Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Ironman

Ironman Los Cabos
Baja California, Mexico, March 17, 2017
Event #8 of 10

A 2.4 mile open water swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and finally a full 26.2 mile marathon. 

I could fill a page with details about times, pacing and such, but it would be beside the point. 

The first woman President of an African country said in a Harvard commencement: “If your dreams do not scare you, they’re not big enough....The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. … If you start off with a small dream, you may not have much left when it is fulfilled because, along the way, life will … make demands on you." (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia) 

For me the Ironman was new territory, my dream 'bar' set high. Going the distance was my primary objective: all 140.6 miles to the finish line. 

Just prior to the Ironman, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about my journey in the Sunday Sports:

Standing on the beach, the Ironman had finally arrived. Jitters? Yes. Ready to get started? Yes.

The 2.4-mile Swim Leg
After changing into wetsuits and swim gear, some 1,400 athletes were massed on the beach, awaiting the 7 am start blast to scramble into the water and start the swim. Facing east in the Sea of Cortez, the bright rising sun was blinding at that same moment. 

Exiting the swim, rushing to bike.

I tried locating myself at the back of the pack, but others arrived behind me. When the gun went off at 7 am, there was a bit of chaos. Unfortunately, moments after starting, big waves hit our start area (which with the sun and excitement, I never saw), and I soon found myself swept back with swimmers on top of me and others underneath me. No one got hurt, but it was unsettling. 

I told myself to calm down, that I could do this, that I had a 'job' to do -- and soon found my rhythm and was off to the first red buoy. 

The 2.4 mile course was a huge rectangle marked by red buoys (part of which is visible in the bike photo below). 

Given my newbie swimming skills in challenging open water waves, contant sighting of the next buoy was what I should have been continually focused on. By the time I finished just over 2 hours later, my watch told me I had swam my longest distance ever (nearly 2.6 miles) thus wasting minutes and energy on the extra 0.2 miles that I swam. But no time to fret. Off to the next leg.

The Bike 112-mile Leg

My pre-check bike gear bag had my shirt with race number on the back, shorts, socks, shoes, helmet and a belt with 2 snap-on squeeze containers filled with a recommended caloric replenishment liquid I brought from the US, as well as salt pills and ibuprofen (if needed).

Bike staging. Red buoys show short side of rectangular swim. (Click to enlarge.)

The long leg towards Cabo San Lucas was hilly, and in the bright desert sun, 80's for the entire ride.

Somewhere on first leg.
Mexican Route #1 is a 4-lane divided highway between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.  On race day, 2 lanes were closed for the Ironman bikers. Lots of hills, with slowed traffic on the adjacent 2 lanes sharing 1 lane each -- but quite a mobile cheering section as a result, along much of the route.

Route #1 had lots of hills along the entire way. But the most steep hills were on the following leg to and from the airport on a toll highway that was closed for the Ironman.

In the midpoint of the bike ride, I retrieved by numbered-nutrition bag to pull out 2 of my food bottles to swap for those I'd consumed, and pick a few items off the food table (including some delicious Quaker butter and pineapple cookies). I was probably off the bike 2-3 minutes in total -- only 'stop' I took.

The aid stations were great and amply staffed with 'runners' who made it easy to switch water or gatorade bottles without stopping. When I discovered the water bottles even had ices cubes, I began dumping one over my hemet to keep cool at all the following aid stops.

Not the easiest bike course. 6,000 feet of elevation gain for the entire ride, and apparently one of the toughest bike segments of all the Ironman venues. Fortunately, Bicycle Odyssey of Sausalito sponsored me by lending a Giant TSR bike (instead of my vintage 1992 bike, used in the Death Ride). Current technology does make a difference.

Because the bike course consisted of 2 loops, virtually all the bikers passed me at least once, so I got so see up close the top athletes, all kinds of amazing bikes, not to mention the colorful fashions and  incredibly fit (and usually young) athletes that somehow managed to 'effortlessly' pass me. With 5-year age groups clearly marked on all athletes' calves, at least it was easy to see how old everyone was as they passed (and their names and countries, displayed on competitor bibs pinned on the back of everyone's jersey).

A long, hot, hilly bike ride. On the last 30+ miles, I picked up the pace with what I had 'left' and managed to pass scores of bikers -- see one ahead, pass 'em, pick a new target....I had never ridden as fast or as consistently tuned-in to the gearing, body position, leg turnover, use of aerial bars for lowering my profile and wind resistance, including my being out of the saddle pushing the hills at every opportunity. Just over 10 hours after the swim start, it was time (finally) to get on with the run.

The 26.2-mile Marathon
I have run many marathons, but none following a long swim and an even longer bike ride. I knew I had extra time or 'margin' for error, because all I needed was to finish before midnight.  Heck, I had over 6 hours to do so and had never gone over 5 hours prior. And running was my strong event. Simple, no?

The marathon course consisted of 3 identical loops meandering through the heart of colonial San Jose del Cabo and some residential areas. Near the start, the course soon passed the finish line, with a divided 'shoot' : straight to the finish, and to left for more loops. By the time I started, there were people being announced as they finished. Off I went on loop 1 at a conservative slow pace, an easy jog until I got my legs moving OK.

There were great crowds of natives and tourists cheering in large numbers, all along much of the marathon route. I remember distinctly people cheering me on me that I had only a mile to go (when in fact I was nearing just the end of my 1st or 2nd of the 3 loops for the marathon).

The aid stops were also well placed and frequent, with lots of volunteers offering specially-filled water bags, gatorade, cups of Pepsi Cola, pretzels, salted peanuts, cookies, PowerBar choices, cut bananas and more.

Given I was in uncharted territory for me, I drank at nearly every opportunity, and ate something whenever I could  manage to do so as well. Once I started running, I had a fear of stopping resulting in muscle spasms.  I saw and passed many people walking -- and just wanted to keep moving.

During the midpoint, I was moving along at a steady pace, and passing lots of people. Some another athlete blew by me and yelled to me (in accented English) 'You are inspiring! Looking good.'  Didn't feel like I was 'looking good' but such comments helped. (He was in the 25-29 age group.)

On my 3rd loop, around mile 21, a lower back spasm hit me (first time ever), making my maintaining an efficient upright posture 'problematic'. Unfortunately, in the rush to change from biking to running, I also left behind my ibuprofen pills. But since my legs were OK, I was determined that no such back spasm was going to stop me from getting to the finish line, now some 5 miles away. But my 'margin' for the midnight cutoff was disappearing, as the last few miles were more 'speed walking' than racing.

All along those last miles, by then after 11 pm, I was asking people what time it was, and using the mile and kilometer markers to estimate my pace, recalculating what I needed to get there before midnight.

Finally, my 3rd time approaching the Finish line was a charm -- and before I even headed down the finish line chute I heard 'Eric Spector of the United States -- an Ironman' over the speakers.  Heading down the brightly lit and densely-crowded finish line, I was able to stop for the first time all day. And smile. And savor the moment.

Finish Line.
16 hours, 42 minutes and 46 seconds later. Plenty of people still finished after me. But as I was getting on to a message table (they had some 25 tables and masseurs set up, an awesomely nice detail) I heard the 'closing' of Ironman Los Cabos 2013. Ten minutes later, I got off the table -- and walked away upright.

Next was the challenge to get to and find my bike & clothing bags, and past midnight find a way back to my hotel, some 15 miles away. I got lucky, paid whatever the taxi asked, and upon arrival, had him find a hotel employee to bring over a luggage cart, get my bike and stuff on it -- and guide me to my room. By 1:30 am, after a drinking a bottle of water and lying down, I was down for the count.

Somewhere in the middle of the bike ride, this popped into my head and made me laugh: 
"Thou shalt be humbled by thee Ironman no matter thy training." 
There's truth to that fleeting thought. 

So far 8 finish lines out of 8 events. Just 2 more events to go until my birthday on May 5th and the Comeback65 year will be over.  

I plan to continue offering tips and links on Twitter @fitatallages to help motivate people getting or staying fit, so please pass the word. 

5 weeks of road-based training lie ahead. 

But heck, event #10 on my birthday is just a marathon, no?