Tag Archives: running

Ironman 70.3 Des Moines Race Report

Des Moines, IA
Event #130
Triathlon #24

June 20, 2021

After being away from long distance racing for several years, I started to get the itch to try it one more time. My last 70.3 (Muncie 2014) is arguably my best race ever. I was overtrained (training run for the full Ironman Wisconsin 6 weeks later), perfect health, optimal fitness, fast/flat course, and perfect weather. I beat my PR by 52 minutes and got separate PRs in all three disciplines. As I said at the time, it felt great to show up to compete, not just to complete.

I knew a return to Ironman 70.3 would not be a repeat of Muncie. I would be simply trying to complete. But, I was motivated to improve base fitness, and then work diligently thru a training plan. I wanted to show up confident, to have a plan, to execute that plan, to do the best I could, to finish strong and happy. When Ironman announced in 2019 that a new race in Des Moines would also be the North American Championship event in 2020. It would be close to home, flat bike with a small lake. It would be perfect. I signed up and started training in early 2020.

Of course, that was the year the world changed, and my plans for a solid training block and a well executed race went out the window. It turned into a dumpster fire where I became convinced that I would earn my first DNF. The goal on race day was to 1) not die, 2) not end up in the med tent, and 3) use all of my experience to figure out a way to keep moving forward and, somehow, to cross the finish line. It was a hot mess, and felt great to be back! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning…

I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Des Moines when it was announced in 2019, with a race date of June 2020. I had a desire to try long distance racing again. Obviously, it didn’t happen last year.

The race was deferred to 2021 and I didn’t think that it would happen this year either. I lost motivation and slid into a sedentary lifestyle again, and I gained 15 lbs. The RD offered another deferral and I almost took it. But, I just could not pull the trigger. Realistically, 2021 would be a rebuilding year. I should start with a 5k, try a sprint triathlon, then maybe a 10 mile or HM. My first race off the couch should not be a 70.3. But, I do stupid stuff, and I just could not pull the trigger on the deferral.

So, with 7 weeks left, I joined a gym, and started training. Needless to say, the 7 week couch to 70.3 isn’t a thing (nor should it be), but that’s was what I was gonna try to do. Having it on the calendar motivated me to get back into regular training…something I badly needed. I had accepted a likely DNF as the outcome of this event, and I was ok with it. I would fight as hard as I could to avoid that outcome, but I did enough of these events to know that I would not be ready. Injuring my knee with three weeks to go was the final nail in the coffin. But I was still excited to get back to in person racing. It would not be the event I was hoping for when I signed up in 2019, but would be a welcome return to in-person racing after COVID 2020.

Pre-Race:

I drove down to Des Moines the morning before the race. We have had an extended heat wave and it wasn’t letting up for race weekend. Forecast for race day was ugly. Morning thunderstorms, hot and humid midday, then more storms by mid-afternoon with possible lightning, hail, and maybe even a tornado. Wonderful. Driving down, I had no idea if the event would even happen. But, the day before was gorgeous (but very, very hot). I got to Des Moines early. Athlete Village was downtown and I beat the crowds. Timing chip, packet, shirt, backpack, and into the merchandise tent. Only picked up one extra shirt. The water temp was reported at 81F…no wetsuit. There was a great farmers market right next to athletes village, and I killed a little time there. I then proceeded to transition to drop off the bike. Parking was over 1.6 miles from transition…which was a long haul when you are trying to stay off your feet. Transition was huge…I had forgotten how big Ironman events can be. I walked past the lake, and it was tiny. We would basically be doing a lap around the outside of the entire lake. As expected, the lake was shallow and calm.

I headed back to my car and did some recon of the bike course. The roads were all in great shape, but a lot hillier then I expected. There weren’t any really steep hills, but there were a lot of hills that just seemed to go on forever. I had signed up expecting a flat course. I was intimidated by what I saw.

I headed to the hotel feeling a little rattled. I drove past the finish line that was being assembled…and I wondered if I would see it on race day. I reached the hotel and got to bed early. Just before turning off the lights, I got a message that the race start would be postponed by 30 minutes due to expected morning storms. Transition would open much later then expected, and we would only have 30 minutes to set up before the race. On the bright side, I was able to get an extra couple of hours sleep…

Race Day:

Pre-Race Delays:

I got up on race morning and the future radar was a mess. Storms predicted until mid-morning. Storms picking up mid to late afternoon. These storms consisted of lightning, likely hail, and risk of tornadoes.

Not surprisingly, I received a text advising us NOT to report to transition until further notice, with the next update by 7:30 am. So, the race was on standby mode. I had only experienced this once, and it was for a sprint tri…there was a lot more at stake here. I got geared up, packed and organized the rest of my stuff, checked out of the hotel, and went to get some breakfast. While eating, I checked the radar. This was about the time we were originally supposed to start, and this is what I saw…

I checked the race’s Facebook page and there was a lot of speculation. Most assumed the swim was gonna be cancelled. Others thought that we might only get time for the half marathon between the storm windows. I was leaning towards either a modified olympic distance or full swim/full run. Some thought the whole race might get cancelled. Nobody thought we were going 70.3 miles that day. Well wishers were texting me wondering what was going on. Somehow, I actually found all of this amusing and a nice stress relief. At some point during this delay, I drove to athlete parking so I would not need to deal with the traffic jam that I am sure would happen when we were told to report to transition.

Eventually, we were told to report to transition for a 9:50 am start time, and transition would only be open for 30 minutes pre-race. They didn’t tell us what, exactly, we were going to be racing. I checked the future radar and there was supposed to be a nasty storm cel right over transition and Swim Start at the new start time. I hoped that the Race Director had a more accurate weather report since there was no cover for athletes there and we would all be over 1.5 miles from our vehicles.

As I was pondering that, the race details came thru:

⁃ Full swim

⁃ Half bike

⁃ Full run

I was stunned…that sounded way too optimistic. I could not see us starting until 11:00 am based on the radar I was looking at. Severe storms were likely by 3-4pm. But, the RD included the caveat that they would be monitoring the weather and further race changes might be announced later. The tracking app started being updated with segments getting deleted from the bike course. I was relieved to see some of the more unpleasant bike segments removed (two of the toughest climbs and the roughest section of road). Thinking about it, this solution made sense (if the storms would get out of here). The swim would be fine if the lighting was done. The shortened bike course would be completely in the break between the storms. If later storms hit, the entire run was on 4 miles of trails and downtown roads…a lot easier to clear the course and find shelter for everyone. And, we would be doing all three legs of the race.

It was still raining by the time I got my gear together and headed to transition. Rain stopped completely by the time I arrived. I expected transition to be a muddy swamp by the time it opened, but it wasn’t bad. I quickly set up my gear (most in huge ziplock bags to try and keep things dry) then walked 0.6 miles to swim start.

The pre-race briefing advised that this would be a time-trial start and that social distancing standards would be maintained. That did not happen. We were packed into a funnel like sardines. We wound down the beach we’re they had 6 chutes ejecting racers into the water every 5 seconds. Before I knew it, I was on my way.

Swim 1.2 Miles

This was a no wetsuit swim. I had been practicing open water swims at a local beach in my swim-skin. But it had been 2 years since I experienced the chaos of a triathlon start. Within seconds, swim anxiety paralyzed me. We were more packed together then I ever remember being in the water. The water was also extremely warm. I was overheating in seconds and started to hyperventilate. I was starting to panic and then I got kicked in the face by another swimmer. At that point, I swam over to the first kayak on the course. I stayed there a minute or two to calm down. I was not expecting this…not on this swim. The lake was small and shallow, and should not be causing me this kind of stress. I looked at the continuous wave of swimmers entering the water and I panicked some more. I could not afford that. I swam fine in the pool and a nice pace. I should be able to finish the swim in 45 minutes. But my open water pace was questionable. My Garmin and Apple Watch had given me conflicting data about my OWS distances and pace. Best I could figure, I was on the bubble for the 1:10 swim cutoff. That was if I was actually swimming. If I just sat here next to this kayak, I was done for sure. I moved away from the kayaker and started making my way towards the first buoy. Panic hit me again, and I found my way to the next kayak. I was really getting angry with myself by this point. I had not come all of this way just to get pulled on the swim. I started back and resisted the urge to stop again. I made it to the turn buoy and then the next marker buoy. Contact with other swimmers was almost constant but I had found my stride and was able to (mostly) tune it out. The buoys changed from yellow to Orange indicating that I had passed the halfway point. The sun came out before I hit the final turn buoy. By the end of the swim, I was overheating. As I emerged from the lake, I looked at my Garmin…I failed to start it at the beginning of the race, but my Apple Watch indicated a 54 minute swim. I had made the cutoff. I glanced up to find that the swim exit photographer had taken my photo. Worst swim finish photo ever, but I had survived the first leg of the race.

Swim Split: 53:49 (2:47/100 m)

Bike ??? Miles (best guess – 27.44 miles)

We never did get an exact distance for the bike leg, or a revised cutoff time before the race started. Usually I’m very aware of cutoffs and making sure I hit them. But, I had the chance to bike an Ironman course again, so I was excited!

The rain had cleared out, and it was full sun. It was already very warm as we had a 2/3 mile barefoot run to transition. Once I got there, I did a not so quick change into my bike gear. Surprisingly, there was only one small mud pit in bike out (and some of the pros were already returning from their ride…damn they are fast!). For the first mile, we was riding on very flat bike paths. I was easily getting 18-20 mph, and I was thrilled with that. Soon after, we hit the main road out and the first long hill. Quick right turn and we were on the main loop. The road was brand new. No potholes. It was great! It was also closed to vehicles, which was awesome! “Rolling hills” would be a kind term…there were several long grinds. There weren’t overly steep, but each lasted longer then you would expect for Iowa. The crosswinds were intense and the temperature was climbing. There was no shade to be found. The term “blast furnace” kept creeping into my mind. Despite a thick coat of sunscreen, I was feeling the start of a sunburn. I somehow maintained a healthy pace to the turnaround and made my way back. The one (and now only) bike aid station did not go well. I just can’t grab stuff handed to me while cycling without losing control, so I eventually just pulled over and the volunteers ran up to get me what I needed (volunteers were AWESOME for this event!). I tried to keep up on fluids (both down my throat and on my head) but I was overheating (which I never do on the bike…but “blast furnace”). This gave me a bad feeling about the run. But, I figured I should just bank as much time as I could on the bike and figure out the run when I got there. I held it together for the rest of the bike without my legs becoming pure jello. A short time later (and a bunch more hills), I was back in transition.

T1 Split: 12:26

Bike Split: 1:37:51 (16.83 mph)

Total Time: 2:44:05

Run 13.1 Miles

So, just running my bike in from the dismount line was taxing in this heat. I filled up on fluids, and made a not so quick change into my run gear. Just like the bike, it was full sun. But, there was rarely a breeze (lots of trees near the run course, but not close enough for shade). I slow jogged less then a mile to the first aid station. Ice was the key commodity here. Fortunately, it was available every mile. Drink Gatorade, drink ice water, pour ice water over head, pour ice water (with ice cubes) down shirt, stumble thru another mile, repeat. By mile two, I knew I would end up in the med tent if I tried to run the whole way, it was just too hot and I was not acclimated to the heat. So I half jogged, half power walked the “run course”. I could actually recover during the power walk, and it wasn’t that much slower then my rather feeble attempts at running. I started trying to do the mental math in my head about the cutoff times and what pace would be needed…and I could only guess because of the course change. So, I just kept this up as best I could (with more walking/less jogging as I pushed past the half way point). Fortunately, my knee injury behaved itself. I did not even think of it during the race! The run was two loops…around Grays Lake, an out and back on a walking trail, then run thru downtown, and back for a second lap. Downtown did offer some much needed shade, but it’s always tough to do the turn for lap two lass then a block from the finish line. It was a pancake flat course (except for one overpass) which was welcome after the bike course. The second loop saw a lot more power walking. I started making friends on the second lap and managed to keep ourselves somewhat distracted from the pain (as with all races, the party is at the back). We tried to guess what the cutoffs would be, and calculated out pace. We thought we were safe, as long as we didn’t get caught by storms. By the time I was close to finishing, I could see dark clouds on the horizon and heard some rumbles of thunder in the distance. I was just over a mile from the finish and I did not want to get pulled from the course due to weather this close to completing the race. I tried to push a little harder and the rain held off. As I made the final turn, I saw the famous red carpet that I have not seen in 7 years. I had a little bit of speed left in me for a final sprint across the finish line.

T2 Split: 11:45

Run Split: 3:11:00 (14:35/ mile pace)

Finish Time: 6:06:48

Post Race.

I actually had a hard time standing up after that final sprint. I was very lightheaded as a volunteer got my timing chip off of me. I was handed some water and my finishers medal (love it) and my “finishers hat” (which was a generic Ironman 70.3 hat…no venue, date, finisher…nothing. I knew this was the case from other events this year…but still a letdown). I then made my way to post-race food…but my stomach could barely handle fluids…so I just made my way to the shuttle back to transition and home.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I liked the event. They did a really good job communicating delays and changes. They managed to give us as close to a 70.3 experience as was possible under the circumstances. The course was challenging, and I don’t know if I would have finished if I had to do the whole course. I was underprepared and the bike was challenging, but it was easily my strongest event in the race…so I think I would have been successful. It was only my second triathlon affected by weather. The swim anxiety is something I need to work on if I will continue in triathlon. That said, I’m happy with the day and my performance under less then ideal conditions. It also got my fitness kick-started post Covid-19. Ideally, a 70.3 is not the idea first race back, but I somehow made it work.

Will I continue long course triathlon racing? Likely not. I have some nagging injuries and I am much slower then I was 7 years ago. I’m glad I tried it one more time after a seven year hiatus, but I think this will be my final Ironman event. I do have a virtual marathon this fall. I said I was done with Virtual, but Boston is offering a Virtual option this year. No qualification needed and I will be an “official Boston finisher” and have an official Boston unicorn medal. I have mixed feelings about the virtual race thing, but I had to sign up for this one. Other then that, I have a local sprint tri coming in August and will try to get into the Twin Cities 10 Mile (lottery) as well. Because, you know, this is a rebuilding year…

Ironman Medal Collection:

Full Marathon and Ironman Medals

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Inching My Way Out Of Long-Course “Retierment”…

Ever since I crossed the finish line at Ironman Wisconsin 5 years ago, I have struggled with staying motivated. I had continued to run marathons and short distance triathlon, but without joy or motivation.

I was going thru the motions.

After last year’s final race (Twin Cities 10 Mile), I sat on the couch and stayed there for 6 months. I approached the upcoming (minimalistic) season with dread.

But a funny thing happened when I started running this year. I was enjoying myself again. I was doing longer runs because I wanted to do it. I found myself planing activities around my workouts (and not being resentful of those workouts). It had been a long time…

I’m not exactly sure what triggered this shift, but I have a few suspicions.

1. I’m turning 50 this year. Midlife Crisis v.2.0.
2. College Reunion – 25 years
3. A friend is training for her first 70.3. Her enthusiasm is contagious.
4. I haven’t seen any signs of any of the big dogs freely roaming the neighborhood this season.
5. There’s a new walking path leading out of my neighborhood, along the highway, connecting me to all of the running trails in town. Much more variety making the runs more interesting.

All of this has got me wondering about possibly tackling a longer event. Ironman Wisconsin 70.3 was launched 3 years ago and I occasionally considered doing this race as it is close to home.

I could never pull the trigger since it is a very hilly course, and I am not skilled on the bike. The downhills terrifies me and the race always had the threat of severe weather. But I was starting to consider signing up for 2020.

That is when Ironman announced the inaugural Ironman 70.3 – Des Moines (North American Championships). Event was closer to home, it would take place on a flatter course with a smaller/calmer lake. It was also 1 week later then Wisconsin would be which allows for a little bit more outdoor training for an early season event.

That was enough for me. I signed up for my first Ironman event since 2014.

The rest of 2013 is already locked in place (sprint Triathlon next week, Twin Cities 10 Mile in October). I don’t think I will add any more events this season (I was doing WAY too many races before), but 2020 already has me working on improved base fitness and proper nutrition again.

I’m also getting the itch to do another full marathon…but one thing at a time.

Feels good to be back!

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Qualifying For Nationals

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Although I was pretty sure that I had qualified for USA Triathlon National Age Group Championship at HITS Waconia, it was nice to get official confirmation this morning. USAT Olympic Age Group National Championship is the only (non-Ironman) qualification only race in the United States, and is the first time that I have successfully qualified for a race. Sure, I was able to bypass the lottery and get guaranteed entry once in Houston, and I have received prefered coral placement as well, but the only way into this race is to qualify. It may not be quite as prestigious as Boston Marathon or Ironman Kona, but this is still very special and exciting for me. I never would have thought this would be possible and it exceeds all of my hopes and expectations. Omaha may not be Kona or Boston, but Omaha will be MY Kona and Boston combined. It is a validation that I have truly am a triathlete. It is validation that I belong…

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Another exciting triathlon weekend…

…as a spectator.

As many fans gear up for the first NFL game of the season, I have been glued to my iPad watching real time results of so many friends across the country tackling their last big races of the year.

So many stories. So much inspiration.

Yesterday, two of my friends did their second ever triathlon…and their first Olympic distance and first race with an OWS. They ended up first and second in their age group.

Today, another friend is competing at Cedar Point Rev3 70.3 triathlon. She has completed several 70.3’s and this is her last one before she can register for her first full distance Ironman (IM Florida 2017…on her birthday).

But, the main event has to be Ironman Wisconsin…the same race I completed 2 years ago. So many friends are there that it is hard to keep track of them all. Many are veterans looking at setting a new PR. Some are first timers who are just hoping to finish.

Three of them have unfinished business.

The first is an outstanding athlete who I competed with 2 years ago. I met at a century ride a couple of months earlier. She got a stress fracture in her hip the week before the race. Her orthopedist grudgingly gave her the green light to swim and bike, but firmly told her not to run. She crushed the first two legs of the race but made the decision to put flip flops instead of running shoes in her T2 transition bag. I remember feeling like death coming out of T2 wondering how I could ever finish (I could barely stand up or walk), and I heard her cheering me on from the sidelines. Her day was done. I still had a chance. That gave me the mental push I needed to keep going. She has taken a break to recover, and is there to finish what she started.

The second is a middle of the pack Ironman who keeps going back despite having to concur panic attacks on the swim every single race. Last year, he got a DNS since he needed urgent spine surgery. He was told that one wrong move could paralyze him. Now he is back to race again.

The third athlete reminds me of me…but with a lot more heart and courage. He lost 100 pounds and lined up at the start with me in 2014. He fell a little short and got swept at mile 15 on the run. He was first in line to sign up for 2015. That year, he had a very rough bike race and his legs kept cramping up. He reached T2  but missed the cutoff by less than 30 seconds. His legs were so badly cramped that he could not unclip as he came to a stop that he crashed his bike. Since this was the bike in at T2, it was being streamed lived as we all watched in horror as the ambulance arrived. He was ok, and again 1st in line to register the next day. If Ironman was measured in the size of someone’s heart and determination instead of finish time and distance, he would be the IM Wisconsin Champion. I have followed his progress this year…and he is ready. His swim split was 11 minutes faster than last year and 19 minutes faster than2014.

I will be glued to the live streams all of these champions cross the finish line in Madison.

Is this inspiring me to sign up for another Ironman? Nope…not a chance. I am thrilled by that race, but have no desire to do it again.

But it is inspiring me to try and do more than just show up at nationals next year. I know I won’t be competitive, but I can give it my best effort. It is also making me wonder about a return to the 70.3 distance. It has been two years since I have done anything but a sprint. Ironman launched a new 70.3 in Ohio this year and will be launching a new Ironman 70.3 in Madison Wisconsin next year.

Maybe I can build up to those as my “A” races of 2018 and 2019.

Time will tell…

 

UPDATE: Everyone successfully finished their events. The three athletes profiled above are all Ironmans now.  Another friend (that I didn’t know was racing) finished first in her age group and qualified for Nationals. It was a great weekend. Now the long  hard triathlon off season begins. Of course, that also brings the fall running season. I completed back-to-back 10 milers this weekend in preparation for the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend next month. Not used to running more then 5k anymore…

 

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Race Report: Lifetime Maple Grove Sprint Triathlon

August 27, 2016
Maple Grove, MN
Triathlon #18
Event #103

Triathlon season always flies by. This is already the final event of the season. It will be at least eight months before serious triathlon training begins again, and 10 months before my next tri.

Today, I have unfinished business. I left Waconia with mixed emotions. On one hand, I got a 1st place finish in my age group. On the other hand, I had a disastrous swim which has resulted is a severe loss of confidence in my Open Water abilities. I will need to do a lot more open water training before next season. But, I desperately needed a good swim to boost my confidence heading into the off-season. Another bad swim will haunt me for months. The rest of the race is just for fun. It will be a much bigger and more competitive race, and there would be no chance at a podium finish today. That’s just fine. I have already punched my ticket to Nationals. This is just a fun victory lap…

 

PRE-RACE:

The weather was unsettled. We knew it would still be cooler than seasonal, but warmer then Waconia. What we didn’t know was if it would rain. The weather report changed daily. Sometimes it would be scattered showers, other reports would predict severe thunderstorms. The morning of the race, it looked like it would be overcast with possible passing sprinkles. Prepare for anything I guess.

Water would be wetsuit legal (and it was…71F). I got their really early since I didn’t get my packet the day before (many didn’t) and parking was a 10 minute walk. The pre-dawn weather was perfect. It was cool, but dry and comfortable. Once I got my packet and got my gear organized, I threw on the wetsuit and headed to the lake. I had a lot of time for a warm up swim…international distance swimmers were going first, and I had over an hour to wait. The lake was perfectly calm. There was barely a ripple and no current. I jumped in and swam slow and relaxed in the shallows then in deeper water. I would then flip on my back and just float there and take it all in. I was perfectly relaxed and at peace. This would be a different swim then last weekend. As the start time drew closer (time trial start by age group…2 swimmers every three seconds), I headed over to the staging area.

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THE SWIM:

I was in one of the first sprint waves and headed off early. I tried not to push too hard. I just wanted a nice relaxed swim. I wasn’t sighting as often as I should, but my plan was to just find my stroke and settle into a rhythm as much as possible. It worked. Despite a bit of zig-zagging around the course and occasional contact with another swimmer (it was much more crowded than Waconia), I was stunned at how fast the turn buoys came up. By the time I came out of the water, I was certain that the course was short. It wasn’t. My Garmin showed 0.5 miles. Right there, my mission for the day was accomplished. The rest of the race was just for fun.

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Swim Split – 19:04 (2:32 min/100m)

 

T1:

Long run to transition. I always have a hard time getting my wetsuit off. My gear was in big ziplock bags to keep it dry from the rain, so transition was not optimally efficient. Once again, I had one of the slowest T1 times in my AG.

T1 Split – 4:20.

 

THE BIKE:

The rain had started  falling by the time I rolled out of T1. As soon as we hit the road, I started reeling people in. Of course, other riders were blowing past me as well. The course may be kind of boring, but it was very dynamic and busy. I glanced at my bike computer. I was typically over 20 mph (except in the turns where I slowed way down…road was very wet…lots of road spray…and I am just not a technically skilled or aggressive cyclist…especially on slick roads). The course was under 12 miles, and both of my 5 mile split times were just above 15 minutes…very pleased with that. Around mile 10, the rain started to come down hard. It felt like sleet and each drop stung a little. The rain persisted the rest of the ride to T2.

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Bike Split – 34:44 (19.01 mph)

 

T2:

More efficient. Finally a middle of the pack transition time!

T2 Split – 2:18

 

THE RUN:

With a more aggressive and successful Bike Split then planned (1/2 mph better than Waconia), I was going to push as hard as I could for as long as I could on the run. It was a 5k…I could suffer for 30 minutes. I went out fast and I was just soaked (feet were sloshing around in my shoes). The ride was a little chilly, but the run was ideal. The rain had let up a little. The sun, heat and wind were non-factors. I have rarely run well this year, but I seem to find a hidden gear during my triathlons (which is definitely absent during my run only events). The first mile hurt…a lot. By mile 1.25, I kept hearing someone right behind me. She was using me as a pacer…and I was doing what I could to drop her. A quarter mile later, and we had joined forces. We were both forcing the other to go a little faster than we wanted to go. We also distracted each other from the inner hell we were in. She had just done the Nationals so I got a little bit of info from her. By 2.5 miles she had hinted that she would not be able to keep up this pace, so I started to pull away. Not too much farther, and the finish was in sight. Many around me started mad sprints for the finish. I tried to copy them but I had nothing left in the tank. I cruised into the finish at an even pace having left it all in the course. I have no idea what I am doing in this pic…

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Run Split – 26:19 (8:30 min/mile)

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Finish Time – 1:26:42

Age Group Place – 12/31
Gender Place – 147/275
Overall Place – 214/503

 

POST RACE:

I am more pleased with my performance today then any other triathlon this season. I exceeded expectations in all disciplines. I recorded faster speeds in all disciplines then Waconia (7 minutes faster on the swim, 1/2 mph faster on the bike, and 30 seconds/mile faster on the run). I got my pic taken and headed for post race food. This was the best spread of the season. A local BBQ restaurant was catering-build your own pulled pork sandwiches with choice of sauces. I went back for seconds. Unfortunately, the rain was coming down hard. I was already soaked and the wind had kicked up a notch. I got cold…fast. With these larger races, I cannot access my gear in transition until all racers are done with T2. I had to wait about 1 hour….in the rain. By the time I got in there, all of my plastic bags of gear (which I had not securely sealed in the heat of the race) were filled with water. It was 2 bags of drenched yuck. It was a long trek back to the car to warm up and dry out.

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And, so ended triathlon 2016. Overall, a fun season (except for the Waconia swim). I had a 1st place finish last week (along with qualifying for Nationals) and a stronger race this weekend. I already have the 2017 schedule tentatively planned. In the mean time, I will focus on the run again and the final races of the year – The Twin Cities Loony Challenge (1 mile, 5k, 10k, and 10 mile) at the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend in early October.

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Race Report: HITS Sprint Triathlon-Waconia

August 21, 2016
Wacconia,  MN
Triathlon #17
Event #102

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When it comes to races, participants usually have a script visualized in their minds eye. Sometimes it’s a dream. Sometimes it’s a fear. Mostly, it is a vision of what has gone before, and a realistic a hope for something a little bit better.

Some races transend expectation. This may be good or bad. Occasionally, they are both. A race that baffles the racer at the end of the day in every possible way.

This was one of those races. Nothing followed the script. Nothing was even close. It made for my worst and best race in recent memory.

My training volumes and intensity have been down from last year. I showed up to participate, not compete. But, I had thoughts that I could get my first ever podium finish. This is not because I thought I could smoke the competition. Instead, I remembered that this was a very small triathlon. Most participants got a podium award. Unfortunately, I was in the largest and most competative Age Group last year. Despite a decent showing, I ended up 5th out of 6 participants. If my age group happened to be a little smaller this time, I could get lucky and score a third place finish…maybe.

I found out last week that HITS would not be returning the Minnesota next year. Judging from last year’s event, this was not be a shock. About 50 participants in the full, 100 or so in the half, and small showings in the Sprint and Olympic distances. The medals and shirts were the same for everyone. The course was dull, even for a sprint, with only a small number of volunteers. Despite rock bottom pricing ($200 early bird pricing for the full), HITS just never caught on. Turnout is much better at local events (participants, volunteers, spectators). So, it was no surprise that this event was absent from next year’s calendar. I am starting to wonder is there even will be a 2018 HITS calendar. HITS has dropped events in Texas, Arizona, Colorado and now Minnesota. This leaves only events in New York, Florida and California. I wasn’t planning on running this event in 2017, but the loss of competition in the market is never a good thing. I truly hope that they can make a comeback.

The forcast called for a cold front to come through town the day before the event. Predicted morning temps was to hover around 50F. Fortunately, there wasn’t enough time for the lake temps to drop. The swim would be wetsuit legal, but comfortable. The run would be nice. I expected to freeze on the bike course, and I started going through my cool weather cycling wardrobe. The day before my race, HITS held their longer events (140.6 and 70.3). Those guys got clobbered with cold, rain, wind, and whitecaps. I definately got the better day of the weekend to compete.

Unfortunately, I did everything wrong leading up to this event. My training was sidetracked. I did not swim or bike for a month before this race. My running volume was down as well. I spent the day before the race watching Gwen Jorgensen win a Gold Medal in Rio (while Sarah True received a heartbreaking DNF). That night, Canada’s rock band – The Tragically Hip – streamed their final show online. The lead singer was diagnosed with brain cancer and had just had a craniotomy, chemo and radiation, and decided that he wanted to tour one last time. I had to watch the show. It was electrifying. But it also wasn’t over until 11:00 pm. Since I had a 90 minute drive to the race site the next morning, and the early transition time, I had to get up by 2:30 am. That gave me about 3 hours of sleep….

 

PRE-RACE:

The weather turned out better and worse then expected. It ended up being warmer (high 50’s) but felt colder due to strong winds. As I arrived at the venue, I could hear (but not see) the waves crashing against the shore. This immediately started to mess with my confidence. This is odd since I have swam in far worse conditions without issue. But the cool morning air, strong winds and the sound of the waves messed with by head. I suddenly had a bad feeling about this race.

It is a small event. Parking was close to the park and I got there just as packet pick up was starting. Generic shirt again (and wrong size), chip, bib, stickers and back to the car I went. After getting most of my gear together, I hiked back to transition and got my area organized. HITS does provide a nice transition area with benches for each participant. After setting up, I decided that it would be easier to get my wetsuit on in the back of my SUV instead on the wet grass…so another hike back to the car. I was walking back to transition for the last time when I took note that I was walking barefoot…I had left my running shoes in the car. My head was clearly not in the game that morning.

After everything was in place, I headed to the beach and saw the water for the first time. The waves weren’t as bad as they sounded, but there were a lot of them, and there was a very strong current coming towards the shore.

I was the first to hop in the water for a warmup. The water was very comfortable…but the anxiety skyrocketed as soon as I started taking a few test strokes. The current and frequent waves made it impossible for me to get into a rhythm and I started panicking. The more I swam, the worse it became. I started to doubt my ability to do this event.

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We were called back to shore for a quick pre-race briefing. It would be a mass start from the beach. I didn’t really pay attention to the rest as I was trying to get my heart rate and breathing under control. I couldn’t. Moments later the horn sounded. I let the small mass start (50 or so racers) go ahead and then, with an intense feeling of foreboding, I followed them into the water…

 

THE SWIM:

Let’s just sum it up. The swim was a complete disaster. It was my worst swim since Ironman 70.3 Racine (with the freezing lake temps, six foot swells, the current and the undertow). At least there, I had a reason to panic.

I may have been 100 feet from shore when I felt certain that I was going to drown out here. I actually turned around and started heading back to the beach. I then saw a paddle board that was closer and headed towards her instead (mostly because it was closer). I tried to calm down (didn’t really work) and the paddle boarder agreed to stay near me (since I was already about in last place and marked by the lifeguards as the most likely to need rescuing).

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The course was a triangle. The first leg, I would be fighting the current the whole way. The second leg, I would have waves coming onto my right side (the side I breath from), and the third leg, the current would help me back to shore.

I swam another hundred feet and had to latch on to the board again. I was doing head up breast stroke half the time. I doubt I took more then 5-6 freestyle strokes in a row. This pattern continued until I reached the turn buoy. I grabbed on to it for a break. I looked around me and there were a couple of struggling swimmers nearby, but almost everyone was long gone. I was dreading the second leg. Waves would be hitting me in the face as I tried to breath. I figured that the first one would send me into a complete panic. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I was able to keep my face above water, but I never found a rhythm. I was still doing a fair amount of breast stroke. I was still taking breathers on paddle boards and buoys.

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By the time I reach the final turn buoy, I started to wonder if I would miss the swim cutoff. We had thirty minutes to complete the swim. It felt that I was in the water longer then that. I checked my Garmin and realized that I never started to timer. I forgot that I could have just looked at time of day since we started racing as a mass start at 7:00 am. I was having that kind of morning.

I started the final leg, and the current finally started to help me. I started to get into a rhythm, but I still fighting a very high anxiety level, and a certainty that I would get my first DNF. After what seemed like an eternity, my feet touched the sand and I crawled back onto the beach.

Swim Split – 26:57

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T1:

I expected to be handing over my timing chip. Instead, I was directed to the wetsuit stripper. A quick strip later and I was in transition. I looked around and I few stragglers we’re heading out on the bike and I was the last one there. I knew I passed at least one swimmer at the end of the last leg, so I was not dead last, but I was very close. I had to start catching up. I had to vindicate myself a little bit on the bike. I tried to get through transition as fast as I could, grabbed my bike, and headed out of T1.

T1 Split – 2:38

 

THE BIKE:

I looked at my Garmin. It still wasn’t on. But time of day was 7:30 am. So my swim + T1 time was 30 minutes. I knew that I had made the swim cutoff and wasn’t going to get an automatic DNF. But it had been close. I felt angry and embarrassed. I knew I wasn’t quite dead last, but I was close. I least nobody would likely be passing me on the bike. Hopefully, I could start reeling people in.

It was time to redeem myself.

I attacked from behind. In the first mile, I spotted the couple that had left transition just as I arrived…

“On your left!”

A mile later, I come to another rider…

“On your left!”

Then my first group of riders…

“On your left!”

You get the idea.

By the time I had reached the turnaround (it was a simple out and back course), I had lost count.

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On the way back, I counted how many were behind me. Twenty two. Not bad…

The ride back was lonely. I passed one more cyclist. Didn’t see anyone else. The stronger cyclist were way ahead of me, and I was all by myself in the middle of the pack.

It was a cold ride. Being fresh out of the lake didn’t help and the windy conditions made it worse. But the hard cycling and the sun did make for a pretty comfortable ride back.

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A few more miles at a steady pace and I was back in T2.

Bike Split – 44:10

 

T2:

I just tried to not waste any time. Certainly room for improvement.

T2 Split – 1:13

 

THE RUN:

I had found some redemption on the bike, and wanted to keep that going on the run. I still knew that a podium finish was a possibility and didn’t want to just miss it because I got lazy in the final few miles.

The first part of the course is a dirt trail. Unfortunately, torrential rains had struck the night before, and the trail was a mud run in locations. I maneuvered through as best I could and got to the road that we were racing on.

If it was cold for the bike, it was ideal for the run. I didn’t think that I would be reeling anyone in, but I wanted to be passed as little as possible. The course was again a simple out and back. On the was out, someone just flew past me. Fortunately, it was a female and not in my AG. I remembered at this point that the body markers had not placed the competitors age on the calf…I would not know if someone was in my AG or not. This would become a big deal later on.

I reached the turnaround and got some water. Several seconds later, I passed someone going out towards the turnaround. He looked my age. I glanced at his calf. His age wasn’t recorded. I had no way of knowing if he was in my age group or not. But a voice in my head told me to make damn certain that he didn’t pass me. I look further back. He still had a little bit of concrete between him and the turnaround. I had a comfortable lead with 1.5 miles to go.

I passed a small number of walkers on the way back in. None of them looked like AG competition. I glanced back occasionally. He was gaining on me, but I didn’t think that he could make up the rest of the distance in time. He was running out of run course.

Soon, I was back at the muddy path. I tried to stay in the grassy areas so I didn’t slip too much. A fall here and I would be overtaken. But, I safely maneuvered the path.

I got back to the park. I just had to get to the picnic pavilion and it would be over. Head down, final sprint, and I crossed the finish line.

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Run Split – 28:27

Finish Time – 1:43:25

 

POST RACE:

It certainly wasn’t the race I wanted. The swim was a disaster. The bike went well, but I was had significantly less training then last season and my bike split was slower then 2015. My run was a little faster this time, and my transitions were improved. But I was seven minutes slower overall. A podium was still a possibility, but it just depended on what the rest of my age group accomplished this day.

I got my medal and a bit of food. The first page of race results was printed and taped to a table. I looked at it. Nobody in my age group on the list. Maybe I had a chance after all. An announcement stated that the award ceremony would take place in about 30 minutes. So, a went to transition, grabbed my gear and headed to the car. After a quick clothing change and loading everything into the vehicle, I headed back to the park to see if I got lucky. I did not feel optimistic.

Upon my return, they were just setting up. I returned to the results board and a second page was posted. I scan down the age group column and started to curse. Two back-to-back M45-49 had made the list. I didn’t see anyone else in my AG. I was still in the running for third. There was still a glimmer of hope.

One last scan of the sheet and I saw it. My jaw dropped because I saw my name…

It was listed next to the first M45-49 result.

I had just won my age group. First place.

I scanned the sheets again. Nobody ahead of my in M45-49. There was one right behind me however. I was right to listen to that voice in my head. The guy chasing me on the run course was in my age group….and he was fast. His run split was 21:53. He had made up 6:30 on me in the run. If he had been 16 seconds faster, he would have won my age group. But he didn’t. I held him off. I was on a podium for the first time…and I was alone at the top.

 

AWARD CEREMONY:

I looked at the results again and took a pic. I texted my wife…and a few friends. I could not believe what I was seeing. The award ceremony was starting and I headed over.

The awards just kind of whizzed by. I was in a fog for most of it. The announcer got to M45-49 and I held my breath. He announced my name. First place!

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I was just dazed after winning the award. Someone I was talking with earlier in the day had come over to congratulate me. He then asked “So, are you going to go to the Nationals?”

USA Triathlon National Age Group Championship. The 2016 event had just occurred a week earlier in Omaha. Some of my most talented triathlon buddies had qualified and attended. I remember reading their race reports and thinking how cool it would be to attend…but that I had no chance in the world of qualifying for it.

“You do know that you just qualified for Nationals right?”

No. No, I didn’t know that.

I got a dry mouth thinking about it. This is thiathlon equivalent to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

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USAT is the national triathlon organization. They sanction almost every race in the country. They select and train the Olympic athletes, set up collegiate programs, and have a series of regional and national championships. Most events are open and no qualification is needed…except for the Olympic Distance National Age Group Championship (the sprint event held on the same weekend is open to everyone).

I started to do some research. Triathletes qualify by completing a USAT sanctioned triathlon of ANY distance (super sprint to Ironaman) and finishing 1st in their Age Group OR in the top 10% of their age group. This race was USAT sanctioned, I was first in my AG, and a sprint was acceptable distance. There was a little bit of fine print, but none of it seemed to affect me. I reached out to friends who had just finished the race a week earlier, and they confirmed what I suspected. I had just qualified for Nationals.

They warned me not to hold my breath. Next year’s championship schedule would not be announced until the end of the year, and I likely would not get an invitation until January, but I had made it. They also confirmed that the event will be in Omaha for one more year. The venue would be perfect for me. Omaha is a 6 hour drive from home (I could not imagine shipping all my gear and flying to the race), and it was a calm inland lake for the swim (I just could not bring myself to doing an ocean or Great Lakes swim again). It would be a year until the event, so I would have time train for the longer distance in the spring…and get out to do some open water training since I clearly need it. Finally, the schedule shows that the Olympic Distance is held on Saturday, and that I could also do the sprint on Sunday. Sounds like an amazing opportunity!

So, yeah, I had a script in my mind for this event. I would be middle of the pack. It would be my best chance of the year to get a podium spot if luck went my way. I panicked on the swim, I almost turned around and quit. I almost missed the cutoff on the swim and almost got a DNF. Instead, I persevered, had a strong bike, a strategic run, I won my age group, and I qualified for 2017 National Championships. None of that was ever in the script. Sometimes, dreams come true. Occasionally, things you couldn’t even dare to dream of will come true as well. You never know what race day will bring…

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Race Report: Red, White & Boom Half Marathon

July 4th, 2016
Minneapolis, MN
Half-Marathon #27
Event #100(!)

My 100th event (well, 89th according to Athlinks since they don’t consider events without a finish time as official…so the fun runs and 100 mile cycling events don’t get counted). Fitting that it should be the Red, White & Boom Half Marathon…it has been a staple on my schedule since I started running 5 years ago. It is the only event that I have raced every year since I started to run. The half-marathon is also my most commonly raced distance.

So, I found it ironic that, in reaching this milestone, that it could be my last half.

Unlike full marathons, I am not actively avoiding the distance, but I am cutting back dramatically on all race events. I will likely limit my racing to a spring and fall running event and a summer triathlon. The fall race will be the big event of the year and will be the Twin Cities 10-Mile (no half marathon option available at that event). The summer event will be a sprint triathlon (Lifetime Triathlon Minneapolis most likely), leaving a spring race that will likely be shorter after the off-season (Hot Chocolate 15k scheduled for 2017). A half marathon will almost certainly show up on my schedule at some point…but nothing is on the radar in the foreseeable future.

I have finally settled back into a predictable training routine. Each week I do a 1 mile pool swim, a 32 mile bike/5k run brick, two 10k runs and one “long” run (10k or longer depending on my schedule). This averages out to over 1 hour/day of fitness. It feels like a good balence.

Being on the 4th of July, this is historically a hot race, and it starts early. I received an e-mail that the race would start under a yellow flag due to heat. That seemed a little excessive (mid to high 60’s with dew points in the low 60’s). I assumed it would finish under a yellow flag, but those temps don’t seem too unpleasant.

Packets could be picked up on race morning which makes my life easier. Unfortunately, they have added a 5k run to this event and have opted for two completely separate courses (same finish line) so my race is on the west side of the Mississippi River (about a 1 mile walk from packet pick up) instead of being on both sides and crossing the river a couple of times. I think that I will miss the old course…

The morning was beautiful. Parking was worse then prior years (always a nightmare for this event) even though I got there before they even started handing out packets (5:15 am). I got my stuff, hiked back to the car (to drop off the shirt and pint glass) then headed back to the start. So, I had logged over two miles on my feet before I even made it to the starting line.

The weather was ideal. 64F, slight humidity, nice breeze…and a yellow flag (seriously?) Small dose of reality hit when the cop went by with the bomb sniffing K-9. They wandered through the crowd and opened the garbage bins for a quick sniff before moving on.

The race was fine, but I did miss the old course. This one just wasn’t as scenic. It did get into the low 70’s by the end of the race and I was pouring water over my head during the second half. My speed did not return for this event (I didn’t expect it to) and I am still left to wonder why I am so much slower then before. This race was a full 21 minutes slower then my first half marathon…about 8 weeks after I bought my first running shoes. I am not that much older. Sigh…

As is the norm for this race, they offer grilled hotdogs at the finish. I have never liked these mystery meet products, but I do “indulge” in my only hot dog of the year right after the finish line.

Finish Time – 2:30:02 (grrrr…)

This brings my “spring” running season to a (late) close. In five days, my short summer triathlon season begins (training is already in full swing). Three sprints, the final two being in late August. It should be a nice change of pace…

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The Journey Towards “Life Fitness”

“I always try to explain to people that peak performance and life fitness are really different worlds. When you are trying to maximize everything you can out of your body, you’re also getting that much closer to getting an injury, getting burnt out, or paying a price that you may never get back. Life fitness is about figuring out: ‘What can I do every day so I feel better today and tomorrow and I can still go and do something and do it next year and the year after that until I’m 98?’ That’s kind of what my athletic quest is now.”

Mark Allen – Six Time Ironman World Champion

 

I found the above quote in the 2016 Fargo Marathon Results Magazine. Mark was the keynote speaker at the Fargo Marathon Expo and did a throwaway Q+A article for the magazine.

It nicely summarizes my journey for the past two years.

When I started running, it was new and exciting. I was in awe of what I could do and kept setting bigger and bigger goals for myself until I crossed the finish line in Madison. For the next two years, I struggled with motivation and burnout. I felt that the new goals (Ultramarathon, 50 marathon states, back to back marathons, etc) should be motivating but it was burning me out. I realized that my path was not sustainable. I have been radically cutting back on training and events trying to find something that I could enjoy, maintain, and that would be worth maintaining. So, this quote resonated with me.

Interestingly, in the past few weeks, I think that I may have found that balence. I have been on a regular and consistent training schedule…and I have been enjoying it. It is a far cry from my Ironman days, but more then most middle aged adults do routinely, and it should help me maintain some degree of “Life Fitness”.

Here’s the current schedule:

Monday + Tuesday: rest (work schedule does not allow for a regular workout)
Wednesday: 1 mile swim
Thursday: 32 mile bike/5k run
Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 10k run

The whole thing averages about 1 hour/day. I am not trying to break any speed records, nor do I have any complex drills. It is just “me” time. With the exception of Thursday, the whole workout is done before anyone else is out of bed. It does not take away from family time.

This feels right. It feels sustainable. It is also something I can use as a springboard for future training if the desire ever returns…

 

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Triathlon Training Season Begins…

…of course, I am starting a little late this year. First triathlon is in 1 month.

Whoops…

Fortunately, I am just participating for fun this year…and to give me a reason to get to the pool and bike trail.

Once the Fargo Marathon was behind me, I got to work setting up a regular running schedule and building up good habits again. But, with a Half Marathon and 3 sprint triathlons coming up soon, I need to ramp up running mileage AND get the cross training going. Two days ago, I hit the pool for the first time since January. Swam a mile and it felt good. Yesterday, I hit the bike trail and completed 32 miles followed by a 5k run. Today, a 15k run completed at the crack of dawn before it got too hot and muggy outside.

Sure, this pales by comparison to previous seasons, but great to know that I can still do this much….

…and I was having fun again! How cool is that?

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A Degree of “Extreme”…

A common conversation among Ironman Finishers is which Ironman race is the hardest.

This happens A LOT.

It generally starts with a newbie asking which races are easier or beginner friendly. Then the standard disclaimers start up. “There is no such thing as an easy Ironman”, “They are all 140.6 miles”. Everyone agrees that there is no “easier” Ironman. Then people start expressing that some races are “more hard”. Of course, the “more hard” races are always the events that the speaker has participated in. Funny how that works out….

Level of difficulty will always be subjective in these conversations. Much of it has to do with the participants own strengths and weaknesses. Are they technically strong cyclists? Can you run in the heat or cold? Wetsuit legal vs warm swim? I would, of course, play up IM Wisconsin’s very technical bike course with the big elevation gain and the mass swim start whenever I would wade into these pissing matches…assuming that there would never be a true winner in these debates…until now.

LAVA Magazine (official publication of Ironman) has endorsed IronIndex.com as the official ranking of all Ironman races (this ranking also includes all Challenge/Rev3 races worldwide). A total of 50 of the biggest and most well known Iron Distance races are ranked in terms of their overall level of difficulty. They are then branded as “Standard”, “Difficult”, “Intense”, and “Extreme”. To put it in perspective, the Ironman World Championship is 9th on the list and ranked as “Intense” (only eight races worldwide are listed as “Extreme”).

Imagine my surprise to find that the race I completed (Ironman Wisconsin) listed as the 6th toughest race…in the world (and considered an “Extreme” event)!

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Mind Blown.

It is listed as a tougher race then Malasia. Malasia! That race has a “monkey zone” on the bike course. Participants are warned not to eat or drink anything in the monkey zone since the monkeys are aggressive, not afraid of humans, and will attack you on your bike. The course guide advises that participants should carry a big stick when riding and a tutorial on how to use that stick if attacked. Somehow, that race is considered easier then Wisconsin.

Of course, there are a lot of disclaimers for such a list. It only considers current Ironman and Challenge events. Discontinued events (Ironman Tahoe and Ironman Muskoka are both off the list), other series (HITS), non-Iron Distance (X-Terra), and independent events (Alaska-Man, Norse-Man) are conveniently excluded. The list also assumes “average” weather conditions. Ironman has been cursed with some bad weather of late (108F at Coeur D’Alene, hypothermia conditions in Florida, forest fires in Tahoe, modified swim due to poor water quality/shortened bike due to flooding and construction/suspended run due to lightning in IM Texas this year. Variables like these would dramatically affect the course’s level of difficulty on any given day (I was fortunate to have ideal weather for my race day).

So, does the “extreme” ranking matter? It shouldn’t, but to me, it does (at least a little bit).

Had I seen this rating before registering, I may have reconsidered my decision to participate…so I am glad that I never saw this beforehand. But it reaffirms to me that my training was no joke. It reaffirms that crossing the finish line wasn’t beginners luck. That victory was earned, and I did something remarkable that day. I may not be able to repeat the achievement, but it emphasizes that I am capable of completing something that is (almost) impossible.

But I still think that mutant monkeys would be harder…

 

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