May 22, 2007

Adversity - the Florida Half Ironman Race Report

Well friends it's time to tell the tale. I wish the tale went a little differently, but then I wouldn't have learned nearly as much.

The story starts, as it always does, with the planning. There was a lot of planning to do for this trip. I have 4 kids that divide their time between 2 houses. I took Emma to Orlando with me for a birthday trip, the kids' mom took Tess to the beach for her birthday trip, and my sister kept Anna and Aidan at her house for the weekend. Ever tried packing for 4 kids with stuff from 2 different houses for 3 different trips in 3 separate places? All the while trying to pack your own stuff for your first destination triathlon? Yea, it ain't easy...

The first inkling I had of things going wrong was on the way to the airport when I realized I forgot my razor and clippers. I know, not that big a deal, but I was hoping to exude the mohawk vibes again. Turned out that was the first and most minor of all the turbulence.
Now I'm no saint. Far from it. But I never ever once have dropped the F bomb in the presence of my mom. You see, I took my mom to Disney with us so Emma would have a peep to hang with during the race. So we were sitting in the airplane waiting to take off on the connector to Atlanta when I realized it, and my first reaction was turning toward my mom and blurting "Oh f*^%*!!!"

My mom looked at me and asked what was wrong. I laughed. Couldn't believe it. I looked at the clock on my phone - nope, no time... My wheels were still sitting in my bedroom at home. My bike was safely loaded in my new bike box in the belly of the jet but my wheels - still waiting by my bed ready to be packed.

So my first day in Orlando was divided between the Magic Kingdom and calling around trying to find a pair of wheels. IronGirlNyhus was awesome in trying to pimp her friend Andrew's wheels for me. Luckily, Andrew was a good sport about it when we met at dinner the next night. I finally did find a set of wheels to rent at the race expo (although they initially told me they were rented out but when i got on my knees and begged and cried a little bit (well, maybe I didn't actually cry and I guess my knees never touched the ground but if i needed to i was prepared...) the tech stripped the wheels off a rental bike that hadn't been rented yet), and I was set.

Well, kind of.

Saturday morning I met up with Laura, Nick, Tim, and Steve. We went for an illegal swim in the warm warm lake before being chased away by the pesky staff (no pre-race swims, no raceday warm-ups... what's up with that?). We then met up with Brent and went for a short ride.

While we were riding, my attention was focused on the wheels. I didn't really pay attention to anything else, and this would end up a another big mistake - read on...

During our ride we ran across the kids splash and dash race and got a healthy dose of inspiration...
Later Saturday Emma and I went back to Magic Kingdom and played with Mickey and friends until late afternoon. Then, I hurried back to our resort (Port Orleans Riverside - if you do this race, don't stay here. It's only 3 or 4 miles from the race headquarters but there is NO transportation to/from).

I hopped on my bike to ride over to transition and check my bike in when I realized there was no air in the rear tire. Hmph. Now one thing that had kind of concerned me about these wheels were they were tubeless and I had never been on tubeless tires. No idea how to change them. No extra tires. And I hadn't brought a pump because I've always just used someone else's in transition on raceday.

So I had about an hour and a half, a flat tire, and 3 1/2 miles to get my bike to transition before the 6pm cutoff. I checked with the bellboys and confirmed there were no Disney buses that would take me there. And the cabs would drop me off at the front gate of the race resort but I would then have a mile more to get to transition - I didn't like that either. So I tipped the bellboy an arm and a leg and he took me in one of the Disney vans to transition with an hour to go before closing. Whew...

After this I was frustrated enough to walk away with my tire still flat with plans to tackle it on race morning. And finally, it was off to dinner. Well, it wasn't quite that easy. From the wilderness campgrounds where the race was headquartered I had to take a ferry across the lake to the Magic Kingdom, then take a bus from there to my resort. Then I met up with Emma and my mom and we took a cab to Downtown Disney for dinner. 45 minutes late. I felt so bad when I called Laura to tell her we were going to be late and she said they wouldn't seat anyone until all 10 of us were there. I think I owe you guys a few beers in Zurich!

Finally, race morning. I woke at 0330 since I still had no idea how I was going to get from my resort to the race-site. I ate a bowl of fruit, yogurt, and a clif bar and then ventured out. I had no idea when I left the room at 415 that I wouldn't see Emma again until after the race...

When I walked to the front of the resort and saw a bus and a couple of dozen helmet-bearing triathlete-looking people boarding it, I thought my luck was starting to change. I jumped on, sat in the back, and started Chasing Cars on the ipod. Somehow a Disney bus can turn 3 1/2 miles into 30 minutes, so I repeated 4 or 5 times and then we arrived.

My first mission was to find a bike pump and inflate rear tire. Check. Now I had an hour and a half to kill before starting. I was in the 3rd race wave, starting behind the pro women, because of my Challenged Athlete Foundation involvement. So I laid on the beach for awhile,watched the sky turn from midnight blue to light grey, and then went to check my tires again about a half hour before racetime.

When I checked them, the tires seemed to be a little less than the 120psi I had inflated them to an hour prior, but I thought that was probably me just being overly-concerned and weary. So I called it good and went off for the swim.

It's a Beautiful Day from U2 blared into the morning sky as the air-horn blared signalling the start of my first half Ironman. Now it was real. I let the other 100 people in my wave run off the beach while I slowly meandered my way into the water. I was in no hurry... At this point I kept myself steady by constantly reminding myself that this was nothing but a training exercise.
Now I've heard it said a hundred times that the first part of the swim is like a washing machine, and now I can vouch for the accuracy of that analogy. Blue gray water became all white as arms and legs flailed. After a couple of hundred yards and no signs of clearing, I moved toward the outside and blue water where I remained for the duration of the 1.2 miles.

The swim was remarkably easy. I made a point of going slower than I thought I needed to. I absolutely did not want a repeat of my embarrassing doggie paddle/backfloat 55 minute 1500 meter swim at the Music City Tri last fall. And I did it - all freestyle - without ever needing a break and without any problems. Swim time - 46:32

I exited the water and ran into transition and discovered -

a flat rear tire...

So I ran around the transition area until I saw a free pump and pumped the tire up to 120 again. I didn't know how to change a tubeless, and I wasn't going to piss time away trying to get a tech guy to help me at this point. I figured I must have a slow leak and at worst I would have to stop and reinflate periodically during the ride. I kept steady by constantly reminding myself that this was nothing but a training exercise.

After a painfully long transition (4:52) I rode off into the sunrise. The first 5 miles were great, and then I felt like I was riding through molasses. The pressure in my rear tire was already low. I resigned myself to a slow ride and moved to the right and started taking in the sights.

At 20 miles I was completely flat. I kept riding - hey, they weren't my wheels or my friends' wheels, so no big deal... Yea, I was riding slow... I made it a couple of miles to the first aid station where there luckily was a support truck. He reinflated me to 140 and I was off.

I had about 10 good miles this time before the pressure dropped. I felt great for those 10 though and was passing EVERY thing near me. This happened to also be the only hilly section of the course and I dominated the hills.

And then the pressure dropped again, and I started sight-seeing. I never saw another tech truck, but luckily the tire never completely flatted again. When I pulled into T2 I'm guessing I had about 60 psi left... Bike time - 3:04.59

Now other than the tire issues, I discovered another bike issue almost immediately after exiting T1. My fit was off. You see, when I put my bike together and rode on the day before the race, I was concentrating enough on the wheel feel that I didn't pay attention to the fit. But the first time I went aero on raceday I knew it was off. My seatpost was too high. I couldn't get in the aero position at all. Wouldn't work, not flexible enough in that position.

So for the entire 56 miles of basically flat riding I was upright. Not the best way to get a good bike time on this nearly pancake flat course...

Finally I hit T2. I've never been happier to get off my bike than I was in this race. I made a porta-john stop and then started the run. T2 - 2:36

The run surprised me because I had no idea that 70% of it was trail-running. Don't you think they should have mentioned that SOMEwhere in the race literature/course description? Not that it really is a huge deal, but come on - let us know what to expect...

2 or 3 miles into the run and my quads were screaming at me to stop. You see, my quads aren't use to the extra work they were getting on the bike thanks to my high seatpost issue. Luckily the run was flat as a pancake and my mind was able to tell the quads to shut up and do your job. And they did their job, but with more pain than I wanted.
Now on the 3 loop run I kept looking for my mom and Emma, but I couldn't find them. Perfect run course for spectators, but no Emma. After the first lap, no big deal. After the second lap I was a little disappointed. After the final lap and when I finally crossed the finish line (Run time - 1:56.16), I still hadn't seen my daughter.

At the pre-race dinner my mom had said that she wanted to make sure Emma saw her daddy racing since the last race she went to she didn't get to see me finish. So here I am having just finished my first half Ironman and the thing on my mind is not that I hurt or that I was proud or relieved it was has something happened to my daughter? Why isn't she here? Why didn't she see me racing? My mom made a point of saying that it was important to her for Emma to see me - where are they?

I collected my medal and finisher's swag and stumbled around for a few minutes at the finish line, hoping they would have heard my name and found me. Nope... I started the search...

I walked around for 20 or so painful minutes before finally seeing my beautiful daughter and her gramma, both safe and happy! My mom tried so hard but had no idea where she was supposed to be. She had been waiting at the entrance to T2 for hours and never saw me enter and then leave to start the run.

After the race I got cleaned up and then headed back to the Magic Kingdom. I turned in the rented wheels on the way, and they didn't notice any damage from being ridden flat (whew!!).
The next day we played at MGM, and then finally we were done with Orlando. We were sitting in the airport about to board our jet when I realized my house/car keys were still sitting in our hotel room. After confirming with the resort manager that they were there and could be sent overnight, I couldn't help but laugh at myself.

We finally got to Birmingham about 11 last night, took a taxi home, and I shattered a window to break into my house. My friend Mike brought over my spare car that he'd been using for the last few weeks, and the saga was finally over.

I learned a lot from this trip. Most of all, I think I learned that I can't be everything and do everything all of the time. Between the kids, and work, and training and racing, I stay too busy. I don't sleep enough. This trip was the first trip I ever have made with my kid(s) that I wished I had a significant other with me. My mom is great, but she was just along for the ride. I needed someone there that had as much invested in the experience as me. Someone to help with a checks and balances system and help fill the gaps that I left. This trip was a big reality check for me. I can't do everything.

So that's the tale of my first triathlon travel adventure. Zurich is in 4 weeks - I hope to tell a much rosier tale after that race!

Final time - 5:55.15 (136/271 M30-34, 932/2048 overall)

Thanks for joining me for My Daily Spin.


TJ said...

congrats on making the best of a less than ideal race situation.

stronger said...

You were lucky to pack yourself on the plane with all that shuffling. Just think how good Zurich will feel now. Nothing but good race karma...and a packing list ahead for you!

hak said...

As a father of two young gals (still married fortunately), I can only imagine what a logistical and emotional challenge this must have been for you.

What an epic adventure!

Glad to see you enjoyed the race and, more importantly, were able to create some valuable memories with your daughter and mother.


momo said...

whew, good thing you got all that stuff out of the way before zurich. although, mark my words, you'll forget something. the nice thing is that they'll likely have everything you need at the expo.

when i went to imfl, they lost my luggage for a few days including ALL my gear. i was able to replicate just about everything at the expo! i'm pretty sure that's not gonna happen to you, though, i'm keeping my fingers crossed for a stress-free trip! :-)

and - when we went to disneyworld, i thought the same thing about the logisitics, its a nightmare getting around.

Lesser is More said...

Congrats on finishing, given all the issues. Much better than any DNF would have been. Better to get it all out now.

trinick said...

WOW! It sounds like you had plenty of challenges before, during and after but the thing is you made it through them all... The one thing we really don't train for during IM training is how to deal with the mental challenges we might encounter before and during the race. I think you did very well considering all of the things you had to deal with.

Bike Chick said...

I think it's a good thing you're a doctor in the ER and a father of 4! They probably helped you think on your feet fast and work thru those challenges!

Good job on the getting thru the race and not giving up. That's not in you vocabulary and you proved it.

Loved all the photos with those beautiful smiles. :)

RunBubbaRun said...

What an adventure. Congrates on finishing your first HIM. Great job in less than ideal conditions.

Not sure how I could handle kids heading off to different place and a race to boot. Seems like your daughter had fun.. I might have to try the race one of these years..

Hmm, I might have to figure out a cool buzz cut for IMWI this near.

ShirleyPerly said...

Wow, what a saga!!! But at least you made it safely through the race. The run course description online does say bike paths and "canal roads" but a lot of folks don't know what those are. I would have mentioned it if you'd asked about that course but I forgot :-(

Sorry we didn't get a chance to meet up at FL 70.3. I hope things go much better for you in Zurich. And good luck finding a S/O. Being a doc, I would think you'd be a great catch!

Matt said...

I was really expecting you at some point to go, 'naw, I'm just kidding. It wasn't this bad.' but that never happened. What a sick joke fate played on you. Many props for being able to stick it out.

Megan said...

Wow, what an ordeal. It's amazing that you were able to walk away without sour grapes, but instead with a great perspective about youself. Odd, how triathlon does that to us. Congrats on your finish and moreso your perserverence!

Robin said...

Congrats on persevering through everything life threw at you to finish your first HIM. What a huge thing that is! Racing with kids is a challenge unto itself, just when you're going over what you need to do, you also have to think about what they need.

I've found it's really helpful to have checklists that I actually get out and write little checkmarks on (one checkmark for finding and packing it, final checkmark when that item is in the car) and also building in a lot more extra time than I think I'll need have been essential in racing with kids in tow for me.

All the best in Zurich, I think it's great that you did this race now, with time to reflect on how to approach your IM. Congrats again on a race well done!

Lana said...

Jack - OMG, you poor thing. You are right - stop trying to do everything. I am the same way, though, I try to pack every single possibility into every thing I do and I end up biting off way more than I can chew. I SO admire you for all that you accomplish, though. Don't let a few adversities cause you to doubt yourself - you are SuperDad...soon to be IronDad! Way to hang in there and get it done, though, inspite of everyting...Congrats!

Mallie said...

Jack...the fact that you kept your sense of humor throughout all of this is a testament to what a solid guy you are! Any one of those issues might have felled a lesser athlete and human being. You gutted it out. You get some serious kudos from me!

IM Able said...

Good grief, Jack! What are you tryin' to do? Learn EVERY tri-lesson in one weekend?

Well, you perservered and made it through and as long as everyone made it home safely, it couldn't be all that bad.

And yes, you're right, you simply can't do everything. No sense in trying!

Great race under horrible conditions. Well done.

Di aka "Mrs Bigun" said...

lemons to lemonade!! Good job!!!
We thought about you this weekend while we were at madeira beach, glad you all made it home none the worse for the wear!

TriShannon said...

Sounds like you got everything bad that could happen out of the way in one race/weekend. Way to stick it out, keep a sense of humor and persevere!

ironjenny said...

Oh, boy - what a race report. It reads more like a Tim Allen movie!
I will get you a packing list and email it to you when I type it up.

Zurich will be a different story - I promise -- We are all in the same hotel (big plus), we have a concierge (great big plus), we have all ground transport prearranged (you can't even put a price on this alone), and Ironman brand events are run like nothing you've ever seen...

I can't be your S.O. but I can and will be your big sister who has been around this block a time or two. I promise you won't be doing Zurich alone!

Part of this sport is taking what the day brings you. And you were brought a lot of cr*p on this one! But you seemed to handle it with grace (well, except for that one teeny tiny little expletive). ;-)

Ironman is a thinking man's game, and you were doing a great job of that as you encountered all those obstacles. I am extremely proud of you for that.


Donald said...

Oh man ... you did a whole endurance event BEFORE your race even started! I'm terrified of traveling to races, for exactly the reasons you write about here.

Congratulations on rolling with the punches and making it through the race. What a crazy trip.

Cliff Tam said...


Congrats. A great weekend spent in disney with your family and a half ironman.

Sucks about that slow leak but you are pretty positive about it.

..thanks for the race i am itching to race.

Michele said...

Way to roll with the punches. Even with all the things you had to deal with, you finished, and with a good time.
Sorry Emma missed your finish, but I am sure this will be a birthday she will always remember. You are a great dad.

Running Jayhawk said...

Way to pull through a mucky situation with the bike. I'm impressed. :)

My husband and I are looking at doing the Floriday 70.3 next year. I'm relieved to hear that it's nice and flat. But trail running!? Hrmmm...

Regardless, congrats on the great Half IM finish!

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