Does the extinguished candle care about the darkness?
Ironman St. George race report 2012
I swear this is not a return to blogging.
I also understand that, based on the time delay between the event and this post, that anyone who has any interest in triathlons and/or triathletes is already well aware of what took place in St. George, Utah, on that hot and windy day on the 5th of May in the year of my lard 2012 (or is it year of our lord, I get those mixed up).
Truth is, I had no intention of even writing this race report at all. But after completing what I felt was the perfect training plan (for me, at this time) I feel that I must offer up something, anything to convey just what happened over those 140.6 miles that may explain my finish time. I’m not trying to make excuses BUT I have excuses. Lots of them. And for possibly the first time ever, nothing was my fault. I trained hard, was healthy and ready to race (which actually implies that everything was my fault).
I must say that this part of the country is beautiful and if you ever find yourself in St. George I would recommend you make the drive to Mt. Zion National Park. It’s visually stunning but I cannot recommend going the day before an Ironman or you will be quick to notice a large gap between your bladder capacity and the number of restrooms in the park. Technically it’s not public urination if the park ranger doesn’t see you.
The following took place between 7:00AM and 10:23PM on Saturday May 5th, 2012:
After swimming my ass off for the last 4 months, I was absolutely positive that St. George would be my best Ironman swim to date. I fully expected to finish the swim in under 1:15 and more likely closer to 1:10. The lake was warmer than previous years and as we waited for the starting cannon to sound, the conditions could not have been better. The race starts promptly at 7:00, I take off and all is perfect. No issues with getting my ass kicked by other swimmers, I was breathing just fine, form was good and life was awesome… Until 7:15.
Just as we made the first left turn on the course, the winds picked up – and they picked up fast. Within (what seemed) seconds the conditions went from perfect to dangerous out there. I’m told the wind was 40mph and that these gusts created 5-foot waves but all I know is that there were times during those next 90 minutes that I wasn’t sure I would make the swim cut off or even make it out of the water.
The smaller buoys were hidden behind waves, the larger buoys were blown off course, the volunteers did the best they could even though they were trying to just to hang on and help whomever they could. Some panicked, some abandoned their own race to help others (heroes), some held onto buoys waiting for rescue and some finished. When it was over, 1352 of the 1432 athletes that entered the water managed to exit the water and continue their race. Of these, no one had a “good” swim and unless your name is Laird Hamilton there was nothing about that lake that was fun. In fact, even Laird might have said, “Screw it, I’m going home to hang with the wife (have you seen this lucky bastard’s wife?).”
Once out of the water, all I wanted to do was get on my bike and put as much distance between me and that body of water as possible. T1 was crazy and was reminiscent of a scene from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” as grown men in tears had to be calmed by volunteers. Some athletes were sick, some shaking, some were pissed and ranting to anyone who would listen, and some just sat looking forward with blank stares. Yup, a makeshift psychiatric ward or the spelling bee finals for victims of turrets syndrome or my high school prom, you pick.
Once on the bike I did some simple math (the only kind I know) and figured I still had a shot at my sub-14 hour finish time goal. After all, Mother Nature just beat the crap out of us in the water; she certainly would feel some remorse and give us free passage on the bike, right? Nope. Turns out Mother Nature is quite the bitter bitch and she “rewarded” those who finished the swim with a steady headwind for the entire day.
Interesting fact about this bike course is it’s basically a desert. A hilly desert that, with no wind, would take the average cyclist 7 hours to navigate the 112 miles. But when you add 40mph winds & heat to the equation, the day was nothing but a tanning session in a sand blaster. If you’re lucky, you go numb, keep moving forward and hope your bike seat will have mercy on your ass.
I heard that one of the professional triathletes was actually blown over on the bike course which, in my opinion, serves that skinny fu*ker right. I certainly was in no danger of being blown over as I lugged my awesome plumpness up 9,000 feet of elevation gain. Oh, and my disc-wheel-envy is officially over.
Revelation 01 - Brothers and sisters, I have been to the mountain top (twice on this course, actually, thanks to that stupid loop) and I have seen the light. Over the years I have heard rumor of athletes “relieving” themselves on the bike. When I asked my coach about this she was quick to make sure that I understood it was only applicable to making pee-pee and that going #2 was not okay (yes, she felt the need to explain that) and that yes, peeing on the bike was not unusual. Even with the green light from coach I wasn’t sure I could pull it off (it’s a stage fright thing) but at mile 30 I decided to take this whole triathlete thing to a whole new level.
Turns out I’m a natural. In fact, I might be a Jedi Knight Pee Master. Before the day was over, I had relieved myself on numerous occasions and actually gotten pretty good at it. It was a very liberating experience. A very warm liberating experience. To those unfortunate few who might have been behind me during the deluge: sorry, but if you weren’t drafting it wouldn’t have been a problem.
Funny story, evidently my bike seat took offense to me pissing on it and decided to dole out some punishment of its own. The next day, I had chaffing scabs in the shape of my bike seat on my ass. I’ll save you the horror of sharing a photo but I do know that most of you reading this could identify the brand of bike seat by looking at my bare ass. Awesome.
When it was over, the difficult course, coupled with the wind and the heat, robbed another 269 athletes of their Ironman finish on this day.
By the time I started the run I was still in a position to reach my goal if I could only manage a 4:30 marathon. Yes, I can see you rolling your eyes and I now realize that the fact that I even thought I had a chance is an indication that I was suffering the signs of heat stroke. My run started with a solid sub 9-minute miles, so things were looking up. This breakneck pace lasted for about…… 9 minutes.
The run course, although “easier” than the previous year, was all slight uphill or slight downhill, and even with the early evening start time it was still hot. Even so, I managed to run at an “okay” pace and with the exception of a slow stretch that may have caused some to think I was a statue, I waddled through the run.
Observation 01 – During the mandatory athletes meeting, the Race Director stated that sponges would be on the course but they would not reuse them for hygiene reasons. Funny, I think I can speak for all triathletes that a race that allows one to dig deep into a vat of Vaseline, THEN apply said product down your pants to relieve chaffing, THEN at the very same aid station grab a handful of chips with the same hand, that the hygienic bar has been lowered just a bit.
In the darkest hours of the day, mentally and literally (I finished in the dark again) I latched onto the solace of the song lyrics by the great poet laureate Sir David Eric Grohl (you know, the dude from Nirvana and the Foo Fighters) and his words were taken on loan as my mantra during the final hours of my day.
I'm hanging on
here until I'm gone
I'm right where I belong
just hanging on
Mother Nature won on this day. She claimed another 61 athletes over those final 26.2 miles and all I really managed to do was hang on to finish… Right where I belong.
You see, we are all nothing more than natural disasters. We are the fire and the landscape it destroys and much like the hills scorched and blackened by the flames we grow back stronger, greener, lusher and more beautiful than ever. Ultimately the day was nothing more than a controlled burn. A chance to incinerate all we’ve established and built up to see if we are who we say we are when we look in the mirror. A moment in time that we’re allowed to be selfish and stand up to the elements thinking we could actually win, face our fears, our insecurities and shortcomings. A day when these shortcomings may be all you have left to hang on to. When you’ve put yourself out there and given all you have for all to see and in those final moments, as you make your way down that finishers chute, you realize that it’s the people who waited who control those final moments of your journey, for it is them, not you, who provide the energy to finish. We literally float across the finish line, lifted by the spectators and for that moment in time, for that one second, we are more than ourselves. We are greater than the sum of our parts. We’re that person we’ve always wanted to be. We are heroes, champions, winners and gods, if only for a split second in time… A stupid, wonderful microsecond of time.
You’re alive. Prove it.
All the best - Ron