Training for Ironman…in India

Today I watched the 2009 Kona Ironman World Championships on TV as I have so many times before and was inspired by the trials and tribulations, the many incredible stories of pros and age groupers alike who made it to Kona this year.  I also had a few friends who either qualified or won a lottery spot, but honestly, I couldn’t relate to their experiences and stories.  I also couldn’t relate to Chrissie Wellington’s unbelievable 3-peat performance or Craig Alexander’s win.  I’m sure the pros have their share of challenges and defeats, but I needed to see the struggle of the guy more like me, and watching the Kona event was exactly what I needed as I started my ironman training this month for IM Couer d’Alene next June.  I’m going to be doing most of my training while traveling extensively on business overseas, and much of that will be in Bangalore, India.  I’m determined not to let a globe-trotting schedule or the limitations of training in India stop me.
I’m having my Trek 5200 road bike re-built to the exact fit of my tri bike (as close as possible, anyway) and shipping it to Bangalore with my trainer at the beginning of January.  When I’m home in California I’ll ride outdoors on my tri bike, but I’ll be spinning in my hotel room at the Leela Palace.  They have an unheated 27-meter pool which stays at a comfortable temperature to train. 

Traffic in Bangalore...where am I supposed to run?

Running is impossible outdoors.  The streets of Bangalore are at 600% capacity so I’ll have to do what I can on a treadmill at the hotel gym.

I raced my local sprint triathlon in Morgan Hill this year with 2007 Kona champion Chris McCormack and Chris LietoI saw them racing to the finish as I started my bike that day.  I know it was only a sprint, but they were running at 5:39 pace having a conversation.  So it was sobering to watch both of them walking the marathon at Kona even as  Lieto finished in 2nd place, McCormack in 4th.
I was particularly interested in the story of 19 yr.-old Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a double amputee.  Rudy was born with rare, multiple birth defects – a combination of crippling Pterygium Syndrome, a clubfoot, webbed fingers on both hands, and a cleft lip and palate. His legs would not straighten from the knee and he was forced to crawl or push himself in a wheelchair, so he chose to have them amputated when he was only five years old.  He missed the bike cutoff in Kona by just five minutes.  He was committed to finishing an ironman, so he called Muddy Waters, my coach, and came to my local bike two blocks from my home to train for IM Arizona.  They built a whole new bike for him and I watched Rudy spin on the CompuTrainer.  Last month he finished IM Arizona.
Navy Commander David Haas did his training for Kona on a Navy frigate with a CopmuTrainer, treadmill, rowing maching, and VersaClimber.  Haas would often ride his CompuTrainer on the bridge so that he was accessible in case anything came up.  Once every two weeks he’d jump off the side of the ship into the 105 degree water and swim around the ship with a couple of search and rescue members to keep him company.  Lieutenant Commander Don Cross trained in a submarine!  He had to do it while making no noise, and submarine life is organized around an 18-hour-day, so there’s even less time to train.  His daily routine was on watch for 6 hours, 6 hours of maintenance and training, then 6 hours of time to himself where he’d get a couple of hours of training and four hours of sleep.
57-yr. old Elizabeth Thompson suffered a stroke two years ago, leaving her unable to walk.  She finished at Kona.  Lots of great athletes did not finish.  I wonder if I’ll be one of them.  I’m still not entirely sure why I want the Ironman.  I don’t think I’ll ever climb Mt. Everest.  Ironman still seems to be the biggest challenge of all, and I just watch the images of people crossing the finish and see the euphoria painted across their faces.  I don’t care about the lifetime bragging rights people talk about. I want this one for myself.  And if some of these people can overcome the obstacles they had in front of them, I know I can do it.

Morgan Hill Triathlon at Uvas

The forecast called for an excrutiatingly hot 105° but I knew my chances were still good for a PR at this event.  Having just completed a half ironman two weeks ago, I was confident and prepared. 

Water temp was 65° and Uvas Reservoir was 80% full, quite a difference from two years ago when it was nearly empty due to lack of rain.  I was in wave 9 which forced me to wait 25 minutes after the pros started.  This year, there were more bouys on the course, making siting and navigation easier.  I managed to swim the entire course in a straight line and surprised myself when I stepped out of the water in 23:06,  a full six minutes faster than my split two years ago.  Nowhere near the 14-minute split for the pros, but I was really pleased with that result and made my way to T1 where I had found a good spot just a few paces from the bike exit.

I’m not terribly fast but I don’t waste a lot of time in transition, either.  I’ve learned how to get out of my wetsuit, which generally causes the biggest delay.  I could probably cut 50% of my T1 time if I learned how to leave my bike shoes clipped in, but I have never taken the time to practice it, so T1 was just average. 

I still had the Reynolds racing wheels my local bike shop had loaned me a few weeks ago for the Napa Valley Vintage Half Ironman, so I knew I could easily beat my previous race pace of 18.5 mph on my Bontrager wheels.  I was also in decent bike shape this year.  The benefit of a morning ride is less wind, and it made a big difference.  I knew I would pass lots of people on the bike but that is no indication of success when there are eight waves of people in front of you.  My biggest advantage is that I know this course because I train here.  I knew exactly which gear I wanted to be in at every point on the course and knew where I could make up time where others didn’t know how to take advantage of the course.  I knew I had a good time going when I finished the bike averaging 20.2 mph, my fastest ever. 

I got back to my bike rack to find the place littered with all kinds of gear and my stuff pushed around in all directions. That’s what happens with poor event planning and an over-crowded transition area.  T2 takes longer than it should for me because I choose to run with my orthotics which means I need to wear socks.  It was already 75° so I also took the time to gulp down a half a bottle of water and  decided to take a water bottle with me so I wouldn’t have to slow down at the aid stations.

Upon exiting the transition area, I knew I had a PR going but I’m also not a heat runner.  Last year, I really suffered in the heat.  So I decided not to take it too hard.  Keep a pace I could sustain and then run a negative split. 

I was waiting to see how far behind I was from Kevin, my Transrockies Run partner.  It never occurred to me that I had actually beat him out of the water and also on the bike, so I didn’t see him until I made the turn on the run.  I have never even come close to beating Kevin in any kind of race over the years, so imagine my shock when I found myself ahead of him with two miles to go.  Of course I had the advantage of having just completed a half ironman and Kevin had almost no training on his bike, having just run the Boston Marathon in April (I have yet to qualify for Boston). 

But with less than 20 minutes to the finish, my entire focus suddenly changed to just beat Kevin.  I knew he would try to catch me and I wasn’t sure how much distance I had put on him.  I kept telling myself to not look back.  I knew if I saw him I would panic.  Somehow the inspiring pro race between Chris McCormack and Chris Lieto which had long since finished was not nearly as thrilling as the nailbiter I found myself engaged in with my own training partner.  I finished a couple minutes ahead of Kevin, but he had a very good race considering he had not trained.  I’m lucky to have him as my partner for Transrockies.

Finish :: 1:53:46
Swim :: 23:38
T1 :: 1:52
Bike :: 47:21
T2 :: 1:39
Run :: 39:14
Overall :: 190 / 782
Men :: 154 / 495
M45 – 49 :: 22 / 90

I love this event and it’s great to have a tri like this in my home town that now draws world champions.  In fact, my little town of Morgan Hill is now home to numerous past Olympians and Olympic hopefuls.  But there were a few things this year that caused me to wonder what’s going on at USA Productions. 

I chalked up the lousy cotton t-shirt, no medal and no post race BBQ to the crummy economy, even though the medal and BBQ used to be the two best features of this event.  The transition area was set up differently this year, and somehow they had not planned for all the bikes.  There were nowhere near enough bike racks.  I’m guessing it was because the event did not sell out and they allowed same day registration.  The result was over-loaded bike racks and bikes leaning all over the fences in the transition area, crowding the people who were close to the fence, like  me.  Everyone had to get in one line for body marking and the marking was done with such a fine tip pen that you couldn’t read most numbers after the swim.

It also seemed like everyone who chose to do packet pick-up on race morning didn’t get a number for their bike and helmet.  I’ve never seen that happen, especially when they require USAT membership or charge $10 for a one-day USAT pass.   But it also meant there was no way to cross-check bib numbers with bikes when leaving the event.  Someone could have easily walked away with my bike.  And it didn’t help that the race started 10 minutes late on a very hot day.

Having said that, I was supremely pleased with my 1:53 finish, a PR by a good margin for this event.  I thought 1:55 was a stretch, but with a surprisingly good swim and a better bike split than I expected, I’m eager to compete in more tris.  Coupled with my good result at the recent half ironman, I feel like I have confirmed to myself that I no longer race in the middle of the pack.  This event marked my transition to training for the Transrockies Run.  I’m hoping to do a few more tris in Sept. – Oct.  Until then, I have another adventure to conquer.