Monday, October 26, 2009

Big Kahuna 1/2 Ironman - Unfinished Business

Let's cut to the chase shall we?

1) I didn't complete a 1/2 ironman yesterday


2) I bonked

DNF you say? Not so quick. I finished the event and I got my medal. I finished slowly, and painfully, but I finished. I just didn't start it.

(cut to 4:30 AM, race day)

Up with the first alarm, didn't need the second. As usual, there was enough chaos in the bedroom to keep me from that perfect pre-race sleep: a restless dog, a sleepwalking child. But I slept well enough. I stumble into the hallway, into the bathroom, and find that the restless dog was restless for a reason. He had peed on the bathroom floor, which he does very rarely (and credit to him for using the bathroom right?). So, race day is off to an inauspicious start, I'm cleaning the bathroom floor while my coffee brews. And sadly for you readers, that isn't the last tale of an improvised bathroom that you'll read about today, but I digress.

I enjoy my banana, bagel with PB&J, and coffee, and soon enough I'm in the car for the drive over to Santa Cruz. Everything goes well at the transition area, I have a decent spot, I set up the gear I think I'll need, I get my body-markings, and I start to pull on the wet-suit. I head to the beach with 45 minutes to spare, and begin the search for friends, no easy task when everyone is in a wet-suit and cap.

Eventually I hook up with a few familiar faces: Monique, Russ, Pat, and we catch up on our recent activities as we wait for the race to start. Monique is regularly reaching the podium in her age group triathlons, Pat became an Ironman this year in Idaho, and Russ is keeping his calendar full with 4AM workouts and races. I share my Death Ride stories and am met with disbelief when I tell them of the 50+ MPH descents: I guess going that fast downhill is hard to imagine on a tri-bike. We continue to wait for the start.

And we wait.

Well, apparently the race officials don't feel safe getting the race underway, what with all the fog and the risk of losing a few swimmers, so after an hour of standing on the beach they officially cancel the swim leg, and the race gets started from the "swim out" area. The triathlon has quickly become a duathlon. I don't think any of us feel relieved at this point, and for me it just means I'm not going to complete a half-ironman. I'll be coming up just a mile short, but not just any mile...

My inner competitor knows this is not ideal, since my friends are faster on the bike and my only hope of beating them is to leave the water first and hold them off. But heck, this is just a race against the clock right? Bragging rights don't matter do they?

So the race starts and we run from the beach to transition and get started on the bike. I have actually been pretty anxious about the bike leg. When I pre-rode the course a month ago, it took me 3 hours 15 minutes, which seemed at least 15 minutes too long, so I was curious how the race day environment would affect the ride. thankfully, it's positive. I ride to the turnaround in a quick time of ~1:24 and am surprised to be so far ahead of my last pace. 20MPH average, nice! Russ and Pat are up the road, as expected, as is Monique who started with an earlier group. I learn later that Russ and Pat finish the bike a full nine minutes in front of me - I start building a mental case for buying a tri-bike next year.

On the return trip I get slower as I progress, and I assume I am losing power from a quick start. It's a little discouraging to get passed by so many in the last 10 miles and I'm blaming my training as I get off the bike, but I do a quick check of my wheel and realize my rear brake has been rubbing. Doh! Hard to say what this cost me, a few minutes a few calories, whatever. It was fine when the ride started and I think I may have knocked my wheel out of alignment with about 15 miles to go.

And now to the run. I get off the bike and feel some cramping immediately, but it seems manageable. I start conservatively and settle into a mid-to-low 8 minutes/mile pace about 4 miles into the run, hoping that I can keep this up and start pushing after mile 7 or 8. Alas, my stomach has other ideas.

I had fueled as much as possible on the bike, and apparently I had over-fueled. There's a lot of "stuff" sloshing around in there, and I am feeling more and more nauseous with every step. I slow and eventually walk to try to let the feeling pass, however it doesn't help. I still feel some hope at mile 7, having passed the half-way point at about 55 minutes, so I decide to skip the porta-potty and gut it out, but with another half mile it becomes clear to me that something's gonna have to give. I look desperately for the next aid station, but with nothing in site it's clear I'll have to improvise - time for what Phil Liggett tastefully terms a "natural break", in some well covered bushes separating the course from the artichoke fields.

I'm less nauseous now, but I'm heading into full bonk territory unable to take in any more nutrition, so the last few miles are a painful death march. It's a very frustrating feeling for me, knowing that I can't test my fitness and resolve at the end of this race, have missed any time goals I set out, and have to suck it up. But I've watched enough of those Ironman Kona recaps to understand that I must respect the race and bring it home, knowing that the karma points may come back sometime down the road. Plus there are no taxis in sight. So I keep moving, half walking half jogging. Russ catches me at mile twelve (I'd passed him at mile 5 on the run) and we silently push each other to keep running to the end (he is "one big cramp" at this point he tells me). The Big Kahuna race ends cruelly, with a half mile run on the beach to the finishing chute.

Justine is there at the finish and I'm happy to see her, but pretty wrecked, frustrated and disappointed too, so I spend the next few minutes stumbling around, saying nothing, pounding some sports drink, acting emotional, but I slowly start to feel reasonable again. I had hoped that with the walk-run pace at the end my legs would feel OK, but they're in bad shape as well.

Final stats:
Bike: 2:54
Run: 2:20
Transition 1: NA
Transition 2: really?

So there it is. A bad race, they happen. I'm doing some post-mortem and I think I have a handle on some of the major issues/mistakes I made: basically, I treated each leg as a discrete event, eating as I normally would on a bike ride, and expecting to eat as I normally would on a run. What I came to realize though is that you can eat plenty on the bike, but if you come off with a fairly full stomach you'll not be able to finish the food absorption while running. Duh! Ironically, by eating too much, I blocked absorption and ran out of fuel halfway through the run (or more accurately, the fuel ran out of me...).

The last time I had a bad race was Big Sur Marathon in 2006, and I wallowed for awhile, but no time for that this year. I signed up for Cal International Marathon in December, and have to crank out a few long runs between now and then. Once that's done, I'll figure out the plan to recover my bruised ego and solve this triathlon distance. For now though I'll dwell on a good bike ride and the good feeling I had in my legs for a short while before things went south.

As always, thanks for your indulgence.


  1. Well they say Nutrition is the fourth important leg of a triathlon. So you did do 3 legs. Good job on gutting it out

  2. Your bike time was pretty fast. Nice job gutting out a finish. Good luck at the CIM.