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Ironman redux: redemption at IM Maryland

November 11, 2016
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it’s not the race, it’s the journey

One moment I was dreamingly swimming in my first full Ironman in Copenhagen, Denmark and 12 hours later I was was sitting in bed registering for Ironman Maryland… there is no way I could’ve predicted the random series of circumstances that would ultimately extend my Ironman training an additional month and relocate my Ironman dreams from Scandinavia to the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.

Having spent nearly a year training for my big race, I was heart-broken when my 140.6 mile journey was cut short due to hypothermia during the swim portion of Ironman Copenhagen. I was rescued, thankfully, but left emotionally upended. Not to be defeated, I was determined to find another race before the end of the year. I pointed my iPad’s browser to ironman.com. Sadly, registration was closed for almost every remaining race of the year… except one: Ironman Maryland.

Interestingly, the race layout was nearly identical to IM Copenhagen consisting of a briny, brackish (not-as-fatally cold) swim, a flat two loop bike course and a three loop run. I researched some online race reports but it was difficult to make a decision based on the events that unfolded at IM Maryland the previous year. (In 2015 a hurricane postponed the race by two weeks followed by a freak mid-October cold snap making for a frigid race day.)

Other reports indicated a dark morning swim with an abundance of jellyfish/sea nettles, a very windy ride and potential for not great weather.

I had already swam amongst throngs of jellyfish, I had dutifully prepared myself for a flat windy ride and earlier in the Summer I had raced a half-Ironman in some pretty craptacular weather. If ever there was the making of a comeback race this was it.

Plus, I could drive there. No plane ticket. No transporting of a disassembled bike. No Danish bike guy telling me how crappy my bike is. No over-sized luggage fees.

After some deliberation, and on the same day that I disappointingly DNF’d (did not finish) IM Copenhagen, I plunked down another $800 race fee (yes, this is a standard cost to register for an Ironman) and made arrangements with my amazing tri coach to continue my training. I had just five weeks to prepare.

Probably the toughest part of recommitting to Ironman training was saying goodbye to a month I had already mentally mortgaged to hanging out with friends, working on my dumb projects and reclaiming my weekends.

But first, a week of downtime in Barcelona. I don’t want to say unfortunately, because there wasn’t anything unfortunate about being in Barcelona for a week, but by virtue of planning a post-Copenhagen Ironman celebration in Barcelona my fitness took a complete and total rest before returning to the States to resume my IM regimen. (I actually think this benefitted me.)

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In addition to some downtime in Spain I also acquired a permanent souvenir during my stay in Catalonia–a tattoo of a Nordic symbol on my wrist as a reminder that “to be able to move forward one must be able to accept set-backs.” (Tip of the hat to my sister Jennifer for the lovely and apt suggestion.) I also kind of love that the directional flow of the arrow subtly suggests the initials of my Boston neighborhood, Jamaica Plain, more affectionally known as J.P..

After returning to the States and reuniting with my coworkers, friends, family and my running club–I’m not going to lie… as a symptom of defeat I definitely felt compelled to emphatically explain that what had happened in the water wasn’t a result of “I was a weak swimmer, didn’t train enough, got cold and quit”. I found myself wanting to fiercely defend the last ten months of my life. One morning in my office’s break room I quietly recounted to a coworker my race experience in Denmark; the unrehearsed documenting of my Ironman’s aftermath was retold with such raw emotion that I unexpectedly decompensated into a blubbering mess–and in the most empathic response possible, my peer mutually broke down into tears. Either I am a good story-teller or heart-break by any other name is heart-break.

Ultimately, I decided to keep my Ironman Maryland odyssey to myself. The amount of online attention I received both before and after Ironman Copenhagen was extraordinary. Additionally, my quest for redemption felt deeply personal; it was less about “I completed an Ironman” and more about finding closure after a long year of training.

However, It didn’t take long for my fellow runner and triathlete friends to figure out I had game going on. My run, bike and swim data is aggregated on Strava.com, a social platform for athletes. One doesn’t just go out on a 100 mile ride for nothing (Usually) and have it go unnoticed. Just a few weeks of slyly engaging back into Ironman training my friend Maartje texted, “So, Ironman Louisville or Chattanooga?” I responded with the ;P emoji as technically it was neither.

I didn’t want anyone to know I was reattempting my dream. I didn’t want a flood of encouragements before I entered the water. I didn’t want a flood of Facebook messages if I failed. I just wanted to go down to Cambridge, Maryland and do what I set out to accomplish.

Probably the toughest part of recommitting to Ironman training was saying goodbye to a month I had already mentally mortgaged to hanging out with friends, working on my dumb projects and reclaiming my weekends. It wasn’t so much the back-to-back weekends of physically enduring century rides, it was getting past the mental head-space of what I thought I would be doing during the onset of autumn. (Hint: not apple picking.)

I spent all of September building my fitness back up to IM readiness and along the way made some significant gains specifically on the bike. I became more comfortable in aero position and started attacking descents and finishing stronger on longer outings. Most amazingly is how quickly my perception of what constituted a long ride changed in just a matter of four or five months. Not to sound braggadocios, but during my last surprise month of training, 100 milers became just “this thing I have to do today” after I swim and before I run. It’s true that so much of endurance training is mental, and honestly not even so much from a “toughness” perspective.

My theory is that while the body conditions to be able to carry the load of longer and longer distances, the mind is actively processing and digesting what “distance feels like”. Perception is a critical tool in any endurance athlete’s tool kit.

Not too surprisingly, I went through an additional and unnecessary round of, “Am I ready for this?!” I may not have completed Ironman Copenhagen, but I certainly experienced and suffered all of the race anxiety accompanying it. I can’t stress enough how much having a coach means during these heady moments. Skip this next part if you want, but the following words from my coach were critical to the success of my race.

Coach Jana’s letter heading into my 2nd Ironman attempt:

I can assure you that you have done the work. There were no skipped workouts and definitely not any key workouts were skipped on your part! You really followed the training to the T, and I am so very proud of you for that! Even if you may feel like you are not ready (it’s completely normal to feel that), you very much are. When you have some time, just sit down and take the time to reflect in your mind on all the long training days, on all the long rides or runs that you were going into extremely fatigued yet always pulled them off and came out on top and ready for more! Draw on those experiences. As for your fitness in numbers – the numbers say you are ready, now YOU have to believe it and be confident about it. You will still have that very nervous feeling, but at the same time deep down, you will also have that “I AM SOOOO READY TO DO THIS”, “I KNOW I CAN DO THIS” feeling. 

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In numbers: 

SWIM: Yes, you may have not done a long open water swim in the last 2 weeks due to time constraints/darkness, but you have done it in the pool and you are more than ready for the distance. I know you will have a GREAT swim! Focus on  your stroke, and staying as calm as relaxed as possible again. I would like you to warm up, BUT with that said, see how the water feels, what the air temperature is and make the call on whether or not you want to get wet before hand. It is a rolling start again, so line up again either toward the end of the 1:10 – 1:20 or on the very beginning of the 1:20 – your call.

BIKE: In just a few weeks you essentially climbed your way back to the same fitness as pre-Copenhagen and that is awesome! What took you all year to get to, you got back in 3-4 weeks after not doing much for 2+ weeks! (taper + vacation) Again, your fitness is there, just focus on your execution, your fueling/hydration and constantly monitor how you are feeling throughout the day and follow the same pacing plan I had planned for you for Copenhagen.

RUN: I think you see the trend by now ;). YOU ARE SOOOOO READY! You are an experienced runner and this is your strength! Follow the same plan from Copenhagen race report, and really really make sure the first two 10 mile loops feel easy! You can let go on the last 6 if you feel great, or just try to hold on to whatever pace you have been holding. Marathon Ironman is all about the last 6 miles – that is WHEN the race starts – focus on fueling/hydration and feel and don’t overdo it in the first few miles when everyone feels “great”. 

Fitness points wise – spot on from before Copenhagen and now!

So there you have it – numbers say you are ready, I know you are ready, you said it yourself. You are physically there. Just use the next few days before the race to get to a positive space mentally – it’s there, it’s there for you to take! 

pack it up, pack it in, let the journey begin…

When I signed up for Ironman Maryland I told my wife I wanted to go alone. I didn’t want to let anyone know I was going. I didn’t want anyone to know I was reattempting my dream. I didn’t want a flood of encouragements before I entered the water. I didn’t want a flood of Facebook messages if I failed. I just wanted to go down to Cambridge, Maryland and do what I set out to accomplish.

But, it’s difficult to keep the things most important to you from those closest to you.

My sister and her husband asked if they could come spectate and cheer. Initially I was reticent only because of my own head-space, but oh man… I am so, so thankful I had a cheering squad and a support team. (More on this later.)

The room generally smelled like a failed 12-step program. The bedspread had a cigarette burn. For some reason one wall, and just one wall, was painted a 1980’s electric blue. The shower contained a used bar of soap.

Preparing, packing and prepping all things Ironman is a million times easier from your own home, in your own country, transported in the back of your own car. For the most part, the margin for error on home turf seems drastically lessened. For example, not having to disassemble my bike (not even having to remove my wheels) = huge. No excess luggage/baggage = awesome. Not having to lug a bike bag through customs (and pay an over-sized luggage fee) = pure heaven.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the thrill and wow-factor of the destination race. In fact, I don’t doubt that my next Ironman will be somewhere abroad. I’ll probably just become a little more savvy when it comes to bike maintenance.

The night before heading down, I packed up the tri-mobile, triple checked my gear and read through my race plan, fueling plan and the athlete guide for Ironman Maryland to ensure I wasn’t forgetting anything.

One thing I really appreciated about Ironman Maryland was (and is) the Facebook group page dedicated to the race. Probably more than any other explicit resource for IMMD I found the Facebook group to possess the most current and up-to-date race information. The race director, Gerry Boyle, even personally responded to the most pedestrian of general inquiries. “Will there be Jellyfish?” (No.) “Will the race be wetsuit legal?” (Yes.) “Where do I park on race morning?” (Here’s a map.)

Still suffering PTSD from IM Copenhagen, I found myself routinely visiting the group page for swim condition updates. The day before I left Boston someone had posted some ominous storm surge video–others had dismissed it as footage from the previous year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Conditions were looking rough.

 

thursday, two days before the race

More than anything I was probably most excited about the road-trip breakfast sandwiches I prepared for my Maryland trek. I have no idea why, but I was super anxious to wake up and start my day heading Southbound on I-95 munching on three, (count ’em), three egg and cheese sandwiches. Without delay, I was on the road by 6:15AM. The drive took a little under eight hours and the ride was generally without any distress. The G.W. bridge in New York City was the only hiccup and it wasn’t completely terrible. I had enough sustenance to overcome any onramp anxiety–espresso, Morrissey and at least one remaining breakfast sandwich.

When I signed up for Ironman Maryland I was very lucky that registration was still open; however, one thing I hadn’t considered was accommodations. I have to be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about Cambridge, Maryland–somehow in my mind I had crafted this very familiar construct that the community was a prominent collegiate town just on the other side of the river from say… a larger metropolitan city. Wrong Cambridge. Cambridge, Maryland is a very small water-front town with not a whole lot else close by. Because my crappy race reports seem to go on forever I’ll cut to the chase… what few hotels existed in the area were long sold out.

And then I got a call from the Days Inn where I had left my name and number in the unlikely event of a cancellation. It was a smoking room. Desperate, I took it.

Smoking rooms are still a thing I guess, but despite knowing what I was getting into I was still totally thrown by just how awful sleeping in a smoking room actually was. “You are an Ironman. You are racing an Ironman! You totally got this!,” I repeatedly told myself as I rested my head on a polyester ashtray.

It’s funny because the weather reports leading up to race day didn’t really forecast anything that looked of grave concern. But maybe that’s the finicky nature of the mid-Atlantic seaboard because interestingly the expo was flooding and in danger of blowing away.

A little about my Days Inn experience: The room generally smelled like a failed 12-step program. The bedspread had a cigarette burn. For some reason one wall, and just one wall, was painted a 1980’s electric blue. The shower contained a used bar of soap. I don’t like to unnecessarily kill bugs going about their business, but there was a potential predator in the bathroom (with pinchers) that I had to terminate for my own safety. Even in anticipation of my wild Marlboro Light Night’s stay, the box fan I brought did little to extinguish flavor country. I wrote a Yelp review and pretty much summed it up as, “If you’re into David Lynch films, you are going to love this place.”

After unloading my gear at Days Inn I made a stop at the local Wal-Mart for some much-needed Fabreeze. I then headed to the Ironman Expo to pick up my credentials, race bags and to scope out the swim start area.

If you’ve read any of my previous race reports (so sorry), I spend a lot of time describing water conditions and all I have to say is, whoa! My first impression walking along the water front to the expo was “this is going to be one hell of a swim”. Unfortunately, none of the photos I took exemplify the brutality of the conditions. It wasn’t a matter of heavy, yet predictable, rolling waves coming in from one particular direction, rather, the water had the appearance as if a two hundred foot toddler was splashing around in the Choptank River with a giant rubber ducky thusly creating two to three foot white caps.

And then of course the wind.

It’s funny because the weather reports leading up to race day didn’t really forecast anything that looked of grave concern. But maybe that’s the finicky nature of the mid-Atlantic seaboard because interestingly the expo was flooding and in danger of blowing away. Unlike Ironman Copenhagen’s fancy and exceptionally ordered, severe and serious convention center, the Ironman Maryland credential pick-up experience had a decidedly more home-grown feel. White tents struggled to stay secured to terra firma. Vendors wrangled together kiddy pools to keep their wares dry. Ironman banners flapped helplessly into the wind–no match for the zipties struggling to keep them attached to temporary barricades.

The surge from the Choptank was breaching the wall and flooding the main staging area for the event–this included the transition area for the bikes which was initially supposed to be on a grass area but later moved to a parking lot on higher ground. Sadly, during the race this would mean self-racking the bike during the bike to run transition. (Having someone rack your bike for you during a race is the equivalent of valet parking. I was really looking forward to this experience.)

The volunteer staff was super friendly and it didn’t take long to pick up everything I needed. Inside my credential bag was a hand drawn card made by a student from one of the local Cambridge schools — I’m not kidding I completely teared up. I was also very impressed with the IM Maryland bag–I guess for $800 the swag better be pretty amazing. I bought a t-shirt and made my way back to Flavor Country to prepare my gear bags and get a good night’s rest.

friday, one day before the race

Since technically this was my second Ironman, I was familiar with all of the things I needed to accomplish the day before the race–most importantly, eating a large breakfast, checking in my bike, dropping off my gear bags, getting in a short open-water test swim and last, driving the bike course. One really nice thing about Ironman Maryland is that everything is close by and easily accessible so I was able to finish my chores by mid-afternoon. For the sake of comparison, something as simple as dropping off my bike in Copenhagen meant trekking across the city but not before purchasing my bike it’s very own subway pass. (Those little bits of extra effort add up quickly.)

The transition area was super chaotic as the original layout had to be altered due to flooding. But, I was able to rack my bike and mostly felt confident about leaving my run and bike bags behind. You know that feeling when you go to the post office with an armful of boxes to mail, and then leave feeling like you’ve forgotten something? That’s a little like checking gear at an Ironman.

For once in my life I was running way ahead of schedule. By the time I started prepping for my test-swim the line for check-in had exponentially grown by a factor of ten.

I stripped down to almost nothing amongst the crowds of athletes and spectators and got situated into my wetsuit. There were a lot of iPhones documenting the swimmers coming and going, battling the waves. Naturally I was a little freaked out by the chop of the water. Almost all of my open water training swims were within the placid confines of Walden Pond. My warm-up 70.3 race in Geneva, New York had some very mild chop, but nothing like this. I wasn’t freaking out or going into panic mode, but I really had no idea what I was doing when I made my first attempt to swim out into Chesapeake Bay. I’m sure someone out there has footage of this.

It was impossible to time my stroke with my breathing because there was no consistent rhythm to the chop of the waves–I took in a lot of water. Additionally the tide surge made for very slow goings–while crawling out was tough, swimming back into shore was a little more effortless. One benefit to the Choptank, like Amager Strand in Copenhagen, is the water is very shallow. I swam out a second time for good measure and made a declarative affirmation that, “Come morning this is going to be an awesome adventure”. Plus, I was assured the water would calm down by morning.

My last serious order of business for the day was to preview the bike course. Knowing what lies ahead on an 112 mile journey is a really good idea. Obviously because the course was two loops I would only need to drive half the distance.

My sister and brother-in-law, a.k.a. my support team, joined me as we headed out into the Blackwater National Refuge where most of the bike would take place. It was stunning, pristine, gorgeous and at times completely underwater. There were a few stretches of road through a marsh flat that I legitimately began to worry about the tri-mobile becoming stranded. I didn’t get out to measure the depth of the flooding, but I want to say we were driving through over a foot of water for a solid mile or more. And then it occurred to me that this was the bike course. Does one ride through this? “This is going to be an adventure,” I told myself once more.

I said good night to my sister and began my pre-race routine of eating my go-to pre-race dinner and ensuring a decent night’s sleep. I checked the Maryland IM group page one more time before falling asleep and read a late-breaking post that the bike course was being altered due to flooding. (No surprise there.) The new distance would be 104 miles instead of 112… not that big of a deal; however, ultimately the distance would end up being closer to almost a perfect century.

 

saturday, race morning

I woke up at 4:30AM with enough sleep and felt pretty alert and ready-to-go. I made my breakfast (standard bagel + peanut butter) and heated up the Starbucks coffee I had purchased the day before to avoid having to use my room’s “coffee maker”. Heeding the race director’s advice I drove to the school parking lot where busses transported athletes to the swim start. (Unfortunately, there was just one flaw with this system which I’ll address later.)

Unlike IM Copenhagen, my spidey-poop senses were tingling as soon as I got to the transition area. Unfortunately there were no port-a-johns to be had. There were, in fact, several still-freshly-wrapped in cellophane port-a-johns that, for some reason, hadn’t yet been christened. Eventually the crowds had enough and began unwrapping the toilets as if they were Christmas presents filled with golden retriever puppies. Even the zipties locking the doors shut were no match for the human will to shit. There was just one problem… oddly, port-a-johns do not come pre-stocked with toilet paper. (That’s a separate deal.)

I stood in line with my wetsuit draped over my arm patiently waiting my turn. Luckily I had advance notice of the TP problem. Not luckily, my turn was advancing and I couldn’t afford losing my place in line searching for hygienic wipes so I did what anyone would do. I strategically eyed a paper towel wrapped around a discarded sandwich sitting atop of a trash can. It was like a scene from Ocean’s 11. The port-a-john door opened, I reached into the trash can for the paper towel and rushed in. People clapped for me! I’m not kidding, some guy cheered, “Gross! But nice work dude!”

Unfortunately that one paper towel really wasn’t enough, but I figured it didn’t matter much as I would be swimming soon–and well, the water would take care of things. (It’s funny because it’s true.)

Honestly the real tragedy was that I had peed myself a dozen times waiting to start the swim. Now I had two problems–a semi-shitty bottom and heavily pee-soaked lycra bike shorts.

I thought my poor wetsuit would’ve been retired after Copenhagen, but no. One more race. I suited up and made my way over to the swim practice area. And then I experienced some race anxiety… not like, “oh shit, can I do this?” but more like “oh shit, I do not want to repeat my experience of shivering before the race start again.” I waded waist deep and splashed some water on my face and quickly exited. That was my race warm-up.

The onset of sunrise revealed water conditions identical to the previous few days. In the dark I thought, “Hmmm! Looks better!” In daylight not so much.

2,500 athletes were lined up by projected swim finish and ready to start the swim of Ironman Maryland. As instructed by Coach Jana I was somewhere between the 1:10 and 1:20 group.

At 6:45 AM it was announced, “Folks, we are delaying the swim start by 30 minutes to allow the chop to settle down.”

Groans echoed through the neoprene forest of athletes. For some reason I immediately had the thought in my head, “get warmed up!” I wanted my body ready for the dreaded anaerobic to aerobic transition and started barefoot jogging through a soggy, grassy mush. I actually think I started a trend as other wetsuit clad runners joined me from afar. “What’s that guy doing? Good idea!”

Eventually I could only run so much in my constrictive wetsuit. I walked to the shore and watched the tide spastically blow inland. I’ve competed in enough tri’s to know there is usually a healthy modicum of water craft in the water WAY before a race starts. There were no kayaks in the water. No rescue boats. Around 7:10AM a paltry handful of four or five kayaks (for 2,500 swimmers lol!) made an attempt to paddle out to the swim buoys. I don’t think they made it 15 feet past the shore line–the tide was that strong and the chop was that high. My guess is that if a kayak couldn’t advance forward in storm surge even the best swimmer wouldn’t have been able to make it past the first turn.

By 7:20AM the swim was called. No swim. This is the interesting part, and something I might stress here even for my own benefit, Ironman isn’t always 140.6 miles. Out of the 2,500 athletes participating 700 were experiencing their first Ironman, ever. (Including me, sort of.) The race directors were emphatic that despite the shortened bike course and cancelled swim it in no way lessened anyone’s Ironman status. Crossing the finish line, today, made you an Ironman. It’s the race handed to you, not the distance. I think this was reiterated over the loud speaker about 20 times. (As a side note, the amount of “Am I really an Ironman?” Facebook queries post-Ironman Maryland was anything short of dizzying.)

Personally, I was a little conflicted. I came to Maryland with something to prove. I mean, I’m laughing as I write this because it’s so ridiculous that I was pulled from the water at IM Copenhagen, only to have the the swim portion of my redemption race cancelled. I need closure damnit!

Honestly the real tragedy was that I had peed myself a dozen times waiting to start the swim. (You know, the water will take care of it!) Now I had two problems–a semi-shitty bottom and heavily pee-soaked lycra bike shorts. Yes, triathletes are disgusting, disgusting people. It then occurred to me, “Who always has baby wipes? Mom’s!” I hunted down the spectating parent with the biggest, baddest, most gigantic stroller, and with very little pleading the most amazing mom ever insisted I take an entire box of moistened toilettes. Seriously, baby wipes are the triathlete equivalent of prison currency. I was rich! And within a few minutes I was clean as a whistle! Well, clean-er.

I found myself absolutely savoring each mile knowing that in just a short time I would be hearing the iconic words, “You are an Ironman!” I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to run forever.

Over the course of the morning bikes were released by bib number–a few at a time to simulate water exit times. This took FOREVER. I was somewhere mid-pack, but still had to wait about an hour and a half to start my race. The wind coming off the bay was cold and strong. While waiting for my bike start I entered the men’s changing tent and it was a real honest-to-God sausage fest. I could barely make my way past the entrance and a volunteer whispered to me, “Hey, you know, no one is in the women’s changing tent. You are more than welcome to go in there and hang out.” Amazing! I walked next door into a nearly empty tent that could have passed for a wedding reception. All of the baby wipes one could ever want. Water. Snacks. Seats. Plastic bags to stay warm. (On second thought that would be a weird wedding reception, but still…pretty luxe in context.)

I overheard the announcer call the number range for my bib… this was it. The start of my Ironman.

I grabbed Pegs (My bike, Pegasus) and hit the mount line. And then I completely spazzed out trying to clip into my pedals as if it was my first attempt at wearing clip-ins, but at least I didn’t fall over.

the bike

The course was windy. I don’t know what the official wind reports were for the day… I heard everything from 15mph to 30mph gusts. I have a feeling it was somewhere in between with varying degrees of constant annoyance. For me, personally, this was the best bike performance of my entire training. I crushed it. Anytime I looked down at my watch I was averaging anywhere from 18 to 21 mph. Please keep in mind this was, and is a flat course favoring my ability. But here’s the thing… my best century training ride this past season was around 6:10 (six hours, ten minutes). But this excluded stoppage time, i.e. anytime I stopped to fuel, fill my water bottle, pee, stretch, etc. I stopped the clock. At Ironman Maryland my ride ended up being 5:50 but this included stopping to pee, fill water bottles, fuel… the clock kept running. I raced solidly and consistently. While I certainly heard my fair share of the words “on your left” during the first 50 miles, the last 50 miles I was returning the sentiment.

I also found complete comfort in aero during this race. Aero position is weird, at least it was for me for a long time. I now know I am 100% ready for a true tri-bike. There’s just no other way to ride. I completed IM Maryland 100% in aero. As Coach Jana would say, “it’s free speed.” Having previewed the course I knew what to expect and I was 100% correct that the last 12 mile stretch would be the toughest mentally–a long barren highway with not much to focus on other than the distance.

But I was happy. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t hate any of it. I never felt, “this is horrible, I can’t wait to not be on my bike.” I never wanted it to be over. In just about every race photo I have this stupid smile on my face. I was just loving it so much. I passed the bike penalty tent and yelled “Free Brady!” Nothing. No love.

the run

My T2 (T1?) time was 12 minutes. I know, that’s long. Due to some course adjustments there was no valet bike racking. In fact, I’m probably going to exaggerate here, but I feel like I ran .3 miles in bike cleats with my bike before getting to the changing tent. I did a great job with my bike and run bags. I made a last game-changing decision of putting on fresh dry socks for the run which may have added a minute or two. I mean… dry socks!

Man, I was feeling great! No back issues! Just feeling strong… cracking jokes… “Anyone want an omelette?” Nothing. No love.

I headed out on my marathon. (Marathon!) After about a tenth of a mile I encountered my first gnarly run obstacle… about 6″ of muddy water. A race volunteer was yelling, “Come on ladies! It’s just water!” Man! But I just put on dry fucking socks! I had no idea what was going to transpire over the next 26 miles — the only distance not altered due to weather.

The first few miles I was running a little hot out of the gate running a 8:00 mile pace. (I mean, relatively speaking after riding 100 miles.) Per my race plan, I was instructed under no circumstances to exceed a 9:35 mile–that it would feel terribly slow. It did. Respecting Coach Jana’s plan, I reeled it back in and kept my pace between 9:20-9:40 throughout the entire race.

This is completely personal and bears no judgement on anyone having the courage to race in any distance race and finishing by any means possible, but my goal was to not have to succumb to the dreaded walk/jog shuffle during any portion of the run. Again, my own personal goal. I think because I stuck to my race plan I was able to effectively accomplish what I envisioned. My marathon ended up being around 4:10–15 minutes faster than my very first marathon in Paris.

While the 3 1/2 loop course was mostly flat, it was plagued with serious tidal flooding making it the most difficult marathon I have run to date. There were four major sections of the course completely submerged in water–anywhere from a half-foot to knee-high deep. And I ran every part of it even knee-stepping through the deepest sections. (Yes, the wet shoes and socks made for many o’ blisters.) I even found some random stranger’s footage of me prancing through a stretch of flooding. (And seriously, prancing.)

I was able to see my support crew a few times during the run which course made me tear up. My sister’s sign “You run pretty fast for a human” with pictures of my dogs was amazing and helped me get through the tough conditions.

But much like the bike, during the run I never felt like I wanted the race to be over. In fact, the last five miles of the run were probably my favorite. I found myself absolutely savoring each mile knowing that in just a short time I would be hearing the iconic words, “You are an Ironman!” I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to run forever.

The last mile snaked through the downtown area of Cambridge just before entering the final chute. I’m not a gifted enough writer to properly explain what striding down the Ironman carpet felt like for me. I gave myself some distance between my fellow athletes, at one point running backwards to savor the cheering of the crowd. And then there it was… the finish line, glowing like some dream-state induced piece of slow-motion film making.

“David Ziegler-Voll! You! Are! An Ironman!”

I held up my arms. I smiled. I cried.

I finished in just a little over ten hours, (10:17), and crossed the finish line just 30 minutes before a crazy torrential downpour of rain.

 

post race

Thank God my sister was there because the lines for the busses to get back to my car would’ve been a total nightmare. I think one of the very few things the race organizers didn’t completely think through was that people taking the busses to get to the transition area wouldn’t have their bikes/gear with them; however, the opposite would be true returning, i.e. you can only get so many bikes on a school bus. Getting to the race, no problem. Returning from the race… kind of an issue.

Also, my amazing brother-in-law endured a crazy deluge of rain to check-out my bike and pick up my gear bags. That’s what a support crew does! So amazing! All I had to do was drink a free beer and eat a massive amount of french fries. Oh, and I got a massage! I have a really, really funny poop story about this but I don’t know if I feel right telling it. You’ll have to ask me in person. (It doesn’t involve me otherwise I would share–I know this is kinda of a tease.)

I was back at Flavor Country by 10PM.

The next morning I stopped back by the expo to pick up a few Ironman souvenirs — the Choptank was as calm as a glass of milk. Go figure.

in closing

Finishing this race meant so much to me even despite the swim being cancelled and the bike course being shortened by 12 miles. When I think about the ridiculous amount of time I put into my year of training, the fact that I travelled across the Ocean to compete in an Ironman before this race, refusing to give up and continuing to train HARD for an additional month to give it another shot… everything I went through to get to this level of competition, there’s no doubt in my mind I earned my Ironman status and then some.

The volunteers, Cambridge residents and Ironman Maryland race organizers get an enormous thumbs up from this triathlete. While the race didn’t have the same “wow factor” as Copenhagen, the home-town vibe more than made up for it. The staff had to make some unpopular decisions on race morning, but I commend them for thinking safety first and making insane course adjustments just to make the race even a possibility.

So many people made this day possible for me. Notably: Coach Jana at E3 Training Solutions as she continued to coach me an additional month to get me race-ready. My poor wife who barely saw me over the past year. All of my friends that trained with me at ridiculous times of the day at ridiculous distances. And my IMMD support crew, Jennifer and Thom.

If I could have signed up for an Ironman the next day I would have, but I made a promise to my wife to wait a year for the next one… so I’ll have to settle for a few half-Ironman’s and a marathon for 2017.

My next ironman? I’m not going to lie, I feel like I have unfinished business in Copenhagen. Who knows, maybe I’ll move there first to get used to the water.

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