Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sunday, SUNDAY, Sunday!

I started training for Ironman Coeur d'Alene about six months ago.  It's now five days away.  However you choose to say it--the most popular phrase is "the hay is in the barn," but around here, we say, "Walter is on the plane"--the work is behind me.  All that is left is the race!  

First things first: here's how to track me at Ironman Coeur d'Alene.

I am racer number 1543.  If you go to Ironman.com, there should be a special link at the top of the page where you can click to get live race tracking of IMCdA.  (Note: Ironman France is happening on Sunday, too, and I won't be competing in that race.  So don't try to find me there!)  It will prompt you to enter my last name ("Darden"), and then it will give you a list of folks with names close to mine.  If you click on my name, it should tell you where I was at the last checkpoint, my paces, and where I am relative to my competition.

I'm hoping that a few friends will be posting updates on my Facebook profile, too, but I'm not sure about that. 

I really do appreciate it when my friends follow along.  It gives me a huge boost knowing that there are people out there taking time to see how things are going for me and pulling for me from afar.  I will need this mental lift more than ever on Sunday since Kacie won't arrive in CdA until about six hours into the race.    

Am I ready?  I believe so, but anyone who has ever done any race knows the self-doubt that can creep in here at the end.  (In fact, the organizers of Ironman Coeur d'Alene today tweeted an article about mental preparation in the final days ahead of the big race.)  All signs point to my having a good race.  I've certainly done the training, starting way back in January with trainer sessions and long rides.  I used Twitter and Facebook as means of not only bragging about the training I was doing, but to keep myself accountable.  It now serves as a log of what I've been doing for the past several months.

January 7, when things were just getting underway after a post-Ironman Cozumel break:

February 18, when I did my first of about a dozen rides in the mountains:

March 10, more mountains: 

March 18, still more:

March 30, some improvements in the water:

May 17, starting to really train like Ironman:

June 10, my second eight-hour bike ride:

June 11, my second 20+ mile trail run, this time in the rain:

There have been good benchmark events--"B Races"--along the way, too.


And then there's this:

Since I began training specifically for Ironman Coeur d'Alene on January 9, 2012, I've logged over 200 hours on my bike (nearly 4000 miles), including eleven rides that featured significant climbing and fifteen trainer sessions.  I've spent more than 28 hours in the pool (~84000 yards, or 47 miles).  Despite an injury to my heel, I've run more than 40 hours (about 340 miles).  If you factor in all the time lifting weights (but leave out the time spent stretching, icing, driving to and from training and racing sites, and going to the chiropractor, nutritionist, ART folks, and massage therapists), I've spent about 300 hours in motion specifically preparing for this race over the last twenty-three weeks.

So what will I consider a successful race?  The first goal, as it always is in our family, is to get to the starting line healthy and uninjured.  Barring anything catastrophic in the next couple of days, and putting aside the nagging bursitis in my left heel, I am confident that I will make it to the starting line.  The second goal, as it always is in our family, is to finish.  Once again, barring anything catastrophic in the next couple of days or during the race itself, I am confident that I will make it to the finish line.  But what then?  It would be dishonest for me to say that I would be content solely with finishing given the amount of work I've done and the results I've had throughout the spring.  We chose Ironman Coeur d'Alene specifically because it was a course--i.e. one with a wetsuit swim and a lot of hills--that would suit me.  I don't want to go into too many details about my time and place goals, but it would be a surprise to no one for me to say that I am focused on winning a spot in the Ironman World Championships in October in Hawaii.

This is, of course, no small task, given the competitiveness of my age group and the fact that I learned to swim exactly one year ago this week.  There will probably be six or seven people in my age group who will qualify, which means I need to finish in the top five in my age group just to be certain.  If Coeur d'Alene follows the pattern of the races I've done so far this year, I'll be a middle-of-the-pack swimmer, but one of the fastest cyclists and one of the very fastest runners.  In specific terms, this means that coming out of the swim, I will probably be somewhere around 200th in my age group and 1200th in the race.  If things go well, I'll pass most of those folks on the bike and almost all of the rest of them on the run.  Ironman is much tougher than the shorter races, but there's no reason for me to believe that it won't follow the same general pattern as the other triathlons I've done as long as I execute my plan.  

Cold execution of the plan.  My wife Kacie brilliantly demonstrated the effectiveness of this when she finished third in her Double Ironman in February.  This is all the remains for me.  Think good, relaxed, fast thoughts for me on Sunday morning, starting at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time!    

Monday, June 11, 2012

Crazy Ol' Quassy!

Last weekend, my wife Kacie, our friend Sparkles, and I all went to Middlebury, CT, to compete in Rev 3 Quassy.  There was an Olympic distance triathlon on Saturday and a half-iron distance triathlon on Sunday.  Kacie and Sparkles would be reprising their roles as 2/3 of a relay on each day.  As was the case in Knoxville, our friend Jill would be swimming at each event.  With Ironman Coeur d'Alene looming only three weeks away, I opted to compete solely in the half-iron aquabike event.  The weekend was quite an adventure!

Last year, Kacie and I made this same trip.  It's a fun way to start the summer, and it's good to see many of Kacie's teammates.  Like last year, we stopped in Raleigh, NC, on the first night to hang out with and sleep at the house of my Aunt Georgia.  She was hospitable as usual, and it was great to see her.  We then traveled the rest of the way up.

There were two big changes in the drive this year.  First, we had Sparkles with us!  This is always a bonus for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is her willingness to take pictures while in transit:

(I probably should have had my eyes on the road.  We were going about 75 mph at the time of this shot.)

Second, we took a much different route that avoided the large cities.  Thus, rather than getting stuck in massive traffic in Richmond, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, we got stuck in a little traffic in Maiden Creek and Kutztown, PA.  Overall, it was a better route, until we were STOPPED by traffic in the LAST TEN MILES OF THE DRIVE.  The last ten miles, all in Connecticut, took us over an hour.  That sucked.  With a bit of creative navigating, though, we ultimately arrived at the race site:

The Quassy Amusement Park is a small, family-owned, old school amusement park with wooden roller coasters, a merry-go-round, and the most immodest bathrooms on the planet.  It's not a place that you would initially say, "Oh, yeah, this is a good place for a race."  It is a great place for a race, though; there's a big lake, and it's situated amongst medium-sized roads in a hilly area.  We've had good experiences there both years.  

The word of the day on Saturday was rain.  Rain, rain, rain.  Happily, I was only a spectator that day; it was miserable.  In twenty years, I have only seen a race held in weather that bad once before: the 1995 NCAA District IV Cross-Country meet at Furman University.  That day, my coach looked at me about five minutes before the start, and said, "You know, cross-country is a fucked up sport."  He was right.  Evidently, triathlon is, too.  Here was the scene at the start of Saturday's race:

The weather was so bad as to be ridiculous, and this overall feeling can be summed up by Jill's struggle with her wetsuit:    

    (Note: Jill wore her jacket in order to stay DRY, while putting on her WETsuit.  This was at least ten minutes and a full can of Tri-Slide into the process.)

Jill eventually got her wetsuit on, and the Tri-anosaurus Rex was ready to give it another go:

(Grrrrrr!!!!  We're cold!!!!)

Kacie was understandably nervous about riding in the rain given the Darden family history of cycling mishaps in the rain.  As I stood with her in the transition area, the ambulance lit up and drove out of the parking lot, and the DJ said, "That's never a good sign." Kacie nearly bagged it right there.  But she didn't, and she ended up riding well.  Sparkles ran well, and the team took home second place in the relay division:

    (Go, Tri-anasaurus Rex! Rawr!!)

On Sunday, the weather was better, although there were still plenty of puddles.  When we arrived on site, we were directed by a volunteer to park on a baseball field.  I hesitated a bit, and then drove directly into the mud:

The volunteer saw that we were stuck, and then took off in the other direction.  She was gone like a flash.  In retrospect, her rapid escape is kinda hilarious.  I presume she thought I was going to yell at her.  There was no moving this car, though, so we left it in the mud and went to race.  The car's predicament strangely presaged the mechanical issues to come.  

Jill and I started together, since relays and aquabikes started together.  (This meant that for the second race in a row, Jill had to babysit me as I stood there in my new wetsuit getting nervous.  It's not an enviable position.  Thanks, Jill!)  We swam almost exactly the same split; Jill told me later that she intentionally moved away from me as soon as the gun went off so that we wouldn't be kicking and punching each other the entire time.  My time put me right in the middle of the pack, which is what I seem to be no matter what the event, the wave, the distance, or the effort I put forth.  Jill passed off to Kacie, and I changed into my cycling gear.  I then found that my front tire was completely flat.  I quickly changed it, pumped up the new one, and I started to make my way out of transition.  Before I made it 100 feet, though, the new tire also went flat.  I was at a loss as to what to do, and I stood around for a minute or two before I realized I could take it to the mechanic at the edge of transition.  He changed the tire very methodically, and he lectured me throughout about how triathletes need to learn to change tires.  I was in no position to rush him or to explain that I did know how to change a tire (and in fact, had just done it).  So I listened quietly, thanked him when he was done, and bolted out of transition with a 15:23 transition time.  Since I was in the last wave of the day, the transition area was virtually empty.  Mine was probably one of the last five bikes to leave, which meant that about 1100 people were in front of me.  

I probably caught 900 of them.  No joke.  I had a brilliant ride on my newly-tubed tire.  My bike split was the fastest in the aquabike division by about 10:00.  It was faster than any relay or age-grouper, it was faster than nine of the twenty pro men, and it was faster than all of the pro women.  Yes, of course, I did not have to run afterwards and most other folks did, but nonetheless, 2:25:00 on the super-hilly Quassy bike course is smoking.  And even though I intended to give it everything I had, I still felt like I had a bit in reserve at the finish.  This was a fantastic confidence-builder for CdA.  

While Sparkles was running, Kacie and I were able to get the car unstuck thanks to a teen-aged park employee and a good samaritan that got super-muddy in the process:

  (Notice the beer in the good samaritan's hand. He said afterwards, "Oh, man, I was just drunk enough to agree to this.")

For the remainder of the ride home, this was our view out the front windshield:

(It's been eleven days, and we still haven't gone to a car wash.)

The three of us headed out of Middlebury, had dinner with friends in NYC, and then drove through Sunday night and into the next morning in order to get home without stopping.  In all, we went about 2200 miles, roundtrip, in five days.  We slept the rest of the day on Monday, and then I went out for a 20+ mile run on Tuesday to kick off my last two big weeks of training.  (It felt terrible.  Undoubtedly, we ate way too many cookies at Dottie's Diner before we left!)

My next blog post will be my last one before Ironman Coeur d'Alene.  In it, I'll disclose my goals and share my tracking information.  My next blog post after that will be my race report.  (Saying that makes it feel really close!)  Even though it was intense and draining, Rev 3 Quassy was both a great way to start the summer and a really good last benchmark ahead of Coeur d'Alene!