After nearly a year of training and 11:27:17 of making it all happen, I'm still in a little bit of shock from it all. I've had so many thoughts and memories rushing through my brain that I've had to spend a few days trying to piece it all together to write up a coherent report. Apologies in advance that it's so long...
The day started pretty early for me. I got into bed at around 9 on Saturday night, but laid in bed for a little while, first thumbing through Going Long and then doing a mental run-through of the first part of my Sunday. I actually fell asleep at some point and slept pretty hard until my alarm went off at 3AM. I woke up and got right into motion. I had some water and ate my first breakfast (oatmeal with blueberries, apple, maple syrup and peanut butter) and made some green tea. I knew I had plenty of time.
At around 4, the family started moving around the house. I think it was my mother-in-law who I saw first - she came upstairs in the house wearing a bright red T-shirt that said "My son-in-law is an IRONMAN". They all had them. Even Charlie. (See the pictures below.) It was so cute and so touching. Yet another way that Elizabeth went far, far above and beyond! By that time, I'd gotten all my water and InfiniT bottles together, had quadruple checked my list and bags and was starting to get dressed. It was still dark and it was cool outside, but the sky was looking clear.
The first stop when we got into town was body marking:
There was a sea of people standing in front of the entrance to the transition area - tons of athletes and their families and supporters. But, as became a theme of the day, there was also an overwhelming number of volunteers (there were 3,500 volunteers at IMLP - compared to just 2,200 racers). These one were waiting with their Sharpies, enthusiastically and efficiently marking athletes. I was all marked and in the transition area by just a little after it opened at 5AM. I checked out the Crono, put my water bottles in the cages and pumped my tires full of air. Some people were in quiet contemplation, others were really talkative. I was feeling somewhere in the middle - sticking mostly to myself, but engaging a few people in short conversations. It was impossible not to feel the excitement in the air. It was loud with music and announcements and people moving around - and every second you heard another loud "pop!" of a pump being pulled off a presta valve. I re-checked my T1 and T2 bags to make sure everything was still there. I started munching on a Clif Bar while I was getting everything set. Then I walked over to drop off my special needs bags and finally re-found my support crew who were hanging out by the swim start. Don't they look great in their T-shirts! (This picture is obviously from much much later in the day.):
The crowd around the swim start was huge. The official race coverage estimated that there were 15,000 people there!
By then it was getting close and time for me to get to the water. So, I put the wetsuit on, sucked down a gel and a couple gulps of water and got moving:
As I walked down to the water alone, it finally started to hit me. I was really about to start this race! I had trained my rear-end off for a year and I was about to put it all to the test. I felt awesome! For the swim, I'd received all kinds of recommendations about where to start to best avoid the mass of bodies - far left, far right, in the middle a little bit back. I decided to throw caution to the wind and get right into the mix. There's a yellow cable about 10 feet under water that follows the buoys around the course. If you can follow the cable, there's no reason to have to lift your head to sight. Of course, everyone wants to be near the cable. And that's exactly where I decided to swim. I was in the water about ten minutes before 7 and was treading water with the rest of the crowd. The music was blasting, the announcer was screaming. A helicopter hovered overhead. The sun was shining. It felt great. I wasn't too nervous or anxious; I was just ready! Then, at about T-30 seconds, they started into Black Sabbath's "Ironman"! In retrospect, it's pretty cheesy, but at the time, it got me fired up like no other song I could imagine.
Then, with a boom!, we were off.
From the first stroke, I felt relaxed and smooth - I was swimming easier than in any race I've ever done. It was a packed, crowded mess for the first quarter-to-third of a mile, but I was having a blast! After a few minutes, it thinned out a little (now it felt like a "standard" wave start triathlon swim - some contact and bumping, but not the mass of bodies like I expected.) I got close enough to the underwater cable that I could just swim and follow the line. I was also getting some pretty good drafts and felt like I was cruising without too much effort. The first turn buoy was absolutely packed with bodies. It was probably the most crowded and roughest part of the entire swim - thankfully it only lasted a few seconds! The contact wasn't bothering me one bit. I was really having fun out there! I got out of the water at the half-way point and peeked at my watch - 33 minutes! That was at least a few minutes faster than I'd expected. Huge credit to the drafting! I ran around the dock and jumped back in the water for the second loop. The start of the second loop was crowded, but after we got past the pier, it thinned out nicely. I was still swimming easy and relaxed. During the second loop, I struggled a little to find a good draft. I "bridged" a couple of groups (sped up to jump from one to the next), but didn't want to pick up the intensity too much just to move ahead a spot or two. I wanted to stick to my plan to take it easy throughout the swim. As a result, even though there I didn't have to spend nearly as much time fighting the crowds, my second loop was slightly slower than my first (another theme that will keep coming up...). I had told my family to expect me out of the water between 1:10 and 1:14 - I'd beaten the low end of that by a few minutes and, best of all I felt fresh!
Total swim time: 1:07:18
Average heart rate: 135
Overall place: 500
I got out of the water and quickly got the top of my wetsuit off. While running out of the lake the "strippers" (the volunteers who help you take your wetsuit off) were lining the sides of the chute. I met eyes with one of them, dropped onto my tush in front of her, lifted up my legs and in a 1-2 motion, the suit was off my legs and I was running to the transition area. I ran past my screaming support crew, which felt great!
These are some of the signs they made for me:
I grabbed my T1 bag from the rack and went into the tent. A volunteer took my wetsuit and held my bag while I grabbed my shoes, socks, helmet, sunglasses, gels and arm warmers. Then he stuffed my wetsuit, goggles and cap into the bag and I was off. They have a good system where as you come out of the tent, a volunteer announces your number so another volunteer gets your bike out of the rack for you. Unfortunately, when I came to my row, no one was there with my bike. Oh well. I ran down to get it myself. I actually struggled for a minute or so to get it off of the rack, but soon enough, I was running my bike out of transition.
T1 time: 6:16
Average heart rate: 156
Bike Leg #1:
As expected, I was pumped up to get on the bike and get moving. I knew though that the most important thing for me to do was to keep it all in check. The first quarter mile out of transition is a curvy downhill and then you spend about ten miles on some rolling hills (with a couple nice-sized climbs thrown in). The goal was to do this e-a-s-y. During transition my heartrate had jumped and I needed it to settle down; I couldn't waste strength or energy this early. This was more a mental challenge than a physical one - after all my training, I was in the best cycling shape of my life and I could make my Crono fly, but nothing was more important than holding all that in and saving my legs. And I mostly succeeded. I spun up the climbs, drank a bunch of water and let people pass me. About 9 or 10 miles out you get to the start of the descent into Keene. This is by far the most fun part of the day! It's a couple miles of really fast riding - I hit 48 or 49mph, but heard about people riding well above 50mph! After Keene, I settled into the ride, keeping my heart rate in high zone 1 or low zone 2. I was keeping to my nutrition plan and feeling great. I began passing people pretty regularly. About half-way through the first bike loop, it started getting hot. I stripped off the arm warmers and concentrated on drinking even more water.
The last 12 miles of each loop are killer hills and during my training rides in June, those hills wrecked me. I was nervous. For this first loop, I just wanted to get up them with as little effort as possible, regardless of how slowly that meant. However, unlike the training rides, the hills weren't so bad. I put in it a high gear and before I knew it, I was coming back into town. The crowds pick up again for the last two miles and it definitely got me really jazzed. My adrenaline started flowing and I probably used a little more effort than I should have - to impress the crowd and because I just plain couldn't help being excited! I stopped quickly at the special needs bag point (where a volunteer was waiting with my bag in hand), grabbed two new bottles of InfiniT and sped off. The very end of each bike loop winds around the transition area, and this is where the crowds really are! I heard (and sort of saw) my cheering crew yelling for me as I zoomed around to start the second loop.
First bike leg time: 2:48:55
Average heart rate: 131
Bike Leg #2:
My goal was to continue taking it easy on the bike. The hope was that I'd save it all up for the last six or eight miles of the marathon. Not surprisingly, the rolling hills out of town were a little harder this time around. I still took it easy, but if I was averaging 20mph at this point the first time, this time it was more like 19. Not a huge difference, but noticeable. The sun was bright and it was getting warmer by the minute. I was also feeling the beginnings of a head-wind (evidently the wind got pretty rough on people who were out there longer than me). Thankfully, though, my legs were still feeling good and pretty fresh.
Around mile 65 my stomach started to ache. I tried ignoring it, but within about a half hour, I decided that it would be better to stop and try to hit the porta-potty now, rather than wait and be in real pain later. I stopped and it did make me feel better, but it probably cost me 5 or 6 minutes. Small change in the scheme of things and most definitely worth doing, but it did bum me out. I spent the next 10 miles convincing myself that there was no way to (and I shouldn't try to) make up that lost time!
Everything was a little slower on the second loop. And sometime about half-way through this loop it hit me that I had to run a marathon after I got off the bike. That's strange, right? I mean, I've known since before I registered for this race that it was 2.4, 112 and a marathon. But, it never really registered until right then. I've thought a lot about it and it was probably a combination of the fact that it's impossible to understand what the Ironman takes until you've done it and the tricks your mind starts playing during that second loop. Time was slowing down and I was getting bored and anxious to be done with it.
The second time around the hills were tougher, but I still kept it cool and as easy as I could. I knew I was hot, salty and a little dehydrated. A couple of spectators actually yelled, "Josh! Salt!" to me - I assume my back was covered in white salt and they were warning me to supplement. I sucked down some big gulps of InfiniT. (Everyone wears their race number on their back or on a race belt turned backwards and it has your name on it. A little advice for you future IM'ers - they give you two race numbers, one has your first name and one your last name. Use the "first name" one - it's a great boost to hear people shout your name!)
I got through the hills and knew I was just about there. The last major climb of the course is packed with people and the cycling "lane" becomes pretty tight - it feels like you're struggling up the Alpe D'Huez in the Tour de France! And you feel like the star of the show. They're all screaming at you and cheering for you! It's a fantastic feeling!
I love my bike, but I was over-joyed to finally get off the damn thing! The last half mile-or-so that winds around part of the lake and then the transition area was still packed with spectators. I was so happy to see and hear my support crew again! I had told my family that I'd finish the bike between 5:45 and 6:15. I ended up right in the middle - perfect!
Second bike leg time: 3:08:28
Average heart rate: 133
Total bike time: 5:57:23
Overall place: 375
I felt great coming into T2. A volunteer grabbed my bike from me and I ran to my T2 bag and hurried into the transition tent. Again, a volunteer helped me get my run stuff out of the bag and transfer my bike stuff into it. I was in there just long enough to change and get a little vaseline. I was finally where I belonged - on the run and ready to rock and roll!
Total T2 time: 2:19
Average heart rate: 131
I know I can run a marathon and during training I did plenty of long ride-short run bricks. Could I put together a long ride-long run brick today???
I started the run really strong! I was feeling proud and happy and psyched up. The crowds were screaming, a video camera man was filming my feet and them got my smiling mug. He asked how I felt and I shouted that I was feeling great! Down the first hill and I was off!
I hit the first mile marker in 7:31! Oops. Too fast. Slow it down, sucka! The second mile was 8:11, that's more like it. My heart rate was controlled - middle of Zone 2 - and my breathing felt good. I passed by the house where my friends Drew and Shannon were watching and they gave a big shout. I felt great! But my legs! Oh, my legs! By about mile 2.5, my quads were absolutely ON FIRE! My initial, very naive plan, was to run the marathon, just like I did in New York. It quickly became obvious, due to a little dehydration and my burning quads, that I was going to have to walk at least at the aid stations - to give my legs a rest and to make sure that I drank enough water. It was hot! And there's not a lot of shade on the run course. I knew that I had to be careful because dehydration could totally ruin the race. The aid stations were each located about half-way between the mile markers and soon, I decided that I would also walk a little at each mile markers. Then, there were the hills and I decided I'd also walk the hills. After about six miles, I just decided that I'd walk whenever I damn well pleased! It took me a little while to mentally accept the fact that I was walking - but I realized that I had to walk some and I realized that nearly everyone was walking some. When I was running, I was running pretty fast - probably around an 8 or 8:30 pace - but the ratio of running to walking favored the walking more and more. I made sure never to walk for too long. I counted paces or kept an eye on my watch. I knew I could run, but also knew I couldn't keep it up.
I had a gel every 30-35 minutes and at each aid station I carefully drank two cups of water. The wet, cold sponges became my best friend. Somewhere around mile 7, Belinda Granger, the female winner, passed by. She looked great. I was walking while she and the video crew passed me - and I remember thinking what a funny juxtaposition it would be to show how I looked cruising at the first mile compared to how I looked walking at the seventh!
Coming back into town at around miles 10 and 23 is a pretty big hill. As I was walking up the hill the first time around I saw a wonderful sight - my wife and Charlie standing by the side of the road. (Look at him in his "Iron Dog" shirt that Elizabeth had made for him!)
They walked up the hill with me and when I was ready they ran a few steps before seeing me off. It gave me such a huge boost! I continued run-walking (probably more like walk-running at this point) and even though the second half of the marathon took me 15 minutes longer than the first, it went by more quickly. Knowing I was actually getting closer and closer was huge! I ran a little with a guy at around mile 19 or 20 and we both decided, then and there, that we'd beat 11:30. After getting up the hill the second time, all that was left was a quick trip up and back along the side of Mirror Lake and then into the Oval. The crowds were thick and enthusiastically cheering. I wanted to run. I really wanted to run. I ran as long and as often as I could. It seemed the crowds could tell who was finishing and who was on their first lap. I heard a lot of "Go Josh, you're almost there!" and a couple guys were screaming at me to "RUN!" With about a half mile left, I knew I had to run it in. And I did. I don't remember much of the end - the crowds were huge in the Oval. I knew that I would finish in sub-11:30. I rounded the last turn and saw the finish line. I heard the announcer say, "Josh Spector from New York, New York!" And bang! I was an Ironman!
Half marathon time: 1:59:13
Second half time: 2:14:48
Total marathon time: 4:14:01
Average heart rate: early miles were in the 140s, middle miles in the high-130's, later miles were low-130's/high-120's
I told my family that I hoped to run the marathon in between 3:30 and 4:00. And I actually thought I'd be near the bottom of that range. Stupid, stupid me. So naive of me to think that 4:00 was the outside time. In the end, I'm happy with my marathon. I obviously wish I could have run more, but I just plain couldn't. I did the best I possibly could!
I came across the finish and raised my hands in glory! Instantly, a volunteer grabbed me by the arms and held me steady. I heard Elizabeth shout to me. I wanted to go to her, but couldn't go back to where she was. I was worried that if I didn't keep moving forward, I'd collapse. The volunteer, Clark, was talking to me, congratulating me, asking me what I needed. Walking me. I got my finisher T-shirt and hat and he brought me to the water and food tent. Cookies, grapes, Gatorade, more water. YUM!
I made it back to my bag and got my phone. I called Elizabeth and the family and then got a great massage. My new buddy, volunteer-Seth, was routing the finishers to the massage therapists. Nicole gave me a great massage. And then finally, feeling a little refreshed, I found my family! It was so exciting. I was so damn proud of myself and they were amazing supporters! They deserve a lot of the credit for getting me through the day.
Here I am with my #1 supporter:
Total time: 11:27:17
Final overall place: 326/2051
My family escorted me home and I essentially fell asleep surrounded by them at the dinner table. I slept surprisingly well, but woke up pretty early on Monday morning. My legs hurt and I was dehydrated, but I felt fine otherwise. I had to feel fine, we had work to do - register for 2008 and book the hotel!
The other day I wrote that "It's not the destination, it's the journey." Having survived my first Ironman, I have to admit that for this one I'll take pleasure in both parts - reaching that "destination" was among the highlights of my life.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who's helped, supported, praised, coached, taught, put up with and stood by, me.
Also, thank you for following along with my blog this year. It was a blast to write. I'm going to keep writing about my adventures, feel free to continue taking the ride with me.
Mile 1: 7:31