Category Archives: Ironman

Why Run? #NationalRunningDay

 

“We are not a bunch of lunatic fitness freaks – we are everyday people who don’t think of what we can’t do, we think of what can do and then do it.  We are health minded people who like to run long distances.”  Jim Richards, Ultra Running Veteran 

 

When I finished playing professional baseball and began my transition into the endurance world I had never run more than 4 miles in my life.   I had spent my entire career training anaerobic and the thought of completing a 4 mile run seemed DIFFICULT, 6 miles DAUNTING, 13 miles EXCRUCIATING, 26 miles OVER THE TOP, 31 miles UNREALISTIC, 62 miles NOT POSSIBLE, 100 miles NOT HUMAN.

 

Exactly 5 years ago I started with a 4 mile run around the campus of University of Miami.   It’s now officially 5 years later and I basically haven’t stopped.  I slowly increased the time and distance of my runs to get to the point where I am today.  It’s that simple.

 

Through training, triathlon and individual running races, I have now completed countless half marathons, 7 marathons, 3 50k’s (31 miles) A 32.2 mile lap around Manhattan, a 48 mile Florida adventure run and a 62 mile (100k) ball buster.  I only wish more people would take advantage of the opportunity to experience the exhilaration, joy and mental clarity running has brought to my life.

 

In March of 2014 I finished my first ultra marathon, the “Way too Cool” 50k that featured 5,000 feet of elevation gain across crazy terrain including fallen trees, rocks and knee high creeks.  I immediately fell in love with the alternative running culture.  Imagine a very eclectic group of individuals with an extreme fascination for nature and exercise.   Add in a fiery competitive edge, an eternally optimistic vibe and a blatant disregard for what main stream society deems normal or even possible.  That to me is the ultra running community.

 

Ever since I got into the endurance world, there is a race that I keep reading and hearing about that has completely captivated me.  The Western States 100.  Originally this race was a horse race that started at Squaw Valley and covered 100 miles of the Western States Trail ending in Auburn, California.  The race features nearly 20,000 feet of elevation gain and 24,000 feet of descent.  Temperatures can range from temps in the 30’s over the summit to well over 100 degrees in the canyons.  In 1974, after his horse went lame, Gordy Ainsleigh was the first to attempt the race on foot.  The next year he returned to prove to his doubters that it was possible a human could run the 100 mile course within a 24 hour time period.  Gordy finished in 23 hours and 42 minutes.  More amazing is that he has continued to do the race every year since.  The “Western States” has now become known to be one of the most iconic and difficult endurance races in the world.  Every year about 1200 people qualify at other 100k and 100 mile races around the world, only 400 get in.

 

After I got my first taste of the ultra marathon world I knew I wanted more.  While checking into my first “Way Too Cool” I met a guy by the name of Jim Richards, a staple in the ultra community.  Jim was very helpful providing insight into a world that I knew very little about.  After the race we touched base and I explained to Jim that I had a goal to complete the Western States 100 and ideally do it in 2016, the same year of my 40th birthday.  Knowing there would be an arduous process involved, I needed direction.   Jim recommended several training runs and race options that could potentially dial me in to race Western States provided I was able to qualify and also find my way into the race.  To help get me more acquainted with the ultra community, via e mail, Jim introduced me to Julie Fingar, the race director of Way Too Cool, and Tia Bodington, the race director of the legendary Western States qualifier, “The Miwok 100k.”   I have done my best to pick both of their brains about all things ultra…

 

In November, after I finished my 6th Ironman in exactly a 3 year period,  I put the bike away, ditched the speedo and fully committed myself to the ultra marathon.  In December, I secured a spot into the Miwok and the training was officially on.  Looking at the result times of the 2014 Miwok was definitely an eye opening experience, basically I realized that I needed to somehow train myself to run for over 12 consecutive hours.  62 miles was intimidating but when you add in 11,800 ft of elevation the Miwok became flat out scary.  I had no choice but to attack this new challenge the same way I did playing baseball or racing Ironman Triathlon, work my ass off.

 

I figured 11,800 feet of climbing over the course of 62 miles roughly works out to 200 feet of elevation gain per mile.  Up and away I went… Every treadmill workout contained either a long steady hill climb or some sort of intense hill intervals.  I then took advantage of every opportunity to run some of the Bay Area’s best trails.  Windy Hill, Purisima Creek, Montera Mountain and the Dipsea were common training grounds.   While working spring training in Arizona I charged up Camelback Mountain daily and when I was in Florida I ran 48 miles from Tigers camp in Lakeland to Astros camp in Kissimmee.  I thoroughly enjoyed the organized Western States training run which covers the final 23 miles of the race.  I also had fun with several other “destination runs” that included running from Half Moon Bay to Palo Alto as well as the 32.2 mile trip around Manhattan.  Most importantly, I learned to LOVE running.  Time and miles were simply a result of enjoying the process.

 

I arrived at the Miwok start line in Stinson Beach at 4:55 am 5 minutes before the start.  I hopped in the middle of a swamp of head lamps and off we went.  The first part of the course is up the infamous Dipsea Trail.  Within the first 2 miles of the race we climbed nearly 2000 feet before heading back down the mountain and into Muir Beach where the first aid station was at the 8 mile mark.  I spent the entire first section of the race chatting up a school teacher from New York City and another dude from Maryland.  We were not even 1/10 of the way into the race and I had already talked more than I had in all of my Ironman Triathlons combined.

 

In order to get to the Muir Beach aid station we had to run across a bridge then backtrack over that same bridge.  I passed several runners going the opposite direction on the way in and then several runners on the way out.  I am not sure if there was a single runner that did not offer some sort of words of encouragement or at the very least flash a big smile on the way by.  The overall love filled energy of the Miwok was flat out like nothing I have ever experienced in any sort of race.

 

Every aid station was basically the same operation.  I walloped a PB&J, refilled my water bottle and electrolytes and was off.  Once I got my first glance of the Golden Gate Bridge at mile 17, I basically hit that runners high which helped me float all the way to the return to Muir Beach at mile 32.  Unquestionably that 15 mile stretch is one of the most beautifully epic trails in the world.  When I rolled through Tennessee Valley the second time at mile 26 my entire family was waiting with signs and hugs.  I was 4 hours and 20 minutes into the race, had a marathon and nearly 6,000 feet of climbing under my belt, I had barely broken a sweat.  A little different then when I thought I was going to pass out at mile 3 of my first run around the Miami campus a few years earlier.

 

I snapped a quick pic with the family and cruised.  It wasn’t until after the Muir Beach aid station when we headed up the back side of the Dipsea that I felt any sort of fatigue.   This was the first time I completely dried out both water bottles before reaching the next aid station at the top of the mountain.

 

The course then headed north on some pretty sweet trails that took us in and out of redwood trees and exposed hayfields high above the Pacific Ocean.  For the most part the majority of the day was overcast but once I got to mile 40 there was a thick fog that settled in only to be quickly replaced by clear skies and sunshine.  It seemed as if every corner I turned there was a different weather pattern that included a heavy drizzle or even a light rain at some point.  If there is a such thing as perfect running weather, this was it.   As I approached the aid station at mile 42, Bolinas Ridge, there was a sign that was made by the Half Moon Bay Coastside Runners Club that read “Man Imposes His Own Limitations.”   Franz Dill, who has run both the Miwok and Western States several times, has been a huge mentor of mine in the ultra world, and was manning the operation with his wife Jen and other Half Moon Bay runners.   Definitely was nice to see familiar faces.  Franz busted out an ice cold coke, offered a few more inspirational words and I was quickly back on the trail.

 

Pacers were allowed at mile 50 so I picked up my firefighter triathlete training partner in crime, Kyle Hamilton, at the Randall aid station.  When we immediately began the climb,  Kyle, in his typical aggressive nature, starting firing up the 15% grade hill.  Somehow he must have forgotten I had 50 miles and 10,000 of climbing in the books.  The last 12 miles hurt in every sense of the word.  I could physically feel blood blisters forming on my feet, my calves were tightening up, my quads felt like mashed potatoes and my hamstrings were basically spaghetti noodles.  We walked every incline and continued to run any flat area or downhill.  The final 2 miles were straight down and hurt worse than any uphill I encountered the entire day.  I must have tripped 10-15 times during the descent,  it was a small miracle I somehow stayed on my feet.

 

As we approached the finish, my 3 year old boy hopped onto the course, I hoisted him over my shoulders before crossing the finish line 11 hours and 49 minutes after the day had begun.   I finished 52 overall out of nearly 400 that started the race.  Although pleasantly surprised, I don’t think I have ever been less concerned with my race results.  This was simply about the awesome experience of the day.

 

The race officially qualified me for the 2016 Western States 100 mile endurance run.  The process of getting into the race is now a new challenge.  There is something about running that can be very exhilarating, calming and peaceful all at the same time.  I hope every capable person has already or will one day soon experience the euphoric two foot ride of their lives.

 

Regardless if your goal is to complete 1, 10, 50 or 100 miles.  My only piece of advice… Keep running! EB

 

 

 

 

Here are two very two compelling e mails I received from Jim Richards and Tia Bodington, the Miwok race director, that essentially laid out their purpose, passion and goals for the Miwok and ultra running community.  Basically, a few more reasons to run:)

 

Eric,
We always leave the trails cleaner than we found them – our sweeps pick up everything they see.
And many ultra runs do trail work – removing non-native invasive species plants, clearing trails that are used by all of fallen trees and other debris and donating to the maintenance funds of the organizations responsible for the trails.  We have volunteers at races who are not ultra runners – they like the people involved and the atmosphere – both are contagious.
And, the sport is one of adventure, individual effort and helping one another.  If someone goes down in the trail an army of runners stops to help them.  Yes we push ourselves beyond what most people would ever consider doing, but we survive and come back to do it again and again.
 We help each other on the trails and always celebrate after the run is done.  Anyone who has ridden the bus for a WSER Training Run will tell you it is like being back in high school – noisy, lots of jokes and everyone having a good time.  We are not a bunch of lunatic fitness freaks – we are everyday people who don’t think of what we can’t do, we think of what can do and then do it.  We are health minded people who like to run long distances
See you on the trails… Jim

 

I’m really excited you’re going to join us for a day on the trails, Eric. You will have a great time, and I think you’ll really enjoy the different kind of challenge that the 100K offers. Plus the views are gorgeous, and the volunteers and your fellow runners are amazing.
One of the things I’m focused on is helping ultra events be “green” – I’m getting an MBA right now with a focus on Sustainability and I put that into practice with Miwok by:
– recycling everything we can
– composting all the food scraps
– donating any leftover food
– only providing useful, running-specific items in the cloth goodie bags
– promoting carpooling
– having a cup-free race (no paper cups in the garbage)
Jim has been instrumental in putting those goals into action at the Miwok 100K.
I also look for ways to contribute to the community that the race takes place in, making sure that lodging and restaurants at Stinson Beach feel a positive effect from over 400 runners and their families/friends in town.
Finally, I believe in real, unprocessed foods and although we still consume things like Coca Cola at the race for its sugar, sodium and caffeine, we use as many simple foods as possible. I started a small non-profit last year that receives a portion of any proceeds left over from Miwok and we donate money to other non-profits that focus on teaching young children and their families about growing/buying and eating foods that are nutritious AND delicious instead of taking the fast food route..
We want the Miwok 100K to have a reputation as a sustainable race that creates a sense of community and pushes both the runners and the volunteers to challenge their assumptions about themselves, overcome obstacles, work together, and oh yeah, have a whole lot of fun while we’re at it!!
Phew, that’s a lot. I’ve never really written the race’s “mission statement” before, but I guess that’s what grad school does to ya’.
Looking forward to getting the Miwok party started. See you in May,
Tia
Tia Bodington, RD
Miwok 100K

 

#WhoNeedsAnRV?

 

When I originally received my Spring Training work schedule for MLB Network I was faced with a of couple challenges.   I was to going to have to leave home on the 8th of March and not return until the 26th.  My trip took me from San Francisco to NYC to Arizona back to NYC then to Florida before finally returning back to San Francisco.  My immediate 2 thoughts were that it is way too long of a time to be away from my family and how was I possibly going to be able to get in quality training sessions to prepare myself for an upcoming BEAST of a race, the Miwok 100k.  The course entails nearly 12,000 ft of elevation gain over 62 miles of hard core trails.

I quickly scheduled to have the family come out to NYC for a week and began brainstorming about creative ways to accomplish some long runs.   As I was dissecting the schedule I noticed that the first camp I worked in Florida was the Detroit Tigers, located in Lakeland.  The next camp was the Houston Astros, located 48 miles away in Kissimmee.  BOOM!  Why not run the 48 miles?  The solution to my problem just slapped me in the face and kicked me in the balls at the same time.

Immediately I began searching all sorts of route options.  Unfortunately, not one of them seemed appealing.  The best route took me south east from Lakeland on the US 92/17 and eventually north to Kissimmee.  There were various backroads involved as well.  I landed in Tampa on Saturday and right away headed out to scope the course I intended to run the next day.  What I found was essentially what I had seen on Google Maps and what I had expected, roads with no shoulders surrounded by swamp lands and speeding cars.  Was the run possible? Of course.  Was the run ideal? NO, not even close.

At the last minute, possibly because my wife Tarah was becoming overly concerned with the idea of the run, my family decided to accompany me on the trip to Florida.  Once the route was detailed, it confirmed both of our beliefs that the only way to get the run done in any sort of safe manner was to have her drive a support vehicle along the way.  We hit up the convenience store the night before and loaded up.  Smart waters, Gatorades, Muscle Milks, Cliff Bars, Chips, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and 4 Sierra Nevada’s for the finish.  Other prep items for the run included 3 pairs of socks, 3 shirts, 3 shorts, 3 hats, 2 pairs of shoes, a back pack, a mophie and 2 headlamps.

Because of my work schedule which had me arriving at Tigers camp at 7am and not finishing until 4pm, the earliest I was going to be able to take off running from Lakeland was 4:30pm.  That undoubtedly ensured there was no way I was going to finish before midnight.  I obviously realized the elements and logistics of the run were going to be extremely difficult but I never expected to endure each one to such an extreme magnitude.

The day started off with a blocking home plate demo with Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila.  Ironically, one of the most epic collisions I had in my career was with Avila in 2010.   I interviewed Brad Ausmus, Joe Nathan, David Price, and capped off the work day with a live talk back with the guys back at the MLB Network studio.  At that point I thought my day was done but I was then instructed to make sure I talked with Miguel Cabrera who had just played in his first spring training game following foot surgery.  I don’t like chasing guys down for interviews but knowing that I needed to get onto the road, I basically turned into a paparazzi reporter as soon as Miggy came off of the field.

The weather was my biggest pre run concern.   In the morning there was actually a ton of fog that did not burn off until game time.  The projected high was in the low 90’s with 90% humidity but because of the overcast morning and the breeze in the afternoon the temperature seemed bearable.  I was hoping the wind would continue until nightfall.  Wishful thinking.  Just about 4pm the breeze stopped and the humidity went through the roof.   I generally don’t do well at all in extremely hot conditions.  In baseball terms I am the Sulton of Sweat.  Losing key salts and electrolytes with my eternal buckets of perspiration make it very difficult to replenish at the same rate I am losing fluids.   The furthest I had ever run in my life was 31 miles.  I was not only going to ask my body to go nearly 19 miles further than it had gone before but I was going to do it on a fuel tank that was on the borderline of empty.

Right after the Cabrera interview I shot out to the “support vehicle” that Tarah was going to drive and Super Man changed into my initial running gear.  I fired out a tweet announcing my intentions of running from Lakeland to Kissimmee, then another one indicating that I was going to donate $100 to the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT’s) for every mile I was able to complete.  I then took a “launch video” right out in front of the Tigers stadium as I began mile 1.

I had sent Tarah the intended route and told her to meet me about 10 miles up the road for my first refuel.  The beginning mile was gorgeous.  I was able to run on quiet side streets by the stadium then along a path that wrapped around a gorgeous lake.  I then hit the highway and essentially had to run on swamp grass to avoid traffic.  Around mile 3, I was enjoying the scenery as the highway wrapped back around toward the lake when something caught my eye in the shallow area of the water.   A big ass alligator was bobbing his head up and down.  It was only the second alligator I had ever seen in my life and I guess you could say this was also my first big WTF moment of the journey.

A couple miles later I was running along what appeared to be old vacated warehouses and fenced in tire yards.  While passing one I heard frantic footsteps from behind me, then WHOOF WHOOF WHOOF!!!  I was so startled that I literally tripped and just about fell on my ass as two dogs jumped up against the fence in full attack mode.  I captured the dogs on video but the video doesn’t do it justice because the dogs had calmed down a ton by the time I was able to pull my phone out of the pack.  The next few miles were spent dodging traffic as if I were playing a real life version of Frogger.  I basically had to pick my poison.  Run on the concrete highway with a solid 8 inches of shoulder or run on the swampy terrain that was right next to what looked like a levy of water that the Incredible Gator could pop out of at any moment.  I watched enough of Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter,  to make me believe I had a much better chance against the gator as opposed to a car, truck or semi rolling at 70mph.

There was so much action going on that by the time I reached Tarah at mile 10 I didn’t even realize how much I was sweating.  My shirt and shorts were both sopping wet and I had no choice but to go for the early change.  The back of the SUV looked like something that belonged in some sort of designers magazine.  My alternate outfits were laid out perfectly.  All of my liquid and food options were very neatly displayed and set up for my easy choosing.  My wife was undoubtedly going for support vehicle of the year.  I quickly changed my shirt and shorts, grabbed a fresh water and gatorade then I was off.   Miles 10-15 in dry clothes made the journey more comfortable but the road conditions continued to deteriorate.  Small shoulders and any sort of sidewalk paths became non existent.  During miles 16-23 the sun began to set and orange groves dominated what I would describe as a gorgeous and somewhat euphoric setting.   At mile 20 there was even a dude hosing down the outside of a produce stand that obliged when I asked him for “a little love.”

Tarah was waiting at a gas station around mile 23.  Shady would be the word I would use to describe the atmosphere but I don’t feel as if it would do it justice.  There was one guy sitting on the bed of his truck looking at my wife as if he just got out of prison and hadn’t seen a female in 15 years.  There was another guy leaning up against the side of the car drinking a 40 of Old English and a third dude sitting on the curb smoking a joint.  I tried my best not to worry, judge or over analyze the situation but it was impossible.   We needed to get out of there in a hurry.

I put a towel around my waist and stripped down my disgustingly wet clothes.  The Prince of Perspiration struck again.  I then fired on my most breathable and shortest pair of shorts.  Ones that would make the old Dolphin shorts proud.   I finally realized I would be much better off and able to stay much cooler without a shirt and backpack strapped to my body.   I shoved my phone into the one small pocket on the backside of the shorts and then held a bottle of water in each hand.  I had lost so much fluid at this point I knew it was going to soon start taking its toll.  Without the pack I had no way to carry my nutrition or pills so I instructed Tarah to meet me every 2-3 miles wherever she could find a safe spot off of the main road.  Then, when I began running again I actually back pedaled the first 100 yards to make sure Tarah made a clean get away from the lions den.

With a fresh pair of shorts, no shirt and no pack you would think I would have been more comfortable at this point.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  I had lost so much fluid and was so incredibly depleted I was miserable.  I was light headed and basically every step between mile 23 and 30 was a struggle.  Not to mention the towns that I continued to run through were flat out sketchy.   On several different occasions the cat calls seemingly came from every direction… “Boy, you shouldn’t be running through this here neighborhood,”  “Look at this crazy white dude, what’s wrong with you?”  and “Run, Forrest, Run”  were three of my favorites.

After meeting Tarah at mile 27 she could tell I needed something and needed it fast.  When we met again at mile 30 she was waiting with a large pepperoni pizza.  Outside of our wedding day I cannot think of a time I was that excited to see her.  I went to town and mowed the entire pie within minutes.  I grabbed a coke and a water then immediately took off running again.  I was completely rejuvenated.

Once I passed mile 31 I entered unchartered territory.  I have run two 50k’s (31 mi) in my life but never before had I surpassed the 31 mile barrier.  Believe it or not, my easiest miles were actually 31-40.  The pepperoni pizza/coke combo dialed me in.  Just about any endurance athlete will tell you that coca-cola is an absolute savior when the tank is low.  The huge amounts of sugar and caffeine serve as a super turbo fuel source.

The temperature definitely cooled as the time and miles clicked off but the running conditions did not improve one bit.  There was one stretch in which I felt like I was running on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles and then another extended area on the Old Tampa Highway where I actually had to have Tarah drive behind me with her hazard lights on because the only shoulder was a gator infested swamp.  On at least 3 different occasions I shined my light into the swamp and witnessed sets of alligator eyes glowing outside of the water.

Somewhere around mile 40 as I ran past the Gatorade plant, barely noticing, because right beyond the plant there were 3 police cars lighting up the night.  I don’t know exactly what was going on but there was a guy cuffed and stuffed in the back of one of the cars and a 3 other dudes sitting on the curb handcuffed as well.  Seemed appropriate for the theme of the night.

As I was coming down the home stretch I was hurting and could barely look past 10 feet in front of me.  I saw something on the road so I veered to the left a bit then jumped my ass half way across the highway when I saw what it was.  Some sort of snake with some very interesting markings.  As I cautiously approached it I realized it wasn’t moving.  The tail looked like it had a rattle on it but I didn’t think rattle snakes existed in Florida.  The next day my wife sent me a picture of the exact same snake.  The picture was on a caution sign inside a gator farm saying “Beware of Rattle Snakes.”

The final 4 plus miles were run through the streets of downtown Kissimmee then along a path on the side of the highway before rolling up to the gates of the Houston Astros facility.   According to my Garmin the total distance was 48.12 miles.  The total time was 8 hours 15 minutes and 37 seconds.  I got into endurance sports 4 years ago.  Since then I have completed 6 full distance Ironman Triathlons and two ultra marathons.  Of all of the crazy endurance challenges I have done in my life, considering all of the elements, this quite possibly was the most difficult.  The weather, the traffic, the roads, the swamps, the gators, the snake and the backwoods Florida towns made it a wild, wild, wild freaking experience.  Looking forward to next spring and figuring out WHAT’S NEXT?  #WhoNeedsAnRV? EB

 

The Worlds Toughest Ironman? Ironman Lake Tahoe Race Recap

Over 2700 people signed up for the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe with hopes and dreams of crossing the finish line at Squaw Valley with legendary announcer Mike Riley calling their name followed by the declaration… “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”… Unfortunately for just about 40% of the original entrants that never happened… Many never made it to the start line because of below freezing temperatures while others made an attempt but simply just couldn’t pull it off for a variety of reasons… Several athletes were actually pulled out of the water or decided to shut it down after the first loop of the swim course… Visibility was an issue because of steam coming off of the water and chop left over from the storm the day before, making swim conditions rough toward the middle of the lake… On the bike, there were actually busses that needed to be sent out to pick up athletes because so many people met their Ironman fate on the brutally hilly course… Many participants who were lucky enough to make it to the marathon eventually fell victim to night fall, rapidly decreasing temperatures and/or the eventual the 17 hour cut off…

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spent many summer and winter days with the family in Lake Tahoe… I grew up on the slopes skiing in between my Dad’s legs when I was 2 years old… During the summer, water skiing, jet skiing and cliff diving were family rituals…   I actually even learned to surf on the lake with my feet locked in by two wind surfing straps Dad had drilled into the board,  years before wake boarding ever existed…

No doubt Lake Tahoe has always been somewhat of a sacred place for me, so when I heard Ironman was going to be coming it was a no brainer… I was in!  Apparently 2700 other people had similar feelings because within 20 minutes of opening online registration, the race sold out.

I completed my first triathlon in late 2010 following a challenge from 3 childhood friends.  Problem was I didn’t know how to swim, the only bike I owned was a beach cruiser, and my tri kit consisted of board shorts and a t-shirt.  Needless to say I was totally clueless, but I absolutely fell in love with the sport… A year later in November of 2011, I completed my first IM (Ironman) in Arizona.  I then went on to finish 2 more IM’s (NYC, AZ) in 2012… With 3 under my belt I understood what I as in for,  but I also knew that with the altitude, elevation gains, and the potential for inclement weather,  this was going to be an entirely different animal… I was right.

The course included two 1.2 mile swim loops at Kings Beach in Lake Tahoe followed by a two and a half loop bike course through Tahoe City, Truckee, Martis Camp, Northstar then up over the 267 “Brockway” summit, back to Kings Beach and eventually ending at Squaw Valley 112 miles later… The run took us from Squaw Valley to Tahoe City then back to Squaw for a fly by the finish line tease only to head back out for another 8 miles completing the marathon and 140.6 mile day back at Squaw Village… The official elevation profile on the Ironman website for the bike was 6,550 feet of elevation gain and 653 feet for the run… Although several people (including myself) measured the gains at well over 7,500 for the bike course and 1000 feet for the run… Ultimately, does it really matter? Ironmans were not meant to be easy.

On Saturday, the day before the race, I got up at 5 am and headed to the swim start at Kings Beach thinking I was going to jump into the water to for a short swim session… By the time the sun came up, a storm was in the process of moving in and by 6:40 am, exactly 24 hours before the race. there were 3 foot waves in the lake… I then headed to Squaw to meet my 3 munchkins for the IronKids race which was a very cool event, the kids absolutely ate it up!  Not long after the race was over the torrential wind and rain officially shut down the expo… By the time I got back to my house, which is literally located on the bike course, it looked like a very standard Lake Tahoe Christmas… My kids were in the back yard building Frosty, having snow ball fights and asking Daddy where their sled was?!?! Not surprisingly talks of Ironman canceling the race spread quickly.

When I went to bed at 9pm Saturday night I had no idea wether or not we were going to race…  The below freezing temperatures and potential ice on the roads became a major concern… I got up at 4:30am, fired down a bannana, two packets of instant oatmeal then filled up my coffee cup and headed to my early morning “office” with my cup of JOE and the open package of coffee grinds that I held under my nose helping build up the explosion that was about to take place in the toilet… I followed up the session with a race day trick that has yet to fail me, two imodium tablets to clog the pipes for the rest of the day…

When I got into the family conversion van at 5:30am the temperature read 27 degrees… I picked up my race/training compadre, Team Firefighter captain Kyle Hamilton, on the way down to Kings Beach still not knowing our racing fate… When we got out at about 6 am to drop off our water bottles on the bike we got word everything was on as scheduled, meaning a 6:40 rolling start for the age-groupers… It was on! Now the question was ‘how was I going to stay warm?’… I reverted back to my baseball days, whenever I would play a game in cold weather I would lather up my ENTIRE body in a super hot lubricant nick named “The Cheese”… Think Bengay multiplied by 10… The day before at the expo I found a lube called “DZ Nuts.” (No Joke)  It wasn’t quite the same strength as the queso, but definitely had some kick… Generally, I would avoid covering the groin region but figuring temperatures were in the 20’s and I was about to jump into lake water in the 50’s, extreme conditions called form extreme measures…

The pro cannon went off at 6:30 and that was our cue to hightail it out of the heated van and to the start line…  The “rolling” start consisted of several groups beginning with the self seeded sub 1 hour swimmers… I jumped the fence where the 1 hr to 1:10 group was situated… As I settled in waiting for the age group cannon to go off, I quickly realized “DZ Nuts” were on fire!!! I was now profusely sweating and practically foaming at the mouth…   I needed water… Thankfully I spotted a spectator holding a half full water bottle… I literally  grabbed it out of his hand then guzzled the entire thing… In case you are reading this, sorry dude!  “BOOM” the age group cannon fired away…

The first 50 yards of the swim were very shallow and filled with all sorts of sand bars that essentially made swimming impossible… Every Ironman that I have done in the past I have had some sort of euphoric experience that generally happened towards the latter stages of the bike or at some point during the marathon… This time, that experience happened as soon as I crossed the timing mat… Maybe it had to do with the fact I began skipping in the water which for whatever reason brought out my more sensitive and emotional side? Very tough to describe but I essentially become completely entranced by the snow topped mountains and steam rising from the water… Everything became quiet, all of the noise around me and the other swimmers became non existent… As soon as the water was deep enough I took one final big skip and dove in head first… The immediate ice cream head ache woke me up from LA LA land and the reality of the 140.6 miles that lied ahead set in…

The steam made it very difficult to see anything so my only focus was the next yellow buoy… The first row of buoys to follow were yellow and the turn buoy was red… I swam along side the yellow buoys keeping anyone in a kayak or on a stand up paddle board to my left… I felt like I had been swimming for awhile and still had not found the red buoy to make the turn, thats when I realized I was about to swim into cross traffic… I had followed the yellow buoys but missed the red turn buoy… As much as I wanted to keep going and blend in with the rest of the swimmers, which I could have very easily done, I had to go back… I figured I didn’t get to the starting line of my 4th Ironman by cutting corners and I wasn’t about to start…

I essentially had to swim about 100 yards to go back around the red buoy and then another 100 to get back to where I was…  I was swimming the complete opposite direction of traffic and did my best to avoid head-on collisions, it was kind of like playing Frogger in the water… I eventually made it back on the correct course completing the first lap in 36 minutes… I was not thrilled with the time but considering my Magellan route I wasn’t about to complain… I then hammered out the second 1.2 mile loop in 32 minutes completing the entire swim in 1:08… My expectations for the 2.4 mile swim were anywhere between 1:02 and 1:10 depending on the conditions and my questionable navigational ability… Not surprised at all that my watch read 2.8 miles!

When I got out of the water it was awesome to see the tremendous crowd support along the beach including my Mom, sister, Aunt Claudia, Aunt Cathy and Uncle Mike, and of course my wife Tarah and her two best friends “Cole Cole” and “Amanda Panda” all standing at the waters edge … It definitely helped me forget how freaking cold it was outside… I headed up to transition, grabbed my bike gear bag and then went into the changing tent to do my best Clark Kent impersonation… The tent was packed so instead of trying to find a place inside the tent, or a chair to sit on, I just peeled down right at the entrance… Usually I would have worn my tri shorts underneath the wetsuit but because of the cold I wanted to keep every thing dry and decided to go commando… I could probably think of better times to expose myself considering the natural shrinkage elements…

I geared up with my tri shorts and top and then covered that up with my tight black long underwear I generally wear under my ski gear… I topped that off with a wind breaking jacket, full booties covering my shoes and gloves that I could have comfortably built a snow man in… The last thing was the beanie on the head and I was off… I got about 50 yards away from the tent and just as I was digging myself after what I thought was a pretty good transition, some guy from the crowd chimed in… “Dude, where’s your helmet?” S%$#! Back tracking was becoming an all too common theme of this race so far… I sprinted back to the tent, barging through the other triathletes like a frantic maniac as if I literally lost my head… Before I was eventually on my bike I had spent over 10 minutes in transition… My boy Mike Breen who also competed and finished, later asked me if I was checking football scores…

Although my hands and feet were numb for the first 2 hours of the ride, the good part about spending the appropriate amount of time in transition was that I was able to gear up and was actually very comfortable on the bike despite starting temperatures in the 20’s and 30’s… I had ridden the course several times and planned to manage my effort by using my power meter… Overall I wanted to average 230 watts for the ride… I figured if I stayed between 210 and 220 on the flats and around 260 on the hills I should come in around the 230 number… Of course, like most races I have done in the past, my ego kicks in when some yahoo passes me on the bike, and generally the watt plans go out the window… Although I figured if I rode each 45 mile loop in 2 hours and 30 minutes I would leave myself an hour to finish the last 22 mostly flat miles to Squaw Valley in order to achieve my under 6 hour bike goal… Unfortunately, I got into a pissing contest on Highway 89 and finished the first loop in 2:24 averaging 255 watts…  I quickly realized if I wanted to run the entire marathon I was going to have to scale it back…

All seemed to be going well but then I hit about mile 70 of the bike… I actually started to enter a pretty dark place… My legs felt overly fatigued, my neck was starting to get sore from the extended amount of time in aero bars, and I still had 42 miles to go including the most difficult part of the bike course… Oh, and there was this little 26.2 mile run that awaited me at the completion of the bike… I quickly refocused on the process and simply put all my attention on continuing to move forward with smooth, clean peddle strokes… I then got a HUGE recharge when I rode by my house climbing through Martis… My entire family, including my 3 kids, were out front ringing cow bells, blowing horns and holding signs… I am usually very uncomfortable riding my bike with no hands but I could not help throwing both arms in the air to salute their support… It is amazing how that sort of encouragement can take me from thinking “this is the last Ironman I will ever do” to the thought process of “when is the next one!” I finished the second loop in 2:36 putting me right back where I had hoped to be, at 5 hrs with 22 flat miles to go…

I eventually pulled into Squaw with a bike split of 5 hours and 58 minutes but I was not feeling great… I could only hope that I did not burn too many candles on the first lap… Regardless of how I managed my watts on the bike I was hurting and the notion of running a marathon at this point seemed ridiculous… I did just about all of my long training runs on the IMLT course so I knew exactly what to expect, problem was I had no idea how my legs were going to respond after a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike with gnarly elevation gains…

I had done all of the training runs of 18 miles or more between an 8:30 and 9 min pace… To be conservative I figured I would be about 1 minute per mile slower based on fatigue so I went into the run with the goal of running 9:30 to 10 min miles… I came off of the bike running very comfortably at an 8:30 pace for the first two miles which were mostly flat and a bit down hill… The 3rd mile took us back uphill and around the Squaw Creek resort, thats when I knew I was going to slow down… 10 min/mile… The next mile was downhill so I went back to around 8:30 then followed it up with a mostly uphill 10 min mile when we hit Highway 89… All the way out to Tahoe City I was clocking 9-10 min/mile running slightly up hill and against the Truckee river flowing the other direction…

When I made the turn around I was hoping to get faster running “down river” as I had during my training runs but that did not happen… My legs continued to get heavier and heavier as the miles piled up… My goal was to make it to mile 16 then I would dip into the reserve gasoline… Coca-Cola! In my last Ironman, between miles 10-16, my splits dropped off significantly… I finally decided to go for a Coke at the aid station as a move of desperation and what I experienced after that was a game changer… My thoughts became clear, my legs all of a sudden felt fresh and most importantly my pace picked up big time and I actually negative split the last 10 miles… So when I finally got to mile 16, pure bliss awaited me and I guzzled down the soda… Every mile after that I was like a crack addict looking for his next fix… My times did not improve but they also did not fall off and considering what I had put my body through since 6:40am I was not about to complain as the sun began to set… Coming up on mile 25 I felt great… I am not sure if it was the Coke, the fact that I did not over exert myself at any point during the run or simply because the finish line was 1 mile away… I came into the Squaw Village and spotted my sister holding Pat Tillman’s #40 Arizona Cardinal jersey over the rail… For all of my IM’s she has been there to pass me the jersey which I have pridefully have made my Ironman finishing tradition…  11 hours 37 minutes and 5 seconds after the race had begun I crossed the finish line with Pat Tillman’s jersey flying high completing my 4th Ironman triathlon… I was 155th out of the original 2700 to finish and 22nd out of 270 in my age group… My first 3 Ironman’s I finished in 11:09, 10:45 and 10:24… I was 1 hour and 14 minutes slower than my personal best yet it was by far the highest I have placed overall and in my age group…

 

I can go out on a training run and it feels like it is almost impossible for me to go any  slower than a 9 min mile… My last half marathon I completed took 1 hour and 26 minutes, 6:36 per mile… My last 5k, I finished in 18 minutes clocking 5:50 miles… My marathon time was 4 hours and 14 minutes which equates to 9:41/mile… That is the amazing thing about Ironman… Several times when I have been feeling good and was thinking I am moving along nicely, I have looked down at my watch only to find out I was running an 11 minute mile!

My wife Tarah, and 3 kids, Chloe 4, Cali 3, and Colton 2, were waiting just across the finish line and I literally fell into their arms… I then looked back into the snow filled mountains and could have sworn I saw my Dad with a big ass grin on his face… When I first got into triathlon and everybody thought I was nuts for wanting to do an Ironman it was my Dad who encouraged what others perceived as insanity… Shoot, I even questioned myself! His explanation was very simple though… He felt that the challenge of IM would help me transition away from baseball and into the next phase of my life as a father, husband and broadcaster while maintaining the physical and psychological discipline and structure which I had become accustomed to and essentially needed since my childhood…  The passion and drive that he and my Mom instilled in me throughout the course of my life is what continues to bring me to the start line… I now relish the opportunity to set an example and pass those same traits on to my children…  My Dad passed away just months before I finished my first Ironman less than 2 years ago… I feel like he has been right there with me for every single one of them…

I want to give some love to a good buddy Rob Dean, who I convinced to sign up for IMLT, despite never completing a triathlon before he began the IM journey…  He finished in 14:55 and I am sure cursed me the entire way! Mike Breen, another good friend and IM mentor of mine, grinded out a 13 hour effort despite being 6’7 and for one of the few times in his life probably had his height work against him on the hilly course… Kyle Hamilton, aka “THE JOCKEY,” my right hand man who went from facebook stalker to my BTP, “best training partner.” The little man turned in just over a 12 hour day and actually beat me on the marathon, apparently it helps weigh 140 pounds! Ritch Viola, and the other team members of the most kick ass age group tri team out there, “Every Man Jack”…  Appreciate you dudes letting me hop in on some training sessions… Ritch was the age group champion and finished in 9:36 15th overall…

I want to thank Matt Dixon for his IMLT plan that helped me finish the race feeling sexy and Frank Sole from Sole Swim Solutions who since I first got into triathlon is solely (no pun intended) responsible for me not drowning in the water! I want to acknowledge all of my fellow Ironman Foundation team members… We spent Thursday before the race out at “Butt Rock Beach” on the North shore of Lake Tahoe picking up trash in an ongoing effort to “Keep Tahoe Blue”…  Of course put a bunch of triathletes on the job and we ended up turning it into a trash collecting competition that I no doubt ran away with:) Dave Deschenes, the executive director of the Ironman Foundation and our team head honcho, handed over a check afterwards for several thousand dollars to the “Keep Tahoe Blue” organization… #TriTeamForGood Kokua!

In Ironman, each race has its own personality, difficulties and challenges… Statistically there has never been a harder Ironman than the inaugural Lake Tahoe… While many people may avoid a race with an average finish time of well over 14 hours  (basically an hour slower than any other Ironman)  believe me when I tell you, I cant wait to do it again! See you at the start line… EB