MY THIRD IRONMAN


Two days after completing IM Arizona (Nov. 2008), I have almost forgotten the pain, and am enjoying remembering moments along the course, especially verbal exchanges with other participants.


Here's how the day went for me (I'm including extra detail for those of you who are not familiar with triathlons):


My wife and I got up at 4:45AM, I mixed my Zone shake and drank it while eating a banana, and we drove to the race venue. As with other big triathlons these days, bikes were left overnight in the transition enclosure. When checking them in Sat., most of us lowered the tire pressure to avoid risk of blowing tubes in the afternoon warmth (about 83F), so the first thing I did on arrival Sun. was get the tires pumped to 115psi, assuming they would be at about 120 later in the day.

I looked around for Patty but because the area looked so different from how it looked the previous day, she couldn't find the transition area.


The next thing to do was get "body marked" with race number on both arms, and age on left calf. We needed to be in the water well before the 7AM  swim start, so about 6:15 I went into the change tent to put on my wetsuit, which I was carrying in a bag with my goggles and (I thought) my bathing suit. Surprise, the bathing suit was not there (I later discovered I had put it in the swim-to-run transition bag). That was my first mistake of the day. So I put the wetsuit on with nothing under it, and headed to the swim start location. The town lake in Tempe was formed by damming  the Salt River a few years ago; otherwise the river would have been dry at this time of year. The water is quite murky  (you cannot see your hand if you stretch your arm out under water), but evidently safe to swim in. We had to climb over a railing and jump into the water about 5 feet below. Just before jumping a lady told me she was  "scared spitless" (tho' she used a different consonant in place of the p), and asked me to hold her hand as we jumped. We had heard the water was about 63F, so weren't surprised at the shock when we entered it. Then we had to swim about 100 meters to the "start line". With more than 2000 of us awaiting the start gun (the pros had gone off at 6:50), we made up a pack about 20 meters deep and perhaps 40 meters wide.


When the gun went off, there was the usual pommeling, but in a couple of minutes I was swimming smoothly and without much contact with other swimmers, the sun was about to rise, and I thought "This is how I visualized this; It is going to be a pleasant, tho' long, swim." That's about when I was kicked on my right goggle so hard that i thought for sure I'd have a black eye later (I don't). The goggle stayed in place (I have learned to put the swim cap on after my goggles to hold them in place in swims like this). In reacting to the blow, I got my first leg  cramp. But from then to the swim turn (about a mile), I only got minor kicks to the abdomen, and only light calf cramps. However, for the rest of the swim I was repeatedly stopping to manipulate a leg to relax a cramp. (I have had more cramping when swimming the last year or so, and I'm sure the cold water exacerbated this.) Also, toward the end of the swim, my shoulders began to feel weak. Mainly as a result of the cramps, my swim took about 10 min. longer than expected.


After exiting the water, I ran to the area where we had placed numbered bags with our biking gear and towels. On the way, a volunteer started to help remove my wetsuit (they have you sit while they strip the suit off your legs, saving you several seconds, and even minutes if your hands are very cold and your suit is hard to remove). But I had to tell her "Don't strip me. I don't have a bathing suit on!" She didn't argue.


In the change tent, which was crowded with athletes complaining about the cold water and how slow they were moving in transition,  I struggled to get my wetsuit off, and finally got help from the guy next to me, because the timing chip velcro strap was making it harder. (All competitors are given a timing chip which activates a computer program when we cross mats placed at various points along the course.) I finally got my bike gear on (gel-lined cycling shorts, socks, cycling shoes, and helmet), stuffed my swim gear in the bag that had held the cycling gear, and started to the bike racks after a stop at a portapotty. Then I realized I was not carrying the ziplock bag with bars and supplement capsules I wanted to use on the bike (my second mistake). I had seen them when I emptied the bike gear bag, so I ran back to the tent but could not find them. I thought perhaps I had put them back in the bag along with my swim gear, so went to try to check that bag. But by then the bag had been taken by volunteers, who would later place them in numerical order for our retrieval after the race. [I realized later that a volunteer must have picked up the ziplock bag and put it in the lost & found.] So finally I ran to get my bike and exited the transition area. In all, from the time I exited the water until I mounted my bike, 19 min. 14 sec. had passed. That's about twice the time it should have taken me.


The weather was great for this race, and the bike course was mainly flat. So I anticipated going well under my goal of 8 hrs. on the 112 mi. course. I was feeling great and my bike felt light, so I made good time to the turn around on the first loop. The turnaround is at the end of a long, gradual climb, and after turning, I realized we had had a light headwind coming out. So the rest of the first loop went very fast, and I was well under my goal time. I made a pit stop early in the second loop (I was pleased that I had not needed to stop earlier, given my prostate hyperplasty), and hammered on. (I was not without nutrition on the bike. I had two water bottles filled with concentrated mixtures of Hammer products: Sustained Energy in one and Perpetuem in the other. But I did not have other supplements such as Endurolytes, Race Caps, and Anti-fatigue Caps that I planned to take. I accepted 1/2  bananas at aid stations a couple of times for their potassium. )


On the second bike loop, I found that the wind had changed 180 degrees, so it helped a bit going out and was not noticeable on the downhill portion. It was fun exchanging comments with riders I passed or who passed me. But near the end of the second loop, I began to feel pain just to the inside of my left knee. As this got worse, I found I had to back off and favor that leg a bit. The third loop was not fun, as I was in pain through most of it: the knee, and of course my back and neck, which usually ache on very long rides. (I was praying for toughness at that time, and was inspired to sing a few hymns!) So I wasn't moving very fast, but even so, at the end of the bike I was only 5 min. over the 8 hr limit I had placed on myself for that portion.


Finally, it was time to park the bike (a volunteer took it, actually), get the run gear bag, change socks and shoes, and start the marathon. Surprisingly, it felt pretty good to run, and I had my fanny pack with supplements, including Tissue Rejuvenator. (Had I not been missing the supplements planned for the bike portion, perhaps my knee pain would not have been so severe.)  The knee was fine for running, so I did my 30-40 sec. running followed by 20-30 sec. walks. This worked well, tho' by the third run loop I was walking a lot more than I was running. Early on in the run I could tell I was going to have trouble with a big toe, so stopped and put a corn pad on it. (I was carrying lots of such items in the fanny pack.) Later I sensed a blister forming on my right heel, so added a bandage there. As it turned out, this kept the blister from breaking, but I should have put a big piece of "moleskin" on the heel, as I now have a blister about 1.2" in diameter.


The run, though often the most painful part of an IM, is also the portion that gives you the best memories, because there is so much opportunity to converse with other runners and walkers.  As everywhere throughout the triathlon, the volunteers were wonderful.  And on the second loop, I hooked up with a 52 yr. old guy from upstate NY, after he decided to follow my run/walk sequence. Of course it was dark shortly after I started the run, so it was very interesting following the convoluted run course. (I must admit I enjoyed hearing comments from others like "If that's your age on your leg, you are my hero!", or "Look at that guy go; and he's 74." ) We found ourselves going slower all the time, and the last run loop seemed interminable, but we finally reached the finish line at 11:25:32, about 34 1/2 minutes before the cutoff time. Believe it or not, Patty was standing there waiting for me, after hanging around the race site since we got there about 5:40. I was sure happy to see her! (I only saw her twice during the race, both times on run loops.)


(For those of you who know him, my friend Rob Sharp finished at about 11:51PM after being forced to walk most of the marathon due, I assume, to an inflamed knee.)


One reason I signed up for this triathlon was that as a 74 yr. old, I would be trying for the 75-79 age group slot to qualify me for the 2009 Ironman World Championships at Kona, Hawaii. And the only person I needed to beat was a 76  year old physician from St. Louis. (After we got to Tempe, we learned that he had had heart (bypass?) surgery in Jan., but since that time had completed 3 Ironman events, including the world championship in Hawaƕi! )


When talking with people before this event, I emphasized that I woud just try to have a comfortable race, and not worry about the position of my competition for the Kona spot. And when my wife told me that he was about 20 min. ahead of me on the run, I was not concerned, because at that point biking and running through the lava fields near Kona did not sound at all inviting. (As it turned out, since the 76 year old beat me by 17 minutes, all I would have needed to get the Kona spot was a normal-length first transition and a 10 minute shorter bike time.)


There were seven of us registered in the 70-74 age group, though only four started the race. We finished in order of our ages: i.e. the youngest (70) finished first, and the oldest (me) finished fourth. [I have often said that after age 65, there should be a new age category for each year.]


I doubt if I'll ever do another Ironman (though my wife tells me I said that after IM Canada four years ago). But I have finished every one of the approximately 140 triathlons I have competed in, including three Ironmans. So I am happy with Sunday's result, and thank God for safety through all the training and racing. I still plan to continue with olympic distance triathlons, as I need the motivation to stay in shape.


I'll end this with a quote (as I recall it) from the 76 yr old triathlete: "You can't bank fitness. No matter how fit you get, after a year of no training, you will be no fitter than if you had never trained." So keep it up and continue to make the most of what God has given you.