Ten months ago I was sitting in my living room recovering from one of my many injuries. Many things go through ones mind when in this state (drug induced and depressed). Would I ever be able to swim again? Ride my mountain bike? Was it time to stop this "silly racing stuff" as my mom once said. Is it time to take up drinking?
Well I did not take up drinking other than the occasional wine at dinner or a post ride beer. One thing I did do was decide that if I was able to recovery fully that I was only going to do events that were fun for me and offered an occasional challenge to stimulate my soul. The Xterra Epic - Iron Mountain (1 mile lake swim / 34 mile mountain bike / 9.6 mile trail run) was one such challenge. This distance off-road is basically a half ironman and the finishing times should be about the same. I would be happy to finish in 6 hours. 5 hrs 30 min if everything went as planned and maybe a podium spot.
Carolynn, my soulmate and support crew, arrived early and had plenty of time to pre-ride the Iron Mountain course. We both really enjoyed the trails. My best description of them would be the Lawrence River Trails on steroids with a few small rock gardens and some elevation change. I wish the trails were a bit more technical to give me a better advantage, but then again, it was most likely best they were easy so I would have less chance of crashing :-)
After the ride it was time for a nice lunch and double check everything on the bike. I went with the Kenda Nevegals for my tires. Ran them at 30 psi. My bike was a Giant Anthem X supplied by The Wheel Cyclery. Pedals were the new Crank Brother Candy 3's . All systems check in O.K.
Plenty Ironman finisher shirts around packet pickup and some big names including Xterra Champion Kyle Grieser and even local pro Benjamin Schloegel from KC. The athletes participating in long distance off-road triathlons are what race director Fred Phillips calls the "pioneers of the sport". Long distance off-road triathlons are a newer sport with limited events to participate in. I remember being in this same small group over 20 years ago when I did my first Ironman distance triathlon in Florida. When the The Great Floridian was created not many people knew about triathlons ... now just look at the sport. Ironman distance events are selling out. I see long distance Xterra events growing in years to come.
Race morning brought an eerie view of the area. As we crossed the dam, the valley was covered by fog. Needless to say the water looked cold as hell. I had been up for several hours with a mild migraine. It was getting worse as the race start approached. Carolynn gave me some Excedrin Migraine medicine which helped a lot.
Morning temps were in the low 40's. Water temp was 65 degrees. As many of you know I do not do well in cold water. Yes I know 65 degrees really isn't that cold, but for some reason as of late my body just does not respond well in it. As we all entered the lake for the start the water actually felt warmer. But as we waited, I started to get very cold and I freaked out every time I put my face in the water. I just could not breathe. Cold water effects everyone differently as Cold Water Survival explains. Before I knew it the event had begun. As I started to swim, I was surprised at how well I felt. That feeling sure was short lived. About 1 minute in to the 1 mile swim, I was having difficulty breathing and started to freakout. I rolled onto my back and started to backstroke which helped some. At least now I could breath. The one thing I could not do was navigate. I tried to stay on course by using the guy behind me who also was having trouble (he later was rescued from the water and did not finish). But when the guy behind you is swimming off-course and toward the rescue boat this does not help. I finally navigated to a buoy and stopped to regain myself. I was very cold, fearful and mad at myself. As I watched everyone swim away I was just about to call for a rescue myself. Something inside of me said to at least try. I gave it one last shot and soon my body/mind came around. I began to exhale like normal underwater and really focused on rotating my body so I could breath well. This helped so much and soon I found myself feeling much better and actually catching up to other swimmers. My first lap took me 25 minutes. On the second lap I kept on course and was able to catch 3 groups of swimmers. I was passing them with ease and as I approached the finish I realized my swim time for the 2nd lap was 16 minutes. With two laps like that I would have gotten out with the leaders but as it was I finished in 41 minutes with the mid-pack swimmers.
I was happy to get out of the water and onto the bike. The course was so much fun especially the first lap. I was catching and passing riders at a steady clip. My first 11 mile lap was done in 58 minutes which was actually the fastest in my age-group for the day! I backed it down for lap 2 to a 1:01 because I didn't want to blow up. The pace didn't seem fast, but I know all too well that your effort can be deceiving and before you know it you hit the wall. I focused on refueling during the entire bike and felt I did well. It appeared I was digesting everything well and I rolled into T2 after the 3rd lap I was ready for the biggest challenge of all. Well, except for that damn swim. If they would have asked me after my 3 laps on the bike do you want to do another 3 laps, swim again or tackle this run course, you bet my answer would have been there isn't enough money in the world to get me in that water again...
Fred told us before the event that the swim was going to be easy, the bike fun and the run HELL. Well he was sort of right. The swim would have been easy if the temps were warm. The Bike was indeed very fun and I would soon find out the run was indeed hellish.
After a quick T2 I was off running. I was in 2nd place in the 45-49 age group behind early leader Michael Grote out of Austin, TX. Mike is a solid runner so I had no thoughts of catching him, but after the first mile I was feeling very good and confident that I might just indeed finish in my 5:30 goal and be in the hunt for one of those sweet custom awards. I hit the John Delaughter Memorial Trail with spring in my steps. Damn I was feeling good. Then as I approached the first aid station I got a serious cramp in my right hamstring. Shit! A fellow racer gave me some Hammer Endurolytes which did eventually help. I started a jog/walk ritual that kept my cramps at bay, but did not allow for much a running pace. At about mile 3 the leading womea Karen Robertson passed me and I gave her some words of encouragement. She told me "great bike" which made me feel good. Now if I could only run as well as I bike. The run course was hard. Some of the hills required walking which was fine by me. So I walked, jogged and watched as others passed me by. Some of the guys passing me were the leaders who were now on their 2nd lap of the run. They all had these wrist bands on that signaled to the race personnel they had completed the entire run course and could proceed to the finish. I tired to buy the band of off the leader, but he said "you do not have enough money". I then offered one guy a "flash" from my wife who was on top of the hill, but Carolynn would not do it so off he went. I was just kidding with those guys as I would not had accepted the bands. I was going to finish! Sure I was not going to meet my goal time, but I was going to finish none the less. Finishing should always be ones first and most important goal.
End result was 27th out 45 finishers (51 registered participants) and 5th in my age-group. Time to chill out for the winter, heal up fully, and get 100% rested. I am looking forward to a break. I plan to ride some gravel grinders, do some orienteering and I will hit a cross race or two if the course is fun and the event is well put on. One thing is for sure, I will have fun at anything that I do. It is good to be alive, pain free and happy.