Todd Gray Redman 140.6 Race Report 2014
Redman IM Blog by Todd Gray
Well as I ponder what to share, two things come to mind: I am comfortable as I sit eating ice cream listening to classic music and I hope I can share something that may be insightful or entertaining. I was neither comfortable or reflective on Saturday as I 'raced' my first IM distance tri, but I was 'all in'.
Bottom line up front: first IM distance triathlon, 18th Overall ( 129 finishers ), 2nd in AG of 12 (old guy group)
Swim 1:20:30 (1:56/100m) T1 2:11 Bike 6:02:34 (18.5mph) T2 4:57 run 5:25:25 - 12:55 final time.
Foremost on this journey, I trusted a new training method (the Maffetone philosophy) after abandoning a training method that had just garnered me 2nd place in an eight state regional series of 4 off road triathlons called the XTERRA series. Why mess w/success? I really felt my tried and true method of 8 years of bike racing was reliable, but I had concerns how my body would hold up as the volume and intensity increased for training for an IM. My normal method usually had a lot of intense intervals during the 'build' phases. About this time Alex Weaver introduced me to Phil Maffetone's book The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing. I can't underscore how key my training buddy and this book were to my Redman experience, period!
The Redman experience: I feel as if I could write a book about the training and race prep without ever discussing the race honestly, but that wouldn't be as much fun for a blog reader. So here we go.
After a final OWS by myself on Wed. (shhh, don't tell my wife I was solo, I did have my wetsuit on I promise), I knew I was feeling ready and rested. Thursday, I ran 2 miles quickly and hit the gym for a quick 10 minutes of core work to just activate the muscles. I took off Friday and leisurely drove up to OKC just before lunch, eating plenty of healthy carbs along the way. Check-in took a total of 30 minutes including the safety briefing, chatting with a maint guy and racking my bike. About this time Alex arrived and we wrapped our bikes in stretchwrap as the forecast indicated a 5 am shower! Literally, our bikes looked like a large infestation of spiders had attacked our areo machines. We walked the entry and exits of the transition area, but we knew this time would be unique and the prep could be the difference in success or a miserable experience in the most important athletic event of our adult lives. I had a favorite dinner (calamari and spaghetti) before 5:30 pm so I could go to be bed early.
At 4 am I leapt from my sleep and was so jacked 'my big day' was finally here! I ate exactly the same meal I had for all those long bricks over the summer. (chia seeds, raisins, protein powder (casein type), oats and flax seeds) Wasn't going to change that I promise! I added a banana just because it was about an hour earlier than most Saturday bricks. I drank my usual glass of water as I drove to the race site (1 mile?). No stress I promise.
Cool tip: on Friday I asked the guys at the bike maint. tent if they minded if I aired up my tires with their pump to save my wife the task of keeping up with my pump. I know some of you worry about variances in pumps - thats cool; have your spouse tote your pump; no biggie to me. One less thing to jack with and if the valve tip breaks off, they already have some motivation to get me rolling since they broke it!
Setting up transition was a breeze: set out a few things, turned on Garmin and met a friend from the Beginner Triathlete forum whom I had conversed all summer with. Invited him to Denton to train for a week next summer! Probably the most relaxed set up ever. Probably because I had done it in my mind so many times.
Hung out with Alex Weaver and our both our families until we could go to the water. Honestly, there were a lot of nervous people in transition area and I wanted to get out of there.
The sun started rising and we walked the the swim start. They said something about safety and we got to hear the Star-Spangled Banner. I prayed for strength, courage and patience and chatted to keep my mind occupied. Then they said we could enter the water! I went right to the front and inside and was surprised how open the front row was. It was packed about 3 rows back. Good call! After about 30 seconds someone said "we can go" so I took off. I didn't even hear a horn or gun or anything. It was just like any OWS in Ray Roberts at first: took a couple of minutes to get into a rhythm, but I soon found my stroke and being up front kept me from being swam over by 'the overzealous'. I tried to hang on to a couple of guys, but the choppy water made it hard to stay close to anyone. As we worked our way around, the wind started to pick up as the sun rose and we really felt the affects as we swam. I struggled to see the buoys at moments due to the waves. This was by far the strongest winds I had ever swam in and the waves that crashed against my face felt like I was slapped for back-talking as a child (uhhh, if that had ever happened of course). Then I realized I better change my swim stroke to a shorter, more physical stroke because this gliding stuff was just allowing people to pass me too easily. Boom! Smartest thing I had done all morning. I was now able to try to latch onto a swimmer and although the chop prevented any efficiency, I was swimming faster and passed a couple of people. That helped me mentally. I knew the 2.4 miles would be about as long as any practice swim, but I was surprised how quickly it ended.
As I exited, I saw my time and was uber disappointed because I had put in a very strong effort. I was expecting to break 1:12 to be honest. I didn't realize until later, this race day would turn out to be the "second windiest day in their 10 year history". As it turned out, I was only about 8 minutes behind the eventual winner, so I had a much better swim than I could have hoped for, I just didn't know it.
After a quick T1, I was rolling quickly and with a tailwind. It was so weird blowing through the intersections and passing 70.3 racers. I felt like Superman or someone important as I 'flew' toward the open areas I would later nickname the "killing fields". I hit the 28 mile point with a 20.5 mph avg and knew I had some real work ahead as I would have about 15-18 miles of straight headwind coming back to the 56 mile point. I tried to be patient and monitored my heartrate. All I monitored was HR and cadence on the ride (this is how I trained). At 3 points I checked avg HR and avg speed; that was my plan and I stuck with it. Alex and I had trained for a specific HR target and I hit the average, but burned too much energy the first 30-45 miles I learned later. I tried to hold back, but the excitement got the best of me.
At about 80-90 miles my front derailleur was sticky so decided to just push up a couple of the rolling hills in the big chain ring as I was fearful I could not get back into the big ring if I shifted down. WOW! That caused some light cramping immediately and I had only experienced light cramping once during the whole summer. Ok, this might be an issue because this indicated my legs were not as fresh as I thought. But I figured it must be from those two efforts and not my legs because I felt pretty good, right?
I increased liquids, but couldn't add gu/fuel because I think I maxed out on my body's ability to process fuel (350 cal/hr). I began to bloat a little & wanted to yak, but knew bad things would follow if I did, so I just kept trying to slow my speed down by reducing effort. Surely I was going too fast although HR and cadence were good. I was a little confused by how this was unfolding as I left the open area now called the "killing fields". I sipped some Gatorade and a couple of legit looking athletes passed me and this reassured me I was slowing, but I felt a tad nervous about my upcoming marathon. I just needed to 'limp' into the T2 area because I trusted my run.
Finally a great thing happened! I saw Alex Teague and his daughter calling me at the final aid station. They had driven up to support us by volunteering at the race. This was so cool, I wanted to stop and chat. I don't think I did, but I remember trying to say something. Maybe I did stop, I truly don't recall. I have no idea what I said. As I rode the last 3 miles in, I realized I was pretty spent (I didn't know it, but I avg'd 18.5 mph in really tough conditions and had overdone it on the bike). I would soon learn of my mistake. (remember: this turned out to be the second windiest day in Redman history)
As I gingerly got off my bike, I stumbled and just thought it was from my shoe and pedaling for so long. As I walked to transition, a lady jogged over and asked if I needed help to the bike rack and attempted to take my bike. I said, "no" and thought "the bike rack is 20 feet away, really?". I sat down and started to put on my socks, then wam! My hamstring tried to lock up. As the sun baked, I knew this was a bad sign and I thought of the 'tremors' I felt an hour ago on the bike. As I was leaving T2 my sweet wife said 2 times quite loudly, "make SURE you drink plenty of liquids!" Why didn't she say something about a good bike ride or I look great?
Well after about mile or two I realized why my wife sounded more concerned than encouraging; I must have looked awful. I began struggling as I ran into a headwind and started to monitor an elevated HR. Then I remembered I hadn't urinated since 7 am. I now realized how severe my dehydration problem was and the clues were clear: cramping on the bike, not remembering what I said to Alex T., stumbling at the dismount, the lady in T2, my hamstring trying to cramp and my wife's 'encouragement'. Not an ideal start to a marathon most likely....nor my plan.
As I made way through the first 3-4 miles I saw my good buddy Alex Weaver! Praise God for a friend on the course! He looked as though he had skipped half the bike because he looked fresh. I hoped it was just a matter of time til we would run together. That's what I needed right now: a slow pace and good friend.
I worked consistently to hydrate and stuck to my plan of just gu and salt tabs while walking each aid station. Where's Alex I kept thinking? I got to see Alex Weaver about every 20-40 minutes based on how the course was set up and my family and Alex Teague every 60-80 minutes or so. So fortunately, I was seeing friends and family intermittently throughout the marathon. I did walk 2-3 minutes at each buffet table/aid station from miles 15-20 and that much walking was not in my plan, but I really wasn't very successful at rehydrating. I think I was equally bloating. I did start chewing some pretzels and they were tasty, but my body was just not processing calories well. After unlimited encouragement from strangers (your name is printed on your bib #), family and friends, I was approaching my last 6 mile loop. My daughter and her boyfriend were willing to run (I can't say 'jog', please don't look up my pace) the final loop, but I told them I had to do this solo and thanked them. On the final loop I saw my training buddy and mentor. We just stopped, shook hands and chatted briefly. I was truly disappointed we were not running on the same mile or I would have just sat and waited so we could finish up together. I had said many times during training it would be cool if we could run the marathon together and having seen each other 7 times on the course, in a small way, we kinda did.
Fortunately I only fought a 'real' cramp on the run during mile 24. Sure every mile was hard and the legs were tight and heavy, but I think a strong core and trying to maintain form were key to avoiding cramps. I can't underscore the importance of that core work - without it, I am sure my unbalanced torso would have caused more problems.
Heroes: Alex Teague and his daughter for driving from Denton to work the race, encouraging us on the bike course and 12 times on the run course! My family and Alex Weaver's family for their patience, encouragement and presence throughout the run course. Ben Drezek pulling out a chair and hanging out to encourage us run. And the stranger sitting in the lounge chair on the course chatting with me, twice each lap, as if we had been neighbors for years.
Lessons learned: be more mindful of the humidity (86%) and conditions (wind and heat) as they unfold - then adjust as you can. I should have backed off at 28 miles when I noted my avg speed, avg HR and consistent winds. It was quick for several reasons - I chalked it up mostly to a tailwind, but was probably wrong. When I picked up my award the next morning, I learned Saturday had been the hottest Redman in history and the second windiest day; the avg finisher was 62 minutes slower in 2014 than in 2013....hmmm, well I was 'all in' from the start, no debate there.
Lastly: Trust your training - I would not change a thing in my prep based on my limited experience. The Maffetone method kept me relatively fresh throughout my 18 week plan and injury free less some tendonitis in my foot in Sept (not a real issue once I rested and iced it). It was truly a great experience and I give God credit for the strength, courage and wish I had been a little more patient ;)