Friday, September 3, 2010

IMLOU - It's Not The Heat, It's The Gosh Darn Humidity


Well actually, it was both.  In excess.  I’ve read 38C [~100F] with 90% humidity, or maybe 38C because of 90% humidity.  That doesn’t sound comfortable, and it wasn’t, but everyone was dealing with the same conditions, no one was racing in air-conditioning.  The only relevant difference was how acclimated you were to those conditions and what you asked of your body and when, based on that acclimation. 
The DARPA Project ready for 112 miles of action

Last year, pre-dawn on race morning had a hint of chill, a pretense of slightly humane conditions.  This year, at 5 am, the air was soup and the heat settled over everything like a wool blanket.  I was dripping by the time I finished setting up transition.

At the practice swim
A Return to Civilization

It is official: I swam an hour in an IM swim, I can die happy.  Well, actually 1:00:04, but I’m counting it.  Makes me reconsider with dismay the quick cap adjustment I did at the turn buoy to keep it from slipping off and taking my goggles with it. I’d give up another free cap for four seconds.  New season goal: See a “5” as the first number in my swim time.  It took three years to swim an hour, so new three-year goal: swim a 55.    

So there I am, bobbing in the water, mere minutes before my first professional race and what pops into my head?  “This is so civilized.”  With 30-35 athletes our mass start wasn’t very “mass,” but all the better to focus on – shocker! – swimming fast.   Is it just coincidence that I dropped nearly 5 minutes off my IM swim time the first time I wasn’t wading through the mass of humanity that is 2,500 people, of which 1,300 were first-time Ironmans?  Doubt it.  Their enthusiasm is infectious, but I’ve quickly learned, so too are their demons and disorganizations.

The water was bath-tub warm – 84F – and the sun wasn’t up yet, which made it really fun to find the first buoys.  I held a draft for oh, about 30 seconds, and then I was on my own.  I got into a groove and just swam.  Bliss.

the pro start - and the water - is down there somewhere
I had a yard stick/carrot in the form of a body off my right shoulder, far up ahead, for probably just less than the last two miles.  Inch after inch was clawed back and I finally caught the person one buoy before the swim exit turn.  Imagine my surprise when I realized it was a guy and former defending champion at IMLOU…who then went on to finish in 8:50…new lifetime goal: not care about how I finish the swim and pull off an 8:50 overall.

Eh…with several moments of hair-pulling, chair-throwing frustration.  Bobby Knight, I finally understand.

Yeah, that pretty much sums up my bike leg.

The longer version: two pro women came roaring by in the first 5-8 miles then I was alone aside from the occasional pass by an elite AG man.  I learned there are two types of these guys: those who pull to the left well behind me so I can hear them coming, calmly pass giving us both enough space, and continue on their way never having broken pace.  The other kind is like being buzzed by a motorcycle: those who pull up immediately behind me so I can’t hear them, zip right around at arm’s length, and zoom off.  Dude, I’m glad you got your tubulars to squeal because obviously I train full-time and make nowhere close to a living so that I can haul your $160k-average-salary earning ass around this bike course.

Anyway, the first lap I waffled between taking it easy and going balls-out, but since I wasn’t riding as fast as I wanted when I tried to push a little I decided to hold off.  As I said before: Eh.

Immediately after the turn onto the second lap I descended into AG hell.  Pelotons.  People riding in the far left of the single lane (we can’t pass on the right and can’t cross the yellow line).  And worst of all: local traffic on the roads.  Imagine being stuck behind a car stuck behind a slower cyclist riding down the middle of the lane, on a single lane road with no shoulder.

I wish I could provide a diagram of the absolutely most frustrating point of my bike, but words will have to do.  One lane in each direction, with local traffic allowed – and present – in both directions and swarms of cyclists present and riding in the right lane.  Aid station on the grass to the right of the right lane with volunteers standing on the edge of the pavement, arms out-stretched offering water, sports drink, etc.  And a mini-van that had clearly gotten itself in WAY deeper than it could handle.   The mini-van was sitting, hazards on, half-way down the aid station, mostly in the right lane, but enough in the left lane that the on-coming traffic couldn’t (wouldn’t?) go around and still be on pavement.  Because the mini-van was blocking almost the entire right lane and the on-coming traffic was blocking the entire left lane with not enough room to slip between the front bumper of the mini-van and the first on-coming car (there was a line backed up…), every single cyclist had to squeeze around the right side of the mini-van, single file, on the strip of pavement between the grass and the mini-van. 

Imagine being a fish in an aquarium and having all the kids all summer tap on the glass in your tank.  I think that family can empathize. 

Once I got free of that circus, I started hauling to transition, passing maybe 10 people who were finally coming back to me after the swim and/or blowing past early in the bike.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road – and Melts 

Let’s be honest, IM happens a lot more often in hot and humid conditions than it does in cold and rainy ones.  The weather report wasn’t spreading misinformation; we knew it would be a typical Southern US day without much reprieve.  But how many people train by riding and running outside with no shade for 8 hours starting at 10 am?   By way of an answer: I have never seen so many ambulances on a course.

Coming off the bike I new several things: 1) I had ridden relatively slow (aka I hopefully had something left), 2) I had caught two pro women and multiple AG-ers (aka people were starting to wilt in the sun), and 3) I was well-fed, but had been getting increasingly dehydrated over the last several hours (aka my own wilting process was underway).  I had the goose bumps and a headache.  What a day to decide I was going to run every step of the way.  And away we go…

The first couple of miles were an easy 8:00 min pace and I was actually looking at my watch to make sure.  But shortly after mile 2 – around the time I saw the defending female champion riding back to her hotel, already showered – I realized holding a pace wasn’t as important as simply holding running.  I also clued into the pattern than would be my days and ways for several more hours: find it impossible to get all the ice and liquid I really needed at each aid station, get the dehydration goose bumps halfway to the next aid station, then triage the situation when I finally reached the aid but find it impossible to get all the ice and liquid I really needed…  Although they didn’t look like it, my shoulders felt like the turkey skin that doesn’t get covered by the foil in the oven and comes out withered and crackling. 
Only a half-marathon to run...

In many ways the race was over; now it was a war of attrition.  I passed one pro walking at mile 4 and another asking to climb into the aid station ice machine around mile 6.  One passed me around mile 10, before we both passed another very shortly thereafter.  The one who passed me came back to me around mile 21. 

If I had a personal check engine light, it would have come on hours before.  Liquids were barely staying down, but I craved more than I could get and I was burning up, but had goose bumps.  But I was in 5th place and running the sucker.  I wouldn’t have believed you if your had told me this is how it would end.

Party In The Med Tent

I checked myself into the med tent, where I saw quite a few people I knew.  Apparently nothing much was actually wrong with me – except perhaps the interest in racing an IM in those conditions – and chicken broth and Diet Coke can right a lot of wrongs.  

So I’m happy (ecstatic!) with my place, disappointed with my time, although it was largely irrelevant except to determine that under the new 8% rule, I was not eligible to receive the prize money I’d earned.  The race is to the line, not the end of the bike leg or any other spot on the course, and it got the job done on the day.

Ironically my prize was a plastic trophy.

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