Thursday, September 24, 2015

#IMTahoe '15 Race Report

I finished my ninth Ironman race on Sunday! It was one of the more enjoyable (and least stressful) races I've ever done. I think the relaxed approach that I outlined on Saturday paid off: when I crossed the line, I was still smiling and mostly coherent!


I started the day with two Macro bars and a quart of neon-green Gatorade, got dressed and set out for the swim start with Kristine. It was cold (45°) and dark when we arrived, but I quickly got down to business. Before every race, I check my tires and put my water bottles in their cages.

I don't often check my transition bag, but I'm glad I did! A bear (yes, a bear) had rummaged through the transition area over night; he feasted on more than a few athletes' race day nutrition, mine included. There wasn't much I could do, but it was nice to assimilate that news before the gun went off than after.

The Swim (47:41 — View on Strava)

Wetsuit on, I gave Kristine a kiss goodbye and made my way to the front of the swim-start line. The cannon fired and we were off. The water was calm and clear and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The sun peaking over the hills behind us lit the swim buoys up like lights. Conditions couldn't have been better!

With seconds, I was at the front of the group. After a minute, I seemed to be swimming alone off the front of the race. I don't typically swim away from the pack; I usually try to conserve energy by trading pulls with some of the other strong swimmers in the field. Not this time. Oddly, I found myself listing to the left with some consistently and had to course-correct often before adjusting my stroke accordingly. 

Can I sustain this pace for 2.4 miles? I asked myself repeatedly throughout. I expected a large group of fast-moving swimmers to come around me at any minute, but they never did. Before long, I had passed the final buoy and was rounding in on the finishing arch. I came out of the water in a full sprint, determined to prevent anyone from stealing the win from me at the last second. 

I crossed the line to cheers from a massive crowd, and heard them announcing (exclaiming!) over the loudspeaker. I had just completed my best-ever Ironman swim: 47 minutes and 41 seconds, and emerged first overall.

Smiling and self-satisfied, I took a casual approach to transition. I toweled off and changed into a dry cycling kit. I put on my shoes, assessed the bear's impact on my nutrition strategy, and clop-clopped my way out onto the bike mount line.

The Ride (5:51:35 — View on Strava)

Normally, I'd be saddling up on a speed machine: a time-trial bike with aerobars and deep-dish wheels. Not this time. This time, I decided to ride my regular road bike with my regular training wheels and my regular set-up. I'd sold my triathlon bike and just didn't feel like tinkering with my road bike for one ride.

Riding the road bike in a triathlon was somewhat liberating. It freed me from the need to be truly competitive with other cyclists on the road. I had a built-in excuse, and I could use that excuse to keep my power output at a reasonable level. 

That's not to say I didn't push. I actually surprised myself by averaging over 19 miles per hour over a 112-mile course that was definitely not flat. I felt very strong through the first lap, paused briefly on the second to remove some layers and add some sunscreen, and only started to flag as I approached the Brockway climb (7.1% average grade over 2.7 miles) for the second time.

Nutrition-wise, I made do. Thanks to that bear, I didn't have anything with me, so I was forced to rely entirely on whatever they had on course. Looking back, I think I managed to grab a Clif bar, two gels, three small packs of chews and half of a banana on the go. 

All I ever find myself thinking across the final twenty miles of the ride is: Is this ride over yet?! By that point, I'm usually tired and ready to be off the bike. The ride in an Ironman is very lonely; there's no drafting, no chatting, and you're not really enjoying the scenery. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to make that final left turn onto Squaw Valley Road and into the bike-to-run transition.

The Run (4:43:11 — View on Strava)

I took my time in transition again, making another full change into running gear, cooling off a little and being diligent about my sunscreen. It had warmed up significantly (85°) and the sun was blazing. I started out with a brisk walk (14:30/mile pace) and then started mixing in some comfortable running (8:00/mile pace), regulating my overall pace to roughly 10:30/mile.

The aid stations certainly came in handy; I took advantage of each and every one. I drank mostly water and snagged grapes as often as I could. I would've loved something salty, but there were only sweet options.

The run-walk approach worked really well for me in this race, and may have frustrated more than a few the other shuffling triathletes nearby. I'd often pass them when running, only to be passed back when walking... and then pass them again just a few minutes later. I'm happy to say that I didn't suffer from the gut rot or extreme leg stiffness that has derailed some of my other races.

After countless run-walk cycles, I finally made it to the finish. I saw Kristine at the final bend, gave her a kiss and then cruised across the line as casually as I could. (I always imagine I'll do some fun showboating in the finisher's chute, but I never think to execute when I'm actually in the moment!)


I felt great immediately after the race. Kristine and I caught up, I hopped in the hot tub and then showered off. The day caught up to me as we were walking to dinner; I wasn't really able to eat. We shuffled back and I crawled into bed for a much-needed two-hour nap.

I felt like a new person when I woke up! I immediately ate the leftover pizza that I had only picked at before. We rallied, shuffling back out to the finish line to cheer the final finishers across the line until midnight.

Looking back, I'd say that that this Ironman experience as a definite success. I had admittedly low expectations going in, but I managed to exceed each and every one. It was stress-free and easy thanks to Kristine's unwavering support and our incredibly convenient accommodations. We went up to Tahoe with a job to do, and we did it!

(Kristine, by the way, has been my sherpa and soigneuse through nine of these races. Spotting her on course instantly brightens my day and improves my mood, no what condition I'm in. Not only that, but she does an amazing job keeping friends and family, who all support me from afar, up-to-date throughout the race. I can't imagine doing one of these races without her cheering me from the sidelines!)