Saturday, September 30, 2006

Redman - Ever had a dream?

I finished the Redman Iron Distance Triathlon in Oklahoma City, OK on Saturday. This was my first Iron Distance race. I’m not going to give a race report exactly. I actually want to tell you about a dream I had before the race. It all started back in early summer. My wife, Chris, is also a triathlete and she would be racing the Redman Half-Ironman. We live about 45 minutes from the race site and our club Tri-OKC is the primary force behind Redman. Most of the race committee are Tri-OKC members. I got to thinking… How cool would it be if my wife and I both won Redman on the same day? A local race, surrounded by friends and family. I mean, how cool would that be? Surely, that would make an interesting article for the local newspaper, wouldn’t it? That WOULD be cool.

Of course I really didn’t have any business thinking such a thing. Let’s do a quick review of my athletic history. I have no background in any of the 3 sports. I’ve never entered an Iron Distance triathlon before. I’ve never won a triathlon of any distance. In fact, I’ve never even led a triathlon before. To top it off the 2005 Redman champion was back to defend his title. Obviously, just a crazy fantasy, but I enjoyed thinking about it. I never told a soul about my little day dream, not even Chris.

It IS crazy to think about, but there were a few small “crumbs” of possibility that I could cling to. Redman is a fabulous race and everyone I talked to after the race had a great time, but this was no Kona qualifier. There would be no washing machine at the start of the swim. There would be no drafting on the bike because with 125 IM racers that sort of thing was just too easy to avoid. All of us were just people with a dream and the desire to do something extraordinary. Also, Chris had been having a great season, winning a few shorter triathlons earlier this season, so hey, maybe at least half of my fantasy was realistic. Still, I was a first-timer. Then again, this was my 6th year of triathlons. In fact, this was my 15th triathlon of the season. I’d finished 5 half-ironmans previously including the Triple T earlier in the year and CATS 1/2IM in August.

About 2 weeks before the race I started day-dreaming about the race. It was a mental race rehearsal. I went through the entire thing from start to finish. In my mind I showed up to the start relaxed. I swam easy, starting out slow and relaxed, then getting out of the water in the top 5-10. I love transitions so I planned to go through T1 just like any other race. Wetsuit off, helmet on, sunglasses on and I was off with shoes clipped to my pedals. Not rushed just simple. I imagined some people would use the changing tents so I would move up a few spots before getting on the bike. Onto the bike and I would get straight down to my target HR of 135-140 bpm. Feeling great, loving my Hed Jet 90 and diskcover in the Oklahoma wind I would start passing people. Early on the bike I imagined myself moving to the front. Keep in mind, I’ve never led a triathlon before, but this was my day-dream and by golly I was enjoying it. Once in the lead I imagined my lead growing as I stuck to my HR targets, staying comfortable, never pushing. I would get off the bike feeling fresh and start the run very, very slow. I wanted to feel like I was crawling the first few miles, but my HR would be right at 150bpm. I won a Timex GPS earlier in the year and I planned to use it on the run for reassurance because I knew from training that I could feel like I was crawling at the beginning and still be running faster than my goal average pace. The run would become an exercise in holding back. I didn’t want to feel like I was pushing for as long as possible. I knew I wasn’t the greatest runner, but I thought if I paced myself right on the swim and bike that at least I could run the whole thing except the aid stations. I admit I even carried my little fantasy right to the finish and there I ran through various scenarios of what I would do when I crossed the finish line. Still in the lead I imagined lots of fist pumping and celebration. I thought about what it would feel like to win an iron distance triathlon. It was a great feeling (in my head), but I enjoyed thinking about it and it made me smile. Again, I never told a soul about my “race rehearsal”.

So that was my crazy, ridiculous dream of how I won my first iron distance triathlon.

I didn’t stop there however. I used my dream to make a plan. I wrote down a very detailed race plan. I wrote down how I would feel in each leg, how I would avoid “racing” early, my HR targets for each segment of the bike. My HR target for the run. What and when I would eat throughout the day. It was all on paper.

Then I really got crazy. I mean what was I thinking here? My parents were in town to watch, so I gave my mom a list of times that I thought I would complete each leg or lap (each leg was two laps) of the race. It started with a 5 minute window and increased to a 15 minute window by the finish. I know this goes totally against conventional wisdom for a first IM, but I did it anyway. When pressed by close friends and family I even threw out a nice round finishing time. It would be wrong to call these goals though. They weren’t goals, they were just times I though were realistic if I followed my plan and executed to the best of my ability.

Then Saturday, race day, arrived and it all went something like this…

I stood ankle deep in the water on the front row waiting for the start. Whitecaps washed across the lake. The sun had just barely creased the skyline. The start gun fired and I started my first IM. The water was rough and I loved it. After the first turn we swam with the waves and I found I was quite good a catching little surfs as each wave passed under me. For the first time ever I took a whiz while swimming. Kind of proud of that. When I exited the water I heard I was the 5th full-distance swimmer out of the water. I felt fresh as a daisy. This was fun so far.

Onto the bike and heading north into the wind, I passed a young guy, then another. My HR was right near my target most of the time. Early on it would get up over 145 occasionally and I would scold myself and get it right down near 135. The miles ticked by and I didn’t see anymore full participants, but it was hard to tell because I was catching the tail end of the half participants. As I approached the turn around at 28 miles I watched the riders going the other direction for signs of any full participants, but no one stood out. When I finished the first 56 mile loop I stopped at special needs, picked up my bottles, took another whiz, and asked the volunteers if any other full people had gone by. They I said I was the first. Heading back out to start the 2nd loop I really started watching the riders finishing the first loop, but there were a lot of half people and it was too hard to tell who was who. On the 2nd loop the wind was stronger. The forecast was for 13-17mph winds with 28 mph gusts. I didn’t mind. It was just like our training days in the spring. For the last 11 miles out to the far turnaround the course heads west and the wind was out of the northwest. My arms started to get tired from countersteering that Jet 90 on the front, but I kept thinking how my wheels were best when the yaw angle was high and soon I’d be at the turnaround and get to head back with the wind to transition. My back, butt, and legs still felt great and my HR was right on target even pushing into the wind. Finally, after the turnaround I was able to see where the other riders were. It was 5 minutes from the turnaround when I saw 2nd place. Because I had a tailwind and I was riding at 28-30mph I figured I was going almost twice as fast as the guy still fighting the wind to the turnaround. That would make the gap almost 15 minutes. After 3 miles the course on the return makes a right turn and uses different roads for awhile so I wouldn’t be seeing anymore oncoming racers. When I made the turn only the one guy had gone by the other direction. The rest of the return was uneventful. I felt fine, but decided to be a little more conservative and keep my HR down at 135 or a little lower.
When I racked my bike at T2 Chris was standing just outside the transition fence. While putting on my shoes and grabbing my race belt I asked her how her race had gone. She was first female in the Half…

Starting the run was the crucial moment for me. I knew I had to stick to my plan. I had to be conservative starting out and I was. My HR immediately settled around 150bpm while my pace was about 30 seconds faster than my goal average pace. Near the first turnaround at 6.55 miles I resisted the urge to pick it up a little. It felt so easy, but my pace was still just under my goal pace. After the turnaround I met 2nd place heading out to the turnaround after about 10 minutes. 3rd place, the 2005 champion was not far behind. Back to transition to finish the first loop my pace was still right near my goal pace and my HR had started to drop just slightly. When I passed by 2nd as I started my second loop the gap was about 17 minutes. As expected the 2nd loop got more difficult, but I just stuck to my plan. Run from aid station to aid station. Walk for a few seconds to drink at each aid station. Wash, rinse, repeat. At the far turnaround the gap was about 11 minutes. 6 miles to go… Run to the next aid station, walk and drink, run again. I was getting slower, but I was still running. Nothing hurt, my stomach was in good shape, just my quads and feet were getting really tired. 1 mile from the finish I looked back for the first time. Nobody. I had a mantra early in the run. It was “you don’t have to run fast, you just have to run”. For the last few miles it became “the faster you run, the sooner you can stop”. I don’t remember thinking much else towards the end. As I approached the finish line I started to celebrate just like I had done in my dream. I raised my arms in the air

and then it hit me… I had just finished my first iron distance triathlon. I had just won my first triathlon. I was the 2006 Redman Iron Distance Champion. Me? My celebration became a simple collapse onto the ground.

Some interesting tidbits from the race:

My splits were 1:07, 5:25, 3:48 = 10:24

I got off the bike 20 minutes ahead of 2nd place and 29 minutes ahead of Lee Hunt, the 2005 Champion. Lee ran an amazing 3:20 to finish only 1 minute and 10 seconds after me.

I’ll be the first to admit my run is weak, but I honestly don’t believe I could have biked easier and made up the time on the run. The reality is I have a 3:33 open marathon PR from 2005 in perfect conditions with good pacing. I averaged only 23 miles of running per week this year and my longest run of the year was 16 miles. Giving up only 15 minutes for my first attempt? I’m pretty happy with that. predicted my splits would be 1:04, 5:13, 4:24. Which lends some credence to my claim that I paced the swim and bike well and that I have no business running faster than 3:48 right now.

The times I estimated for my parents? Swim 1:05-1:10. Bike 5:20-5:30. Run 3:45-4:00 and then a general 10:30 overall time. Actuals again were: 1:07, 5:25, 3:48 = 10:24

Remember my first little dream? That crazy, ridiculous dream that I had no business thinking… Sunday morning there was article in The Oklahoman about the race. Here’s the link to the story:

I have a bunch of thoughts on why I think my day worked out so well, but I’ll save that for another time. The simple answer is: I had a dream that I used to make a plan and I executed that plan to best of my abilities.


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