Monday, April 22, 2013

An Ironman From A Different Perspective - You Gotta Hear His Story!

Some races go great and some don't go as planned.  You read my recap from my Ironman where I had a PR now hear another perspective. 

Iron Man South Africa – Race Recap by Michael Ratner

Iron Man South Africa has been a “bucket list” race for me since South Africa became part of the Iron Man race circuit nine years ago. Since completing Iron Man Texas in May last year and feeling great about my accomplishment and time, I thought the timing was perfect to sign up for the IM SA in April this year.

Johannesburg South Africa is a 17-hour flight from DC and DC is 5 hours from Vegas, so do the math…many hours on a plane!! IM SA has always been staged in Port Elizabeth on the Eastern coast of South Africa so when we arrived in Johannesburg we weren’t done traveling yet; we still had a 1-½ hour flight down to PE. We arrived a few days before the race to acclimate somewhat and to swim, ride and run parts of the course. We also had to register, to check our bikes in the day before and do the usual running around getting last minute items for the race. All to quickly race day arrived so I followed all the usual pre-race preparations I have been doing for sometime now so going into the race, I felt good about how things were going.

The Swim Start
On the morning of the race we arrived early so we were assured of a relaxed and calm race preparation; loading nutrition on the bikes, last minute rechecks of the transition bags and to suit up in our wet suits. Standing on the beach with 1700 other athletes, watching the sunrise and listening to my countries national anthem was a keepsake memory that I will remember for a long time. A real cannon is fired to start the race and BOOM! it sent 1700 A-Type personality individuals running into the ocean surf, everybody was hell bent on rounding  the first buoy and as a result, rush hour traffic caused everyone to stop swimming and ease their way around the buoy but once past this first turn, we started to space out and I managed to get into a rhythm. The ocean was quite calm but swells sometimes caused sighting to be a bit of a problem but the “follow the Champaign bubbles” rule helped in these instances. The swim was a 2 loop circuit so a surf exit was soon upon me and wading through the surf and running onto the beach was something I hadn’t done in a full IM event. The run along the beach wasn’t very far but it was through thick sand and a bit slow going but soon it was back into the surf for lap 2. I felt good and wasn’t worried about time or place…this is just the first of 3 legs so “keep clam and carry on” was the mantra!
Lap 2 was uneventful and soon I was running up the stairs headed to T2, crossed the matt at 1:14:38 and onto grab the bike bag and onto the tent to change. The tent was very full so we were all stripping on the lawn and doing the transition thing. I did forget to use some of my special “seat” goop to make the ride more comfortable, but not catastrophic although after 100 miles you do want some comfort and anti rubbing going on down there.

Onto the bike leg! 3 loops of a relatively flat course through farmland, suburbia and beachfront made for a scenic ride but the wind was an unknown since PE is notorious for unpredictable weather conditions. Luckily it wasn’t very windy and I was budgeting about 5 ½  - 6 hours for bike leg. My budget for nutrition was about 250-300 calories per hour, I had to consume anything between 1400 and 1800 calories while on the bike. I was carrying my aero bottle and 2 bottles in my cages, each with 300 calories; my bento box had 4 gels and 3 cliff bars for a total of 700 calories. All said and done I had 1600 calories on my bike. My special needs bag had a frozen bottle with 300 calories and a frozen Muscle Milk at 230 calories so I confident I had sufficient calories for my bike adventure.
I knew Cyndee was ahead of me since she’s a stronger swimmer than I am so I was keeping a sharp look out for her on the way to the first turn around and sure enough there she was, about 5 minutes ahead of me. Things were going well…for a while. Slowly but surely I was starting to feel weak and although I was drinking and eating on a regular basis, in fact I had stayed on track to consume a bottle and a gel every hour. By the 3rd loop I had fallen back off Cyndee’s pace by 11 minutes and I was feeling faint, intermittent cramping in my quads and generally feeling like crap. My special needs bag had a cold muscle milk that I was hoping would revive me but even though I chugged it, I didn’t feel any better. Oh well, it was looking like it was going to be a long day at the office. Finally made it to T2 and crossed the timing matt at 5:50:20 and wasn’t looking forward to the run!

Cyndee had described an Iron Man she did where she suffered extreme emotional swings throughout the event and unless you actually experience it, it’s hard to imagine what she was describing. Throughout the run I experienced such big swings at such short intervals I was beginning to think I was bipolar! When I was running I was running a decent pace but then I had to shut it down and walk…ugh!  Cyndee and I passed each other on the run on 2 occasions, each time we stopped briefly and hugged and each time I told her I didn’t think I was going to make it and each time she told me to keep going, be strong and stay tough.  I nearly quit on one occasion when an official race vehicle pulled up to pick up a runner who was bailing…so close to stepping off the course but something kept me going. My marathon time for Texas was 4:21:23; I finally crossed the finish line with a 5:08:58 run and an overall time of 12:23:07. My next stop was the medical tent where everything checked out ok but jeeeze I felt terrible

Iron Man South Africa was a great experience and I don’t regret racing this race but I was disappointed that I travelled so far and spent so much money to race the race and didn’t PR. On reflection, I’m extremely grateful I was even able to accomplish something like this and had the resources to do it. I am also grateful to have a girlfriend that trained me so well and made sure I was ready to race. Things go awry for reasons we sometimes cant explain, and its times like this that we are faced with finishing what we set out to do no matter what. I’m glad I didn’t quit, I’m glad I crossed the finish line, collected the bling and shirt..  A few days later I was wright as rain but mentally I’m still reeling.

See you at Iron Man Coeur d’Alene June 23rd…Maybe!!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My South African Race Adventure

At the bike drop off the day before the race

I originally got into triathlons for the competition and to stay healthy and fit.  I now find myself racing in some really great places and it has become such a great adventure. I recently went to Port Elizabeth, South Africa to compete in the Ironman.  It was a long way to travel but it was the race of a lifetime.  I got to experience racing in such a beautiful part of the world and racing amongst people from all over the world.  I finished in 11hours and 18 minutes, which placed me 7th in my age group.  That was the best time for me in any of the 6 other Ironman events I have raced. It was also the highest placing I have had.  Just as a frame of reference my worst time in an Ironman was at Ironman St. George with an overall time of 13:41 and my previous best time was in Texas with an overall time of 11:41.  South Africa was a great day for me.  This was the first time I have raced in a full Ironman that was an ocean swim.  I have swum in many oceans but not for the 2.4-mile distance.  We were swimming in the Indian Ocean for this race and the temperature was a bit chilly at about 66 degrees.  We had to do two loops of the swim course coming out of the water after completing one loop running in the sand and then you have to start loop two.  I have had to do this once before in another IM race.  The two loops combined with a beach start made for a very congested swim.  It was very hard to get a rhythm and difficult to avoid getting hit or kicked both of which happened to me.  I exited the swim a few minutes ahead of my predicted time, however I took a few extra minutes in transition.  I was out of the water in 1:07 and on my bike by 1:15.  I was very cold for the first 10 miles of the bike.  The bike was somewhat flat with some small hills.  We had a headwind for about 25 miles of the course, which meant there wouldn’t be any record-breaking times for the bike.  We had three loops of the course, which also make it a bit congested on the bike.  I wanted to avoid pushing too hard on the bike and surging past people was definitely something I wanted to avoid. This can be very taxing on your body and energy and make for a difficult run.  It was hard though to avoid surging especially on the first loop because of the amount of people.  Many times someone would pass me only to slow down in front of me and then I would either have to re-pass or slow down.  You don’t have many options and in many cases I held myself back which in the end was the best thing that I could have done.  The previous year in Texas I opted for a very different strategy and it made for a tough run.  In Texas I pushed too hard on a course with a strong headwind. It left me drained for the run.  I was determined not to let that happen here.  I had to ride smart and hope it would pay off on the run.  The only negative thing about this race was the road conditions. They were probably some of the worst I have had to ride on. They were so rough your entire body vibrated for most of the ride.  I finished the ride in 5hours and 39 minutes.  It was not my fastest bike (5:35 is my best bike time in an IM), but I felt pretty good as I came off the bike.  My nutrition on the bike was right on target.  I used most of my Carbo Pro mix, took 3 gels, had one Cliff bar, and one Muscle Milk.  This is pretty much my plan and it has worked great for me. I do the Muscle Milk about 50-70 miles into the bike. It is a delicious treat when you are out there so long.  During an Ironman you have so much time to think about everything.  People often ask me what I am thinking about during a race like this.  Here are a few things that crossed my mind while on that 112-mile bike ride:

·      The road was so bad I thought about a former client of mine Terry Medenhall who passed away a few years ago.  Terry owned Las Vegas Paving and I thought, “Terry would be disgusted with the condition of this road.” 
·      As we rode past the ocean I was amazed at the beauty of the place I was racing in.
·      The bike course was 3 laps so I broke it down in my head and tried to think about our training at home.  We usually ride from Albertsons to 160 and back approximately 31 miles.  Each loop of this course was about 37.  So after each loop I would think just another loop to 160 and back.  You have done this 100’s of times no biggy!
·      My boyfriend was right behind me and I knew this because at the turnaround I could see him. I had to pee but I didn’t because I didn’t want him to pass me.  I kept wondering each time how far behind he was until I would see him at the turnaround.  
·      My watch vibrates on the bike every 5 miles giving me a split time. So that is only 22 times it has to do that.  I kept track of how many more times it had to vibrate.
·      At the halfway point only 56 more miles just a half ironman no problem!
·      I hope I don’t get a flat, I hope I don’t get a flat, I hope I don’t get a flat………

When I finished the bike it was one of the best feelings of the day!  I was so glad to be off that stupid bike! I quickly went into the changing tent with my run transition bag.  I changed my shorts put on a long sleeve shirt to prevent getting sunburnt and to stay warm in case I was out there into the evening.  I finally used the bathroom and at this point I did not know how close my boyfriend was to me.  The last time I saw him was about 15 miles ago and he had fallen a little bit further behind me on the bike.  I figured I would see his position while out on the run course since we had three loops of this course to run.  So here I go with my mental breakdown.  I had 26.2 miles to run. My watch vibrates each mile so that means I only need to feel 26 vibrations of my wrist. That doesn’t seem so bad. When I was a few miles into the run I got my first wristband each time we pass that same point we get another.  The first one was blue, then a red one, and the last one was white.  The second best feeling of the day was getting my white wristband! 
My medal and 3 wrist bands
I always start running off the bike way too fast. I was very aware of my pace off the bike and tried not to run too fast.  I felt pretty good and was keeping about 8:00-9:00 min/mile pace for the first 5 miles.  When I got to mile 6 on the run I was thinking that my longest training run was 20 miles and that was what I had left to do.  My 20-mile training run was tough and I didn’t ride 112 miles before it and swim 2.4 miles before it.  I thought that if I kept a sub 10 minute pace I could do it in less than 3 hours.  Not so bad considering it had already been an 8-hour day.  So I plugged along through the run.  I was wearing my usual pink socks, pink visor and I also had bright pink shoes on.  I had my favorite Lululemon running shorts on. People were commenting on my outfit all throughout the run. Some said they loved my shorts and others yelled go pink! I loved it all because the best part of racing is the spectators!  There were several miles with lots of people cheering and then there was a long stretch that was lonely.  That was the tough part of the run.  I finally had made it to 20 vibrations on my watch, which meant I only had 6.2 miles to go.  I have a 6.5-mile loop near my house I run on a regular basis so I started running that in my mind. I was with my dog Daisy and we have run this loop many times.  This was the longest 6.2 miles of my life; it seemed to drag on forever.  Most of the 6.5 miles was through the lonely part of the course.  At about mile 25.5 I had 3 girls pass me.  I had no idea what place I was in and they didn’t do any body marking in this race so I had no idea if these women were in my age group.  I only knew (by looking to see how many wrist bands they had) they were on there last loop.  I had to finish before them so I picked up the pace to what felt like a sprint for the last .75-mile.  I finally made it to the finish and was thrilled that my time was 23 minutes better than any other Ironman I had done.  Finishing the race was by far the BEST feeling of the day!  My run was the best-run time in an Ironman that I have ever had.  I ran most of the course walking only through the aid stations.  I wish I could say I did something really different that made for a great race but mostly what I did right was follow the advice I give everyone else.  I took in adequate nutrition and fluids, was well hydrated going into the race and I paced myself on the bike and beginning portion of the run.  I knew I had time to wait for my boyfriend so I went to the massage tent. I got a rub down on my legs and waited for Michael to cross the finish line.  I knew he was having a tough run because I saw him several times on the run course. We hugged a few times and I encouraged him to stay with it. I knew he wanted to quit and I had been there many times before.  I figured he would be 60-90 minutes behind me so I waited by the exit.  I finally saw him and he was stumbling hardly able to stand up.  We walked a little and I encouraged him to sit down.  He refused and finally two volunteers helped me convince him to go to the medical tent.  He remained there for a short time threw up and was discharged.  It is hard to know why one race is so great and yet another can go so badly. We talked about what he did that made him feel so lousy but we will never know for sure what went wrong.  This was only his 2nd Ironman and he felt really great after his first one finishing about 40 minutes faster than South Africa.  He finished in 12:22 at this race, which is really great but not as good as he had hoped for.  Each race is a learning experience and sometimes the races that don’t go as planned teach you the most.  You learn how to race better next time and you also learn how to stay strong when the going gets tough.