Where do I even start? A journey that began 15 months earlier, when I was sure that I wasn’t going to do a full Ironman for another few years because I was really doing well at the half Iron and Olympic distances and eh, didn’t really want to – only to find myself signing up during the Bay Area’s frenzied excitement over California finally getting a full Ironman. Having my first Iron Man “in my back yard,” training there ahead of time, not having to fly or transport my bike, folks getting excited and either racing or supporting on race weekend – it all seemed too good to pass up. So I signed up.
Countless hours of training, a full racing season that would have satisfied any athlete and more scoops of peanut butter than I could ever count and months dwindled down to weeks, melted down to days, counted down to hours and finally race day was upon us.
I can’t ever hope to capture everything I felt that day. The extreme conditions, the primal emotions and the physical exhaustion were all too much for words. So I’ll write over two posts to do it justice. In a lot of ways it still feels like cramming it in.
After a season of high octane 70.3 and Olympic racing, I began to stretch it out in June. It’s one thing to go fast at half the distance, but can you even complete the full distance – and go kinda fast? That was the question on my mind.
In what was the first toe in the water of the Tahoe build, the M2 group partnered with Ultra U for the inaugural IM Tahoe Training camp. Having the support of the Ultra U team was awesome and allowed us to focus on all things training (and eating). It was here that I would first test my chops at altitude over 3 days of swimming, biking and running. The first thing I noticed was that sense of perceived effort remained similar, while the numbers were worse – sometimes by as much as 20%. This was something I was going to have to either be OK with or learn all I could about performing at altitude. It was a great weekend to learn the course and what to expect out of my body.
As I trained for Tahoe, I took it one week at a time. Small victories, that’s how I put it. Each week, I wanted to accomplish something that was better than the week before and that was ultimately affirming of my readiness for Tahoe. A little longer and a little stronger built into a lot longer and sustained strength.
My build was better than I was ever expecting. I was the fittest I had ever been in my life. When I signed up for Ironman and for more than a year, I would even’t let myself think about Kona. I respected the distance and this course in particular. Just do the best I can and whatever happens, happens, knowing full well that a great day for me meant finishing.
Still, the numbers were telling me that if I put together the day I was capable of, Kona was entirely possible. Some key sessions:
And so Kona actually started to become a back of the mind goal.
Mountain Man Time: Acclimatization
My team at Fitbit was gracious enough to let me go up to Tahoe two weeks before the race to work remotely as I acclimated to the altitude. The state of web conferencing tools today is great and this worked out just fine. In fact, I knew that some of my remote working colleagues used treadmill desks, so I thought I’d make my own version:
My buddy from Nielsen Dan Lee and his friend also from Nielsen Karina we super kind in giving me the friends and family discount to their South Lake abode. I went about my days just like I would in the city – full day of work with some basic training sessions to keep sharp. However just being at altitude during the work day, sleeping in it at night, building up the lungs on runs etc. were all getting me more acclimatized for the race.
After much reading, discussing, thinking, I came to the conclusions that 2 weeks was a good amount of time (and frankly the most I could swing before the race). Altitude adjustment aside, this was really a great opportunity to spend time to myself slowing down from the crazy pace of long work days and 20 hour training weeks. Someone once told me that often it’s like we’re driving at high speeds with the windows down trying to hear what’s outside. The only way we can reflect and listen is to slow down. This was great for that.
I drove up to North Lake to our VRBO property <1mi from Kings Beach on Wednesday and Ali arrived by plane on that evening. A huge shout out to her as the only way I could go up early was if I took the car up and she flew into Reno. I’m sure flying over Reno to connect in Vegas wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do, but very grateful for the flexibility that allowed me to be there early!
Her mom and my folks arrived the next day and we were one big happy family inside our Tahoe cabin. I could have scratched the race and been perfectly content with the weekend (maybe).
The buzz was in full force around the area, as compression sock wearing, aero helmet touting, chest strap donning athletes strutted around the lake town. I tried to stay away from it as much as I could as I find most of the hub-bub unnecessary. A big help in handling my first Ironman race week came in the form of M2’s race week guidance, specifically his written approach to the ;tune up work outs and the mental exercises.
Most of the two weeks that I was in Tahoe before the race, the weather was agreeable if not spectacular. The few days leading into the race, high winds, winter overnight temps and precipitation were all in the forecast. The elements are out of your control and everyone has to toe the line in the same conditions, but it was tough not to let this affect us mentally. Setting up your bike at T1 in sideways freezing rain is not how you want to be spending your time a little over 12 hours before the race.
Images like this being posted the night before the race really started to move the needle:
Instead of worrying about things like warm up, race strategy and tactics, the questions became: It’s going to be below 30 degrees at race start, how much clothing can I wear on the bike? Will it be too much or will I be able to leverage the ad hoc clothing drop zone effectively? How much should I eat if I’m burning calories shivering? How much should I drink if I’m not sweating? WHAT IF THE ROADS HAVE ICE – which would make sense… – WILL THEY SHORTEN THE RACE? Will my first Ironman have an asterisk next to it – swim was canceled, bike was shortened?
So unnecessary. Looking back, I remember signing up and thinking – Sep. 22 is totally within reason for it to start snowing in Tahoe. But I have to say I was pretty stunned when it happened.
So for those of you keeping score at home, this would be my first Ironman with:
Starting at 6,500 and reaching as high as 7,500 feet of altitude
~8K elevation gain on the bike, ~1K on the run
Sub freezing temps @ race start
Ladies and gentlemen, Ironman Plus.