I finally did my first Ironman. A new milestone was met.
For those who are unaware what an Ironman is, let me give you a brief description. The Ironman is a Triathlon in which you start off by swimming 2.4 miles, followed by a bike ride of 112 miles and finish everything off with a full marathon distance run, i.e. a 26.2 miles long run.
I have done two Marathons before. Both back in 2006 and quite frankly a Marathon on its own is a challenge enough. I’m not that light and carrying your own weight over such distances is definitely a challenge, so I had much anticipation about doing an Ironman. But it was just one of those things that I really wanted to accomplish (you know, for myself). I have done a number of Olympic distance triathlons (I believe I have completed 9 Olympic distance triathlons), which is a 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bike ride and 10 km run and the Olympic distance is definitely more manageable.
But I finally manned up the courage to go for it and actually participate in a full Ironman.
The venue ended up being the Ironman New York, which also happened to be the inaugural event there as well as the U.S. Championship. Don’t get fooled, just because it’s the Championship doesn’t mean that I’m fast, but nevertheless it’s kinda cool to be in a race that is a real championship.I was lucky too that I was able to even get a spot, because apparently the event sold out in 9 minutes!!
The swim portion required you to take a ferry at 4 am to transition area on the New Jersey shore just north of George Washington Bridge and then another ferry onwards from there to the swim start barge up the Hudson – so yeah, the swim was in the Hudson river. In fact near the same location into which several million gallons of raw sewage was let out only a few days before due to a mishap, yuck!
The swim for the New York City triathlon, the Olympic distance event that I normally participate in (I have done 7 of these including the one that took place a month ago) also takes place in the Hudson river, but over on the New York shoreline and this swim usually aids you greatly by a very favorable current carrying you towards your swim finish point. But the swim on the New Jersey side actually gives you a current slightly against you in the beginning of the swim, followed by more or less stagnant waters into your swim and subsequently (and if you are in the water long enough) a current slightly in your favor. I was a little bummed when I learned of this current being that way, cause normally I am appreciative of the current helping me for the New York City Triathlon, seeing that I actually never do any swim training. But what can you do? There is only one thing and that is: Suck it up!
I actually had a great swim and much faster than I would have hoped for. And this also constituted my 4th swim this year altogether. The three prior swims being each a 1.5 km swim as part of a triathlon Olympic distance event.
The bike ride was also going to be in New Jersey. For the event they had unprecedentedly closed off part of the Palisades Parkway highway, so that was kind of neat biking on a spot that probably never has been biked before. The road was also quite smooth and certainly produced some challenging hills. The bike leg consisted of two loops of almost half the length of the bike leg each. By the time I reached about 90 km or just about half way through the bike ride, I was actually getting rather tired and spent, so it was quite early on the bike that I had to dig a little deeper to find the necessary energy to get the bike leg done and behind me.
In my book 112 miles of biking is longish. I usually get tired if I go out and do a 60-70 miles long bike ride – on flat roads and without having done a swim prior. So I knew this bike ride was not going to be an easy walk in the park for me.
But it all went quite well nevertheless. Even though I hadn’t biked since my race in Austria/Italy/Switzerland, I thought I did OK on the bike. It took me a bit longer than I had hoped for, and I think the hills didn’t help my speed or energy, but I liked the challenge.
The Run. Hmmmm. Well, this one was a killer. At least the first half of it was. The run started with two loops of 7 miles consisting of hills upon hills. Most people ended up walking here, including me. Mostly I was nervous that right at the onset of the run portion, you have a full marathon distance to complete, so if you expend too much of your energy and strength here, you might get into serious trouble later in the run and then the 42.2 km gets to be very long indeed. So I wasn’t much up for expending too much energy fighting my way up the hills that I chose to walk a lot of this.
Finishing the hills, you then face even more hills and not least one serious hill going up to Fort Lee where you then need to climb some stairs up and down for you to enter the George Washington bridge which you run across on the upper path walkway (I had a glance over the railing from up there, and I can tell you, it’s a loooong way down to the river).
All the walking got me a little complacent and lazy and I actually ended up walking much more than I really needed to. I actually felt pretty good throughout the race ( I felt the most tired on the bike about half way through that leg) and I actually could run with great speed (comparatively) when I pulled myself together, but like I said, I turned a little too complacent for that. Another factor which is probably the biggest let down of the event was that the run leg in New York pretty much all took place down by the shoreline and in parks, and although some of these stretches were pretty they lacked the excitement that running through blocked off streets with a New York crowd spectating and cheering you on, also lacked.
The difference was noticeable. At around mile 18, we did run down a small stretch of a street and although there were probably only about 100-150 people there, the cheering was loud and exciting that you almost grew wings and your running took off. I had hoped to see more of the same feeling towards the last few miles of the race, but that was not to happen.
Well, at any rate, my much walking gave me much strength so when I saw the finish line, I had plenty in me to sprint the final stretch that I overtook several people and surprised, it seemed, most spectators, some of whom were shouting “wow, that’s a strong finish man!”. Well, they didn’t know of course that I had saved so much energy up during all the walking. So bottom line, yes, I’m proud of my Ironman and I think I did way better than I had feared, but I could honestly have put in much more effort towards the end. Next time I guess.
To get some insights to an Ironman event, take a look at this video from this Ironman. Very nicely compiled and showing a lot of the many emotions that events such as these bring out in people.
PS. By the way. Although I drank a lot of water leading up to the race and not least drank as much a s possible at every depot, I only peed once (at transition right after the swim) during the entire race. This tells you something about just how much you end up sweating during the strenuous exercise it is to complete the Ironman. In fact, I truly believe that I was running a fever the entire race (I think I probably have at every triathlon that I have been in), so you are definitely pushing your body. I also always struggled with the powerbars and GUs etc. I find them very distasteful and yucky and have a hard time getting them down. But the problem is you really need it. During an average Ironman, you expend upwards 7,000 calories while I have read the average intake may be upwards 3,300 during the race. Without the fuel you “bonk”, i.e. go dead.
I cannot seem to get too much of the artificial energy foods down though, and nor the energy drinks. So most of my races are done on pure water and for this Ironman, I made good use of the oranges and bananas they made available along with a little bit of pretzels during the run course (you need the salt too).