My 70.3 Ironman Triathlon Story – by Sean Dreznin
It is 9pm, October 16th, 2010. I am walking around our rented condo as if I have Severe OCD. I have my “Race bags” and the contents that will fill them, all laid out on the living room floor like a scene from CSI. I continually walk back and forth making sure I recite each item I will need and visually, verbally and literally touching it, speaking in Triathlon Rainman mode… “definitely Carbo-Pro, definitely!”
Our condo has wooden floors and sits above a commercial office space which around midnight, is of course, vacant. So my footsteps resonate with the thunder of a million steps tomorrow will require. I cannot for the love of all things good, fall asleep. I continually try to think about peaceful thoughts and let the silence soak in like a beautiful womans silhouette. But of course, my internal clock is on “Beast Mode” so hourly trips to the 2nd office and paranoid glances at the clock hinder my REM cycle, to say the least.
I finally just call off the search for sleep and get up at 4:01 as the fear of actually falling asleep and missing the race far outweigh my fear of not getting another 15 minutes of shut-eye.
I have a cab scheduled to arrive at 5:15am, and at 4:56, I can’t help myself and call the driver to make sure they are on schedule. Sure enough, sweet Shola is soon to arrive. I have all my stuff, locked and loaded and when I see the headlights, I head downstairs. Piling in the cab mini-van alerts my senses to conversation and excitement, but that soon fades to simply letting the driver take its fare to its destination. When I arrive, I point Shola to the drop-off area, tip her well for helping me to stay on my journey, and make sure not to leave anything behind. (Don’t want to have a panic attack, when you realize your helmet is rolling around in the back of a cab…)
So now, its pushing 5:55 and the culmination of 14 weeks of training, bricks, bridge repeats, open water swims, adding mileage on the bike and run, start to overtake my medula oblongata and a little bit of anxiousness and adrenaline start to take hold. Upon arrival and seeing the sea of people in the transition 2 area was surreal to say the least. Now I have done St. Anthony’s and 3,000+ is a lot of people, but this just feels more significant. Maybe its being in a new state for the first time (Shot out to Austin, Texas!), maybe its the distance (70.3) or maybe its trying not to think about where I’ll be for the next 6 – 6.5 hours. Either way, my heart rate has jumped a bit. I saunter down to T2 following the masses, and release one of my 3 bags (I’ll explain bags shortly) as instructed. They insure me, I’ll see this later. It’s a little too late to ask questions or head home now, I mean, my cab is long gone!
Next, I am herded to a assembly line of school busses. The same school bus you rode while in middle school. Man, I hope I get a cool seat in the back! FAIL. I’m literally the last one squeezed onto a bus, so its Forrest Gump time… “Cain’t sit heer” “Seet Takin”… alright, maybe a little too dramatic. I sit next to a young guy, and after a quick introduction, I seem to recall his name was Nigel or Henry… I was so caught up in everything else, that I can’t quite remember, but nonetheless, he was from overseas, (Ireland) and while visiting Texas for a short trip, decided why not sign up and get a 70.3 done! Hell Yeah! I liked this kid already! After a short trip, we all piled off the bus at the Transition 1 area. Now this was imposing! All 2,283 bikes smashed together in a chaotic scene of mangled metal and carbon fiber skeletons posing in the darkness. The only lights were the enormous halogens that lit up T1 like it was under construction, which it kind of was. Just Saying! As I lugged my 2 remaining bags down to the T1 searching for 998, the best number EVER! Too dramatic?
I finally found it, just sitting there, patiently and obedient as ever, similar to a golden retriever waiting for you when you get home from a long day of work. My special friend, “Nikita” (Nikita is the name I have given my Kestrel Airfoil) was all dewy and glistening in the man-made lights. She just smiled knowingly.
I took a nice quiet walk with Nikita to the Jack and Adams bike tent to have her fun bags (tires) inflated. While standing in line to have the bike attended to, I glanced over and happened upon bike #1. Two time defending champion, Mr. Richie Cunningham was front and center working on his bike, more like fine tuning his Kestrel! I wished him luck and may the winds be at our backs! So upon getting the tires at optimum pressure, I returned to my rack and began my organization strategy. After unpacking some items, and repacking some others, I hoisted 1 bag over my shoulder and left the other bag hanging from Nikita’s BadonkaDonk. They had numbered boxes for us to drop our 3rd bag into and once I found my special box, I delivered the goods. It was similar to seeking out your “Cubby Hole” in kindergarten!
The bag system, as promised, is rather simple, but in brief, it means pack everything you will need for the “Run” into the “Run Bag”, (I.e. – visor, fuel belt, sneaks, etc) things you need for the “bike” go into the “Bike bag”, but here is the catch. Things you are discarding from the previous discipline, such as the wetsuit and goggles, and swim cap from the 1.2 mile swim go into the “Bike Bag”, so the downside with the bag system, although I swear I am not complaining, is you basically have to dump or pull everything out of the bag to put all the other stuff into the bag. A bit of a conundrum, and a little awkward, but all in all, not so bad! I digress.
Well, at approx. 6:45, with only 15 minutes until transition closed, I decided to head down to the swim start area. My water start was scheduled for 8am, so I had some time to burn. As I stalked the lake and the watched others stretching and talking, I simply took it all in, focused on my breathing and keeping my heart rate steady. Ironically, a woman I had met in the Austin airport that had an Ironman 70.3 backpack, and chatted with briefly about the race appeared in front of me on the hill among all the seal impersonators! I yelped out an “AIRPORT” sound and we said our quick hello’s and good luck’s! It was a reassuring feeling to see a familiar face, if only for 60 seconds or so.
Soon after, the “God Bless America” began and the actual Texas Rangers parachuted in with the American Flag flying valiantly, the excitement and anticipation set in.
THE RACE BEGINS!
7:30am – The pros hit the water and gun goes off! Watching the pros swim away makes the course seem so long, but I quickly change my thoughts onto other things, like stretching, as this 30 minutes will go quickly.
7:44am – I decide I should make one last attempt at fluid release, so I double time it down around a bend to the foliage between the lake and land and with a little privacy, take one step into the woods, where upon raising my gaze, find myself staring directly at a fist sized spider! Damn good thing I didn’t take two steps! I can only imagine what his 8 eyes had him seeing as this wetsuit clad creature approached. So as I began to find my happy place and settle in, my brain let me know that something wasn’t quite right with my feet. Immediately my adrenaline was through the roof as I realized that ants were nibbling on my feet! Dammit! Ants all over my feet… dancing around the grassy park, swatting at my feet, dragging my toes through the grass to quell the burning itchy screaming from my little piggies. Well, so much for getting my heart rate under control… Let’s Go Race!
I return to the swim entrance with a few minutes to spare, but they are calling all neon green caps (Men Ages 35-39) into the water. So we began our descent into the murky cool lake water. Hey, good news, the basin of the pond is filled with slime covered rocks and pond scum! LMAO. This will be good for all the open wounds on my feet the ants left behind. I may have failed to mention that my feet looked a little like Curt Shilling’s ankle from the ALCS game. (Warning: Much Drama occurring)
The announcer says the magic words and my race has officially begun. I position myself near the back of the group as I am looking for a comfortable & smooth, elbow & foot in the face free swim. Alas, I seem to have settled in and the swim is going rather nicely. No mouthfuls of pond water. No elbows in the goggles, and only a few gibronis swimming 2.4 miles as they criss-cross the entire swim course. Did these people even get in a pool before this race? I feel like I want to attach one of those plastic leashes that parents attach to children in a mall to these other swimmers and lead them back to land in a straight line. Oy Vey.
The only issue I had on the swim was my wetsuit was rather new and I had only gotten in about 3 open water swims in a wetsuit…ever. I had surfed in one, but its just not the same. So surprisingly, the neck of the suit was hindering my breathing which made for a bit of a problem as the swim got into the later stages. I just had to add in some breaststrokes to account for this. No biggie!
Approx. 40 minutes later, my feet felt the pleasant sensation of slimy rocks again and it was time for the ascent up the grassy knoll and my first ever wetsuit stripping. It all happened so fast, it was rather anticlimactic. I was considering looking for a pole to show my skills, but I think this may be a 2:00 minute penalty. Anyhow, after passing someone yelling, “Undo your suit”, I began to undo my suit, and when I came upon 4 adults writhing on the ground, I figured, “I gotta get in on this”, so down I went and at the last minute, remembering to grab both sides of my bicycle shorts… just saying!
So I stood up, was gently handed my wetsuit back and was back to conquering the climb to T1.
Then it was baggie #1 awaiting my hurried dumping and arranging of helmet, sunglasses, gloves, jersey, cycling shoes, socks, chamois butter to spread on and about my crotch and pits. I imagined I looked like I really, really, really liked myself a lot. Hey, I’m just saying, if you wanna cheer others on in T1, that’s cool, but you may see some unintentional porn. So it was, what it was. Moving on. After jamming, my wetsuit, goggles and swim cap into the “Bike bag”, I did a practiced double check to make sure all items were present and accounted for and finally added my Scarlett Zensah’s and fashioned my shoes. It was GO TIME! As I clopped my way down the side of T1 to the exit, I couldn’t help but glance at all the other warriors enjoying the moment and was delighted at only having 69.1 miles left! Yikes!
I read, re-read and then read again the coaches instructions that I received from Eric and Jackie and some additional guidelines from my friend (and one of the main reasons I am even here right now, ) Mr. John Norris. I owe you one! Both recommended taking it easy for 10-15 minutes of the bike ride, drinking only water and just getting your legs (Pistons) firing on acceptable levels! So after about 8 minutes of boring riding, I decided to start picking it up a little bit.
Now, I am not going bore you with 56 miles of tiny details, like beautiful horizons of Austin countryside and cows. Wow, there are not surprisingly, a lot of cows out here. One tidbit of advice that I used, that made a world of difference for me and my spirits, was I memorized 3 songs and kept singing them over and over. Not only do I enjoy the songs, but it really helped my focus as it cleared my brain of any thoughts of negativity or tiring. I recited Ice Cubes’ “It was a Good Day”… Here is a sample,
“Today was like one of those fly dreams
Didn’t even see a berry flashing those high beams
No helicopter looking for a murder
Two in the morning got the Fatburger
Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp
And it read Ice Cube’s a pimp
Drunk as hell but no throwing up
Half way home and my pager still blowing up
Today I didn’t even have to use my A.K.
I got to say it was a good day.”
I also recited Jack Johnson’s “Taylor” and Dave Matthews/Jimi Hendrix “All Along the Watchtower”, which made for a nice ride!
Anyhow, enjoying my water and finally deciding about 15-20 minutes into bike, that it was time to start replacing and stockpiling some calories. So a gel here, a sip or two of the calorie concoction I prepared in my lab. (2 powder packets of Gatorade and 1.5 scoops of Carbo Pro for each bottle.) Well fast forward to about 1 hour and 20 minutes into my ride and my stomach starts aching brutally, half like a cramp and half like I have a knife stuck inside me. So I try to ride more upright as the cramped nature of the aero position makes it worse. I realize in hindsight, that had I tweaked the nutrition a touch, I could have shaved 9-12 minutes off the bike easily as I was riding in a reserved manner for a bit trying to work out the side pain. After about 30-40 minutes, the pain subsided and things were back to normal, so it was, as we in the BAMF club say, “Time to DO WORK”… And Work I did. Using the training that was impaled into our Tri-brains I crushed the hills like a pro, banking turns like my Kestrel was a Ducati and making it Rain like I was Pacman Jones. Alright, maybe not making it rain, but I had to fit that saying in here somewhere.
So 2 Hours and 47 Minutes later I was at T2 getting my “Run bag” set up and making sure I had everything I needed for the next 13.1 miles! Got my visor, ipod (just kidding), number belt, running shoes & changed to a sleeveless running jersey. I start my gallop to the Run Start and I almost go right pass the two ladies with their palms greased! I stop and ask, “Sunscreen?” Indeed, they say, and so with a shoulder twist, I say “Yes, please!” and soon I look like a Canadian tourist on vacation at your local beach! My red Zensah’s White sunscreen lathered all over my face and shoulders and my hair puffing out from my visor! Let’s Get it On! Well, my run legs are not quite with me yet, so the first 3 miles are less then fun, as we hit two hills, one steady grade and another steep and unforgiving. But just when I think that the best is yet to come, we enter the park and hit the trails. Holy Poly Guacamole!
Dirt trails covered in small pebbles and large rocks and tree bark and branches! High grass in some parts with holes and divits. Treacherous to say the least! I am a slow runner anyhow, so my pace while about 2 min/ slower then I would have liked, was understandable as I wasn’t going to risk twisting an ankle or worse, to go faster, but I can only imagine what it was like for the faster runners. It must have been tension filled, as I think just one misstep and your entire race could be over! Anyhow, the overall run wasn’t too bad, even with the hill they called “Quadzilla”. There was a DJ at the top of Quadzilla shouting inspirational words at runners and walkers as they ascended the mountain of pain. The run course was a 2 loop 6.55 track, so the first loop was reserved and almost run with my shoulders and torso back, as if you were running tentatively down a hill… Actually, it was literally that way, not as if. So by the time I had run/jogged/walked slower on the first lap and knew what to expect on the loop, I decided to save some juice in the tank for the final 3 miles. I figured I would just slog through the park and the rocky terrain and then when back on semi flat asphalt, keep a nice pace and really hit the pedal at the finish!
So the only real decision I had to make was when facing “Quadzilla” for the second time. Our first meeting was a cold reality, as I walked most of it, except for small bursts of graduated jogging, side stepping and rock hopping! So upon our second encounter, I vowed to the Triathlon Gods, that I would not let them down. I jogged ¾ of the hill at a slooooow pace and then was able to pick it up at the top, which I paid for not long after, but I didn’t care, I still had 5 miles to recoup. I spent the next 2 miles hydrating and just focusing on moving my feet forward. I do want to give another shout out here. The volunteers were great and the hydration stations and support were clutch in helping us achieve our goals!
Ok, I’ll set the scene. It’s 67.3 miles in approx. and 3 miles separate me from the finish line. We have 2 hills remaining and then the corral, horseshoe shaped final mile and the best part, the arena finish! I know my fraternity brother and good friend, Derek Parlee is waiting for me in the last mile to kick my butt into gear and get my feet moving for the strong finish, so I have to represent, not only for the folks who have helped to get me here, but to the SRQ family and the BAMF’s. You know who you are! I find myself speed walking coming into this last 3 mile stretch and begin to positively berate myself for doing so. “Hello me, its me again!“ “Why are you walking?, you flew your ass to Texas to take a walk? Pick it up and get it done!” I am a little surprised at how the run course for the final 3 miles has kind of turned into a Zombie march. If only I could get everyone to start moaning, “BRaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains”, then it would be legit! But I digress, I have juice in the tank, so my feet are moving and although my pace is slow, to quote Forrest Gump, “If I was going somewhere, I WAS RUNNING!” Talk about feeling like a rock star, there were about 3 or 4 others who were in line with similar paces, so we shadowed each other until we reached the final mile, then I picked up the pace a little. I hit the last hydration station and grabbed my usual cup of Gatorade, cup of water and cup of ice, pouring the water in the ice, and speed walking until I finished the ‘ade and H2O. I walked an extra 50 yards eating the ice and pep talking myself to finish exactly as planned. As we like to say, “It was time to DO WORK!”
Final ½ Mile. Running down the stretch, there were so many amazing people out there supporting everyone with signs and shouts of support, I couldn’t help clapping my hands and yelling back at them, joyously and approvingly! Texans Rock! Well, before I knew it, it was time for the ol’ secret weapon, the 60-70-80-90-100 plan! So I start to extend my gait and quicken my pace, I can feel my excitement growing as I make sure to sharpen my focus on not going 60% to 100% and keeping my wits about me… the finish line is only 4 tenths of a mile away. As we make a U-shaped turn into an S section of the Horseshoe, I see my friend Derek and give him the double point. What up BIG D!!! So I’m into the 80% portion of my finish and as I pass a live band playing (I am so in the moment, I can’t even hear the music!) in the final U-turn of the straightaway for the Arena entry and finish line await 2 tenths of a mile away. I have already sold my soul to the devil, so I figure, I am going full boar and if I puke, faint, or leave this world, I am going out in style! I put the hammer to the floor and redline this body o’ mine and although I got a little bit of tunnel vision as my O2 level was depleted to say the least, the Guy Ritchie directed, slowed down, moment for me, was entering the Arena and seeing people stacked 3 rows deep on each side of the finish straightaway cheering and the roar of support that echoed in my ears! I could have sworn that I heard people exclaiming, “Now, that’s how you finish a race!” or “Finish Strong!”, but it may have been my own mind yelling at me!
The race ends abruptly, and I hear voices yelling, “Slow down” & “Be careful”, but all I can do, is smile and grab the SWAG being offered, including two bottles of water, a medal placed around my neck, someone takes my time chip off my ankle and I am given a hat! Score, free hat! I mosey over to a section where they are taking survivors pictures in front of an Ironman backdrop. Yes, Please!
So after getting the bounty, and stalking around with a swagger of a battle weary warrior, I make my way towards the food area and succumb to a little bit of an adrenaline drop off and the weight of being on the course for 6 hours, 20 minutes and 23 seconds starts to set in. I find my friend Derek and set about turning my bike into the bike shop to get it back home, and grabbing my odds n’ ends left in bags throughout the day. Nothing like walking another 4 miles in the sun after racing. The worst part of the day was waiting 70 minutes for a cab to pick us up and thankfully finding an empty one leaving and being able to hop in and get home. Next time, I will make sure to rent a car. Lesson Learned.
The ride home was amazing, just for the sake of relaxing for a little bit.
I was back in the condo for 40 minutes, just taking it all in, and by taking it in, I mean beer and pizza! I settled in and opened up the laptop to surf the internet for a little while, as being without cable TV in our condo made downtime a little more creative. Surfing became a struggle to keep my eyes open and then darkness. When I woke up 2 hours later, realizing how much I needed some sleep. Before long though, Derek and I were back on the town hanging with some nice young Austin ladies we had met previously. And that completes my inaugral 70.3 journey in a nutshell. “Now how the hell do I get out of this nutshell.” ~ A. Powers.
In hindsight, I enjoyed my inaugural 70.3 immensely and the City of Austin is such a cool city, I may even live there one day. Many thanks to the Longhorn Ironman staff, the volunteers and the people who came out to support loved ones, friends and random people like myself, we truly appreciate it! Would I do Austin, Longhorn Ironman 70.3 again? Yes, I would!