If At First You Don’t Succeed, Tri, Tri Again!

Vineman, Sonoma County, CA: July 30, 2011
 

The more I read and heard about Ironman St. George during the course of my training for it, the more I realized that finishing that race was going to be a serious long shot for me.  So back in March, not wanting all of my hard work to go to waste, I decided to sign up for the Full Vineman, as well, to give myself two chances this year to complete the iron distance (all of the Ironman brand races of the season having long since been sold out).  For me, Ironman St. George amounted to a good training day (and an awesome vacation in southern Utah!).  Twelve weeks later:

Samantha and I arrived at the transition area well before it opened at 5:30 AM, but still had a good walk from where we parked the car, and there was already a significant line of folks waiting to get in.  How lucky I was to have her with me yet again at one of these races not only for the moral support, but also for the practical support of helping me lug all of my gear!  The Vineman folks put on a perfectly good race overall, but I had been spoiled by my previous experiences with the “Ironman brand” races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation.  The difference in execution (which, make no mistake about it, you pay for in the registration fee) is noticeable in ways that I will point out – the first of which is that at Ironman races they secure your bike and related gear in the transition area overnight so there is no need to schlep these items with you along with all of your swim stuff the morning of the race.

 
It was good I arrived as early as I did.  The race would begin in less than an hour from the time I entered T1 and, despite the fact that the field of participants in the Full Vineman was only about half that of a typical “Ironman” event, there were also three other races starting from the same spot on this day: Barb’s Race (an all-female half iron-distance triathlon), and both a Half and Full AquaBike (swim and bike) duathlon.  I thought beforehand that I would undoubtedly see my friend Lyn before the start (he and his girlfriend Cyndia were staying at the same motel as Samantha and I, but we left for the race separately).  Now I doubted this would be the case.  The transition area seemed huge and increasingly crowded by the minute.  And unlike the Ironman races, in which each athlete is assigned a specific spot by race number to rack his/her bike, here you had to find the correct row (or part of a row) that matched both the event you were racing in as well as your age and sex category for that race, and then secure a spot for yourself within the available space.  With the aid of the list I had written on a 3 x 5 card and industriously placed inside the bag with my swim gear, I tended to the morning’s tasks with more expediency and calm than I would have otherwise, until I was all suited up.

Shortly after handing Samantha a bag over the gate with my morning clothes in it (neither of us had planned for this exchange, but I pleaded with her to take it), I realized that I had made one slight faux pas.  Despite the fact that I had a list in front of me telling me exactly what to do – step-by-step, so as not to miss anything – race morning nerves prevailed.  In an instant it occurred to me that the goggles I had neglected to put around my neck were sitting in the very bag I had just given to Samantha.  I looked for her, but she was gone.  I shouted out her name.  Nothing.  I made my way toward Johnson’s Beach and the swim start, thinking she must be somewhere nearby to watch the beginning of the race.  Tons of people were all around as I surveyed the area, but not she who had my goggles!

As I made my way to the corral of swimmers-in-waiting, all the while looking back and around every which way for Samantha, I noticed that I was surrounded by yellow-capped participants (designating the third swim wave, the one after mine).  All of the orange caps (my swim wave) were already in the water, lined up at or near the start line.  I heard someone say “Five seconds!” and, with no other warning, I headed into the water myself just as my orange-headed compatriots took off, at 6:33 AM.  To my dismay, I found myself with no option but to do the swim sans goggles.  Fortunately, this was not a salt-water swim or I’d have been in trouble.

It was an inauspicious start which caused some brief psychological stress, but in the end the lack of goggles was not nearly as distracting – or downright annoying – as other aspects of the swim.  I was in the second of eight swim waves that took off within three minutes of each other and constituted all of the Full Vineman and Full AquaBike athletes.  In a mass swim start, there is typically some jostling and body-to-body contact initially as people situate themselves and find their own rhythm, pace, groove, and space, but at least in my experience (as a back-of-the-packer) this dissipates considerably after a short while when the field spreads out.  Even in the shorter-distance races I’ve done that have had wave starts, the body-to-body contact was not unreasonable due to both well-timed gaps between swim waves and the vastness of the ocean!  But here in the Russian River, under these circumstances, I got it every which way – everything from light brushes to an elbow jab to the nose – throughout the duration of the swim.  Yes, I am slow, so each time a new wave started it was only a matter of time before I had bodies swimming into (or over!) me, but the fact that it was a two-loop course, with a wave start, and in a fairly narrow section of river, meant that many others probably had similar experiences.   The upside of this, though, was that I did not have much difficulty navigation-wise: the sighting was such that it would be hard to stray too far off course (something I have struggled with in ocean swims) because a) there were so many other swimmers nearby at all times to follow, and b) there was always land to sight, both upstream and downstream.

At one point, as I sighted ahead, I did a double take.  You expect to see a number of people walking during the run portion of a long-distance triathlon…but during the swim?  My eyes, unprotected by goggles as they were, were not deceiving me.  The water was so shallow in spots that, possibly because they had to, a large number of people were standing and walking in the water, especially as they approached the turn-around point.  I kept swimming even when my hand touched the sandy bottom during my stroke (which it did fairly frequently), thinking that surely it would still be faster to swim in the water than walk in it, but finally relented when I reached the crowd of people standing at the turn-around buoy.  We had been told that the water would be shallow (averaging between four and seven feet deep, according to the website), but this seemed ridiculous to me and cheapened the swim in my eyes.  Still, one of the challenges of triathlon is dealing with the unexpected and retaining your mental focus, so I suppose it was all par for the course.

I saw the clock for the first time on my way toward finishing the first loop and my time seemed fast.  I’ve done the full “iron” distance in the pool enough times to have a sense of it, and I wondered if this course had been measured correctly.  The second loop was much like the first (though I swam, not walked, around the turn-around buoy this time), and when I got to the Swim Finish the clock read (in hours and minutes) 1:42.  There’s no way that was 2.4 miles, I thought.  My pace is remarkably consistent in the water, and it generally takes me around 1:58 to complete this distance.  Also, though it did not occur to me then, because I was in the second swim wave (beginning three minutes after the race clock had started), I had actually finished the swim in 1:39, a full 19 minutes faster than either of my two Ironman swim times, which seems suspicious to me.  Then again, I did keep an identical pace to this in the 1.2-mile swim at the Ford Ironman 70.3 California in 2007, so who knows what other factors may have been involved?  This was a USAT-sanctioned race, so one would expect the distances to be measured precisely.  If you participated or were otherwise involved in this event and are reading this, I am curious to hear your thoughts or comments on the matter.

No doubt because of my earlier-than-expected finish, I did not see Samantha at the Swim Finish – nor did she see me.  I was prepared to take my wetsuit off on my own per the race meeting the day before, but sure enough there was a wetsuit stripper there to greet me, and I obliged him.  I retrieved the bag with my bike clothes in it from underneath my racked bike, and headed for the changing tent…as it was.  The gold standard of Ironman was most noticeably lacking here.  Whereas the Men’s Changing Tent in the Ironman races I’ve been in was spacious, had actual chairs for sitting in, featured personalized attention from volunteers, and was a separate tent from the Women’s (!), none of these things were the case at Vineman!!!  The (singular) tent was tiny, and only a white curtain separated the men’s side from the women’s.  Our space was tight and cramped – I honestly couldn’t see it accommodating more than four guys at a time – and not comfortably, per se.  I did my best to focus on the tasks at hand of changing my clothes and sorting through my gear while the others in the tent scrambled around bare-assed doing the same and we listened to the women’s chatter only inches away from us.  Inevitably a piece of gear or clothing would end up on the wrong side of the curtain and hands from the opposite side would have to reach underneath to help a guy, or gal, out.

With my swim gear stuffed in the only bag provided by the race for the safe return of personal items (Ironman races provide five such bags designated for Morning Clothes, Bike Gear, Run Gear, Special Needs Bike, and Special Needs Run respectively), I left the tent and made a beeline for my bike.  Volunteers were designated to collect the swim gear bags that athletes left behind and ensure their delivery to the finish line area, and also guided us to the Bike Start.  The start was on a hill, so I waited until I was at the top before mounting and clicking in my bike shoes, and I was off and cycling at around 8:25 AM, a wonderfully early start compared to what I was expecting (which was around 8:45 AM).  I was sure that I did not see Samantha at all up to this point for this very reason.

The weather was WON-DER-FUL…it was gloriously cool and overcast as I headed east out of Guerneville, in contrast to the blazing, unforgiving heat I experienced in both Arizona and Utah.  I could not have custom-ordered better weather, and I was thrilled about this!  I did not even see a patch of blue in the sky until I was halfway through the bike course (Mile 56), and I felt the sun on my skin for the first time at Mile 67 (yes, I took note).  I suppose if you do enough of these races, the Iron Gods will eventually smile upon you!  It seemed as if my third attempt at completing the iron distance might truly be “the charm”.

And unlike in the Ironman Arizona and Ironman St. George courses, there were no internal bike cut-off times at Vineman.  You simply had to complete the whole 112 miles by 5:30 PM.  Barring any major problems, this would not be an issue.  Realistically for me, however, I knew that if I wanted to finish the whole race (which ended at 11:00 PM), I would have to do substantially better than a 5:30 PM bike finish.  Most Ironman races give you 17 hours to complete the whole course, but Vineman only gives you between 16.25 and 16.5 hours, depending on your wave start time.  For someone like me, this could potentially mean the difference between being an official finisher…and not.

On the bike course I witnessed plenty of people on the side of the road with mechanical issues, as always seems to be the case in any race of any distance I’ve ever done (these problems really do seem to be disproportionate in races as compared to everyday riding).  I saw everything from flat tires to apparent crashes or wipeouts.  But usually I saw the people with these hardships being helped out, sometimes by fellow athletes, which was pretty heartening.   I saw only one ambulance the whole day.  What a dreaded thing to have a mechanical problem – or worse, an accident – during a race.  I take lots of precautions on the mechanical side of things, and always do my best to ride carefully, but some of it is just plain luck.

While the Vineman swim was the least enjoyable of any race I have done, the bike course was by far the highlight of the day’s events.  You spend the day riding through peaceful country roads, with acres and acres of vineyards and wineries making up much of the scenery.  Despite complaints I heard from others about the road conditions, I found them to be not bad at all.  Trouble spots were usually circled in colored chalk that called attention to them, and the potholes I saw were small, few, and far between.  There were some bumpy patches, but nothing I couldn’t either avoid altogether or get through just fine with my trusty Continental Gatorskin tires.  The cumulative gain on the course is approximately 4,000 feet, which is not insignificant, but most of this is gradual in the form of rolling hills.  The course has been described as being fairly technical in terms of having lots of curves and requiring much gear-shifting, but I felt that the degree of this was overstated and that it was very manageable.  Chalk Hill, the biggest and baddest uphill incline on the course, was nothing after having survived a loop on the Ironman St. George bike course twelve weeks before!  Plus, there were signs that people had posted along the hill as you ascended it to provide motivation and/or a laugh, with messages like: “HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?” and “YES PLEASE, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER!”

I felt some headwind kick in somewhere beyond Mile 80, and it hung around for much of the remainder of my ride and slowed me down a little, but that was the extent of the weather challenges I faced, so I was most grateful!  It does get tiresome riding that many miles, but when I saw Samantha and her childhood friend Anastasia, who had come up from Sacramento to watch the race and keep Sam company, I belted out a primal “YEEEEEAAAAAHHHHH!!!” at the top of my lungs in their direction which surprised even me with its volume and intensity.  I had completed most of the course at this point and just had to put my head down and do the same for the remaining miles.

Compared with my bike time in Arizona, I finished over 16 minutes faster (7:49:03), despite the fact that Arizona’s bike course had only slightly more than half the gain of Vineman’s.  This was at least in part a testament to the difference that weather can make (although I was also better prepared in my bike training for this race, no doubt).

To the credit of the race organizers and the police officers that worked the course, I felt that the bike portion of the race for the most part did measure up to the “Ironman” standard.  In my experience, the traffic was expertly managed, and the course was populated by adequate and helpful aids throughout (in the form of volunteers, cones, markings, etc.) to help us navigate any and all tricky spots.  The aid stations, and specifically the volunteers who operated them, were extremely helpful in keeping us fueled and hydrated.  I opted not to use my Camelbak for the first time on a long-distance bike course, and managed fine with just my own bottles and the water bottles provided (had it been a very hot day, I most likely would have used it to ensure better hydration).  One important note, however, about the size of those bottles provided (Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water by CG Roxane, 23.6 fluid ounces/.74 quart/700 mL, for those wondering): at least half a dozen times, maybe even a dozen, these bottles nearly flew out of my bottle cage while I was riding.  This would happen if I went over a bump or especially if I stood on the bike – during a hill climb, for example.  The bottle would hang to the left, leaning out of the cage about 3/4 of the way (!), and be held in place just barely at the bottom.  I would need to scoop it up the instant I realized this before a potential catastrophe occurred.  This must have been a function of the bottle shape/size, I’m thinking, so this is something the Race Director should look into for future events (anyone out there have a similar experience?).

The Bike Dismount Line was an unusually long way from T2 (the second transition area) due to the design of the final stretch of the course on the grounds of Windsor High School and some potentially dangerous curves and narrow passageways for getting there on wheels with other riders around.  I’m glad I scoped this out the day before and knew to take off my bike shoes as soon as I dismounted.  As I walked with my bike, I saw none other than my good friend Max (aka, visual effects wizard Eric Leven), whom I’ve known since nursery school and who came up from Berkeley for the express purpose of cheering me on to the finish.  It was awesome to see him there, and I don’t remember what he said, but he cracked me up in typical Max fashion as he followed me around the bends for as long as he could.  “I am sooooo glad to be off of this thing,” I told him sincerely.  When I made my way around the final curve that spilled into T2, I spotted none other than Meryl, Samantha’s mom, who also came up (from Marin County) to spectate and cheer me on.  It’s a huge morale boost to see a familiar friendly face out there, and I was touched by these people in my life who went out of their way to witness my effort.

T2 went smoothly.  There was a much more spacious tent for this wardrobe change for some reason, and I emerged from it in my running attire raring to go.  Max was there to entertain me with his quips as I headed out of T2, and off I went.  Now “all” I had left to do was a marathon.  When I had reached this point in Ironman Arizona, I had six and a half hours remaining on the clock to complete the run and, as you may have gathered by now, I didn’t make it.  Right now I had a little bit more time, about six hours and thirty-eight minutes, for this one.

To my surprise, my running legs were available to me immediately.  I had imagined this would take more time coming off of the bike, but I began my 26.2-mile journey on foot feeling great and jogging at a decent clip.  The sun was out, but wasn’t oppressive.   There were a number of spectators who lined the run start (and, in effect, the start/end of each loop) for a good distance, and their cheers were definite pick-me-ups.  I saw Cyndia at this point, who gave me a “you’re doing great!” as I passed by her.  I had not seen Lyn all day, but suspected he was somewhere ahead of me and that I was bound to see him sooner or later on the out-and-back, three-loop run.

Once the line of spectators disappeared, I found myself right up against my own thoughts again.  More than ever, this portion of the race was going to be a mental game.  It’s hard to conceive of tackling a marathon right after being on a bike for nearly eight hours (not to mention the swim beforehand).  It’s just not something a person would do, or even consider, under “normal” circumstances, and not something most people even come close to doing (as far as I am aware) while training for an Ironman, because such a session would likely be counter-productive to an optimal race performance.  Running a marathon, in and of itself, is a grueling endeavor, as I think almost anyone who has done one will attest.  Running one in the context of an iron-distance triathlon requires, I think, an entirely different sort of mindset.  For me, getting through it successfully was going to be all about strategy.  Yes, I felt good initially, but I knew better than to expect that this would last for any significant length of time.  Admittedly, I had not put too much thought into the run portion of the race.  I was pretty methodical and disciplined in the execution of my nutrition strategy on the bike and, as I had very much expected, solid food held no appeal whatsoever to me at this point.  Hopefully I would have consumed enough calories on the bike to see me through on just water, salt tablets (for electrolyte replacement), gels, and whatever else my stomach might be willing to accept during the marathon.  Even gels, as it turned out, weren’t all that appetizing.

Ever since being introduced to “walk breaks” late in my training for the 2004 L.A. Marathon (thank you, Nina!), I have sworn by them in all of my training and long-distance running.  The idea is that you find the best ratio that works for you of minutes of jogging followed by minutes of walking, and you implement this from the very beginning.  I have found that the ratio that I like best is four minutes of running followed by one minute of walking.  Then it’s just rinse, lather, repeat.  Taking the walk breaks systematically and right from the start provides wonderful relief during a long run (both physically and psychologically) and, I find, actually results in a faster overall time than I would achieve with trying to run continuously for as long as I could before stopping to walk.  It also greatly reduces the trauma to legs that are kind enough to follow such overwhelming demands in the first place and I believe reduces the risk of injuries and leads to faster recoveries.

All of that said, my four-to-one ratio approach works just fine if all I am doing is running.  But “just running” had most definitely not been today’s agenda.  I experimented with ideas about how to approach the run, but each one fell by the wayside rather quickly.  For example, as soon as I had decided on a running to walking ratio, I would come upon a hill while running and that would be the end of that.  Running up hills seemed both an unwise use of my energy and, um…pure masochism!  I knew I had to avoid any injuries or mishaps.  I knew I had to be conservative in my exertion and keep the long-term goal in mind at all times, specifically: FINISH THIS RACE INTACT AND BEFORE THE CUT-OFF!!!!

Finally, I settled on a plan of dividing the course up into six parts (each way out and each way back for three loops).  I estimated that each of these sections was roughly 4.5 miles, and then gave myself a particular time goal for reaching the end of each one that would be realistic and reasonable.  This gave me a lot more flexibility than trying to stick to a specific ratio of running and walking.  If I averaged 65 minutes to cover each of these “sections”, I would reach the finish line in time, but obviously I wanted to also give myself some kind of a cushion to avoid cutting it too close!   I have a pretty simple wristwatch, so I was doing constant calculations in my head throughout the night based on my progress (which was actually not all that bad a way to occupy my mind).

When I saw the line of spectators as I approached the end of the first loop, I was reinvigorated.  I wanted to look good for the people out there, especially those that had come to see me!  I picked up my pace and wore my best smile as I made my way past all of the folks cheering and applauding.  I was surprised for some reason at just how much of a boost they were.  I saw Samantha, her mom, and Anastasia, and gave them a big smile and wave.  When I saw Max, I said to him (knowing full well I would eat my words, tongue-in-cheek as they were): “What’s the big deal?  This is easy!”  The volunteers and spectators were totally energizing; this cannot be overstated.  One woman held up a sign that read:  “Chuck Norris” and then underneath: “…NOT an Ironman!”   Every little gesture of support like this truly adds up when you are out there pushing yourself all day long.  This is true in life in general, but really is a heightened experience when you are exerting yourself to such an extreme.

As soon as I was out of sight of the spectators, I slowed to a brisk walk.  Back down to business.  I had to get through and finish this, and dogged determination, mixed with a strong dose of sound thinking, was what was called for.  Downhills were always the time to run.  Flat stretches would be run…sometimes.  Endless mental games were played: run from here just up to the beginning of that hill, or that sign, or that post, or whatever.

I sipped on water at every aid station.  I wasn’t consuming the gels I had brought with me.  I didn’t want them.  I eyed the assorted goodies on the tables, snacks I normally would have reached for (Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, pretzels), but was just not interested.  I finally reached for a cup of de-fizzed cola to alternate with the water for a little extra boost.  But after trying this out a couple of times, my stomach responded with uncomfortable cramping so I backed off and resumed sipping on just water.  I didn’t even want any fruit, but finally settled on some grapes, which seemed like an appropriate choice for this race (Vineman) and which my body actually welcomed.  Mostly, I just tried to keep moving at all times – continuous forward motion was the way to the finish line – and compulsively did calculations about my pacing.

To be clear, funny as this may sound, I had no interest in torturing myself out there.  As the night wore on, all kinds of aches emerged – everywhere, but most noticeably in my feet.  I was certain I had an array of blisters on both of them (although a post-race inspection proved I actually had none).  I wanted to finish, but I also wanted to take full advantage of the time I had left.  In other words, I wanted to do no more running than I absolutely had to, but I also wanted to give myself enough of a cushion time-wise that I would have the option of walking the entire third loop, as a gift of mercy to bestow on myself!  These two desires competed in a mental tug-of-war in my brain.  When there was any doubt, though, the paranoia of missing the 11:00 PM deadline won out.

When I ran through the spectator-populated area to complete the second loop and start the third, I again did my best to look strong but I’m sure I wasn’t quite as convincing this time.  Max wasn’t there (he took a break for dinner), and Samantha’s mom had already headed back home, as had Anastasia.  But Samantha was still there, cheering me on and truly being an endless source of motivation.  I can’t tell you how many times I told myself that I had to finish this for her.  Do this for HER!!!  I dedicate this all to HER!!!!!  I thought of all the Saturday mornings I left her behind to head out for a long bike ride and not return until many hours later, about all the times I had to go to sleep early in order to get up at 5:00 AM to hit the pool for a long swim before work, about the times she joined me at Sycamore Canyon and went for a solo hike while I went out for a long run, and about how much the Ironman goal in one way or another had dominated my free time.  All the while she had been accommodating and supportive, and even excited for me.  She has been such a devoted and enthusiastic cheerleader and supporter and has had to see me NOT make it to the finish line twice before.  She took time off from work again for this trip, just to be here with me for this.  She got up at four in the morning to see me to the start, and has been out here all day and night just to get brief glimpses of me and cheer me on and SHE DESERVES TO SEE ME FINISH!!!!!!!!!!!

The third loop was dark.  Very dark.  Some well-prepared athletes were donning headlamps (they must have done this race before!).  The only other lights came from the aid stations, the glow sticks that were handed out to us so we could be seen, and the lights from those patrolling the course on a bike or in a car.  On my way outbound, I witnessed a young woman heading back my way and crying.  She was being propped up by a woman on either side of her, both of whom were offering words of consolation.  The race wasn’t over so something had clearly happened – an injury, I guessed – to keep her from continuing.  An awkward mixture of feelings brewed inside me: genuine sympathy, relief that it wasn’t me, apprehension that something bad could still happen, the desire to shut out even the thought of something bad happening, and the resolve to press on.

There weren’t all that many mile markers on the course, but the ones that were there posted the total mileage reached for whichever loop you were on and were helpful to my incessant computing of time and pace.  Whenever I reached the sign that read “Barb’s Race Turn-around”, I knew that that was roughly the halfway point toward my turn-around, so that was a helpful marker, as well.

At times it was so dark I couldn’t even see the ground in front of me, and it seemed dangerous to try and run.  What if I tripped and fell, and it somehow cost me my finish?  I proceeded carefully.  I was keeping a good enough pace and taking any chances just seemed reckless at this point.

When I finally saw the big light in the distance indicating the turn-around I picked up my pace, excited about reaching the sixth and final section of the run course!  As I circled around and ran over the timing mats, a volunteer commented that I was moving at “quite a pace!” but it was purely reactionary and would dissolve back into a determined but laborious trudge soon after.

One of the things that helped out a lot, especially on that long, lonely, and dark final loop, was finding others to keep pace with and talk to.  A number of people I found were from LA or thereabouts.  One guy I chatted with had just come down with a nasty cold a few days before and was slogging through this whole thing while sick.  He was actually very good company.  I didn’t want to hold him back, but he gladly walked with me awhile.  I think he was from El Segundo.  I told him a little about my strategy for getting through and the pacing I needed to keep to make sure I was on track and he said, “Keep moving and I’ll tell you your pace.”

“Huh?”  I was confused but obliged him.

“You’re doing 15:20 [minutes:seconds/mile] right now.”

“I am?”

“Yeah.  Now keep up with me for a moment…..now you’re doing 14:40.”

It was his handy-dandy watch, equipped with a GPS, that did all of the calculating for us.  How cool!  I totally saw the value in that, as it is very hard when you’re exhausted to have any idea of how fast you are actually going.  He kept the pace for me for a little while, before leaving me on my own when he was ready to forge ahead.

Next I came upon a pair of sisters, also from the outskirts of LA (Valencia, maybe?), who were doing the race together, so I chatted with them for a little while until the final stretch was in sight, after which I took off.  Random people on the street were offering serious kudos and congratulations, as if they truly understood what this was all about, and each comment brought a big smile to my face and all of my aches and pains vanished from consciousness.  I was really, truly, going to make it this time!!!

You’d think I would have wanted to take it all in a bit more, but when I reached the final left turn that led to the finishing chute, I instinctively picked up the pace.  THIS WAS IT!!!  Max appeared again and ran alongside me on the opposite side of the partitioned wall.  There were probably words exchanged between us but it is all a complete blur to me now.  The chute was lined with cheering spectators on either side.  I swept my hand across a bunch of hands that were laid out before me and heard my name called out by the announcer.  With my right fist held high in the air I burst through the tape that marked my official entrance into the world of IRON MEN AND WOMEN!!!!  I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One volunteer removed the ankle bracelet carrying my timing chip, another put a medal around my neck, another gave me my finisher’s shirt, and still another greeted me with a very welcome space blanket for warmth, as I was pretty cold by now in my skimpy running attire.  It was 10:35 PM and I had been racing since 6:33 AM.  I made the 11:00 PM cut-off with under 25 minutes to spare.

Samantha was totally freaking out with excitement and gave me a fierce hug when she saw me after jumping up and down and screaming and cheering.   Max stood behind her with a big grin on his face.  I think Samantha was more ecstatic than I was, having accompanied me for years now on this journey.  She told me she was so relieved to see me finish, and how anxious she had been throughout the day, especially for a two-hour stretch or so during the bike when the live updates were not registering for me due to some computer glitch and she feared the worst.

With Max’s help and hers, I retrieved my belongings from the transition area.  I hugged my old friend farewell, and then headed back with Samantha to the motel in Santa Rosa.

As an Ironman.

I am deeply indebted to a number of people for their support in helping me reach this goal, among them:

– All of the volunteers and spectators at every race I’ve ever done.

– The authors of all of the books I’ve read on the subject of Ironman triathlons, especially Ray Fauteux.

– The various Ironmen and Ironwomen I have known or met over the years that have inspired me.

– Bob Lloyd for talking me into doing my first-ever 60-mile-plus bike ride in 2005 (the MS Bike Tour), and then somehow also talking me into doing the L.A. Wheelmen’s Grand Tour Double Metric Century Ride (124 miles) in 2006.

– Masoud Golbaz for doing both of the above-mentioned rides, and a number of others, with me.  I wouldn’t have gotten through that first Grand Tour without you.  I’m serious.

– Lyn, for having the guts to sign up for this race with me having only ever done one triathlon before – a sprint-distance one, at that (and he still finished over an hour before I did!), and Cyndia.

– My good friend Paolo, who has been such a key supporter, ready ear, cheerleader, and informal coach to me in my Ironman pursuit.

– Anastasia, Max, and Meryl for showing up on race day and cheering me on.  It meant more than you know.

– And finally, Samantha, for being my friend, my companion, my devoted partner, my love, and my “golden compass”.  I love you and am eternally grateful for you every day.  This finish is dedicated to YOU!!!!

SWIM – 1:39:10

T1 – 12:38

BIKE – 7:49:03

T2 – 8:08

RUN – 6:13:24

TOTAL – 16:02:23

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