Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rev3 Maine - 70.3

Reader Note: I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I felt that there was a lot I wanted to put out there.  If you want the top line, read the first two paragraphs - if you want more, feel free to indulge me and read the rest.

Background: After a stellar first half of 2012, I was well on my way to training for my first half ironman.  My training took an unexpected set of turns, due to a combination of old heart problems resurfacing and tendonitis in my left foot.  I arrived at the starting line for the race grossly unprepared, but ready to do battle.  I was going to bring my best game, hope for the best, and accept whatever I got out of the day.  Here's how it went.

The short version: I finished the race in 6:45:33.  It certainly wasn't the result I was hoping for, or the best that I think I'm capable of, but it was the best race I had in me that day.  Considering the circumstances, I'm thrilled that I had the opportunity to toe the start and cross the finish.  The race was a great experience, and I'm truly energized about the idea of doing it again.

What went well?  I'm happy with my bike time, reasonably satisfied with my swim, and just  delighted that I finished, considering that my training schedule had been heavily impacted by:

  1. Life (Our new home, selling our existing home, my work schedule, my wife's work schedule) - not really good excuses, but contributing factors nonetheless.
  2. My heart issues (starting in June) causing me to cut short a number of long workouts, and preventing me from doing others entirely
  3. Plantar Fasciitis / Posterior tibialis tendonitis in my left ankle/foot.  Looking back on my log, apart from my 16 mile training run on 8/19, I hadn't run more than 6 miles in one shot since my half marathon in May...
What didn't go well?
  1. My swim - due to heart issues (read more below)
  2. My run - due to inadequate run training, poor nutrition on the course and almost no long runs/bricks (bike/run combo workouts)
The long version:  About a week before race day, I made a decision to discontinue the use of the heart medications that I had been given, to allow me to participate in the triathlon.  In truth, the arrhythmia that I have isn't life threatening, and there are plenty of people that live with it for their entire lives (just not active people).  The arrhythmia causes my heart rate to go as high as 220 BPM, which makes sustained exercise nearly impossible.  On the flip side, the drugs I was given to prevent the arrhythmia keep my heart rate below 130 at all times, also making sustained exercise nearly impossible.  If I stayed on the meds, there'd be no way that I could race, but if I went off the meds, and my heart didn't cooperate that day - my race would be over.  I took the risk, and headed to Maine, willing to accept whatever happened on race day.

Traveling with two small children isn't easy.  Between the unfamiliarity of a new location, the change to their schedule, and just the general excitement of being on vacation, no one slept much on Friday or Saturday night.  Plus, my heart had been going nuts all day on Saturday.  Things weren't looking good for me.  Despite that, I woke up at 4am went to transition with Matt (also doing the 70.3), laid out all of my gear and began the long walk from T1 to the swim start.  Walking along the beach, staring at the ocean at sunrise, I had a moment of hesitation.  I have a wife, I have two small children - why in the hell am I taking chances like this?  There will be other races, other days.  That sudden realization provoked a wave of emotions within me.  I said to myself, I'll play it cautiously, and will bail out at the first sign of trouble. I pushed my fears aside, and lined up with my wave.

Swim: 45:11

The water was really calm, and the waves were minimal, once you got out past the breakers.  Despite this, the swim was really rough for me.  I think my heart was going beserk at the time, because  I found myself completely winded and gasping for air by the time I hit the first turn buoy (.35 mile).  I just slowed down, took my breath, and said to myself, "Be patient, take your time, you'll get through this" and just pushed on and on.  The swim seemed to go on forever.  Crossing the final turn buoy, heading back to shore - I felt like I was swimming and swimming and never getting any closer to shore.  Swimmers from the next two waves behind me behind me started to pass me, but I pushed on.  Finally, I got to shore.  My heart was pounding in my chest.  I was winded, and gasping for air.  My chest was heaving.   I was dizzy, and felt like I was going to throw up. I ripped off my wetsuit top and began the 1/3 mile trot up to transition.

T1: 6:25

Running into transition, I was fighting back dizziness and nausea.  I wasn't sure that I was going to continue.  My heart was still racing, and I couldn't catch my breath.  I saw my friend Matt (who went into the water 2 waves before me) on the sidelines, and was utterly confused.  Did he miss the swim cutoff?  Did something happen?  All I could manage was a confused, "What the hell, Matt??"  He replied, "Don't worry about me, just go ahead!".  I crossed the turn into transition and went about changing out of my wetsuit and getting my bike gear together.  Fighting back the dizziness, I had to sit down to take off my wetsuit bottom and put on my bike shoes.  I finally managed to get down some water, begin to calm myself down and started out on my bike.

Bike: 3:15:55

Once I got out on the bike, and started to pick up speed, my heart finally seemed to calm down.  I was finally able to catch my breath, and appreciated the cool air on my face and body.  I settled in for the ride and got into a groove.  I had planned to eat Cliff Bar pieces while on the bike, but my stomach was still doing backflips, so I wasn't able to get much down.  I stuck with water and gatorade, and knew that I was painting myself into a corner with nutrition  The bike is a long and solitary experience - there isn't much cameraderie on the course, short of an occasional, "On your left" as you are getting passed, or passing someone else.  The scenery was beautiful, and I just let the miles tick by.  I started to lose steam between miles 40 and 50.  At the 50 mile mark, I just continued to grind it out, saying to myself, "I can't wait to get off the bike, and start the run" - boy, I had no idea what I was in for.

T2: 3:14

Running my bike back into transition, I caught a first glimpse of the wife and kids.  I gave each of them a kiss as I went by. I was just glad that they saw me, and knew that I was OK.  I started out of transition and on to the run course, and my legs just wouldn't cooperate.

Run: 2:34:47

The run was a complete trainwreck - but I kind of expected that.  I kept saying to myself, "Just get to mile 1, make it happen", but I was doing far more walking than running.  It really took almost 3 miles to get my legs to cooperate.  Slowly but surely, I was able to do at least as much running as walking, then eventually longer periods of running and shorter walk breaks.  There wasn't any specific body part that prevented me from running, I was just completely out of gas.

I was starting to run out of steam, both physically and emotionally.  The though of just sitting down really appealed to me - so I knew I had to start fighting my way back to a positive frame of mind.  I thought about a lot of things, to help draw inspiration to help get me through the day.  I though a lot about my Dad, who fought the fight of his life, and didn't win.  I though about an old co-worker TJ, with a wife and small children, fighting stage 4 skin cancer.  I just dug into myself and pushed myself to keep going.  Then I started talking to a guy running about my pace.  He told me that he has been living with MS for about 18 years (I think).  Thanks to modern medicine, he's able to lead a normal life, even compete in the triathlon.  I started to think about my heart issues - and put them into perspective.  My battle is nothing compared to theirs.  We hung in there together, and slogged through the remaining miles to the finish.

The aid stations were pretty frequent on the run, and I started helping myself to liberal helpings of ice, banannas, coke and salt tabs.  The volunteers were amazing about getting your orders together quickly and serving them to you with a smile.  Finally, once I got some calories in me, I was able to get myself moving again.  By the time I ran into Matt and Steph on the back half of the run, I was moving along comfortably, and grateful for their support.  I have to give Matt a heavy helping of gratitude here:  Even though his day didn't turn out as expected, his (and Steph's) support on the course helped me through the race more than they'll ever know.

Running the final leg to the finish chute, I met up again with my family - grabbed my son Benjamin, took my daughter Chavi by the hand and we ran as a family down the finish chute to the finish line.

What now?

One day after the race, I feel amazing.  Contrary to what you'd think, the 70.3 is a lot easier on your body than 26.2 miles of running.  I feel like I did what I went there to do.  I faced my physical limitations head on, and with a good helping of luck, and my customary stubborn determination, I beat them.

I don't think that I'm going to continue training for the fall marathons as I had planned (although I've been known to renege on promises like that before).  I'm scheduled to have my next heart procedure in just under 1 month, and as I understand it, the recovery period is longer, and I'll have to stay on the heart meds for longer.  I fought that fight in 2010 - and with this achievement under my belt, I don't feel the need to hang in there and gut out another 6 hour sufferfest marathon.

I'm going to need to find some other ways to keep in shape and stay strong so that 2013 can be the year of rebuilding, take 2.  I did it once - I know I'll do it again.


baker said...

Hell yea Joe! Amazing recap. You really summed up what it's all about out there. Congrats!

Abbe Lew said...

My dear Joe, you never cease to amaze me. We cheered you on in spirit on Sunday, and will do it for all of 2013! Huge congratulations on your race! Let the celebration continue!

I hear the beers are on Baker... ;)

3:59:59. Bitches. said...

That's so weird, someone must be chopping onions near my desk...

Joe, you're a bad ass and I'm so happy for you. Congrats on a hard won race.

Samantha said...

You definitely earned that medal. Really proud of you for sucking it up and getting through all 70.3 miles!

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and well told story. You are very brave to tackle this in spite of it all. 70.3 is no joke and quite a distance to cover, especially in your first attempt! Congratulations on a well deserved and very hard fought finish! You rock Joe!! Relish in your victory! Heather

Dave B (@BuckyKatt) said...

Great job getting it done, despite all the obstacles! I hope your next procedure solves the problem once and for all, and that you're able to resume your training the way you want to.

The conditions were pretty nasty that day-- the Maine coast is always humid that time of year, but the higher temps. made things even more oppressive.

Congratson the race, & I hope you'll be able to come back stronger than ever after the procedure.