Sunday, August 3, 2008

Vineman 2008 - the fastest marathon I ever walked

On Friday as Chris and I were driving up to Windsor for the event we were trying to figure out when we first met. I thought maybe a blog would help me remember some of the fun in life...

In October I got my first road bike from my dad for my birthday. I had done a couple 50k trail runs and had also been swimming to help with some knee issues. Once I started biking I figured I might as well combine all three and do a triathlon. Of course in my delusions of grandeur it had to be an Ironman. All the official ones were sold out but we found an Ironman distance tri in Sonoma and signed up. I started training for it after I got back from Christmas break. I began riding with the Cal Cycling Team and well that's enough background.

The days before the tri there was the usual talk, just like the other races, about how it wouldn't be that hard, how good we'd do, how easy it'd be, blah blah blah. Two little kids whistling in the dark. Finally the day came. Wake up was supposed to be at 445 but Chris turned all the lights on to go pee. For a moment I had that warm fuzzy feeling of waking up in a cozy bed. That lasted all of 2 seconds when I realized what was coming. We get up, get all our gear and head out. The excitement really hit once we arrived and saw all the people. There was a huge transition area set up where we hung our bikes up and put out all our gear. We went over and got numbered; they write your number on you with a magic marker, I guess to identify the corpses. Then they wrote your age on your left calf which was fun. Not many 20s there, lots of 30s, 40s and 50s though. I got my bike and gear set up at the stand then put on my swim cap and my goggles. Start was at 645 and not to be out of character I was running down to the beach at 642. I got in the water and right before they announced the start I reached up to put my goggles on goggles. Okay, it's okay, I thought, I can swim without. 20 ft later I realized how impossible it would be to hold my head above water the whole race. I figured it would just float since it's full of air. I run back out of the water to the transition area, grab my goggles, hop the fence, and head back to the water. I start swimming with my heart going a million beats a minute. After a couple minutes I was able to fall into a rhythm and just swim. Then the 40+ category started to pass me and somewhere along the way Chris spotted me. We stood up, the river was shallow in parts, high fived and joked for a bit. Then we got back to swimming.

Most of the swim was pretty painless. Was like being just another fish, albeit a slow one, swimming upstream. I felt a lot of joy through most of it, realizing there I was, living out my dreams. I was being an Ironman. Then towards the end I looked forward to getting on the bike. Finally I finished the swim and ran through the cheers to the transition area. I had been thinking about who would get back first all the way through the last quarter of the swim. Chris and I had one towel to split, because we weren't anticipating being back at the same time-I was supposed to beat him. Well there he was using the towel to change when I got in. He tossed it over and I took my speedo off and put my cycling shorts on. A few minutes later I was heading out to start riding. Chris wasn't sure where I had gone and I just started cranking.

A few minutes after getting on the bike, after I passed all the onlookers, I realized my stomach wasn't doing too well. I had eaten a clifbar after the swim but I think I just hadn't had enough time to digest breakfast before starting the swim. Usually I try to get down as much food as possible early in the race before my stomach turns bad. This meant trouble. I cranked hard though towards the first aid station knowing I'd have to relieve myself once I arrived, giving Chris a chance to catch up. Chris arrived but I got back on the bike and started pedaling while Chris was in line for the port-a-potty. At the next aid station we caught up for good and began riding together.

We rode together for another 30 miles talking about techniques, how we were feeling, different strategies, but most importantly Chris told me the story he had been saving. I won't go into details but when you're on long events like this it's good to have stories, songs, anything to pass the time. Near the end of the loop, the course had two 56 mile loops, I lost Chris on some hills. I took advantage on the downhills and just kept cranking. Although it was fun riding together we established long ago that when one of us is feeling good we should go as hard and as far as we can. You never know when you'll start feeling bad so it's good to take advantage while you're feeling up to it. Plus I knew he'd catch me on the run.

It was nice riding alone for a while, focusing a lot on my cadence and gearing. The course was really hilly but I was able to stay on my aerobars for a good majority of it. Towards the end of the second lap I started to die. I had loosened my shoes because my feet were getting sore but I still had some hot spots on my bottoms of my feet. Chris caught up with me before the climb and we chatted for a bit then I lost him on the climb again. He's a stronger runner so I wanted to get some time on him before we started the marathon.

The end of the bike portion couldn't come soon enough. I kept thinking "Ff only I could take these bike shoes off." Just like with the swim, if only I was biking, but now, if only I was running. Finally I came along the finish area and there were tons of people cheering which lifted me up a lot. Then I saw that there were a ton of people already running so I felt a bit behind. I got off the bike, grabbed my running clothes and headed towards the changing area. I went in the first tent I saw which turned out to be a Freudian slip. Turns out it was the women's changing room but since most of us guys shave our legs it took me a minute to figure that out!

Then the run began...Ouch. The beginning was super tough. It was going to be three laps of 8 miles and change. A marathon is a lot of running by itself but after already covering 114 miles it was daunting. It was one of those things where I didn't know how I was going to do it but only that I could, one step at a time. It was super painful and my stomach wasn't doing too well. I hadn't been able to take down much of anything besides water and was running out of fuel fast.

After running about a quarter of a mile I saw the first pair of walkers I had seen. "What is this? A walkathon?" I said, attempting to get a smile out of them. They didn't even look up. I didn't catch the gravity of the situation until I began seeing others walking, ones that looked far more like Ironmen than me.

The death blow came at the mile three aid station. I felt cold water on my back and turned around to see Chris. "How the hell did you catch me?" "I was walking" he said! More than anything this was a relief. Chris and I always push each other towards that ideal but if he was no longer pushing I didn't have anything to match. We walked for about 10 more miles together, occasionally attempting to run. I kept trying to calculate how fast we could walk and finish but my math wasn't so great-with low blood sugar my two brain cells were having trouble ciphering. There was a cutoff coming up at 9 pm and if we hadn't started our third lap, roughly mile 17, we wouldn't be able to continue. Somewhere on the second lap Chris began running again. I kept walking, for one reason or another. I saw Chris again as he was starting his third lap and he told me to pick it up. I ran for few minutes and had to stop because of cramps.

Finally, I began my third lap. I had made the 9 pm cutoff by about 40 minutes and realized that whether I walked or ran it was going to hurt. My heart rate was already 130 at a walk, pretty high for walking, so it wasn't going to make much difference. I started to run, impressed that I actually could. There were still a ton of people out cheering which really helped. By this time the sun was setting and it was getting dark. It had been 98 during the day so it wasn't getting that cold but the visibility was getting bad. I began seeing runners with glow sticks but each aid station I came to had run out.

Soon I was just running in the dark. It reminded me of the stories I've read about 100 mile runs and people running through the lonely night. I finally made it to the halfway point on the last lap and quickly felt better. At least until I overheard another runner talk about being from the area and knowing that rattlesnakes slept on the road at night. I didn't pass a dark spot on the road without jumping from then on.

On the way back I kept seeing runners passing me in the opposite direction. The cutoff was 11 pm and they weren't going to make it. It was a bit sad to see the running on knowing they wouldn't make it. It was also inspiring though, seeing them keep going with no real hope of finishing in time.

As I got near the mile 24, two miles out, I started to look up at the sky and all the stars were shinning bright. I tried to stop focusing on the next aid station and just be there. For moments I was able to feel it, all the joy and pain and everything. I wished my parents and grandparents were there, just to be with them. There were lots of moments like this along the way, moments where I just wanted to cry. I didn't want to cry because of the pain, just because of how good it felt to be living as fully as possible. That feeling of contentment. Okay I'm definitely embellishing now, it hurt.

I ran through the last two aid stations without getting anything, my sights were set on the finish. I kept going and as I got to the last mile I began to pick up the pace. I became really overjoyed, knowing I would finish. I get that feeling at the end of all my long runs, rides, and swims, just enjoying the last bit of freedom before it's over. I started running a bit too quick and realized I was going to puke if I kept that pace so I backed it down a bit. Finally the home stretch came. People were cheering and I ran the fastest I had ran all day. I crossed the line in a haze. There were volunteers waiting for us and I rested on one of them. They gave me a medal, a shirt, and a bottle of ice cold water. It took a while for it to really sink in. I was in shock for a good 10 minutes as to what had just happened. I couldn't believe it was finally over.

On the bus back to the start I got really nauseous. I puked when we got off the bus. Then we went to Safeway and got some food. I puked a few more times on the way home. I couldn't stay awake but when I would fall asleep I would get nauseous and have to puke. We made it home at about 2 am and thankfully my roommate came down and helped us get all the gear up. I weighed myself before taking a shower and had lost at least 7 pounds. After the shower I fell fast asleep.

The next day there was lots of eating, Zachary's Pizza for lunch and then Juan's for dinner. We ate and ate and ate. Around 6 pm Chris said we should get out before the sun went down, do some walking. I suggested we go for a run and he laughed. I pushed it and the next thing I know we're sprinting down Durant after a 9 mile run...


  1. Congratulations Dude! I need to figure out the 130 BPM for walking....

  2. J - Your musings are accurate and entertaining to read. In addition, the feeling to cry was from joy, yep pure joy.