I…am…Ironman; well an Ironman

Now that the chafing, sunburn, and jelly fish stings have healed; and I have put about 50 miles on my legs and 2 in the water. I think its time to review my Ironman experience.

I signed up for Ironman Maryland in September of 2021. Shortly after signing up (in November) my family and I contracted Covid.  Welcome to the story of my life; I commit to something with intention and a roadblock forces me to go around it.

I had not missed a day of work in 2020 or in 2021; I even worked on the weekends (working 7 days a week through the pandemic.) My kids brought home this god-forsaken virus from school and it about killed my wife and knocked me on my behind.

 I wasn’t super worried though.  I had committed to this race, and I even committed to hiring a coach.

I screened 5 coaches and interviewed 2 (2 never got back to me and one was an online only system which just didn’t feel right. It will remain unnamed because a lot of people find success there, it just wasn’t for me. Too difficult to navigate.)

Before I continue, I would like to share that I wanted to do an Ironman for a long time. I’m going to go with 7 years…mainly because I’ve lived in my current house at least that long and I have a video stashed away somewhere of me in my previous house committing to Ironman training. That being said, I had never set an endurance goal like that previously. Yes, I have run at least a dozen marathons. No, I never said “I want to be a Marathoner”.  Sure; once I had been running marathons, I had goal races like Berlin, New York, Chicago, London, Big Sur…(I’m still working on those last two…) Not to sound like I’m bragging but a marathon was something that I kind of “just did”.  I followed some ‘best practices’ but I didn’t follow a training plan. My first marathon…well all my marathons, were completed as a result of a lifestyle of running. An Iron man though, I needed a training plan. 2022 was supposed to be the first year where I had enough autonomy with work, and flexibility with my family to fit in training. I found out 6 or so years ago that training for an Ironman was not something I could just do.

Anyway, back to topic.

I signed up for a coach in January (or February…) and really wanted to follow a plan. I knew that completing an Ironman would leave me a complete mess, if I finished. I have heard about people who could not finish under the cutoff time; spending a year or more enduring arduous trainings; completing and event of 17 hours on their feet, to not meet the cut off time by a second or two… I didn’t want to be that guy.

Side note. Mission Multisport offers fantastic, personalized (affordable) coaching.

I had set a goal of 13.5 hours because that what is needed to qualify for the Sea to Summit Triathlon. Don’t ask me why I want to do that to myself, but I do…and that’s a second reason why I wanted to complete an Ironman (and how I was able to get my goal.)

Back to the program.

I was notified in March that my company was responding to supply chain disruptions, staffing challenges, pay equity challenges, and the changing retail landscape with downsizing and a site closure…Yes folks I was notified that (sometime in 2022) I was going to be a free agent, on the job market. I was also notified that my son’s heart condition was progressing, and that surgery went from not entirely necessary to required.

Talk about a roadblock…it feels like a road closure…

Endeavor to persevere.

Thankfully, the closure wasn’t until July, and I was able to schedule the operation before I lost insurance coverage. Those are all details we can talk about in person some time. Needless to say; it was nice to have something to take my mind off of life for an hour or two a day (training…)

I was still working 7 days a week, and my coach was able to fit training around my ridiculous schedule (thanks John.)

Right around the time my previous employer closed its doors, I also left my part time job on the weekends to focus on my new son’s recovery, my new gig, and training.

Highlights of my training:
I won an award for a 2-mile OWS (Open Water Swim)
I won another award for another 2-mile OWS.
I was able to cycle 15 (ish) + 62 (ish) + 15(ish) miles (94+miles), then go for a run, and take my son to the pool in 1 day.
I completed a 70.3 Ironman branded event in less than 6 hours.

I learned about hydration (which is a much different animal 66 miles into a bike ride than it is 13 miles into a run.)

Notes about training:

There were times where I wanted my arms to fall off.

There were times I wanted my legs to fall off.

Onto Ironman Maryland:

First, I’m not entirely sure what happened, but there was an issue with the billing on my card for the payments for the race. I never received an update from Active/Ironman so that was an interesting find. Obviously I corrected it; but, I would say that communication from the race was okay at best. I wouldn’t say it was lacking, but I would have liked a little more race information communication.

Why do I need to show up on Wednesday for a Saturday race? Oh, that’s right, its a Saturday race! Don’t ask me why it took me almost the entire training cycle and two cancelled hotel reservations to realize that this was not a Sunday race…but it was Saturday. Oye; I thought I was more organized.

Also, unlike other race transitions, Ironman Maryland was a clean transition. All my stuff had to get stuffed into bags. T1 bag, Special needs (bike) bag, T2 bag, Special needs (run bag)…I kind of love this… No-one messes with your stuff; meaning stepping on your towel or knocking over your helmet! But, just like a little kid looking for the freakin’ cracker jack prize (yes I’m old) digging through the bag to find that one lotion or gel or whatever was problematic at mile 16 on the run.

So the swim.

Yes there were jelly fish. Yes they sting. Yes its uncomfortable… ’nuff said.

Okay, not enough said. I can only tell you that the sensation of the jelly fish sting was similar to having a sunburn, then going out into the sun and feeling that sting on the already burned skin…IT wasn’t pleasant. My lips felt like I had eaten mango habanero wings, but without the benefit of the full tummy. Yes, jelly fish stung my lips.

I had been warned by others that there were jelly fish and I’ve been in the water in late August on the east coast, and I know there are jelly fish, but I didn’t think it was going to be that bad. The practice swim felt like a jelly fish sat on my arm and just stung me for giggles. No-one on my side was giggling. It was really unpleasant, but the race was going to be wetsuit legal, so I felt that I was prepared for the race.

I wasn’t.

The jelly fish weren’t bad the first lap (mile 1.) But lord, the 2nd lap…I don’t know if the jellies were pissed that we were in their habitat, but gosh. They were out with a vengeance

I don’t know if it is statistically different; but I actually felt slower on “lap 4” because I was pulling jellies from my face. I had to turn on my back for a hot second and just breathe.

Other than the jellies, I felt good in the water. Obviously the first 100 or so yards was clawing out of the mess of participants. After the 100 yards it was a mix of smooth and reset, but all in all it was a good swim.

Transition was interesting, finding my bag, going to the changing booth changing and getting on the bike.

By the way, it wasn’t a booth, it was a party tent. It was like a high school track meet. A bunch of naked dudes in a tent. It didn’t phase me though. I was focused on my stinging neck and the cracker jack box of T1 supplies. MY NECK WAS ON FIRE! Not just jelly related, but also rubbing from the wetsuit. (I used a viscous material to protect against rubbing, but it either rubbed off or wasn’t enough…I put on sunscreen and it was awful. I literally felt like I was pouring hot water onto my skin.

Coming out of T1 I felt strong. I jogged/ran the transition, got on the bike and started eating. At some point I stopped and applied more sun screen (it stung then too.)

Advice from the coach was eat until I hate food. I did that. I didn’t stop eating or drinking the whole race, every 5 miles on the bike. By the end of the race I didn’t want to see food ever again (or for 3 hours after the race…)

The Bike:

First 80 miles of IM Maryland Bike

During 70.3 Maine I went out too fast on the bike and paid for it on the run. My goal for Maryland was to Eat, Hydrate, take restroom stops, finish strong. I felt really good until about mile 70. There was a hot minute where I was pedaling on instinct and was in a weird headspace. I

If you haven’t done an endurance race and know what the weird headspace I am talking about is, I can be best describe it as a fog brought on by over exertion, heat, questionable nutrition…all the things. A feeling like you are riding through a tunnel when you really aren’t… A sane person would have gotten of the bike, triathles just keep going.

I realized that I was over half way done and still felt strong, I woke up (from my fog), made a plan, and kept pedaling.

The course was a 2 loop course and I stopped at the mile 45 aid station each time I passed it. I didn’t see the port-o-john at mile 30 (ish) and didn’t bother stopping to look for it. The stretch between 30 and 45 felt really (really) long. Not that volunteers in other areas weren’t helpful, but good lord, the volunteers on the bike course had the biggest cleanup job. I think if I volunteer at a future event, I will volunteer at a bike aid station and just clean all the garbage the athletes leave.

I think I zoned out here

I felt strong finishing the bike leg and “raced in.” I biked hard and ran the transition. Again, transition was digging through a transition bag looking for a needle amongst hay.

The Run.

I’ve learned that you play games with math and logic during endurance events. I should say, I play mind games. I did the math and realized I could walk the run and still finish as an Ironman. It’s not who I am. I’m going to go to the depth of what I can offer and learn from empty.

Mile 1 I stopped to put in sunscreen…still hurts. Use the restroom, eat more gel…I don’t want to see a gel for a while.

My pace wasn’t fast, but I ran when I could and walked when I needed. I stopped for the restroom when I needed and found people to talk to. I cheered on other participants and although I hated the pace I was keeping, at the end, I was pleased with what I accomplished.

One thing that I was surprised with was the taste of RedBull. I have never had Redbull and midway through I wanted something that wasn’t water or Gatorade. I like the taste of RedBull. It didn’t give me wings, but it certainly broke up the monotony of Maurten which has no real taste, Water, which is…well…water, and Gatorade. And while I am probably not going to go buy a case of RedBull and keep it in the back seat of my car, I think that it may be a race day pick me up during future endeavors.

I know I left everything out on the course because when I crossed the finish line my leg seized. Sure, I could have left more on the course, have my legs seize earlier in the race, but what would that have accomplished?

My 12:00:38 finish time was well earned. In the back of my mind I ask if I could have spent 38 seconds less at an aid station or skipping the Run Special Needs tent.

Everyone tells me 12 is a solid time for a first time Ironman.

I came in 90 minutes faster than my self appointed goal, which felt good. What felt better was my ability to walk, swim, ride, and run in the days and week following the race.

I feel that I could have gone for a run on Sunday, if I didn’t need to mow the lawn…

I still feel great a week after the race. In fact, I have felt worse after shorter races. I felt worse after Maine!

Course Summary

This course was flat. Flat! Almost painful. There were maybe a handful (6?) ascents in the bike ride greater than 100 feet over the span of 5 miles. Same for the run. Maybe 4 spots above 20 feet of elevation change… I think there was more elevation change in the water…

As with most events the volunteers and spectators are what makes the race so enjoyable.

The course was very scenic and the little bit running though downtown Cambridge was really pleasant. Even though the race was a looped course (both bike and run) it wasn’t boring. I’ve run looped courses and Ironman Maryland was looped just enough to make the course enjoyable.

Now the big question…will I do it again. I don’t think another 140.6 is in my near future. Jennie wants to me do another one because she wants to see me finish. But she wants me to go again when there are no kids in the house…I don’t know if I want to do an Ironman when I’m 50. We will see. I’m already signed up for another 70.3 I think that’s a really good distance.

Special thanks:

Obviously my family had to put up with a lot. Thanks to my Coach John (and the whole Mission Multisport Team

thanks you My love

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