30 Bananas a Day!

Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin (how I didn't die)

I'm still marinating in the gazpacho of emotions from last week's Ironman. It was awesome. And it sucked. It can be punctuated with a lot of these-- !!!!, but also a lot of these-- #$%#@. As my wise friend, Neeraj, said, "You didn't die and you finished; therefore, you won!" That's so true, "So shut up, ego, and leave me alone for a minute to marinate."

In many ways, it stands out as THE benchmark day amidst a benchmark year amidst my life. Without so many lovely people on-site and others crowding my brain that day, so much to be grateful for, I would have quit and/or be mostly dead.

For all my Ironfans who want the juicy details, you're going to get 'em. And for my own peace of mind, who needs to make sense of the day and take lessons for next year, let's get busy answering the burning question on everyone's mind, or mine anyway--that is...WTF?

Have you seen that wiener of a dude at the finish line, stomping his foot for not going fast enough? That's not me, this time. (Give me an intervention if it ever is). Believe me, I gave myself total permission to go as slow as I needed to, in order to not end up in a ditch on a Wisconsin dell. I respect my body and the event's brutality too much. Let's face it-- Ironman is tough, no matter which way you cut it. This time it took me 14:00 and change-- not at all according to plan. Hopefully, the puke that I wallowed through can at least be used for the forces of good.

I finished, but the puke didn't.


Plan A, was pie-in-the-sky and the wind at my back, was 10:00.
Plan B was 10:45, based on some key workouts that I thought were justified.
Plan C was faster than last year's 11:51.
Plan D was to help my friend reach his goal.
Plan E was to finish with my friend in case he didn't reach his goal.
And Plan WTF was to beat the 17:00 cutoff time.
The implied goal, of course, was to live to tell the tale. And this...I barely did. Long-story-short, my belly decided he wasn't going to participate that day. He had his own fantastic voyage.

HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN (but didn't stay down)
Three weeks before the race, I was feeling like I hit a wall with my training. My energy level plummeted to uncharted levels of weirdness. I believe I was crashing down from my season high-point of back-to-back epic weekends of racing piled on top of excessive hours of training. So, to salvage the season, I prematurely launched phase 1 of my taper two weeks early. I cut down my weekend volume to about 1/2 and the intensity to about 80% the norm. I also cut down my weekday volume to about 50% the volume but upped the intensity.

The hopeful news in my mind was that date season was back. Operation "race day date-o-rade" was a go. I bought a 15 lbs variety pack and started soaking. I soaked 150 dates of all sizes for 48 hrs (muchas gracias to Shawn and Ted for the pointers). Then I strained the pulp away from the syrup-water and froze the concoction.

Peristalsis was never meant to be seen outside the body.


dateorade ready to freeze till race day

My plan was to go 1:10 in the swim--fast enough to improve my time from last year, but slow enough that I would be mentally certain that I had held back. I went 1:09, which sounds on target, but it was very hard-earned. I felt off from the beginning. Everyone advised to take the turns wide. So, what did I do? I took the first turn as tight as I could. That resulted in me becoming a human bitch-slap dummy. At one point I was even going backwards around the buoy. I didn't notice till the end of the night, but it gave me scrapes and bruises all over my chest. I think I may have even lost my virginity.

7AM swim starts to U2's It's a Beautiful Day

From the first turn, I was stuck on the inside lane, in no man's-land, constantly drifting inward, never in a pack to draft off of. It was a blur, except one distinct memory of rounding the second turn, pacing exactly to the right of a guy who was breathing every stroke to his right, while I breathed every stroke to my left. Our mouths were uncomfortably close to sharing the same air space in a synchronized French kiss. And then it was over. My manhood and my day.

I swore I was going to walk up the three levels of the spiral parking ramp to make sure 1) that my heart rate had recovered from excessive boxing effort and 2) to make sure I didn't bruise my soles for the run (as my friend Amy had warned me about). I've been known to step on staples during races, too.

Earth to? I feel violated.

The fun part was laying on the ground while the wetsuit removers practically yanked me back to my feet. I could never have taken it off as fast without them. "Good decision, Chris."

The course was gorgeous dairy land. Barely any flat portions at all. The hills weren't steep, but you just never had a long enough section of flat to get your groove on. The plan was to take the first lap uncomfortably slow for the first 56 miles, in an easier gear than I would normally ride, making sure to keep my heart rate absolutely below 167 and on average, at my upper zone 2 limit (155). Anyone can ride fast on a bike. But very few people can run fast after riding.

Needless to say, I continued to feel just...off. I devoted myself to taking in water, but like an idiot, I had my first salt pill too early, with barely any water in my system. So, I tried to dilute it by finishing my aerobar water bottle. My hear rate was glued to 167 for the first 20 minutes. Then I started to drink my dateorade. It kinda burns the throat at first, since it's so concentrated, but before I knew it, the first bottle was gone. Yet I didn't feel energized in any way, as I normally do. Instead, I started getting the dreaded burps. This required me to sit up (not in the tucked aero position) to sort of resolve the situation by practically belching the alphabet.

Taking in a salt pill.

Then the burps evolved into dry heaves. Then the dry heaves evolved into all-out projectile vomit to the side of the bike. The recoil almost tipped me over. Then, it became so violent that I actually had to dismount the bike so I could give it the proper bodily follow-through. The evacuation of my belly felt refreshing, like my body hit the reset button. So, for a few miles I would ride hard. But I was becoming dangerously dehydrated and wasn't taking in any calories. So, I started on the Powerbar gels. These had a comforting familiarity to them, but it wasn't long before they too started to get burpy.

I saw my family twice, which was great. It's just a quick neck jerk, though--kinda strains the eyeballs to look to the sides trying to find where those familiar voices are coming from. Luckily they were all in their neon spirit wear and had the inflatable octopus.

At about mile 80, I knew my entire race was in jeopardy. I could feel the dehydration. I had no appetite for food and everything I put down came right back up. In retrospect, it would have been best to get off the bike and attempt a proper sit down meal. 20 minutes of undivided attention to the GI could have saved about two hours of marathon torture.

By mile 100, I knew my race was over. For a nano-second, thoughts rushed through my head, like, "You're knocked down, Chris. Now is the time to get back up and push even harder." Silly head-brain!

I just found out that, in addition to the head-brain, the human gut has a brain as well--the size of a cat's! Seriously (great TED talk about it). My belly's brain, at least, had enough rationality left to call this head-BS what it was. "Chris, you haven't peed once since you peed in your wetsuit before the swim (tee hee hee). You've held down no water! No calories, man! Are you suddenly a breatharian? Your marathon will NOT be a run, but we should treat it like a progressive dinner. If you want to try to run, go ahead-- you'll see what happens pretty quick."

I dismounted the bike, which is supposed to feel like a relief for the monotony of the last six hours. Instead, it hurt like hell. My left foot had completely seized into a clump of plantar fasciitis, which I haven't had to deal with since high school soccer. I limped into the transition area and, by complete chance, sat next to my buddy, Pater. We exchanged UN-pleasantries,
"How are you Pater?"
"I hurt like hell. How are you?"
"I feel like s***, thanks."
"Ok. Have a good run."
"You too."
Then we got lubed up by the rubber gloved sunscreen applicators. It was an orgy of pain, funk, and nastiness in there.

I took some extra time in transition to stretch out my hip flexors and my calves. Then I was gone! How long could this possibly take me if I jaunt it out nice and sleazy? Not much more than 4:15 with a bit of hydration and luck, right? I put down another gel and ran the first quarter mile. The crowd was thick and loud. Then, I was loud and the puke was thick-- "Excuse me people-- I'm gonna blow!" And that was that. It almost landed on a little girl. I had to walk and walk slowly. It was going to take me 6 hours at this pace. And that's IF...I was able to get in fluids. Pater wizzed by me like a friggin locomotion on a mission. Man, that guy is a mechanism. It was pretty inspiring.

The aid stations were handing out coke, which I turned into my new staple. Every aid station I took two cokes and two waters. The hours droned on. But calories were actually staying down.

Cameron Stadium where the Badgers play

Thank God I got to see my family a couple of times. I really needed them. Physically and emotionally, these were some of the toughest pains of my life. My ego hurt a lot too. I kept looking for the burning bush and the moment when the voices would tell me where to carve ten to fifteen commandments. "When belly was in Egypt land....let my belly go."

With a bit of actual running happening between aid stations, I managed to claw my way near Pater. O man, it felt so good to have him by my side. I asked if I could try to keep up with him. I gave him permission to run ahead if he felt inspired. As for me, I just wanted to hang on for dear life, maybe jump behind him, in his slipstream. We started getting kinda chatty and in a groove, run-walking from aid station to aid station. Things were going as well as they could.

Then, a pivotal moment came-- the aid stations started serving chicken broth. I took my usual coke, some water, some gatorade, and some chicken broth. The savory of broth is a welcome relief from so much sweet coke. But at mile 18, that cocktail turned into a weapon of mass destruction. It launched more episodes of puking. Pater plodded on, evidently inspired by the broth.

Susie caught up to me on her bike and discretely gave me an armed escort of support. Perhaps the highlight of the day was at mile 19 when I dropped to my knees and stuck my finger down my throat-- there in the grass next to my upchucked gatorade was a pocket knife. "COOL! Hold on to this Susie." I stood up, suddenly inspired and no longer nauseous and pieced together another mile of running. The crowd errupted in applause! "That's an Ironman!"
"Thanks everybody. I hope someone got that on film and posted to Youtube."

But I could only shuffle as far as the mile 21 aid station before my belly unraveled again and my face started getting really cold. The aid station workers wrapped me in a mylar blanket. I laid there for about 30 minutes, shivvering, while Susie tried to force down some pretzels and water. I had under 6 hours left to finish 5 miles, and I was worried.

The pretzels and water were taking. Susie was seriously saving my life by painting little circles on my tongue with the salt of the pretzels. I walked on with a guy named Jeff from Chicago, who had a day similar to mine. We took turns jumping into each other's slipstream, making jokes about how awful we felt, thanking all the volunteers and the thinning crowd of spectators. We asked each other's name several times because we kept forgetting. He really helped pass the time by. We thought it was just the funniest thing in the world when this 70 year old guy passed us. He looked fresh and we looked like crap.

Jeff and I held hands down the finish chute and then we attempted a mid-air high five at the finish line. Like most of the events that day, it didn't really work out right, but it was beautiful in its own way.

9PM finish to U2's Where the Streets Have No Name

This whole week following the race, I feel jipped by my results. Do they have mulligans (redo's) in triathlon? The outcome of the race wasn't at all commensurate with the input of my preparation. Still, this past year has been so over-the-top amazing, that I would do it all again even if I knew it would mean a race as painful as that next year. Nevertheless, I have a new imperative on how to squeeze out the best of both worlds-- 1) an amazing year of training on raw fruits and veggies, AND 2) a logistically simple kick-ass race result based on synthetic race-supplied gas station junk "food". 

The day after the race and this week after, my body has felt uncommonly fresh-- relative pep, no soreness, and best of all ZERO injuries to speak of. This is a huge advantage over last year's result, which took months to recover from. All the books say to take to take time off and get back into "embarrassingly easy" workouts gradually. We'll see if I can help myself. I'm thinking I need a redemptive marathon this fall. Hmm?

Since the race, I've had a bunch of naughty meals this week. They feel familiar and comforting in the moment, but their value is better based on how they make me feel the hours after them-- which is to say, not so good. So as I recharge my batteries this off-season, you better believe I'm going to hold fast to my truck-loads of raw fruits. It's been a secret weapon as much as hydration, calories, and sleep.

If I've learned any lessons at all from this debacle of a day, it's that timing is everything-- when to peak, when to hydrate, when to eat, when to push, when to groove, when to sit in. For next year, I'll definitely be getting a coach. My head-brain, gut-brain, and you-know-what-brain need to defer to someone else with expertise for a while.

Happily, today marks the beginning of yoga, pilates and house project season! I'll keep you posted on how next season goes.

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Comment by Shawn Leonard on October 3, 2011 at 3:01pm


Be sure to save this to be included as a chapter in your memoirs!  Some great lines in there.

Again, sorry your day didn't go as you had hoped.  It's good you can look back and laugh - and even did laugh during it. 

Think back to the few days before the race.  What was different in those days (sleep, hydration, stress, food, etc) compared to your normal routine.  It was probably something pretty minor that manifested itself during the 2.4 mile water hockey game.  Sounds to me like you have most of it figured out.  No doubt, the next one will be ok.

For sure, get into that marathon.  Your ironman effort, while long, really wasn't that demanding compared to your fitness level.  The way you felt in the days afterward just confirm that. 

Thanks for the report.  I enjoyed reading it. 


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