Tomorrow’s the race. To my surprise, I am not at all nervous.
No, I’m just kidding. I’m a huge bundle of nerves. But, amazingly, not quite as bad as yesterday morning.
When we got into town, The Runner and I went to the Sand Hollow Reservoir, put on our wetsuits, and waded into the 58-degree water, as light rain and a few snowflakes fell around us. We then proceeded to go on a twenty-minute swim.
And it wasn’t bad.
Sure, my hands, feet, and face got cold, but tolerably so. And thanks to the neoprene swim caps I bought for us earlier this week (recommended by Lynette, an experienced triathlete friend of The Runners), my head wasn’t cold.
And all that insulation in the Aquasphere wetsuits that make swimming in a pool so unbearable? Well, that insulation makes swimming in cold open water amazingly good. As in, my arms, legs, and trunk were all perfectly comfortable.
After swimming for just a few minutes I found that I tend to pull to the left. That was easily corrected; I started thinking in terms of always swimming in a slight arc to the right and I wound up going dead straight. I sight every fifteen strokes or so, and am pretty much having to do no correcting at all.
So: I’m still a little freaked out about this race. But not as freaked out.
This time tomorrow, I’ll be in the water. Starting my race.
And somehow, typing that makes it seem more real, and suddenly I have a real need to go take a poop.
Follow The Runner and Me, and Say Hi
I now know both The Runner’s and my race numbers:
- The Runner (Lisa Rollins): 405
- Me (Elden Nelson): 1607
So tomorrow, go to ironman.com to follow our progress. If I understand correctly, you can even type in a message of support to us there, which we’ll be able to see during the run. And that would be pretty cool to see. I’m guessing we’ll both be needing some support by then.
Tomorrow’s the big day.
And typing that makes me need to put my head between my knees and breathe deeply, to keep from passing out.
The awesome thing about doing a race for the first time is that you don’t have to worry about whether you’ve beaten your personal best. You’re just there, hoping to complete. Oh sure, maybe you’ve got a particular finish time in mind, but it’s really just a number you picked because people kept asking you for a number.
That’s how I am about the St. George Ironman this Saturday. When pressed, I say 15 hours is my finish time goal. But I would be perfectly happy with a 16:59.59. In fact, that would be a kind of awesome finish time.
So, as you would expect, I have really thought this race through. Every little detail.
And now, I will share my excruciatingly ingenious Ironman race plan with you.
I am very, very scared of the swim part of the race. First, because I have no real experience with open water swimming. And second, because I have no real experience with open water swimming while thousands of people with very strong legs try to kick me in the head.
So, I plan to tread water for a minute or so after the gun goes off, letting anxious, faster swimmers get well ahead of me, so I won’t be in their way and I won’t get a concussion.
After that, I will swim with one goal and one goal only: finish before the time cutoff.
Oh, and finish with enough energy to do the rest of the race. So I guess that’s two goals.
Provided I finish the swim in time, I plan to slowly change into my bike stuff. Which means I’m being dishonest with myself right now; there’s no way I won’t do this change in a blind panic.
Still, panic or no, I plan to eat something while I change. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich and about 16oz of energy drink sounds about right.
Then the bike ride begins.
There’s been a lot of speculation about what kind of bike I will ride. And by “a lot of speculation,” I of course mean that two or three people have posed the question in the comments section here.
I’ll be riding my beloved Orbea Orca outfitted with Shimano Di2 and carbon tubeless wheels, with no TT-specific modifications — no aero clips, no deep dish wheels, nothing like that. I’m going to ride the bike I love the way I love to ride it. I figure that any theoretical advantage a different, more aero setup would provide is more than offset by my total ineptness at using any of these things.
I’m sure I’ll be the only one out on the course who’s inept at using aero bars and has trouble with deep wheels in a hard wind, though. Right?
I’ll start the ride with a couple bottles of CarboRocket and — since the weather is supposed to be on the cool side (high of 67 – 69), I don’t expect I’ll have to refill more than once. For that, I’ll use whatever they’ve got at aid stations — water, weak Gatorade, whatever.
For food, I’ll be eating Clif bars (White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut) and Clif Shot Bloks (the new Tropical Punch flavor is awesome). I also plan to have a Subway Cold Cut Combo stashed in my bag for about halfway through the ride.
White bread. Extra mayo. Extra extra extra mayo.
I will also chant, over to myself, “rein it in, fat boy. Rein it in. You’ve got a marathon to do after this.”
Whether I am successful in keeping my jets cool will, I’m pretty sure, determine whether I’m able to do any running at all.
Sometime during this ride, I expect to pass The Runner, who will probably have started the ride about 5 – 10 minutes ahead of me.
When I pass her, I plan to grab her butt, albeit briefly. I believe such contact is explicitly allowed for by the race rules.
My objective for the bike portion is to do it in as close to seven hours as possible. If I’m much slower, it’s been a windy day. If I’m much faster, I’ve done a bad job of keeping my promise to myself to save something for the marathon.
When I finish the bike ride, I will change very slowly. I will eat. I will put on running shorts. I will probably wear my LiveStrong shirt for this portion of the event.
And then, I plan to run the first two miles, then take a one minute walking break.
After which, I will take a one minute walking break after each mile run.
Until after the halfway point, at which time I will re-evaluate and may begin taking a minute walking break after each half-mile.
And for the final five miles, I may well just revert to walking. It’s a very likely possibility. In fact, let’s go ahead and call it a probability.
Also, I will drink a little bit at each aid station. And I will eat three Shot Bloks every half-hour.
Sometime during this walk-run exercise / torture, The Runner will almost certainly catch me. We have agreed that if she catches me with fewer than five miles left to go, we will try to finish together. If she catches me with more miles to go than that, she should give me a friendly punch to the left kidney as she goes by. I will then collapse in a friendly heap.
I think 5.5 hours is a reasonable guess for a finishing time for me. So: 2+7+5.5=14.5 hours. with a total of half an hour in aid stations, that’s fifteen hours.
I should point out that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I think that my absolutely safest prediction for the race — the prediction that will almost certainly come true — is that everything will happen differently than I have predicted above.
I’m betting that I’ll have a good story to tell on Monday.
PS: If you’re going to be in St. George and want to get together at the pre-race dinner or something, email me.
PPS: If you’d like to follow me live during the race this Saturday, I’m racer #1607. There should be live coverage on www.ironman.com.
PPPS: Wish The Runner and me luck, OK?
A Note from Fatty: I have an article at active.com posted today, wherein I dispense Very Useful Advice to my triathalete brethren and sistren. Read it here.
You may or may not be aware, but the St. George Ironman is now a mere four days away. Which is lucky for me, because this means I still have plenty of time to start training.
I am, naturally, kidding when I say that. I take the noble sport of Ironmanning very seriously, and intend to finish sometime before midnight on Saturday (i.e., the final cutoff time) if I am not killed by the weather.
Yes, the weather is currently a major concern. And tomorrow, I will talk about why.
But today, I want to talk about the swim portion of the event and how I arrived at my current level of confidence in finishing under the cutoff time.
The Setup to the Setup
When The Runner and I first got our Aqua Sphere Wetsuits, we went to the local rec center and swam 2.5 miles. It took about 90 minutes. I talked about that here.
What I did not talk about was that while I was really tired and overheated, The Runner was beyond overheated. She was dehydrated and miserable. She made clear, in no uncertain terms, that she would never swim in a heated pool in her wetsuit again.
As a supportive and understanding person, I nodded sympathetically. But I didn’t really get what the big deal was.
Then, a couple weeks ago, we did our last big training day — 2.4 mile swim, 70 mile bike ride, 12 mile run — and were shocked to find that our swim time was close to two hours. Very close to the cutoff time.
And that scared us.
Looking for any possible reason why we might be so much slower, I recommended we do the swim again in the pool the next week, this time in wetsuits.
The Runner — remembering how much fun she had in a warm indoor pool wearing an insulated wetsuit — countered with a different idea: how about if I wore a wetsuit, and she wore a swimsuit, and we’d see who was faster, and by how much.
Why, I thought, that’s a fantastic idea!
So, last week, we went to the rec center, again, planning to do our 40 laps, again. As I sat on the bench by the pool, a universal truth occurred to me: there is no way to look cool wearing a wetsuit in an indoor pool.
Fortunately this does not trouble me, because I don’t look cool, ever. So the wetsuit just makes me look uncool in a different way.
We began our swim, and the difference in our speeds was in fact startling.
Ordinarily, The Runner is a faster swimmer than I am: about 7% faster, I think. When I have the wetsuit on, though, I was lapping her every seven laps. Without trying any harder. In fact, I’d say I was not putting as much effort into swimming as I usually do.
However, I was not having fun. No fun at all.
I was overheating, and fast. In fact, I’ve never felt so hot. And that heat, compounded with the close feeling of the wetsuit, started to freak me out. All I could think about was the heat, and the constricted feeling, and this crazy overwhelming need to get out of the wetsuit, pronto.
And so — about 20 laps into the supposed 40-lap swim — I reached my limit. I couldn’t take any more. I climbed out of the pool. I climbed out of the wetsuit.
I’m an endurance guy. I pride myself on being able to put up with stuff — no matter what it is — until I reach the finish line. But here I was, sitting at the edge of the pool, drinking water and wondering what had just happened.
The Swim, Part II
After sitting for a couple minutes, I climbed back into the pool — this time in just my swimsuit — and tried to restart.
And that felt weird.
I was so used to the feeling of my legs automatically floating that to now have them back to their normal “dredging the river” position felt very strange and slow and awkward.
So I went back to sitting at the pool.
After a few more minutes — when The Runner hit her 30-lap mark — I climbed back in the pool and did the last ten laps. Trying to salvage my pride.
“Now I totally get what happened to you the first time we swam in wetsuits,” I told The Runner afterward.
The Runner nodded, sympathetically.
So what does this mean? Well, I think this Experiment yields two very important results:
- It really is much, mush faster to swim in a wetsuit.
- It’s a good thing the swim portion of the Ironman is not in a warm, indoor pool.
And in fact, considering the water at the reservoir for this weekend’s Ironman is currently 58 degrees, I don’t think that overheating is going to be a problem.
In fact, I think I’ll be pretty grateful for that insulation.
Today, I have a story to tell about riding the White Rim last weekend. It is quite a story, featuring a mylar balloon, a brutal serial killer, explosive diarrhea, and a whimsical plush novelty daisy toy affixed to my handlebars.
It’s a good story. All of the above elements feature fairly prominently into that story. And the story is true. To entice you into reading the story, I offer the following photograph of the aforementioned daisy, attached to my aforementioned handlebars:
However, you probably noticed that “explosive diarrhea” is one of the elements in this story, and I assure you it is not a trivial element.
So, consider this fair warning. If you do not want to read a story featuring — in frank and somewhat repulsive detail — explosive diarrhea, you should skip today’s post and perhaps instead watch a video I made last year while riding the White Rim Trail. It’s a good video, and does not mention explosive diarrhea, nor any other biological disasters.
But it also does not contain a whimsical plush novelty daisy toy.
So you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons yourself, then make up your own mind. I’m not going to do your thinking for you.
And now: on with the story.
Kenny’s RAWROD ride has grown to be something larger than a group ride. It’s an important annual event, and a lot of people show up. Enough, in fact, that it’s difficult to tell, when regrouping, when the entire group has gotten back together.
To solve this problem, Kenny had an ingenious idea: a snail necklace. Whoever was the last person in the group would have to wear a specially-constructed necklace, featuring a snail shell. If (and when) that person passed another person, s/he would hand the necklace off to the new slowest person.
Thus, when the person with the snail shell arrived at a regroup spot, we’d all know that the entire group was back together.
It’s a clever idea.
Friday afternoon, I got a phone call from Kenny, as he was driving toward Moab. “I forgot to bring the Snail Shell Necklace,” Kenny said. “Can you put something together?”
“Sure,” I said, though I was not sure at all. “As long as nobody minds that the “last rider” totem will no longer be a snail shell necklace, but will instead be something I purchase at a grocery store on the way out of town.”
Kenny agreed to this.
So, as The Runner and I bought groceries for the next day’s ride, we bought a mylar balloon, filled with helium. We figured that this, fastened to a seatpost, would be an excellent way to indicate last placemanship.
A Cry for Help
The Runner and I arrived at the campground, ate lots of brats, sat around the campfire, and generally enjoyed the RAWROD-eve atmosphere. As the night darkened and people started heading off toward their tents — what with a 6:30am start and all — The Runner and I headed to The Bikemobile; we were going back into town to stay in a hotel.
Why a hotel instead of camping? For the following excellent reasons:
- I don’t like camping.
We started driving down the dark, quiet dirt road back toward Moab. The cloudy sky obscured the half moon, making it so we could see little or nothing except what was lit by the headlights.
Then, suddenly, The Runner screamed in terror, jumping and grabbing my arm.
I looked ahead, then to the sides for her source of fright.
Then I checked the rear view mirror . . . and there was a head, rising slowly and ominously from the backseat, in exactly the way Jason would, if Jason decided to move to Moab and start mountain biking between killing sprees.
I jumped, intaking a (very manly) yelp.
Turns out it was the balloon.
It would be a while before our heart rates returned to normal.
A Farewell to a Serial Killer Balloon
We continued our drive toward Moab. As would not be unexpected from a couple of people who had just eaten their respective weight in bratwurst and spicy brown mustard, we had the occasional need to fart.
Excuse me, that came out wrong. I meant to say that I (and I alone) had the occasional need to fart.
As a courteous and loving husband, I would roll down the windows whenever this important biological function made itself known to me.
At one such time, as I rolled down the windows, the balloon started getting sucked outside. The Runner made a truly heroic grab and actually snagged the ribbon tied to the balloon.
The balloon, however, would not be denied. Snapping the ribbon, it shot outside.
Presumably, it is still at large, sneaking up and terrifying innocent people.
Meanwhile, we now needed to get a new “Last Rider in the Group” talisman. At 10:30 on a Friday night. Luckily, the daisy you see in the photo at the beginning of this story happened to be the first thing The Runner saw as we entered the City Market in Moab.
A Brush With Fame
The conditions for RAWROD were really about as perfect as they could be. By 8:00am, it was pleasantly warm — but not hot — and would stay that way for the rest of the day.
The Runner’s son, IT Guy, drove the first 30 miles in his truck, toting everyone’s water and food. Then he wanted a turn on his bike, so the Runner and I took a turn driving; this worked out perfect; since the Runner and I would be doing the Ironman one week from that day, we weren’t interested in biking the full 100 miles.
The Runner drove, I relaxed, amazed at how much easier it is to do the White Rim when you’re not pedaling.
Then a cyclist rode by, going fast. “How’s it going?” he said, as he went by.
Strangely, I knew the voice, and the face.
“I’m pretty sure that Tyson from Survivor just went by,” I told The Runner. Later, others would confirm it. So there you have it: Tyson is polite to strangers and is fast on his bike.
Foreshadowing at Hardscrabble
After The IT Guy took back his truck, The Runner and I got back to riding. We both marveled at the perfection of the day, how good the trail conditions were, and how much better one feels on the final third of a mountain biking century if one skips the middle third of it.
I felt strong enough, in fact, that when we got to Hardscrabble hill — one of the iconic climbs of the course — I rode nearly the entire thing, only needing to put my foot down at one point. Of course, this left me very hot and thirsty, so I refueled with an unwise number of caffeinated beverages.
“This,” I thought to myself, as I polished off my third caffeinated drink, “is unwise.”
But my tolerance for caffeine is high, and I was thirsty; I wasn’t really concerned.
I should have been concerned.
Urgency Becomes Emergency
The Runner and I pedaled along at an easy pace; our objective wasn’t to finish this 100-mile ride fast, it was to finish it comfortably and not tired. Thus, we were riding toward the back of the group, though not usually at the very back.
But I was starting to feel a little bit upset in my stomach.
We stopped to pee at one of the trailside latrines. I considered taking a little bit of extra time and pooping, but it’s just such a hassle when biking with bibshorts on.
So we kept going.
I was starting to not feel so great at all.
We rode through one of the very few (this year) sections of deep sand. I lost power and fell over. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. In fact, falling in deep soft sand is kind of awesome, because it just doesn’t hurt at all.
But as I lifted my bike back to upright, I felt something shift, and I knew that I was a bomb.
And the fuse was lit.
At an optimistic guess, I would say it was a seven-minute fuse.
“Do you remember,” I asked The Runner, casually, “whether there are any outhouses coming up?”
“No, we’ve gone by the last one,” she said.
I tried to picture a reality in which I would not be pooping within the next three minutes. But I couldn’t imagine such a reality. As it turns out, it’s much harder to use The Secret when you have an urgent need to take a crap.
So I began to try to think of what materials I had on hand and look around for a place where I could take care of the business that an excess of caffeine had made into urgent business.
But I could tell that what I needed to do would require toilet paper. Lots and lots of toilet paper.
“Do you have lots and lots of toilet paper?” I asked The Runner.
“No, but I do have one Action Wipe,” said The Runner, helpfully.
I squirmed. This next fifteen minutes or so, I could see, was going to be a remarkably nasty episode in my life.
I looked around, more desperately, for a place to conceal myself and dig a whole. A large hole.
And then we turned a corner.
There was an outhouse. The most beautifully well-located outhouse in the entire universe.
“I’ll see you in a while,” I said to The Runner, as I broke into a sprint.
A Little Time Alone
By now you have of course figured out that I was the lucky owner of the explosive diarrhea mentioned at the beginning of this story. Which means I don’t need to go into a lot of detail except to say that if the outhouse had been another fifty feet away, this story might have had a rather horrible section where I tried to cleverly describe how I managed to clean my shorts well enough to put back on.
Instead, I get to say that I have never been so grateful for a stinky, hot, tiny room with a seat that leads to a hole in the ground.
Sadly, my business was such that it did not end quickly. Also, thanks to the vents in the outhouse, I could hear The Runner as she talked to people as they rode by:
“Go on ahead, we’re going to be here for a while.”
“Fatty’s got diarrhea, don’t wait for us.”
“Yeah, too much caffeine, he just barely made it here.”
As she talked, I stood up at least three times, thinking I was done.
And, at least three times, I quickly sat back down again. I was not done.
“Hey, are you really the last rider?” I finally heard her say. “You’d better give me that daisy.”
She continued, “No, not for me. For the guy inside.”
I began to contemplate: how would I know, for sure, when I could leave this toilet? It seemed like it would be never.
Finally, eventually, shakily, I stood up and felt like this time I really could step outside.
Kindly, The Runner had already affixed the daisy to my handlebar for me.
As we rode, the daisy looked up at me. Smilingly, encouragingly. And I, considering the disaster that could have been, smiled back. I climbed Horsethief, feeling light as a feather, and twice as relieved. (How relieved is a feather, you ask? Easy: half as relieved as I was.)
I guarantee you, had my stomach begun rumbling, I was ready to turn around and head back to that outhouse. But I made it to the finish line without needing to stop again. Last, but with my shorts unsoiled. The daisy proudly displayed.
Victory is sometimes measured in curious ways.
A Note from Fatty: I know I promised to talk about the wetsuit vs. no wetsuit experiment today, but my mind’s on Moab.
Tomorrow is Kenny’s annual Ride Around White Rim in One Day (RAWROD) group ride.
It is easily one of the top rides of the year. A largeish group of people, riding around the White Rim, at an easy pace.
If it’s even possible to ride 100 miles of rocks, and sand, and bumpy slickrock, at an easy pace.
The thing is, though, my favorite part is always the night before — when we gather around the fire, talk, and eat brats.
Traditionally, Kenny and I split the brats prep into two parts: it’s my job to prep the brats for grilling by boiling them in a beer, onion, and Worcestershire concoction of my own devising. It’s his job to grill the brats and put them on a slice of his homemade bread.
The thing is, the ride’s become pretty popular. So where my little Coleman stove used to be up to the task of boiling enough brats for the group, last year I just couldn’t keep up.
So this year, I’m doing a little early prep:
Yep, that’s 120 Colosimo brats, boiling in three big pots containing 30 cans of PBR, along with an onion and about a half cup of Worcestershire sauce in each pot.
Once they’ve boiled for 45 minutes or so, I’ll pour the whole mess into a couple ice chests, along with a bag of ice.
So when it’s time for brats, we’ll just throw them on the grill over the campfire.
As I sit here — I’m typing in the kitchen, watching the pots so they don’t boil over — the smell of boiling beer and bratwurst is taking over the house. It is, I am confident, the most glorious smell in the world.
Tomorrow, we do the first epic ride of the season.
Tonight, we eat.
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