(a.k.a doing your own Ironman for training)
For the past two years I’ve wanted to complete an Ironman as a training day. Thats right – the full 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run – as a training day. And I don’t mean as part of an organized race. I mean going out and doing it on your own. What on earth would make anyone want to do this?
Training deep into the fall for late season races gets boring. It also gets cold in upstate NY. I thought this would be a good way to mix things up. When all the Ironmen have ended their seasons, are hitting up happy hour, and sleeping in, the Ultramen are still out there putting in the miles. Last year I used Ironman Wisconsin as a tune-up for theUltraman World Championships, but after the race entry fee, the flight, rental car, etc., it turned out to be quite an expensive trip. I decided I would not be doing that again this year. So when my friend Ben said he was willing to do an iron-distance training day (dubbed the NothingMan) with me, I was all in to make it happen this year.
Now, there are some obvious disadvantages to doing this on your own:
- no lifeguards
- no aid stations
- no spectators to cheer you on
- no fancy finisher’s medal to show off to your friends
- no one really cares
But there are some great advantages:
- the entry fee is $0
- you won’t get kicked or punched in the swim
- you can make up your own course, and change it on the fly
- drafting is allowed (not encouraged, but certainly allowed)
- you get a t-shirt that no one else has
I extended the invitation to about a dozen people. Besides Ben, there were no other takers (except Chuck, who only did the swim). I wonder why no one wanted to come out?
We started at 7:30AM. Our swimming venue was a small lake in a condo development. Four down-and-backs would get us slightly more than the 2.4 mile swim. The water was very cold. No worrying about wind or rough water, our only problem was the police. That’s right… someone called the cops on us. At about the half way point I could see Ben exit the water ahead of me at the request of the popo. My first thought was to turn around and just keep swimming. But I decided against that and faced the interrogation. Can you imagine that 911 call? “Come quick, 3 crazy guys are swimming in freezing cold water… at the end of September… they might be terrorists.” The residents of this condo development are very vigilant about people swimming in their lake. But after I convinced the cops that I lived there, we were free to complete the second half of the swim and it was pretty uneventful. Considering we took a break to talk our way out of trespassing charges, we had a pretty fast swim. Those cops held me from getting a PR.
A 40 minute transition time. We were freezing cold, dried off in the car, and took our time getting our bike gear ready. I also ran Ben through everything I had in my “transition” area in case he needed something. Turned out, he would need a lot this day!
We rode towards Jamesville, NY where the skies were blue, away from an approaching storm. The first 10 miles of the bike were glorious. But at mile 10 it began to rain. At mile 15 the heavens opened up on us. I learned that my waterproof jacket is not really waterproof. Miles 10-40 were, in one word, MISERABLE. The storm seemed to pass after 2 hours and I almost felt like I was drying out. We banged out another 30 miles in good weather and took a break to refuel after 70 miles. The sun was out and we were feeling great. I did a quick wardrobe change and put on dry clothes. Ben ate about 5 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We headed back out for 42 last miles. Only one car beeped to cheer us on, but that was my girlfriend Beckie, so I’m not sure that really counts since she was obligated! At mile 90, another storm hit us. The temperature dropped drastically. It was cold, hard, zapping rain. Luckily we were about 2 miles from transition so we decided to stop again and regroup. The rain came harder. I gave Ben a dry shirt and a rain jacket for fear that he may get hypothermia. My friend Kristen from T2 Multisport texted and said “I hope you aren’t out in this weather!” And I replied “yes, we only need 20 more miles to reach 112!” We waited it out for about 15 mins and then went back out. We decided to do 10, 2 mile loops. I didn’t want to get stuck 10 miles away in the rain with a flat, or worse. But the loops plan didn’t work – we just rode up and down any street we could to get that odometer up to 112 miles.
I was impatient and wanted to be off the bike. Unfortunately Ben was running out of bike steam and our pace for those last 20 miles was about 13mph. We stuck together because this day was less about racing and more about getting in a long training day.
The rain pretty much ended by this point. Wardrobe change number three into running shorts and dry everything else. I drank an Ensure and ate some fig newtons to try and cram in as many calories as I could. It was 4:30PM and I hadn’t eaten any real food all day.
Another text from Kristen said “Do you guys need anything?” In which case I replied “Broth.” I instructed her that we would be running 4 miles to Green Lakes Park and she could meet us there. We would also be needing some caffeine so I texted Beckie and asked her to pick us up some soda. Yay for receiving outside assistance! The first 4 miles running were pretty easy and we clicked them off at 8:30 min/mile, but I told Ben if we were going to make it that we should probably get into a walking routine (i.e. run a mile, walk a minute). He has never gone this far or long before, so he didn’t know what to expect.
The chicken broth was certainly a tasty treat, and it was the first warm thing I ate all day. We stashed the thermos behind a tree for our next trip back into the park. We ran around Green Lakes a few times and then back to transition, totaling 12.5 miles. We were trying to get half of the run done, but as we got closer and closer Ben was fading fast – he needed calories and soda even though his stomach was not doing great. Back in transition we grabbed our headlamps, refilled bottles, and grabbed some gels. I filled up one water bottle with soda for Ben and took an Ensure for the road.
We headed back to Green Lakes – now running completely in the dark – for the rest of the broth (which was cold by the time we got there). My role between miles 12-20 was now babysitter/crew for Ben (no offense Ben!), and this is when the real pain started for him. Every mile I was forcing him to drink soda, water, Ensure, and eat a gel to make sure he was getting caffeine and calories. He kept complaining he felt lightheaded. I also had to keep morale up by saying “Remember, no one else is doing what we are doing today!” He kept saying “I came this far, I am finishing this thing.” I was now carrying 2 bottles in each hand – 3 of these for Ben. Our walking breaks became longer and longer, while the running pace became slower and slower. We averaged 15 min/miles for those 8 miles.
We were back in transition and with 6 miles to go I was feeling OK but just wanted to be done. We had been on the move for 14 hours! We decided we would do 3, 2 mile loops to wrap this up, but we would do it at our own paces. I filled up Ben’s bottle with more soda and gave him instructions on how much to drink and eat. He was just kind of staring through me. I took off and finished up the last 6 miles at about a 9 min/mile pace. I walked with Ben a few times as I passed him on the loops. At 26.2 I stopped my watch which read 10:30PM, 4 hours 54 mins (that was just running time, I stopped my watch every time we hit the bathroom, breaked for broth, etc). Ben still had 3 miles to go and he was now sort of just shuffling along.
Beckie had been kind enough to order a pizza for us. I left a few pieces for Ben along with his NothingMan shirt on his car. I wanted to shower and go to bed immediately. He texted at about 11:15PM saying he was done. Wow! What determination! Ben… YOU ARE… A… NOTHINGMAN!
All in all, it was a 15 hour day for me. I would estimate that actual swim/bike/run time was probably closer to 13 hours. I’m not sure what to say about this whole experience, it feels like it was a dream. Saturday September 22, 2012 doesn’t exist for me.