June 27, 2007

Ironman Switzerland Race Report

I arrived in Zurich Thursday morning and nearly immediately met Chris and Jesse, 2 of the Gear West Tri Club crew that I would be hanging with for the weekend. We shuttled to the hotel, assembled our bikes and then went riding.

Ken Glah, the mastermind of Endurance Sports Travel and 51 time Ironman finisher (now that, my friends, is crazy...), led us on a 40 mile ride around the course. Let me pause here and say that this was an amazing bike course - a few super-challenging hills (fittingly called The Beast and Heartbreak Hill) mixed with some long flat straights and an occasional peek at the snow-capped Alps in the distance.

Thursday afternoon after the bike ride there was a knock on my door and - finally! - I got to meet IronMomJenny and see IronGirlNyhus again! Jenny is super - competitive and witty and inspiring.(in the 6 weeks before this Ironman she did a half ironman and 2 marathons!).
Friday I swam in Lake Zurich and - woohoo!! - it wasn’t 50 degrees as advertised! It was at least upper 60's water temperature and amazingly clear. My roommate for the week Andy and his dad David and I swam with the fish for a half hour, got registered, then went over to the pre-race dinner at a lodge overlooking Zurich.

Saturday we cheered Helen and one of the EST travel-assistants Richard (who runs
a company called Eurocycler that offers cycling camps/tours throughout Europe) as they raced the Olympic tri. It struck us as odd that the organizers separate the different waves by at least 30 minutes so there were racers starting and finishing all day long. This along with a relative lack of volunteers led Jenny and I to become temporary volunteers and help some of the racers find their way out of T2 while we were waiting on Helen to come in on the bike.

Saturday night I loaded up with a salmon lasagna (yummy!!), and a cheeseburger and then climbed into bed for a reasonably restful 5 hours of sleep.

Race Day morning started at 0445 with
breakfast and then a 0530 shuttle to finish setting up my transition zone. Our race numbers were organized alphabetically by country name, so all of the Americans were grouped together within about 10 yards of the bike exit/entrance. Perfect! I got organized, zoned with mellow ipod tunes, and then called Stronger in Coeur d'Alene for a final bit of inspiration and strength before I donned my wetsuit and headed to the beach.

Jenny, Laura, Greg, Nick, Timmy, and I all walked over together and then huddled for a prayer before staking out our respective spots. I moved far left on the beach to avoid getting pinched at the first buoy by the crowd starting on the right side.

And finally it started...

The swim started east into a blue sky and glorious sun that made it impossible to see any of the buoys. Race organizers -
The first 400 yards I was in survival-swim mode. Head above the water, breathing every stroke, anxious. Just like in every
tri I’ve done, there were a few minutes when I thought about pulling up and getting on a boat. Luckily, I recognized this anxiety as transient and pushed on, and the panic was gone by half a mile when we were now heading south and the buoys were visible.

Before I knew it, the first lap was over and I was feeling comfortable. The 2nd lap was about the best I’ve ever felt swimming. I had periods when I pushed harder and felt my stroke become smoother, and then I would rest for periods and do my lazy stroke. By the time my 2nd lap was almost over, I had lost track of time and effort and was simply enjoying swimming. It felt so good I almost didn’t want to get out, but alas I did. Swim time - 1:34:34

No wetsuit strippers in Zurich, so I stripped it myself and threw on my shoes and helmet and escaped from T1 in 2:26

The bike was a 3 loop course through and out of Zurich, through a bit of the Swiss countryside, up and over a mountain, then back into Zurich for a climb up Heartbreak Hill. The first 15k of each lap was flat before the first hill, "The Beauty." The only thing beautiful about this hill was that it wasn’t 5 kilometers long like "The Beast," which followed The Beauty by less than a kilometer.

After you conquer The Beast there is a 15% grade downhill for about 2 or 3 kilometers. It’s so steep and curvy in places that using your aerobars will cost you a 6 minute penalty. Jesse told me after the race that he was upright at 48 mph and was getting passed on this section. I went naked (no computer, no Garmin) for this race so I don’t know how fast I was going for my first pass on this section; but, I can tell you that it was too fast. I wasn’t on the aerobars, but I was crouched completely horizontal with my hands on brakes that I wasn’t using. I passed people like they weren’t moving coming down that hill... Until I got to the bottom of the hill where there happened to be a sharp and narrow right turn. I saw the curve with a 100 meters notice, but it wasn’t enough. I braked hard, and my rear wheel locked and shimmied. I released the brake then braked again trying not to lock it, but it locked again. I had just released and squeezed a third time when I realized there wasn’t enough time and laid the bike down just as I got to the outside of the curve. I crashed onto the sidewalk and into a chainlink fence erected to keep out-of-control bikers (uhm, like me?) from careening off the mountain. As soon as I stopped, I hopped up and glanced at my elbow (which was the only thing that immediately hurt) and saw no bones poking through. I then confirmed that my bike and wheels weren’t shattered. Everything looked good, so I jumped on my bike and took off again! As I was riding off the medics that were running toward me stopped with jaws open and pointed - "He’s up, He’s up" they shouted! I knew then that I had just given up one of my 9 lives...

The rest of the bike course wasn’t nearly as adventurous. The absolute best part of the bike, and the race overall, was climbing Heartbreak Hill. This is only a 0.7 km climb, but it’s steep. Spectators lined the climb, even spilling into the road and forcing the racers to ascend single file down the middle of the road. The crowd was yelling, making noise, ringing cowbells, running along side of you. "Hop Hop" was the favorite cheer. I felt like I was riding in le Tour de France... At the top of Heartbreak an announcer called out your name and country. Perfect!

By the 3rd lap of the bike my ass was hurting and I was ready to start running. My only crash related pain at that time was the roadrash on my left elbow since it was in the exact spot where my arm rests in aero. I finally got into T2 with a bike time of 6:15:11.

I changed shoes and discarded the helmet, peed, then ran out of T2 in 1:45. I didn’t realize I still had my cycling gloves on for about a 1/3 of a mile, and then I just tossed them at the first aid station.

The run was a 4 loop course that was flat and went out and back twice on each loop. This was a perfect set-up for spectators and for racers to see everyone in front of and behind you. There were ample aid stations, although they were unevenly dispersed at times. Sometimes they were 2 less than a half mile apart and sometimes it was almost 2 miles.

The first lap of the run I noticed that my left ankle was hurting. I took a look at it and noticed a nasty bruise on the lower 1/3 of my left shin, the result of the concrete block I hit as I slid into the fence when I crashed. It didn’t bother me initially, but by the time the first 10k was over each step sent a pain from my ankle up my shin-bone to my knee.

I started walking some on the 2nd lap, and continued to walk-run the remainder of the marathon. When I ran, I could keep the pace I wanted but there was the pain. I was having too much fun to be in a lot of pain, and I didn’t want to risk making any minor injury anything that might jeopardize the rest of my race season. So I walked periodically, encouraged the other racers, and had fun!

I was walking on my 3rd lap when Andy jogged up beside me on his 4th and final lap. He had about 2 miles to go, so I ran him to the finish line and got to hear his name called for his first (of many, I’m sure) Ironman finish!

Finally, I finished my last lap and ran across the line in 12:28:43.

I grabbed my medal, posed for the obligatory post-race photo, and then walked to transition to call Stronger and thank her for giving me extra strength and inspiration. My mom and sister called as soon as my finishing time popped up on Ironmanlive. I showered, scarfed the provided pasta, and then went to the finish line to cheer on the rest of the crew for the next 3 1/2 hours.

You know, several people who have finished an Ironman have told me that the race itself is almost anticlimactic - that once you finish, you realize it was the training and the journey itself that made you an Ironman, not the race. And I have to agree with this.

Finishing an Ironman is not a defining moment for me. It is not a notch in the belt, nor the best moment of my life. Ironman is neither magical nor epic. It doesn't make you better or stronger or more confident or more attractive.

But the journey to Ironman is a lot of those things.

Finishing an Ironman was the culmination of a 6 month training session in which I prepared my body and mind to stress itself for a 12 or 13 hour period. I learned a few things along the way, and I’ve met some people that will be forever a part of my life.

But Ironman isn’t - my life. And I’m no more special or deserving today than I was prior to Sunday.

That said, Sunday was a perfect and beautiful day, and I can guarantee I will spend more Sundays trudging along Ironman courses.

The destination is costly, but the journey.... the journey is priceless...
Somewhere between Switzerland and home about 300 photos have disappeared from my computer. :( Grrrrr.

June 24, 2007

I finished Ironman Switzerland!

I finished!

Lots of excitement, and tons of fun.

To sum it up, the first lap of the swim was chaotic, the 2nd lap i was wishing i could just keep swimming ' yea, i loved the swimming!

I crashed my bike on the first of the three laps. A 15% 2 mile downhill with a sharp right turn at the bottom caught me way too fast and - well, I crashed. No major injuries, but enough to make the run very painful.

So I walked about 30 or 40% of the run. It sucked, but it was just hard to keep running with nasty pains shooting up my shin.

Final time - 12:28. And I couldn´t be prouder!

Thanks to everyone that cheered and checked in from afar - you´ll never know how special that feels to me... There are 16 or so of us in our group that raced today - and everyone finished and did outstanding!

Full report soon!

June 19, 2007

Opportunity Time

It's finally here.

Ironman Zurich.

6 months of preparation are done.

Now, as Bold would say, it's time to let preparation meet opportunity.

It's time to Get.It.On.

Ironman style.

I get off work at 0400 tomorrow morning, then straight to the airport. A 12 hour stop in New York and then it's transatlantic overnight to arrive in Zurich Thursday am.

I'm packed, and so far I haven't remembered anything I've forgotten.

I even remembered the wheels!

There was a period a couple of months ago when I seriously considered dropping this race. I didn't think I would be adequately trained, I didn't think the finances would work out, I had an alternative trip that would have been a blast.

But I trudged along and stayed the course. Persistent.

And guess what? I am trained. Perfectly trained. Abso-effing-lutely perfectly trained. I won't be first at anything, but I will finish. And I will finish Proud. Strong. And courageous. Because this journey was never about being the best, it was about being. Experiencing. Living.

Know what else? I noticed yesterday on my checking account statement a couple of transactions that looked unusual. I called about it today; and, although it took 2 hours of getting passed from one person to another, I ended up with an unexpected extra $650 in my account! I honestly felt like someone was looking out for me, making sure everything would come off perfectly for this trip.

And the alternative trip? Well, I was able to reschedule the high altitude training even earlier PLUS sneak in a little racing at the same time.

So the training is done. The preparation is done. Everything has come together to create this opportunity. And now it's time to get it done.

Ironman style.

Check out my progress on Ironmanlive.com starting at 0100 on Sunday 24th. I'm #1974.

June 17, 2007


My digital camera didn't like getting wet in my gym bag last week, so I've been camera-less until today when my mom gave me an early birthday/Father's Day present - thanks Mom! So I finally am able to get Anna and Tess's Wizard of Oz ballet pics posted, as well as today's lake-play pics.

Notice Emma knee-boarding solo on her first ever attempt!

June 13, 2007


"Daddy I'm about to throw up!"

Not exactly my first choice of words to awake to... I dashed into the girls' bathroom and found Emma cradling the porcelain.

"My tummy hurts daddy..."
I held her long curly locks back out of her face while she emptied her stomach for the first of multiple times today. And if she's not vomiting, she's either doubled over cramping or it's coming the other way. Or she's asleep.

My 7 year old that never takes naps has slept all day, unless she's in the bathroom. We had a few errands to run, and she had to make pit stops in EVERY.SINGLE.STORE. Twice in one. Then right to sleep once we were back in the truck to move to the next stop.

I tend not to get anxious about my kids getting hurt or sick. I know enough and have seen enough to know that time heals just about everything. Sometimes that backfires, like when Aidan cut his head open on a kitchen cabinet (or was it a slip on the rocks, I've forgotten the details now) and I opted to let it heal rather than get a few sutures put in. Months later it was still unhealed and scabbed over (interestingly, it wasn't until I shaved his head for his mohawk that it finally healed completely...).

But it still makes me feel awful to see one of my kids suffering. The absolute worst feeling is when she is vomiting, and I know that to her it feels like the contents won't stop coming up and she wants to breathe but she can't because this nasty bile is spewing endlessly from her. And then it stops but she can't breathe in yet because she still is retching. And finally she can breathe in, but when she does she has the horrible taste of stomach acid and partially digested food and she cries out for something, anything to make this stop.

And finally it does and she falls back asleep.

And I sit beside her, hand toying with her long curly locks, and I just want something, anything to make this stop.

June 11, 2007

2 weeks

Less than 2 weeks left until Ironman, and it still doesn't scare me like I thought it would.

This journey has brought me to places that I didn't know existed, and to people that I didn't know could exist.

I never knew sting like the dried sweat salt pushed into my eyes by the new and unrelenting sweat of 100% humidity combined with a 2 hour trail run.

I never knew hot like mile 60 of a 100 in 95 degrees when the hydration-replacement store that I thought was 10 miles ago was still 10 miles away.

I never knew incapacitated like the pain of finishing my first 26.2 with an IT band inflamed and hurting for weeks prior and that now had pea-sized knots visible on the side of my knee.

I never knew embarrassing like a 100 yards into the first leg of my first Olympic tri when I realized that no, I didn't know how to swim, and what the hell was I doing trying to pretend that I did?

I never knew persistence like the 20th mile of a treadmill run.

I never knew satisfaction like finishing my first non-stop mile swim, and then just a month later finishing my first Ironman length swim.

I never knew patience like 6 weeks of no running to let a broken body heal.

I never knew diligence like dozens of hours spent on a treadmill watching the mirror and learning to run while minimizing leg lateral movement.

I never knew community like the friends I've met along the way, online and off, who have supported and encouraged and taught and laughed with me and cried with me and shared with me who have made me realize that Ironman is not a destination to fear, but a journey of exploration to embrace.

Less than 2 weeks until Ironman, and it still doesn't scare me like I thought it would.

June 6, 2007

Taper Time!

Today marks the end of my highest volume week of Ironman training.

In the last 7 days, I have 18.5 hours of training (not including the prep, post stretches, etc), including

180 miles of biking (including 100 today - woohoo!)
40 miles running (with a long of 20)
5700 yards swimming (with a long of 4200)
and an hour of strength/core.

My typical week has included about 10 hours of training, so I'm essentially wiped out at this point and ready to taper (and sleep!)!

So I get a text message from IronJenny today saying that TriNick has a friend who says that Lake Zurich, in which I'll be swimming 2.4 miles in a couple of weeks, is right now 50 degrees F.
Jenny, are you effing with me? Please please tell me you are effing with me!!

June 4, 2007

Survival Flight Crash

As an emergency medicine resident at the University of Michigan I spent 3 years flying with the Survival Flight medical transport team. We mostly flew in Bell 430 helicopters, but occasionally we flew on the jet for longer transports.

I flew hospital to hospital transfers, a few organ procurement missions, and (the best) trauma scene calls. I landed in cornfields, on interstates and county roads, and all over the midwest.

On one of the most memorable missions, we flew to Ludington, a little city that sits on Lake Michigan. As we were getting close on the non-instrument flight (meaning we were flying by vision only, not by instruments), an unexpected snowstorm created white-out conditions and we ended up with a way-scary ride over Lake Michigan!

Monday at 4pm, the University of Michigan Survival Flight program lost a Cessna Citation jet with 6 crew and a set of just-procured lungs into Lake Michigan shortly after take-off from Milwaukee. 2 pilots, 2 nurses, and the 2 physicians on board are presumed dead. The patient who was supposed to receive the lungs is back in ICU in critical condition.

I didn't know any of the crew onboard, but it still tears at me a little. 6 highly accomplished people died trying to be the hero for a guy that might die without their help. He might get another set of lungs, but double lungs healthy enough to transplant are relatively hard to come by.

And their families... I flew close to a 100 missions in my 3 years, and I never once thought that I wouldn't make it home to hug my kids again. I feel so bad for their kids, for their partners, for their parents...

Sometimes life doesn't seem very fair.
Please keep in your prayers the families of these lost 6, and for the guy holding onto life by a thread who still is waiting for a set of lungs.

Here's a link if you want to read more:

Thanks for joining me for My Daily Spin.

June 3, 2007

Passport to Ironman

My passport arrived today (finally!), and now I know it really is going to happen. 3 weeks to go before Ironman Switzerland, and I’m ready to get.it.on…

Well, my mind is ready. My body may or may not be ready.

Funny, but my swim endurance is what I’m most satisfied with right now. Although in January I was unable to swim more than 750 yards nonstop, my Friday 4200 yards was my second Ironman-length swim in the last month. I may be slow, but I’ll make it back to the beach, and that’s all I’m shooting for with the swim.

My long rides and runs haven’t been quite as long as they probably should be. My planned 3 hour run today became an hour and a half when stomach cramps forced 2 bathroom stops within a mile – and the promise of more to come… I haven’t figured out how to manage #2 stops on the trail unless there is a nearby bathroom, which luckily there was today. Maybe I need to pull out my college botany texts and re-learn what poison ivy/oak look like – I definitely don’t want to pick the wrong leaf for that little issue!

Wednesday will bring my final long ride of this training cycle, and my only 100+ mile ride for this Ironman.

After this week, the volume will start to go down while the intensity will creep up. Not that I really have a plan, but it seems like that’s what everyone else does during taper so I probably should do that too.

In other news, I tried today to learn how to tread water. Yea, that’s right, I have no idea how to tread water. I’ve always just used my arms/hands, but it was recently pointed out to me that if I’m in the middle of the lake and my goggles get knocked off I’m hosed unless I can tread water with my legs. So I swam into Lake Martin today and tried to do as it has been described to me.

Uhm, yea, this isn’t supposed to be hard is it? I can.not.tread.water. I tried to move my right leg forward and back and abduction to adduction and then my left leg forward and back and abduction to adduction. Clockwise, counterclockwise… I’m just thankful I still had my arms and my goggles were still firmly in place. I learned to swim essentially without a coach or lessons, but I may need a coach to teach me to tread water!

The fun never ends…

Thanks for joining me for My Daily Spin.