky” rim (no small feat by the way) and letting the glue from both surfaces meld into one over at least another day. This was the preferred method. But here it was Friday and I would have to complete all of these tasks on a slightly “accelerated” schedule, thus running the risk of further problems during the biggest athletic event of my life.
And did I forget to mention that in my haste to escape the Village, I had left my spare tire in the gear bag back at TBT? I figured I was only riding ten or so miles, so the law of numbers was on my side. Little did I know that nothing would be on my side this weekend. So when I flatted, I had no tire to replace it with. And even though the road was open to traffic as previously mentioned, there weren’t a ton of folks driving it that day. So I was looking at the possibility of having to carry the bike about five miles back into town on my back. And so I did, tossing my rig over a shoulder and starting the long walk home.
Fortune was a cruel and betwixing mistress this weekend, for after about 10-15 minutes an Ironman road crew truck actually pulled up beside me and offered to give me a lift back into town. They mentioned that they still had some work left to complete on the course before they could drop me off, and asked if I would mind? With the possibility of another hour of walking still ahead of me, I thought about it for about a half of one second before jumping in the back. Crisis averted, but at this point I was starting to get a little nervous about what would lay around the next bend, metaphorically.
The lesson in all of this is that you shouldn’t draft, even in training. There are many good reasons for this, but none more pertinent than because you cannot see the road in front of you and might end up rolling over something you shouldn’t.
My schedule for the day was starting to unravel, so I quickly headed back home to begin the tubular replacement process. I cut and stripped the damaged tire and then unpacked my spare. As is discouraged by the manufacturer but is common in the sport, I then laid down on the floor and wrapped one end of the very expensive Continental Competition tubular tire around my feet, while pulling the other end of the tire toward my neck with my hands, stretching it out to get it over the rim. Done in haste or improperly, you can ruin your tire. But done with love and care, it is an effective maneuver. It’s always humbling, as if you’ve ever tried to wrap a tubie around a carbon rim before, you know how difficult it can be. Doing it with glue already applied in something akin to changing a tire on your car on the way to a wedding. Things are going to get messy. Very messy.
It was an ordeal. And yet ironic: the rim is a French Mavic Cosmic Carbone. The tire and glue are German. The bike is Canadian. And the muscle involved was 100% American. So I commented to my team that if I could just get the Chinese involved somehow, I could hold a UN summit right there in the bedroom. Once sealed, I prayed for the gods of quick drying glue to bless me with their infinite goodness, pumped up the tire and took the bike out in the neighborhood for another spin.
But something felt off during the ride that I just couldn’t place, so I rolled the bike back into the Ironman Village (I know, right?) to the service tent to do a tune up and went to dinner. While there, I received a call from one of their technicians informing me that they had spent some time looking over the entire bike and running some strength tests, before identifying that one of the carbon rims had cracked slightly on the outer rear rim. They said it wasn’t structurally stable and that I definitely shouldn’t ride on it before having it checked out by Mavic. Today I cannot remember exactly how I reacted, but I believe it was something along the lines of “Is this a joke?” and some other words tossed in for effect.
At that point, it was Friday evening. I had already spent good money shipping the bike, replacing the tire and performing a tune-up. And now I was down to one good rim for a race occurring in less than two days. Things were not proceeding well. My cortisol levels were through the roof. After some quick consultation, it appeared my only option left was to rent a wheel from Race Day Rentals, which is (shocker) aligned with TriBike Transport, which as we already have identified, is closely aligned with Ironman. Indeed, the Holy Trinity of Gouging. I was making it rain all over the Ironman Village.
And if you knew me well, you’d know that I HATE spending money. (I don’t even turn on my heater in the winter.) It’s even worse if it’s an expense that’s unexpected and isn’t in the budget. And it’s the worst when I feel I have no other option. The fact that it would be in the Ironman Village, and I might as well have been tied down, beaten, robbed and left for dead by the tri-elders. When it was all said and done, I was fortunate that they still had a few left to rent, so we swapped out my rear tire for a disc wheel, and I was able to check it in just in time for bike check-in on Saturday.
Honestly, at this point I wanted to go home and hide in a closet. I figured if I wasn’t actually moving, I was probably safe from hurting myself or others. So I went back and thought I’d settle in for the night, eat and get my head straight for the big event tomorrow. At this point, you probably think there’s not much left that could go wrong. Not so fast.
I have a fairly established pre-race ritual routine. I think rituals in athletics are very important, as they can bring calm and stability to a stressful and chaotic situation. They eliminate unwanted surprises and unpredictable events. So I maintain a strict schedule of defined habits in the hours and days leading up to a big race. They usually don’t fail me. For instance, I typically head to Subway for a big sandwich for an early dinner. No cheese, no dressing, but plenty of vegetables and proteins and (wheat) bread. I drink a ton of water. I eschew salt tablets for pickle juice to top off my sodium stores, and switch to Ensure Plus drinks right up to race start. You’d be shocked at how much these little bottles pack in them in the way of sodium, protein and carbohydrates: they’re not just for grandma anymore.
I usually try to get to bed quite early in the evening before a race so that I can begin an extensive visualization process that spans several hours before eventually falling to sleep. I’m basically an insomniac in normal life, so this helps at least mitigate the risk of spending the night before just staring at the ceiling. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, I play out the race in my head, and by starting early, I can usually wear myself out pretty good and get at least a few hours of sleep. I also pee a lot and the Ensure usually helps in clearing out my system as well.
Except when it doesn’t. I hadn’t had to use the bathroom since I arrived in CDA, and that was becoming a concern. I even pulled out Plan B and Plan C the night before, which is a Coke and some Hershey’s Dark Chocolate, respectively. No dice- I was getting more nervous. At 185 lbs, I’m already considered big in the triathlon world. I’m not a fun-loving Clydesdale, but I’m not the svelte 160 lb thoroughbred either. So I really, really needed to lose some weight before the race or Sunday was going to be a very heavy day. Nothing wrong with water-retention, though. I think I got up eight times to pee that night- so much that I started to get mad. Nothing was going right internally. And then the music started around nine.
I forgot to mention that I choose to rent a house in Hayden, the adjacent community to CDA, to stay outside the bubble of Ironman Village. By and large, that was a smart decision. Except when the neighbors decided to throw a block party the night before the biggest race of my life. I started getting edgy when I was working on the tire and I could hear the party supply company setting up next door. That’s right, the neighbors had hired professionals to build the party in the backyard. No problem, I thought- I’ll be asleep before it really gets going. Besides, it’s Idaho, how crazy could this thing really get? Unless people start showing up in adult diapers and pacifiers, I’ve seen far worse. I’ve done far worse.
I probably don’t have to go on for you to guess what happens next. In this neighborhood, as in several others I drove through, the folks own large lots- maybe 2-3 acres- and a lot of them actually use them to grow stuff. Which I think is totally cool. But when cars started pulling up and parking on the grass several rows deep, I definitely started to freak out. So I rushed into my P.J.’s and tried to get into bed extra early. And that’s when the karaoke started.
Believe me, I know this is all starting to sound implausible, because it did to me at first, too. But as the hits kept coming in the night- Vanilla Ice, Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, Adele, you name it- I realized that tomorrow was going to be a very long day. I had thoughts of calling the police, but really they weren’t that loud. They were just loud enough. And besides, the whole neighborhood was there. Who’s to say the sheriff wasn’t the one singing “I Got You, Babe” by Sonny and Cher? I even tried my swim earplugs, but then I worried that I might sleep through the alarm clock. So I just closed my eyes and prayed for silence. And it came around midnight. I think I got about four hours of sleep. At that point, I was near delirium. It was almost comical.
I did eventually fall asleep, and did eventually wake up in plenty of time for the race. I felt like I really had woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Usually in Texas, you’re arriving to T1 in the dark, but I guess because of the proximity to the north pole the sun was already up when I left the house. Traffic was thick getting into the area, of course, and the secret lot I had identified the day before turned out to be not-that-secret-after-all. I ended up driving around and around before parking on the campus of Northern Idaho College, and headed off to set up my transition. That went relatively smoothly, so I headed back to the car to drop off my bag and clothing while the pros started their swim.
Unfortunately, I got turned around, couldn’t find the lot or the car, and finally gave up and started running back to the race-start in flip flops and board shorts, with a wetsuit tossed over my back. It’s also at this point that I accepted that I was a complete goober. Who loses their car, right? It was a sobering moment of clarity. And I could still hear Vanilla Ice ringing in my ears as I arrived at the swim start with about ten minutes to spare.
As I arrived at the beach, I figured that maybe all the pre-race insanity had been a good thing, as I had worked up quite a sweat running around campus and figured that maybe this would heat me up and aid my entrance into the water, which had warmed considerably that week to about 58-59 degrees. I had been gradually preparing for the swim start for weeks, but I have to admit that nothing on Earth could have prepared me for the sight before me: 2500 wetsuit-clad lunatics huddled onto a short strip of beach about the length of a football field. It was a horrifying scene. Take a look.
Next time you get aggravated by having to share a swim lane with others, think of this and punch yourself in the face for me, to get the effect. Bouys had been set up, as usual, to denote the basic rectangle-shaped swim course: about 900 meters out from shore, 100 meters across, and then 900 meters back. We would do it twice, exiting the first loop by running back along the beach to the original start for about fifty meters and swimming the loop again. What caught me as disconcerting from the very beginning was the placement of the buoys representing the outer perimeter of the swim channel, beyond which boats were anchored.
Specifically, the entrance to this channel representing the first side of the swim started out wide to accommodate all the swimmers on the shore (again, think the length of a couple football sidelines), but quickly narrowed to about 60 meters across within about 200 meters from shore. So if you were to imagine six lanes of traffic on an expressway narrowing to one, you’d have an idea of what this looked like. Suddenly, the enormity of the whole calamity seemed real to me, as I gazed across glassy-eyed at the hundreds of swimmers, then out towards the buoys, then back at the swimmers, and then back to the buoys. I hadn’t even remembered to fear the water temperature.
As advised by Coach Rich the day before, I had decided to align myself with the pole about fifty meters out that is used to rope in the swim area for recreational swimmers, to protect them from boaters. (I know. The idea that people actually swam in 55 degree water for enjoyment completely blew my mind, too. But I saw it with my own eyes the day before, so I knew it was true.) Anyone that would worry that I might run into the pole has never seen me swim in open-water, as the only thing I was sure of by actually aiming at the pole was that I would assuredly not hit the pole. I’m not as bad as many, but I wouldn’t draft off of me either.
The race organizers wouldn’t let anybody in the water before the race, which was a major buzz kill. People were nervous, I could tell. No one was talking or joking around. No one was even stretching. I think many were in a trance-like state, with that first inkling that maybe this was a bad idea. Most of us have that notion at some point in a race, but usually it’s deep into the run. I always have it before the swim, but again, I can barely float so that’s not a huge surprise there.
7 AM. Gun goes off. There’s an awkward moment of hesitation as people slowly move forward… and then just chaos. Mad, mad chaos. I’ve read some other reports that claim the swim start wasn’t that bad. I’m not sure what race they participated in. I was terrified. It was awful. In life, the fear of something is usually never as bad as the event itself. This was not one of those events. There are only two things that truly scare me in this life. One is carnies (small hands, smell like cabbage, etc..) The other is mass swim starts. I’ve done two: Texas and Coeur d’Alene. And I think I’m probably good for life.
Picture the scene: arms and legs thrashing everywhere, people slapping, kicking, pushing, pulling… even some screaming… and some of that wasn’t even me! It really felt as if you and a bunch of your drunk college buddies bought a baby pool, filled it up with water in the front lawn, and started jumping around to see how much water you could displace just by just stomping up and down. As we all know by now, I’m deeply claustrophobic. I don’t even liked to be touched. In fact, don’t even look at me. And I knew what I was getting into. I realized I had no one to blame but myself. I had paid good money for this. But at that moment, I wanted to be anywhere but right there. I said a little prayer and started moving forward.
Like many others I assume, I decided that the only way to extricate myself from this horrible, horrible situation was to just start kicking and paddling. There were bodies everywhere- like a big, huge neoprene rubber orgy. We were all family now, and I estimate that you could touch a half-dozen people without even moving.
I thought about all the strategies I had ever read about drafting and almost laughed. It wasn’t until the first turn buoy that I even saw a buoy. Otherwise, I was just swimming in the same direction as everybody else, like a bunch of lemmings, a herd of cattle headed for the slaughter chute. We could have swum to Canada and I wouldn’t have noticed till we hit shore.
I’d like to say it wasn’t that bad. That it was quick and painless, even fun in retrospect. And that I’m a better man for experiencing this late-onset entrance into manhood. That everybody should do it once in their life. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, blah, blah, blah… Or something cool like that. I can’t. It was the absolute worst. I’m already enrolled in therapy because it’s gonna take years to unravel what these eyes have seen.
And I thought the water temperature would be the most stressful part. Not even close. I would say it wasn’t even until the first turn around back towards the shore that I performed a full stroke without touching somebody. About halfway through the initial length, one guy in particular kept grabbing my leg. Not once or twice, but something like 4-5 times. I finally turned around and out of nowhere exclaimed “Dude! Back the @#$^ up before you get smacked the @#$^ up!”
What’s funny is, I don’t even talk like that. It’s true that I had been listening to a lot of 2pac that weekend, and I think my reaction caught us both off-guard. And it was so tight at this point that he actually heard me. It was that level of insanity, like we were in a football scrum. He pushed me hard, so I pushed him back, and then I guess I got nervous that he might actually beat the crap out of me. Everybody looks menacing with goggles on. So I started kicking like hell and came up about 100 meters down the channel. We were just all along for the ride at that point. In my mind I was counting strokes, but deeper inside, my id was yelling, “Make it stop, fool!”
With all that said and done, I emerged from the first lap onto the beach and heard Mike Reilly call out my name and time as 36 minutes even. I thought, “Hell ya, I’m a damn fish!” and quickly jumped back in the water. I’m pretty much a MOP swimmer- about 2:00/100 meters- so I had originally thought that if I could just swim 76 minutes and live to tell about it, then I’d be thrilled. Just break-even, baby. So when I learned that I was two minutes ahead of schedule, I felt grateful: 72 minutes seemed possible now that I could complete a full stoke without contact.
I can say that the second lap was more like what you might think of as your traditional half-distance swim start: a few hundred folks within the same general vicinity, with lots of faster swimmers just passing through on their way to lapping you’re a$$. This would have been true except that’s about when the winds started picking up, coming out of the southeast about 10 mph.
Now admittedly, just off the heels of the IM St George fiasco, I knew this wasn’t even in the same ballpark from what I saw online for that event. Not even the same sport. But the swim back out was choppy and rough. And it was beating some people up, me included. I took in more water in Lap 2 than I did on Lap 1, and I kept expecting to look up and see a helicopter descending to pick up Maverick and Goose. Coming back in was a much better experience- I read some folks comparing it to “body surfing.” While I wouldn’t go that far, it was definitely better. But results don’t lie: my time was way, way off: a disappointing 43 minutes for Lap 2- pretty bad, even for me. Still surprises me. But at least I emerged out of Lucifer’s Wake.
The one thing I can say about Lake CDA is that the water wasn’t nearly as filthy as Lake Woodlands (IMTX). I know because I drank a lot of water. Apparently, that’s my best swim skill. I drank so much water I partially expected to see a bill in my mailbox from the city when I returned home. Even before the first lap was over, I wondered if it would be considered bulimic to induce throwing up right there. I felt sick to my stomach. Between the rushed pre-race anxiety, and the shock of the water, and all the jabs to my head and stomach, and that delicious Ensure swirling around in my belly with the Coke and the chocolate and the Subway sandwich, my gut was a mess. I still hadn’t “passed ” all weekend, so I was super-nervous about what laid ahead on the bike.
Normally, I don’t highlight transition. It’s a simple affair. You’re in and you’re out. But today would be special. (Would you seriously expect anything less?) It had rained the night before, so I felt like a genius for putting all of my gear in both transition bags within giant Ziploc bags, so everything was dry when I unpacked it. I grabbed my blue T1 bag, headed to an open spot of grass and dumped it all out. I had been alone when I arrived, but within about a minute there were dudes all around me doing the same thing. That’s the life of a MOP, I guess. No big deal, I thought. I just worked through the process like I had rehearsed. I wanted to have a good T1 time, so I quickly threw all of the swim stuff in the bag, tied it and was up and moving. I threw the bag on top of the big pile with about a hundred other bags, grabbed my bike, but suddenly realized I didn’t have my sunglasses. Where were my sunglasses, yo?
Crap. I set my bike against the railing and went back to my spot. Not there. Looked around. Not there. I must have left them in my bag, which is very unlikely since I dumped the entire thing out, but whatever, this was no time to argue with myself. I went back to the pile. Oh, God. The pile was now at least 50% larger than when I had left, and guys were running by and throwing their bags on top of it as I stood there, dumbfounded.
At this point, my brain was complete mush. I couldn’t have done simple multiplication if you’d asked (please, no jokes). And I thought I was dreaming. I remembered that I was smart enough to throw my bag off to the side of the pyramid of bags, so I started flipping over those bags, looking for mine. I did this for a good five minutes before returning back to the original spot. As if. Still not there, no surprise. Then I returned back to the pile, and searched again. Gone. I’m starting to get a little panicky. What do I do now? This is not happening! Seven stages of grief all over again… denial, guilt, anger, bargaining, making promises to God if he’ll help me out just this once, the whole cycle.. you know the deal.
Suddenly, this big guy rushes past me – I’ll call him Johnny M.Dot –almost knocks me over, and yells, “Move, bitch!”
I know, I know, that was about the same reaction I had.
I was like, ”Oh no, he didn’t…” But it quickly set in that he, in fact, did. Several key things happened at that moment. First is, of course, I got mad. And I decided that I must destroy him. Secondly, it woke me up. As you can imagine, it’s quite rare that someone calls me a bitch. Like almost never. But it was just enough of a shock to my system to disrupt my thought process. And that’s when I “came to,” accepted that my sunglasses were gone or buried, and realized that I needed to leave. Now. Which I did. The third aspect of that terrible comment would come full circle later in the race, but you’ll have to read on to learn how.
So I grabbed my bike and headed out the exit, having lost well over ten minutes in T1 looking for my damn lost sunglasses. I was completely devastated. Several things came to mind. First, I was furious with myself. Who loses their sunglasses? It’s like forgetting your bike. It never happens. Second, it was still overcast at that point, but we all knew the sun was coming out eventually, and I was predicting sometime around noon. That was going to suck more than I could even know- I suddenly realized that had never ridden competitively without sunglasses. Have you? Probably not. So that fact started to soak in painfully.
Thirdly, I realized that in addition to the sun, the wind would almost certainly be a factor. Even if it didn’t pick up, I was so ridiculously fast on the bike (not really) that it was bound to dry out my eyes. And I wear contacts. And here I was, the only moron on a course of 2500 without sunglasses. The marshals wear sunglasses. Even the aid station volunteers wear sunglasses. Would they laugh at me as I rolled by? I know I would.
I always have spares. Spare tubes, spare CO2, spare nutrition, even spare visors. I had never conceived of bringing a spare set of sunglasses. Even if I rode back to get some out of the car before arriving back at T2 (assuming I could even find my car!), the keys were in my race-day bag and it still would be after riding six hours on the bike.
And then there was my third thought- perhaps the most devastating, the one I’m embarrassed to even mention, but will simply bring up to complete the self-immolation: without sunglasses, there would be no way to look at chicks on the course without being branded as a tri-pervert. Today was going to suck.
At this point it started to marinate that I probably wasn’t going to win any prize money today, nor was I going to qualify for Kona this round. I probably wouldn’t even see someone who would do so on the course all day. I knew I had lost 10 free minutes, but I refused to lose my @#$^, either. I decided then and there that I would do the best I could with what I had (looks, brawn, wit, jokes, etc.), and let the chips fall where they may. Given my luck thus far, if I could cross the finish line with all my limbs intact I would consider the day a success.
The new IM CDA bike course is essentially an upside-down “L” shape, in which you head east along the north side of the lake for about 15 miles out-and-back, then south for about 40 miles out-and-back, and then do it all over again. The two-lane road running along the northern end of the lake parallels the run path sitting between the road and the water. It’s a beautiful stretch with only one major hill. Once you return back into town, you then travel south on I-95 for about twenty miles, turn around and head back.
I really think it’s an awesome bike course. It’s got all you could want with the exception of technical challenge- essentially, the complete opposite of the former course that headed north into Hayden and had lots of twists and turns. The road surface was spectacular, possibly the best overall pavement I’ve ever ridden on in a race from start to finish. The primary features of the course are the two long, steady ascents on I-95, the first about four miles outside of CDA and the second about eight miles. They are imposing, tough and take discipline and strength to traverse properly. There are plenty of opportunities to make strategy mistakes, which I like.
Once you surmount the second hill, you then encounter a series of reasonable rollers before the turnaround. There is generally a wind coming in from the SE that can range from moderate to strong and can change direction suddenly. Of course, the ride out there is harder because you have to ascend, then descend, then ascend again, while the return rewards you with the two descents. The second descent is somewhat neutralized however by some narrow, no-passing zones that can be congested and force you to slow down prematurely. Regardless, I enjoyed riding it, and thought the entire ride was the shizzle.
I completed my first lap in 3:04. I had a conservative goal of 3:00, and really thought I could lay down a much faster split on the second lap if I pushed the pace. My primary goal for the race was to run the whole marathon, however, so I was committed to doing so at whatever pace was necessary on both the bike and the run. I was aiming for 6 hours on the bike, and so I planned to sit on my appropriate Iron-distance power of 180W, tackling the hills at no more than 200W. I felt good on the bike, but never pushed myself over the edge, especially on the first lap.
The year before, I completed the IMTX bike in 5:50, which was about 30 minutes beyond my ability, and I paid for it dearly on the run. Like most rookies, I just completely left it all out on that course in the Woodlands. Of course, being a pre-EN race, I just didn’t know it yet. So this year I promised myself I would not make that mistake no matter what, so while the first loop wasn’t necessarily leisurely, it was definitely reserved and prudent. I would be patient and disciplined, err on the side of less effort, and trust that the field would come back to me on the run. And I would go so far as to say that the actual course itself was a formidable challenge. I talked to lots of folks afterward who thought the ride was “brutal” and ultimately hurt them on the run. Many mentioned that they were surprised at how much harder it was than they expected, and although I didn’t curse it, I would largely agree with their opinion. It was a course fitting an Ironman- not complicated like IM Moo, but not simple like IMTX or IMFL either.
As a member of Endurance Nation, I was told that many, if not most, of the other riders would ride too aggressively- trying to crush the hills and the first loop- and pay for it later. Surprisingly, I didn’t observe a lot of riders pushing too hard on either of the hills or even the first lap, so I posited that either a.) people had finally figured out how to ride or b.) the hills were simply too steep for people to crush them even if they had wanted to. In hindsight, I believe the latter is the more-likely scenario. These hills were no joke, and I think that people were doing the best they could just to get up them at all, much less come out of the saddle and blow themselves up doing so. The slow climb required was actually more out of necessity than strategy.
On the second lap, I definitely saw some people suffering, working up the hills way too hard and riding far too aggressively. That perplexed me. So while I initially had my doubts that the EN model would apply on this day based on what I saw (and misunderstood) on Lap 1, their assertion ultimately played out correctly, and becoming quite apparent on Lap 2. I guess folks were either trying to make up some time or just getting mentally lazy.
As funny as this may sound, even with my (relatively) weak bike performance, I still believed I was stronger than the majority of the field, if not quite at the pointy end of it (yet!). So I was surprised at how difficult it was to pass other cyclists all day, especially in the beginning stages. Upon reflection, I believe what I was experiencing was a field that was working too hard on Lap 1, and then having the consequences slowly manifest throughout the rest of the day. I cannot quite quantify it, and could be completely wrong, but I believe I was probably putting out an IF around .65 range (slightly too easy) while others were (unknowingly) putting in something closer to .8 (much too hard). On the surface, it appeared that we were equals, but in reality they were setting themselves up for a fall. Again, we were in MOP territory now, so I saw a little bit of everything.
OK, so that’s just the half of the story. As we all know by now, I rolled out of T1 naked- without sunglasses. I was growing increasingly agitated and concerned: was I really going to spend the next eleven hours without sunglasses? Not only would I not look cool, and not only would I suffer certain discomfort from the combination of sun and wind (and later some rain), but I would not be able to look at chicks. So I did the only thing I had left in my bag of mental tricks.
First, I took the action of actually “losing” my sunglasses and put it in a figurative “box,” and threw that box away. Just tossed it in the lake. It was in the past, there was nothing I could do about it and to dwell on it any more would only tarnish this experience that I had trained so hard for. And it didn’t deserve that kind of control over my day. Then, I forced myself to be positive and proactive. You can even see it in my face. I asked myself, “Self, you’re so smart and wise, what is the most productive thing you can do at this exact moment to address this problem?” And although this was a great mentality to carry with me, as you can imagine I didn’t come up with much. Pretty corny, but what would you propose?
I had plenty of time to brainstorm, so I considered several options. I hadn’t traveled with anyone I knew, so I couldn’t ask someone to pick some cheap ones up the next time I rode past them. I thought about asking the only spectator I knew for help (sadly, Coach Rich), but it was doubtful I would see him and even if I did, would he even want to or be able to help? I mean, he had a whole stable of athletes to watch over- some that were actually competitive- so I dismissed this idea pretty quickly. Besides, what if he got mad at me for my foolishness and cut me from the team right there? That’s be rough. (Would he even prorate my EN membership for the last week of June? Doubtful.) Next, I considered deviating from the course at some point to buy some cheap shades. This was a grand plan in theory, except that my cash- like my keys- were buried in some other pile in the Ironman Village. (Damn you, Ironman Village!! Must you taunt me forever!!)
Plan C was that if I got all the way back to T2 without a solution, I would sneak back into T1, snag my bag and get my glasses. I thought this was a pretty good one, but cringed at the thought of riding without protection until then. The run was not nearly as big a deal because I could wear a visor and it would probably be dark by the time I exited the bike. There’d be no scoping chicks, but hey, I was moving in the right direction.
I was desperate. At one point, I even hatched a Plan D to steal sunglasses off of another rider. You read that right. This was an actual thought, folks. And a sick, demented one at that, it even creeped me out. But it was a fleeting one, I promise. Like, seriously, who would think of that? It lasted about one second. I mean, come on, you have to think outside the box here! I would never have ever done something like that, but hey, Satan is real and can be very persuasive when you’re tired and in need of stylish eye protection, so please don’t judge me too harshly. And it wasn’t so much steal, as borrow for the day. I had to laugh though, as I guessed that’d be my best and only chance to get in the Ironman record books: lifetime ban for petty larceny. (So, who wants to ride with me next weekend?)
However, I did decide that if I encountered Johnny M.Dot anywhere on the course, and the scenario was just right, I was going to push him down, call him a bitch (or something to similar effect), and then snatch his glasses right off his smug face, and ride off into the sunset. It wasn’t exactly Clint Eastwood material, but I figured it would make a statement. I immediately rifled through my memory of Ironman penalty infractions, and couldn’t recollect anything about theft, so I added that to the “maybe” bucket and continued on. I would have my revenge. Luckily, for him (and my soul), that never happened.
And there was one final option. It was the nuclear option. It was so outlandish, so impossible, so outside the box that it actually seemed feasible. And it’s at this moment where The Story of the Missing Ironman Sunglasses makes its next and most dramatic turn: I actually decided that I was going to pray to God to send me a pair of sunglasses.
I know, I know.. that sounds wild, right? But just hear me out: I had just emerged from Plan D, which was a pretty awful idea, I admit. I had already started down the road to perdition. My glasses had been unfairly and without just cause snatched from me by fate’s cruel hand. I had considered and dismissed all the best options (and one that was not). At this point, I had nowhere else to turn.
It also didn’t hurt that I had just finished reading The Secret a few months back. If you haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a great self-help book based on the law of attraction, which is said to work by attracting into a person’s life the experiences, situations, events, and people that ‘match the frequency’ of the person’s thoughts and feelings. Lot of new-age mumbo-jumbo, I thought. I’m a pretty left-brained, cerebral and logical kinda’ guy, so it wasn’t a concept I had entirely accepted. But at the moment, it seemed like the best option going, and much better than my previous one.
So I set about focusing on a set of cool new sunglasses, basically like Luke Skywalker would have done in Star Wars. I spent the rest of the race scouring the landscape for the magical glasses that would save my day. I had visions that they would glow, like the codes in The Da Vinci Code, and I would ride by on my trusty steed (Cervelo P2), swoop them up and ride them to Ironman glory. This was a bit of a stretch, I know, but with five more hours left on the bike at that point, I figured I had plenty of time to refine the storyline before I sold the movie rights.
And guess what? As I traversed the first major hill of Lap 1, you know what I found? Not much, actually. I encountered a spare “tubie” (a cruel twist of fate, I thought), several empty GU packets and plenty of jettisoned water bottles. Even a bike chain. But no glasses. I kept riding. Then, just as I crested Hill 2 and started back down the other side, I almost ran right over a pair of white sunglasses laying in the road.
No way… Sunglasses? Are you sure? Yep, those were definitely sunglasses.
Should I go back? I mean, I’m screaming down this hill, I’ve got several dozen riders behind me. I’m a triathlete, I barely know how to use my brakes…
And wait… are those women’s sunglasses?
I think sometimes God screws with you just to make sure you’re really “all-in,” don’t you? Just to make sure you’re committed, and that you really want what you think you want. Like starting Ironman races with mass swim starts, for instance. And it’s at these moments of maximum lucidity that you’re forced to decide what’s really important in life. And at that moment, sunglasses seemed really important in my life.
At first I thought I had dreamed them. But I knew that couldn’t be, because in my dreams I would have seen expensive men’s Oakley’s. And these were cheap, and I mean cheap women’s sunglasses.
So did I go back?
You bet your sweet ass I did. Right there, in that quintessential instant of existentialism, I stopped right there in the road, almost taking out a couple riders doing so. I turned my bike around and started riding back up the shoulder of the incline. Immediately, my thoughts turned to the peloton bearing down over the hill in front of me- about a dozen of them (totally drafting by the way). I said to myself, “Oh please, please don’t break my glasses!” That would have been the cruelest twist of fate of all. And you know what? They didn’t. They rode right on past.
I pulled up and snatched the glasses right off the ground. Then, I started looking around, to make sure no one was watching, that they hadn’t been planted there by the authorities. Just like all those creepers on Dateline: To Catch A Predator. (Yes, I’m in the middle of freakin’ Northern Idaho. Standing in the freeway. In the middle of an Ironman. 100 miles from the Canadian border. And I’m looking around for possible witnesses to my crime. I have major problems.)
Initially, I seriously doubted whether they were racing glasses at all because they were so cheesy. But then I remembered that this is triathlon: the cheesier the better. Always and forever. These had that ultraviolet, rainbow-fade, WWF-style tint so popular in the nineties, and then later resurrected for our great sport.
I pulled over to the side of the road to check them out. No scratches? Check. No major structural defects? Check. Stylish? Check. They were made for a smaller face for sure and they were definitely women’s shades. But not too bad. And I wasn’t really in a position to be picky at that point. Actually, they looked pretty good. Besides, I figured once you start wearing compression socks, shaving your legs and peeing in your race kit, you’ve pretty much crossed a point of no return in my book.
Bart was back!
Immediately, I felt bad because I knew that someone else had lost these sunglasses and would be suffering without them. They probably didn’t even know they had dropped them yet. I even thought of putting them back in the road. Or turning them in at the next aid station. Or asking somebody. And I almost did.
But then I remembered The Secret. The law of attraction. The universe needing to be in alignment. And on and on… And how I had specifically asked for these. Well, not these exactly. I had specifically asked for Oakleys. But sunglasses nonetheless. And God placed them there, in the road, just for me. I reasoned that it would be an insult to him- and the universe- if I didn’t wear them in the race and on the podium afterwards. There was no doubt that Occam’s Razor was directing me towards this time and place. And who’s to say these sunglasses weren’t actually my glasses reincarnated? When it comes to karmic justice, far be it for me to ask how such things work. Hell, I don’t even understand how airplanes fly, so this stuff was way beyond my pay-grade.
Again, I was really desperate. The sun had come out and it was getting hot. These women’s sunglasses and I were meant to be together, our union was my destiny.
And who was I to question my destiny?
One minute you’re seriously considering aggravated assault on a perfect stranger. The next you’re rocking women’s sunglasses. Life’s a funny, funny riddle.
It’s hard to really recollect much of what happened after that, It all gets a little hazy. There was the race up to this point, and then everything else. I did some good riding, but nothing dramatic. I didn’t have the best bike split of my life. Winds picked up significantly on the second loop and blew a bunch of us around, a virtual repeat of the swim. I felt strong, but still gave up about twenty minutes. Others were definitely starting to fade- and I was definitely picking off a few- but in general the field was pretty solid. Good riders, no wrecks, nobody sprawled out on the side of the road, bleeding and being attended to by EMT’s.
I did run into Johnny M.Dot again. He was waiting to use the porta-potty around mile 80. I saw him pretty far out, so I was sure it was him when I approached. As I rode by, he saw me, but I doubt he recognized me. (Maybe it was my new sunglasses.) So I yelled out, “Not moving so fast now, bitch…” and just rode on. I should have kept my mouth shut- what if he had caught me on the run? I felt bad, I still do. But the way I look at it, he came out okay. At least he didn’t get his sunglasses jacked. The universe shines on all of us sometimes.
Okay, so another strange thing that happened to me on the bike course that is still bothering me. As I was conquering the first hill, I’m sitting back in the saddle, hands on the hoods, dialing in the power, and a guy rides up, reads my kit and says, “Kerrville, huh? Cool.” I don’t get out much, so I figured that’s kinda’ like a compliment in the tri-world and responded, “That’s right. Where you from?” To which he responds, “San Antonio. But my best friend lives in Kerrville.” So I’m like, “Right on.”
But he’s Ricky Racer, pounding it up the hill, while I’m Mr. Patient, just letting him go on by. And as usual, I catch him on the descent, only to have him power past me on the second hill. And this continues on for some time before he speeds out of sight as I perform my infamous sunglass heist.
Well, later in the ride on Lap 2, I catch back up to Ricky Racer on- would you believe it?- the first big hill again. So he’s a little bit more fatigued this round, and we ride for a few minutes together. And I’m feeling a little chatty, we’ve got another ten minutes of climb left and I’ve got nowhere to be at the moment, so I say, “So San Antonio, huh? That’s cool. What part?”
“Oh, I’m not in San Antonio anymore. I moved to Austin a few years ago.”
So I thinking to myself, “OK, that’s kinda’ weird but whatever…” and so I ask “So do you ride with a club?
He says, “No, just me, I’m up in Cedar Park.”
And I respond,” Cool, cool… So what does your friend do in Kerrville? Maybe I know him.” To which Ricky Racer responds, “Oh, he doesn’t live there anymore. That was years ago…”
So now I’m completely confused at this point, right? Either this guy’s a pathological liar. Or he’s a forked-tongue child of Satan. Either way, I decide I need to get away from this demon immediately, he’s got a bad vibe, right? So- and I only did this once all day- I violate the law of hills and come out of the saddle and crest the hill at well over 300 W, never to cross paths with this guy again. That’s kind of a stupid, irrelevant story, but then again, so is this entire race report when you come down to it. So there you go: triathlon’s blowing up, even down in the underworld. Hide your kids, hide your wife.
It’s also worth mentioning that I made plenty of mistakes on the IM CDA ride. I spent a little too much time at Bike Special Needs. Even the volunteers were like, “Dude, shouldn’t you go now?” In addition, although I had my nutrition dialed in, mixing it was a challenge. I fuel with Perpetuem on the bike, and carry it in powder form in little baggies in my SpiBelt. I call them my “dime bags.” I store GU energy gels in my FuelBox on the top tube, and I stick a couple of Clif Shot Bloks snug up underneath me (beneath the saddle, man. Not literally.) That usually provides sufficient nutrition for a full-distance Ironman ride since I don’t use any nutrition from the aid stations except for water. The problem always involves putting the water in the aero bottle and the bottle on the down tube, then mixing in the nutrition, all while riding at 20 mph (ok, really closer to 15 mph, but you get the idea). I would be a terrible meth cook.
I did a lot of things right, too. I rode my race, sitting right on my desired power (180W) all day and even on the hills (200W). Now, I just need to build strength and push both higher- nothing an OS won’t solve. Again, the nutrition went flawless for the second race in a row, so I’ve feel like I’ve got that figured out- I was able to turn an awful stomach ache (from the lake) in T1 into a solid gut into T2. I didn’t pee once on the bike course, which is truly shocking considering it was not that hot and I drank nine full 20 oz. bottles of water on the bike. Not sure where all that went, but hey, whatever. I suspect that it’s all somehow related to the pre-race/night-before/morning-of stress. Perhaps I was just seriously dehydrated going into the race. Or maybe all the marine life I consumed on the swim drank it.
Lastly, I rode for almost 400 minutes without any pain whatsoever, which was a blessing and the first time ever. Since the day I started riding I’ve struggled with both saddle and knee pain. Part of the solution to the saddle was some timely experimentation with chamois cream leading up to the race, but I think a lot of it was simply time in the saddle that I have not been getting in previous training programs. Similarly, some personal tweaking on saddle height and aero bar length has helped address the knee issues that have plagued me for awhile. To get off the bike without pain or soreness was an absolutely beautiful experience.
And you thought the transition drama was over… Think again! This is the point of the story where it all comes full circle, my friends.
So I come into transition feeling great. I’m about an hour behind schedule, but I don’t care. I feel strong, I’m in no pain, I’m checking off all kinds of process goals, and my eyes are shaded by wonderful ultraviolet female protection. I dismount, grab my red run bag, and once again start pouring everything out onto the ground- but this time, a little more carefully. One of the amazing local CDA volunteers shepherds me into the tent and begins helping me out, jibber-jabbering about this and that. At first, I’m like, “Dude. I’m good..” but he keeps going… “Where ya’ from? Is this your first?” And on and on. Super nice guy, right? I start assuming that he’s checking my vitals, but later figure he’s just a talker.
Then he says (no lie), “Nice glasses.”
And I’m like, “What did you just say?” He stops and says,” I like your glasses. They’re.. different.” So I proceed to tell him the story (in much less detail than I’m telling you, of course). And he’s impressed. But as I get to the end, he interrupts, “Wait, are you ‘Bart Stevens?’”
I say “Yah, how did you know that?” (My bib is still on my back at this point.) Then he says (may God strike me down if I’m making any of this up), “We found your sunglasses earlier. They were in a big case, right?”
“Yah, somebody returned them to the tent. They had your name on them. They’re right over…..” and he starts reaching into a box in the corner and starts shuffling it around. “I swear they were right here….” And he looks and he looks. And I’m standing there thinking, “No @^#*-ing way my sunglasses are in your little box, volunteer-man!”
“I don’t know what to say, Bart… They were right in here… Somebody must have given them away… maybe somebody without sunglasses… Hey, are you okay?”
I was completely stunned, of course. “Uh.. ya.. so.. it was good to meet you, man. I gotta’ go win this race.” And off I went. But I had to wonder: Did they fall out of the bag? But then where did they go? Did somebody grab them on accident in T1? And did someone really shank my sunglasses in T2? And could I really be mad, if I had committed the same ‘optic infidelity’ on the bike course? What if it was the same chick who’s glasses I now wore? Were we now cosmically bound to our new glasses? And what if we’re reunited on the course- what’s the protocol then? And what would happen to the universe and The Secret?
All these questions swirled in my head as I headed out the run chute onto Lakeside Ave. But, like a good triathlete, I decided to put them all in a box I named “T2” and left them there in the chute. It’s all in the past, I decided. The race had just begun.
For nine months I’ve been thinking about the run. Every day. How to avoid a repeat of IMTX. How to run a full marathon in an Ironman. What power to apply on the bike. What pace to apply on the run. And what about threshold heart rate- how high can I go? And do I need to adjust for the elevation and temperature? And so on and so forth. My goal in life was to run the marathon. Even if I have to ride the bike at 10 mph, I told myself I’m not going to blow up on the run. I was adamant about adhering to Coach Rich’s ‘Four Keys,’ specifically executing well, staying in my box and focusing on process goals.
Which was good, because at this point all I had left was process goals. I also had hope. I had run 18 miles three weeks in a row during my last Thursday night long run sessions. The only reason I quit was because it was too dark to see anymore. No ,they were not fast runs, mind you- I usually started out at 9:30 miles, and it seemed like inevitably I’d also end up at about that pace, too. I’d pick up a little speed in the second section (I usually break my runs into quarters), and then fade in the third, only to finish strong in the final quarter. So I thought, maybe if some things went just right, I could pull this off…
But, of course, since it’s hard to simulate a full Ironman in training without completely destroying yourself, I was never completely sure what I could do off the bike. Most of our brick workouts stopped at 6 miles. And this course was reasonable. I wouldn’t say it was hard, but it certainly wasn’t easy either. It was two loops, basically replicating the out-and-back first-section of the bike course, along the northern shore of the lake. The first three miles wound through a residential neighborhood, before entering onto the lake path and continuing two more miles out and two more back. Coach Rich had warned us about the hill and how it would meet us at mile six and- more importantly- mile 18, when so many runners hit ‘the wall.’
The course is beautiful, of course, offering stunning views of the water and surrounding hills. The path is smooth asphalt, and offers a dirt bike trail for those so inclined. Aid stations were consistent and well-stocked: pretzels, chicken broth, fake Coke, you name it. Eight-year old American Idol-wannabes with microphones, kids too old to be dancing to Dance Dance Revolution (which was a pleasant surprise that made me feel better about my own dysfunctional childhood.) Like the bike, it was everything you could ask for in a run course. They even had a Mardi Gras aid station, but they were all out of Hurricanes (I asked). The path had runners moving in both directions (as opposed to a loop like IMTX) which I like because you can check out other racers and not feel like you’re out there all alone. I believe that there’s also some strength derived on the last lap when you can gauge where you are in the pecking order based on how many folks are still behind you and walking.
I got lucky. Right out of the gate, I fell in with a runner from Austin’s esteemed Texas Iron club named Tim. He was about 50 I guessed, and as we conversed, we discovered that we had identical pace goals (9:30 for the first half) and a lot in common. So we agreed to pace each other and ran step-for-step for about 11 miles, almost all the way back to town. Eventually the conversation faded as we focused harder on the task at hand, and eventually I started to tighten up and told him to continue on, while I fell back a few steps. I never caught him again, but he was a tremendous benefit on that first lap.
I have to take this moment to mention something completely random and politically incorrect: where are all the black people in triathlon? I counted three black people all day on the IM CDA course… Out of 2500 participants… That includes spectators. Do you realize how strange that is? That’s not even a rounding error. That just strikes me as so odd. Where is the ACLU, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? I mean, seriously, I think ice hockey has more diversity that triathlon. I believe it’s time we opened up our minds a little. I love black people. Other sports are full of very successful black athletes at all levels. We don’t have a lot Hispanics and Asians in this sport, either. But even less African-Americans. It’s weird. If tennis can integrate, I think we can to. Anyways, back to the race…
The second lap, not surprisingly, got a lot tougher, and my pace definitely started to slip on the way back out of town. However, it really didn’t fall that much except that I decided to walk the big hill this time, as opposed to the Ironman shuffle I had employed the first time. I simply didn’t think I could run it without facing adverse consequences later. In addition, at that point, very few participants were running it either, so as usual that just made it easier to give up yourself. But once I did reach the summit and hit 18, I felt like the final quarter could be accomplished at something resembling a run. It wasn’t quite my infamous Ironman shuffle (which is more of drunken stagger), but it wasn’t a beautiful stride either.
Nevertheless, on this last 6.5 miles I was able to duplicate my pace from the first 6.5 mile which I took tremendous strength from. I discovered that a marathon didn’t have to be a steady slide toward walking as had previously been my experience, and could in fact be managed like the bike. I even think I left a little in the tank, as I did at IM Oceanside this year, but this time much closer to my threshold. And what was also incredible is that I never felt “the suck.” Coach Rich always talks about that line at mile 18, or mile 20, or sometimes between mile 22-24, where you feel “the suck,” and how important it is not to force the suck prematurely, but to let it come to you. Again, I wasn’t crushing any land-speed records out there, but I also never felt the suck all day. Some might argue I was lazy, but I disagree. Not slowing down was the main goal, and doing so was a huge victory for a big boy like me.
Could I have pushed the pace a little harder in the mid-section of the course? I’ll never know for sure because I was so focused on that last stretch all day. I didn’t know what I had, or how my body would respond to the suck. The answer is probably not- I was pretty destroyed by the end of the race. In all honesty, I probably maintained the exact same pace all day, including the critical third quarter, except that walking that last hill slowed the pace between timing mats considerably. Remove that, and I think I ran all 26 miles within about 15 seconds of each other.
I have come to believe that I overcame a tremendous psychological hurdle in running a full marathon (except for that pesky .5 mile hill ascent!). I also know that I can someday build speed on top of that distance, having proven to my lazy, self-preserving brain that it can be done. And to have my run be my strongest part of the race for me, on a difficult day and week for me, is simply awesome. I haven’t analyzed the splits, but I know I passed lots of people on the run. I didn’t set any PR’s, but for this vehicle to be in perpetual motion for thirteen hours straight (fourteen if you count running around looking for the rental car that morning!) was a lot of fun. Perhaps I’ve built a foundation that I can build on for years to come. Or maybe I just got lucky- we’ll find out someday.
OK, so I mentioned back in T1 that the story of being called a bitch was the start of a strange thread of related events throughout the day. The second one was running into Johnny M.Dot at the porta-potties and returning the insult. Fulfilling, but not so special. So here’s where it got weird for me. As I’m heading out onto Lakeside Ave to start the run, I notice all the spectators congregating on the sidewalk. And many are holding homemade signs. Well, I happen to catch one being held by a young girl- maybe 16-18?- and it says, Go Dad, Make This Course Your Bitch. And I’m like, “Whoa. Seriously?”
So I left Austin in 2006 to move to a small town. It’s been an adjustment. We’re pretty much locked in 1982 here most of the time because that’s the way the people seem to like it. I don’t get it, but hey, it makes them feel safe I guess. Whatever. If they want to dress like that, drive like that and think and vote that way.. hey, that’s their journey. It’s cool with me.
As a result, I’ve missed out on a lot of the societal decay that’s occurred in the mainstream since then. And I don’t watch television anymore, nor do I go to the movies. I work. I study. And then I workout. And if there’s time, I eat and I sleep. Occasionally, when I travel, I’ll catch a few minutes of Jersey Shore or Desperate Housewives or Modern Family or some other trash. And you know, I’m always caught off guard, because I’ve been out of the game for so long, you know. It’s all passed me by. But then I run by this sweet-looking girl in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, holding a sign that says Go Dad, Make This Course Your Bitch and it strikes me as odd. Like when did Bitch enter the accepted vernacular?
And later in the same race, further down the road, totally different crowd, right?- they look to be maybe just out of college- and someone’s holding another sign that reads Run, Bitches, Run! I’m not gonna’ lie, it was kinda’ funny. I laughed. But so are a lot of things I wouldn’t say in front of my mom, or display in public. And I actually saw at least two more signs that same day that used the word Bitch.
Now I’m no prude. Hell, I started a fight in the swim, and plotted an assault on the bike, and that’s a pretty average day for me. But I guess I was just surprised that there was officially no shame left in our society, and that I just missed that whole boat entirely. I know that’s random, but so was seeing it on a sign. It’s just sad. Discuss amongst yourselves.
Okay, so it should be noted that as I entered the final three miles of the run course, I became locked in somewhat of a simulated sprint with a very fit, very attractive woman. She thought she was pretty fast, and she was. Whereas I maintained one single pace through the entire last leg of the course, she was able to employ a fast sprint/walk strategy- basically the Galloway method, which I can respect. She would sprint past me, and then I would catch up to her. She would sprint past me, and I would catch her. I haven’t dated since Bush was in office, so I admit I kinda’ enjoyed it.
And on and on this went for several miles, like some sort of complex dance. I scoffed at her fancy Lulumon’s; she snarled at my compression sleeves. It was tense. And it was becoming apparent that she was frustrated by my methodical Terminator pace and was intent on breaking me. Or at least that’s what I decided was happening. She may have just been trying to get away from the guy talking to himself on the last lap. Which I was. That’s probably hard for you to believe at this point in the report.
It was all very dramatic. With about a mile to go- at about the library- she met up with some of her spectator friends, and they started joking around and cutting up about the party awaiting her. I guess I started to get a little self-conscious because 1.) well, I didn’t have any friends waiting for me and 2.) I am extremely insecure. So I saw this as my chance to apply some good ol’ fashioned “Shock and Awe” treatment to the situation. I broke free into a 6:30 sprint all the way to the finish, a pace so lightening fast that it kinda’ surprised me. So then she proceeded to break into a sprint as well. Which also surprised me, because I didn’t think anyone was as petty as me.
I had forgotten that this was Ironman, where all participants carry some degree of veiled insecurity. It turned into a heated sprint to the finish, like at the end of Seabiscuit. We raced past about a dozen runners on that last ¼ mile, our shame giving way to our pride. Kinda’ creepy actually. Well, we finished 2 seconds apart. And although it wasn’t quite the Iron War, it was exciting. I won’t tell you who won, but let’s just say that it wasn’t Ms. Fancy Pants.
The Story of the Missing Sunglasses doesn’t end here. Oh, far from it. So I crossed the finish line, and that was all well-and-good. Medals, hats, shirts, water, the whole shebang. Adoring fans, etc. I mostly remember they had barrels of chocolate milk waiting for me. As most people know, I love chocolate milk. I would brush my teeth with it if I didn’t have a job where I wear a tie. And chocolate milk has now officially partnered with Ironman, which I find hysterical. To me, this has to be the greatest thing to happen to the sport since aero bars. I drank so many bottles after the race I literally felt sick. But that’s just how I roll: Go big, or go home.
After the chocolate buzz wore off, and the cheers had subsided, I literally hobbled over to Transition to retrieve my bags. I picked up my Green Gear bag, and then my Red Run Bag. However, the lady in charge “regretted to inform me” that my Blue Bike Bag had not been returned. She suspected it had lost its number, the one we affix to the bag the night before. She said that many bags had lost their numbers because of the rain storm, and actually blamed Ironman for switching to a cheaper sticker supplier that year. She walked me over to a section that could best be described as an orphanage for lost and abandoned bags. There I saw bags upon bags opened with their contents dumped on the grass as people tried to identify which one, if any, was theirs. It looked like a tri-yard sale.
And there was my bag- the notorious Blue Bike Bag- the one that had eluded me so cruelly for ten full minutes during that fateful T1. Most of my stuff had been strewn on the lawn, which shocked me not at all. But at least the person had thought enough to pour it in one spot before realizing it wasn’t theirs. Thanks. And as I slowly began putting stuff back into my bag with the remaining contents, I looked at the bag. No number. This was why I hadn’t found it- the sticker had come off during T1. In fact, I had probably picked it up several times looking for my number and then putting it back down. That’s the reason why I never found it.
I couldn’t be mad at that point. Because now I knew The Secret. I had ridden with the devil himself. Danced with his sister. Started a fight. Consumed my weight in chocolate milk. I had seriously contemplated larceny and assault all in a single day. And I hadn’t used the bathroom in almost a week. It had been a good day. Clearly, I had much bigger issues to contend with than a missing sticker.
The obvious takeaway is that you should always write your race number on your bag, just in case Ironman decides to save a buck at your event. Otherwise, you run the risk of accessorizing like a woman. Which is okay if you are, in fact, a woman. Not so much if you’re not. That being said, I think I like my new stylish glasses. In the words of one volunteer, “They’re.. different.”