A huge thanks to my wife Virginia for supporting me through this endeavor. Being pregnant and managing a 2 year old was not easy when I was training 15+ hours a week. Also a thanks to my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and their kids for cheering me on throughout the race. I could not have done this without all your support.
About a year ago I raced in and completed my first Ironman race. It was one of the most challenging things I have done and probably will ever do. For those who do not know, and Ironman distance triathlon is the pinnacle of multi-sport, the longest and most grueling version of an already difficult contest. The race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a full 26.2 mile marathon. All said and done, 140.6 miles in one day.
Each race has it’s own specific difficulty and with close to 4000 feet of elevation gain on the bike and over 1000 feet on the run, the Vineman Triathlon is no slouch when it comes to difficulty. Lucky for me I was training in 90+ temperatures so though some were complaining of the high if 82, I was ready to go! I’ve already written about my twenty weeks of training for the race so I will start with the arrival at the hotel through the finish line.
Arrival in Santa Rosa
On Thursday, July 23rd in the evening, we arrived in Santa Rosa and checked into our room at the Marriott. Upon walking into our room I noticed the distinct smell of marijuana and we were immediately upgraded to a different and much large room (Thanks Residence Life). After check-in we met the family and settled in for the night. Friday would start the race prep.
Friday, the Day Before
Friday morning started out with a brisk tune up ride through Santa Rosa. Just thirty minutes to keep the legs nice and loose.
Next it was prep time for all of my race nutrition. The one thing you do not see that much on timelines is the massive amount of planning that goes into proper nutrition during an Ironman. Over the course of 140.6 miles, you’ve got to eat, drink, and take enough supplements to that you can avoid the dreaded BONK and finish strong.
It took me about three years to figure this out but thanks to my friends at Hammer Nutrition, I finally got on a good plan. I basically take all of their supplement and electrolyte pills. An hour before the race began and each hour thereafter I averaged 5 supplement pills. Depending on which hour it was in a three-hour cycle, the mix of pills would vary and this is the cycle that works well for me on long training days. In addition I would eat a GU gel (Blackberry with caffeine) each hour, totaling 15 gel packs in a day. It got kind of rough.
Specifically on the ride, I had two water bottles at all times. The first was a 24oz filled just with water that I refilled every 2 hours on the bike. The second was a 28oz that had a double serving of Hammer Perpetuem Strawberry that would last four hours. This mix would be made a second time halfway through the bike. I also ate a Hammer bar at the start of the bike and at the halfway point.
On the run, I would drink at every mile marker table, and carry with me a tablet version of Perpetuem or “Solids” as they call them and eat one every 20 minutes (These are chalky and very rough to chew but totally worth it). This food, if you choose to call it that, allowed me to avoid anything they offered at the assistance tables so that I wouldn’t cause tummy problems late in the race (It happens, always stick to your plan).
You may be thinking, that is a ridiculous amount of supplies, how did you carry it all? Well, in an Ironman race, since it is so long (At least for me), you can pack a bike assistance bag and a run assistance bag in advance. The bike bag would be left for you at the 55 mile marker and I packed it with my second half supplies, sunscreen, and new bike tire tubes just in case. My run bag, which I could stop at when I began each of the three run loops, had two full water bottles, supplements, new socks, baby powder, sunscreen, and Vaseline. These assistance bags were glorious!
All totaled, I likely consumed close to 3500 calories and 350 ounces of water during this race. Seems like a lot but it is nowhere near what I burned and sweated off over 14 hours. Ok, that was a long aside but totally important so now onto the rest of race prep.
After getting packed it was time for my Dad, Sherpa extraordinaire, and I to go on an adventure.
First stop was Windsor High, the main site of the race where I could do packet pickup and set up my run transition area. Since this was my first Ironman, I didn’t realize how serious they were about you knowing what was going on. After standing in line for twenty minutes waiting to get my packet, I learned that I could not have it unless I sat through a half hour orientation. So off we went to orientation. Sat through it, didn’t learn anything new, but got my yellow X that allowed me to get my packet and bags.
After checking in I and getting my run transition ready we were off on a course charting car ride. First we drove out to Johnson Beach where the swim and bike transition would take place in the morning. This gave me a good idea on timing for arrival, where to park, and the look of the river in which we would be swimming.
Next it was time to drive the first loop of the 112-mile bike ride. I felt like this was important since I would spend the majority of my time on the bike. This decision proved fruitful right away because we missed the hard right turn down basically an alley at mile 5. That would have been bad on race day. The rest of the drive was relatively uneventful if not scenic with a quick stop to check out Chalk Hill Road, the largest climb (Elevation gain 385 feet) that I would hit at miles 45 and 100.
When we got back to the Windsor high school I decided to forgo driving the 5-mile connection road back to the 2nd loop and go back to the hotel. This almost proved to be a very bad decision (More on that later).
Finally, it was time to head back to the hotel, check into my separate hotel room, eat some Clif Bars for dinner, and get to bed early (Like 7am early). Luckily, unlike other races I slept well, so thankful for that.
3AM Saturday Morning, RACE DAY!
Though it seems early, 3am had and continues to be a normal wakeup time for me and probably most Ironman triathletes. I woke up, ate my normal spoonful of peanut butter, a Clif Bar, and had a cup of coffee from my portable Keurig. I took the “Don’t add anything new to your routine” advice pretty seriously. Next I finished packing up my two assistance bags and the rest of my swim and bike gear and hopped in the car with my dad for the drive to Johnson’s Beach.
We arrived about an hour before race time, which gave me more than enough wiggle room to get my bike transition all set up, and pee 75 times (I get nervous). I dropped off my assistance bags, donned my wetsuit and it was time to race!
The 2.4-Mile Swim AKA “Wait, I can just stand up?”
Twenty weeks and really three years had been leading up to this moment. It was time to see if I could become an Ironman. I was in the first wave at 6:30am with the elite racers (Whom I would never see again, just sayin). Though I can safely say that for the first three minutes of the race, I was keeping pace in the front of the pack!
I waded into the water and waited. Finally, the gun went off and it was time to swim.
Like my other races, I waited 30 seconds to let all the competitive people go so that I could avoid getting kicked in the face. While this helped initially, the course was so narrow that getting kicked in the head, neck, body, and legs, was all but inevitable during the eighty minute swim, but oh well.
This swim course was two loops with the second loop ending a bit before the beginning at an exit corral. I got into my rhythm quickly but it was broken up periodically by the shallow river. At points, the river got so shallow that I was raking the ground with my hands. At the far end of the loop people were even standing up since it was too difficult to swim. Admittedly this was a little strange and led to minor calf cramping but I powered through.
2.4-miles is close to 4000 meters or 80 laps in a pool so things get boring pretty quick. Also swimming in open water requires you to pay a lot more attention lest you add to your swim by going in a zigzag. There are also no water or supplements to be had so you just need to get it done.
I’ll be honest this was the part of the race for which I was most prepared as I tend to overdo it on the swim training. The shallow water and my inability to swim straight made things a little difficult but I took down that swim with little issue in 1:23:40, only 2 minutes off my goal time!
I trudged out of the water feeling pretty good and got caught in picture and video by my brother, Evan, who had arrived to see me complete that portion of the race. After that he got really into the day and we had some fun interactions over the course of the race. Now it was time for the bike!
Transition #1: Swim to Bike
I will say it now and always, I suck at taking off wetsuits. It’s not really something I can practice and I was not on board with someone ripping it off of me. Oh well, after fighting my suit off and downing some water and a GU gel. I tossed on my Rutgers cycling kit over my tri-suit for some additional butt padding and I was off. Taking some awesome advice from a volunteer I walked my bike up the initial steep hill so I had flat road on which to clip in. After that it was 112 miles to the run.
The 112 Mile Bike AKA “Please God No Flat Tires”
As I mentioned before, my brother really got into this race once I left the water. At first I complained about the car in this picture below until I realized that was him driving behind me until I hit the 5-mile alley turn. I didn’t miss that turn and the first set of hills and then settled into my race. The course was beautiful. Almost every few miles we would come across another vineyard. Some riders even dismounted to take photos (I did not, not a chance). Really the first 2-3 hours were my time to get settled, lower my heart rate, and shovel in some much needed nutrition.
At around hour three I hit the first pass through Chalk Hill Road, the largest hill at an elevation gain of 385. I had been training on hills ranging from 300-700 so the first pass through this hill was not too bad, the second time though…
After Chalk Hill it was all downhill back to Windsor. I was flying down the much nicer roads trying so hard to hit my 3:45 split, that I tore by my entire family with only a wave. And they were all ready with signs and everything.
Now, I thought they would be closer to the halfway point but I admit I did see them about a quarter mile out; I just wasn’t going to stop with so much momentum behind me. Do I regret that now, yeah. Would I go back and stop if given the chance…probably not. It’s all about the timing chip y’all.
Anyway I reached the halfway point and stopped to restock my gels and water bottles. So far no flats but I grabbed my extra tire tubes anyway. After a few minutes there I was off on the last 56 miles of the bike.
You remember that I mentioned the choice to skip driving the 5-mile connection to loop number 2? Well this was the reckoning. At this point the riders were spread out and I was practically alone for this stretch. For the whole 5 miles, there were no signs, no arrows, no volunteers, and only one rider about a mile behind me. This is where I encountered the real challenge of Ironman, the voices inside your own head. “You can’t do this, you’re too weak, just quit…” Well this time the voices were screaming, “You went the wrong way, you’re lost, that guy shouldn’t be following you”. Hearing that for 20 minutes of riding gets tough and I almost pulled up and stopped on some random bridge to turn around but then, in the distance, I saw the road come to a T and decided to see where that would take me. I was elated to see a right turn arrow on the road just at the T and knew I was going the correct way, voices be damned!
Again things settled in for a few hours until the real test, Chalk Hill Road pass #2. This was mile 100 and I could feel the downhill stretch calling my name. I was feeling good so those voices urged me to push hard up that hill. “This is your chance to pass a bunch of people,” they said. And I listened. I fought my way up that hill, passing rider after rider until I crested the top. Super proud I sat down to catch my breath and then….CRAMP!!!
It was mile 100, what the hell was I thinking! This cramp was on the inside of my right thigh and got worse with every rotation of my pedals. There was nothing I could do but stop, get off the bike, and massage it out. Luckily I had a few emergency salt pills and downed those with half a bottle of water. Sadly, all those people I passed victoriously sailed by probably thinking “What an idiot”.
A few minutes later I was able to gingerly mount my bike and continue on my way. The final twelve miles were relatively uneventful. All I wanted was to get off that damn bike and start my Marathon. I made it back to the high school with no more incidents and hit my goal time on the bike at 7:30:10!
Current amount of time in motion: 8 hours and 53 minutes. Yeah, it was 2:30 in the afternoon. Just a reminder, the race began at 6:30am, just some perspective. Now onto the final transition! Oh and by the way, NO FLATS!!!!
Transition #1: Bike to Run
This transition was a bit weird. You had to dismount a significant distance away from the transition zone and run, in cycling shoes, to your stuff. I took the 10 seconds and removed my shoes to avoid slipping and maybe cramping from that awkward walk. My feet did not like that but it was my only option. My family was around again and got to see me fly into this transition, my dad and brother even got photos and video of me coming though and getting ready for the Marathon.
I stripped off my Rutgers kit and was finally down to the bare bones. Tri-suit, shoes, hat, and race belt. It was time for the final 26.2
The Marathon AKA “No Way In Hell I’m Getting a Glow Necklace”
Loop #1: I’m feeling good!
All that stood between me and Ironman glory was 26.2 miles of running. No big deal. The run course of the Vineman consisted of three ~8.75 mile loops and about 1200 feet of elevation gain mostly set in miles 3 and 4 of each loop. That final hill was brutal…just brutal. I started out pretty strong logging my first mile at around 9 minutes but as I came past mile 3, I hit the hills. It was at this point on my first loop that my mile time crossed into the 10 minutes zone and climbed each time I hit those hills. For the first loop I was doing pretty well with nutrition. The GU gels were getting old and my Perpetuem solids were not too chalky just yet. I was very thirsty though and I was drinking 1-2 cups of water at every mile marker. The 82 degree heat didn’t help much either.
Anyway, as I approached the high school, my family was there waiting to cheer me on. My nephews Owen and Ari ran with me when they could.
I hit the first loop marker at 1:34:15, a bit faster than goal pace and I was still feeling pretty good. Stopping at the aid tent for my aid bag, I restocked, drank some water, applied Vaseline where it was needed, and changed my socks. Then I was off on lap number two.
Loop #2: Pit Stops Galore
My issue on the second lap, aside from the hills knocking my mile time over 11 minutes, was over hydration. I had consumed way too much water on that first lap and damn did I have to pee. Often. This was unpleasant but at least there were Porto potties at every mile marker. I used almost every single one on this lap. I tried to dial back the water and added ice to my hat to deal with the heat but the damage was already done. Stopping to pee every 10 minutes really makes it hard to get into a rhythm.
Once I hit those mile 3 and 4 hills I knew I couldn’t keep running anymore. I had to start cycling in a walking minute. I began doing 9 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking which seemed to help. But I was starting to feel the pain of the day take on a life of its own.
There was one thing that pushed me on this lap. The race rules stated that if you finished lap two past a certain point (Where they knew you would finish in the dark), you would have to wear a glow in the dark necklace. There was no possible way I was getting one of those at the start of the third lap; I would not be out on the road in the darkness. NO WAY. You could see my pace pick up slightly in the final two miles of that loop, all to avoid the dreaded necklace and as I came back to the high school, I knew I had beaten the clock!
This loop was finished in 1:43:50, slower than my estimated pace but I was there, only one loop to go! Once again I restocked, said hi to the family and was back on my way.
Loop #3: You Can Do This! Just Keep Moving!
The third loop and final 8.75 miles were the hardest I have ever done in my life. As you draw closer and closer to the end, your body truly begins to recognize the magnitude of punishment you have bestowed upon it. I hurt. In my soul. While this loop was a war with my body, it was more so a war with my mind. My brain was tired and it stopped wanting to take in any more GU gels, powders, or water. Everything began to taste foul and it took every fiber of my being to place one foot in front of the other. Those voices were back in full force telling me I wouldn’t make it and that I just wasn’t strong enough. This time I started to believe them.
When I came back to the final set of hills, I could barely run anymore. I went down to a 4 minute jog, 1 minute walk and on those hills it was mostly a walk. My mile time peaked here at 12:50 and I began to feel like I was carrying another person on my back. I made it up those hills to the final turn around and knew only 4 miles remained and it was all (Mostly) downhill from there
Pacing out the 4/1 split on my watch and counting all the people with glow necklaces still going out on their last loop was all I could do to keep my brain active. I forced down one final GU gel, ignoring the urge to vomit, and pressed on. Finally reaching the last mile.
It was there that I spotted my brother and my nephew, Owen, who wanted to run with me on the final mile. I tossed my disgusting hat to my brother and Owen and I made our way to the finish line. Sadly, yes, at the end of the Ironman, a 6 year old could pace me. That’s how bad things really were.
As I rounded the final turn and saw the finish line funnel, it hit me for real that I was going to do it. I was going to complete an Ironman!
With the finish line in front of me, I reached over and grabbed a hold of Samantha who was waiting, confused and exhausted, and together, as is family tradition now, marched triumphant across the finish line. I had done it!
It is hard to describe the feeling that comes with accomplishing a feat so challenging but crossing that finish line was and will always be one of the greatest experiences of my life. Period. I had completed something I never thought I could and didn’t think I would until I did. With a final loop of 1:50:27 and a 5:08:35 marathon, I was finished! I was an IRONMAN!
Final Time: 14:17:23