Thursday, May 24, 2012

“I think I’m going to do White Lake”

WARNING:  This write up is almost as long as the actual race!

"I think I'm going to do White Lake"

Those are the words I spoke to Johane at dinner immediately after finishing the Goofy challenge at Disney world in January.
A year previously, I had blown out my IT band doing the Disney marathon.  Since I couldn’t run, I started going to the pool again and swimming.  Eventually, I could bike again and started doing that too.  Since I was already doing the swimming and biking and running would be soon, I started thinking about maybe doing a triathlon again, so I signed up for a sprint Tri in Cornelius at the Y.  I wound up adding 2 other tri’s to my schedule, another sprint, and an Olympic distance, the first one I had done.  In the middle of all this fellow dart-er Todd Hartung told me that I really should start talking to his friend Tony Read. Tony had done a few Half Ironmans and even a full Ironman and was a great resource to talk to.

The very next week while sitting outside Summit Coffee with my wife post run, both Tony and Todd were there, and Todd introduced me.  Right off the bat, I had my first encounter with Tony’s enthusiasm, as he invited me to his place for a group open water swim.  After that day Tony and I have been swimming a lot, and have even biked and run quite a bit. 

So when my knee flared up at Savannah, he reminded me that I felt best the previous summer when also biking and swimming along with running.  He also started gently prodding me to do a half ironman.  Tony’s mantra is “ Believe, decide, do”.  He kept asking me if I believed I could do a half.  Eventually the answer became yes, though I was still skeptical.  I sometimes have a hard time looking beyond my next goal to the one beyond that.  So I was focused on Disney, and didn’t commit.  After Disney, I knew I had New Orleans coming up, so I couldn’t commit completely to it, but I did start ramping up my bike and swimming workouts.

Once New Orleans was over, and I felt pretty good, I decided to go fully for it (after making sure that Jo would be ok with the long training hours), and then the training started in earnest.
Basically my training involved a long bike ride on Saturday of around 4 hours followed by a 30-40 minute run.  Swimming 3 times a week of 2,500 yards each.  Runs (in addition to the Saturday run) of up to 80 minutes on Sunday, a long run of 10-12 miles on Tuesday and a shorter run of 5-6 miles on Thursday.  Plus my shorter runs on the other days.

For the most part, my training went pretty well.  I had a couple of hot days where I started too late and my nutrition was off and I bonked.  I think in addition to the training for the distance, there was a lot of training around nutrition/hydration, and I learned a lot.

Sooner than I knew it the day was here.  We left after school on Friday and made our way to White Lake, NC, which is about 3.5-4 hours from my house in a little town east of I-95.  White Lake seems to be a area that was a resort location in the 60’s and 70’s (much like the poconos or catskill mountains in the northeast) and not much has changed since then, including the hotels.  We wound up staying in a little place on the shores of the lake.  The lake views were fabulous, the hotel room view, not so much.  After getting to the location, we went to packet pickup, and got everything I needed, then checked into the hotel.

Hopefully, I'd be seeing the finish line again the next day

The Pier behind our hotel

White Lake at dusk

Tony dispensing last minute advice

We met up with Tony and went for pizza and ice cream (yes, I actually ate that!).  I like going to these races with Tony since he’s so calm, that I feel myself calming down.  I had been particularly worried since the forecast was calling for temps of 90 degrees and upwards.  But he also gave me some last minute tips.  More on that later.

Next morning I was up at 5am.  I rolled out my leg as usual, ate my bagel and peanut butter, and loaded up the car. As I was loading the car, Tony drove by and said he’d meet me at the start.  We rolled up a few minutes later and the parking lot was already full.  They said you could park 1-2 miles down the road, so we started driving down.  About ¼ mile down the road there was a guy selling spots on his lawn for 10 dollars.   SOLD!!!  With the amount of crap I had to carry, I was truly relieved.  Jo and Julia helped me carry my stuff to the start, and I went to my spot and tried to organize.  I ran into darter Brian Helfrich and we chatted for a few seconds, but I was almost in full panic mode.

A small part of the transition area

 I visited the port-o-jon a couple of times and then started heading down to the swim start with Tony.  Halfway there I started waffling on having a gu before the start.  Tony patiently told me to go get it and I scarfed it down quickly and then headed for the water.  I think the water was warmer than advertised, but was very glad we got to wear wetsuits.  Definitely swim better with it on.  Tony and I ran into another friend of his that I’ve swum with at his house and we chatted for a while.  They both kept telling me not to go out too hard on either the bike or the run, because with the temps in the 90’s I’d pay for it.
The swim starting pier

My group was earlier than Tony’s so I headed out to the start.  I saw Jo and Julia on the pier and had a chance to swim in their direction and have them take a pic and wish me luck.

In the water and ready to go

Before I knew it, it was time to go.  The countdown started and we were off.  I tried to stay towards the outside, since last year when I was in the middle at the Lake Norman Sprint, I got completely abused by being kicked.  The good part about the first 500 meters was that I didn’t have to do any sighting of buoys.  I was neck and neck with some other guy, and I just sighted off him.  After the first 500 when I was warmed up, I pulled away from him and then the sighting fun started.  They had buoys every 100 meters for the first 600 meters.  After that they seemed to be every 200-300 meters.  I was going pretty good for a while.  The course is a sort of rough triangle, going out around 700 meters, turns right, then goes for another 700, then turns right again and back in for 700.  The last 700 felt a bit dicey for me.  I had a hard time sighting on the buoys and it felt like they weren’t in a straight line.  Luckily, the swim finish has a giant balloon man, so I just sighted on that and headed for home.  It was rewarding passing not only people in my wave, but then people 2-3 waves ahead of me.  As I got to the pier to leave Tony Tip # 1 popped into my head.  (Tony Tip # 1 – don’t go for the first ladder on the pier, everyone does.  Skip by it and go for the second)  This was dead on.  There was a line getting out at the first ladder, and absolutely no one at the second ladder.  Got out and started running towards the transition area, taking off my swim cap, goggles and nose plug.

Out of the water
Somebody take my stuff, please?

I saw Jo at this point and she took my pic.  As I entered the transition area, I ran into another darter, Ashley Ackerman.  Ashley has done a ton of halves and even some full ironmans.  He was there as part of a relay team, and he was doing the run portion.  So I got to see him for a few seconds, say hi, good luck, etc.  That got me even more pumped up. I headed for my spot, took my first dose of salt pills, and prepared to head out.

Getting ready to head out on the bike

Tony heading out on the bike, and about to crush me

And then I made mistake # 1.  I had bought a pair of triathlon shorts.  Tri shorts have a pad like bike shorts but not as think.  The advantage is you can swim and run in them also.  The disadvantage is that they don’t have much padding against the bike seat.  And my tri bike has what’s called a tri seat, which means it’s nice and light, but can feel like you’re sitting on a sharp rock.  For 3 hours.  So I had brought a pair of bike shorts that I planned on putting on over the tri shorts.  I got about a half mile down the road when I realized I had forgotten them.  Instead of going back I figured “how bad can it be?”  Bad idea.
My first  bunch of miles were at a decent pace, though I did have to stop twice, once to go to the bathroom in the woods, and once when I dropped a water bottle and had to go back (they’re $20 bottles, and I knew I’d need the water).  I was averaging almost 20 mph for the first 20 miles.  I settled into a pattern of nutrition and hydration.  I had 2 salt pills every hour on the hour, and had half a clif bar every half hour on the 10’s and 40’s.  I also made sure to drink a whole 21 oz water bottle every hour.

Part of my challenge to myself was to see how long I could hold Tony off.  I knew that my swim started 10 minutes before him, and we’re pretty evenly matched, so I knew I’d be good there.  I knew his transition would be faster than mine, but not by much.  So I figured it would be just a matter of time.  However, I was hoping it wouldn’t be until at least 30 miles in.  But at mile 20, he pulled up next to me.  He had talked about going out hard and banking some time, because the second half had some serious headwinds.  We chatted for a few seconds and he was off.  Most of the rest of the bike ride was uneventful, except for a few things.  1)  The lack of padding definitely hurt me.  By mile 50 I was almost desperate to get off the bike.  2)  The was a heavy headwind from around mile 25 on.  3)  It started getting hot enough that I felt it even on the bike going almost 18 miles an hour.  All of these factors played into my steadily decreasing paces until we were mercifully back at the transition point.
I took my time at this transition, almost because I knew subconsciously that I didn’t want to go out on the run.  By this point it was over 90 degrees.  I sat down, changed into my Noosa’s, strapped on my water bottle belt, changed into my dart singlet, put suntan lotion on my head, neck and arms (I’d be wearing a visor), and at the last second picked up my other running pouch thing that had my phone in it.  I walked until the transition mat and then started running.
Thankfully, the first mile had a slight downhill, so I tried to get my running together.  Though the run was all on blacktop and by the time I got to the first aid station at mile 1, I thought I was in trouble already.  It was hot, and I started to feel myself overheating already.  Thankfully I got to the first aid station, and it truly was an aid station for me.  The first thing was that they had chilled washcloths/small towels that they were giving out.  I put one over my head and that cooled me a bit.  The second thing was something I had gotten from Tony.

Tony Tip#2 – after the bike, don’t try to eat anything (gel, solids, or anything) for the first 3 miles of the run.  Get some of the flat cola at the rest stops and drink that. 
Well that paid off in spades.  It sounded weird, but I had the cola and felt that little sugar jolt right away and I was off.  I decided to walk through each of the rest areas, but try to run in between.  I told myself that If I could make it to the turnaround point while running, I would let myself walk more on the second half.  I set off between mile 1 and 2 at a slower than usual pace. Due to the heat, I knew I’d have to so a little slower.  Between the cola and the towel on my head, I felt a little better.  I made it to the mile 2 aid station.  There, I realized that if I took my visor off, and put the towel on me head, I could put the visor over it and keep it in place.  I also got another towel and put it on my neck.  From mile 2 on, at every mile I gave them back their towels, and got 2 fresh (well, mostly fresh anyways) towels and kept replacing.  I actually felt much cooler than I should have.  By mile 3, the cola was feeling good, and I basically pitched my entire nutrition strategy.  I had planned on gu every 5 miles or so.  However, in training I had found a few times that gu while running, after getting off the bike bothered me.  The cola seemed to be working, so I stuck with it.  I had ½ cup of cola at every stop, and 3 times I stopped for 2 orange slices.  It somehow worked.  I’m sure I couold’ve very easily plummeted over a clif and bonked but I didn’t.  I kept on this was until mile 5.  Miles 5-6 were, for me, the best (except for when it was over).

I hear the French Foreign Legion look is in this year

At mile 5, I decided to call Jo, just to tell her where I was, while running.  We had a brief conversation which brightened my spirits.  Almost immediately after hanging up I ran into Brian again.  He had started before me and was coming back the other way.  I could tell immediately that he wasn’t doing that great as his shirt had blood on it from chafing.  We stopped for a few seconds to talk and I asked him how he was doing.  He told me he felt like poop and had already thrown up once.  I told him he was almost done, and to keep going.  And he was off.  At this point, I was looking for Tony.  Tony is a much faster runner than me, and I was expecting to have passed him already.  I figured I missed him.  But then around mile 6 there he was going in the opposite direction.  He seemed concerned about how I was doing.  I actually had a smile on my face and was joking around about how I wanted to strangle him for this, so I’d imagine he realized I was good.  And I was.  I actually knew at this point, that I would finish in one way or another.  After leaving him, I hit the turnaround, where they were handing out bracelets that indicated that you had gone through the turnaround point and not cheated.  Strangely, the bracelets say “finisher” on them, which was a pretty big assumption considering the temps were still climbing and there was another 6.5 miles to go! Most of the run back was a blur.  Things I remember; a lot of people down on the side of the road, a woman staggering towards me in obvious distress, telling the next aid station people to go help her, getting high fives from the ECU folks at mile 8, calling jo at 11 to tell her I’d be there soon, and the last mile which, to add insult to injury, was uphill.  Throughout all of this I kept running between rest stops.  I had told myself I could walk after 6.5, but then I told myself 1 more mile, then another, until it was at the end, and I wasn’t walking that last mile.  Next thing I knew I was coming up the hill towards the finish line.  Tony was walking his bike back to the car, and gave me a “great job” and “see you in a few”.  As I got towards the finish line I though about taking my towel off my head before crossing for a pic, but then figured the towel on the head perfectly reflected the race, so I left it on.  Next thing I knew, I was across the line.  I got my medal and some water, and Jo and Julia were there to greet me.  I had done it.  It felt awesome.

Coming into the finish line

Finishing it up
done.......and done

But not as awesome as changing into a bathing suit and jumping into the lake with Jo and Julia to cool off.  THAT was great.  After swimming for a bit, we got cleaned up, changed, Jo and Julia ate some hotdogs, and we headed back to the car.  On the way out which was a good hour after I finished, there were still people coming in.  My car temperature said 96 at that point.  It was amazing.

I spoke to Tony later and he asked how I liked it.  I said “I’ll be back next year”.
Makes it all worthwhile