Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kona Race Report: T2

I had a great T2, although it didn't start that way.

The nice thing about Ironman is that they have valet service. At the end of my ride I hopped off my bike, handed it to one of the valets with a few bucks and then went to pick up my bag. The problem was that the transition area was covered with wet, slippery, artificial turf and I was wearing bike shoes. And to make matters worse, they make you run around the entire perimeter of the transition area to get your bag.

I took a few steps and had to grab the fence to keep my balance. One of the volunteers suggested that I take my shoes off, but I hesitated. I didn't want to get my socks wet right before running a marathon. So I tried taking a few more steps, but it was pointless. I took off my shoes and tried to run tippy-toe the entire way to bag pick-up. I was moderately successful at keeping dry.

Basically I only had to put on my running shoes and hat and then fly out on to the course, and that's pretty much what I did. I had a T2 time of 2:47. To put that in perspective, you may have heard of a little triathlete named Andy Potts? His T2 time was only 5 seconds faster than me. I seriously kicked ass in transition.

So what are my secrets to a fast T2?
1) Pack lightly. You don't want to deal with a lot of clutter in your transition bag.
2) Stay focused. Keep calm and pay attention to what you're doing.
3) The most important thing: show up to T2 so much later than everyone else that you have the entire place to yourself and don't have to worry about bumping into anyone else.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ironman Arizona 2009 spectator report

So like, I never did my spectator report from Ironman Arizona 2009. Since IMAZ 2010 is this weekend, I figured I should probably take care of that.

IronmAnnie and I decided to walk upstream a bit to watch the swim start. Because the swim takes place in a strange man-made lake/river/bathtub, you can get pretty close to the swimmers during the race. Of course, everyone is wearing a blue or pink swim cap and goggles, so you can never find a specific athlete. There was a naive little girl next to us screaming "hi daddy!" and we thought "awwww, isn't that cute... She thinks she can see her daddy." And then we heard a voice from the water call back "hi sweetheart!" I'm supposed to be a race-spectating expert and this 6-year-old girl totally owned me.

Once the swim started I repositioned myself to watch everyone come into T1. I've been to quite a few races, and I don't think I've ever seen a colder group of people exiting the water. I didn't think Arizona was known for being a cold swim but these were not happy people. Somehow I missed Scary Gary coming out of the water, but I did see Teresa and Stephanie. And then just to keep things exciting, Jersey Jill finished the swim with just a few minutes to spare. Pretty good for someone who didn't know how to swim the year before.

Arizona has a 3-loop bike course, so there are plenty of chances to see individual athletes. But Stephanie had a pretty big entourage watching her race, and it was pretty complicated trying to coordinate positioning for everyone. IronmAnnie and I walked maybe 1/4 - 1/2 mile up the road coming into town so we could be the early lookout for Stephanie. We saw her, she looked great, and then waited to catch her after the turn-around to see her back out for loop #2.

We positioned ourselves on the median so we could easily see her coming in and then watch her again when she headed back out for loop number 2. So we were on her left. Being ever-so-thoughtful, when she came by she rode to the far left side of the lane to get as close to us as possible for good pictures. We cheered and screamed as she whizzed by, and then 3 seconds later WHAM! She crashed.

It seems that in an effort to get closer to us, her wheel caught a groove along the side of the road and took her down. I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but somehow she managed to clip out of both pedals and was lying on her stomach on the pavement with her arms in front of her like Superman.

There was a brief pause, and then we ran over to Stephanie. She was bruised and dazed, but generally OK. The people around us were fantastic: they gave her water and towels to clean up with. One guy gave her bike a quick mechanical check to make sure that the wheels were still aligned and the handlebars were secure.

Annie was amazing. She kept on reassuring Stephanie "you are fine! You're doing great! All that happened is that you have a 2-minute delay in the ride. So what? It doesn't matter. You're awesome!" Stephanie must have bought it, because she was back on her bike and back in the race pretty quickly.

Obviously I was so proud of Stephanie, but I was also really impressed with Annie. I turned to her and said "You handled that perfectly. You knew exactly what to say and what to do and I think you were just amazing with Stephanie." Annie burst into tears and screamed "OH MY GOD I MADE STEPHANIE CRASH IN HER IRONMAN!"

Oh. So that's the way we were going to spin this.

I guess the logic was that if Annie didn't have her camera out, Stephanie wouldn't have come over and wouldn't have crashed. I felt the logic was a little flawed, but I thought it best to tread lightly. The best I could do was remind Annie how quickly Stephanie got back out there. She wasn't hurt (even though I had no idea), and she still had plenty of time to finish the bike ride.

We were the only ones who saw the crash, so Annie said we couldn't tell ANYONE. She didn't want Steph's parents to worry. Now THAT logic I agreed with. So we kept quiet. I was secretly worried that Steph WAS injured a bit, or at least a little nervous and might have a bad second loop, so when we hooked up with the rest of the group I tried not-so-subtly to prepare them for a slow split: "Steph is doing great! It wouldn't surprise me if she takes it easy for the second lap, to save her legs." "It's getting hotter out there, so I bet most people will be slowing down." "Yessirreeee, this will probably be a slow lap for Steph and there will be nothing suspicious or unusual about that."

Well Stephanie still had a decent second lap. But when we saw her again, she was covered in bruises. Her face. Her arms. It was really obvious. And people started asking questions. Questions which shouldn't be asked. "Did she crash? She looks pretty banged up." Of course, I was Mr. Calm. "Bruises? It looked more like dirt to me. And it looks like the ink of her race number is running, that's what all those black marks must be."

Nobody was buying it, and by the time we saw Steph for her 3rd lap we had to come clean. At this point, it had been a couple hours since the crash and her times were still good so it was pretty obvious the crash didn't hurt her race too much.

Arizona is a crazy twisty 3-lap run, so it's actually pretty easy for spectators to move around a bit and catch racers many times throughout the course. So I spent a lot of time crisscrossing bridges. The "funny" thing is that once we could see Steph closer and slower, the bruises were really REALLY noticeable. But I think her battlescars made her a crowd favorite running through the finisher's chute. It was pretty obvious she EARNED her Ironman medal! And with a finish time of 13:25 she did awesome.

Heather, Jen and I caught up with Jill on the course and ran with her for a bit but it just wasn't her day. She missed the cutoff for the 3rd loop and faced it with a smile and an "I'll be back" attitude. She's volunteering at AZ this year and will cross the finish line in 2011.

Arizona really is a great spectator race. It's in the middle of a college town, there are plenty of chances to see your racers, and it's a fairly easy and inexpensive trip from L.A. I highly recommend it. Watching it certainly beats actually DOING an Ironman in the middle of the freakin' desert.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Kona Race Report: The Bike

I have been told that a smart bike is the key to a good Ironman. In Kona, I decided to test that theory.

Kona does not have a bad elevation profile, but it is notoriously windy. My guess was that I could do the course in 6:30. But if I did that, my legs would be hurting for the run; during my last two Ironmans, my marathons fell apart. So I decided in Kona I would go easier on the bike and would shoot for a 7-hour ride.

I was surprised just how cool the first mile of the bike was. I was already over 90-minutes into the race, but since most of that was spent in the water this was the first time I actually got to see all of the spectators up close lined up along the road. It was amazing; I might as well have been in the Tour de France. (Given a choice between Kona and Le Tour, I'd pick Kona any day.)

There's a small hill that takes you out of town where I saw Craig and Jana standing on the side of the road. I was in a really good mood and thought it would be fun to high-five them as I went by. That worked out fine, but afterwards I realized that taking my hand off the bike while climbing and trying to ride close to the curb makes me a bit unstable. I wont be doing that again.

Once you leave town you get to the famous black lava fields pretty quickly. And for a while, everything about the race changed. We were pretty spread out; there was never a time when I couldn't see another cyclist, but there were long stretches when the nearest racer wasn several hundred yards away. And then an odd feeling came over me... After all the chaos of the swim and then riding through town, things suddenly felt... Peaceful. I wasn't racing; I was essentially by myself, out for a bike ride in the middle of a lava field in Hawaii. Which just happened to be part of the Ironman World Championship. I am always wound pretty tight and stressed about something, but this was almost a Zen-experience. It was wonderful.

Well, the Zen didn't last too long because we had to go out to Hawi. There is a long, steady climb into town and - truthfully? - it was easy. I do a lot of hill training and I kept an easy, steady pace and the hill was nothing.

The infamous winds however were not nothing. I remembered something that Michellie Jone said on an Ironman DVD: "I make that turn up to Hawi, I look and see if there are any whitecaps. If there are whitecaps, I know it’s going to be a tough tough wind day." So I looked out to the ocean, and I swear it looked like it was snowing out there. White water everywhere. Yikes.

I couldn't believe how little control I had of my bicycle. I would try to stay right on the shoulder line and the next instant I'd be on the far side of the lane. At one point I was blown into the other incoming-traffic lane, although technically it wasn't my fault. I was passing a guy on the left, then he got blown across the lane and I had to steer across the yellow line to avoid him. Fortunately, everyone in the incoming lane was also being blown off to the side so there were no collisions. I don't know how far I was leaning sideways into the wind myself, but the people around me certainly looked like were doing a good 30 degrees. And God forbid you want to take a drink and actually take one hand off the handlebars. That was suicide.

This is the elevation for the bike:

You would think that it would be a difficult first half and then smooth sailing once you hit the turn-around at the top of the hill in Hawi. No. We had a headwind all the way back to Kona. Aside from the initial descent, I felt like I was riding uphill all the way home. The last 30 miles were as tiring as the first 80 miles.

After the race, I pieced together reviews of the winds from people who have done the race before. The general consensus was that the winds weren't as bad as previous years, but with two caveats:

1) The gusts were as strong, it's just that they weren't as frequent as in other years.
2) The later in the day you were on the course, the worse the winds were. I'm guessing Macca had it easier than I did.

I'm glad that we didn't have a bad wind day overall. But I'm grateful that I still had to deal with the winds. I wanted to have the full Kona Experience, the good and the bad. I felt like I did.

When I first heard that there would be aid stations every 5 miles on the bike, I thought that sounded like overkill. But during the race, they couldn't come fast enough. The one nice thing about the wind was that it kept our skin fairly cool but it was still a hot sun out there. At every aid station, I would grab a water bottle, chug one-half to two-thirds of it, then dump the rest on my legs or head. I've never drank so much on a ride ever, and that was probably a smart move.

I had one sharp cramp in my leg at mile 110. It wasn't exactly they way I wanted to finish the ride, but it went away pretty quickly. I popped an extra salt tablet for good measure (I had been taking tablets about once an hour.)

I wanted to do a fairly-easy 7-hour bike and I finished in 6:51 so I think I pretty much nailed it. The most important thing was that aside from the last-minute cramp my legs really did feel pretty good coming off the bike. That was the strategy for the entire race.