Monthly Archives: October 2013

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