Friday, October 10, 2008

Ironman Wisconsin - IronFans

Reflection upon an event such as Ironman is important if you are going to learn anything about yourself and how you handled the race. Trying to remember everything that happens during an 11 or 17 hour day is not easy. Fortunately for me I had some great IronFans to help me remember the day and provide a valuable perspective which I would have never been able to have.

The true definition of an IronFan is my friend and teammate Mark Durno. This guy is nuts, but is also a great competitor himself. Here is a recap of his day watching his Cleveland friends race.

I highly encourage anyone who is passionate in endurance sports to witness an Ironman event - its an awesome experience. I don't, however, necessarily recommend that you do it in the manner that I did. I committed to drinking one shot of Jack Daniels every hour, at the top of the hour, that my training partners were on the course. Since one of them finished in just over 13 hours, when you throw in the start and finish "extras" - that would be 15 shots of whiskey. Now, add in the approximate 50 miles of biking I did running around the race course cheering these guys on (and drinking very little water), it had the making of one big-ass headache the next morning. Dehydration sucks. Surprisingly, I never felt "tipsy" during the day

I didn't realize Mark was doing this "celebration" until mile 23 of the marathon when he held out a shot glass and said, "the next one is for you Eric." I just shook my head and kept running.

After the race Mark sent an e-mail to our Snakebite teammates recounting his observations from the day.

All of you know that Eric is a high energy guy whose enthusiasm is contagious. I think back to a half Iron race that he did in Morgantown, WV this year where he crossed the finish line bloodied (from a bike wreck on the course) and whooped, but still was hootin' and cheerin' at the end - because that is his personality. Ironman Wisconsin was no different.

In transition, after the 2.4 mile swim, Eric was running to get his bike, yelling and cheering the entire time - really pumping up the massive crowd that was surrounding transition (I have a good photo of it - to come in a later e-mail).

I crossed Eric 3 times during his 112 mile bike ride - same thing - every time I saw him, it was unbridled enthusiasm coming from a guy who was 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 hours into an endurance event - nothing can hold this guy down.

At mile 15 of the run course, I caught up with Eric's wife and we waited for him to run by. When we saw him, the energy level had dropped a bit, but there was still high intensity and a smile on his face - he gave Aimee a hug - I gave him a swift smack on the ass (hope it didn't sting !) - and he moved on - looking real good.

As I was biking around the run course I caught up with him again at about mile 22. I saw something I don't know that I'll ever see again... The intensity was still there - but the smile was gone - the energy was gone - there was nothing left but a competitor grinding out the last painful 5K of a race that would last over 11 hours. He couldn't really even talk. I said a few word to him, but it was clear that his focus was clearly on finishing strong through pain that I can't imagine (and will probably never experience).
Aussie Rob and I running together
In a word - Eric's performance was "amazing". I didn't get a chance to see him at the finish, but, I sure the smile came back right after he crossed the finish line... is my finish line video. Thanks for the memories. I will cherish them forever.

Mark's words above are kind and a greatly appreciate him sharing his thoughts with me. He chose his words carefully in order to convey what he was seeing. I'm glad he had pictures to backup those words.
I'm not sharing his words today because of what he said, but because he said them. He took the time to write them down in an e-mail and let us know what an Ironman is from the fans point of view.
If you are a spectator at any event and have some insight about the day, please make sure you tell that person. Be it a first marathon, a PR day, even a training day. The feedback you may be able to provide can prove to be a valuable lesson or memory for that person.
Help someone else get their Game On.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Ironman Wisconsin - Thanks

What is a race report without acknowledging those that helped you get to the finish line.

This was my fifth year being coach by Angela. Each year we have tried and learned different things. We have tweaked my training and discovered how my body responds to a wide variety of workouts. She has always listened to what I have had to say and responded with good advice and words of support. She is more than a coach and I'm glad to have her as a friend.

Despite triathlon being an individual sport there are times when you need to swim, bike, or run with others.

Jason was my swimming buddy. Even though we can't talk while swimming the before or after chats were very important. His enthusiasm for triathlon reminded me of why I do this.

Scott, Jeff and Chris were my bike and run go to guys. Scotty helped me fine tune my ride with advice and equipment pointers. Jeff helped keep the conversations going on those long rides and kept me company despite struggling with colds and eventually bronchitus. I knew I could count on Chris for a long ride when I didn't know where to go, and didn't have the mental capacity to figure it out. He took me out on a ride where he told me when and where to turn.

Scott and Jeff during one of our last rides together.

Chris fueling up during the "take me where you want" ride.

The most support I received was of course from Aimee. She was so much help to me this year, just like in the past. She was ready to ride her bike when I would finish my brick run after 5 hours on the bike. She listened to my bitching and did what she could to help. She cheered loud and hard during the race which always brought a smile to my face.

I managed to hug Aimee whenever I saw her. Even at mile 15 I was able to smile when I saw her.

There are so many other people who helped just be asking about training or going to the race and watch. Everyone made my second Ironman journey special. I thank each and every person for their help.

What's next for me. I really don't know what 2009 will hold for me. Only time will tell.

For now....get your Game On.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ironman Wisconsin - Run

As I left the women who put sunscreen on me I stopped off to pee in the port-a-potty. This would be the final time I would have to pee. I had peed once during the swim and 3 – 4 times on the bike, mostly during the first loop. I finally crossed the timing mat and hit the split button on my watch. Unlike Lake Placid I was going to keep track on my mile splits and see how fast or slow I would be running.

Right away people were shouting encouragement to me by name. At Lake Placid I wore the number with my last name and not as many people cheered for me by name. This time I wore my first name and people were more likely to cheer for me. Funny how that works.

Heading down State Street for my first loop I was surprised by how many people were lined up along the street. It was awesome to have so many people watching you run down the street. The entire street was covered with chalk from people writing support for their friends or family. I made the first zig zag towards Dayton street and suddenly Hodska was running next to me. He wanted to check in on me and see how things were going. He said I was a hard man to catch up to. Baker couldn’t keep up with me so Hodska sprinted ahead. He said I looked solid and smooth. It’s nice to hear some input from someone looking at your objectively. Hodska is a top notch athlete and knows what he is talking about. It was good to see him again and hear what he had to say.

I continued down the street and saw my parents sitting by the side of the road. I caught them off guard and my mom rushed to get her camera out and get a picture. I hit the first mile at 7:56. I wanted to be at 8 or slower but I felt good. I felt like I was going slow enough to go the distance.

I started keeping track of my miles and taking water or Gatorade at each aid station. My nutrition plan on the run was to put down a PowerGel every three miles or 30 minutes. The early part of the run course winds around all over the place. The arrows on the road and the volunteers were great in sending you the right way.

Mile two was right before the course went into the University of Wisconsin football stadium. A short ramp into the stadium sent us around the perimeter of the football stadium. Unfortunately we needed to run back up that ramp. It wasn’t too bad the first time. Personally the loop in the stadium was blasé. I’m not a football fan so I could have done without the loop. As I was heading out of the stadium, Aussie Rob was heading into the stadium. This was his first IM and you looked really good. I was pleasantly surprised to see him so close to me.

The day was starting to get hot so I was grabbing sponges at the aid stations to put in my jersey or squeeze over my head. I grabbed two cups at each aid station so I could take in as much fluid as possible. Between miles 4 and 5 the course goes on a nice multi-purpose path. This stretch offered some shade from the sun. To this point I had seen several of the pros heading in the opposite direction. I saw Amanda Lovato for the first time on the path and cheered her on. She’s the most recognizable pro to me and I read her blog so she gets my support each time.

Approaching mile 5 I finally started to see the family support. Before turning towards the mile 5 aid station I heard my sister-in-law Becky yelling for me. I had a hard time realizing it was her because she had a camera to her face while yelling for me. The guy running next to me commented on the cheering. I replied, “She has to yell for me, that’s my sister-in-law.” A little bit further I saw Aimee and she was cheering loudly for me as well. I turned to the same guy and said, “and that’s my wife.”

Right before the aid station Becky had written GO ERIC in huge letters with chalk on the sidewalk. I mean you couldn’t miss it. You can even see it in the highlight DVD. My in-laws were volunteering at this aid station. I managed to grab some water from my father-in-law but I don’t think he realized it until I was past him. All of a sudden I heard my mother-in-law screaming for me from behind. Those little boosts are so important during such a long race.

After the aid station is Observatory Road where the majority of hill climbing is. There are three uphills back to back on this road. I managed to run each hill during the first loop. Thinking back I should have power walked the hills instead. The final downhill leads to a quick run through campus to a different section of State Street. I saw my mom and dad at this point. Again she was fumbling to get the camera out in time to take a picture. Lucky for her the course goes down State Street then back to where they were sitting. She would be ready when I came back.
On this section of State Street there were a lot of spectators cheering people on. After the turn-around on State Street I saw Aussie Rob again, still the same distance behind me. I made my way back to the streets in campus and saw my parents again. We talked as I went by and my mom took a small video clip.

The course went back along Lake Mendota on a nice dirt path covered by trees. This was a very nice area to enjoy the shade. During mile 8 there was an aid station decorated with a Disney theme and the Ford Inspiration Zone. I like the Inspiration Zone because this is where all of the signs people have made are up for display. It was hard to read them but still felt good have them there. The female DJ at the zone was cheering people on and playing some good music. As I passed through I did a little dance to the music and got a shout out from the DJ.

Trudging along I continued to drink water and Gatorade. I was grabbing sponges and squeezing them over my head. I kept moving forward so that I could get this first half of the run done with. As I headed back to State Street I rounded a corner and heard some people yelling for me. I tried to look back and see who they were but I couldn’t get a good look. Maybe they would be there on the way back. It was good to have someone cheering for me.

The turn around for the marathon has got to be the worst one out there. The course runs past the special needs bags, make a left hand turn and you are now on the final stretch heading towards the finish. You see the finish arch. You see the crowds waiting and cheering. They may cheer for you thinking you are finishing. But alas, you stay left and run around the cones that take you back out onto the course. It’s such a terrible teaser.

I stopped off at the special needs bags and grabbed some more PowerGels. I wanted to replenish my supplies but wasn’t sure if I would be using them. I thanked the volunteer and headed back out for loop two.

I made my way down State Street again and I saw Hodska and Baker again. Baker was kneeling right behind an ASI photographer with his video camera. Hodska was standing right off the street. What he said would be stored away until I needed it, “the second lap is where you make it count.” That may not be exactly what he said but it stuck with me. About a mile later I saw Simply Stu from Team EvoTri. He had two teammates in the race so I gave him a shout and we bumped fists.

Right before the Wisconsin stadium I ran across Aimee cheering me on. Mark was also there taking pictures and he snapped one of me stopping to give Aimee and quick hug. It was also around this time, mile 15, that my times started to go north of 9 minutes per mile. The length of the day was starting to take it’s toll. I was also starting to slip off my nutrition plan. I had stopped taking my PowerGels which was probably my biggest mistake of the day.
From mile 15 to 20 I remember that I was moving forward. I saw Becky and Kyle again. I saw Aimee and her friend Debbie. I saw Alan’s girlfriend Rosana on State Street. Each time I think I smiled to show my appreciation of them being there.

On Observatory Road I power walked the three hills. I decided that whatever energy I had left was best used on other sections of the course. I am happy to say that these were the only times I walked. I would take very small walks, 5 – 10 seconds, at the aid stations, but those were very fast.

On the out and back on State Street I could see that Aussie Rob was still behind me and going strong. I knew what I was going to say to him and was hoping that he could rise up to my challenge. At mile 20 Rob finally caught up to me. I simply said, “If you pass me, I better not see you again.” I don’t remember his response but he soldiered on and started to pull away.

When I looked up again to see where he was I noticed the gap between us was not increasing anymore. It was at that point where I sub-consciously started to reel him back in and at mile 21 we were shoulder to shoulder again. Wanting to be friendly Rob asked if I wanted to talk to pass the time. As response was short and to the point, “You talk…I’ll listen.” Rob got the picture and said, “Okay, I’ll shut up then.” I know he didn’t take it the wrong way and if he needed someone to talk to I was fine with that, he just wouldn’t get any response from me.

So we ran for a mile together. Mark was taking pictures and got a good one of us near mile 22. And then it hit me…….only 4 more miles to go. Several things helped me with the final four.

1) My competitive nature. My ego. Call it what you want but Aussie Rob was going to pay for passing me and letting me catch back up. I warned him that “I better not see him again.” He was going to pay for it.

2) “The second lap is where you make it count.” Hodska’s comment came to the front of my mind. This was the end of the second lap and I was going to make it count.

3) Halle Nanda. All summer Halle was with me during the end of my big weekend bricks, which usually consisted of a 4 mile run. So with only four miles to go I had Halle on my shoulder helping me put my best effort into these last miles. It was time to finish this race with my Game On.

So I went for it. I saw Mark one last time as he passed me riding his bike. He held out a shot glass and said the next one was for me. The dude is nuts. He took a shot at the top of each hour as long as there were people on the course he knew…..he finished the day with 15.

Heading back onto State Street the crowd was still cheering loudly and I heard my name called out again. This time I was able to identify the two brunettes cheering so loudly for me. It was Doug Bell’s wife and daughter. Doug is also coached by Angela and his family is energetic spectators. It was great to know who was cheering for me. Coming off State Street and passing through the aid station I saw an athlete leaning against a chain link fence. He was shoving his finger down his throat trying to make his stomach feel better. With his second try he managed to expel the fluid in his stomach, I yelled at him “get it out of there buddy.”

The final two turns toward the finish were hard to handle. The emotions that I had bottled up from a long summer of training were starting to come up to the top. I just needed to make it to the finish line and then I could let it out. As I headed down the final stretch I managed to find Aimee and everyone else along the fence. I ran to them and gave quick hugs and high fives. Each time you see me dipping my head down I am trying not to loose it before the finish line.

I also tried to take in the atmosphere of the finish. I ran to each side giving high fives. I saw a group of girls in yellow shirts and ran towards them but stumbled a little and fell into the fence. I got up and slapped hands before finally crossing the finish line.

I didn’t realize it but I walked across the finish line. The only way I know this is to watch the DVD we received with the race highlights. My walk across the finish line is the last scene of the volunteer clip.

On the other side of the finish line I was greeted by a finish line catcher and my friend crazy Debbie. She was taking the timing chips from people after they finished. It was nice to have her near by and watching over me as I stood there and cried into my finishers shirt. Once I was able to compose myself I looked up and saw Aimee along the fence. I walked over to her with my “catcher” to great everyone. I assured the volunteer that I was okay and I was left to celebrate with my fans.

I knew that Aussie Rob wasn’t far behind me and sure enough he was there when I turned around to look for him. We congratulated each other and he found his wife standing next to Aimee. A quick picture with my medal and I went to be with Aimee and my mom and dad.

Run time: 3:59:53
Finish time: 11:03:36

More to follow…….