Friday, May 4, 2012


IRONMAN MELBOURNE

Friday, March 16, 2012 – San Francisco airport.  (Most of this is dictated, so excuse the typos).

Lessons.  That's what Ironman races are.  Lessons in perseverance, strategy and frequently humility.  

For me, Ironman Melbourne was a lesson in humility that stemmed from a bit of bad strategy.  But more about that later.  I learned another lesson on this trip.  

Never board public transportation with my good buddy, Dret.


Laura and I boarded our flight to Auckland, New Zealand around 8 PM Friday night, April 16.  A few hours later, Dret boarded his flight to Melbourne, Australia.  While Laura and I planned to spend the weekend in Auckland sightseeing, Dret planned to spend the weekend in Melbourne.

In actuality, Dret arrived in Melbourne just a few hours before Laura and me.  While we had a nice vacation in Auckland, Dret was doing laps halfway out into the Pacific Ocean and back to SFO on three separate flights.  It took three days and three flights for Dret to make it to Melbourne.  
Not realizing public transportation's vendetta against Dret would include land-based methods of travel as well as airlines.  I naively joined Dret on a tram trip to registration that Wednesday.  The wind howled, the rain blew sideways and my tiny little five dollar umbrella was powerless to keep Dret and me dry.  

Soaked, at registration, we learned that Ironman had arranged buses to transportation to the bike check-in for Saturday before the race.  Since the transition areas were 30 miles south of the finish line, where we and most of the competitors were staying, this seemed like a logical idea.  

Unfortunately for us, Ironman had apparently required competitors to reserve seats on these busses through some complex online process.  I had somehow (completely by accident) done so when I bought Laura a ticket on a spectator bus.  Dret, having no need for a spectator bus pass, hadn't reserved a spot on the bike check bus.  

Since we at Team Every Man Jack never leave our wingman, Dret and I were headed for another round of public transportation. 

On the tram, heading back to the hotel from registration, as we were discussing how to get our bikes to check-in, our tram was delayed by a near police action against two cyclists who dared to bring their bike on the tram.   

I mentioned to Dret that I was really starting to think that he had angered the public transportation gods somehow.  He considered the possibility and didn't disagree.    

Nevertheless, the day before the race, Dret and I decided that our best alternative was to take our bikes to Frankston by train -- because at this point, what else could go wrong?

We pushed our bikes to the train station just a few hundred yards from our hotels, hopped on the the train to Frankston, found some comfy seats and were flying along at 50 mph, starting to feel really pleased with ourselves.  This was actually better than taking the stupid Ironman bus to the check in, it seemed.  


And then I heard it, almost subconsciously:  "Ladies and Gentlemen, due to necessary repairs this train will terminate service at Moorabin.  Bus service will be provided from Moorabin to Frankston.  We are sorry for the inconvenience."  

"Dret," I said.  "Where the hell is Moorabin?"  

"I do not know," he replied.  "But this cannot be good, I think."  

It turns out Moorabin is 12 miles north of Frankston.  Damn it. 

"Dude, you are a jinx,"  I said.

"Yes, it seems so," Dret responded with resignation.  

We mutually decided at that moment that we were not going to risk another minute on public transportation.  We had 3 hours to get our bikes to check in, so we decided it was preferable to saddle up and ride the 12 miles on a busy highway without a bike lane than to take any more chances.  Both of our rear derailleurs malfunctioned.  We ignored them and pedaled in whatever gears we had.  

Because I was sure this was all Dret's fault somehow, I made him pull me all the way to Frankston.  

To add to the prerace stress, as if spending the week on malfunctioning public transportation wasn't stressful enough, the weather in Melbourne was really unfriendly.  

The water in the bay was mostly unswimmable the entire week. At times, we had 6 foot high waves and winds at 30 to 40 mph. And it was raining– hard. 

Dret tried to shoot a video of the bay that turned out exactly like Geraldo Rivera broadcasting live from a Florida hurricane.

On Thursday, we found a gap in the weather and made the best of it by renting a car with the wheel on the wrong side and driving into the countryside on the wrong side of the road.  Shockingly, no one asks you whether you have the slightest clue how do drive on the wrong side of the road before they hand you the keys to the rental car.  

Despite these challenges, Dret, Laura (the Wallaby-Whisperers) and I managed to aim the car down the left side of the road all day.  Remarkably, we spent the day with Wallabies, Koalas and Penguins without a single transportation-related incident. 

On Friday, the weather reverted to sideways rain and lots of wind.  Dret and I were forced to do our last training swim in the hotel roof-top mini-pool.  Since the pool was only 5 strokes long, we knocked out a steady-state 75 yards and then Dret tried to teach me how to swim the fly.  After a few minutes of watching me flop around like a man having a full-body spasm, Dret looked at me and said "good swimmers try to synchronize the kick and the arms."  

We called the workout and did some heat training in the jacuzzi.  

But the highlight of the day was the Team Every Man Jack tri-kit photo shoot.  The kits looked good on us, so we asked Laura to be our photographer.  She agreed, so long as she didn't need to leave the hot tub.  For the next 10 minutes, Dret and I assumed athletic/seductive poses around the pool.

And that's how not to prepare for an Ironman Race.

RACE DAY:  

Comparatively, the weather on race day was balmy. The waves were somewhat choppy and there was a slight wind from the south, but otherwise this looked to be the best we could have hoped for. 

For reasons that were not entirely clear, the race organizers seemed not to know what time the sun was scheduled to rise.  Or perhaps they thought that sunrise was more of a forecast thing and that if they got lucky, it would rise half an hour earlier on race morning.  But no such luck, despite a 15 minute delay, the race started in shocking darkness.  

And, perhaps because race officials couldn't see the competitors, half the field was about a 200 yards past the start line when the gun went off.  About a quarter of the field was still standing on the beach or in the shallows.  

Dret and I were at least treading water, each of us warming up beyond the buoys, but the front of the swim pack was well out of sight at the gun -- never to be seen again.

This made for a less congested swim, which was nice, except that it was impossible to see the buoys in the dark.  I adopted the strategy of groping fellow swimmers as a replacement for sighting to the next buoy. 

Gradually, as dawn began to break, I saw that I was swimming a fairly straight line by staying between packs of swimmers on my left and right.  And since the rising sun did nothing to help me spot the ridiculously small ball-shaped buoys being used to guide us around the course, I stuck with this strategy the remainder of the swim.  This paid off in a big way as the pack I was in somehow managed to stay on course.

After swallowing a lot of seawater in the chop of the southward swim leg, and swimming into what felt like a headwind for about an hour, I was happy to exit the swim with a one hour eight minute swim split.  I figured I was a couple minutes behind Dret, just like at Ironman Canada last year, but considering everything, I figured I could salvage that swim with a good bike split.

In reality, Dret exited the water about two minutes behind me and being the generous slow-transitioner he is, gave me another bonus minute in transition.  

I immediately felt strong on the bike, pushing about 230 W with ease for the first 10 minutes. Despite the 60 degree weather, I knew that this was foolish.  I backed off and began measuring my output more closely, settling at around 200 W -- 15 watts more than in Canada, but within the limits I had established on my long training rides this year.

The outward leg was slightly uphill and into the wind, but with the road surface completely smooth, I was easily averaging 23 mph and overtaking numerous riders.  

At this point, I still figured Dret was probably a few minutes ahead of me and began looking for him at the first turnaround. To my surprise, I didn't see him until I was on the return leg. He appeared to be approximately a mile behind me at that point.

I double checked my power, wondering whether I was riding too hard, but nope, 200 W was just that fast.  Despite the lackluster scenery provided by the Eastlink Tollway (basically a freeway), I was starting to feel like I could do some real damage today.  The ride back to transition that first loop was ridiculously fast -- about 25 mph with a slight crosswind from the right.  

My average speed was up to 24 mph at the halfway mark.  I continued to expect Dret to catch me at anytime, but at the turnaround he was about two minutes back.

Then a bit of disaster struck.  My power meter malfunctioned and shut itself off.  And that's when my brain turned itself off as well.

I caught up to a pack of 6 guys in my age group who were riding in a group of about 20 riders at mile 60.  Given my previous success at riding through the field in other Ironman races, my instinct said that I needed to put time on these guys.  So for the next 30 miles, I made multiple high wattage attempts to pull away from the pack, all without success. I attempted each breakaway when the official's scooter came rolling through and the pack stretched out.  Unfortunately, once the official pulled away, the pack would condense, accelerate and catch me within a mile or two.  

During the same time, I was making fueling mistakes as well. I normally begin the ride with approximately 1200 calories in two bottles.  Alternating water at each aid station I gradually dilute the calories and switch to a mixture of Gatorade and water after the halfway point.  Using this method, I take in about 1800 calories and 10 bottles of fluid during a hot ride.    

But today, because of the cool weather, I didn't think I needed water at each aid-station. And so, I just sucked on the two bottles on my bike for the first 60 miles. Stupidly, I forgot that this meant I was consuming about 600 calories per hour with little or no dilution.  Add a couple electrolyte caps to the mix and I was filling my stomach with calories and salt that it couldn't process at the effort level I was pushing.

By mile 90, I had noticed that I was getting a bit bloated, but since my power was still good and I wasn't feeling any ill effects, I continued to push the bike fairly hard, although I gave up putting a gap on the now 30-person sub-5 hour bike train --  I coasted off the back of the group and rode with a couple other riders a few hundred yards behind that group realizing that the only thing keeping me from riding 4:55 was a drafting penalty.  No thanks.  

This was probably the only smart thing I did all day.    

I jumped off the bike with less than a minute lead over Dret, ran into transition, grabbed some other dude's transition bag, tried on his shoes (they were too big) and was running back to where the bags were hung in order to return it, when I saw Dret sprinting through transition.  

"Hey Dret!" 

"Hey Kuktinator!" Dret said, obviously confused at why I was running upstream through transition.

"I grabbed the wrong bag," I yelled.

I quickly replaced number 1047 on the hook, grabbed my bag, ran back to the changing area, threw on my shoes and sprinted out onto the run course.  

Annoyed by my mistake, I started looking for Dret at the first out-and back a mile into the course.  Given all the time I wasted doing laps in the transition tent, I figured Dret must have a pretty sizable lead at this point.  But at the out-and back -- Dret was nowhere to be seen.

"Holy crap," I thought.  How fast must he be running to be completely out of sight already?  

That's when I saw the German blur coming up from behind, a minute back, not ahead, racing to the out-and back that I had just rounded.   

Perhaps, after having raced 3 Ironman races with Dret over the last year, I should stop being surprised by the big German's glacial transitions.  But the fact that Dret had managed to exit transition a minute behind me after I had basically run through transition twice, made me crack up in mid-stride.  Some things should never change, I suppose.

And who knows, maybe relaxing another minute in transition is the way to go.  By the way Dret was sprinting, it sure seemed to be working for him.    


I knew as soon as I saw him that he was running substantially faster than I was. I had decided to forgo the watch, as I did in Canada, figuring that I would run by feel. Unfortunately, the feel I had was of extreme exertion.


Dret, on the other hand, looked like he was going to sprint the entire marathon. He blew by me within a mile or two and was out of sight within minutes.  I couldn't even conceive of running with him.

For the next 10 miles, I held out hope that I was just pacing myself and that my exertion level would come around. No such luck. Things went from mediocre to less mediocre over the next 10 miles and by mile 20, I was seriously hurting.

Well, not hurting exactly. Just slow for the perceived exertion I was experiencing.  While my legs felt fine, my entire body had swelled and I was clearly not digesting any of the calories that were now sloshing around in my stomach.  Continuing my streak of bad decisions, I figured I would take more sodium.


Looking back on it, that decision was clearly ridiculous and exactly the opposite of what I should have done, which was to start drinking straight water.  But by then any decision was like trying to fill the ocean with pennys.  I was already well back of the contenders in our age group.

In short, the lessons I learned racing Ironman Melbourne, was that I need to have a calorie intake plan for cool conditions.  I've always considered myself somewhat of a hot weather race fueling genius, but the reality is that over the last two years, all I've raced are hot weather races. Fueling for a cool weather race requires a different strategy.  One that involves taking in the right amount of hydration mixed with the right number of calories from the outset.  

When the bodies were counted, Dret finished nearly 30 minutes ahead of me in nine hours 41 minutes -- a greatrace for a 45 year old by any measure.  Unfortunately, according to a couple locals I spoke with, the Aussies and apparently many of the Asia Pacific Region Countries, made special arrangements to include all the top regional age groupers in this "Asia Pacific Championships" race.  And so, as ridiculous as it sounds, a 9:41 finishing time in the men's 45-49 was only good for 17th place.  I finished in 10 hours and eight minutes, barely staggering to a sub – four hour marathon and 44th place.

But, as I said, sometimes what you get from Ironman racing is a lesson in humility -- something to motivate you to train harder and devise better strategies for the next race.  And that's what I learned here -- humility -- and never to get on public transportation with Dret.  

Dret, from now on we drive.    

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