Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Silent Treatment

My first triathlon was the Nautica Malibu Tri and I was so excited to be there as part of a team. Every time I saw someone in a Disney uniform during the race I'd yell "Go Disney!" The problem is that the bike and run are out-and-back courses, and we had several hundred people on our team. And I learned the hard way just how tiring it can be using up your breath cheering/talking while racing.

I was especially worried about saving my breath in Kona. Of course I was wearing my Disney uniform, and the truth is crowds love cheering for Disney. And I milk it a bit, so I get some good support from people I don't know. I am very grateful to them and I like to acknowledge their support, but I can't holler back every time. During the bike, it was easy; when people cheered for me I would squeeze my Killer Whale Squeaky Horn and they loved it. During the run, I would flash them the "hang loose" sign which seemed appropriate for Hawaii. And that got me through most of the race.

Around mile 23 of the marathon, I was hurting a bit. It was dark, I was alone in the middle of nowhere, and running up hill. A lone woman was out there cheering telling me "good job! You're almost finished!" I didn't have the strength to give her a hang-loose but I lifted my hand a few inches as a sort of half-wave.

But then, God bless her little heart, she asked me "what's your name?" Crap. Now I had to respond and I told her "Michael". But it didn't come out too strong. Imagine asking a four-year-kid who is lost in a store what his name is, and hearing him shyly whisper "mic...hael". That's what I sounded like. She said something like "good job Michael!" but I didn't care. I was just so mad that she made me actually speak.

Things were worse about two miles later. I had a mile to go and I saw Steve. He seemed downright giddy to see me. He could not have been more enthusiastic and supportive: he ran alongside me for a bit screaming "you're almost there! You're finished!" And then, God bless his big heart, he asked me "How are you feeling?"

139 miles into the Ironman World Championships, how could I possibly answer that? I was excited and relieved and hurting and tired and feeling a dozen other things. Somehow just answering "fine" didn't seem appropriate. But more importantly, I didn't think I had the strength to reply. It sounds crazy, but I was actually afraid to say anything, that speaking a single word might make me collapse.

So I just kept quiet. And what did my good buddy Steve do? He called me on it. He yelled out "oh what, so you're just going to ignore me?" Boy, now I was in trouble. I probably coulda/shoulda just given him a quick "feel fine" message but I was still terrified to give up a single breath. So I just figured I would ask for forgiveness later. I think a part of me was laughing inside (DEEP inside) that I just ignored him, but another part of me was thinking "ouch, I'm gonna pay for this later!"

Fifteen minutes later I did see Steve again, this time on the better side of the finish line. I did try ask forgiveness but he said I didn't need it. Which is a good thing because I didn't have much breath to plead my case anyway.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Nose Knows Not

I'm losing my hair, and my eyesight, and my tolerance for young whippersnappers, but I have maintained at least one aspect from my youth: my skin still breaks out. If I am sick or stressed, I will sometimes get a small flare-up on my nose. So I keep some skin cleanser with benzoil peroxide handy. It's basically acid that burns your skin and that's somehow a good thing.

I had a flare-up this week, so it was time to try to clean it up. I grabbed a tube from the bathroom drawer and rubbed the white cream on my nose and forehead. You're supposed to leave it on for 5 minutes, but it wasn't really tingling the way it normally does so I left it on while watching TV - a good half hour.

I went to wash it off, and it still wasn't tingling. Very odd. That's when I realized I had put Butt'r Cream on my face- the skin lubricant that I rub on all my sensitive places before running or biking (yes, ALL places). It comes in the same kind of tube as the cleanser, it has the same look and consistency, so it was an honest mistake. No harm done.

But here's what frightens me: if I can accidentally put Butt'r Cream on my face, what's going to keep me from rubbing cleanser on my chafe-sensitive areas some day? I'm only guessing here, but I suspect filling your tri-shorts with extra-strength benzoil peroxide would NOT be a pleasant experience.

If/when it happens, I'll be sure to let you know.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mr. Race Man

I was running along one of the trails in Griffith Park today and came across a lovely family out for a stroll. The mother and father were each carrying a sleepy child in their arms, and there was third boy walking ahead of them. He was, oh, about this old. (Picture me holding out my hand at about the height where a four-year-old's head would reach.) As I ran passed him, he called out "hi there, Mister Race Man!"

Oh, the precious little angel!

I am Mister Race Man! I glanced back and gave him a quick smile and a wave, and a big "hi there!".

If you're going to interrupt me on a run, THAT's the way to do it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Kona: The run, miles 13-26.2

So where was I? I was halfway through the marathon, I had walked the past 2.5 miles and had 13 to go. It was time to reassess my race plan.

Here's how the math worked out: I had to do 13-minute miles to finish with a PR of 14:30. My original plan called for 12-minute miles, so I was actually in pretty good shape. But this is where things got interesting: if I did 11-minute miles, I would beat 14 hours.

Now you might think it would be obvious to try to run 11's and if it didn't work out just go back to 13's. But endurance running doesn't work that way. If I bonked, then for every 11-minute mile I did I might pay for it by walking a 16, 18, or 20-minute mile later on and I'd completely miss the PR.

In all honesty, I ran a pretty good technical race all day long. But the thing I am most proud of is that it took me all of about 2 seconds to decide to go for the 14-hour finish. There really wasn't any debate. I was in Hawaii for the Ironman World Freaking Championships and I would rather burn out going for it than playing it safe.

So I started running. And running and running. I trained by doing 5-minute walk breaks every hour but I had no time for that now. I would walk for 15 seconds to take a drink at the aid stations but that was it.

And speaking of aid stations... I was avoiding all solid food for the first 13 miles because I was worried about cramping and I finally allowed myself to eat some pretzels. I don't know how much the impact was physical and how much was mental but it really did feel good.

If I have one regret for the day, it's that I didn't experience the true Energy Lab. This is the turn-around point of the run where most people are baking in the hot afternoon sun. I experienced the winds on the bike, I certainly experienced heat it the first part of the run. But by the time I hit the Energy Lab the sun was far below the horizon. It was dark, and cool - and I hate to say it - pleasant running conditions. So I was "in" the Energy Lab, but I was not "of" the Energy Lab.

When I say it was dark along the run, I mean it wad DARK. For most of the run there were no streetlights. There was no ambient light rising up from town because THERE WAS NO TOWN. We were running through lava fields in the middle of nowhere. I could barely see the road right in front of me. The most frustrating thing is that in some places it was too dark for me to read the mile-markers. I would pass a piece of plastic on the course and wonder "was that a mile-marker? Or a kilometer marker? Or just an arrow?" Dark.

I don't know how I did it, but when I was able to see a marker and check my pace, every mile was 11 minutes. Not 10:55, not 11:05, but 11. I constantly tried to pick up the pace a bit, but it just wasn't happening.

For the last few miles, I don't remember being in pain so much as I just felt... drained. Like I didn't have even enough energy to feel any pain, so maybe that was a good thing. I do remember sighing and grunting a lot, especially every time I came to a "hill." If you were in a car you would barely notice the inclines, but after biking 112 miles and running 20, they seemed enormous.

It was right at mile 25 that I realized just how tight it was going to be to make 14 hours. I think I had about 12 minutes to go and 1.2 miles. I wouldn't make it at my current pace, but fortunately there was a big downhill section heading back into town (this was the same hill that wiped me out trying to run up it a few hours before). I just relaxed my legs as best I could and let myself fall down the hill.

The hill heads straight for the finish line. You can see the lights, you can hear the music, you can hear Mike Reilly calling out "You are an Ironman!" to each of the finishers. But then, in some perverse cruel prank, you have to turn 90 degrees and run AWAY from the finish line for several blocks. That really stung.

Originally I had big plans on how to finish. This was my one shot at Kona, and I wanted to soak in the finish line as much as possible. I was going to basically walk through the chute, high-fiving everybody I could. When I got to my support crew, there would be hugs all around and I'd stop for a few pictures. I coined a phrase for it: I was going to "milk the chute".

Well all that changed when I realized how close I was to 14 hours. I didn't think I was going to make it, but I also knew that they weren't using my $29 wristwatch as official race time. My watch could have easily been a minute fast so maybe I did have some extra time. I didn't want to take any chances so I threw out any plans of milking the chute.

I "ran" the last mile as fast as I could, although I know it felt much faster than it really was. I saw my support crew, but they were acting strangely. You'd think they would have been pointing at me and cheering me on, but instead they were all pointing at a strange woman in the crowd. That was my mother, who flew out to watch the race without telling me and this was the first time I saw her. (Full story here.)

Somehow I managed not to trip over my own feet while turning my head 180 degrees to see my mother and I raced for the finish line. I still wasn't sure what the time was, and it wasn't until I had maybe 50 yards to go that I saw the official race clock. It was past 14:00, but not 14:01, and I was thrilled.

Official time: 14:00:51. I got a P.R, in Kona, beating my previous Ironman best by almost a half hour. It was a helluva day.