Summary – A great race, but (under)training will only get you so far.
In July 2011, I signed up for IMLP because, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. IMWI in 2010 went well, but on the run, nutrition issues and the fact that it was my first “run” over 18 miles meant that it didn’t go as well as expected. With that, I had hopes of improving on my WI time and actually making it through the run without difficulty. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but it was a rewarding day nevertheless.
The outcome of the race was pre-determined in the months of March and April, when my IM training was to begin in earnest. Twenty weeks out, training was supposed to kick in, but due to work commitments, that didn’t really happen. Despite the mild weather, I was only getting in about 5 hours of training a week. Going into May and June, I could pick up the bike volume on the weekends, but running and swimming still suffered, and I was averaging fewer than ten training hours a week until race week. As a result, my overall fitness level wasn’t what it I had hoped it to be going into race day. Could experience make up for fitness?
The IMLP is as fast a swim course as you can have without the benefit of a natural current. It’s also a melee. The start line stretches from a small dock across the narrow end of the lake, causing folks to either cluster near the start line or stand on the beach. Curiously, a lot of people were on the shore by the far right, perhaps hoping to avoid some of the crowd -- while at the same time creating their own impending traffic jam. Just before the gun, I swam from the beach into the open space, so when the gun went off, I had two minutes of peace before the thundering herd caught up with me and ran me over. From there, it was just a matter of getting carried along by the herd and trying to not get run over (too much). Staying on course wasn’t a problem, and the first lap went by ahead of schedule. Then it was exiting the water, crossing the timing mat, and doing it all over again. The second lap was definitely slower than the first -- with the faster swimmers ahead, there was less of a draft, and among the (slow) swimmers alongside me, it was a more frantic struggle for position. Even with a slower second lap, I left the water at a race time of 1:30:xx, right on my 2010 time -- not a bad start. Wetsuit off, then the two-block run to the Oval.
Grabbing my stuff, I found a spot in the change tent by the exit. Cycling kit, helmet, and I’m off. Head out to the racks and reach in the jersey pocket where I stashed my number -- and it’s not there. Other pocket? No. Turn around, look on the ground back towards the change tent to see if it fell out, and no. Get to the pile of bags and pull out mine, dump it out, don’t see it. Look at the chairs where I sat, not there either. Oh well. I figure that I won’t get a DQ, and can live with a time penalty for a dumb mistake. Get my bike, do a cyclocross carry, and hustle to the mount line.
The bike course is fairly straightforward. Ten miles of gradual uphill, six miles of screaming downhill, thirty miles of rollers, then ten miles of moderate uphill. Cycling is my strength, so the plan is to come out of the water not-quite-last, then try to balance passing as many people as possible on the bike while saving energy for the run. The first ten miles out of town was a comfortable settle into the meat of the day. The descent looms over people’s minds, so it’s easy to forget that it’s a full 10 miles until you get to the descent, and that it’s rolling net uphill. The day’s already warm, so no need for arm warmers or a wind-blocking layer.
Getting to the descent, it’s easier on race day than during my practice ride a few days before. WIth an entire lane closed off (and an additional lane on the steepest portions), there was enough space to pass people while giving space to the speedsters behind me who really let it fly. The first time down the hill, I kept it pretty conservative, and in a quirk of button-pushing, didn’t have the speed showing on my garmin, so seeing that number creep from the 3X mph to 4X mph wasn’t a distraction from the drops and curves ahead. On an open course with broad sweepers, the keep right, eyes pointed at where you want to go, and nice smooth movements made for a fun passing session. I did get passed by two folks who were bigger, and had more momentum pushing them down the hill, but reaching the bottom of the downhill, it looked like it would be a good bike session.
On to the “flats”, which were rolling hills out and back along the river. With a tailwind on the outbound, I was glad to have a disc wheel -- I could feel it pushing me along with minimal effort. The sun was out, aid stations were pretty orderly, and the middle miles of the loop ticked by fairly quickly. Then came the turn uphill. A nice steady long climb back into town. Whoa, who hit the brakes? While my climbing strategy is to keep it easy and spin up the climbs, getting passed by lots of folks, the wind was now blowing down the mountain as a headwind. That and the sun were starting to take their toll -- we were sweating out more than we realized while going uphill. Taking the final corners through town on the first loop, it looked like I was at 3:15 for the lap, which was about five to ten minutes slower than my plan, but acceptable.
On to the second lap. With less traffic in front of me, the ten miles out of town to the descent was much easier to pace, and fueling up was the task at hand. Reaching the descent, it was time to let it fly. Bombing downhill without tapping the brakes, only raising or lowering my chest as an air brake, this time down was for fun, and fun it was. (Post-race I found out I maxed at 41mph on the first loop, 47 on the second.) Onto the flats, where the wind kept up. This time it was demoralizing to have the tailwind, because you knew it was going to hit you coming back. And it was getting hot. Not sweltering hot, but dehydrating hot. Cooling became the order of the day. I drank as much as my stomach would allow, and splashed water over my jersey and shorts for some extra evaporative cooling. Coming off the flat, and hitting the climb for the second time, it was like the race hit a wall. Those who were able to keep on top of their hydration kept spinning up the hills into town, while the rest of us either slowed waaay down or, worse, pulled off. As I downshifted into walking speed, I saw lots of fit dudes standing on the side of the road, massaging out cramps, or in a few cases, waiting for the ambulance to take them back into town. Struggling through my 34x27 up the final rollers, the final two miles of the bike through town were a welcome chance to sit up, catch my breath, transfer my garmin from bike to wrist, and smoothly hop off the bike and into the change tent. End result was a bike time of 6:30:05 -- the differential between 3:08:06/3:32:49 being the difficulty on the second lap’s climb.
Enter oval, grab bag, change, leave. Pretty uneventful, except that as I was just exiting the oval, I see someone come flying towards me in the opposite direction. It’s Andy Potts, on his way for the win, and he is haulin’. With a huge smile on his face. Good for him.
And boom goes the dynamite. Jogging out of T2, it’s downhill. You’re glad to be off the bike. It’s still nice outside. You have fresh clothes on. And you can’t do more than jog. That’s where I found myself after a mile. The thing I have that will save the day from a trip to the med tent, sans timing chip, the water bottle I have in my left hand. I get to the first aid station, and fill it up with ice, then water. Somehow, my core temp is high enough that I can’t go faster than a walk. Ok, plans of finishing in 12:XX go out the window. Now, it’s just shuffle along as best I can, walking, and drinking ice water and getting the body temp down. The walking means that there is progress, the aid stations provide more ice, grapes, and some coke. Lots of other folks are in the same hurt locker, so it’s good to see that I’m not alone in my plight. Along the way I see DCTri-ers Ryan and Brad, both of whom are having a sufferfest day as well. As the body temp goes down, I jog when possible. The ratio goes from 1-20 (jog-to-run) to occasional quarter-mile bursts. At the finish of the first loop, I see Matt F., who’s having a grand time at the brewpub that’s right on the course barriers. High-five, then back to grinding it out.
On the second loop, the race becomes a math problem. That’s a good sign, because that means the heat isn’t addling me as much anymore. While I know that finishing in 13:00 is not possible, what about 13:30? Probably not. 14:00? Maybe. 14:30? Definitely. The sun is also starting to go down, which helps keep my body temperature stable. At the end of the second loop furthest from town, I finally fell ok. I vow to take a steady jog in. The jogging’s easy. I know it’s only 10k, and there’s nothing else I have to do after that. The pace quickens as I get closer to town, and I’m hitting 9 minute miles as I get back to the brewpub. Matt appears along side and we chat for a mile while he paces me for the last mile and a half. As I can see the lights of the oval, it’s time to put in a kick, and the fast-twitch system shows that it can still do it’s thing, and I cruise into the oval with no one around me. Turning the last corner into the finish straight, the lights are blinding and the noise is just a mass of screaming. I know that Mike Reilly is one of those voices, but as I run through the lights, I don’t hear him. I do know that I’m done, and after 13:58:38, it’s time to sit down.