Monday, September 24, 2012

Sterling Colorado #17

Sterling Colorado - HITS Event Ironman #17

Back together as a family after a long road trip!

All loaded up for the trip.  Taking an extra bike for Susan Hagg

It was a fantastic reunion home after an entire month on the road traveling and racing throughout Europe and finishing last week in Lake Placid.  Some interesting struggles appeared in our lives that were unexpected and most certainly not needed.  But as I have learned so many times this year, there is a solution and a way to solve any situation.  With the support of many, we will overcome our small transportation issue and come out on top.... somehow!

My parents and older sister have been in town for a few weeks and I was fortunate enough to catch them at the tail end of their trip.  I spend some time with my nieces and nephews at the local water park and enjoyed several dinners and BBQ’s with family and friends.  I think it was really good for me to be away for this month and gain true appreciation for my wife, kids and close friends.  All of this alone/away time has been really good for me to realize who my real family and real friends are.  I love you all so very much!

Being at home was short lived as reality was quickly brought back to my attention.  I had a fair bit of racing left to do to reach my goals for the year.  Obviously, this was the furthest I have ever pushed my mind and my body and this weekend would be my 8th Ironman race in as many weeks.  A friend and athlete of mine, James English successfully completed the very challenging St George Ironman earlier this year in May.  Due to the extreme conditions the day turned out to be a day of survival and not personal bests.  James convinced his wife to allow him to join me on one of my races and it just happened to be this weekend in Sterling, Colorado.  From the looks of things, Sterling seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, so I wasn’t in any hurry to get there early.  Initially, we were going to bring the family and enjoy a weekend together; but upon further review, we didn’t think it was a good idea to subject the kids to all that car time with nothing to do upon arrival. 

James picked me up Friday morning around 8 am and we headed out through Wyoming and onto Sterling.  The drive was uneventful which sometimes is a very good thing.  We arrived early enough to head straight to the race site and get all checked in for the race.  Alex, the HITS race announcer always does a great job of making me feel welcome and I enjoy being referred to as the Naples Champion (still a pretty cool highlight and memory of my year).  There was a sign making booth for spectators to make signs for their athletes who would be racing in the coming days.  James and I had a little time to kill before the athlete dinner so we make a few signs.... for ourselves... that no one would be holding.  That’s ok though, it killed some time. 

The dinner was a nice change from the traditional pasta and salad that is usually served at all pre-race dinners.  On the menu was a mexican spread that hit the belly right!  I prefer to eat potatoes and rice over noodles and breads the day before a race.  We got our fill and headed back to the hotel to rest up.

Sterling is a very small town with nothing to do and that is just great when I just want to sit in my hotel room and not move.  The bigger cities, that have lots of interesting stuff to see, make it hard for me to just sit relax and recover.  This wasn’t an issue in Sterling. 

These windmills are a good indicator it's going to be a windy day.....

James English getting ready to dominate!
She is ready to rock and roll.... SO PRETTY.  Thank you Bio Structures!

We slept in till....WHENEVER WE WANTED ;)  After avery normal breakfast we headed to the race site for a pre-race practice swim, bike and run and then watch the kids and novice race.  I also brought Sunny’s bike for a friend to use during her Ironman.  She had to fly in and with us driving she could save money on the ridiculous check fees for bikes (I will spare everyone another rant on this... for now;)  The water was warm but not really that clean.  It had a slightly funky smell to it.  The weather was really hot and we just did a quick 30 minute ride and a 10 minute run to make sure the bikes were running smooth and the legs felt good after sitting in the car for more than 8 hours the day before.  James is an account executive for Sprint and we took out the Mormon LDS missionaries for lunch (the connection is the LDS church uses Sprint and James is over the church account) so he killed a few business items while here in Sterling.  We went to what looked to be the only nice restaurant in town and it actually was really good!  The rest of the afternoon was spent getting our bags ready for the race, watching the Olympics (MY FAVORITE) and just staying off our feet and out of the heat!  My favorite meal of the day is breakfast so we went to Village Inn for a night time skillet before the race, perfect!

Race morning came quick and I slept really well.  I love the HITS races because you can sleep in a little longer than in a big Ironman event where you have to fight lines and crowds of people.  The HITS races are much lower key and have a very cool home town race feeling.  My coach Sonja was there with her husband Troy who was doing his very first half ironman in prep for his very first Ironman race in Wisconsin later this year.  It was great to see her and have her there for another one of my races (she was also in Texas earlier this year.) 

Wetsuits on and last minute prep complete.  I wished James good luck and told him I would see him at the finish.  The horn sounds and all the half and full athletes charge into the water from the beach start.  The first lap had minimal congestion due to amount of people participating in the races series.  It is still on the low side as this is the HITS’s first year in operation.  I recognized Troy in the water and stayed with him most of the first lap where he then exited the water and I rounded the shore marker and dove back in for a second loop.  The water still had that funky smell and didn’t have good visibility.  I am pretty sure the cattle on the other side of the lake use this as a toilet and bath.  The second lap of a HITS swim is mostly by yourself which is great and also a little not so great.  Great cause you are not fighting for open water space and not so great cause you don’t have anyone to pace off of or with.  I think the pro out weighs the con in this situation and happily plug along.  It just so happened that I caught 2 swimmers on my second loop and did the rest of the swim with them and we all exited the water at the same time. 

I was pretty sure that when I got out of the water I was in 6th position.  I did a quick transition and went to put on my helmet for the ride and somehow the chin strap had fallen off.  I watched as the two guys I came out of the water with left transition as I fumbled to get the chin strap ties back together so I could strap the helmet on (a triathlon biking rule and good practice if you think about it).  The ride stared with roller had a flatter middle section and finished with a big hill before turning back and heading to transition.  I felt good on the bike and had worked my way into second place just after the 28 mile turn around.  The winds were down and the air temp was manageable.  I was doing a great job with my fluids and pacing.  On my way to transition and the turn around I timed how much of an advantage the 1st place rider had on me and it was just under 10 minutes.  I figured I could take off 5 minutes from the half way point and then 5 more minutes again before returning back to transition where we would head out onto the run.  I biked back out to the half-way point staying in control of my heart rate and I was still 10 minutes back.  Once I made the turn the winds had picked up and we were headed straight into it.  On the first loop, I saw James and cheered him on as we headed in opposite directions.  But then on the second loop I didn’t see him.  Thinking I must have just missed him, I biked on into the wind in pursuit of the 1st position in the race. 

I pulled into transition and as I am racking my bike I see Mr James English walking towards me in street clothes.  I said, “What the hell are you doing, are you ok?”  He said he got very sick, that he was out of the race and that 1st place was 10 minutes down the run course.  All of this information sucked!  I quickly changed and was running in a new pair of Altra Lone Peaks.  This shoe was the perfect choice, as the entire run was on a gravel/dirt trail and road.  I started running and knew there was no way I was going to run anybody down at this stage of my year.  It was HOT, real hot.  I was wearing my trusty cowboy hot which was nice to keep the sun off of my face and neck.  Coach Sonja and her husband Troy were there to send me off on the run course and take a few pics.  As I ran towards the first aid station, I could see I runner leaving it back onto his run.  I first thought it was a really slow half distance racer that I had caught, but once I arrived at the aid station they told me that the full distance leader had just left.  I fueled up and headed down the path.  The ground surface was soft and it was almost like I was running on a beach.  You had to pay very close attention to the ground and where you were stepping in order to try and get the best ground contact.  Running a marathon in an Ironman is tough enough let alone a softer surface.  Within the next 10 minutes, I had caught the leader and passed him up for first. 
Coach Sonja wishing well before heading out

The run took us out onto a wide dirt road that was much better to run in as the ground wasn’t as soft.  I held the lead all the way out ‘till the far turn around on the course.  I was passed while trying to gather myself at an aid station.  The heat was getting to me and I was being darn sure I didn’t have a repeat experience from Texas where I also had then lead then ran into some huge issues.  I let them pass me and I didn’t let it influence my race, cause after all winning the race wasn’t why I was there.    I made the turn back at transition and headed out for my second loop.  The winds had picked up so when I saw James, I handed him my hat and glasses, and took off my shirt in an attempt to even a half a years worth of tan lines.  I kept plugging away and noticed the sky starting to get really dark... I mean really dark.  I cursed the heat some more and prayed for the skies to open up and cool us down with some showers.  Well I got my wish but they it wasn’t nice and pleasant at all.  I started to pour, and I mean pour.  The winds threw the rain on us and it felt like pins and needles were being thrown at you.  I put my wet shirt back on only because it created a layer of protection from the pelting.  The winds and the rain got worse and worse.  It now felt like I was getting a tattoo over my entire body.  To see where I was going, I had to turn mostly away from the direction of the wind, place my hands over my face and peek through the tiniest hole in my hands.  There was no running for me at the height of it all and I ended up doing some walking backwards.  I reached the next aid station and it had completely collapsed and the volunteers where no where to be seen.  I took a few things and just kept going on.  The lighting and thunder was bright, loud and very close.  I remember trying to think very small, like I was the smallest thing out there so I wouldn’t be struck by lighting.  The wind died down and bit and I was able to start running again.  Soon after I was passed by what looked like a gazelle leaping through a meadow.  He was tall and looked fresh.  Again, I let him go and was happy with third place.  Just before making it all the way out to the far turn around, I had caught back up to the athlete who was now in second as they too were passed by the gazelle.  I asked if they were ok and then headed out for my last 6.5 miles to finish this race off.  I was wet cold and just wanted to be done.  I would have never imagined that when this day started I would have struggled with being cold.  On the way back, athletes were huddled under the fallen down aid stations in an attempt to stay dry... which I didn’t really understand as they were already soaked to the bone and there was no other way to get back to transition then by being in the elements.  Most of the volunteer and abandoned post and I certainly don’t blame them, I got pretty bad out there.  I ran strong all the way back holding off 2 athletes that were charging for the podium position.  I crossed the finish line where Alex welcomed me in with a warm welcome.  There were few dedicated spectators left who had gathered under the pavilion and cheered.  I was happy with 2nd place overall on the day and another Ironman in the books.  James and I gathered our things and headed back to the hotel. 
This is my hand from being socked after the run.... not the swim...

James was bummed and I was hungry.  So we headed back to Village Inn and pounded another evening breakfast!  The perfect solution to sulk a little and celebrate a little.  We will both live to race another day... Palm Springs maybe Mr. James English??

The Iron Cowboy

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