Test of Determination at Ironman Santa Rosa
When it comes to racing and traveling for races you can alway expect something will not go as planned. Traveling for races internationally is a whole different story. I have raced in South America, Australia and Europe and also traveled to Iceland, Asia, and Canada before and have always been pretty detail oriented in preparing for these races and trips so when the monkey wrench was thrown into my plans for Ironman Canada the stress level and semi-panic mode ensued.
The Airport, Tuesday Morning.
The new law that went to effect in Dec. 2016 was not posted on the Air Canada website until May 2017 and we had already purchased our airline tickets to a place I had been to 4 prior times. I applied for my Electronic Visa the day before the flight and thought we would be good to go. The delay was just a matter of having documents verified. They requested more documents and I couldn’t produce them so the scramble on how to get to Canada began. The Visa only affected passengers by air, so the plan started to evolve on how to get to Seattle. Only problem is that our car reservations were in Vancouver. It was also Lucas’ first flight ever and we still didn’t have our system down so it was difficult just putting Kelly and Lucas on the flight without knowing for sure I would be able to get across the border. Then the news came that I would not be able to get my documents in time and it would be a big risk trying to drive through. So quickly, we aborted the plan and contacted Ironman to get my entry transferred to Santa Rosa. I contacted the race director and the IM transfer program and one email to the TriClub representative who helped push the process along. It was Wednesday morning and I got the email with the race director giving a huge thumbs up for my transfer.
The preparation began. My new bike with new cranks, electronic shifting, disc wheel, a working power meter and a bike fit that took 6 months to perfect plus my aero helmet, and running shoes were already on TriBike Transport on their way to Canada. We tried to intercept them in San Francisco, but they were already in Seattle when we reached them.
I’ve been having trouble selling my old bike so it was sitting in the garage with the old saddle, training wheels and dry chain. The old bike has a much better frame, but it was too small for my wingspan and the reason I had to upgrade to a larger frame. We also wanted to get on the road as quickly as possible since driving 500 miles with Lucas was not gonna be an easy task. Fortunately, my brother, Ray would be able to join us to help us with Lucas and to be the sherpa. I waited to get the bike fit measurements from Bike Effect to make it work for me and in the meantime took the bike to Santa Monica Mountains Cyclery to get it race ready with my old Zipp race wheels, 808/404 combination and the carbon brakes installed. In addition, I had to stop at Fleet Feet Sports in Encino to pick up a new pair of Brooks Pure Cadence shoes for the run. I had tested another pair I had at home but heel pain didn’t allow me to go longer than an hour on those shoes.
We finally got all packed up and ready to go the 500 miles to Santa Rosa by 1:45 pm. Luckily, our friends have a cabin on the Russian River and they gladly opened up their home for us to stay with them for the week. It took us over 10 hours and we finally arrived by 11 pm and settled in. The next morning we were on a rush to get to registration and get all signed up then test the swim. The swim venue was 40 miles away so it took some time to get there. The water was exactly 76.1 and the planning and strategizing on best option to swim began. If wetsuit legal, maybe swim with Roka Sim shorts to avoid overheating. If non-wetsuit legal above 76.1 go with skin suit or just speedos? Lots of choices and in the end it was wetsuit legal and going fast in the wetsuit would be difficult.
I was also finally able to test the bike and the 9 mile ride from the swim at Lake Sonoma to the Dry Creek General Store was very miserable. I didn’t realize how bad the bike fit had eroded without my new saddle and the messed up height. We had a quick picnic lunch at the general store and headed back to Santa Rosa 30 miles away just 10 min. before they closed Echelon Multisport where I would get my bike fit adjusted. I only had the XY coordinates from Bike Effect who had emailed them earlier in the day. I contacted Pedro Dungo from P-Fits in San Francisco but he was unavailable to fit me and the drive was too far for to go into the city 80 miles away. Luckily, Pedro offered to call up Echelon the next day at noon to give Echelon comparable measurements for height and reach to get my bike fit as close as possible to my current fit. By 2 pm we did the best we could and with the mandatory bike check in being 5 pm 40 miles away, I didn’t have time to test ride, so we drove back to Lake Sonoma to drop off my bike and then get ready for the race. We used up a full tank of gasoline in over 2 days getting from place to place and by the time we finally got back home we had to make dinner all exhausted. We finally got to bed by 10 pm with wake up time 2:50 am for the race.
Arrived at T2 in Santa Rosa at 4:15 am to drop off special needs and board the shuttle. The shuttle took an hour to arrive and I was able to take a short nap and hydrate while on the bus. We arrived at 6:15 and I had forgotten about the water temperature until the announcer mentioned the water temperature was 76.1 making it wetsuit legal. I pumped my tires, loaded my nutrition and final visit to the porta potty. Race start was 6:10 am and I got to the start line by 6:00 after handing Ray and Abel my phone and dropping off my morning gear bag.
Swim: There was no time for a practice swim. I got in line with the 1:10-1:20 group and within 7 minutes we were in the water. The water was steamy and as we started to swim felt soupy! It was definitely warmer than 76.1 so I made a conscious decision to take my time and find a rhythm. I was not going to take a chance and swim fast and overheat even before the bike began. Recently I have been veering to the right in my open water swim and with the turn buoys on my right side, I was able to swim very straight. There was little contact with the self-seeded rolling start. My only mistake was starting with the slower group. I got no benefit of drafting with faster people and had to dodge some slower swimmers in the second loop. My first loop was 36 min. and I expected 34 minutes. I finished with 1:14 and 4130 yard for an average of 1:43. My plan was to swim relaxed at 1:37 with the wetsuit but I’m glad I didn’t try. I still finished higher in my overall swim than other races and no one in my age group swam faster than a 1:01. Finishing 44th in my age group and 367 overall put me in top 15% in my age group and top 17% overall—great improvement from my previous IM wetsuit swim in Lake Tahoe.
T1: I practiced going up the steep quarter mile ramp at the lake the day before and I knew I could make up a few minutes on the swimmers ahead of me by pushing up. I had the 2nd fastest T1 times in my age group. The key was picking the biggest guy on the wetsuit strippers station who got me out of my wetsuit in less than 10 seconds. No socks on the bike and not needing to put anything in my pockets, made it easy to just get my bike and go. I picked up 10 spots in my age group here.
Bike: The bike started off well. I was passing people, but oddly, many people were passing me—strong looking cyclists, fast looking bikes—so I figured I must have had a great swim. I was averaging 20 mph for the first 45 minutes. I was hoping to average 21 so I was within range early. Then the headwinds began. It started to get uncomfortable. I felt like I could not get my pedal stroke steady on the wine country rollers. I had trained for long, sustained climbs. Then more people started to pass me, including athletes who were mashing gears on ill-fitting bikes. I knew something was wrong. I was content riding through the vineyards early on and was expecting my speed to pick up in the flats of the double 20 mile circuit at the finish. Some roads were buttery smooth with slight winds. Then some were violently, crappy and staying in aero was not comfortable or safe. By mile 70 I was starting to get tired. My back was in pain, my right knee hurt, my neck was tightening and I was getting sleepy. I needed to eat more. In the first loop of the double circuit, I lost focus. I was tired. I was going 17 mph on flat roads. I had no idea which way the wind was blowing. The roads became even worse. We had many intersections to cross with angry commuters. When I got to the final loop of the circuit, I got a second wind—possibly a tailwind or two. I felt stronger and more focused. I stayed in aero position longer. My body became numb and I pedaled as hard as I could. I started passing people. I passed 10 guys in my age group in the final 10 miles. Nutrition is always a battle on the bike. I never eat enough. I didn’t have a power meter so I had no idea how hard I was riding. My heart rate had dropped when I lost focus. I was concerned about hip pain and right ankle pain I had experienced in my previous Ironman using my old bike. I dropped from 44th in my age group in the swim to 64th off the bike. It was time to chip away on the run. With only the 84th best bike split in my age group, it was my worst bike split since my first IM in 2005 but still my 2nd fastest.
T2: Finally made it into transition, but I wasn’t defeated. I did the math. If I had a decent run at 3:45 I could still break 11 hours. If I did sub 4 hours I could still get a personal best time. I unclipped, took my shoes off and ran as fast as I could on the hot asphalt. If it were 5 degrees warmer, I would have burned the bottoms of my feet. I survived. I changed quickly and stopped to pee for the 2nd time and was off on the run after a quick 5:17 transition. Also my fastest in an Ironman.
The Run: I don’t like 3 loop courses. I prefer double loops and better when the first loop is longer and the 2nd loop is shorter like they were in Brazil and Lake Tahoe. The dirt path was about 3 miles long plus an extra mile on the opposite side of the creek. The other side was asphalt. The dirt path had big rocks and difficult to get a good grip, land strong or push off. The paths were narrow and with each loop became narrower. I started fast—too fast. I was running 7:30 pace with little effort. There is only one way to know how fast you can go—I took the chance and survived. I knew that if I was going to have problems on the run they would happen early. I got through the first loop nicely. I was passing a lot of people. The second loop felt harder than it should have but I was still running an 8:30 pace. I thought I was running faster—I was running faster than those around me—which was deceiving. My shoes started to feel tight. My 2nd toe on each foot was feeling smashed with every foot step. I had upgraded from size 11 to 11.5 this year, but apparently the new shoes were a little tighter and probably needed size 12. After the first and 2nd loop I stopped to visit with Kelly and Lucas momentarily. I only waved on the start of the 3rd loop to make sure I could still PR my run. I ran the entire time except at the aid stations when I had to stop to get water and ice in my hat. At mile 13 I started drinking coke to get a burst of energy that lasted for about 200 meters each time. There were too few volunteers at the aid stations as the crowds grew from all the runners being out on the course in the 3rd loop. I spent longer times in aid stations getting what I needed and it slowed me down. I was down to 9:30 pace. I still “looked” and “felt” fast, but it was relative to those around me. It got very crowded and I had to dodge people left and right. My cadence never dropped while I ran. I was consistently at 85 and I never had to stop. I didn’t cramp. The mile markers were way off on the course. They never matched to my watch until around mile 25. I thought I had 1.2 miles to go but my watch said 1.7. The extra half mile loop we had to take around transition, change tents and then down the shoot, just extended the misery of the poorly designed run course. I had my PR, but my sub 11 had dissipated during the 3rd loop. I ran a 3:51 and missed fastest marathon time in an IM by 4 minutes. I had run a 3:47 at Lake Tahoe. In the end I passed 166 people on the run and 33 guys in my age group to finish 31st out of 284 in 45-49 and 201st overall. At top 13% overall and in my age group, it was a great day overall. I did just enough to set a new personal best in the Ironman by 9 minutes.
I saw Kelly in the finish chute while Lucas was passed out after tough day of spectating his daddy’s first race. I was in a lot of pain. I was determined to finish strong despite all the adversity of the week, the inability to race in Canada, and all the hoops we had to get through just to get to the start line of Ironman Santa Rosa. I am grateful that Ironman let me transfer my entry and also grateful to all the people who helped me get here and supported me along the way. It’s a race I will never forget and my finishing time of 11:11 can only be a sign of me being blessed to be here and of amazing things for the future.