Staying calm in advance of the storm.

Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Training

Okay, maybe that title to this post is overkill.  It’s not a storm I’m about to face really; it’s just a long day of doing exercise.  What seems like me trying to rationalize the Ironman isn’t far off from the truth.  All athletes have specific methods to deal with big events ahead of them.  For me, it’s all about breaking things down into small pieces.  So, here it is:

On the swim:  I fully expect to have a hard time.  I don’t want to have a hard time, and I’m not trying to be negative, but my swim mileage waned a lot in the last month for a variety of reasons, and this particular swim is in an open water setting that, this morning, featured some strong swells that I’m frankly not used to.  Can I adapt?  Sure.  Will it sap some energy?  Definitely.  Will that result in me taking more breaks (a break meaning a switch from free-style to breast-stroke)?  Most likely?  End result:  a slower swim time.  Another reality is that, again, I’m participating in this event with the world’s fastest athletes, so most will be way ahead of me in no time thus leaving me pretty far back and likely, with an ocean to myself.  That’s good because I’ll not get clobbered as often, but it’ll be slow going for sure.  For context, the fastest swimmers will be between 50 and 55 minutes.  My buddy Steve will be likely be between 58 and 62 minutes.  I’ll likely be between 90 and 100 minutes.  That’s a big margin!  On the bright side, at least Roya and my friends will have no problem trying to find me in the crowd.  🙂

As most of my close friends know, I’m particularly good at Transition.  That is, for the uninformed, the timed section between the end of the swim and the beginning of the bike legs.  The clock never stops ticking, and athletes need to be able to “transition” from one sport to the other as fast as possible.  In short course events, I’ve been known to be among the fastest at this particular skill, and this past August, I actually “won” this swim-t0-bike transition (aka “T1”) at a race at Harriman State Park.  In this Ironman, I have no designs on being fast in T1.  I intend to take my time, get my clothing on right, apply plenty of sunscreen and anti-chafing creams, and stroll out of the changing tent to get my bike.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’m not going to purposely kill time and have a latte while discussing world politics with the volunteers, but I’m not going to fly through transition and potentially forget something or otherwise jeopardize the 112 mile bike leg.

Once on the bike, I will ride at my Ironman pace.  What is that?  It’s the pace and speed where I feel comfortable.  If at any time, it feels like I’m working too hard, that my muscles are being strained, or that my heart rate is racing to levels that I’ve pre-determined to be too high, I will back off my effort level and find an easier one to settle into.  Now, this strategy is one that should take me through the entire race feeling good and ready for the marathon, but the reality is that there will be hill sections that will tax me physically and where muscle strain, high heart rate, and general fatigue will be unavoidable, and that’s part of any long course endurance event.  In my long training sessions leading up to Saturday, I rode up to Bear Mountain and did other long rides where the hills nearly destroyed me, so I expect that I should call upon those experiences and survive relatively unscathed.

I’ve broken down the bike course into the following segments:  1)  There is an out-and-back section of 10 miles where the course runs south of Kona for 5 miles and returns back to town.  2)  There are about 33 miles of rolling hills between lava fields from town to the turn-off to Hawi.  3)  The round trip from the turn-off, up to Hawi (including the 6.5 mile climb itself into horrible headwinds, and the 6.5 mile descent into what should be tailwinds but actually include tremendous gusts of sidewinds) is 36 miles (18 miles each way).  4)  The return trip to town is another 33 miles.  Okay, four segments seem manageable, and assuredly I’ll find small segments within these once I’m out on the course thanks in part to the GPS watch that I’ll wear as well as the cyclometer on my bike with plenty of metrics for me to play with in my head.  Total time should be 6 hours and 40 minutes, but even a 7 hour bike leg would be just fine with me.

The second transition, the bike-to-run transition known as “T2” will also not be conducted the way I would do so in a short course event.  I’m going to change my entire outfit and put on my Terrier Triathlon Team “kit”, reapply the sunscreen and creams, then set out to… gasp… run a friggin marathon.

On the run, I’ve again broken it down into segments that I might be able to mentally manage.  The run course, like the bike course, sets out on a course that takes athletes south of town for about 5 miles.  1) My goal is to run those first five miles at an easy pace and to not walk at all.  At the turn-around, I plan on walking a bit to get some nutrition and fluids.  2)  I would LOVE to run those second five miles, taking me back into town, without walking once.  If that happens, I’ll be well on my way to a banner day.  Really, it’s that simple.  I will have knocked off just about 40% of the marathon just with that out-and-back section.  Amazing… if it happens.  3)  The next 6 miles will be on the Queen K highway and there will be aid stations at each mile.  My goal will be to run to each aid station, walk if necessary through the aid station while getting some nutrition, then run again… and repeat.  4)  There is a turn-off into the Natural Energy Laboratory that takes athletes closer to the shoreline, then turns again parallel to the beach going north.  To the turn-around point is two miles and it is said to be a challenging portion of the course, but as I sense, that’s most likely the case for athletes who have to brave scorching heat… because they’ll be so much faster and therefore face the hot sun.  I will be considerably slower and by the time I get to the Natural Energy Lab, it’ll be either dusk or night (the sun sets around 6 pm), so my expectation is to only face topographical challenges, not meteorological ones.  Really not sure what strategy to employ here, but this is essentially a four mile section… from the turn from the Queen K highway and back.  I suppose the goal is to survive.  Short and sweet.  If I have to employ a run/walk strategy, so be it.  Goal is to just get through it however I have to.  5)  When I get back to the Queen K highway, I’ll have about 6 miles left to go.  That’s about a 10k run.  Professionals can run a 10k in 35 minutes (the fastest ones closer to 30 minutes).  I might go a bit slower.  At this point, I’ll be at mile 20.  Psychologically, that’s amazing.  Seeing the number 20 will be so good for me, I’m sure of it.  Assuredly, I will be super tired and I fully expect to continue to employ the run/walk strategy until… 6)  The final half-mile.  The course turns right onto Hualalai Road from the Queen K, then turns right again onto the famous Ali’i Drive.  From there, it’s probably just 2-3 minutes of running until the most famous of finish lines in all of endurance sports.

As I write this, I can’t believe that I’ll have the amazing privilege to experience this.  I remember how amazing it felt to cross the finish line at Ironman Germany.  Ironically, that race was known as the European Championship and it was a big deal for all involved.  This is bigger, by a large margin.  I fully expect my eyes to be sweating a lot on Saturday evening, and that could result in some salty discharge from the corners of my eyes.  That is not crying; it’s eye-sweat!

I’ll write a little more tomorrow.  For now, I’m horizontal at our house, and friends are all around me helping to keep me distracted.  I’ve been getting well wishes from friends from all over the US and internationally.  I can’t believe how generous and thoughtful everyone has been.  I am humbled by it, and I will be sure to go through my roll call on race day as I remember everyone who has offered so much love and support.


2 Comments on Staying calm in advance of the storm.

By Dimitra Doupi on October 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I got some sweat-discharges happening right now…funnily enough, my blog entry for today, not remembering today’s the day for you, was titled “challenged”.
Reading your words, makes me that much more hopeful that what we call challenge is a call of our soul to reach for our untapped, unlimited, lest for our fears, potential.
With you, body and soul, sweaty discharges and teary ones too not without good cause.
All my love, d.

By Don on October 9, 2011 at 11:53 am

Congratulations, Gregg! Well done. I saw you cross the finish at IronmanLive. I admire your accomplishment.

Write a Comment on Staying calm in advance of the storm.


Follow comments by subscribing to the Staying calm in advance of the storm. Comments RSS feed.


Read more posts by