I took a couple of days to think about my experience during the race before writing about it in detail. Long story short I wanted a time about 1:00 to 1:15 (one hour to one hour 15 min) faster than the one I finished with. But in retrospect, I suppose the moral of this race is sometimes we get what we want, and sometimes we get what we need. I needed to feel comfortable swimming in a wetsuit. I needed to test using all liquid nutrition versus a combination of both. And what I really needed was a very long workout.
And, partially because of the cleats I got all of these things. I found out I was actually pretty comfortable swimming in a wetsuit for the first time. I found I'm not suited for using all liquid nutrition and so will go with a combination of solid and liquid nutrition from now on. And I got a very long workout under race-like conditions. Honestly, this was what I'd been telling myself and some friends in the weeks leading up to the race. I just wanted to work on my pacing for my first Ironman.
But, hey I'm human. And I possess that same "curiosity" most athletes have about testing limits and seeing how fast they can go - especially on race day. So when I woke up all thoughts of pacing and long workouts faded. And that's why some prayers are answered and others aren't.
So as I rode to the swim start on the bus, an errant bike pump hit me in my right knee. Within the few minutes it took to go from the parking lot to the swim start my knee was swollen and sore. Needless to say, I had serious reservations about running or cycling at that point. But I knew I could still swim so, I put on my wetsuit and thought perhaps the cold water would bring a bit of the swelling down. It didn't, but it got me in the water.
My swim plan was to take it easy and get used to the wetsuit out to the first turn, then if I felt good I'd open it up a bit. The first turn seemed to take forever to reach, but I was comfortable and my stroke felt good. After the turn I put in a bit more effort and wound up catching some of the folks that had passed me. I would swim with this pack until we all got back to shore.
Out of the water, my knee was still stiff and a bit painful but I decided to see how it felt on the bike before bagging the race. Once on the bike I found I had the added challenge of a broken cleat (hence the picture at the start of this blog) also on the right leg. At this point my first thought was, "Hey I had a great swim, I'm cool with stopping right here." But as I looked at my cleat a very wise and thoughtful race volunteer said, "Hey man, you can ride with one leg." So off I went on a 56 mile bike ride with a swollen knee and a busted cleat - only able to clip in to the pedals with my left leg. While it seemed like a doable thing at the time, I cannot tell you what a real pain in the ass that decision turned out to be - literally. Needless to say low back and piriformis pain would be my constant companions for the next 56 agonizing miles. Things got a little better when I decided to ride less from efficiency and a high cadence and more into strength with larger gearing. This was the only way to keep the right foot from slipping off the platform so often.
The ride is also where I determined I would not be using all liquid nutrition for the Ironman. No matter how much fuel I consumed, I was still hungry. I don't ride well when I'm distracted by a growling stomach. I had about 800 calories on the bike which should have been sufficient, but looking at what was in my solid nutrition versus the liquid nutrition I tried for this event, the difference was pretty clear. It isn't just calories, but what those calories are made up of that matters. Lesson learned.
By the time I reached T2, I was hungry, sore, more fatigued than normal for a 50ish mile ride, and still sporting a swollen knee. The cramps in my left leg started right before mile 1. I surmised this was happening because the leg did most of the work on the bike. But I could have been imagining it. So the run became "run only as far and as fast as you can without cramping". By about mile 7 or so things seemed to have stabilized and I wound up running more and only walking when I went through aid stations.
I must say, I've never done a race quite like that either in distance, format, or in the number of minor challenges I experienced. But I can say, I did have a good time even with all of the stuff that was going on. I was never in any physical distress that was unbearable. And I found really like triathlons no matter what place on the course I find myself in. I got the long day I needed and now know a pace I can sustain for quite a while even on a bum leg or with a broken bike cleat. I'd say that's information worth having, especially if you can enjoy yourself while you gather it. Train well.