Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Triathlon: It Is Like Skydiving. With Elephants.

I'm sitting in the Auckland airport about to be whooshed back in time.  Brian Greene would be so proud  although my universe is nowhere near as elegant as his.  For example, I'm pretty stoked I didn't have to go to the bathroom on myself during my 1/2 IM on Sunday (Well...AFTER the swim).  In my life, that's considered an elegant universe.

Anyway, I figure there is no better day to reflect than a day I get to live seems wasteful not to do something meaningful on at least one of my March 6ths between Auckland and LA.

So as I gaze off into the duty free store...Maori tribal chants (I think) lightly humming in the background...some thoughts about the past few days...what I learned...and I'm sure I'll throw in a poop joke or two along the way.


Before I left to take on Ironman New Zealand, I had this dream that I went skydiving.  With elephants.  This dream has stuck with me for days.  It seemed meaningful.  And what better image to bring along with me on a plane that I would be living on for 13 hours across the Pacific than that of a giant pachyderm hurtling out of said plane with me tagging along as skydiving partner?  Quite calming, indeed.

A couple of questions:

(1) How did I get the elephant through security?  Excuse me, sir...can you put your computer and elephant in separate crates?  And don't forget to take off his shoes (TOMS, of course).  

(2) I also wonder how, exactly, they created a parachute big enough for him.  I figure it was all very Point Break-esque....100% PURE adrenaline.

Regardless, this dream was vivid, and like most dreams...within it, I ended up simply accepting the implausible as the everyday.  A lesson in itself.


While I assume I carried this "elephant" along with me for elephant didn't get to live long in New Zealand.  He never even got the chance to jump.  It seems mother nature dropped a weather bomb on me, baby...and so the race, my elephant -- shit, the entire plane -- went BOOM!  As one Kiwi put it: Not fair for you to come all this way for some bloke to cancel your race with the stroke of a pen.

Fair?  I don't know.

Safe?  Probably.

Disappointing?  Yes.

Bloke?  British.


Instead, a day later than planned, and at half the distance, we got our shot at New Zealand and Great Lake Taupo.  And while I am still an Ironman (140.6) virgin...I considered myself a seasoned veteran at 70.3s because I had done a whopping ONE before.  So...I knew what I was going to do.

I was going to sprint it.

That's plan was to survive the (yuck) swim... and then SPRINT a 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run.  In my mind...this seemed like a honest-to-goodness, realistic, and viable thing for me to be able to the time, I thought:  Yeah...I can sprint it.  I trained for so long and so hard for a full IM...I can definitely sprint 69.1 miles...NO problem.  

I had some problems.

Beyond being an idiot, some things went a bit wrong during my "sprinting."  Listed in order of annoyance...some of which everyone had to deal with, some of which only I got to:

(1) Did I mention I tried to sprint the entire thing?  Yeah.  That was dumb.  I give myself credit...I was able to sprint about the first 40 miles of the bike ride before I completely blew up and bonked.  The rest of the day, my legs were absolute toast and I was miserable.

(2) My bike computer, the thing that tells me how fast I am actually going and how fast my cadence is, broke....unless I was actually biking at over 200 mph (which is what it was claiming).   Of course, I could approximate my speed and cadence, but in a race like this...everyone is biking much faster than normal.  So, I not only decided to sprint it (dumb), I also got caught up going at everyone else's sprint pace...not a good idea.

(3) My aero bar broke about 1/2 way into the ride.  This is especially annoying because we had to get our bikes checked before the race, and the bike shop took my bike in because my aero bar was loose!!!!  They "tightened" it...and gave me the go ahead to ride.  Thanks, Avanti!  Hmmm...

(4) Most of the last 1/3 of the ride was uphill and directly into a strong headwind.  Everyone had to deal with this...but did I mention my aero bar broke?  I got to eat a lot of that wind....and my legs were shot.

(5) I somehow tweaked my shoulder and my ass cheek during the bike....and my shoulder was so jacked up, I had to run one-armed in the 1/2 marathon.  I couldn't even hold onto my water bottle because it hurt so much.  I am pretty sure this had to do with my aero bars breaking (AVANTI!!!!).  You don't notice how much you use your arms when you run until you can't use one of them!  Ha!

(6)  Because I was an idiot and tried to sprint the legs were gone on the 1/2 marathon.   I think that was the worst I have ever felt on a run...which means I actually felt worse than when I accidentally ate a PowerBar with peanuts in it and ended up puking all over myself during my first marathon.  Yeah.  Good times.  Good times.  Why do I do this again?

Anyway, these are all just learning experiences....and what I figured would be a race I would complete in 5:45 to 6 hours...ended up taking me 7 hours!!!  But on the bright side...I had some triumphs:

(1) This was the hardest race swim I had ever done!  The water was VERY choppy and there was only a few different start times (pro, men, then women).  I only got punched in the head ONCE...and all the water I drank was not pool or ocean water...but FRESH water.  DELICIOUS (and refreshing).

(2) I didn't have any stomach cramping or related issues AT ALL.  That is the first endurance race I have ever done where I was not pre-occupied with going to the bathroom the entire time (so maybe THAT is why I was slower!).

(3) ZERO chafing.  ZERO.  Honestly...unless you have been chafed from a race have no idea what a victory that is.  It only took me about five years to get that right!

(4) It takes a lot of mental energy and focus to complete a race when (a) you have bonked because you were an idiot and (b) your shoulder and ass cheek feel like they want to fall off...and I NEED those body parts.  Well, at least one of them. But yeah...that was all interesting to battle through.


Alas, lessons learned and triumphs aside, my elephant is still with me.  I don't know if that means I am still on the plane or mid-free fall.  I just know I am going to do another race...I am going to skydive with elephants.  And I am never, ever trying to sprint a 1/2 IM ever, ever again.

Friday, March 02, 2012


Enter Charlie Brown Theme...Now.
It's an interesting feeling to look out my window at Lake Taupo.  I should have just swum 2.4 miles (or more with my zigzagging) in it.  I should be doing a 112 mile bike ride.  I should be trying to save my legs for a marathon.

But I'm looking out a window.

It's hard to explain the feeling.  I just spent a full year mentally preparing for one day.  This day.  March 3rd, 2012.  I was supposed to learn some lesson today, about myself, about my limits, about what drives me.  There have been countless hours of training.  Injuries.  Doubts.  Fears.  Epiphanies.  Hope.  All tied up into one day.  This day.

But I'm looking out a window.

When I think about the conversations to come...the donations I raised...the pats on the back...the "I understands" the "That sucks" conversations...I don't feel anything.  I don't yet know how to respond to those.  What do I say?

I looked out a window?

There is a lesson here.  I got what I came for.  I'm not learning it as I drink lake water.  Or as my legs burn with fatigue.  Or as I cramp on a run.

My lesson is about perspective. And patience.  And peace.  And grand schemes.

And about a window.

Today was not my day to do Ironman.  My day WILL come.  I know this.  I FEEL this.  I BELIEVE this.  And if nothing else, my desire is stronger.  Harder.  Deeper than ever before.

I'm not looking out at Lake Taupo, through a window, for nothing.  There are countless ways to learn what it means to be an Ironman.

The next step of my journey is beginning.

By looking out a window.