Sunday, October 2, 2016

Inside the Mind of a Crazy Ironman

Finish Line of Chattanooga TN 9/25/2016 Ironman
I am so excited to have a special guest writer on this here blog - our son Riley! Last weekend he finished his second Ironman race in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in this post, in his own words, he gives a lot of insight into what goes through the mind of an Ironman participant and what getting ready for an Ironman entails. All photo credits go to Finisher Pix unless otherwise noted. Riley, Steven and Lindsey sent me a load of pics and I got to sort through them and tuck them in here and there.

Steve and I didn't make this race, but we got up at 6 am last Sunday morning to make sure we could get our TV ready to stream the whole day from our laptop. It was a bit fuzzy at times, and quit at times, and wouldn't you know it, when Riley finished the race the streaming quit again. Oh, the life of living in the middle of the woods...

But we were also able to track him on our phone via GPS tracking and see his stats. So we were glued to the TV and our phone for pretty much 13 hours.

RI stands for Riley and JE stands for his friend Jeff who was also participating. Cool huh?

Here's a pic of all his Ironman gear.

Okay, take it away Ironman!!!


I’m not sure how to blog, so I decided to type this up and have my mom do it on hers since she is so good at it. 

This is the story of my second Ironman…  Ironman Chattanooga.  IM Chatt is 144.6 miles long, every other IM in the world is 140.6.  Because of the permitting, the bike course is an extra 4 miles… 

My times were as follows:

2.4 Mile Swim: 59:44
116 Mile Bike: 6:13:54
26.2 Mile Marathon: 6:00:36

First of all, for those of you who don’t know, I’m on the road weekly for my job.  It made this Ironman especially difficult for training and makes me even happier with how I ended up time wise.  Here is a snapshot of the numbers since January:

Flight Miles: 57,061
Airports (not repeating): 31
Hotel Nights: 81
Bike Trainer Hours: 167
Bike Miles: 621
Run Miles: 661
Pool Yds: 100,225 (57 miles)
Calories burned: 246,699

This is about 80-85 percent of what I actually completed.  There were many workouts I didn’t have my watch on to record and this does not count open water swims or treadmill runs.

In addition to those numbers, I did 2 other triathlons this year to prepare.  One was a Half Ironman in Racine, Wisconsin, which is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 run.  The other was an Olympic distance race in Traverse City that is a .95 mile swim, 25 bike and 6.4 run.  The weather was terrible for both.  So bad in the Half Ironman that they cancelled the swim and shortened the bike to 32 miles.  I ended up averaging 22 miles an hour on the bike for this one and running around a 10 minute mile.  This was a gauge for my training and those were both very, very good times for me.  Fast forward to the Olympic in TC and the weather is awful with gale force winds and rain.  Still ran the whole race since the swim was sheltered.  Ended up 1st in my age group and 8th overall, best run of my life.  The reason I bring these two up is to say I was feeling pretty darn good coming into the full Ironman.  Huge confidence booster but the weather forecast was quick to bring that confidence down. 

The day before the Race, Jeff (childhood neighbor/friend, also competing), my brother in law and I headed down to the riverfront.  We wanted to get a swim in to see how the river was but didn’t really have a sanctioned swim or anyone else in the water to make it possible.  We headed out on a 4 mile run around downtown to get the legs loose.  After that we walked to swim exit and saw a sign saying don’t swim in the river but there are people at such and such a spot across the river so we headed over.  Found out the next bridge up was 400 meters away so we were just going there and back.  I don’t have gps for swim but clocked 8 minutes up and 5 down swimming pretty easy.  Clearly they had not controlled the current yet.  Jeff’s GPS clocked it at 425 meters each way.  At 5 minutes for 400 meters and not trying hard, a fifty minute swim was doable.  I was hoping the rumors were true that they control the flow.  Didn’t want that much assistance.  Headed back to the house and I hopped on my bike trainer for another half hour at low effort.  We then packed up our transition bags and headed to the transition area to rack our bikes.  Grabbed a light/late lunch with the family and headed back home for the night.

The next morning my alarm went off around 4 am.  Didn’t sleep a ton but I’m getting used to that with these.  Gus, Lindsey, Jeff and I made our way up to Chattanooga.  We got to transition around 5:30 to pump up tires, add fuel to bikes and transition bags and do any other final touches.   The one thing I have disliked about Louisville and now Chattanooga is how the swim start is.  No, you don’t have the mass start chaos, but you have to wait to load a bus just to get to the start and walk upwards of a mile down from the start to sit single file and wait.  I’ve heard from numerous people, officials and Ironman threads that people get there by 3:30 AM to get in at the front, which is craziness.  We ended up in the back 20% of the line but neither of us cared.  We were both happy with sleeping an extra hour or so than being at the front.   We were both confident enough in our swim that we knew we would come out towards the front of the pack anyway.

Finally at 7:20 the cannon goes off for the pros and the line starts moving.   Game.  On.  There are 3 feelings that happen during an Ironman that are unforgettable. 
1:  That moment before the swim start when it’s quiet, you’re alone with your thoughts and you are thinking about the next 12, 13, 14 hours. 

2:  The point on the run when you have passed the point of what a human body should physically be able to handle

3:  Coming down the finishing shoot and recalling the entire day, the months of training, the sacrifice, seeing loved ones and knowing how many loved ones are watching online. 

I don’t think words can explain any of those and I think that’s why IronMan athletes share a special bond.

Anyway, we make it into the water around 7:50, 20 minutes after the first age grouper.  As we were coming on the dock, people were walking to the edge, setting their goggles in place and eventually jumping in.  Why people are not prepared before they get to the edge of the dock I will never figure out.  I heard a beep, looked down and saw it was the timing chip starter (I was officially on the clock), I ran through 4 rows of these people taking their time, held my goggles and did a beautiful dive between everyone.  I did scope out to make sure I wasn’t going to land on anyone.  We all had over 20 minutes to have everything ready to rock when you cross that line to get moving.  If you are scared/nervous/under-prepared then GET OUT OF THE WAY.

My game plan was to push it hard on the swim knowing that I had the training and that I recover really well on the bike.  It’s a while before you hit the first bridge to judge current, but I knew all I was doing was passing people left and right.  Remember, I jumped in the water around 2,000th overall.  Finally hit first bridge/pillar and gauged current.  They backed that baby WAYYYYYY off, couldn’t believe it but made me feel better about the race and having a somewhat honest swim. Kicked it up to 3rd gear and got to the finish.  Ended up with just over a 59 minute swim which was good for 272 overall.  I passed a lot of people.  If you’re reading this and you are thinking of doing any distance triathlon…… Please take my advice and learn how to swim a straight line.  You’ll run into way less people, piss off way less people (like me) and shave minutes off your time by taking the most direct route…  I saw groups of people blindly following people going at a 45 degree angle out to the middle of the river.  That ‘ole saying, if your friend swam over Niagara Falls, would you too?  I think 50% of triathlete swimmers would….

Swim Finish Line!

Heading to transition to get on his bike.
Photo Credit to our son Steve VanDyke

Lindsey's View
Riley is second from the bottom of the picture.
Photo Credit to our daughter-in-law Lindsey VanDyke
Transition was uneventful and it was nice to have front row parking for my bike and transition bags.  HOWEVER, I had a watch issue.  I’m too cheap to pay for a watt meter (measures power output, around $800) on my bike so I base all my training off of my heart rate and it’s worked.  I use my Garmin Vivo for swimming in the pool and running because I like the face but when you turn on GPS you only get 6 hours of juice so I knew I had to use two.  I also have a nice Garmin something (it’s the orange/gray from 4 years ago) but it leaks on swims.  So I attached my orange one to the bike and put THAT HR monitor on and would then switch back to my Vivo for the run.  It took 13 MILES for this watch to catch satellite (yes, I turned it on the day before to get over the 650 mile journey).  For those of you who don’t know, GPS watches are run off satellites. When you travel long distances, sometimes they can take a while to locate them.  Thankfully I started the timer on my Vivo as a backup just in case.  I knew the first spot I’d possibly (they would have to haul to get there) see my family was mile 20 so I could gauge speed.  Well at 14 miles the other finally catches satellite and I start it.  Feeling happy as a clam,  I go to check my HR and it says I have no pulse.  I tried a few things and the monitor wouldn’t read for the life of me.  I had no actual data on my power output on a hilly, 97 degree day.  Sucked it up and went off feel.  Hit the 20 mile mark in 1:03 and was much faster than planned but I felt great.  I took a few manual HR checks (finger to neck for 10 seconds) which were in line and didn’t feel like I was over exerting so I kept it going.  A couple times I felt like I was in a peloton (big group of bikes) and it annoyed me.  A lot of drafting (drafting makes it at least 30% easier to ride and is illegal) and people passing you back immediately after passing them. Twice I had enough and took off at an all out sprint to get out into clean air, never to see those groups again.  One guy that would jump back in front of me a total of 4 times in a row got a drafting penalty (have to pull off at a penalty tent for 4 minutes) on the last one.  I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so big during a race.

The bike course was challenging and beautiful.  So-So for crowd support.  My crew was 100%, can’t thank them enough. 

Even Gus was at the race.
Photo Credit Lindsey

Video Credit Lindsey

Mile 80 I said out loud “you’re having the race of your life, a 12:30 is doable” and I believed it.  Still do if it weren’t for that tanning bulb in the sky.  I also saw at this point how many bikers were pulling over and laying under trees in the shade, shaking out legs, groaning and so on.  It was some serious carnage out there.  I felt bad for a lot of people who put so much in to have it all taken away by poor nutrition and the heat.

For those of you who don’t know, we eat A LOT during one of these.  You need to or you won’t survive.  My calorie burn on the bike is just under 600 calories an hour.  My goal was to eat a minimum of 3,000 calories (1,000 more than most peoples avg daily intake… just on the bike!) since I know I can’t eat solids on the run very well.  I had Cliff bars, bananas, Uncrustable PBJ (Grape Jelly), peanut M&M’s, Gatorade, Coke (helps cramping) and took salt tabs and electrolyte pills every 30 minutes.  I also tried something new for this race (never try anything new on race day, but I did), I put 8 gels (vanilla) in my bike water bottle and filled it with water.  Shook it up and sipped it over the bike for an easy 800 calories.  IT WAS DELICIOUS!  No lie, I loved it and for my next one will probably put 10 in it.  I purposely trained with a ton of gels this time to get my stomach used to it.  I almost forgot, I had an oatmeal cream pie around mile 55 and it was half melted and ended up the size of a ping pong ball and I basically ate it in one gulp.  Delicious and 320 calories.

I never peed in Louisville which is not good.  I had to pee from mile 20 on the bike which was huge for me.  I ended up stopping at special needs since they had a porta pottie and it was open.  Special needs are around mile 53 where we (the athletes) pack a bag with food we want around the halfway point.  It’s a great thing.  I walked into the bathroom to do my thing and chugged my bottle of coke at the same time.  I felt great but I could tell my hamstrings and calves were flirting a line.  I never had another issue with cramps on the bike after this stop.

Mile 114 I saw a sign that said “Ironman lives matter too” and kind of lost it.  It was great.  Thanks for the laugh random witty person!

T2 was super smooth again.  Grabbed a quick hit of Vaseline in my armpits and slammed a bunch of water, ate my melted peanut M&Ms and headed out for the marathon.

Photo Credit Joe
I saw my bro 100 yds out of transition and  hi-fived him and felt fantastic.   (Him and one of his co workers named Joe were everywhere on the course.  I heard them get honked at a few times for pulling over quickly but quite honestly I didn’t care, it was a huge help.) A half mile in I was on an 8:25 pace and made myself back way, way off because I knew this was a hard course.  Very shortly after I took it back a few gears, I saw Lindsey, Gus, Al, Kelly, Rudy, Kris and Jim at the base of the first hill.  Lindsey knew I had a good bike and was anxiously waiting to see how I felt on the run.  I hi-fived as I ran by and told them I felt fantastic, omitting a word I put in the middle of “feeling fantastic” I told my brother….  You get caught up in the moment...  You would have thought they won the lottery with how excited they were to hear that which in turn gave me a massive boost!    At this point you hit the first hill of 200 feet over a half mile.  Ran the whole thing (slowly, keeping HR in check since this watch was picking it up!) and kept rocking.  

Photo Credit Bro Steve
The first 7 miles I ran between aid stations (spaced every mile) and then walked the stations to get as hydrated as possible.  Still felt really well.  Again, for those of you who are unaware, Aid stations are set up with water, Gatorade, coke, redbull, chicken broth, chips, gel, clif bars, fruit and ice.  These are all ran by volunteers and I made sure to thank each and everyone of them.  2700 athletes ran the race and I heard there were over 3500 volunteers.  IronMan brings in over $14 Million to Chattanooga for the weekend and the community is absolutely amazing.  These guys were keeping me upright and I would tell them “You guys rock, you’re amazing for doing this for us” and every single time it was “you guys are amazing, so inspiring” and anything else you can think of.  Standing in 100 degree heat, handing out stuff to disgustingly sweaty athletes for 7 hours with nothing to brag about sounds a lot worse to me.  If you ever do one of these, thank the volunteers as well as the police.  Those poor guys stood outside their cars, in uniform directing traffic for 6-8 hours without a break.  Made it a mission to try and get them to laugh as I went by as well as thanking them for their service and being out there for us.  If you think police are out there murdering people for fun and have no respect, do an ironman.  You know what, just do a half ironman on a hot day and it’ll change your mind.  Every single one of these guys had a smile on their face and I know darn well they were as miserable as I was.

Getting a little relief from spraying water.
Photo Credit Bro Steve
Anyway, to my surprise I caught Jeff somewhere around mile 6 on the run.  He cramped late on the bike and was having the same issues I had in Louisville.  He was hurting bad and had talked about not finishing.  I walked with him for maybe 2 minutes to try and talk him off a ledge.  I’ve known him a long time and said a few choice words that I figured would fire him up and went on my way praying I’d see him again.

Mile 7.5 or 8 you take a right turn over the Tennessee River on a good size bridge.  Baking in the sun, going uphill and having no wind I decided to save energy and walk it.  Ran down the backside only to see the first hill on “the other side” of the river.  In around 3 miles, you climb and descend 700 feet.  Never seen anything like it.  Around this time I was having a hard time getting anything down.  Even water would get half way down and it’d just come right back out.  Knew I was in trouble.  I didn’t even talk about the cramping yet.  I had MAJOR calf and shin cramps from mile 10-20.  I was starting to lose hope on a sub 14 hr Ironman.  I jump around a lot when I write (and talk… Squirrel!) but I’ll fill you in on nutrition.  Life savers for cramping are Coke  and chicken broth.  Go figure right?  But as much pain as I was in I still had a bit of a plan.  Push the 15 minute mile pace through the hills and sun, take as much chicken broth as possible and hopefully when the sun goes down I might be delirious but my legs should work again (It Worked).

Around mile 17 Jeff caught me and I swear he did a line of coke (not really but that dude did a 180 like I’ve never seen).  He said the base salt guy had some amino acid drink that worked wonders on him and he’d been running the last 4 miles.  I was beyond happy for him and now the roles were reversed.  He talked me into running for a bit and I was cramping terribly so I said get your butt going and beat me like you’re supposed too.  He offered to hang back with me and I said absolutely not.  I gave you a pick me up speech and left you alone, it’s your turn to do the same.  This is when I was getting a bit goofy though.  As we walked I started laughing pretty hard and he asked why.  Here’s the conversation:

Me: You remember that BEATS commercial a year or so ago with Collin Kaepernick?
Jeff: Yeah, why?
Me: Isn’t it pretty ironic?
Jeff: Huh?
Me: In the commercial he is wearing the headphones to drown out the sounds of all the people booing him and what not.
Jeff: Ok?
Me: And now he actually needs to do that because he is officially one of the most disliked players in the NFL!
Jeff: You’re right, that’s pretty funny.  But how the heck do you think of that at this stage in an Ironman…  Are you sure you’re alright?

That conversation happened….  100% True

At mile 19.5 I got to the top of a killer hill and felt good enough to start “running” again.  My lean was getting prettying strong at this point.  Hit the mile 20 aid station and grabbed water and potato chips (for salt) and walked for a minute down the hill before the right turn onto that bridge again.  At that turn I saw my family which I didn’t expect.  HUGE pick me up since my legs were finally letting up on the cramping.  Gave my wife a big kiss and then saw my sister in law next to her.  I will remember the look on her face the rest of my life as she literally screamed at me “YOU ARE TOO DAMN CLOSE TO YOUR GOAL TO WALK THIS, YOU’RE GETTING THAT TATTOO, NOW GET YOUR BUTT RUNNING!”.   (Told her and my wife if I was under 13:30 I’d get the tattoo this time since that was more respectable and an hour and 30 minutes better than Louisville).  Now this is at the same bridge from mile 8 where I cooked in the oven right before the Swiss Alps start.  In my head I was more pissed than I was motivated because she had no clue of the hills on the other side of the river.  Logistically it was hard for spectators to get over there, thankfully the homeowners on that side were awesome.  Also got to see my brother on one of the worse hills there (first loop), he bailed out of the truck and started running up hill to catch me.  Imagine a buffalo charging up a hill to protect it’s young, that was Steve!  Talk about motivating. I also had a major lean going on by this point.  I was trying to run left (the way I was leaning) but kept going straight at a spectator because of the slope.  I yelled I’m sorry but I’m having a hard time not running into you right now.  The spectator laughed, said I got you and ran for a bit and guided me up to the middle.  My mind was 80% but my motor skills were going, fast.  Back to the bridge, I start running on it and now I’m leaning to the right, which is taking me towards the railing with a hundred foot drop or so.  Slowed it down till I got over the bridge.

Sister in laws words started resonating in my head as the chicken broth from the last 5 aid stations helped all but eliminate the massive cramps.  I knew that if I came in above 13:30 by just a little I would be so mad at myself.  She said the words I needed to hear.  Fast walked hills at the best pace I could up and ran all down hills and flats for the final 6 miles.  My lean was insane.  I’m 99% sure people cheering me on would look at each other as I passed and say, no way in hell that guy is making it.  I had 0 control but my legs were still going in the right direction.  Miles 22 to the finish were so far beyond where I have ever pushed my body I don’t even know how to explain it to people. 

Photo Credit Bro Steve
Last 1/3 mile was downhill to finish but man it took a while to get there.  Crossed the finish knowing I was close to the 13:30 but not positive which side I was on because of my state of mind and my watch situation.  Older guy grabs me and they put the medal on.  They stop me to grab my ankle chip and I almost fell over when I looked down.  Had the ole boy help me to the side and told him I’d get out on my own.  Bad idea, I was 1 step forward and 3-4 steps sideways.  Again “Are you ok?” “Yeah, I’m fine, I’m fine.”  Honestly thought I was but 2 people ended up grabbing me and getting me to exit (didn’t want medical).   Somehow I ended up with my arm around Jeff’s dad (I can’t tell you how I found the exit) and he took me over to where Jeff was.  When Lindsey found me, I was face down in the grass basically screaming for them to go get me ice.  I’ve never been that overheated in my life.  My jersey felt like it was suffocating me I was so hot.  Lindsey ripped it off for me and it still didn’t help.  I was legitimately concerned I was in some serious trouble but didn’t know if I could walk to medical.  
Photo Credit Lindsey
Photo Credit Bro Steve
The ice started working and after 5-10 minutes I knew I was past anything critical but wasn’t able to stand up. Spent 30 minutes face down covered in ice and got the temp down.  

Photo Credit Lindsey
Finally my brother picked me up off the ground and helped me stand for a few minutes.  I was able to get a piece of pizza down and a little water.  Jeff and I grabbed our stuff out of transition (saw guys laying on the ground under their bikes in here as well) to load in the cars and then walked straight into the bar for that beer.   I told my brother, no matter how bad I feel or what I say, we are having a beer after this race because I didn’t in Louisville where I was in much better shape. Didn’t taste great but I will never forget that beer with my brother, Jeff, Lindsey and Jeff’s dad Jim.

Photo Credit (I'm not sure)
Jeff ended up beating me by 14 minutes, which I was stoked for him on.  Insane performance for the conditions and his first full.

I found an article the other night from a Chattanooga paper that over 600 people were treated for heat related injuries.  Up 400% from the year before.  Swimming 2.4  miles, biking 116 miles and running 26.2 is hard enough, to do it in 97 degree heat is another thing.  Can’t believe the family stuck it out through that all day as well, that itself is no easy feat.

While at registration, Lindsey stood outside the tent with Gus waiting for me and was in the shade at another booth.  This booth supports our fallen soldiers, not by taking donations but by giving athletes the honor of wearing a second bib with the soldiers name, rank, branch and date of passing.  You then post it to Facebook (which unfortunately I have not done yet) and they send the photos along to the family.  It was a no brainer for me, Lindsey already had one in her hand for the Chicago Marathon next week.  I chose Petty Officer 1st class Daniel Dietz (navy seal) and wore it proud.  I didn’t choose him because I felt he was better than any other branch in the pile, I chose him because Ironman was started by Navy SEALS and I found it fitting.  I also have a step cousin (grandmother remarried) who was KIA as a SEAL a few years ago.  They offered to write his name for me to wear across the finish line but they have an option to set his name up online for another event which I will 100% do.  I remember in the swim passing all these people and just laughing underwater that I knew damn well I was making that frogman upstairs proud.  Fast forward to mile 20 and beyond on the run and I was saying out loud that I haven’t experienced pain like Daniel has.  Was literally talking to him out loud (between praying) and cruising along.  The honor you feel to carry one of the baddest dudes to walk this planet across the finish line and have no doubt in my mind he would be proud of me trumps the 3 feelings I mentioned at the beginning. As a religious individual it brings me great comfort knowing  PO First Class Dietz was watching upstairs with pride as he guided me through this race.  I’m sure there were a few moments where he was screaming at me like I scream at the Lions on TV.  I can only hope I get to meet his family some day and thank them for the ultimate sacrifice they have given. 

People must have thought I was nuts between the lean and talking to myself.  The last 6 miles of this race were beyond emotional for me. I don’t think I had enough liquid in my body to cry or I would have had water flowing.  Between the sacrifice my wife has made over 9 months, representing one of the greatest heroes our country has ever seen, having friends and family watching online, all the different cities I’ve worked out in, family traveling 10 hrs for no other reason than to support me, my brother busting his butt and seeing the sheer pride in his eyes and the countless texts/emails/voicemails I had in the days leading up to this I don’t know how I kept it cool…  Well actually I do, I finished after sunset and I didn’t have sunglasses on.  When I crossed the finish line I honestly didn’t have enough left in me to even feel emotion.   

Photo Credit Unknown
Huge thanks to all my family and friends who watched online, the Ugly Goat Racing Team who I still can’t believe I found, MY WIFE and GUS, Mom and Dad, In Laws for making the 10 hr drive and braving the heat, Kelly for making me hit my goal, Jeff for the mile 16 pep talk, Jim for the whole day and somehow finding me at the finish (you were my angel) my brother (the buffalo protecting his young) and big Joe. 

If you made it this far….  You are clearly bored.


Photo Credit Joe
Yo Mama's favorite pic of two brothers.

Oh, and what about that tattoo?

Tattoo Photo Credit Lindsey

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