Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Race Report

The morning of the race, my wife wakes me up, she hasn't been able to sleep.  I slept like a rock.  I remember falling asleep what feels like seconds ago.  For some reason the lights aren't working, infact... nothing is working.  We look around the room and there is no sign of power anywhere.  So I look outside the room and our city view is dark.  Great.  No big deal, but seriously?  What a strange way to start out.  I get ready for the day by iPhone light, my wife holds the phone so I can see.  at this point getting ready seems automatic, I've packed and dropped off everything, and have rehearsed every second of this day a thousand times in my mind.  We talk a little about how the day will go, confirm meeting points, and head downstairs for breakfast, by iPhone light.  The entire hotel and surrounding area is black, and there is nobody around.  Wait, nobody around?  We look for food and the trays are empty, no other people... what's going on!  that's when I realize i'm up an hour earlier than we planned because of the time zone difference and leaving Dena's phone on airplane mode.  Awesome!  Trudging back upstairs, by iPhone light, and i can think of a million different better ways this day can be going already!!
Giant Race Map in the Expo.  Photo with a scuba advertisement
I try to go to sleep again but never really go down.  We had woken up at 2:30 am.  the race starts in 4.5 hours.  The race, oh yeah, that day is finally here.  It feels unbelievable, like it's not really true and somehow I am still dreaming.  Such a cool story to be part of, I can barely believe God is doing this in my life.  It's really amazing.  Of all the places in the world to do an Ironman this has got to be one of the most beautiful.  My mind races with the race plan from the days and months before.  I think of the time I was in the expo, the course map, the wind conditions and weather.  I am ready, my mind and body are so ready that I am to the point now of being annoyed at every moment that goes by that I am not racing.
I want to go I want to start I want to swim and I can't take another moment!!  Finally after what feels like hours, the hotel power comes back on and 15 minutes later we head down for real breakfast.  My wife wakes up and eats with me even though she dosn't have to leave the hotel for several hours still.  My buss leaves at 4:30 and I am anxious to get on it.  The ride to the event is quiet, but buzzing.  Everyone is excited to get started.  Jeff and I get there early, and for good reason I'll find out later.
T1 looking at swim start.  Amazing place
to do a race.

just a small fraction of the people lined up for the race.
We tripple check our bike and equipment, people take photo's and laugh at the 15 gell packs I have taped to my bike haha.  Maybe excessive but whatever!  Fill the tires with air.  You have to let it out the night before or the heat of the day will cause them to burst.  I had no idea till the night before.  I sheepishly ask for a bike pump from somebody with a $3000 TREK bike, everyone is happy and in a great mood.  I've never seen so many people in such a good mood!  There are 50 porta-potties and easily 25 people in line for each one, it's amazing.  And we got here early.  I do my morning routine, and hop in line at the dock.  We are easilly within the first 25 people in line.  it feels surreal, it's finally here, and in the moment it feels like my entire life has been for this single day.  Certainly the majority of the last life changing 6 months has been for this day that I have talked about and wished about and prayed about and made new friends about and it's finally here.  They drop the rope and we start walking in.  Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds fill the docks.  We move right up through the cheering people, so many people, and hop in the water.  Jeff takes me to a great spot under the dock, where there is a fence outside dolphin pens, this place is usually a swim with dolphin spot and so we play with flipper for a few minutes while we wait.  people keep jumping in, above and around us.  Jeff and I say our good-bye's just seconds before the gun goes off, see you on the other side stud.  You're a rock-star.  The gun fires and everybody takes off.  I hold back and take a few deep breaths... this is actually happening i say to myself... let go of the fence, fix goggles, lower swim cap, start swimming.  it feels good.  natural.  easy. I know i could go so much faster but i have to keep cool and level headed.  This is going to be a long day.  It's just a long workout day i tell myself. 

I have never been in the water with so many people before.  It felt strange and spooky the day before during the practice swim, but today it feels fine. I keep running into people from behind, swimming around them.  I didn't think i would be the one constantly passing but for the whole swim, that's what happened.  Passing people, getting off course and running into them.  Like salmon swimming up stream, we all are just going in approximately the same direction with the same goal... those blue stairs 2.4 miles away.  People run into me and just keep swimming, it's amazing.  I keep to the outside whenever I feel like breast stroking for a while, mostly I feel bad when there are people around me.  We make the first turn and i can't believe it happened already.  That was fast.  The turn is physical, people are confused, grabbing the buoys, one guy calls for a boat.  I swim on.  The second leg is fast.  The current is with us and it's lightning fast.  I duck my head and just swim.  I watch the sea floor streak past.  I realize I can't hear anything, this is the first time I've worn a swim cap and it feels like I am invincible with it on.  I can't hear, so I just focus on the movements, over and over, repeating the same stroke as the ocean pushes me on, it want's me there almost as much as I want to be there.  The water is my ally, until the second turn.

Amazing photo!!  Seriously!!
The second turn leaves just a little distance to get back to the starting point and the wonderful blue stairs.  but for some reason, the ocean hates me now.  I swim and don't seem to move.  Just making the corner I find myself somehow pushed all the way to the outside about 50 yards off the turn buoy.  What?  Whatever, i duck my head and see the most fantastic coral below me.  The water is just 20 feet deep here and I get to watch the coral now, before there was only sand.  But the coral doesn't move.  The current, I realize, is against me now, as it was the first leg, but I didn't care because I was excited and fresh.  Now I have to kick it into a new gear just to make forward progress.  Fine, I feel good and the stairs are close, thought i can't see them yet, I kick it up and push.  Pushing harder feels so good... I understand how people can over do it in these races... Everything inside you just want's out, the energy just wants to go, to be released.  It takes so much mental energy just to keep it in.  I am passing people almost constantly now.  I notice when i am getting close to someone's heels because suddenly it get's easier to swim.  This must be what drafting feels like.  Suddenly, the stairs come into sight, and I kick it into the fastest gear I have.  I love the look of those stairs now, I look to my right just intime to see my fantastic wife, brother, and sister in law on the cliffs just off the swim area!  They grab a fantastic shot of me swimming.  Up the stairs, i pull off my goggles and stuff them into my swim cap.

Coming out of the water, pulling off the swim cap and suddenly being able to hear feels like being born.  Suddenly I hear what has always been going on.  The cheers, the crowd yelling, so loud compared to the quiet of the swim.  My heart-rate spikes, I know not because i have a HR monitor, but because I can feel my heart beating in every part of my body like a surge, but it's fast, so fast.  I remember Patty's advice, chill out when you come out of the water.  So I resist the urge to run.  I calmly look around for my family and throw out a peace sign to them before moving on.  I walk to the showers, and take my time there too, breathing slowly, just thankful that I can breath whenever and however I want too.  My breath has kept rhythm with my movements for the last 90 minutes and it feels good to be out of the water.  I really can't believe how quickly the swim was though, i remember training 90 minute swims felt like an eternity, but this felt like moments.  Other people are skipping the showers.  This is my race.  I head to T1 and realize I forgot a towel.  laugh at myself and grab the table cloth off the Gatorade table.  everybody laughs and I dry off.  On with the bike shorts, jersey and shoes, carful of sand, loving my body glide, taking my time getting my bike.  I spend 22 minutes in T1 and I am not even sorry.  :)

I grab my bike and click on the GPS watch I borrowed from Vanessa  Thanks V the Fantastic.   I know exactly where the bike is because I put it there, and I dreamed about it last night... wow, last night seems like an eternity ago.  actually this morning feels like ages ago!!  How is the swim over already!!??  I hear my family cheering as I approach the exit to T1, stop over and give my wife a big kiss.  My brother is there looking like a giant, impossible to miss because is is always 8 inches taller than everybody else.  That's him in the green!  His wife Sarah against the palm tree.  Seriously glad they were there like rock-stars.
The day would have been significantly less awesome had they not been there.  Thinking about them during the swim and the bike and the run were what kept me busy.  I don't know how people do this kind of thing without stuff to think about like family and friends.  I could never have gotten to where I am, actually competing in an Ironman without God, family, and friends.  Thank you everybody who was awesome enough to help me along this journey.  I definitely had many great thoughts of you throughout the day.

Me and Jackie Arendt.  Stay tuned
she is a pro-women's athlete, who finished
with a time of 9:44.  She will be guest
writing for the blog in the future.
I hop on the bike and head out.  Still quite wet, but no big deal.  I look down at my 15 gel packs taped to the bike, and laugh again at myself.  I got to talk to one of the pro athletes at the mandatory meeting and got her contact info.  She thought I was INSANE for going couch to ironman in 6 months.  haha, I do too.  The bike feels great, if you asked me at that moment, I would have told you that except for being wet, it didn't even feel like I had gone for a swim that day.  I felt totally fresh, partly because I usually only swim with my arms, but also because of the crowd support and the family support   One look at my family and bam I could have swam another 2.4 in the blink of an eye.  GPS watch still doesn't know where I am.  I powered it on last night to make sure it found me, played with the settings for hours just like Vanessa said i would haha.  How she got to know me so well in such a short time I may never know...  Fully charged and ready to go I just need it to find me and tell me how fast I am going.... finally it clicks over and tells me i am at 22mph.  !!  What?  I was holding back for the first few miles, going easy until I found my groove, how am i going at 22??  whatever I roll with it and keep easy spinning at 20-22 mph laughing all the way!  HA HA HAAA!!

The bike course is three laps, each lap is basically broken into three sections.  I named and created them myself.  I call the first section the jungle ride.  It's great, there is no real wind, and if there is it could be considered a light tailwind.  But there isn't much to look at, it's basically a perfectly straight road right through the jungle.  this chunk is about 13 miles.  The second chunk is what I call the beach ride.  It is beautiful beyond imagining!!  the coast and the beach is right there, less than 100 yards from where you are riding!  With little hammocks and bars and stuff to look at, and also picture perfect scenes of cliffs and beaches, really amazing.  buuuuuuuuut.  the problem with the beach ride, is this TERRIBLE AND TOTALLY SUCKY HEAD WIND!  the course description said it was a cross wind??  BS.  it's right in your face at about 25mph the entire time.  AND the weather report from the night before was totally wrong.  the winds were gusting as much as 30 mph.  I turned a slight corner out of the jungle ride and WHAM!  I was struggling to keep a a speed above 13mph!  Dear oh dear!!  This was almost panic time for me after about an hour of this, I was prepared to kick it up a notch or two but didn't want to do so on the first lap!!  i decided to just keep my effort level consistant like i did in training and see how I was time wise after lap one.  This turns out to be a decision that saved my race.  If i had pushed too early on the bike, I would have been wiped out by lap three.  Thanks again Patty and Brian for your great advice.  Section three of the bike I call the city ride, and it is terrific.   It starts with the most blessed corner God ever made, which turns you away from the coast and makes the head wind into a tail wind, followed by an immediate aid station.  Through the whole bike, I took a gel every 30 minutes, and something else every hour, either half a cliff bar or whatever else i could get my hands on.  Turns out the cliff bar was the only thing I ate other then gel's on the bike.  The city takes you through three different concert spots, each blasting music and surrounded by people shouting SI-SE-PUEDA!!  (meaning you can do it!! apparently)

This is me the day before the race.
Just checking in my bike and getting
my race numbers!!  see the gel packs?
Lap 2 of the bike started good.  I was satisfied with my time for lap one and so kept the same level of exertion for lap 2.  It got nasty when the cliff bar made me feel bloated, and I dreaded going through the damn winds again, but pushed through this time knowing that relieve was coming when I got to what i called salvation corner!  I ended up with great bike times, for me.  I slowed down a bit each loop by about 1 mph.  My final bike time was EXACTLY what I wanted it to be within minutes.  I was off the bike by 4:07 in the afternoon when I was shooting for 4.  I know I was pissed about the 7 minutes too!  The biggest issue I ran into was my bike shoes!!  They gave me lots of trouble throughout training on every long ride, digging into my feet on the sides, and this ride was no different!!  I should have gotten different shoes but chose to be stubborn  which is typical behavior for me.  I ended up ditching the socks completely (which was AWESOME!)  and still had to take a 5 minute break each loop to massage my feet.All things considered, I made some great friends, found some gears I didn't know I had in both the swim and the bike, and could not wrap my head around the fact that there was still a marathon to run.  I spent the entire third loop trying to convince myself that I would be able to do it and couldn't.  I ended up deciding agreeing to disagree with myself and simply digging in my heels and saying 'I will not quit'.  This was the only option since I was unable to convince myself that the marathon was in-fact, going to happen.  I ended up drinking about 48oz of water between each aid station, which worked out to be about every 15 miles, or every hour.  

T2 came and I got giant high-fives from all my family, this is really a boost I can not describe with words. Seeing everyone there was like a breath of fresh air.  I took my time in T2 and believe it or not, putting on those sneakers felt really really good.  By the time I stood up (sitting is so awesome) I felt strong again, ready to go and take on the world (just never wanted to see my bike again).  I am off to do the first of six 4 mile legs.  I break it down to four mile chunks in my brain so my head doesn't explode.  But strangely enough, this running thing isn't hard.  I thought it would be really tough after the swim and the bike, but it's not bad at all, again i feel fresh!  It's the most bizar thing when your body is telling you one thing but your mind is saying no, that can't be possible.  It felt GREAT!  Like I was the piolet of a ship called my body that was unstoppable!!

First leg of the run is over with an average of 11:44 min mile.  Great.  Feels amazing, I am eating bananas and Gatorade  and water and all systems are go.  There are all these strange things at the aid stations like oranges and things that I never thought of eating, and although tempted I was for variety, I stuck with my plan.  Sick and tired of gels and banana's I chowed down every 30 minutes alternating between the two.  As I walk/ran, i pondered the events of the day, and though the sun was setting, and i had been outside all day, the swim might as well have been another life!  It felt like ages ago, like a distant memory from my childhood, and at the same moment, just second ago I was climbing out of the water.  I can hardly believe the day is already so close to over.  The second loop of the run is just like the first, like every other run ive been on, the routine is basically unaffected by the fact that i had already swam and biked that day.  My body didn't seem to care.  Even my knee which had been such a pain in the tail after mile 7 on almost ever run I had ever been on was just not a problem!  Everything was green go and keep on trucking, until lap three.

16 miles into the run, things started to break down.  My knee started hurting, which I really couldn't complain, at least it wasn't mile 7.   My stomach got queazy  and my body starting acting weird   I couldn't stop peeing!!  The running felt like I was running through sludge and My walk speed dropped from 15min/mile to 21min/mile.  I was hurting, but honestly when you only have 8 miles left after a day like this, you just don't care about anything, you just are too excited.  I make the agonizing decision to run the last mile, then change my mind and decide to run the last half mile, then change my mind and decide to run the last quarter.  People are cheering with glow sticks and yelling, and then you have to run.  As I round the corner for the finish everything goes into slow motion.  I hear the announces saying my name and my home country, he yells the signature "Aaron you are an ironman!!" I run down the blue carpet, I can hear every heart beat, every breath, is like music.  I can't describe the feeling you get as every single person looks at you.  cheers for you, for those few seconds, it seems like the entire world only cares about you.  

I cross the line, and first thank God, then kiss my wife, there is my brother, 8 inches above everyone else.  What an amazing day.  They give me a towel and this giant heavy metal, that says ironman Cozumel finisher.  Somebody asks me if I need recovery or medical... I don't think i answered but just staggered forward.  Somebody hands me Gatorade, I drink it.  There is pizza and i eat two slices.  Somebody hands me a cup of noodles... mmmmmm.... I really do love food......  I end up getting lost and having to retrace my steps.  I take an ice bath inside the recovery area, get a finisher T-shirt, and a massage.  My family finds me and we all talk and walk together.

Can someone go from the couch to the Ironman in just 6 months?  Hell yes.  Is it worth it?  double hell yes.  How do you do it?  I'll say the same thing a hundred people have said before me.  You have to set a goal, make a plan, and then follow it based on your schedule not based on your feelings.  Have a great reason for doing it in the first place, and let that momentum carry you through the boring hard parts.  Tell everyone you know what you are doing, and feed off both the positivity and the negativity you get back.  Let the cheerleaders cheer for you, and let the neg-heads bug you into success.   Carry as many people along with you as possible, family, friends, coworkers, everybody.  And once you get to the top of the mountain, and you finally turn back around to see where you came from.  Enjoy the view.  You will be just as astonished as everyone else at what you have accomplished.   The first step is to dream big, the kind of dream that breaks boundaries.  If somebody isn't telling you your crazy, you need a bigger dream!!

I really cannot thank enough all the people that went down this road with me, my family, my friends both old and new, my co-workers and business partners.  All of you played a huge part in my success and I can not wait to continue this party called life with all of you in the future.  This is far from the end of the blog, stay tuned for the next crazy dream and the crazy story of how you can make if happen in your life too.  I have some idea's on what to do next, you'll have to stay tuned to hear about them.   Check out the facebook photo's section form more photo's of the event.  Link is on the right :)

I would like to end this very long entry with one tiny piece of advice.  If there is something eating at you that you have always wanted to do, you gotta go do it.  If there is some big dream you've been putting on the back burner, it's time to turn up the heat.  Don't ask yourself what the world needs, that won't get you anywhere.  Instead ask yourself what makes you come TRULY ALIVE, and do that!  because what the world needs are people, who have become truly alive.

My brother and his wife Sarah.  Rock-stars.

The view from our first Hotel room.  The second was even better!