Ironman Success!

Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Training

To say that the 2011 edition of Ironman Germany was difficult would be the understatement of the year.  We faced fierce winds, torrential rains, cold temperatures, and more.  There are so many memories from this event and trying to remember them all will be difficult, so I’ll bullet-point them below:

  • It felt like forever between arriving at the swim start and getting into the water.  I chatted up Grazi, Israel, and Lucy, but mostly just tried to kill time.  This part sucked.
  • Once in the water, Grazi, Gunnar, and I (the three Gs!) found each other and we group-hugged within the last minute of the countdown.  Felt good to see my two great friends and training partners and to wish them good luck.  They wound up having amazing days.
  • The gun went off and pandemonium ensued.  There is no way to articulate to people how crazy an Ironman swim start is.  In our case, 2,300 athletes all charged into the same area of open water.  It was kill or be killed.  It was part defense and part offense.  I’m normally not a hostile guy, but I let out many more F bombs than usual.  Unlike my other two IMs, I managed to find a good patch of sustainable open water after 8-10 minutes vs 25 minutes in Lake Placid.  That was a welcome surprise.
  • I felt good in the water and though I went to the breast stroke from time to time, it was only to get a feel for what was going on around me.  At no time did I feel like I was in trouble or fatigued.
  • My swim time was under 90 minutes by a hair, so while that was good, I had hoped for better.  Oh well, close enough.
  • When I got out of the water, I noticed it was raining.  One can’t tell that while swimming.  It wasn’t just raining though; it was coming down in buckets.  Here’s a pic of my swim exit:

In case you're wondering, that's me without a beard or goatee. First time bare-faced in 15+ years.

  • I got to T1, grabbed my bike bag, and entered into the men’s changing tent.  Got a lot of help from volunteers but still took forever, like 15 minutes.  God knows what the heck I was doing all that time, but whatever.
  • Most people ran to their bikes and ran out of transition.  I walked.  Nothing inside me said rush.
  • Got onto the bike and began to assess how I’d do with the conditions.  They were bad.  In the grooves of the road, there was much water.  Trick was to avoid the grooves, but that wasn’t always possible.  Coming up behind riders meant dealing with the spray from their tires.  Yuck; it didn’t taste or feel good.
  • About an hour into the bike, I climbed Heartbreak Hill and felt great.  Shortly thereafter, I entered into the famed cobblestone section where there was incredible fanfare.  We’re talking blaring music, an announcer calling out each athlete’s names, and scores of fans choking the narrow path and cheering us.  But, because of the crazy rain, the cobbles were super slick and with the latter portion being uphill, getting out of the saddle forced my weight to the rear of the bike which then made the wheels slip with each pedal stroke.  Felt dangerous and inefficient, but it was somewhat mitigated by the incredible fan support.

  • Saw my teammate Lucy shortly thereafter that and she reported being so miserably cold and wet that she wanted to quit.  I slowed down to ride with her for a few minutes, which is considered against the rules (IF you get caught!), and to give her a pep talk.  She’s such a wonderful person and so nurturing, so I thought that she should know how much I appreciate her… and that seemed to buoy her spirits.
  • For the first two hours, I averaged about 18.6 mph which would add up to a 6 hour bike time if sustained.  It was not meant to be as two major factors decided to join the race:

o      My neck pain.  I’d been doing well for the last month and haven’t felt much discomfort from this nagging condition.  For me, the pain resides lateral to the shoulderblades, right near the spine.  I’ve gone to my massage therapist and she’s helped a lot, but I know that I need acupuncture and serious physical therapy hereafter.  For this race, it dogged me for the rest of the day and made the ride so much more uncomfortable.  Even today, the next day, I am in measurable discomfort.

o      The winds.  We didn’t know how windy it would be, but it wound up being so bad that even going downhill, we were lucky to go 17 mph… while pedaling!  Coasting?  Not possible to do so and maintain speed.  It felt like someone was holding back my shoulders to prevent me from making progress.  Oh, and for some reason, the headwind seemed to be prevalent no matter what direction we traveled.  We did notice huge windmills (as in the alternative energy variety) within the valley where we rode, so that should have been a good indication that it was a windy area.  They don’t typically put windmills in flat wind areas!

  • Right around that two hour mark on the bike was when I noticed that I had a headache.  It wasn’t horrible, but was strong enough to bother me a lot.  It never subsided, so I had to live with it for like 9+ hours.
  • Towards the end of the first bike loop, we climbed The Beast, a famous hill on this course that was again lined with spectators on both sides creating a rather narrow riding area, similar to what many have seen on TV during the Tour de France.  It was electric; fans were screaming at us to get up that hill, patting us on the butt, and doing everything possible to encourage us.  Truly, it was one of the most memorable experiences from this event.  I got up the hill with no problem, and passed dozens of struggling riders.  I seem to be good at hill climbing, and this experience validated that notion.  I’ll take hills over wind any day.

  • The rest of the ride on that first loop was uneventful… and slow.  Those damn winds.  I made it back to Frankfurt but not before being lapped by the eventual race winner, pro athlete Faris Al-Sultan (a German).  He won the 2005 World Championship in Kona and has remained a top athlete since.  Funny thing about him: he sports a beard with a long ponytail, and races in only a small speedo and tight sports top that looks like a woman’s sports bra.  Hard to tease a guy like that who puts up a finish time of 8 hours and 15 minutes!
  • The second loop was considerably slower than the first, and I felt like poop for most of it.  Thank you wind, neck pain, and headache.  I tried getting in more calories as well, but my body began to reject the gels and granola bars.  After a while, they just didn’t taste good anymore, so I opted for just getting my calories via fluids.
  • Finally, at the end of the bike, I got to the dismount line for the bike and handed my bike to a volunteer who valet-racked it for me.  Nice perk!  I then headed to the changing tent where another volunteer grabbed my bike bag.  I noticed however that there was only one tent for both genders, not two like at T1.  My volunteer emptied my contents and helped organize things for me.  I told him that I wanted to change my shorts; where do I do that?  The porto-john?  He answered me in German.  I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” and he repeated himself.  I said again, “I’m sorry sir, but I still don’t understand.”  He then yelled the same answer and realizing that I wasn’t getting it, he threw his arms in the air, exhaled in exasperation, and demonstratively marched to another volunteer for help and pointed back at me.  A 65  year old woman came over and asked me what I wanted, and I told her about wanting to change my shorts and that I didn’t know where to do that.  She said, “Right here.”  I looked around and asked if that was okay in front of all of these people, women included.  She said very matter-of-factly, “We’re Germans.  This is okay.  It is what we do here.  Take your pants off.”  I paused a moment, considered my options, and said screw it… and dropped the shorts.  I expected her to turn around to at least feign privacy, but she folded her arms and stared right at me… looking down!  It should be known that after riding a bike for six and a half hours, I was not… how one would say… at my full “potential”.  Picture George Costanza coming out of the pool.  Without batting an eye, she then gathered my things and sent me off on my way.  Wow, what an experience for T2!
  • I ran into my teammate Anne right away at the beginning of the run, and we ran together for a little while.  She had nausea and needed to hit every bathroom along the way, so I pressed on alone.  I felt like I was making great progress and I had it in my mind that I’d run that first loop without stopping, thereby completing a quarter of the marathon course.  Aside from a 10 second stop to get water, that plan worked.  But then the wheels came off the bus.  I had to walk at the start of the second loop and had to incorporate a run/walk strategy thereafter.  I tried to develop that strategy based on the course and the separations between aid stations.  I tried to walk the uphills and downhills (there weren’t many) and when I did walk, to do so briskly.
  • I still couldn’t take in any substantive fuel, e.g. gels and the like, so I wound up just drinking Coke for caffeine.  When I got more tired, I drank more Coke, but not so much that I’d get a side cramp.  They had sports drink, water, snacks, gels, pieces of fruit, etc., but again, Coke was the only thing I could tolerate.
  • During the second run loop, the rains came back again.  It was a weird weather day overall.  The sun did come out a number of times, and during some of those sunny/warm spells, it was still raining.  I was either too warm or too cold.  Hot, cold, wet, dry, and every combination therein.  Mother nature really had it out for us.  Anyway, on the second loop, that rain was very heavy for a good two kilometers, but then it subsided a bit.

  • It was on this second loop that Gunner, then Grazi, then eventually Anne, all passed me.  G & G were actually looping me and they each finished with amazing times.  I believe Gunnar had an overall time of 11:55 or something, and Grazi finished just 2 seconds over twelve hours.  Amazing!  After all we went through this year, to think that we were in the same category was clearly a misperception.  They are rock stars.
  • On the third run loop, things got worse for me.  I felt that a few of my toes were becoming sore and problematic, likely a function of being totally wet and rubbing and banging within my shoes.  Ultimately, this has become the most prevalent physical issue from this race; the toes and feet.  I had to, as a result, really slow down and walk a lot.  I still tried to get to every aid station and only walk for a short while thereafter, but some walks were longer than others.
  • On the fourth loop, I ran into teammate Alberto, who was passing me, and just before that, my friend Israel who also passed me.  I was happy for them both, and just accepted the fact that there were better than me.  I could live with that.
  • With just four kilometers left, I saw Alberto again and told him what my walk/run strategy was for the remaining distance.  He seemed to be on board, but I later found out that his nutritional deficits robbed him of the ability to really run well anymore.  So, I bid adieu and started my final run to the finish with about 1.5 km left.  At the 1k marker, I decided to really put down a fast pace.  I figured, why not; it’s just a mile.  I can run a mile.  I was surprised that I was able to sustain it and with about a quarter mile to go, I passed Israel… and true to form, both from him and of triathletes in general, he cheered me on.  I love that aspect about our sport.
  • In this event, given that there were four loops, each athlete had to cross the run start area repeatedly.  Before finishing each loop, about 3k from such finish, athletes were given hair scrunchies of different colors:  light green for finishing the first loop, white for the second loop, purple for the third, and neon green for the last loop.  When approaching the run start/finish area, signs pointed athletes to the left if there were loops left, or to the right if it was the end of an athlete’s fourth loop.
  • As I got to that point on my fourth loop, and made that right turn, I remember pumping my fist, smiling, and saying to myself, “I did it.  YES!”
  • I made the final turn into the finish area and encountered a very special scene.  I was running on a narrow red carpet with barricades on both sides.  Fans lined these barricades and held out their hands to be high-fived.  Music was blaring, and blue and white lights bathed the area as if it was a disco scene.  I took my time on this part and held out both my hands to the sides to touch hands with everyone.  Just 50 feet later, that path opened up to a grandstand finish line area, and the scene was electric.  Again, loud music, an announcer’s booming voice, the blue strobe lights, flashing cameras, cheering fans… simply amazing.  Trying to articulate how special it was is impossible.  I heard my coach Robert yell out my voice as he took rapid-fire pictures of me.  I held out my arms towards the sky at 45 degree angles and looked up, as if to say thank you to God, and shook my head in disbelief that I had just faced the demons and still succeeded.
  • A couple of feet before the finish line, I stopped, brought my left hand up to my mouth, and kissed my ring.  That was my message to Roya that throughout all the hardship I faced, and it was one of the hardest days of my life, she was with me.  Whenever I needed a pick-me-up and a simple memory to lift my spirits, I thought of her.

  • When I finally crossed the finish line, I bent over, hands on my knees, a finisher’s medal around my neck and a towel and tin foil blanket on my shoulders, and began to cry.  I remember muttering, “What the hell was that?!  So crazy.  I can’t believe this.”  Moments later, after being herded into the finisher’s area (aka the Athlete’s Village), I bent down again to cry.  A volunteer saw me and asked if everything was okay.  I said, “Yes, I’m just crying,” to which she screamed out, “Medic!!”  I said, “No No No, I’m crying from happiness!”  She smiled, patted me on the back, and said congratulations.

  • My next thought was to get a massage, but the sign at the tent said that I needed to shower first.  So, I got the bag that I had checked that morning containing the clothes that I had worn to the swim start, then went to the shower area.  They had a tractor-trailer that was specifically for group showers.  I entered into the male area and was immediately presented with male genitalia from all angles.  Well, it IS Europe, so I took off my clothes, got the small bottle of soap they were giving out, and stepped up into the trailer.  It was literally hip-to-hip tight in there.  I’m pretty sure prison offers more space.  And, straight from the pages of “you can’t make this stuff up,” I wound up dropping my soap bottle.  A very careful and well-choreographed crouch (not a hip-bend!) later, I got my soap bottle back and completed my Caligula adventure.
  • It was freezing cold outside at this point, so getting changed into my dry clothing was the only thing that made me move quickly.  I then made it to the massage tent where I was asked what needed attention. I said the neck, but maybe also the thighs.  She heard me and took care of the neck, and poorly at that.  No legs.  Oh well.  If nothing else, it validated how great my NYC massage therapist is.  Shout out to Elisa Hendrickson at Hudson River Massage.  She literally beats me up every time I visit, and I’m always better and stronger because of her.
  • After exiting, getting my finisher’s shirt and finisher’s certificate, I went to retrieve my bike and run bags, and my bike.  That was another long haul for my broken feet and I had to walk very slowly and methodically.  I decided, upon successful retrieval of everything, that I’d ride back to the hotel.  That was no easy feat, but even at a slow rate of speed, it was better than walking.
  • Roya and I chatted a little while later and I told her about my experiences, and she revealed that she had been OCD with hitting refresh on her phone to follow my progress online.  It was obvious to her, and to my buddy Brad who texted Roya with my progress, that I got slower and slower with each leg and time split.  Regardless, I teared up again as I told her about kissing my ring and how emotionally draining this thing was.
  • I met up with friends for a glass of champagne a little later, but we got beer instead and that did not sit well.  I hadn’t really eaten since 1 pm or so, and burned a total of 11,000+ calories, so I needed different stuff than beer and a few potato wedges, so I left early, tried to find an open food place, and opted instead for a couple of sugary snacks before hitting the sack.
  • Once in bed, I was wired.  Roya should feel fortunate that she wasn’t there for this.  I was cranky and irritable, and I annoyed even myself!  TV on, TV off; TV back on again, TV off again…  Let’s try music; no, that song sucks, it’s too loud, music sucks altogether, try the TV again…  Eventually, maybe an hour later, I passed out and finally got a great night of sleep.  I woke up a phone call from Grazi inviting me to breakfast, but I passed and instead opted to pack my stuff instead.

There are innumerable other stories and vignettes gleaned from my own memory and from my friends and teammates.  As I remember them, I’ll try to keep a record and put them into another post.  For now, I’m happy to be sitting and off my feet, and I’m hoping to regain a normal appetite.  Eating seems to be my biggest challenge as nothing feels filling and nothing tastes that good.

I have 10 weeks and 5 days until my next Ironman, the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.  Plenty will be written about that event in the coming weeks and months, but for now, my attention is squarely on starting my honeymoon with Roya.

Cheers to all of the people in my life who shared in my daily struggles, who provided support directly and indirectly, and who offered encouragement in any form.  I did a roll call during the swim and thought of all of you.  By that virtue, you were with me and I owe you a lot for helping me once again become… an IRONMAN.

7 Comments on Ironman Success!

By JT on July 27, 2011 at 10:21 am

GG!!!!!! You’re my hero. Congratulations on a hard-fought victory.

By Chris 'RUSTY' Rusert on July 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Great race report. You worked hard and it paid you back in spades. I am so proud of you. I look forward to raising a glass anc celebrating with you. Cheers!

By Chef Mateo on July 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm

GG, practice, dedication, perserverance and finally inspiration. Congrats on eating life!

By Fernando Romero on July 29, 2011 at 8:25 am

Awesome report and an even better experience! Proud of you hermano – here’s to the summer of GG!

By Dad on July 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I don’t mean to demean the effort it required, but I never doubted you’d finish.
I know a little something about pushing on when the bod says “quit.”
Given the particular race negatives, that you did it in a personal record time is amazing!
I am proud of you.

By Mrs. Gordon on July 31, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Baby… with all of the horrible conditions you had to suffer through you still managed to beat your time. To think, if you weren’t so busy with wedding preparations and a new job taking a lot of your time before the race you could have done even better.. You are an amazing athlete and an amazing person. Baby, I’m proud to have you as my best friend and life partner. Now let’s get ready for Kona.. Woohoo!

By Bob Cowin on August 1, 2011 at 1:40 pm


I just got around to reading this. What a day! I have had bad races too, and you should never believe that “they are just better than me”! We all have good races and bad races. This one was tough. Kona will be better!

As I read it I was imagining what mine will be like next year (IMNYC). I hope it’s one of my good days!

Congratulations, and I hope you’re enjoying/enjoyed your honeymoon!


Write a Comment on Ironman Success!


Follow comments by subscribing to the Ironman Success! Comments RSS feed.


Read more posts by