3:45 a.m. always comes too early.
Stopped by Jen's room (she and Will had their own room the day before the race). Kissed them both and was on my way by 5:15.
On Saturday, high winds kicked up the lake enough to create rip currents and force cancellation of the practice swim. The winds were harsh enough to blow the race buoys back into shore (see photo). I knew winds would also turn the bike into a real slog.
But as I walked out of the Hotel Breakers and on to the boardwalk, and looked over the lake in the glow of the hotel lights, the water was as smooth as glass.
With relief, I walked the half mile on the beach toward transition. The sky was clear, and I could easily find Orion and other constellations. In the darkness, I could make out shadows of others making the same walk. Most were silent. Here and there, a quiet conversation.
I got to the transition and made some final tweaks to my gear, which I'd dropped off the day before. Talked to a few people and exchanged good luck wishes. You can sense peoples' anxiety ... I always try to remember to smile.
Smeared myself with sunscreen. Checked the gear one ... last ... time. By 6:45 I was back in front of the hotel, ready to start.
(I appear at about 2:25 of this video).
The horn went off at 7:05.
A few dolphin dives in the shallow water, and I was off and swimming.
I took a line about 30 feet to the outside of the pack, and aimed directly at the first turn buoy about 600 meters out. Swimming felt good. I was calm and my stroke was as smooth as it gets. My strategy was to stay outside of the pack, avoiding the "fighting" to conserve energy and focus on my stroke. Every now and then I'd swim up on someone and draft for a while, but it was mostly clean water. Easy and in control, keeping outside the main pack of swimmers.
The second lap seemed just a touch choppy. I started to feel a bit of fatigue, and had problems keeping a straight line (at one point, I got so far to the left of the pack that one of the kayakers yelled at me).
But overall, I had a great swim--I couldn't have expected much better. I hit the beach in about 1:17, which was right on my ideal pace of 2:00 per 100 meters.
Exiting the water, I ran through the "tunnel" of spectators--a lot of people made it to the beach. I found out later that Jen and Will were there, but I missed them.
The transition went pretty smoothly. Unlike in shorter races, I don't go for speedy Ironman transitions. Be deliberate, keep moving, but don't go so fast that you risk missing something. Think about what you're doing. It's a long day.
All went pretty well for the first couple of hours. I was eating and drinking on schedule and felt pretty good.
The terrain is really flat. It's all Ohio farmland. Much of the scenery is corn. This is a great course for corn fans.
Around 45 miles, my stomach started to hurt--a sharp pain in the pit of my gut. It wasn't enough to slow me down, but the longer it went on, the more I dreaded the remaining miles. I'm not sure if it was something I was eating or drinking--maybe Lake water--but I put up with that stomach pain for a full two hours before it finally subsided.
Overall, the weather was perfect. The temperatures were in the low 70s, and winds--which can be pesky out in that flat farmland--were very light. At one point I saw some dark storm clouds in the distance, but I realized later that they were passing far to the south.
The rest of the bike was non-eventful, and I was happy to finally hop off the thing after nearly 6 hours of riding. I finished the bike ride in 5:52, which was a 19.1 mph pace. Got into the transition tent and felt pretty good heading out on to the run.
I just haven't run enough this summer to be able to do the marathon in the low-to-mid four hour range, as I have in years past. So I set off with a goal of 5:00, and a conservative pace of 11:00 per mile. It felt like I was just shuffling along, but I was making progress.
The course took me over the Cedar Point Causeway and into Sandusky. With the exception of a couple of lakeside parks (with a cool view of Cedar Point about four miles away), the Sandusky section was just dreadful--outs and backs along lonely city streets and through some shabby neighborhoods.
I hit the halfway point at about 2 hours and 28 minutes--right on schedule. But shortly after the turn, I stopped for a quick bathroom break, and It felt like my head was spinning. I just wasn't eating enough. So I switched my strategy, walking for five minutes when I hit each aid station to be able to eat and digest a bit. That slowed me to about a 14 minute per mile pace over the second half.
In spite of my slowdown, I was still in a pretty good mood. I waved to the few residents who were out watching our long march. Chatted with a few other runners. At about mile 18, a bunch of Cleveland Tri Club folks had staked out a table on the patio of a corner pub and were cheering people on. Definitely a boost--I told them to save one for me.
But more and more, it hurt. My knees, calves, quads cried in pain. I kept moving forward.
I kept up with the run/walk until the last two miles. I got to the final aid station and started to think, finally, about the finish. I thought of Jenny and William waiting for me, and I told myself there was no more walking.
Back into the park. I turned the corner, saw the finish and heard my name called. About 100 feet ahead were Jen and Will. Jen started running with me, carrying Will. I asked her if I could put him on my shoulders. Um, no way. Please? Well, ok. "Come on, buddy ... up on daddy's shoulders!" Giggles. That's how we crossed the finish line.
All things considered, I felt ok. I was hungry. Jen and Will headed back to the room shortly after we finished, but I stayed at the finish area to get something to eat and gather my gear. I had two heaping plates of race finish food--I was very hungry. As I was sitting in the pavilion, it started to pour rain.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with the experience. Not just the race, but the months of preparation. I proved to myself that I could do and, while making some sacrifices here and there, keep the "footprint" of the preparation pretty minimal for the people and things that matter most.
It'll probably be a few years before I do another Ironman-distance tri, but I will be back.
My two favorite people (at pre-race dinner).