Monday, July 28, 2008

Ironman Oregon?

I was away on vacation for a few days and I missed a big email chain about the news of a possible Ironman Oregon event. Annie and Robert mentioned it at lunch after an ocean swim Saturday, so when I got home I looked it up. I use a Google tool called "Inquisitor" which auto-fills as you type and can send you straight to the website without returning the list of Google search results. As soon as it brought up "Ironman Oregon" I said "Go" and it brought me to this page:

I know the event is still a year away, but I just don't think I can be ready.

As far as an Oregon triathlon goes, people seem to think I'd be fer it but I'm agin' it. For starters, Oregon is going to look a LOT like Coeur d'Alene. Lots of trees, lakes, hills... not that there's anything wrong with that but why not try something a little different? The other problem is that I want to attend all of the U.S. Ironman events, either as a spectator or a competitor. So far I've been to 3 out of 7. Now they want to add an eighth? Ugh.

This event would be big for my Tri Team. It's relatively close for people who don't want to fight the winds of Arizona. But we don't know if it will become an event or not. Wisconsin is a little over a month away... Should people sign up for that, or hold off and hope that Oregon moves forward? And what happens if I sign up for Wisconsin, and then 4 months later Oregon gets the green light and everyone goes there? Too much stress.

To quote the wisdom of High School Musical, "No no no no, stick to the status quo. It is better by far to keep things as they are, don't mess with the flow no no. Stick to the status quo."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A for Effort

At Ironman, you see many impressive physiques in wetsuits. I realize that mine is not one of them. Still, I love this photo:

Why? Look at my feet. I am not walking up the beach. I am not jogging up the beach. I am RUNNING up the beach towards T1. I am not a strong swimmer, yet this photo shows me giving everything I have after doing the longest, most difficult swim of my life. So regardless of my time, I'm pretty proud of my effort.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ironman : The Finish

I have long said that I would hate to finish an Ironman during daylight hours because I wanted to make sure I got some glow sticks. And I had planned on getting lots and lots of them so that I would look like something out of Tron racing (limping) down the streets. But because of the extra long daylight hours (and my not-horrible finish time) I almost didn't get any glow sticks.

I know it looks really late and dark in my finish video and photos, but I swear to you the sun hadn't been down for all that long and they were just starting to distribute the glow sticks. I think I saw the first people wearing them around mile 24 when they were heading on their outbound loop. I didn't see anyone actually handing them out until I literally had less than a half-mile to go. I was out there for nearly 15 hours so you better believe I was going to take one.

The last few minutes of the race was all about preparing for the finish photo. First thing I did was roll up my long-sleeved thermal shirt and stuffed it into my back jersey pocket. I also stuffed my glow stick back there. (Yes, I really wanted to have one, but it's not like it had to be in the photo.) I even took off my watch.

Coeur d'Alene has a very long, straight finish. You run 4 or 5 blocks downhill, in a straight line, which feeds right into the finishing chute. So there is plenty of time to plan your finish. I wanted to make sure I didn't finish too closely behind any one else, nor did I want anyone directly behind me. I saw two guys walking about a block ahead of me, so I figured if I sped up I would pull away from anyone behind me, pass them, and then have the chute to myself. (By the way, I don't understand how ANYONE could walk those last few blocks. It's downhill, and with all that excitement I would have ran with two broken legs if I had to.)

Well, with about 1 block to go, right as I was about to pass the guys, they started running. Posers. This was a huge dilemma for me: should I just go all out and try to get a huge lead on them, or hold back and hope that no one catches up to me from behind? I decided to hold back and let them go into the chute ahead of me. I checked my back, saw a woman not-too-far-behind-but-probably-far-enough and decided to make my move.

Now here's where I was just stupid. In order to make sure that any photo of me would be a good one, I ran through the entire chute with my hands raised up over head. I never lowered them. So the photos probably came out OK, but I look REALLY dorky in the video. And when the first finish-line photographer took my picture, the flash caught my eye and I glanced over at him, which ruined the shot for photographer #2. Oh well. I think I the first one is pretty decent.

I do remember hearing my name called out, kind of. I mostly remember hearing "from Glendale California..." then it was kind of a blur.

A nice lady took hold of me and walked me around a bit. Then a total stranger ran up to me and asked "when was the last time you urinated?" I thought this was a rather personal question, but I realized it was a medical question. They want to make sure you're not dehydrated. They're looking for VERY general times. If you say "I went before the swim", that could be a problem. If you say "a couple hours ago", things are probably OK. But I didn't realize this right away and I wanted to give him an exact answer. So I started to try and figure it out. "OK, I went right before the hill which is at the turn-around point, which was about 6 miles ago. So if I did 10-minute miles, that would be one hour but I was probably a bit slower, so maybe it was 70 or 80 minutes. But then I sped up a lot at the end..." Finally I realized I was being stupid and just said "like an hour or two ago".

One of the finisher photographers took a picture of me while I was being draped with a mylar blanket and holding my finisher's shirt. I thought it would be a bad shot, and I was right:

I was smart: I made him take another photo where I could pose properly. And this is what I came up with:

What kind of dorky smile is that?!

Now for the sappy part. They say that crossing your first Ironman finish line is an amazing experience. Some would say spiritual. Don't get me wrong, I was happy, but I wouldn't exactly call it magical. It was mostly relief. But after I got my water, and my finisher swag, I looked over and saw all of my friends fighting through the crowd to get to me and I ran over to get to them. For me, THAT was the Finish Line for Ironman. And that's where the magic was.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Six Degrees of Iron Monica

We went for a bike ride yesterday. As we were getting ready to start, I saw a woman wearing a Coeur d'Alene jersey. I went over to her and told her I was also at Coeur d'Alene with my friend Rich, it was our first one. She looked at me for a moment and asked,

"Are you Wedgie?"

!!!!! How creepy cool is that!

Turns out, "Maria" knows Iron Monica who seems to be quickly becoming an honorary member of the Disney Tri Team. (She met the motley Disney group down in Brazil.)

Seems like you ain't nobody in this town unless you know Monica, so get to know her!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ironman: The Run

Holding back on the bike worked; my legs felt pretty good starting the run. I wish I could say the same thing about my stomach. I ate a LOT of Shot Bloks during the race (over 2 dozen at this point) and it was taking its toll. I felt completely bloated and gassy and the worst part - to be blunt - was that I couldn't burp or pass gas to relieve the pressure. I saw my cheering section around mile 3 and I told them "Everything is fine, and I know it looks like I'm right on schedule, but I just want to warn you that you might be in for a long night." I knew that the run was going to be a problem.

Each mile became worse and worse in terms of my running/walking ratio. I knew that regardless of what my stomach felt like, I was going to need more energy later on to finish the marathon. But I couldn't eat anything. I tried sucking on a Shot Blok; made me nauseous. And let me tell you just how bad things were: they had Oreo cookies at the food stops. I took a tiny nibble out of one, and THREW OUT THE REST OF THE COOKIE! I can think of no greater sin against nature than throwing away an Oreo, yet there I was.

Somewhere around mile 7 or 8 I gave up. Not on the whole race, but on the first lap. I shifted my mindset and told myself "I am on my way to the starting line of a half marathon." These next few miles were just going to be for stretching out. I did not worry about food at all. I decided I could not win the battle of trying to get food in my stomach, so for the next 30 or 45 minutes I wouldn't even try to eat anything and just let whatever was already down there get processed and dealt with.

It pretty much worked. I wanted to start getting some calories in me before I started my half-marathon, so around mile 12 I thought I would try some food. But the sight of everything repulsed me. I didn't want fruit, or cookies, or pretzels, or God forbid another Shot Blok. But then at the end of the line somebody was handing out cups of chicken broth. I don't eat chicken broth. It sounds very healthy and it seemed odd to me to drink hot liquids in the middle of a race. Now for those of you who don't know me well, you must understand that I NEVER try new food. I am not joking when I say that ketchup is too fancy for me. I only eat very plain foods and never stray off my known menu. But Ironman does funny things for people and for some reason my body wasn't repulsed by the chicken broth so I gave it a shot.

I can't say that I liked it, but it was the first thing in 5 miles or so that I could actually swallow and I was grateful for that. And it got my stomach back into the business of processing calories. What I was NOT grateful for was seeing my friends at mile a few blocks later. I looked horrible. The sweaty long-sleeved thermal shirt I wore under my tri-jersey for the first part of the run was now draped over my shoulders. I was walking, carrying a styrofoam cup of chicken broth. I did not look speedy, and I gave them an honest report: "I've eaten God-only-knows how many Shot Bloks, I fear it's measured in the dozens and I am gong to be sick. I want to throw up, or have explosive diarrhea, I don't care which but something bad is going to happen." (You can watch me give my report in my Ironman video at about 6:40). Steve suggested that I just shove a finger down my throat to empty my stomach that way ("because going in the other way won't help") and I considered it but was more worried about what other side effects I might have from puking.

Annie offered to take the extra shirt I wasn't wearing anymore away from me but I scolded her: "NO! No outside help permitted during the race!" She told me I could just throw it on the ground and they would pick it up. "NO! No littering along the course!" Looking back on it, man was I a moron. But I don't know, for some reason I just felt like I had a plan and I needed to stick with it.

Turns out, things started getting better. By taking some time off from eating my stomach became settled and - my apologies - I started farting again around mile 13.5. Please be assured that at this point people were spread out enough that I was able to pass gas very discreetly. That made a HUGE difference and I started running a real half marathon. Oddly enough, because I was hurting so badly on the first half, each mile of the second half felt stronger and stronger. I think my split times were something like 3:20/2:40.

My original goal was to do the marathon in 6 hours, but I felt I put a lot of padding in there. If everything went right, I thought I could pull off a 5-hour marathon. After the first 2 miles I knew that would be impossible and thought I might be looking at 6:30-7:00. I don't remember the exact mileage, but as I started feeling better and better I was doing the math in my head and thought I might do about 6:20. Then a little later I was thinking 6:10. Then around mile 20 or so the 6-hour cut-off started to be a glimmer. I timed myself for one-mile and realized I was only a little under pace to hit 6 hours. So I went a little faster, timed another mile, was a little closer to 6 hours. Suffice it to say I finished the marathon in 5:59:40. Twenty seconds faster than what I had predicted a month before.

I have a very odd complaint about the run. Because I had stomach problems, my legs were spared a lot of really hard running. Which means that even though I was certainly tired at the end of the night, I didn't have any of the horror stories of pain that people love to share after an Ironman. I wanted to get the FULL Ironman experience, with all the good and the bad. Fortunately, I felt like I got a taste of Ironman leg torture leaving the tattoo shop.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

World's Greatest Ironman Video

My support team keeps cranking out amazing stuff... Here's the video they put together of Rich's and my Ironman. (He's the fast one, I'm the sobbing tense one.)

(and I'm not sure how YouTube works but under the video, below "Views", it may have a link to "watch in high quality". If you have a decent internet connection, use that.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Ironman: T2

Transition Two deserves its own special mention because it was my greatest accomplishment of the day. In fact, it was probably the greatest achievement of my triathlon career.

I'm not sandbagging when I say I am normally very slow in transition. If you ever saw me on race day, you'd see what a spaz I really am. (In my first Olympic Tri, I had to go BACK into T1. Twice.) So a 10-15 minute Ironman T2 seemed very reasonable to me. Yet somehow I pulled off a 2:31.

As a back-of-the-packer, I usually downplay my results with the conditional words "for me". For example, "that was a really good swim time... for me." "It was a very fast run pace... for me". But a T2 time of 2:31 is a GREAT time, period. It puts me around the Top 15% overall for T2 times, which is a ranking I'll never come CLOSE to in any of the other categories. The slowest Pro Male in T2 was Steve Larsen with a time of 2:20, just 11 seconds faster than me, and he finished 5th overall for the race.

So what's my secret to a speedy Transition? Obsession for Arbitrary Math.

My plan for the day was "2-7-6": 2 hours for swim and T1, 7 hours for bike and T2, 6 hours for marathon. Those were just easy, round numbers to use but they became binding. I was hoping for a slightly better bike time but with the winds I was slowed down a bit. I knew that the 7-hour mark was coming up fast (my official bike time was 6:56:03) and I really wanted to hit that 7-hour goal. So I pretty much ran through T2. I didn't change out of my long-sleeve shirt. I didn't re-apply Body Glide. I even waited until I was on the run before I started putting on my nip guards. Everything was all about beating that arbitrary 7 hour cut-off. Bike plus T2: 6:58:33.

At the time, T2 didn't seem all that quick to me. Not slow, not fast. I didn't realize how fast I was until I saw Ben along the run course who got the online race updates. He seemed shocked as he yelled out to me "2:31 T2?! How did you do that?!" I just assumed the data was wrong.

It seems I CAN be fast and efficient when I need to be.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My New Tattoo

At first, the tattoo studio felt a lot like a barber shop. There was somebody in the chair ahead of me and I had to sit in the waiting area looking at old magazines. The difference of course is that most barber shops don't make you initial 3 pages of liability waivers.

When it my my turn, the first thing "Lantz" asked me was "did you have breakfast today?"

"Umm... yes....?"
"Why do you care whether or not I had breakfast?"
"Well when people pass out it's not because of the pain but because their blood sugar drops too much as their body struggles to fight off the massive infection."

Woah. Time out. People PASS OUT from this?!

I know I tried to play it cool, but I'm sure it was pretty obvious how nervous I was. I went over the final design with him, pointing out all the key details kept apologizing for being so neurotic about it. I told him "I know this is a small tattoo for you but it's a huge one for me." He said "There are no small tattoos. The people who come in here looking at the smaller designs aren't sure what they want. But your tattoo has a lot of meaning and significance to it." Bingo. He nailed it, he had me at hello.

He made an ink-transfer photocopy of my design and placed it on my leg. We played around with the position a bit and I picked a location and went with it.

He laid me down on the table and started to cut. That's the sensation; it did not feel like a needle, it felt like a razor blade slicing through my leg. People told me that it would only hurt while he was actually inking but that every time he stopped, the pain would go away. Wrong. It always hurt. Two hours after I left the place, it still hurt. The hardest thing was having to keep my leg relaxed. I couldn't tense up or even move my foot. It really, really hurt.

Lantz told me there two types of needles; one for doing outlining, the other for filling in color. He told me that they had different sensations but that one didn't hurt more than the other. He lied. The fill-needle was worse. At one point I told him "I am not making this up... last Friday a friend of mine had his kidney removed. I envy him."

I was embarrassed by how sweaty my pillow and the table was, but they assured me that was normal. I just laid there clutching my pillow sweating like a pig. I did ask for some cookies and they brought out some Chips Ahoys. Yummy. So here I am, clenching my pillow eating a cookie while being tortured by Lantz:

It took about 45 minutes total. By the time he was finished I was feeling pretty light-headed. He had me go over and look at it in the mirror but to be honest I could hardly focus on it. It was kind of puffy and the green looked black. I could tell that the whale looked OK and I told him it was exactly how I pictured it. But I was lying because I really couldn't even see the whole tattoo. Mostly I just wanted to leave. I thought I saw a tiny red dot on the eye and asked "did you add a red dot, or am I bleeding?" "You're bleeding." He wrapped it up in Saran Wrap and sent me on my way.

I hobbled out of the shop having more trouble walking after the tattoo than I did after the actual race. And it hurt to drive myself back to the office (bad planning on my part) so I pretty much never used the brake unless absolutely necessary. Once back in the office I showed everyone of course but at this point I still hadn't actually looked down and seen the tattoo for myself. I can't explain why, I think I was just in denial and didn't want to know about it. People told me it was bleeding, and I assumed they were talking about the small red dot on the eye. When I finally did look to see it for myself, I saw that my lower leg was covered in streaks of blood and it was staining my socks. It was not a lot of blood, but just a few drops dripping down your leg can leave some pretty nasty-looking trails. I was really embarrassed that I was showing it to people having it look so disgusting.

Now that it's cleaned up, I can honestly say I think Lantz did an AMAZING job. It is exactly what I gave him. The lines are crisp and clean and I can't fault his technical expertise one bit. My only regret, and this isn't really a regret, is that it's a little high on leg. It's actually pretty well-centered on the calf when I'm tensed up, so if I can build up my calves a bit it should look really good in bike shorts. But in regular shorts, in just seems a bit too far up the leg. Not by much, maybe just a half-inch or so.

*** UPDATE: I just realized, by having the tattoo a little high on my leg it leaves more room for body-marking. I want to make sure people know they're being passed by a 40-YEAR-OLD Ironman! ***

Lantz at Zulu Tattoo, S Crescent Heights Blvd. in Los Angeles. He gets the Wedgie Seal of Approval. Highly recommended.

As far as the symbolism of the tattoo, I'm hoping it can be viewed in several ways:

People who don't know anything about triathlons might say "hey, cool whale".
Triathletes might say "hey, cool M-Dot, and the killer whale is a great icon for the sport: strong, powerful, king of the ocean predators."
But people who know me or read this blog will know the TRUE symbolism of the whale: the whale is NOT a fearsome predator; it's a silly little squeaky horn.

Months ago I just wanted an M-Dot. Then Gerald told me I should "make it my own", which has been his mantra for me for the sport of triathlon all along. I didn't want to to incorporate a wedgie into the tattoo (that would have been just too weird) but then when Annie showed up in Oceanside with a giant inflatable whale I knew I had my logo. Gerald and Annie inadvertently inspired the design, and I feel a certain amount of closure with the fact that it was the two of them standing at an information table 3 years ago who first explained to me what a triathlon was. And of course, mad props to "Super" Dutch for drawing the whale for me.

Getting Inked

12:35 I am lying on a table at the tattoo studio. The guy just made the first incision. I can't see what he's doing but I swear he's slicing the flesh from my bones.

12:47 The plastic pillow I am leaning on is drenched in sweat. As is the table.

12:54 When I arrived here they offered me cookies but I passed, fearing they would be some kind of tofu crap. I just asked for some now, telling them "I think I'm earning cookies." Happily, they brought out some Chips Ahoys but I fear I may be creating a Pavlovian connection between cookies and pain.