Sunday, December 26, 2010

IMWA: The Second Transition, the Run and the Finish

Immediately after crossing under the bike-finish marquee, I dismounted and handed my bike to one of the volunteers there for re-racking and sprinted toward the transition area. Someone handed me my bike-to-run bag on the way; I dumped it out immediately, threw on my running shoes, grabbed my hat and continued on.

All smiles at the beginning of the run.

The 42.2 kilometer run course was broken down into four mostly out-and-back laps on a pancake-flat, paved footpath along the beach. Each lap started and ended tantalizingly close to the finish line, where you could hear Mike Reilly announcing other competitor's names as they crossed the line. At the end of each lap, volunteers would hand you a wristband to mark your progress. The first three were black. The last one was orange, and once you had that orange wristband, the volunteer along the final straightaway would let you veer left, onto the final 100-meter finishing chute.

This is what the wristbands looked like. You start with zero.

The fans along the course were really great; many of them had brought out boomboxes or stereos and were playing music. The Final Countdown. Eye of the Tiger. Someone was even playing Rage Against the Machine. I unconsciously ran faster whenever I was within earshot.

Staying strong?

I actually felt pretty darn good on the first lap despite having 112 miles in my legs already. I eased into a rhythm, settling in at around an 8:15/mile pace and cruised through every aid station, just grabbing a cup of water or flat cola from one of the volunteers as I passed. On the second lap, I started to flag slightly - the sun was blazing and the pathway was starting to heat up. Recognizing the beginnings of a fade, I forced myself to walk portions of each aid station. Still, I felt okay and was keeping close to my target pace of mid- to low eights.

Things changed on the third lap.

After the posterior tibial tendonitis flare-up in September, I stopped running for five weeks. After that, I started running short, easy runs of no more than three miles at a time. In the final two months before the Ironman, I averaged ten miles running per week. My longest run after mid-September was 5.5 miles. As much as I hate running, I don't recommend you try a marathon on that kind of training program. By the start of Lap #3, my legs were already as stiff and sore as if I had spent the entire previous day doing lunges and squats.

I began bargaining with myself and rewarding myself for running with walking breaks from the start of each aid station to the end. The third lap bled into the fourth and it was all I could do to keep my legs moving. Each time I paused to walk, it was a mental battle to convince my brain to make my body run again. I was in so much pain. I felt like my legs were going to crack and crumble apart with every pounding step.

Walking through aid stations became the norm.

Passing the 5K-to-go sign should have felt like a moral victory; instead it felt like a death sentence. Three miles? That was going to take me at least half an hour at the pace I was running... and I could hardly fathom another thirty minutes of that agony.

4K to go. Right foot, left foot. Pain. Right foot, left foot. Pain.

3K to go. Right foot. Pain. Left foot. Pain.

2K to go, I had to stop and walk. I could faintly hear sounds from the finish line. I started counting, and when I got to sixty, I grit my teeth and started running again. This was it.

1K to go. I knew if I slowed down to walk I'd never be able to make myself start running again, so I completely skipped the final aid station. I got to the section where wristbands were being handed out, making sure they could see the three black ones I'd already earned and grabbing the fourth and final.

500 meters to go. Pain. I passed the bike transition area for the last time, then turned on to Queen Street.

200 meters to go. So much pain. I could see the split for the finishing chute ahead. I raised my arm to show the volunteer there the orange band. He nodded and motioned me left, into the final straightaway.

100 meters to go. Agony. I could see the elevated finish line. I could hear Mike Reilly. He was saying something about California.


50 meters to go. My legs wanted to give out. I started to roar. Literally. I'd never roared before; there's a first time for everything. Mike was calling my name, but I couldn't hear it. I clenched my fists and roared myself up to the finish line and stomped across with all of my might. (There's a video here!) Finish time: 10 hours, 7 minutes and 52 seconds.