Early morning I wake up at 350a and start eating. I have 3 hard boiled eggs and half a bagel. I go to the bathroom and “purge” so that i don’t have to “purge” on the race. I recheck some of the gear and pack up a backpack to carry it all in. I stretch completely and use my little roller to work out any remaining knots in my legs. It also helps get blood circulation going as well.
We go to race area and I get bodymarked with my race number 861 on my right calf. I go to my bike and check everything once again. It’s got all this condensation from being outside all night and I cringe about the rust forming on my beautiful steel bike. The rows of bikes racked up is awesome. A small fortune sits before me in those bikes and i love looking at the high-tech (expensive) hardware.
I realize I forgot a towel in my T1 bag and I go put it in there.
My friends and I are ready and go to the changing tent to put on our wetsuits. They have this flame throwing heater thing which looks pretty scary, so we back up a bit from it as we don’t want to burst into flame. We are thankful for its warmth though. We rub bodyglide all over our bodies and slip on our wetsuit over our tri-wear.
Heading for the Beach
We’re ready to go. We exit T1 and the changing rooms and head down to the Yacht Club where race start is. I still am apprehensive of the swim as my previous swim time really sucked. I get into the water and start doing some easy laps to warm up. Other bobbing heads join me. I position myself in the middle of the pack near the deep end, so that I have the greatest possibility of finding someone to draft behind. Conserving energy is my number 1 concern on this race.
There is an Indy 500 like light countdown. It has 3 lights and the lights go off one by one as we get closer to race start. As the last light goes out, a cannon goes “BOOM” and its a free for all start, my favorite kind of swim race start. A mass of white capped people starts stroking fast and pulling away from me. I get kicked in the face and my right goggle lens gets stuck to my eyeball.. How annoying, but I keep stroking. I start finding people to draft behind and weave back and forth shifting from person to person, because I am not sure everyone knows where they are going. I can’t see the buoys marking the course and I feel like I’m swimming in a zig-zag. Every now and then I do see one and I steer for it, again trying to draft behind whomever I can latch onto.
Thank god for the turn-around. I finally reach the turnaround the buoy and it comes faster than I thought.
On the way back can’t see buoys even more than before. They told us during the race briefing that there would be yellow buoys on the return leg. Nope – don’t see any. Only hot orange buoys. But then, I saw hot orange buoys on the way out and think I am back following the first row of buoys on the outward leg again. I can only hope that the others around me know where they are going.
Soon I see the Yacht Club and breathe a sigh of relief. I see the beach and the swim exit point. I steer for that and go full bore for it. I am out of the water at 1:13 which I am very happy about.
Run to T1, the Swim to Bike Transition
I unzip my wetsuit and whip my arms out. We jog from the beach across the parking lot, cross a street, and then up some stairs to T1 area. It feels like a long way but that’s life. I grab my T1 bag and head for the changing tent. A volunteer comes over, sits me down and in my yank, pulls my wetsuit off me. Another dumps my T1 bag of stuff and then shoves my swim stuff back into the bag.
I grab my socks and bike shoes and put them on, my race number belt is buckled around my waist, smear some suntan lotion on my shoulders and back, and then hand my T1 bag to a volunteer and head out the door. I run into a porta-loo aka bathroom, and then grab my bike and head for the exit.
Heading for Bike Loop One
I remind myself that I need to keep to efficient cycling and to not make power moves to wipe out my legs. It is a long way to T2 and again I need to conserve energy. I take off down the main Taupo road along the lake and head for the first big hill. I ease up it, spinning for efficiency and I crest it no problem. After going over it, it’s really smooth sailing. The road is gentle rolling hills and there is little or no wind. It’s a beautiful day for riding and my spirits feel good from the swim.
I go into cruise mode and soon I’m doing 20+ MPH the whole way to the turnaround. I start eating my Balance Bars, one bite every 15 min, and start popping salt tablets every half and hour.
I pass tons of support signs which are attached to posts staked into the ground. They are great to read and I wonder if I’ll see some made from my friends. Some of them are silly and some of them touching. They are a nice companion on the ride as I head for the turnaround.
I think about strange things out there. I think about my life, my recent personal issues and attempts to resolve them, think about my daughter/family/friends, I think about my bike, my fears on the race like dropping a water bottle or losing all my nutrition or packing the wrong stuff in the wrong bag. I flip back and forth between random thoughts and focused race thoughts.
All of a sudden, the ABBA song “Dancing Queen” starts playing in my head and I can’t get it to stop. It takes me until the turnaround to get it out of my head.
I get behind a big peloton and can’t pass because they are all over the lane. This is a big no-no as there are no drafting rules in effect. They don’t spread out and sure enough a race referee rides by on his scooter and tells about 8 of them to stand down for a one minute drafting penalty. I am glad to see them pull off the road because now I can pass, and I whiz by them.
I finally reach the turnaround and think this is better than I thought. But it’s still cold from the morning and I’m a bit chilled. I pull out an energy gel and try to open it but my fingers are totally numb. I try for a while and then I fumble the gel and drop it. Dang it. Every competitors’ nightmare is to drop all your nutrition. I fear that I can’t refuel because my fingers can’t get warmed up.
Thankfully, about 10 minutes later, they thaw out enough so that I can open the next gel and suck it down.
The return leg is slower but then it was a slight downhill all the way to the turnaround. I’m still doing 19 MPH so I’m ok. I reach the first big hill and do a big screaming down hill to town. I almost make the wrong turn to go back to the loop, but the official corrects me and sends me on the right path. I make it back to Taupo and I zoom past my friends, almost without me knowing it. They yell encouragement but I’m all down in aero tucked position and pedaling comfortably into the turnaround and I head out on Loop 2 of the bike course.
I got back to Taupo in a little over 3 hours and that makes me feel good because I’m on track for a 6 hour bike and haven’t wiped my legs.
Bike Loop 2: Wind Picks Up Out of Nowhere
I hit the big hill again and as I crest, I pick up my special needs bag with two water bottles. I stop and toss my old ones, sticking my new ones into my bottle cages and off I go.
But as I hit the same road as before, I realize the wind has picked up in a big way. On this road I was doing 20-25+ MPH, now I’m barely doing 18-19 MPH. It trashes my time on the second leg because I’m tired and I won’t do any power moves, so I can’t make speedy headway against the wind because I don’t want to risk the marathon after. Later in the loop, my speed cranks down to 8-13 MPH. UGH.
I finish my third Balance Bar (usually I have 2) because I know I’ll need the calories for later. I also wolf down a banana later in the ride. It’s important to eat now on the bike and get calories into my stomach before it can’t process solid calories later in the race because it tends to shut down after hours and hours of physical exertion.
I start tossing water bottles as I finish them and start grabbing the cool Pro4/Ironman NZ bottles for my friends. A kiwi rides by and comments, “hey mate, you could ride a lot faster if you threw away some weight (the 3 full water bottles).” I tell him that my bike time is thrashed so I might as well bring home some souvenirs for my friends. He laughs and rides on.
Somewhere about 25% of the way through Bike Loop 2, my feet start hurting like crazy. It sucks because I still have 2 hours (I hope) to go. I gut through the pain but by the time I return, my feet are throbbing with pain.
My second bike leg was about 3:45, a whole 45 minutes more than I planned because of that wind which seemed to be hitting my head the whole time.
Onto the Run
I am thankful to enter T2 after such a grueling ride into the wind. I make a mental note to myself to keep working hard on the bike to improve my strength in handling hilly and windy situations.
I pull in and someone grabs my bike. As I run to grab my T2 bag, my right hamstring starts cramping. This raises fears in me since I have big problems with cramping and still haven’t solved them completely. I relax and the cramp doesn’t fully develop but I am watchful for it.
I pull off my bike shoes, put on my run shoes, my fuel belt, turn my race number around to my front, and I’m off to another porta-loo stop.
I do notice that my quads don’t feel tight at all, which they usually do after a long ride and which causes cramping there too. Also, I am glad that the switch from bike shoes to run shoes seems to remove the pain my feet.
After the porta-loo, I quickly head out onto the run course.
Back out on to the Race Course
I decide to jog the first loop to conserve energy. Having never done an Ironman before, I had no gauge of how my energy stores were doing after that bike, and I was determined not to run on fumes near the end. I also am wary of burning through my energy early on and then I start cramping when I get tired. I want none of that!
Despite my disappointing 2nd Bike Loop, my spirits are relatively high.
At the first aid station, I try Pepsi. WHOA. What a power boost! I decide to try Pepsi at every aid station. Very bad move in general to change your nutrition mid-race, but I thought I would give it go nonetheless.
As I run, I start wondering about my jog pace and realize i need to figure out the conversion from km to miles and apply that to time pace. Geez. too much math but I somehow figure out i’m going about 7min/km which is probably around 10:30min/mile.
I also realize that the run course is kind of hilly and it will be a challenging path to complete the marathon leg of the Ironman. I keep on jogging.
I am thankful for the support along the way. People can see my name which is on my race number and shout encouragement. I smile back and say thank you.
I also see signs made by my friends. By the way the big sign in the printing shop window was made by my friends. I guess I wasn’t supposed to see it! But now it’s hanging on the side of the road and I’m glad for the mental boost it gives me. I also see other signs made for my friends who are also racing.
Every support station, I drink pepsi, and also grab water which I dump on myself to keep cool. The Taupo sun is intense and it is refreshing to have water splashed on my head. I gel every 45 min, and take salt tablets every half an hour. So far so good. No lows in energy yet, so I cruise the first leg of the run course.
I think about all the Pepsi I am drinking and think this can’t be healthy. But my coach says it’s like rocket fuel and i definitely believe him now. My head is clear and my body feels good and all I’m drinking is flat Pepsi. Go figure.
My heart rate is moderated and right in range. I can see how the months of training have helped this aspect. I keep pace and my HR is in the right place. I am glad to see that my heart rate has not shot up into lactate threshold range, signalling eminent flame out.
I do worry about hyponatremia, because my stomach is really full of fluid right now. I also wonder if I will puke my guts out soon because it does feel really full with all the Pepsi I have taken in, as well as salt tablets and energy gels. I ignore the thought for now and keep moving.
By the time i hit the run turnaround, I realize that this is a pretty tough rolling hills course. Lots of long hills and I am not looking forward to the second repeat loop.
I get back into town and move onto the second loop.
Last run leg, almost home
I seem to feel pretty good, so I pick up pace. I can’t help but start computing my finish time, so as I pass my friends I shout my finish time spread to them of 12:50 to 13:20. And then I’m past them and keep moving.
I start passing people as later finishers of the bike leg start run loop 1. I also start running up hills; hard for me in past, but I gain confidence when I dont cramp on the hills. I’m still drinking Pepsi like it’s going out of style and really worried about my stomach. It feels full of fluid and I slow down on the gulping down of coke. Now I grab two waters. One to dump on me, one to take 2 mouthfuls and swish around and spit out because my mouth is all gummy from drinking so much Pepsi. My stomach, although full, is thankfully stable and I don’t puke my guts out like so many people I’ve heard about before. Probably about 40% of Ironman competitors have digestive problems of some sort in a race. I don’t want to have any and hope I don’t. I keep moving.
I run through some soakings from garden hoses and it feels good and refreshing. But one splashing drenched my front and i realize that my salt tab zip lock bag is probably wet! Ziplocks are supposed to seal water out but I know they aren’t that great. I then realize the inside of my salt tab bag has drops of water in there and I pray that they don’t melt. Later, some of them do melt and I hope that I can still eat them. One has already completely melted and running out of them before finish would be very very bad. I need them to help manage my electrolyte loss during heavy exertion and preventing cramping of the muscles.
I make it thru 32 km or 20 mile mark easily – this is the classic wall that people hit. Maybe its the fact that it’s the metric system and that my body can’t figure out when it was supposed to hit the wall (Hahah).
I make it back to town and an incredible sunset is waiting for me above the lake, probably the best i’ve seen all week. I think its a fitting end to an incredible day.
But then it happens. I hit the last 6 km and it gets really tough. I start looking at each lamppost and tree and just saying to myself I just need to reach that tree or post. With about 3 km to go, I hit the main road along the lake, and all of my resolve evaporates. I start to run-walk to keep moving. My brain is just saying “Dave why don’t you just sit down and stop.” I do not know if I can break through this but I keep moving nonetheless.
Strangely when i walk, my quads start to cramp but when I run, the cramps go away. Maybe this is some higher power telling me that I need to run to the finish or else my legs will seize up in excruciating pain…?
I get my energy back around 800m left. I see people there and don’t want to seem like wimp walking to the finish! Somehow I gain new energy, and I start sprinting big time.
I sprint to the finish line and put my fists into the air for a great finish line picture. The camera guy is still waiting there and I think, “what’s he freakin’ waiting for?” because I’m tired and can’t hold my hands up much longer! He finally snaps the shot. But I was robbed – the announcer didn’t say, “Dave Shen, you are an Ironman!” What a pisser.
I finish in 13:06. I am proud to say that I landed right in the middle of my finish time prediction that I gave my friends at the beginning of run loop 2! Ha! Prior to the race, I also thought that I would finish in 13 hours but there are so many variables you can’t predict which are out of your control. If the second bike loop hadn’t been windy, I could have come in 45 minutes earlier. If I bonked on the run and ran on fumes, my 4:50 marathon could have been much worse. As I have said before and now truly believe, once you start, you are as much in the hands of fate as you are in your training and race preparation.
I must say that was the hardest thing I did. Two things really made it hard. I was really feeling good on the first bike loop and was hoping for repeat performance on the second. But when the wind picked up, it cranked my speed down so far. I don’t have enough strength yet on the bike and I need to emphasize to my coach that I need to build more strength for cranking against the wind.
The second was losing all resolve near the last 3 km. I was ready to stop but forcing myself to keep going was incredibly hard. Plus I’ve never done anything so physically demanding continuously for this long. My brain hasn’t gotten used to this yet. I think about Cameron Brown, the men’s pro winner who did it in 8:21 (as i start my 2nd run loop, I pass the finish line and hear the announcer announce his finish!). It motivates me to train and get my time down. Who wants to be out there for 13 hours!
I guess that’s why they call it Ironman and not Flower man or Easy man or Simple man. Ironman is a hard trial and isn’t for everyone, but now I’m glad to be part of this special international family.
I get to the finisher’s tent and get the medical check. They weigh me and I lost only 2.4 kg which is good. So I think that although my stomach was really full, it kept me from losing too much fluid so I suppose I did the right thing.
I get the free massage, and eat to get carbo recovery going. I drink more Pepsi and haven’t seemed to have gotten sick of it yet. I take a swig of Accelerade in my Fuel Belt and promptly spit it out. It went bad from the time I took the last swig to now! I could have thrown up on the course from drinking that!
I find my friends and have a late night meal, as well as a freezing but good ice bath. We all relax a bit and talk over the day.
I get home to take a shower. I chuck my sneakers – all my stuff really smells bad! We head back out again to see friends come in. There is great excitement at the finish line where we watch my friends’ finishes. Music is blaring and everyone is yelling and screaming. I firmly believe the true Ironmen are the people who finish after 15, 16 or right before the course closes at 17. It was hard enough to keep going at 13 hours, and I admire their ironwill to make it to the finish line after that many hours of being out there, stiff and in pain.
I want to say thanks to my supporters – they took phenomenal pics, running back and forth to grab equipment and clothes and food and ice, and driving all of us around. I also want to say thanks to my coach M2 for getting me ready for this huge effort and thanks to my ART team at Team Clinic for keeping my body together and making it to the race minus injuries.
I am not sure I will do it again. I complain to my friends jokingly, “What was I thinking?!?!? You were supposed to talk me out of it!” But somehow I know I will.
Tomorrow, I head for the qualification for the championships in Kona roll-down meeting at 2pm. If I get in, I will definitely go. Tiny chance, but funnier things have happened. Besides I’ve already started looking at the list of ironmans to sign up for. I must be getting to enjoy pain….
I am not looking forward to tomorrow since I am sure my body will not be too good. I am happy to have walked away from it. Early in my triathlon career, I would do a race and literally limp away from it in pain. Tonite, I am stiff and sore, but I can walk. Others who have finished don’t look so good. Some have collapsed due to the super-long exertion and are taken away to the medical tent.
Pain or no, I am now an Ironman and I am content.