Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ironman Cozumel Race Report; Part One!

I've decided to split my race report for Ironman Cozumel into three sections: the pre-race, the race itself, and the lessons I learned from the experience. The entire experience was so huge that I couldn't really capture it all in a single blog post that wouldn't require Ironman-style endurance just to read.

During the taper period, I took the last step to becoming Dr. George: I defended my dissertation. It was a successful defense, and one of my advisors took a picture of me just as I was informed that I am now indeed Dr. George.

Big, authentic smiles cause my eyes to disappear. There are only a few photos of me like this, and nearly all of them are from our wedding. We'll see whether the ones of me at the IM Cozumel finish line look like this . . .

Anyway, I fixed the typos and formatting issues that my committee members found, and I submitted the final copy of my dissertation to the UGA graduate school on Monday, 11/21. We left for Cozumel on Tuesday, 11/22. That was a good start to one hell of a week!

The trip to Cozumel was long. We drove to the parking lot, took a bus to the check-in, took a train to the terminal, took a plane to Cancun (which was delayed by THREE HOURS!), took a bus from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, then took a ferry to Cozumel. We hoofed it the last half-mile to the hotel.

On the plane, the fella next to me noticed that I was reading Iron War--it was way good, by the way, even if Mark Allen and Dave Scott say that it's fiction--and we started talking. It turns out that he, Paul, and his family were from Chattanooga, and they were heading to Cozumel for the race, too. Paul and his wife, Theresa, had a friend, Brian, who would also be competing. As the trip went on, we found out that we were in the same hotel as Paul and Theresa, and when we checked in, we found that we were next door to each other. Fun!

On the ferry to the island, we met Lesley and Adrian from Los Angeles. They were a super-cool couple of newlyweds who took a NINE-WEEK trip through Asia last year. Lesley is part-way through her quest to run a marathon on every continent, and she's already done Antarctica. We would see them several more times during the week, including immediately prior to the start. I even saw Lesley during the swim, when all hell was breaking loose, but more about that in Part Two.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we spent a lot of time hanging out both on and off the beach. The water was stunningly clear. We also saw people using these ridiculous contraptions.

They were like underwater segways, in that they were self-propelled AND super-dorky. We took a few practice swims in the water, and we could see the folks trolling around the bottom looking at the fish and rays from their little perches about forty feet below.

When we weren't on the beach, we spent a lot of time reading and watching TV. Undoubtedly, the most popular show on Cozumeleno television was Two and a Half Men. I had never watched the show before this trip, but we watched so many episodes during the trip that I was actually worried that the theme song might get stuck in my head during the Ironman and ruin my race!

It did not, but again, more about the race in Part Two.

We picked up our bikes from Tri Bike Transport on Thursday--no problems there at all--and we attended an official practice swim on Friday morning. On the way there, we shared a cab with Jordan and Shannon from Denver. They were great, too! Jordan is a Cat 2 cyclist like me who is transitioning to Ironman. He has his first event at Lake Placid this summer, and he's not a great swimmer yet. Shannon, like Kacie, was competing in her fourth Ironman. Her last event was Kona, where she struggled in the marathon but finished. After the swim, we ended up meeting back up with them and sharing the cab back to the hotel, too.

After Cedar Point, I will never miss another practice swim. Likewise, this one was very useful. It gave me a good sense of the course and showed me a couple of things that I would have to be mindful of during the race. It was also my first real swim in salt water. I felt capable of a really good swim, but I didn't want to get carried away. I had to remember how new I was to swimming, how far I've come since learning to swim in June, and how my goal of 1:30:00 was sound based on my training and experience in races up to this point. Still, I was hopeful for a breakthrough.

On Friday afternoon, we wandered around downtown looking for the site of the mandatory athletes' meeting before we realized that it was in our own hotel. Nice work there, Dardens. While there, we got to talk to Sonja, who Kacie has "known" online for the past several months. She won her age group last year at Arizona, and was gunning for another age group win at Cozumel. She would be very helpful to me post-race. More on that in Part Three. (Don't you love all these teasers!!??!!??)

We went to the athlete's dinner on Friday night, where for the first time, I was able to commune with athletes as one who was also doing the race. I had always felt a little left out at those events in the past, but this time, I was right in the thick of things. We sat with Jordan and Shannon, Adrian and Lesley, and our new friend Tonya from Raleigh that we met on the way to the dinner. At the dinner, we got to know Mark from southwest Florida, who was looking to do well in the 60-65 age group. It was loads of fun. The AV demonstration at the dinner was a bust, so after eating plenty of spaghetti, we headed back to the hotel for some more Two and a Half Men.

I hadn't really considered that Kacie and I would be meeting so many people during the lead-up to the race, and as it turns out, that was one of the best parts of the entire experience for me. In addition to all of the folks I already mentioned, we also met Matt from Atlanta, Percy/Perry from Australia--who was doing his 64th Ironman and has done virtually all of them!--and Scott/Steve from DC--who was doing his first Ironman like me. Percy/Perry was called "Percy/Perry" because we kinda missed his name. Scott/Steve was called "Scott/Steve" because we called him Steve--and his name was Scott--for the first few days we were there. Yee haw! The bond between folks about to do an Ironman is unique. Everyone has put in so much work, and they've had to endure the abuse of people who don't understand why they would want to do 140.6 self-propelled miles. I'm sure that we'll see a lot of these folks again; I'm looking forward to it already. I wonder if it will be the same, though, when we're not all gearing up for the same race.

On Saturday, we packed our bags, and we rode our bikes to T1. We met Mark on the way there, a former pro with over 30 Ironmans on his legs. He and I discussed the power numbers I had in mind for the bike, and he asked me about decoupling. I told him that I didn't know much about decoupling. (That would prove horribly prescient.) We had lunch with Perry/Percy, and then we headed up to watch a few more episodes of Two and a Half Men. We set the alarms for 4:40 a.m. and went to bed early . . .

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tracking for IM Cozumel!

Okay, everyone! After all of the work, it's time to race!

Ironman Cozumel is on Sunday, 11/27. The race starts at 7:00 a.m. local time, which is one hour behind Eastern time. Kacie's race number is 1759, and mine is 1760. You can track our progress at

It will show you our progress throughout the race, including our place in our age group. While Kacie will probably start near the front of her age group and stay there, you can expect me to start near the back of my age group but steadily move up. If Kacie finishes in the top five of her age group, she has a chance to qualify for the World Championships next October. If I finish in the top ten of my age group, I also have a chance. Keep that in mind as you send us good thoughts!

Thanks for your support!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Taper Time!

Give me a T! Give me an A! Give me a P! Give me an E! Give me an R!

What's that spell?? Taper! Taper!! Taper!!! Taaaaaaaaaaaaaappppeerrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!

Yes, this is a tapir, not a taper, but hey, it's the best I got. And, incidentally, I picked this particular tapir because my wife said he/she/it was "sexy." Nope, not joking. Not even a little bit. "Look at that posture!" she said. Right.

My blog will be filled for the next two weeks with all sorts of insecure whining about how I'm losing fitness and I just didn't do enough work. And I might also write an entry or two about how insane my wife becomes in the two weeks prior to an Ironman. Just now, she was making "bed angels"--you know, like snow angels, but on a bed, without the snow. Right.

A week until we leave and twelve days to the race!

Friday, November 11, 2011

George D vs. Heavy D

Only one week after a student told me I needed to do more push-ups, a student yesterday suggested that Heavy D, the late 80s early 90s rapper that died on Tuesday at the age of 44, is healthier than me.



Here's how it went:

Me: And in sad news, some of you may have seen that Heavy D died on Tuesday.
Student 1: How'd he die?
Me: It's not totally certain, but I can almost guarantee that it was related to the fact that he was "Heavy" D.

[I take whatever opportunity I can find to remind my students of the dangers of obesity given that such a significant portion of this generation is overweight. The crap they eat is mind-blowing. My classroom is on the third floor, and not a day goes by when multiple students don't collapse into their desks in my classroom complaining of having to walk up "all those stairs."]

Student 1: He wasn't that heavy anymore! He had lost weight!
Me: He had lost weight, but he was still pretty heavy.
Student 2: Yeah, he was still like 500 pounds.
Student 1: That don't matter!
Me: It does matter. I don't think that he was 500 pounds, but he was definitely still too heavy to be healthy.
Student: Nuh, uh! Somebody can be 500 pounds and be healthy!

[At this point, the class kinda erupted. I tried to pull it back together a bit.]

Me: No, not really. A person can't be 500 pounds and be healthy.
Student 3: You can be if you're really tall.
Me: You'd have to be REALLY tall--like nine feet--and even then, 500 pounds is a lot.
Student 1: No, it don't matter. Mr. Darden, how much you weigh?
Me: I weigh 152 pounds.
Student 1: See? You 152 pounds, and you ain't healthy!

It's possible that she was trying to make the point that there is not a direct correlation between weight and health. And I believe that that's true: a thin and light person can be much less healthy than a bigger person, if the skinny person doesn't practice healthy habits. I've found this to be particularly true in the triathlon community: triathletes come in all shapes and sizes, and many folks that might "look less fit" than me leave me behind in races. Ultimately, I'm not sure what point she was trying to make, but I am left wondering what her notion of health is if she thinks that I am unhealthy. By most measures, I believe that I would qualify as a pretty healthy person.

This is sticking with me more than it should, and I don't know why. I think that a couple of weeks out from an Ironman, I'm annoyed by the fact that the people in my life--specifically, my co-workers and students--don't really recognize the work that I'm doing. Even if they don't understand my speed or goals, even if they don't comprehend my specific workouts and challenges, I would like for people to at least recognize that in order to train for 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and a full marathon of running, I have to be pretty damn fit--fitter, in fact, than virtually everyone they know.

Sure, I'm being vain, but is it so wrong for me to desire just a little recognition after all this work?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I'm Tired. Perhaps I Need To Do Some Push-Ups.

Last week, I was teaching my class about Julius Caesar and the Ides of March. There are several things I do surrounding this particular event, but the most unforgettable--I think--is when I share the story of what happened to me on the Ides of March, 2009, in Rome. It was Rome, Georgia, but let's not get bogged down in details. :-)

On March 14, 2009--okay, so it's not quite the Ides of March, but again, details--I was in a bike race on wet roads. The person in front of me slipped, and in trying to avoid him, I crashed into a tree on the side of the road at about 23 mph. I broke my clavicle and shattered my scapula. I spent four days in the hospital, had surgery to implant three plates, and missed a month of work. When I tell this story to my class, I fill it with all sorts of drama, and of course, I share pictures of myself pre- and post-surgery. At the end of class, I offer to take off my shirt for any student who wants to see the scars and feel the plates. There is usually a handful of students who want to check it out. Last year, a student wrote on his evaluation, "You should take off your shirt again."

This year, when I taught it, one student who stuck around to see the scars said, "Mr. Darden, you need to do some push-ups." My response, predictably, was "Donny, I'm the fittest person you know." (I'm sure that that's probably true, too.) Now, Donny could have been saying, "Mr. Darden, you need to do some push-ups because they will definitely improve your swim only three weeks from your first Ironman." Obviously, that's not what he meant. Rather, he was suggesting that I am out of shape. I'm not.

This is one of those comments that I will probably remember forever, much like Shakena's "Why you ain't never absent?" of 2003, Lindsey's, "You don't really care" of 2000, or Jocelyn's "You want us to fail" of 2006. It falls into a different category, though, since it was about my fitness rather than my teaching. Nonetheless, I found it particularly insulting. Last week, I swam more than four miles, I ran forty, and I biked about 130. What did you do, Donny???

Am I being oversensitive? Yes. Of that, there is no doubt. Donny's actually not a bad kid; I am not holding any grudge against him. And was my negative reaction borne out of the extreme tiredness I'm feeling right now? Undoubtedly, yes. If someone were to ask me how I'm feeling right now, less than two weeks before we leave for Cozumel, my answer would be "tired," closely followed by "excited."

Last night, for the second time in this training cycle, I failed to complete a trainer workout. I like trainer workouts, and I think that they greatly benefit my cycling. But a long, hard trainer workout is just too intense and difficult for me given the mental and physical fatigue I'm carrying right now. I'm sure that I will be fine; I did nearly an hour of work, and I quit before my performance started to trail off. Plus, I have a swim/bike brick on Saturday that features five hours on the tri bike. My running workout today will undoubtedly be better for having not tried to gut out a crappy workout last night, and I think that my cycling is just fine. I need to stop writing about it before it starts to sound like I'm rationalizing.

The exhaustion that I'm feeling right now is not the sort of "most pleasant exhaustion" that inspired the title of this blog. Rather, it's a sort of deep fatigue that has built up over the course of several weeks. My coach and I have been cautious not to over-train me, and I don't think that I am over-trained. It's just that part of getting ready for 140.6 self-propelled miles is getting really, really tired. Right now, I'm expecting to carry this fatigue until race week, when I'll taper, get lots of rest, and hit the starting line ready to explode. Correct? I surely hope so.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I'll See Your Brick, and Raise You a Brick!

Last week, I wrote about the long brick that my wife and I did. It was 80 miles on the bike and 16 on foot. That was small potatoes compared to yesterday's session: 2000y of swimming, 80 miles of cycling, and 20 miles of running. As if it wasn't hard enough, we decided to ride on a hilly course and to run on hilly trails. It was TOUGH.

It went really well, though! I managed to remain strong throughout the bike, and I even pushed it in the second half. I was about 25 watts higher on the return trip, and all of my bests from 2:00 up were in the second half of the ride. I also ran solidly--right around 7:00 pace, not including the pit stops. The only problem I had was not drinking enough on the bike. The store where I stopped around halfway was not very well-stocked. They said that they had gone deer hunting a couple of weeks ago and left someone else in charge, and that someone else had evidently not locked up or hosted a party or something. Their shelves were nearly empty.

What this meant was that I was a bit dehydrated on the run, which in turn meant that I drank a bit more than I should have at a couple of stops. Continuing on, that meant that I got some small cramps on the run. They weren't so bad that I had to slow down, but they were bad enough to keep me from pushing the pace (had I wanted to do that--I didn't, but I will want to in Cozumel, I'm sure). It's amazing how issues in long training days or ultra-distance races manifest themselves. The store where I stopped on my bike was empty, so I got cramps on the run about four hours later. Crazy.

Also, paradoxically, I had to use the bathroom more than I would have liked. Once the workout started, I stopped four times to go. All told, that's probably two to three minutes in stopped time. I'm hoping that since it will be a little warmer in Cozumel, that won't be an issue, but we'll see. I'd hate to see a KQ spot slip away because I had to wait in line at a port-a-potty.

Somewhere around 13 miles on the run, my body went into "auto-pilot mode." I didn't quite feel connected to it anymore. I wasn't pushing and I wasn't holding back; it was kinda doing it's own thing. I found myself imagining my brain as a captain on a ship: "All hands on deck! He's STILL running! Everyone focus on the run!" I felt as if all of my body's functions became dedicated to finishing this run. Anything else that might take energy--like thinking, for example--was put aside. Nonetheless, I didn't slow down. I took a split from 5-7 and from 15-17, and they were within ten seconds of each other, despite the fact that miles 7 and 17 were brutally uphill. I kept hearing the line from Rocky IV in my head where the trainer tells Rocky something like, "No stopping now! All your strength, all your love, all your power, everything you've got! No pain! No pain!" And then, of course, a battered Rocky goes out there and drops Ivan Drago. Here's the clip:

My wife and I will have to bring our Rocky movies with us to Cozumel.

Of course, this massive training day also helped me learn a few more good things ahead of Cozumel. There were small things--like to pack a paper towel in my T2 bag to clean my sunglasses--and big things--like my nutrition plan for the run. I feel like all of the details are falling into place.

We leave for Cozumel two weeks from tomorrow. That's hardly believable. Between now and then, I have a few more big workouts. I have four long swims of 4000-4500 yards this week and next. A run or ride of comparable distance would not bother me, but swimming takes a lot of physical and mental energy for me. And next weekend, I have a long swim/bike brick (that I asked for) on Saturday, and a twenty-two mile run on Sunday. One more swim lesson, two more massages, two more trips to the chiropractor, and that's it. The race is in sight.

Oh, yeah, and I have to defend my dissertation--the last step in an eight-year Ph.D. process. But let's not let that distract us from the important things.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I have an Ironman THIS MONTH!

Halloween marked the end of October and the beginning of November. November is the month of my Ironman. From now on, whenever I talk about it, I have to say that I have an Ironman "later this month." Yikes.

This set in for the first time last night. I have done some great training, and I have a really good background in endurance sports. If anyone was ever ready for an Ironman, it would be me. Well, then again, maybe that's not true. I only learned to swim four months ago. I guess that the most-ready-for-an-Ironman person ever was probably a better swimmer than I, but I digress. The point is that it's not like I'm going from couch to 140.6.

Last night, the enormity of the task itself hit me. Perhaps it's the incredible 2000 yard swim/80 mile bike/20 mile run workout that looms on my calendar this Sunday or the two 4500 yard swims I have for the week-after-next. Perhaps I have finally watched enough Ironman coverage on Universal Sports to realize that I'm undertaking something a little bit nuts. Perhaps it's thinking about the New York Marathon that's coming up, and considering that I'm going to be doing one of those . . . after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of cycling. Perhaps I have an appreciation for it that can only be gained from up close; at a distance, almost any endurance event seems like a good idea.

But even though it's close, it seems really far away, given the amount of work I have to do between now and then. I think that that paradox is weighing on me a bit, too. I have only three weeks . . . but I have to keep up for three more weeks. I'm really tired already. How am I going to step it up? But I need to do this work in order to accomplish my goals. Can I do it? I'm far enough away that my workouts still count. They need to go well! And during a time when all my students are getting sick, can I stay healthy?

This whole adventure has been very interesting.