My Improbable Journey to a 100 Mile Ultra Race

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IMTUF 102.9 Idaho Mountain Trail Festival 9.15.17


Introduction

I hate writing. I’d rather run 25 miles on the trails than writing a report. The only other blog post I wrote was in 2013 when I finished my 1st
Ironman race. However, now that I just finished my very 1st 100-mile race in beautiful Burgdorf, Idaho, I felt it was a great time to document my journey to get here. There will be a lot of details here to describe the background, training, decision-making, logistics, race preparation, the actual race experiences, and to finally get to the finish line. The report is more for my own future reference, so it might contain a lot of rambling which doesn’t quite make sense to people. Feel free to ignore the report completely or skip ahead the race sections to read about the race.

Background

Chasing sub 3 marathon

If you’d ask me 6 months ago if I would like to run a 100 miler, I would probably tell you that you are insane. Every time I saw someone posted a trail race or long, hard trail training session on Strava, I would shake my head and say to myself that these guys were crazy, and I would never do something like that. For the past two years, my sole goal for running was to chase down a sub 3-hour marathon before my age catches up and I am no longer able to keep the pace up. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy running. Comparing to other sports such as swimming and cycling, I found running offers the best flexibility and maximum bang for the buck in terms of maintaining and improving health. However, for whatever reasons, I got myself locked onto this ridiculous notion that I could somehow break the 3-hour marathon barrier if I put the right training and race strategy ever since I qualified for Boston Marathon at age 50.

After following an intensive 18-week training plan from the book “Advanced Marathoning” by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas, my race felt apart at mile 23 at the 2015 Boston Marathon in a cold and wet day, and I felt short of the goal and finished the race in 3 hours 8 minutes and change. Not accepting the defeat, I signed up another race 6 weeks after Boston and started quickly ramp up the training after a short recovery. My right Achilles was still not quite recovered from the previous race but the time was running out. I did my best to training and taper and finished the Light through the End of the Tunnel Marathon in 3:04:15. Not quite breaking 3 but I felt it was doable if I had the right training and recovery.

After a slow start in 2016, I signed up to run the New York City Marathon in early November, but my training didn’t quite start until mid-July. This time around, I didn’t feel that I had the right fitness and desire to reach the goal, especially NYC course is tougher than Boston with notorious hills towards the end. After doing some random stuff to keep my fitness throughout the 1st half of the year, I finally settled down a training plan called “Running sub 3-hour with just enough training“. Essentially, this plan calls for 3 runs a week: one gradual build-up to 10×800 @2:55-3:00 pace, one gradual build-up to 13 miles run @ MP pace (6:45 in my case), and last one consists of long runs up to 3 hours with last 6 miles @ MP. The remaining days would be cross training (I did most of mine on a stationary bike using ZWift software). The plan looked easy, but it was quite hard to do every week consistently, and I often dreaded the hard workouts days ahead. By the time I got to the starting line of New York, I was already quite tired even after the taper period, not quite recovered from the intensive training I did. I managed to finish the marathon in  3:14:55 after hitting the wall at around mile 18. It was disappointing but a great experience running with 50,000 other runners on this legendary course.

Fast forward to 2017, my work and running friend Sudheer and several of our colleagues signed up to this year’s Tunnel Marathon again in June. I wasn’t sure if this is going to be the year, but I sensed that the time window to reach my goal was fast closing as I’ve already reached 52-year-old in February. I still had a little bit lingering pain from injuries suffered in the previous year so training was sporadic and not very systematic in early months. Training volume hovered around 55-60 miles per week and only reached above 60 miles one week before the March 4th Lake Sammamish Half Marathon. I managed to run a negatively split race in 1:27.24 on a very cold day but the average pace was way slower than the same race two years ago when I did my Boston prep. I told myself that I still have time to ramp up my training and it’s now “do or die”. I picked up both the training volume (averaging more than 70-80 miles per week, running 7 days per week, and hitting hey speed days with two intervals and tempo training during the week for 10 weeks in a row). By the time I did another tune-up race in Kirkland Half Marathon on 5/14/2017, I PR’ed by almost 2 minutes with a finishing time of 1:24:45. This was an important confidence booster and great predictor for the good things to come in the coming marathon. After running another 70+ miles week and tapered for two more weeks, I was ready for the big race. On race day, the temperature was about 35F at the race start, a bit chilly but perfect for a marathon race. Everything went smoothly during the race, I was able to keep up both the nutrition and energy level all the way until the end and negatively split the race again to clock a 2:55:15 finish! Finally broke the 3-hour barrier, a goal I had been chasing for over 3 years since I switched triathlon to road running!

Celebration after finally breaking the 3-hour marathon

Getting a taste of the trails

Right after the Tunnel Marathon race, I went to have lunch with Sudheer and two of his training running friends, David and Steven. Both David and Steven finished much faster than me in this marathon and they are also both very accomplished trail runners. As we were chatting about the next races, they encouraged me to try ultra-races. I told them I never thought about running anything longer than 26.2 but they ensured me that trail running offers a lot of fun and is much nicer to the legs than the pavement pounding. The pace is much manageable as there will be many walking breaks They also told me that if I ever wanted to try it out, the upcoming White River 50 miler is a perfect race for me as the 50K distance is just a slightly longer marathon and that only 50 miles and above can truly teach me how trail races feel. Intrigued by their encouragement, I started my very first trail test run in the nearby Tiger mountain one week after the Tunnel marathon (I called it “Baby steps into Tiger”). Well, I almost puked after the run as I was panting and twisting my ankles pretty much all the way up and down! I almost decided to abandon the trail run idea right then. However, something kept getting me back to trails, partly due to the fact there are some many beautiful trails near where I live, and I had visited almost none of them in the 15 years I lived here. Little by little, I was getting hooked by trail running. I bought hydration vest, trail running shoes, and learned how to eat and drink during long training runs in the wild. My technique for both uphill and downhill started to improve. I watched many trail-running videos and read as many articles and I could find. I listened to podcasts about trail running on my way to work and back home. One thing that impressed to me was a quote that “trail race is just a glorified buffet with running breaks in between”. Gradually my heart rate stabilized on the climbs, and I no longer feared for my death on downhills and could run downhill with reasonable pace and agility. I also improved my endurance by running back to back 20+ milers 3 weeks in a row before the White River 50 race.  On 8/5th, in a very hot temperature and smoky air, I finished my very first trail running race, White River 50, in 9:36:16, much better than I expected although I told myself that I probably wouldn’t want to do another trail race longer than this.

Happily running down the first mountain in White River 50, Rainier was supposed to be in the background but invisible due to smoke.

Oh my god, I will be running a 100-miler next week!

A few days after the white river race, the usual chattering in my head started again. What’s next? Is this it? Should there be more I need to explore in trail running? Why not a 100? I still haven’t experienced the extreme ups and downs only a 100-mile race can offer you. On podcasts, I heard people talking about those moments when you don’t want to move another step and seeing hallucinations during the middle of the night when both body and mind were pushed to the extreme. Only those moments can truly reveal who you are, what makes you tick, and how you manage to overcome the extreme adversities. I want to experience these myself!

I decided to look for a 100-mile race. The plan was to look for something in late October or November timeframe, so there is enough time for me to properly train for it. I have a relay race (Hood to Coast 2017) scheduled 3 weeks after the 50-mile race, and the plan was to switch to road running for those three weeks, run fast on those relay legs, and then switch back to trail running to train for the 100 milers. The candidate races are Javelina Jundred (10/28) or Rio Del Lago (11/4). When I talked to Sudheer, he said he was aiming for Imtuf 100 in Idaho and he might still do Javelina after the race if he recovers well. I briefly looked at the stats of Imtuf and saw something like 22000 ft climb, I told him good luck and didn’t think more about it.

After running strong for all three of my HTC legs on 8/25 and 8/26 (thanks to the trail training even those tough hills were manageable), I resumed trail training the next day after the race. Shortly afterward I watched UTMB streamed live and was instantly hooked by the beauty and unique stories from each runner. I was bombed that my favorite runner Chase Canaday didn’t run well as I was following his YouTube videos and Strava log closely, but I was getting quite excited and wanted to experience this type of race myself. Encouraged by what I saw, I went to Mount Si and did a double Si training run (with over 3700 feet elevation gain each trip) the next day even though I only had a few hours of sleep. Two days later on Labor Day, I did a rattlesnake mountain traverse for a total of 20 miles and another 5000 feet gain. The plan was to gradually build up both the distance and elevation gains to cumulate to back to back runs of at least one run longer than 35 miles in the coming weeks.

On 9/7th, as I was running my usual training run with Sudheer on Bridle trail, he made a proposal that I found captivating. He said if I ran with him on Imtuf on 9/15th, he would run together with me no matter how slow I am. Sudheer has been running trails for many years and has vastly superior knowledge and skills in trail running. Being able to run with him together means that I could drastically shorten my learning curve and rely on him for many of the logistical details that I hate. In addition, another friend of ours Alin also offered to crew and pace the last 30 miles for us if I do sign up with Sudheer together. At this point, I already made up my mind to go for it and signed up the next day. In retrospect, these were probably the reasons why I signed up even though I had not prepared for it and it is a distance and duration at least twice as long as anything I’ve have ever tackled (my longest running on foot was the white river 50 miles and my longest race was the Ironman Coeur d’Alene 140.6 race back in 2013).

  • Running with friends and having Alin’s expert help. Alin is an accomplished mountaineer and has summited Mt Rainier multiple times. He is quite at home camping outside and takes care of people under extreme conditions.
  • As I mentioned above, being able to tap into Sudheer’s vast experience and know-how would be super valuable for a race like this.
  • My fitness level was still quite high after the intensive built up early this year, even though I haven’t done focused training since white river 50.
  • I was always quite impulsive when making important decisions in sports. Once I determined it’s the right thing to do, there is no way back.
  • The beauty of the course and the difficulty level impressed me quite a lot. If I want to do a 100 miler anyway, why not a hard one?
  • Did I mention that this is a Hardrock qualifier? Even though I may never run Hardrock but having a qualifier under the belt is certainly nice.
  • I really don’t want to train for another 2 months systematically. Let’s just jump in one and do it!
  • You only live once, YOLO!

With the decision made, now it’s a mad scramble to get ready for the race with a little over a week left. First, I need to get a pair of trekking poles even though I’ve never used them before after Sudheer told me we might need those. I got a pair from the local REI store the next day and did a little training run on the local Cable line trail (climbing over 2500 feet in just a mile on technical trails). Though I didn’t quite get used to them I felt that having them would help me on tougher climbs and descents. I only fell once during the treacherous run thanks largely to the poles. Here are the remaining supplies I bought just the last few days before the race:

  • Two pairs of shoes (Hoka One One SpeedGoat, and Hoka One One Challenger ATR3). I have two pairs of Challenger ATR2 shoes with one pair over 350 miles already. Not sure if one pair of shoes will sustain the whole run, I decided to buy another pair. After running with the SpeedGoat for a few days I was not sure if this is the one as its design is quite different from the challenger model. I rush ordered an pair of Challenger ATR3 from Amazon and it got shipped to me Thursday night, the night before our driving down to the race!
  • A windbreaker jacket to keep me warm. I found a few cheaper Patagonia Houdini jackets on the internet, but none would arrive in time. I ended up paying full price at the local REI store.
  • 4 pairs of SwiftWick socks. I’ve used them before so even though they were not worn-in I wasn’t too worried as they are pretty thin.
  • A pair of leg compression sleeves. Again, never used them before but I figured I probably need them to keep my legs warm and help with the recovery.
  • A beanie to keep my head warm at night (per Sudheer’s suggestion).
  • A blister kit (I never developed blisters before but figured it might come handy)
  • A few drop bags from REI
  • A collapsible drinking cup as some aid stations would not have cups
  • An extra Solomon soft flask in case I would need to fill up a 3rd flask with water or the other ones broke (also arrived on Thursday)
  • A second pair of headlamp (BD Spot) as I wasn’t sure my other Petzl Reactik would have enough power to last both the early morning part at the race start and the night.
  • Borrowed a sleeping bag from one of my friends as mine can’t handle temperature below 50F.
  • Borrowed an inflatable pad and duffle bag from another friend

With almost no time for planning, I didn’t have enough time to read up the course descriptions and only had a vague idea what I signed up for. I finally got everything packed up on Thursday night and with many details to be figured out on the way there such as nutrition plan, drop bag plan, etc.

Burgdorf Campground (mile 0)

Sudheer and Alin took turns to drive us to Burgdorf, Idaho. Due to miscalculation of the time zone, we were under a bit of time pressure to get there in time for the Friday registration and briefing. As a result, Alin was driving at such a speed that he was caught by a highway patrol! The officer turned around, chased us down, and asked Alin for license and registration. Alin was visibly depressed. I decided to play the ultra-card. I told the officer that we were in a bit of hurry to get to an ultra-race. He stopped and said, “An ultra? That’s longer than a marathon, right?” I told him that no it’s much longer than that, it’s over 100 miles! He seemed quite impressed and said, “then you guys probably need a bit of luck.” I said, “yes, we totally need it and would really appreciate if you could let us go with a warning.” The officer smiled and told us good luck and let us go. What a relief! This little episode seemed to bode well for the upcoming race!

We arrived at the campground (elevation already at 6100 feet) shortly after 5:40, just in time to get our registrations and listened to the race directors’s (Jeremy and Brandi) briefing of the course. As expected, Sudheer knows quite a few runners there and said hi to them during the registration. I was getting quite cold at this point, so I zoned out toward the latter part of the briefing and instead paced back and forth in the back to generate some heat. Based on my vague understanding, the course consists of one big climb to the bear pet ridge, then another climb to north Crestline and then travel up and down for a while, another huge and technical climb to Snowslide summit, then the treacherous descend which Jeremy said something like “run if you have Kilian Jornet skills, or deal with huge hospital bills” and that if you can manage 20-minute mile pace on those downhills, that’s quite fast already. After that, we will get to mile 70 to pick up our pacer, and one more big hill then we are home free:), for a total of 102.9 miles and almost 22000 feet of elevation gain and loss. There were great debates both before and after the race in terms how long the course really is. Most of the Garmin and Suunto watched ended up recording somewhere from 105 to 110 miles for the full course and many people felt that the true distance should be around 105-106.

Jeremy and Brandi did the course briefing

Official course elevation profile

Sudheer and I enjoying the hot spring

After the briefing, all three of us got into the hot spring. Oh, it felt so good to get the core body temperature back and enjoyed the last calm evening in warm spring before the race.

After a brief light dinner at the campsite, I climbed into my sleep bag and tried to get some sleep. I’ve never camped outside before, so it was quite difficult to get some sleep. Finally, I dozed off at around 11:30 pm but was woken up at 1:30 by the sensation of dry mouth and smoked throat. Apparently, some campfire smoke drifted our ways while we were sleeping. I stayed awake till 2:30 and dozed off again till 3:30. I stayed awake from then and pondered the next move. My stomach which was a little upset from yesterday’s lunch was much calmer now. But I felt quite cold now as the temperature at the campsite must’ve dropped below freezing. I don’t seem to be able to sleep anymore and I was getting worried that the outhouse would be too busy given that they were only one outhouse and a couple of porta-potties, and I didn’t want to stand in the cold waiting for my turns. I decided to get up at 3:50, dressed up and got to the outhouse. It was still early so nobody was there. I quickly got my business done and changed into my shorts and jumped into the hot spring pool. I lay there alone for 45 minutes and gradually felt my body getting warmed up. I looked at the sky, it was beautiful and saw many gorgeous stars in the sky that we normally wouldn’t be able to see. Shortly after 5:00 am, I got out of the pool and changed into my racing shorts and warm clothes and shuffled back to the tent. Sudheer and Alin were already up and eating breakfast from the hot stove Alin brought. I ate a bowl of instant beef noodle soup and drank some hot tea offered by Alin. With that, I brushed my teeth and got last set of things ready and all the gears equipped. We paced over to the registration place and did our positive check-in (the RDs wanted us to do another check-in before the race start so they could have an accurate count how many people started the race for safety reasons). With a little over 5 minutes before 6:00 am, Alin and I walked out and slowly made our way to the starting line. We found Sudheer there and were all getting ready for the start with relatively high spirit. Shortly after 6:00 am, still in darkness, we officially started the race when some famous local bugler finished his bugle play.


Getting ready for the start

Cloochman Saddle and Upper Payette #1 (mile 9 and 14)

Our race plan was quite simple, run conservatively until mile 70, stay on top of nutrition, and relentlessly making forward movement. My final nutrition plan to just eat off the course. I learned that the stations offer VFuel (both drink and gels, even though I’ve never had these before but based on reviews they seem good) so I only brought 4 hammer gels and one flask of tailwind with me (with the other flask filled with water). I figured it should be enough to get me to the first aid station at Cloochman Saddle at mile 9, and I can then eat off the course and take gels and drinks from there on.

The first few miles were wonderful as we made our way around the early trails in darkness and climbed the gentle hills to Bear Pete Ridge. We chatted with fellow runners around us so these early miles went by quickly. We chatted with one lady named Jeney from New York and she mentioned that her fiancé Adam is also running with her and they planned to get married right after the race. What a fantastic wedding gift! Unfortunately, we learned later on that Jeney started to have hip problem mid-way through the race and had to withdraw. I am confident that she would bounce back and finish this race in the future.

We also chatted with another guy named Joel and found out that he was from the Seattle area as well. Joel told us that he tried this race a couple years ago but had to withdraw midway as his feet were destroyed by the fine “moon dust” on this course. Joel had a courageous race and he finished with fine colors. Most of the runners we chatted were either from New York, or Colorado, or Washington. Later on, I learned that one of the runners we chatted, Nate Swanberg from Colorado, finished the race an hour and an half ahead of us in a fantastic fashion.

Joel was leading the conga line with me and Sudheer tucked behind him

As the morning light started to come in, we were baked in the early morning Sun and enjoyed the breathtaking view all around us. At this moment, I felt so fortunate as only the very few of us were able to enjoy such stunning and gorgeous views.


We arrived the Cloochman station after about a little over 2 hours. I kept reminding us to eat a gel at every 45 minutes and made sure we hydrated sufficiently. Overall, I must have eaten 40-60 gels along the way. Those gels, plus cold water during the night, probably contributed to my upset stomach later during the race. At the aid station, I refilled both of my flasks with vfuel and grabbed a few more vfeul gels. I also ate a slice of quesadilla and a piece of bacon as my real breakfast. We thanked the volunteers and with that, we were on our way. We periodically asked each other how we feel and at that time both of us reported “all system go”. The pace felt quite comfortable as we were not pushing at all. My breathing was quite normal and felt easier than most of my training runs. Also to my surprise, I wasn’t sweating at all. Normally I would sweat profusely even on very easy recovery runs. I was really worried about this and prepared a couple of drop bags to change into dry clothes just before the cold night. I guess it was probably due to the dry and cold temperature in this part of the country.

After about 3 hours and 30 minutes, we arrived at the Upper Payette station at mile 14.7. We were quite excited to get there as this would be the first chance for us to see Alin after the start. Unfortunately, when we got there, we didn’t see Alin there as we were a bit faster than our original estimate. We took our time to refuel, eat and drink, thanked the volunteers and took off. Just as we were running out, we caught Alin coming down. I gave my headlamp to him, tucked my jacket and arm sleeves away, and he took a few pictures as we were leaving the station, still with high spirit. The next chance for us to see Alin would be mile 44 at Lake Fork trailhead station.


North Crestline (mile 23.6)

The first few miles after leaving Payette station was quite runnable dirt road along the beautiful Upper Payette Lake. Sudheer and I made some good progress and many crew members were driving by and cheered for all the runners. We still see the previous runners we saw on this section. Apparently, we ran faster than some of them but made many more stops and took longer time than them at the aid stations. It was quite typical that we passed certain runner(s) and a little while later we would see them again as they must have passed us when we stopped.


After around 3 miles on the road, we hit a section called “Terrible Terrence”. I jokingly called it “half trails” as it was not really a trail, but a one-foot deep ditch cut by many mountain bikers. The ditch was only about 4 to 6-inch-wide, barely can fit one foot. On both sides of the ditch, there are tall grasses/bushes, hard to run on. Initially, I didn’t feel anything but after a while, I started to feel my left side of the shoe scratching my left ankle. Many times, I couldn’t land my feet squarely in the flat part of the ditch so sometimes it got landed at an angle. Given that I was also wearing a brand new pair of shoes without breaking in, after a while it started to hurt quite a bit on my ankle. Initially, I didn’t realize what was going on, so I kept going until I felt I needed to stop to examine it further. Sudheer helped me find out that I already developed a blister on the left ankle, Fortunately, I did buy a blister kit just last week and he was able to use the kit to patch it up. I also used the opportunity to dump some sand out of my shoes as I didn’t have time to buy gaiters even when Sudheer said it should be needed on this course.

With blister taken care of, I started to feel much better and we resumed our running forward. After the terrible “half trails”, we finally got onto a forest service road that climbs up. Sudheer and I used our trekking poles to power hide this section of 4.85 miles, again passing some of the runners we saw before. I used this opportunity to practice my pole hiking skills, coordinating my arms and legs in various patterns to see what takes the least effort and generates maximum pace. There was one lady who ran past us with great pace. Both Sudheer and I were quite impressed with her but wondered if this was the right strategy. We eventually saw her again on the way down and at the next aid station. We run the last 1.2 miles before the aid station as it became flat again. Arriving at the North Crestline Trailhead aid station (mile 23.25), we did our usual refueling and dumping sands out of shoes. I probably ate another quesadilla and drank a bit of coke. I asked one volunteer about how many people were ahead of us. He smiled and told us “must have been a hundred”. Based on this information, I figured that we were probably one of the last 30-40 runners as there were only 130 starters out of 143 registered entrants.

North Crestline Profile

Before the race, I was quite scared of the north Crestline section as it would be more than 20 miles with only water stations in between. It was still noon at that time, so the temperature was already rising quite a bit comparing to the morning. Fortunately, it was not as hot as normal days and we got a bit of break on the Crestline. I grabbed some extra gels and a hammer bar. I decided to not carry another flask of water in my vest (I rush-ordered it just for this section) but given the temperature and that there is another water station in the middle I felt it was safe to not fill the 3rd flask.

We thanked the volunteers and called out our bib numbers to indicate leaving the station. The first part of the Crestline was a blur to me. All I remembered was endless trails, ups and downs, ups and downs. It was quite annoying as sometimes just when I got my poles out, it became downhill, so I had to tuck them away. Over time, I became quite efficient in pulling them out and tucking them away. All managed in under 30 seconds of time!

After passing the Bear Creek water station and refilled my flasks, we continued to the next section and started to climb the Fall Creek Summit before the final descent to the Lake fork aid station. The views were absolutely stunning on the climb and I stopped and took a few pictures along the way.



As we were making ways towards the Blackwell lake at mile 34.8, there were many creeks to cross. Some of them easy, some of them requires a bit of running around, trying to find the right landing spots. So far, I had managed to keep my feet dry as I was told that the next sections we would encounter some rocky and touch trails with ankle-deep moon dust. Wet feet plus moon dust would certainly spell doom!

From Blackwell lake, there were some steep climbs (which I felt still Ok and breathing under control), we finally arrived at the Fall Creek summit. From there we would drop over 2200 feet in a little over 1.5 miles. This is when I started to feel my right IT band tightening. At first it was just a whisper, it became louder and louder as we continued this treacherous descend. The pace was much slower than I anticipated as for some steep sections I had to use my poles to balance every single step down.

Descending carefully down from Fall Creek Summit after catching up with some runners

I finally made it down to the flatter section and met up with Sudheer! At that time, I started to think my next steps. My ankle blister seemed to be under control. My energy and nutrition levels were fine. Heart rate was still normal, and my breathing was under control. I was still quite dry and not sweating a whole lot. As a matter of fact, the t-shirt and shorts I started the race with still felt quite comfortable. The only issue was with my right knee. I do Ok on climbs and flat sections. Sharp descent would send stinging pain to my IT band when I needed to bend my legs. Even on shallow descents, I had to essentially run with relatively straight legs to avoid the pain. At this point, there were still over 65 miles to go! I really needed to start to manage it carefully from here, so it wouldn’t degenerate into a disaster! I was also trying to figure out the root cause, so I could make some changes. One possible reason could be that as I was developing a blister on my left ankle, I probably shifted my weight ever so slightly to my right side to compensate and this might have caused the extra stress to my right knee. Again, I had never climbed and descended so much in one go so this could simply be caused by just not having enough training and muscle adaptation. Sudheer gave me some Tylenol pills and after taking one the pain was a little better.

The last 3 miles were quite runnable, Sudheer and I broke into a trot. Partly because we were eager to see Alin, more importantly, I would get to change my shoes, clean up my feet and apply some much-needed foot glide. Sudheer also reminded me that at this point I had already passed the longest time I had ever raced so I was already in no man’s land. My longest time as I mentioned before was the 2013 Ironman race which I finished in 11 hours and 38 minutes. Anything longer than that, especially going to the night was something I had never experienced before.

We passed a few runners and ran into the station shortly after 5 pm and happily saw Alin already waiting there, taking pictures and welcomed us to the stations.


Lakefork Trailhead (mile 44)

Alin took care of us expertly, we simply sat in the chairs, and he brought in food and drinks we needed and refuel our flasks and gel bags while we made our cloth/shoe changes. I only changed my shoes and socks as my shirt and shorts were still dry. I applied some bodyglide to my legs and body, and then applied a thin coat of foot glide to my feet (after wiping them a bit with baby wipes as my feet was coated with a black layer of moon dust). I also borrowed a bit Gu cream from Sudheer and applied some to my feet before putting on a new pair of socks and changed into my old Challenger ATR2 shoes. From then on, I only had to dump sand and dust out of my shoes and my feet only developed a minor blister on the right heel, but it was not as painful I didn’t even bother doing anything to it until after I arrived at home.

I ate a cup of hot soup and drank some more coke. I also grabbed my Petzl Reactik light for the night, as well as a long sleeve shirt for the extra layer. I checked the battery level on my Garmin 935 watch, it was about 38% left. I tried to use Alin’s Solar charger at the station to charge while we were sitting but when we started to leave I noticed that the battery level actually dropped by 1%. Fortunately, I also had my other charger (quite heavy but effective) in a bag so I tucked that under my vest. I pinned the watch on my front vest lace, so it could hold steady there. I couldn’t read the tiny battery level in this configuration, so I had to rely on Sudheer to occasionally check the level for me during the next hour when it was charging. People may wonder why we paid so much attention to charge the watch. Well as my buddie Sudheer said, it doesn’t count unless it’s on Strava. I was determined to track 100 miles on my watch in one go, no matter how many times I had to charge it! I slowly made my way to the next section with Sudheer. The first few steps were quite painful as we were sitting there for quite some time. We walked a little to warm up the legs before getting into a jog.

Leaving Lake Fork station with stiff legs

Sudheer told me that we would climb 3000 feet in the next few miles. But as we ran along some rolling sections and ticked of miles, there was no major hill to climb. After 7 or 8 miles of gentle climbs and caught a few more runners along the way, it suddenly dawned on me that most of the climbs were all concentrated within the last mile!

Going through some rolling hills just before the dark

It was already getting dark when we started to hit the major climb before Snowslide Summit. We turned on our headlamps and charged on. We were not talking much at this point other than occasional gel interval reminders and checking each other if we were doing ok. It was just up and up and up. Sudheer was also hurting at this point and I could hear his grunting on those climbs. I still felt quite fine on the climbs and didn’t even need to put on more layers as the climbs generated enough heat and my knee wasn’t hurting as much on the climbs. Trekking poles again proved quite useful as I could keep some loads to my arms without overloading the leg muscles. As a former triathlete, I found it quite natural to use both arms and legs. As it was getting darker and darker, all we could see were a few glow lights along the way. I thanked the race directors for the fine marking job as I couldn’t imagine what it would have been looked like without those lights guiding us. Occasionally we would ponder a bit for where next but sooner or later we would find the next reflective marking or a glow light.

Unfortunately, what goes up must come down (normally it was the other way around but on this day, I absolutely dreaded the upcoming steep decline!). From the summit, we would have to drop about 2000 feet in the next 2 miles with most of the drops concentrated on a few steep sections. The descent went very long and seemed to have taken an eternity. For every step-down I had to reach out carefully with my poles and endured some sharp pain when I landed on my right leg. I took another Tylenol pill. I started to curse under my breath why on earth the race directors had to design such as a god forbidden section. This went on and on and every time I thought it was over, a new steep section seemed to pop up from nowhere and the same thing repeated. Eventually, we made it to the bottom and rolled into the Snowslide aid station at mile 55. I looked back on the pace, we barely managed under 20 minutes per mile pace during this section, but we made it safely!

Snowslide Trailhead (mile 55.6)

Just before we reached the Snowslide trailhead station, we had to cross a creek to reach it from the other side. There were no obvious ways to get across and some volunteer said “left” while another “right”. I almost got across without getting feet wet but at the last moment, my left shoe dipped under water. My shoes have no waterproof feature so just a little dip seemed to have gotten my feet fully wet with freezing cold water!

Alin was there again and helped us with drink and gel supplies. I drank another cup of hot soup and some more coke. I also put on arm sleeves, jacket, beanie, and gloves as the temperature was dropping rapidly. I was chatting with a few volunteers and told them how god awful the Snowslide section was! They told me that the ordeal was almost over and there was just one last big climb and descent, then everything else was smooth sailing. How wrong was that turned out to be!

Small but lively aid station at night

We left the station without further delay. The next section was quite boring. It was just endless climbs on some service road which seemed never-ending. It did, however, brought much-needed rest to my knee as the gentle climbing put no further stress on my injury. This section was supposedly very beautiful during the days, but we couldn’t see anything at the night. All we were seeing was some faint glow light in the dark and endless road ahead when we looked ahead. After about 3 or 4 miles climbing on this road, we ran on gently descent dirt road and arrived at the next aid station at mile 61.3. From there we stocked up again and left for the next section. We were told that we would run about 10 miles in gently rolling hills to reach the Upper Payette station. As both of us were getting tired, this normally enjoyable section seemed to have taken forever. Both our watches recorded miles quite over the official aid station checkpoint mileage, so we were not quite sure exactly how many more miles we needed to go. Every time we thought there was just one mile to go, it turned out still ways to go after hitting the mile. We kept going on and on, passing a few more runners. Each time we passed someone, they would say “great job” to us and we would say it back, occasionally asking if they were doing ok if they looked injured. Sudheer must have hit some low spots at this point as I found him quite silent and often lagged a bit behind as we ran. For me, as long as I managed to slow down just a bit on steep downhills and tried to run relatively fast on shallow hills, so I didn’t have to bend my legs, I was fine with energy and there was no sign of sleep depredation yet.

Upper Payette #2 (mile 70)

We finally reached the Upper Payette station the second time (this time at mile 70 mark) shortly after 2:00 am. My stomach started to feel a bit upset during the last few miles with cold water and too many gels consumed at this point, so I had to go to the outhouse once we reached the station. Alin took care of us as usual. He waited for quite some time at the station and I could see he was cold standing in the wind. I think I ate probably two cups of hot soups there and some more coke to keep me awake. I had a drop bag there, but I didn’t find I needed anything, so I let Alin took them to the car. Only later I realized that I packed an extra pair of gloves and hat in that bag, I could’ve really used them a few hours later! He joined us to start the final 30 miles as a pacer which was quite a boost to both Sudheer’s and my morale.

Alin lead most of the ways with fresh legs as Sudheer and I trudged behind. The climb to the diamond ridge was the so-called “last major climb” so in my mind I started to turn on “just get this down then we are home free” mode. I watched Alin climbed ahead of us almost effortlessly, and just bit my lips and followed on. The wind was howling quite loudly now. We would occasionally hear wolf’s cry in the distance. We were quite exposed climbing the ridge so all of us put on extra layers. Sometimes I would put my hoodie on my head but doing so would make me a little hot, so I had to unhood shortly after. We passed more runners and offered our encouragement, finally reached the Diamond Ridge Goat Station after two and half hours of relentless climb.

Diamond Ridge Goat Station (mile 77.7)

The Goat station was manned by this wonderful couple Irene and Carl and their 4 goats. They volunteer at this station every year and used their goats to carry up all the supplies to serve us. We really appreciated the hot soup and fire there to warm us up. We thanked them and took a picture just before leaving as a tradition.

Smiling in the coldness with a goat!

The next few miles before Willow Basket was probably the most difficult miles for me. At the goat station, Carl told us that we would descend sharply for the first 2/3rd of a mile, then rolling hills for the next 4 miles. We started the same kind “run if you have Kilian Jornet skills” descend slowly, this time with every single step sending sharp pain through my right leg. It just seemed to be never-ending and I cursed now loudly with every single step. Finally, we managed to get through this section and had to cross the Victor Creek quite a few times. I managed to cross it the first couple of times but on the 3rd crossing, I had to jump on top a log and lost my balance. I fell into the freezing cold water and instantly submerged both of my shoes and right arm in the chilling water! After the race, I listened to a podcast and they talked about one of the tips was to run through water instead of trying to tippy toe your way across. Where was the tip when I needed! After that crossing, there were a few more and all three of us stopped worrying about getting wet. We simply wade through these ankle-deep code water without picking out the spots.

I was still dry just before I fell into the creek

After these crossings, both of my feet were soaking wet with mud and sand in them, and my right side including the right arm sleeve and glove were wet. I took out my right glove and hanged it under my racing belt, hoping for it to dry up soon. However, only after a few minutes, the glove was frozen-solid and I had to abandon any hope I could use it again. As I was trudging along, feeling incredibly cold, I tried my best to stay warm by tucking my right hand inside my right jacket sleeve. The right arm warmer was also a bit wet towards the end, so I had to yank it inside and only kept my hand inside a thin sleeve. The miles seemed to go on and on with no sign of increasing temperature. Before the race, I heard Jeremy saying that this section can be 20 degrees lower due the cold air being trapped down in the valley. I started to worry about getting hyperthermia, so I tried my best to increase my pace by running on flat and down sections to keep the body temperature up. At this point, my stomach was still getting uneasy. Increasing pace also meant further rattling the stomach. My right knee still felt every single step on downhills. However, comparing to the alternative, I had no choice but keep charging on. Apparently, Sudheer and the same idea so all of us started to run towards the Willow Basket station.

My light was also near the end of power, so it started to blink. Fortunately, now the night was almost over and if we squinted I could discern the trails underneath.

It was chilly, eerie and beautiful at the same time

Just at the daybreak we finally arrived at the Willow Basket station at mile 83.

Willow Basket Junction #1 (mile 83)

In my mind, I thought once we reached the Willow Basket station we were home free and would head straight back to the finish line. It turned out that this station is only a small aid station. We had to run an extra lollypop loop of over 10 miles to come back again then head home. As I was sitting there cold and tired, you could imagine how disappointed for me to realize this. Another 10 miles before heading back!? After briefly warming up a bit beside the fire and drank a cup of coffee, we charged on, with the knowledge that the next bigger aid station was only 3 miles away.


Chinook Campground (mile 86)

I was still quite cold as we got out of the Willow Basket station. At this point, I just mindlessly followed Alin and Sudheer. I didn’t quite understand or want to know what the next section would look like. It turned out that we had to climb 1500 feet and make similar drop during the next 3 miles. I was fine with the climbs other than being cold, but the decline was now almost unbearable. My stomach was hurting quite a bit and I urgently needed a relief. Finally, we crested the hill and started the descent. The station should have been just around the corner, but I was disappointed to find another section of trails after each turn. We finally arrived at the Chinook Campground and I headed straight to the outhouse. I did take several Toms along the way, but my stomach didn’t seem to be improve. Afterwards, my stomach started to feel better and I sat there and ate a delicious pancake with a piece of bacon as breakfast. Alin helped me with refills and gels as usual. By the time we left, I was no longer that cold and my body temperature seemed normal and I never descended into uncontrollable shaking as I feared.

The volunteers told us that we would run 4 miles along gentle downhill and then turn across a bridge and run on the other side for 3 miles of gently rolling hills. That would complete the total 10 miles of lollypop loop back to the Willow Basket station.

Ok, just 20 miles to manage, it should be something I could manage. We started to run the first four miles along the river. Alin ran back and forth and took some pictures of us along the way. The “gentle downhill” was not quite that downhill, with some sections seemed rather a bit climb.


We finally reached the bridge and turned right to the other side of the river. We climbed a 300 feet hill then hit a section of rolling hills. The trail was quite dusty but at this point, I didn’t care. My feet were covered in mud, sand, and dirty water so the entire shoes assumed this color of sandy mud. Energy wise I was still ok, the only thing I needed to deal at this point was to watch my right knee to ensure that I could finish the whole thing without catastrophic injury. After God-knows-how-many-turns, we arrived at this creek which I thought was close to the Willow Basket station. It turned out it was the extra section added by the RDs this year around the Loon Lake. It was just a checkpoint for us to mark our bibs. There was no water available and when the people there offered to give us water from the creek, I politely declined as I didn’t want to further upset my stomach.

The people there told us the next aid station should be just half mile away, so we started to run. After half a mile, there were just more trails. After 1 mile, the same. Alin started to sing “where is the Willow Basket” and all of us were impatient and wanted to get this over with. Finally, after 2.5 miles we reached the Willow Basket station one last time. We were quite happy to reach this station this time as we knew we’d already completed our lollypop loop and didn’t have to come back again.

Taking a short break at the willow basket station the second time

The Final Push to the Finish

With only 10 miles left, we knew at this point that there was no way we wouldn’t finish the race, only how fast we finished it. The original 28-hour goal was out of the window a long time ago. At this point, even 30 hours seemed beyond reach as we would have to run an average 14 minutes per mile pace for the remaining 10 miles, with still more climbs along the way. The roads out of Willow Basket were quite confusing as there were four different choices you could make. We followed a volunteer’s direction and picked the middle route. At this point, every trail seemed to be similar and I was suspecting we already covered this trail and may have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Fortunately, after a mile or so we saw clear signs that we were on the right track.


Sudheer seemed to have come out of his slump at this point and wanted to push harder. I told him that there was no such need as we already missed our 30-hour mark and there was plenty of time for us to arrive there still with a decent finish time, with no need to push early on during the last 9 miles and risking blew up later or worse suffering some serious injuries. Worse yet, my eyes started to get blurry. One of the contact lenses seemed to have dislodged in my left eye so that eye couldn’t see much. The contact lens in my right eye would fade in and out as my eye was probably too dry at this point. I had to blink my eyes a few times to see the trail each time it went blurry. Fortunately, this section wasn’t too technical so it was not too big a deal even if I couldn’t see clearly. The early part of the trail was mostly uphill so we were mostly power hiking up anyways. After 4 miles done and with 5 more to go, Sudheer urged me to increase my pace. I still felt it was too early to push but once I learned that if we ran under 12 minutes per mile pace, we would still beat 31-hour mark. That was enough incentive to get me going. We started to run, initially running with some walking breaks but with 4 miles to go we never stopped other than stopping briefly and offering our remaining Tylenol pills to an injured runner. We ran and ran with pace around 10 minute/mile. We finally turned onto the road leading to the finish with only 2 miles to go. I told Sudheer that we’ve got this and he had to tell me to slow down a bit so we could finish it strong. We increased our pace and passed a few more runners. We said hello and encouraged them to follow on and kept running faster and faster. The cars on the road were cheering for us which gave us even more encouragement to run faster. We finally turned into Burgdorf road and saw the finish sign just ahead. Alin sprinted towards the finish line and took a few pictures of us as Sudheer and I held our hands together and crossed the finish line with the clock ticking at 30:42:06. The final mileage on my watch was 106.78 miles. We ended up 38th and 39th respectively. With 41 runners dropped out, 15 no shows, and 86 people finishers, I was quite happy with our finish time. Based on my watch, it looked like our running time was only a little over 27 hours and it took us more than 3 hours stopping and staying at the aid stations. To my surprise, it turned out that I ended up being the 1st 50-year-old for this race.

Final push towards the finish

Reward for completing the course. A black or red colored belt buckle would be offered to anyone finishing it the second time, well?

After the race and driving back

After receiving our belt buckles from Jeremy and thanked him for the terrific experience, I ran to the outhouse one last night. Afterwards, I asked Jeremy where I could wash up so I could jump into the hot spring which I was thinking about with 20 miles to go. He told me that there was a small outflow from the pool I could use soap there to wash up. He also warned me that I should eat something before jumping in the pool. I wanted to get into the pool so badly, so I ignored his advice. I carefully walked down to the outflow and soaked my feet and body there for quite a few minutes. Every step seemed quite painful now. I jumped into the pool and warm water embraced me. I stayed there for about 20 minutes until my body temperature was back to normal. I slowly climbed out of the pool then realized that I had no clothes to change into as all my clothes and bags were left at the Upper Payette station when Alin joined us as our pacer. Having no choice, I wore my wet shorts and put on my race shirt (still dry at this point), and slowly walked back to our tent barefoot.

At the tent, I found an extra pair of shorts and with those, I was finally off the wet shorts. I walked over to the chilly soup station and had one bowl of hot chilly. As I was walking around trying a find a place to sit, a nice gentleman from Idaho stopped me and offered his chair to me. He told me that he had a terrible crash yesterday at the Snowslide descent and had to withdraw after suffering some injury. I thanked him and said good luck to him and went back to the tent.

Sleep depredation finally hit me. I was amazingly alert throughout the day and night that I was never feeling sleepy during the 31-hour adventure. It was truly amazing that our body could sustain us for so long without sleep. Until I actually experience it I wouldn’t have believed it.

It was quite hot to sleep in the tent as the Sun started to shine brightly through the tent. I remembered I saw some runners laying near the other side in the shade, so I took my sleeping bag to the other side. Over there, I found a small patch of grass under shade and fell into sleep quickly.

Sudheer woke me up at 5:20 and he told me that Alin was already back with the car and we were ready to head home. We quickly packed up and started the long journey home. We took turns to drive as each of us was dog tired and could not drive more than an hour and a half each time without risking driving the car into a cliff. We finally arrived at Sudheer’s house at 3:30 in the morning and I drove home from there. Amazingly, all three of us showed up to work the next morning.

Acknowledgements

First, I’d like to thank my wife and daughter for being supportive for me to chase my dreams. They have been great supporters throughout my journey. They tolerated me when I had to leave home for long training runs or races. My wife sometimes worried about the risk in running these crazy races so I had to sometimes soften the actual difficulties so she wouldn’t have to worry too much about me.

I want to give a million thanks to Alin for taking care of us throughout this fantastic experience. He took care of us so well during this trip and through each crew station that sometimes I felt guilty for letting him do all the work. I would recommend Alin to anyone who wants to try a 100 miler and you will guarantee to receive the best crew service from him, bar none. Also, I want to thank him for tolerating us after joining us at mile 70 for not being able to keep up with pace with him. He looked so lightly and agile on those tough trails that I could only imagine what it would be like to run so fast on those tough technical descends. He truly looked like a mountain goat on that Diamond Ridge! Alin, I think you should sign up next year’s race on this course. It’s designed for you.

I also want to thank Sudheer for providing the expert support and guidance to trail running and 100-mile races. I still vividly remember back in June when he and his friends encouraged me to try an ultra-trail race just to see how it feels back in June after our tunnel marathon. Being such a newbie and only decided to sign this race up one week before certainly didn’t help with my preparation and logistics planning. I had no clue how much logistics planning is needed for such a long race that I was still trying different things and ordering and buying stuff from REI during the last week that my last order didn’t arrive until Thursday night (including a pair of shoes I’ve never tried and decided to start the race with them!). The only reason I could pull this off was to rely on Sudheer’s huge experience and his expert advice both before and during the race. Also, really appreciate that you didn’t abandon me when my right knee started to feel rather bad and I was unable to generate any speed on steep descents. I knew he would have finished way faster if he didn’t stick with me and took care of me. Part of me felt so much guilt for slowing him down that I tried my best and endured as much pain as I could handle to try to keep the pace decent. For the last 10 miles when I felt I really couldn’t run another step since my leg pain was excruciating, I’d like to thank him again for his strong push and encouragement that we were actually able to run quite a reasonable pace in last 4 miles that were probably the fastest split during the entire run! I remembered that I told him right at the start of the race that we would be so happy if we could finish the race with that pace, I guess we nailed that.

Also, I want to thank Xiao for letting me borrow her sleeping pad and a duffle bag full of goodies. To my surprise, I found a bag of delicious beef and macaroni Friday night when I was debating what to eat in the cold weather. That bag provided the necessary energy for me to go through the night and big part of the race!

I want to thank Shaofeng for lending me his sleeping bag and I couldn’t imagine how I would’ve been able to get through the night before the race with my cheesy bag. Thanks for all the encouraging words and support you’ve given me throughout our training runs.

Lastly, I’d like to thank every one of my real-life friends and social network friends for the encouraging words and cheering. I was thinking about all of you and your encouragement during my darkest hour when I felt in cold water during a creek crossing in mile 78 and the temperature must have dropped well below freezing.

Some people asked me why. Why did we have to put our bodies through such ordeal. To them, I offered the following answer. The fantastic and break taking views, untainted natural beauty, the sense of adventure, super supportive and energetic crew and race organizers, the comraderies with fellow runners, and most importantly to keep finding what it takes to get us going when the going gets hard, to find your innermost vulnerable point and ways to overcome them, are the few of the things keep drawing us into the sport.  If I sounded depressing in my report, I left out the obvious. This race was possibly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life! A million thanks again for the race directors and volunteers to make this happen for all of us fortunate runners.

RD’s note. I shudder at the thought of running that entire course. My goodness it is hard. I have never gone more than 35 miles of it at a time and even then, I was very ready to reach my truck. I am amazed that so many have finished. Sincere congratulations.

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Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2013 Race Report

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It’s been a couple of days since my Ironman Coeur d’Alene race. Now the pre-race jitters and race excitement are gone and the legs are no longer so sore that I could collect my thoughts and try to write down what all this means to me.

 

During my last long distance triathlon (about the same distance as HIM) in mid-September (it was actually my very first true triathlon as my only other tri experience was a relay with my daughter at Beaver Lake Sprint Triathlon in mid-August), someone at the transition area next to my bike told me that IMCda 2013 registration is still open. That got me thinking but during the last part of the run in HIM I told myself to never do this again as I almost fainted after finishing the race in 5:15 while trying to sprint to the finish passing a few competitors along a pretty hilly trail route towards the end.

 

After that race, I also got some encouragement from some fellow SBR members to try the IMCda 2013 if it’s still open. I double-checked the website from ironman.com and found that it was indeed still open, which was definitely a surprise to me as I heard these kinds of events usually were long sold out a few days after the previous year’s event. So with this on the back of my mind, I went to a business trip to Ireland. While on the airplane I listened to an audiobook called “You Are an Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon” by Jacques Steinberg. I was literally in tears while listening to those amazing stories about these ordinary people’s journey to become an ironman and made up my mind to sign up as soon as I got off the plane. Once I checked into the hotel and got WiFi connection, I signed up right there and posted it to my Facebook account. At that point, I had no idea how to approach this and was just planning to follow some free training plan I found from some random internet site as my training before my HIM race was fairly ad hoc and this time around I wanted to put more structure to it.

 

The Preparation

 

Shortly before the end of September, I received a Facebook message from Rebecca asking me if I wanted to get coaching for my ironman training. She mentioned that she belonged to a large team called PRSFit Nation and their head coach Jeff is a super experienced coach for endurance sports. She said that they had a very friendly group of athletes all across the country and they all supported and encouraged each other every day. I knew Rebecca via another friend of mine Joe who has himself done several full Ironman races and provided me with quite valuable tips to prepare for my first triathlon race so by instinct I already trusted her. After chatting with her a bit I decided to take the plunge and signed up a one-on-one coaching with her. It was a truly remarkable experience and I don’t believe I would have achieved the same result without her coaching, support, encouragement, as well as their very scientific method for endurance training. Rebecca, Coach Jeff and the rest of the PRSFit members have been a big part of my life and they have been there every step of the way. Without them, I can’t imagine I would be sitting here writing this report after becoming an Ironman.

 

My training started in early October and they were all well-prepared in TrainingPeaks for me by Coach Rebecca every Sunday for the next week’s training. She made the necessary adjustment based on how the workout went in the previous week and how I felt during each workout. She also introduced me to the heart rate based training and we initially started the training mostly in zone 2.

 

Dealing with Injuries

My training went quite smoothly other than the fact that my Achilles heels started to hurt more after each run. I only started to pick up running since June and switched to a more aggressive running strike (forefoot strike) with a pair of Newton shoes in August. I didn’t quite attribute the problem to this running style and shoes as I was still able to run with decent pace and my heel problem was there even before the switch. The situation got worse in late December and early January but that didn’t stop my training as I really hated the idea of missing a training for whatever reason. I visited a PT to get some advice but he couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong after observing my running form. All he told me was to improve the heels and glutes strength so that proper muscles would fire when I run. I tried those exercises for a few weeks the pain was still there but it didn’t get worse either so I continued these PT exercises while still doing regular IM training. Rebecca also modified my workout schedule accordingly to insert some of the PT exercises and removed those hard running sessions. The hope was that my heels would gradually heal up before training intensity would pick up in Feb/Mar timeframe.

 

In late January I made a one week business trip to China during one of the worst pollution days in Beijing. Obviously running outside was out of the question and I just did a few swims in the hotel but in general we agreed that this would be a good break from training to let my heels heal up more. After one week stay in Beijing I visited my parents in a different city for another week before returning home. By the end of the week I was eager to return to training as my parents’ delicious home cooking already added over 5 pounds to my weight.

 

Once I started training again in late Jan/early Feb I realized that my heels situation didn’t get much better. It still hurt if I went for a hard run. I started to get seriously concerned as this may very well end my Ironman dream before training even picked up. Luckily one of my Endomondo friends recommended a book called “Chi Running” which I borrowed an audiobook from our local library. During one of my daughter’s swimming meet I just stood there listening to the whole book and silently practiced the essential drills that would make my running more natural and less injury prone. During the break, I went out to a track nearby and practiced a few laps with the new technique. To my surprise, my heels were no longer hurting and I could walk quite well after the run even though my running pace was still quite good during that one hour run. The key of this technique is to switch from forefoot strike towards more a midfoot strike so that I always land my whole body weigh on the whole foot. Another trick I learned is to envision that you never put any stress on any leg muscle groups and rely more your core strength and skeletal structure to bear the impact. This, together with a new pair of running shoes from New Balance (M890v2) completely changed my running experience. It went from dreadful experience to something more delightful. After that my running became stronger and stronger and I never had any problems with my heels during or after the run even though the heels may still be sensitive from time to time (especially after I wake up in the morning) but once I started to warm up the pain went away and wouldn’t bother me during the whole day.

 

The second injury happened when it was about 7 weeks out before the race. After a long bike ride (about 100 miles) during a cold, drizzling Saturday in a typical Northwest weather and a short brick run afterwards. I felt the back of my right knee got somewhat twisted. I didn’t pay too much attention at that time and continued my long 20 miles run the next day. Since I was at another of my daughter’s swim meet in Federal Way, I decided to pick a long route to finish my workout. The route I picked happened to be a quite hilly one with rolling hills and steep climbs all of the places. The first couple of miles were quite dreadful as I had trouble straighten my right knee due to previous day’s training. However, it felt better as time went and I was able to finish the whole 20 miles with a sub 8:30 mile pace. On the next day though, I felt my right knee started to get worse due to all those climbs and descents when the knee was already somewhat twisted. I must have aggravated the knee even more to the point that I could barely walk on Monday. Rebecca got quite alarmed and decided that my number #1 priority was to get the knee healed up as it would not be wise to take any chance now that we were so close to the race. She adjusted my training schedule to remove most of the running workouts and switched to more swimming and light cycling instead. Fortunately, after a week or so, the situation got better and I told her that I could resume regular training as I now became quite anxious that I may not have enough long cycling and brick run training to get me through the whole Ironman race.

 

Training Intensity

After December, PRSFit added another benefit to give all one-on-one coaching members a free pass to use TrainingPeaks premium features. The one feature I love the most is their Performance Management Chart. I began to track my chart closely as soon as it was available to me and it became one of my huge motivation factors during my intensive training period as I could clearly see the impact of every single workout and whether I was taking too much or too little training stress during each day. My goal was to keep driving my CTL (Chronic Training Load) up as high as I could while keeping TSB (Training Stress Balance) to a reasonable level before the race. One of the TrainingPeaks seminar videos said that if you could drive your peak CTL to 120-140 range, you would certainly improve your IM finish time. So my goal was to get there while still keeping my body fresh enough so that it wouldn’t be prone to sickness. Overall, I was able to manage five long training weekends with over 100 miles riding followed by a brick, then a long run on Sunday. The longest one I did was around 5 weeks before race with a 112 miles riding followed by 13.1 miles running which I finished feeling really confident now that I was able to finish a strong 112 miles riding while still feeling strong on the run. The following week I did an Apple Capital Century ride with a few friends followed by a 45 minutes brick followed by a 26 miles run (finished that in about 3 hours 45 minutes) the next day (it was originally planned for 20 miles but I miscalculated the total distance so it went a little over after the first lap and decided to finish all the way to 26.2 miles to gain confidence that I could actually run a marathon). Before this run I had never ran anything longer than 22 miles so this was a huge confidence booster which probably contributed my over-confidence of my running ability.

 

Here is the snapshot of my PMC to see how my training ramped up nicely from October till the race day. As you can see my CTL peaked at 155.6 and through the last three weeks of tapering my TSB also recovered back to around positive 50 just before the race. Other than the two-week break from mid-Jan till end of January, I only took 4-5 days of complete rest! As coach Jeff were saying, “For triathletes, switching to other discipline is already an act of active rest.”

Figure 1: TCL and TSB three weeks before the race

 

Figure 2: TCL and TSB on the race day

Here is my total training volume from October till June. Training hours were around 7-10 hours during pre-build phase while ramping up to 12-16 hours per week during build phase and the final push before peak with 17-19 hours per week.

Swim: 535 miles

Bike: 3545 miles

Run: 1060 miles

 

Equipment Upgrade

I am still a newbie for triathlon. I didn’t get my first racing bike till July last year. I wanted to make sure that I had a good bike split for the relay team I would be doing with my daughter for the Beaver Lake sprint triathlon. I first rode my mountain bike along the course but could barely break 16MPH on the course. I started looking for a road bike and found a second hand bike from another Ironman athlete from Craiglist. It was a great carbon road bike with Dura-race components and it served me well for both our Sprint Triathlon relay (my daughter and I won the 2-person team relay thanks largely to her great swim split) and my first half ironman race in September. As I got more and more knowledgeable about triathlon and read more about other people’s racing experience, I determined that I would definitely need an aero bar so that I would have more positions to lean on during the long Ironman bike leg. Also, I wanted to make sure that I still save enough of my leg muscles for the run which means a triathlon bike with aero position is the way to go. At first, I went with a clip-on solution but after a few rides with it, it just didn’t feel quite right. Instead of going faster I felt I was actually going slower as the weight distribution was completely messed up with a clip-on bar on top of regular road bike. It also added more weight to the bike, making it more difficult to climb with the same power output. So I went to our local triathlon store (Mr. Crampy) to look for a triathlon bike in late March. The owner (Kyle) was extremely nice to me and explained to me what options I would have based on my budget (initially I was only thinking about spending a couple of grand for the tri-bike). Kyle also offered to sell me his wife’s tri-bike (a 2012 Argon-18 E118 model with SRAM Red group components). I felt in love with the bike almost instantly. After a short test ride and doing a little research on the internet I told Kyle that I’d like to buy the bike (I did this without riding another tri-bike to compare, yeah I know I am such an impulse buyer). Kyle is so kind that he did swap a longer crank and offered to do a free bike fit for me as well as many free services whenever I had issue with the bike. I also purchased a new SpeedPlay Zero pedals and new pair of triathlon bike shoes based on his recommendation. After that I purchased a SpeedFill aero water bottle from them so that I don’t have to pick the water bottle up for hydration as I have a pretty bad bike handling skill.

 

Now that I got my tri-bike and it did felt much better than my road bike, especially when I was going downhill at fast speed. I used to have huge problem going downhill as my road bike didn’t feel that stable and I had to constantly put on brakes for fear that I might crash if I went too fast. But now with the new tri-bike, I was able to zoom down most of the hills without having to brake as my center of gravity is now much lower and the Argon-18 bike is also much stiffer to handle my steering adjustments. This proved to be quite useful during my race day.

 

I am a huge fan of free speed as I am not strong on the bike and my power output is miserably low (I barely broke 210 with my FTP testing). Therefore I decided to add a pair of racing wheels to my bike to boost this free speed. For that Coach Jeff told me that he could get me a discount for a new pairs of IRT i585 carbon racing wheels. I took the deal as it was definitely the best deal I could get with similar price range and wheel quality. The wheels, however, didn’t come until two weeks before the race day because somehow they got damaged during shipping. Coach Jeff did everything to help and that he personally got on the phone with the owner of IRT and asked them to priority-ship another pair to me, just in time for me to try them on before I had to get my bike to the final pre-race tune up. After that I bought a racing helmet as I heard this would also give me a small percentage of time saving.

 

Figure 3: My race bike is all set up and ready to go!

 

 

For swimming I used to have an entry level wetsuit (a 2012 Orca S4) which I bought shortly before last year’s HIM. However, this year after I started lake swimming in early May I found that the wetsuit was a little too loose for me because I had lost some weight since last year due to intensive ironman training routine. When I swam I could feel cold water gushing in which actually made me slower than my pool pace. During an open water swimming clinic in mid-May, I got an opportunity to try a Blue Seventy Helix suit. I felt in love with it immediately and purchased one from an online store right afterwards (I couldn’t find any stock from local stores). With this purchase and some other minor ones such as tri-top, tri-shorts, lock on laces, etc., my equipment upgrades were complete. I did purchased a second hand CompuTrainer from Craiglist after I’ve tried out at Rebecca’s house. She offered me to use her CompuTrainer when the weather was bad for the day I was supposed to do 5 hours of riding. I finished the 5 hours of riding on her CompuTrainer with only my Garmin watch to stare on. I fell into love with it so much I decided to get my own CompuTrainer right away. That also started for me to think more about power-based training although I didn’t buy a power meter as it was quite expensive and I had the dilemma to either buy the wheel version but had to deal with training versus racing wheels or the crank version but I already got an excellent crank. In the end I figure I could just use heart race + pace to judge my power output.

 

Finish Time Goal

When my coach asked me to start to think about my finish time, I used an online calculator and it came out something like 11:58:23 (1:15:43 for swim, 6:39:41 for bike, and 3:53:26 for run). On the back of my mind though I was thinking any under 12 hours would be great but it could easily go up to 13 hours or even 14 depending on what happens on the course, weather, and how my body deals with the various situation.

 

 

Pre-Race

 

Tapering started 3 weeks before race and my coach had to constantly remind me to reduce training volume during these weeks. She wrote three big “TAPER” on my training log for each week to remind me to slow it down as I was still swimming some 2-3 miles OWS during this time. Otherwise, the taper went quite smoothly and I welcomed the change that I no longer had to be out for 6-8 hours on Saturdays. My only fear was to not ride too much with my racing wheels and racing tires for fear that I might somehow damage the tires and causing race day flats so I even got on my road bike for some of the tapering rides. Yeah, I know I should’ve changed the tires to training tires but I was afraid to not get it right as I’ve never put on a racing tire by myself before, especially with those valve extenders you need for the racing wheels. So once I got the bike back from Mr Crampy after their pre-race turning, I tried my best to not mess with it.

 

We headed out to Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday afternoon after my morning taper run. My daughter made a colorful banner to be used for cheering me on the course. Here is a picture of her holding it before we took off. She was quite resentful of the fact that I was not quite as available to her during those Ironman training months but she made a great banner to show her support before the race. The four and half hour drive to Coeur d’Alene was uneventful other than that it rained quite heavily shortly before we reached Coeur d’Alene. I now started to worry if we would get a good weather on the race day. I’ve been monitoring the weather forecast about 10 days before the race day and it indicated decent weather on that day surrounded by bad days but seeing the heavy downpour made me a little worried.

 

Figure 4: Just before driving to Coeur d’Alene.

We checked into our hotel (Holiday Inn Express in Hayden as I couldn’t find anything closer and cheap enough) at around 9:30 pm after eating dinner at Olive Garden and buying an iPhone for my daughter because she kept bugging me for it and wanted to use it to take photo and video recording of my race. The hotel is located on Highway 95 north and is about 5 miles away from the transition. The hotel staff was super nice and upgraded us into a larger room with two queen beds + a sofa rollout beds once they learned that I would be competing for this Sunday’s race. I did have to move again on Friday but they somehow also managed to give us another 3 beds room on the fourth floor (even quieter that the first one we got for the first two nights). I am truly grateful to everything they’ve done for our family and wanted to say our appreciation here.

 

On Thursday morning I went out for registration but the weather was quite bad on that day. It was raining and the entire expo became quite a soggy affair. I had to stand in the cold rain for 45 minutes before getting into the registration tent. I was so worried for catching cold and tried my best to stay warm but I only brought a single layer jacket as I completely forgot how cold the weather could be during rainy days.

Figure 5: Stay in line for registration in a cold rain.

 

After that, I hit the lake for a short swim but the lake was super choppy on that day so my swim was very difficult. I could barely keep my balance as the crushing waves were very strong, pushing me from side to side. Sighting was almost impossible unless I timed it such that I sight at the peak of the waves. I kept thinking if the water stayed this way we would have a real long day on race day.

Figure 6: 46 degree air temperature and very choppy water on Thursday.

Figure 7: A closer view of the rough water.

 

On Friday I was supposed to do an hour easy ride to keep my legs loose. Initially I was thinking just to spin a little in the hotel gym as the weather was pretty bad early in the morning. The sun started to come out at around 8:30 and the road dried up a bit so I decided to ride outside to get more ride time with the racing wheel setup (I only rode 10 minutes with the set up after the tune-up before that time). Unfortunately I didn’t know that there was a nice bike trail just outside of our hotel that would connect all the way to the transition area and decided to ride on Highway 95 south directly, hoping to pass the bridge to City Park so that I could experience a bit of Mica Highway climb. Unfortunately I misjudged the distance and time needed to get there as I hit heavy traffic and many red lights along the way. It was already passed 30 minutes mark when I was still quite a bit way away from the bridge. Road condition was also bad on the north side of the bridge as it was not intended for racing. I turned around at that time fearing that I could really damage the tires now. After that I rode back with easy speed and started to pack up my bags. There are five bags: Morning Cloth Bag – Green bag (for taking everything you need for the race day and put all your morning clothes back in once you’ve changed into your wetsuit), Bike Gear Bag – Blue bag (for taking everything you need at T1), Bike Special Need Bag – Orange (for anything you need during the bike ride at around 65 mile mark), Run Gear Bag – Red (for taking everything you need at T2), and Run Special Need Bag – Black (for anything you need after the first lap for the run).

Figure 8: Get everything packed.

For nutrition I switched over to use GenUCan to power most of my rides and long runs after Coach Jeff’s strong recommendation. The idea is that by staying away from sugar you can last longer and stronger by burning fat. My plan was to drink 1 packet 30 minutes before swim, another 2 packet mix at T1, a 3 packet mix somewhere at 40-50 mile mark on the bike, a 2 packet mix at Bike Special Need, a 3 packet at T2, and another 2 packet at Run Special Need. All of these were pre-mixed with 20oz water and I put them in various bottles ready to be carried during the race morning and put into different bags and on the bike. I also packed enough endurolytes on the bike and in my running pouch to keep my electrolytes stable. The plan was to just use my aero water bottle for hydration (refill if needed) and take enough endurolytes to replenish the lost electrolytes, with just a few hammer gels if needed (both caffeine and non-caffeine version).

 

 

Figure 9: Nutrition plan.

On Friday night, we went to the reception banquet and athlete mandatory briefing. Unfortunately I didn’t pre-purchase tickets for my family so my wife and daughter had to wait outside till they allow people in after the dinner was over.

Figure 10: Athlete Reception Banquet.

 

The food was crappy but the atmosphere was terrific. I got to listen to many inspirational stories from fellow athletes. I also got to meet one of my online friends (Stephanie) and this is her first ironman as well. I texted with a few other friends of mine but unfortunately I didn’t get to meet them in person as there were just so many people there and it was hard to locate anyone, especially someone I don’t quite know face-to-face. I did get a confirmation with my PRSFit teammate Kevin that we would do our mini-tri workout on Saturday together.

 

I somehow got pretty nervous about the next day’s workout as I kept worrying about not able to find parking and where we should put our bike/run gears while swimming. I woke up at 1:30 and stayed awake for a long time till about 4:30 before finally dozing off for some sleep. As the result, I was probably getting only 4-5 hours of sleep versus the 6-7 hours I usually get after getting to the city.

 

Saturday turned out to be a fantastic day as the wind died down and the Sun also came out early in the morning. I texted Kevin again and got confirmation that his wife would come to take care of our stuff while we swim and bike. I also texted another friend of mine (Dan from local Seattle area) to join us but in the morning he texted me that he wouldn’t be able to make it because he had a seminar scheduled at 10:30 that day. My daughter and I met up with Kevin shortly after 10:00 am ready to get our mini-tri workout done. Kevin is a strong athlete and I’ve always amazed how fast he can go with all three discipline and I was very happy to finally meet up with him before the race.

 

Figure 11: Happy to have finally met up with Kevin.

After taking the picture together and ready to jump into the water, I realized that due to all the excitement I didn’t even have my goggles on me. I had to run back and find it in my bag before starting again. Then I suddenly couldn’t figure out how to use the multisport mode on my Garmin. Instead of pushing enter to start the multisport mode I kept pushing start which ended up recording everything as open water swim instead of swim, t1, bike, t2, and run as I intended to do. I’ve used the mode quite a few times before so this just tells you how excited and nervous I got, even for a practice mini-tri workout! Kevin also seemed to be in similar mood as he first put his wetsuit backwards, then discovered that there was a big open seam along one side of his wetsuit. Good thing that he tried it out on Saturday instead of finding it out on race day morning!

 

Swimming was much nicer comparing to Thursday. The Sun was out and water temperature was about 61F. We were able to swim around the buoys for about 8 minutes before heading out for our test transition. I practiced wearing heart rate monitor and tri-top underneath the wetsuit. T1 went quite smoothly. We then headed out to Highway 95 south for a short ride. On our way there we saw a few other triathletes doing similar rides and we joined them and rode together for a while before taking off after determining their pace was too slow. I felt pretty good during the first half of the ride as I was able to generate quite good speed on that stretch of the road before Kevin and I decided to turn back around shortly before the Mica Highway climb. Initially I was thinking about climbing a bit before turning back but after looking at the time I agreed with Kevin that we should finish. Coming back though I had some trouble keeping up with Kevin as now the road has a slight incline which Kevin was powering through. I also felt that my right hamstring was a little too tight than I liked so I slowed down to not risk any injuries. Kevin was gracious enough to wait for me at the North Idaho College so we could rode back to T2 together. After t2, we ran together for a few minutes and decided that was the workout.

 

Figure 12: PRSFit teammates after mini-tri.

After that I wiped my bike wheels clean and checked in my bike as I didn’t want to take the wheels off and drove it back to hotel.

 

Figure 13: Bike dropped off.

After that my daughter and I went back to our hotel and picked up the Blue and Red bag, drove back to the transition area to drop them off. My wife and daughter put tapes of different colors on them so they could be easily identified during T1 and T2. I met with Kevin one more time as he and his wife were also back to check in his bike and bags. We went through the check-in process together and chatted about the upcoming race. Kevin noticed that I didn’t have my Garmin speed sensor on my racing wheel which I didn’t realize till then. I probably didn’t swap it out of my training wheels when putting the racing wheels on. For an analytic freak like me that was quite a blow but fortunately I could still rely on Garmin’s GPS to indicate speed so I got over it rather quickly.

 

After saying goodbye to Kevin and agreed to meet up next morning at around 5:00 am we drove back to the hotel. I relaxed and filled all my bottles with GenUcan mixes. My wife and daughter went out played some bawling during that time. I lied on my bed reviewing facebook messages and texts. So many of my friends posted good will messages wishing me good luck. One particular one from Zule (she is a two time ironman already) was particularly touching. I attached her message as appendix so you can see what I mean. It brought me tears when reading it and I often went back to read it in my head when I was hurting on the course. My coach Rebecca also texted me to wish me good luck and offered some last minute tips. My buddy Joe called me to wish my best and offered one more valuable tip for ensuring my special bag drinks remain cold even in hot weather. I also knew that both coach Rebecca and Jeff and quite a few other PRSFit members would be monitoring our progress and broadcast our race progress lively to the rest of the PRSFit community (see Appendix 2 for a taste of the excitement on the board on the race day).

After they came back we went to Olive Garden again for my pre-race dinner at around 5:00 pm. The dinner line was surprisingly long given that it was only 5:00 pm. I guess other triathletes had similar ideas.J I don’t quite believe cabo-loading so I just ate regular lunch and dinners during these pre-race days. After eating dinner we went back to our hotel and got to bed at around 7:00 pm. I couldn’t quite get into sleep, however. I eventually dozed off at around 9:30 but woke up again at 1:30 in the morning. It took another hour or so staying awake before I got a little more sleep. I was woken up by my alarm clock at 4:00 am and had my pre-race breakfast at 4:30 (just some bread, a cup of chocolate milk, and some leftover coffee from yesterday which I put in the freezer overnight). Even though I didn’t get enough sleep for two nights but I still felt reasonably ok with adrenaline pumping through my body.

 

My wife drove me to the transition area at around 10 past 5:00 but there was already a long traffic jam. I decided to get off early and walk a little to get to the transition area and tried to find the special need bag drop place. A volunteer told me that the bag drop place was actually at Lakeside drive which means we could’ve driven there directly. Instead I took this huge detour around the transition area while carrying three very heave bags (with all the nutrition bottles in it). My arms started to get really sore and I had to constantly joggle the bags to relieve the soreness. I must have walked for more than 10 minutes to finally arrive at the place and dropped the bag off. After that I got my body marked and entered the transition area at around 5:30. At that time, the announcer was already announcing that the transition area was going to be closed in 45 minutes. I now started to panic knowing that I still had quite a few things to prepare! I tried to find my blue bag first from the position I remembered from yesterday (supposed to be in between 2300 and 2500 as my number was 2324) but found that they’d actually rearranged the bags so now my bag was in a totally different place. Finally I found the bag and stuffed my T1 bottle inside. Then I found my red bag (which was also moved) and put the T2 bottle inside. After that I found my bike and saw a guy holding a pump. I asked him if I could borrow it because there was a line of people waiting to pump their tires. He said that he was trying to find his friend’s bike and pump it up for him but it was ok for me to use it quickly. I quickly pumped the front tire up. When I tried to pump the rear tire, however, something horrible happened. Instead of pump air in, it actually emptied it! At that point, thoughts were racing through my mind. Did I just get a flat over night? What do I do now that I only have 10-20 minutes before the transition area closes? The guy that I borrowed the pump from also got impatient as I was using way too much time. I told him that let me try one more time to pump it up before asking for help. This time, however, I could feel that air starts to get in albeit in a very slow pace. I must’ve pumped a hundred times before it finally got to the 110 psi. I guess I must’ve somehow bent the extended valve under time pressure so now it would not allow air in easily. Not knowing if I may still have a problem with my tire I had to leave it as it is. I thanked the guy a million times and apologized for taking so long. At that point, it was about 10 minutes before I had to get out.

 

I quickly walked to just outside of the women’s tent (somehow that was the best and closest place I could find) and started to put my wetsuit on. I made sure that I had enough bodyglide on before putting it on which went without any issues. I then collected my glasses, phone, morning clothes, and shoes and dumped everything into the green bag. I also drank the first nutrition bottle at that time. Afterwards, I dropped off my green bag to a volunteer and checked out the portal potty line. Now the line was much shorter than when I first came in so I decided to stand in the line with probably only 2-3 minutes left. I took in some water from a volunteer table so I stayed hydrated while waiting. Fortunately the line now moved quite fast because they also opened more portal potties around that time. I was able to finish maybe with a minute or so to spare.

 

After that I asked a volunteer to help me zip my wetsuit up so that I was all ready to go. I thanked him and started to jog towards the swim start line shortly after 6:15 with only 15 minutes before the race start. I tried to find Kevin or my other friends but in the oceans of people it was almost impossible to spot anyone out. Here is a quick photo I snapped just before I went into the transition area to see how beautiful that morning was.

Figure 14: Race morning. A gorgeous day, couldn’t have asked a better day for racing!

Here is a picture of the swim course someone took.

 

The Race

 

Instead of the mass swim start, this year the Ironman organization decided to try a different start called SwimSmart start, which is essentially a rolling start (very much like any running competitions) where swimmers would line up according to their projected finish time and continuously move forward passing the start line. You finish time is counted to start from the moment you pass the starting timing mat till you pass the finish line timing mat. So everyone’s finishing time could be quite different from the official time displayed at the finish line. I guess the reason is to make swim start safer. For me, I didn’t really mind either way but able to swim with people with similar speed is also nice so I could actually find easier pair of feet to draft.

 

As I walked along long lines of waiting swimmers (started from 2 hour or slower, then 1 hour and 45 minutes, then 1 hour and 30 minutes, etc.), I noticed the warm up area was still open so I decided to do a quick warm up in the water. I jumped in, swam to a buoy, practiced a few sighting drills and a few quick fast strokes. I saw an opening towards the beach line and decided to swim back to shore. “Bang”! I heard a loud band in my head and realized that I just had a head-on collision with a female swimmer. She must’ve jumped in as I was swimming back out. I didn’t quite do sighting as I thought my line was clear. She immediately said she was Ok and tried to swim on. I told her that I was ok too and asked her again if she was indeed ok. It was weird she didn’t actually ask if I was ok!! I guess when people were in a hurry they forgot what was supposed to be appropriate.

 

After that, I moved forward towards the 1 hour to 1:15 line which was something Kevin and I had planned to stand in. In my practice swim in the lake, most of my time was around 1:17-1:19 for 2.4 miles so I thought I might as well join the faster group for a little boost. I kept looking for Kevin but couldn’t find him. I did see Dan and said hello and good luck to him but he said that he needed to line up a little further down. I waited in line for about 5 minutes and saw the pros coming back from their first lap. At exactly 6:35 the cannon fired and the people at the front started swimming. The line moved quickly and some people hesitated before crossing the timing mat. The officials urged everybody to move forward so we all jumped into water and started swimming.

 

Swim

 

As soon as I jumped into the cold water (still about 60-61F and with air temperature around 49F. I choose not to wear my neoprene cap as I felt the water temperature should be comfortable with a silicon cap underneath my racing cap), I started swimming faster strokes as everyone else around me were doing the same thing. Some people were even swimming water polo style to be able to see better but I decided to put my head in to avoid unnecessarily stressing my muscles as I always hated water polo swimming drills in training. For whatever reason, the first hundred yards or so were not smooth at all. I felt that my heart rate was probably too high and my stroke rate was also too high to be able to sustain that for the entire two laps. I even somehow collided with a buoy because they were people swimming both inside and outside of the buoys and I was caught right in between them.

 

Figure 15: Swim leg of the IMCda 2013.

After that I decided to slow down and lengthen my strokes. Gradually I was able to find my rhythm and swam with a comfortable pace. Even with the rolling start, the swim part was still quite violent as I was constant beaten up from all sides. It looked like people were not afraid of swimming on top of others or grabbing them to push themselves forward. At one point, I felt a sharp pain on my back because some lady (I called her tiger lady) just thrust her fingernails right into my wetsuit and dragged me down. I had to kick hard to get back up and almost got a muscle cramp on my right hamstring! After that it was pretty much the same story but now I could see the water open up a bit more and could occasionally find a good pair of feet to draft on although other people also had the same idea so often times you would find several people trying to draft off the same set of feet and we had to bump each other constantly if the feet move from left to right. I didn’t do much sighting and purely relied on my underwater vision to guide me through. In the end my Garmin recorded 2.7 miles swam and you can see the not so straight lines of my swim track.

 

 

We soon swam near the first turn around buoy and I started to worry that I may have to swim wide to avoid the usual congestion at the turn buoy. I did swim little wide but found by surprise that there were actually not many people there and I could’ve easily turned with shaper angle. I made a mental note and swam on. It was the same story to the second buoy and eventually to the beach as I tried to swim long and strong and tried to find a good feet to draft on. Sometimes though I had to swim alone because I sometimes found myself in the middle of human circle with people surround me but I was all alone in the middle. I didn’t want to swim to the left or right to find feet so I just swam on with a little more speed hoping to eventually catch somebody. I also tried to kick in such way that my right hamstring got stretched a bit to avoid further cramp. We soon reached the beach and I tried to swim as much as I could before standing but I bumped into somebody’s rear as he stood up way before he should’ve. Doesn’t matter! I stood up as well and ran up to the beach. When I peeked at my Garmin I was surprised to see a 32:xx for the first 1.2 miles which I had never swum that fast before (definitely not during practice). With the new confidence I jumped in for the second lap.

Figure 16: Swim Course.

For the second lap, we were supposed to swim diagonally to the first set of buoys so that we could resume the same course as the first one from there. I swam with a bunch of people initially but somehow I noticed that I again was quite alone on the left. I soon saw a buoy passing me on the right when I turned to the right to breath. Suddenly I realized something alarming! Did I unknowingly cut around a buoy that I wasn’t supposed to? I knew that I shouldn’t cut around an orange buoy at the far turn-around point but it never occurred to me that I may have to do the same at this 45 degree angle buoy. Panic started to set in immediately. Did I just DQ’ed myself during the swim leg for my Ironman? What should I do? They wouldn’t be so cruel to let me finish the whole race and then inform me that I was DQ’ed, would they? I also heard (or imagined) some screaming which I thought might be some officials asking me to stop. I stopped and turned around but didn’t find anybody pointing at me. So I swam on, at this point I was already swimming with a whole bunch of people with me in the middle. I swam on and tried to brush away the horrible thought. Sometimes I heard similar screams during the swim and I realized what I heard before must’ve been the same background noise. I pushed forward and figured that if I indeed got DQ’ed they would definitely inform me at the T1. The second lap was more or less the same affair and I felt I was swimming stronger than the first lap but it turned out to be much slower. I thought I made much tighter turns this time and I seemed to have swum with much faster pace. I guess you can’t rely on your perception especially with such a long distance in the water. The final time for swim: 1:08:32. It is a great time for me even though I was actually several minutes slower for the second lap. Swim division rank: 55/250, overall rank 477/2700.

After the race, I looked the swim course (see Figure 16) and noticed that there were only 2 red buoys at the far side you were not allowed to bypass. For other yellow buoys swimming inside should be fine so I didn’t DQ myself afterall!JJJ

 

T1

 

Figure 17: Swim exit.

After exiting the water and pressed the “lap” button on my watch, I quickly ran up with my goggles still on (I have prescriptive goggles so it is easier for me to see with the goggles on). I didn’t see any officials waving me over and that was some relief although I didn’t quite know for sure if I was out of the woods yet. I jogged and even waved to a few cheering spectators as I ran by them. I tried to look for my family and they couldn’t been found. I took off my Garmin watch, took one sleeve off, then the other. I saw three wetsuit strippers and I ran towards them. They asked me to lie down and with one unified jerk my suit was off. I picked up the suit, still holding the watch and ran towards the Blue bag area. A volunteer helped me to get the bag and I ran towards the tent. I was debating whether I should’ve just changed outside as I already had my tri-top and tri-shorts underneath but a volunteer motioned me to get inside which I did. Once I got inside, I couldn’t see anything because of the tinted goggles. I took them off and tried to find my glasses from the blue bag. Another volunteer came to me and asked me if I needed any help. I initially told him no because I needed to find my glasses first. I dumped almost everything else but couldn’t find neither my glasses nor sunglasses! Before I started to panic again I remembered I packed my glasses inside my helmet. I quickly took them out and put them on (I put my cheap sunglasses on top of my regular glasses) but they immediately got fogged up as it was quick damp inside. I took a small towel from my bag and cleaned up the glasses. I tried to put my socks on but I found my hands were a little cold for me to do it quickly. A volunteer was kind enough to help me dry one foot and putting sock and shoe on while I was working on the other foot. With socks and shoes on, I quickly drained the T1 nutrition bottle and put my cycling racing belt on. I had to twist it quite a few times because it somehow got entangled. I put my helmet on, stuffed my glasses and sunglasses inside tightly and tightened the buckle. I them dumped a whole bunch of chamois butt’s oil inside my shorts and asked the nice volunteer to repack everything for me into the blue bag. I had to specifically tell him which ones belonged to me because by that time there were quite a few items on the bunch and some of those were not mine. After that I ran out of the tent and a volunteer already found my bike. I pushed the bike forward and saw the sunscreen ladies. I stopped and they put sunscreens all over me. Unfortunately either I didn’t have enough on or it just didn’t last that long because I found that I got pretty bad sunburn on my backs along the tri-top lines after the race.

 

Just before I ran out I saw a few portal potties and decided to use it right there since they were all available. I put my bike on the side and quickly finished my business and came back pushing the bike towards the bike mounting line.

Figure 18: Exiting T1.

 

T2 time: 9:22. I had no idea why it took so long but it is what it is. I guess trying to find my glasses and fidgeting to get my socks and shoes on contributed most of the time. I am glad that I decided to wear my tri-top under the wetsuit because otherwise I would’ve taken much longer time to get it on with my cold hands and wet body.

 

 

Bike

 

I mounted my bike along with others, making sure that I stayed safe while mounting because I did see someone crushed right down after mounting. Once we reached the Lakeside Ave., I just followed the crowd going through the town while occasionally waving to the cheering spectators. At this time, majority of the spectators were still watching the swim part so the street was not fully packed yet but I could already feel the joyful atmosphere. I waved to people from time to time as I was just excited to be here, finally on my Ironman bike leg after so many months of waiting and anticipation! I looked for my family but still couldn’t find them. I started to worry that maybe they’ve got into some accident as according to plan I asked my daughter and my wife to wait for me somewhere along the Lakeside Ave. But there was nothing I could do at this point so I pushed on.

 

The bike course is a two lap loop. We rode through town and out towards the lake and then turn-around and rode back through town again before heading out along Highway 95 S towards the mountains for the bigger loop. There were some small climbs on the small loop but those shouldn’t be a problem for most of the cyclists (although the same climbs would present a big problem for most of the runners). On the big loop, there was the now famous Mica Highway climb that has about 6% grade climb for 2 miles. After that, there was a big decent, then bunch of climbs again, then another small decent followed by another climb. We would turn around shortly after the climb and then head back to town from the reserve side of loop.

 

Figure 19: Bike course.

 

Figure 20: Bike course elevation map.

I started out the bike ride with relatively easy speed by just pedaling easy and following other people. The small loop went fairly smoothly. I was able to catch a few people on the 4% grade climb and caught even more people on the descent going down the other side which was quite a surprise to me because normally I got caught up by other people during descents. I noticed that most people started coasting once they made to the peak of the climb while I was still pedaling at high cadence with my largest gear (53/11). I made up quite some ground by doing this throughout the day as it seemed to me not wise to coast down while you could easily leverage the help of gravity to push you down fast so you could gather enough momentum for the next climb or flat.

Figure 21: Riding along the lake.

 

I came back through the town and again couldn’t find my family there. My worry increased and figured that one of the officials would probably stop me if my family was in some kind of emergency. So I went on and started the big loop after going through a “no passing zone” heading up the bridge.

Figure 22: Riding through town.

After riding through the no passing zone, I reached down trying to grab my nutrition. To my surprise, there was nothing there! Due to the extreme rush and compressed time in the morning, I totally forgot to put my nutrition bottle on my bike!!! It was still in my green bag. Ah! What should I do? Now my nutrition plan is totally screwed. I only had water + endurolytes + three hammer gels on me and it clearly wouldn’t sustain my nutrition need before I could reach the bike special bag place (around mile 65). After thinking about different options, I decided to take some Gatorade off the water stations along the road and say goodbye to my initial sugar free nutrition plan. I remembered someone at the athlete reception dinner mentioned that Ironman competition is all about managing change because there would be so many unexpected to happen along the way and whoever handled that the best would get better results.

 

Forward I pushed on. At this point, my pace was actually quite good. I didn’t check my watch but I was probably averaging over 20 MPH till this point. Then I see the famous Mica Highway climb. I had done the course one time in mid-April in a freezing temperature and strong gust wind (up to 40-50 MPH gust on that day!). I was totally spent after the first loop so I had to cut my originally planned two loop course to 1 loop plus the lake side ride. After that I had done several Computrainer simulations of the course so now I was a little more confident that I could actually do well on this course. I also drove along the course in the rain on Thursday with my family so I had better idea where the climb starts and ends.

Now, after on the bike for about 40 minutes I was finally on this climb for real. I saw a long line of people making their way up slowly. To my surprise I was able to pass tons of people again with my seated climb position. I was on my next to last small gear and pedaling at 80-85 RPM and was able to make about 10-11 MPH speed climbing up while still feeling reasonably controlled with my heart rate while other people I saw were probably doing 7-8MPH climb while huffing and puffing very noticeably. I guess my power/weight ratio suited me well for this type of climb or the first set of people on this climb were faster swimmers but not necessarily great climbers. I think the second guess might be true as I was passing nowhere near enough people on the second loop of the same climb.

 

Figure 23: My seated climb position. Still smiling.

After the climb, I made up even more ground with my fast descent. I felt that I was doing over 40MPH for some of the descents while other people were coasting at around 20-30MPH. At this point, my confidence was at all-time high and I started dreaming for a great bike split and possibly a great finish time. I still remembered that on EnduranceNation there was an article specifically talking about what it means to have a “should bike split” versus “could bike split”. The difference between the two could be just 15 minutes but one means you set up your run nicely while the other means you got 26 miles of suffering due to early push. After that I made sure that I slowed down a bit but now I noticed that people started to pass me on false flats and small climbs. I couldn’t understand why because I was only able to manage 17-18MPH speed during some of these but many people just passed me by with probably over 20MPH speed. At that point, I couldn’t figure out why I was able to pass them on the bigger climb but they passed me on the smaller ones. I noticed that same during my Apple Capital Century group ride but didn’t quite understand why at that time. Only after I finished my Ironman and talked to one of my buddies, I started to realize that for steeper climb, a high power/ratio is important but for flats or small climbs, absolute power is a must for higher speed. For my puny 210 watts FTP, no wonder I couldn’t keep up with the big boys with FTP over 275 or 300 easily.

 

Anyway, I was still making good speed and didn’t quite see people coming back from the other side yet as I was approaching the 30 miles mark I knew I was not too far away from the leaders which gave me more confidence that I was doing well.

Figure 24: Staying in aero.

I tried to stay in aero position as much as I could until my speed dropped below 16-17 MPH at which point I either sat up to my seated climb position or used the horn position. The first turn-around came quickly and I made sure that I unclipped to avoid unnecessary fall. I looked at the time and it was about 1:47 after the bike start. I knew I had a good first loop as normally going back to town from this point would require just about 1 hour as there are more downhills going back. In that way, my first lap would be under 2:50 that makes a 5:40 bike split possible. Little did I know how naïve I was and how unrealistic goal that was! After that I tried to grab a Gatorade bottle from the first water station I saw but failed a couple of times as I might’ve misjudged the speed. I slowed down further and finally was able to grab a bottle and put it down in the tube. Up to this point, I’d been just drinking water and taking 1 or 2 pills of endurolytes every 30 minutes or so. I figured it might be a good time for me to take in more calories as my Genucan bottle was no longer there. At first I had a little trouble to unscrew the cap but eventually I got it by biting it off. From then on I was drink Gatorade every 45 minutes or so not because I had it all planned out but just because I was already doing 30 minutes for endurolytes so 45 minutes interval would give me a nice variation.

 

The return trip went smoothly. I was initially worried that I might get stuck behind some slower riders during the no passing zone on the other side of the Mica Highway but it was fine. I made back to town in around 2:50 (which makes an average speed for 19.76MPH for the first 56 miles) and thought everything was on schedule and my new goal was within reach.

 

After passing through the town I still wasn’t able to locate my family or anybody I know for that matter. I tried to look for Kevin or Dan or Stephanie or Ed but I saw none of them on the course. In fact, I ended up not seeing anyone I know for the entire second loop either. It was just too difficult to locate anybody when you were concentrated on your own race and almost everyone looked the same with their racing helmet and sunglasses on anyway.

 

I pushed on for the second loop knowing that special need bag place is just 10 miles away. However, at this point, either mixing sugar with my Genucan drink started to have an effect, or I pushed too hard without knowing because I don’t have a power meter and was purely based my effort on either heart rate or perceived exertion effort. I felt fine for the first loop but starting the second lap for whatever reason I started feeling pain and soreness in both of my hamstrings. It may have been that I’d been doing seated climb for too long and my hamstrings took too much load. My butt also started hurting which was also a surprise because typically I didn’t experience that in my training ride till after mile 80 but I never did a course with so many steep climbs before so all my previous references may not be valid. My only hope was to get to the special need place as fast as I could endure and take my genucan drink and rub a little more chamois butt’s oil at that time.

 

I finally got to the special need place at around 3:12 ride time. My bib# was already called out when I was riding in before the turn-around so when I turned around a young boy volunteer was already holding my bag. I stopped and quickly took the long anticipated drink out and gulped half of the bottle. It was still cold because I had wrapped the frozen drink in a newspaper before dropping it off to the special need station in the morning (thanks to Joe who gave me this fantastic tip the previous day when he called me up). I put the remaining half on the bike. I also grabbed some chamois butt’s oil and rubbed some inside my shorts. I had to take off my cycling gloves but still ended up a mess as the butter was smeared everywhere on my bike and Benton box. After what it seemed to be an eternity I finally took off (the actual time I stopped there was actually only around 70 seconds but I certainly felt it was much longer). This was my only stop during the bike segment as I usually do not need to go to bathroom during long bike rides or long runs because I am a heavy sweater.

 

Once I got back on bike though I found that I was still too weak to even clip my feet back in. It took quite some time and distance before I finally rallied enough strength to stump my feet back in. These speedplay zero pedals can be great when you are strong but they could be a pain in the butt to get in when you are tired or on a slight downhill.

 

I pushed forward through the town one more time and still couldn’t locate my family. I continued to the second big loop. At this time, my average speed was way lower than the first lap and the pains in my legs just wouldn’t go away. I took an Aspirin hoping that it might somehow curb the pain to no avail. Once I got to the Mica Highway again it was now a different story. My climbing speed dropped to 8.5MPH or so for the climb (comparing to the 10-11MPH during the first lap) even though my heart rate could still have room to go up (it stopped at around 148-149 bpm versus at 155 bpm during the first lap). I even tried to stand to use different muscles for the climb. It went better but I also didn’t want to use my quad too much for fear that it might screw up my run later. I was still passing people but at much slower pace. I guess at this point all the faster cyclists already went ahead of me and there were probably no slower ones for me to pass anymore. I still used the gravity during downhill and sometimes I saw myself pedaling at over 100 RPM spinning at largest gear trying to get some free speed and a little momentum to get up the next hill. As soon as I hit the next hill and slowed down to 16-17 MPH I sat up again and started seated climb. Occasionally I would go back on aero just to change up the position but it didn’t seem to help with speed increase. I probably took another Aspirin pill before the turn-around and took a bonker beaker bar and a half banana from a water station. I also took another Gatorade bottle after I’ve finished my remaining genucan bottle. After what it seemed forever, I finally made it to the turn-around point. It was already 4:55 at that point and I knew I had a much slower lap so far. I was so disgusted I didn’t even tried to look up my average speed at this point. The only saving grace was that now I knew the hardest part of the bike leg was over because going back to town should be relatively easier. If I pushed a bit I might still beat the 6:00 split which would still be pretty awesome so I continued with a sense of relief even though my legs and butt were still hurting like hell.

 

At this point, my number 1 priority was to stay safe, avoiding flats, and rode back as fast as I could without overcooking my legs even more. I knew my legs were already overcooked judging the pain I had and the difficulty I had with the second lap so far so now my hope was that I could somehow recover a bit before the run while staying safe. I intentionally slowed down when I saw uneven road to avoid any risk of tire puncture. I still played the same game of catching people on steeper climb and descent while getting caught on flats and false flats. With that I rode and made it back to the back side of the Mica Highway. It was such a huge relief to see the final climb even though this was another long 6% grade climb! I asked another guy to confirm if this was the last hill and he said yes. With that we both charged up with some renewed energy and climbed over the hill such as I don’t quite even remember what it was during that time. Once I made over to the top, I knew I made it for the bike leg but I did see a couple of people on the side of the road fixing their bikes with only a few miles to town. I crossed my fingers and prayed to get back town (or at least close enough so I could run my bike back) without further issues and there were none. I finally made it back to T2 at 6:02:57. My average speed for the second lap had dropped to 17.46 MPH, making the total average of 18.51MPH for the whole bike leg. This is still by far my fasted ride for this distance, especially with over 5200 feet of climb.

 

As you can see from the chart below. My cadence was pretty constant for over 90 RPM during the entire first lap with no coasting but for the second lap, I started to coast occasionally to stretch my legs. My power has also dropped on the second lap but my heart rate was lower which made the dreaded decoupling effect less dreadful.

 

At this point I was extremely happy that my bike leg was finally over and now nothing would prevent me from becoming an Ironman! So I smiled all the way back to T2.

 

Figure 25: Now the bike is finally over!

Division rank: 63/250, Overall Rank 540/2700. I dropped 8 places in my division and dropped 63 places overall after the bike which was expected because I always considered bike as my weakest leg.

 

T2

A volunteer came to me to grab my bike as soon as I cleared the dismount zone but I told him that I still needed to take my Garmin watch off the bike. I did that and handed the bike back to him. I ran towards the run gear bag area and a volunteer already found my bag and handed over to me. I then sat down on a bench, removed my helmet, removed my cycling shoes, and quickly put my running shoes on. I also removed my cycling racing belt and replaced that with my running racing belt which has a front pouch for endurolytes and aspirin pills. I stuff a couple Hammer gels inside my back pocket. During this time, people was yelling at me to get into the changing tent but I didn’t quite find the need so I stayed there until I was done. At that point, I noticed that I forgot to push the “lap” button on my watch so I was still in bike mode. I happily push the button so it started the transition mode. After that I ran into the tent and handed everything to a volunteer. I ran out and stopped by a portal potty before taking off for the run. Just before I was going out the run gate I finally heard my wife and daughter calling my name. I stopped briefly to let them take a picture and took off, finally stopped worrying about them. It turned out that they were waiting for me at T1 but I didn’t quite see them. After that they were sitting near North Idaho College (close to the penalty tent) because they couldn’t find a good place at the originally planned place and that was why I never saw them because I was looking at the wrong place.

 

Figure 26: Happily run out of T2 after seeing my family.

 

Run

 

From one of the race reports I read it mentioned that a lot of 1st time Ironman competitors would underestimate the run part of the ironman. They often naively think if they could run well for a standalone 26.2 miles or if they’ve done some long brick such as 112 miles biking followed by 13.1 miles running then they could certainly run the last part without issues. Well, I was such a person! It was very hard to imagine before you actually did it how hard the run could be because nobody in their right mind would do a brick of 112 miles riding followed by 26.2 miles running so the last 13.1 miles would be completely in no-man’s land.

 

With renewed confidence (maybe unfounded) I started the run. At this point, the entire town was alive and it was such a jubilating experience to run through the crowds. I waved to the crowds, smiled, and took in all the experience while the suffering hadn’t started yet.

 

Figure 27: Waving to the crowd.

 

With the painful experience on the bike, I decided to start the run at a slower pace to avoid bonking at later times. One of the metaphors I used was to imagine I was a boxer and just came into the fighting ring to show off my badnessJ I tried to use that attitude and run slower. However, with the excitement and the crowd, even though I tried to intentionally run slower when I looked at my watch after 1 mile it was showing an 8:07 mile pace, which was probably way too fast at this stage so I slowed down even further. My initial plan for the marathon was to run the whole marathon without walking which I thought I was capable of doing even though I’ve never actually run a full marathon before. The only experience was a run I did the next day after the Apple Capital Century for 26.2 miles but that was just a training run. So I ran through most of the water stations without walking and took either cold water or Gatorade perform or coke (after the run got harder) and tried to put ice on me. It took a little while before I figured out how to consume water on the run as for some cases I almost choked myself drinking on the run. After 2 miles I saw my friend Sean who dressed up with funny signs. I was surprised to see him there and quickly said hello and pushed on.

 

Figure 28: Sean on bike course but I didn’t quite recognize him at that point.

Figure 29: Sean on the run course.

The first 6-7 miles were quite good and I was surprised that my legs were not that painful comparing to the bike portion so I continued the pace. After exiting the town before turning onto the lake side road, there were quite a few partying environments there with people cheering from all over the places. I occasionally would raise both of my hands to get the crowd going. It was such a fantastic feeling to see so many people cheering and encouraging for you. One the way to the turnaround I saw a sign which says “Avoid the dark side, dig!” At that point I didn’t quite get the meaning but later on that sign made a huge impact to my run. Amazingly most people at this point were running instead of walking. I heard a lot stories that the ironman run course was of full of walking zombies but since I didn’t see it maybe everyone at this point was good runners? The only thing I was not happy about was my heart rate sort of stayed in the upper 140s bpm which I initially wanted to keep it in the lower upper 130s or lower 140s for the first part of the run. I didn’t give too much thought though as upper 140s were still considered zone 2 for me so I was confident that I could handle this.

 

There was a hill (about 4% grade) shortly before the turn around. When I got there I started to see people walking up the hill. I debated whether I should do the same and decided to run up the hill. When I did the practice run in mid-April I didn’t find the hill that intimidating as many people have described since in Northwest I’d run many hills much worse than this one. So I ran up the hill passing quite a few people but I also noticed that my heart rate had also climbed to 155 bpm. I got over the hill and ran the downhill on the other side before seeing the turnaround.

 

Figure 30: Shortly after the first turn-around point.

 

The first turnaround approach quickly (it was much closer than I thought because initially I thought it was at the same place as the bike turnaround but it turned out to be much closer) and shortly afterwards I saw my friend Dan was just a few minutes back. We said hello to each other and telling each other they looked great. I continued my run going back through town with the same excitement and cheering crowds and made it back to run special need bag place. I usually carry my drink during long runs but since there was a water station for every mile during the run course I decided to not do so and purely rely on the water station and run special bag to fill in my nutrition need. However, half way through the run my discipline for staying away from sugar went away as I figured since I already took so much crap on the bike course and what worse thing this could make? So I started eating whatever they offered at each station, varying a bit from station to station. At the run special need place, I took the bottle and drank the last of my Genucan nutrition. I also took in one hammer gel and still stick to 1-2 endurolytes per 30 minutes plan.

 

Shortly after the special need bag place, I saw my family again as they already moved over to this side of the street. I also saw Kevin’s wife standing with them and still wondering where Kevin was. I ran through the town with cheering crowd thinking with one more lap to go I would become an Ironman! The turnaround was actually closer than I thought because initially I thought the turnaround was inside the transition area but to my pleasure surprise it was much closer!

 

After turning around, I was surprised to see Kevin coming in from the other side, about 1 minute after me. I thought Kevin must’ve gone way ahead at this point because I never saw him during my bike or run until now. It turned out that Kevin started the bike shortly after me and passed me before the end of the first turn. We never saw each other. After the bike I was about 11 minutes behind him and somehow I caught up with him during the first loop without realizing it. We quickly said hello and wished each other good luck and continued. I knew Kevin was fast so I fully expected to see him soon and was looking forward to saying hello to him again and maybe drafting off him a bit but I never saw him again and somehow we missed each other during the second lap. I thought he had gone up and I must have missed him.

 

After running the first couple of the miles of the second loop, however, my legs started to hurt badly. This time it was both quads and hamstrings for both legs. My left toe also felt weird and I thought I might have had a knot with my sock causing it feeling weird. I stopped at the second water station and took off my left shoe trying to smooth it out but couldn’t find anything wrong. I put it back on and it still fell weird. Later I found out that must have been caused by some blood flow problem but at that time I was totally clueless. After seeing Sean one more time (with different costume this time), I started out the journey going out of the town. The crowd was still lively and cheered people with the same energy but I was at a dark place. I no longer smiled and kept hoping to get to the next water station. As soon as I reached a water station I would start walking (sometimes even slowly), took whatever they offered hoping one of these things would make my legs feel better. I still forced myself to start running as soon as I saw the “last chance for trash” sign after each water station because now I fully appreciate what the banner means: “Avoid the dark side, dig!” As soon as I exited a water station though I started to look forward to the next which seemed to be further and further away. I also noticed that when the mile sign came water station was still nowhere to be found which gave you a somewhat being cheated feeling. With this kind of mentality, I struggled on, trying to walk as little as possible but took every opportunity at the water stations eagerly. I also started to count off miles to see how many more were left before finish but it still seemed a long way till finish. So my goal was to first make it to the single digit miles left, then to 8, to 6, to 5, to 3, etc. I heard a lot of people saying that once you got to mile 25 you forgot all your pains and would just run fast again so I just wanted to get the mile 25 at that point.

Figure 31: Really struggled now.

Once I exited the town and started again along the lake, the unpleasant reality that now I would have to go back up that hill again just daunted me. I finally made to the hill and saw almost everyone was walking by now. I immediately started walking too and it felt so good. However, with that banner still fresh in my mind I knew I had to dig to avoid total falling into the dark side. So I remembered a book I read about fartlek training mentioning that if you couldn’t gather speed you could try run ten steps with slower speed, then 10 steps fast, 20 steps slower, 20 steps fast, etc. I started to use a strategy to walk 10 steps, then run 10, walk another 10, then run 20, walk 10, run 30, walk 10, run 40, walk 10, run 50, then back up to 10/10. I also had to use another strategy which I often resort to during the last part of my training long runs while on some steep hills. I would mark a target not too far away to make a goal to get there, then mark another and get there. By using these two strategies I was able to make it up to the hill without losing too much pace. At this time, I also remembered what Michael Hutto said to Brian Taylor when he ran his IMCda 2012: do not walk the downhill! With that I ran down the hill towards the turnaround even though my legs were hurting even more going downhill. Shortly after the turnaround, I saw Dan again, roughly at the same spot as I saw him last time. I also saw another of my friend Ed from my company who was making his first lap at this time. He has an artificial leg and this is his second IMCda run. I was always amazed how strong he was and how much more pain and suffering he must have to endure to finish an ironman. We said hello to each other and he proudly told me he swam 1:20 and I was very happy for him because that was a fantastic time for him. He eventually finished his second ironman in 14:32 and that was more than two hours faster than his first one!

 

I continued the walking the station/walk/run up the hill/run flats/downhill strategy. Also first the first time I tasted the famous chicken broth offered on the course. It tasted great! For some reason this was the only time I tried that maybe because I needed more cold drink at this time? At that point, a guy ran up to me and said “if we kept this pace we would have a great time!” We ran together with another girl and chatted a bit. We then saw the mile 23 sign and I said “only 5k to go!” and he joked “just another 20 minutes and we would be done!” We both laughed and continued the running. After a while shortly before another hill I told him that please go forward as I couldn’t keep up the pace with him. We said good luck to each other and he took off.

 

The struggle continued for the rest of the lake side run and now I entered the town one last time. Seeing the crowd one more time gave me a little extra energy that I took advantage and started to increase my pace. At this point I was only walking the water station and no longer walking the hills. Finally I saw the long anticipated mile 25 which was a little further away than I expected (I thought mile 25 must’ve been very close to the library but it turned out to be somewhere near Young ave). Also after passing mile 25 I still didn’t quite get the feeling people described. My legs were still hurting and I still wanted to stop! What the heck? However, with a little more than one mile to go, there was no way I would stop now. I saw Sean one last time and continued to increase speed. I passed the last water station seeing quite a few people walking but I decided to pass it without stopping. I figured what was the point of walking or even drinking now that I was so close! I ran and ran, and finally saw the divide indicating either 2nd lap or finish shortly before Sherman. With joy I took the “finish” path and ran towards Sherman Street. I also heard people describing that you could hear Mike Riley from one mile away but for some reason I couldn’t hear him even though now I was very close to Sherman. I ran passed the public library and finally made the turn onto Sherman. I took off my sunglasses because I wanted to see well. I wiped the sweat away from my face and made sure that my visor sit on my head correctly. I started waving to the crowd and had a huge smile running towards the finish line.

 

As I was running along Sherman towards the finish Shute, I saw my friend Stephanie in the crowd cheering for me. I was surprised to see her there and wondered how fast she must’ve been to finish way ahead and still had time to come back cheering. It turned out that she had a fantastic time for her swim (with split time 1:00) and was having a great bike leg when her bib fell off and fell into her derailleurs. It somehow got entangled and eventually destroyed her frame! I felt so sad for her as she worked so hard to be here but I have no doubt in my mind that she would become an Ironman very, very soon as she is a very strong athlete with unbelievable wills.

 

The finish line became bigger and bigger and now I could actually hear Mike Riley calling people’s names. I slowed down and made sure that there was enough space between me and the ones ahead me, I also made sure that there was no one behind me. I started running from side to side trying to tough people’s hands. I smiled and raised my hands running into the finish line! Now I AM an Ironman!!!! I didn’t quite hear what Mile Riley said because at that time everything was just a blur. I didn’t even heard my family cheering for me. I crossed the line and raised my hands one more time. A volunteer came and indicated to me that I needed to go forward to cross the timing mat. They immediately asked me if I needed help and I told them I was fine because I didn’t feel I needed. At this point I was overwhelmed with happiness, excitement, content, and huge relief. The goal I was working so hard for the past few months was finally achieved. I felt I was in cloud nine! Words couldn’t really describe what I was feeling at that point. It was all good.

 

Figure 32: Let the celebration begin!

Figure 33: So happy to be here!

Figure 34: I am an Ironman!

 

Here is the video my daughter took shortly before crossing.

 

 

They gave me my finisher medal and finisher hat and again asked me if I needed help. My wife told me before the race that no matter what happens she wanted me to finish while standing. During my last HIM run I almost fainted and couldn’t raise my hands for half an hour because of the shoulder pain. This time however, I was able to finish while still feeling good, with no problem raising my handsJ

 

After I finished I waited for a while to see if my friend Kevin would follow soon but unfortunately I didn’t see him before I had to leave the finishing area.

 

I did see my friend Dan in the athlete gathering area after the finish. He also had a fantastic race for his first Ironman as well finishing 11:56, a whopping 2 hours ahead of his estimate!

 

 

Run time: 4:12:20. Final time: 11:38:35. Div Rank: 53/250, Overall Rank: 432/2700 so I made up some grounds even though this was my most painful run ever in my limited experience.

 

Here is my run analysis:

 

 

 

All the slower ticks indicates my walking (with through the stations or uphill). However, I did limit those to very small time intervals so that my overall pace was still somewhat respectful.

 

Now that my goal has been accomplished, I want to thank everyone who has helped me to become an Ironman. I could not have imagined achieving anything near this without everyone’s help. Especially I want to offer my sincere thanks to my coach Rebecca and Jeff who were there every step of the way, giving me advices, encouragements, and training wisdoms. I want to thank everyone on the PRSFit as you made me felt right at home when I joined. It was truly inspirational to see so many people overcoming obstacles and pursuing active life. The daily board messages were always a delighter for me to read and it provided me with infinite inspiration when I was doubting myself. Also I wanted to thank my Master Swim team coaches and members as they were always there when I needed help with swimming. I want to thank my buddy Tom, who provided mentorship and such inspiration for being a great athlete. Tom, this is the label I was talking about, the Ironman label! My lake swimming buddies Michael, Brian, Brian, Trace, and Joe have helped me so much in getting comfortable in open water swimming. Many of them had already been an Ironman multiple times and I learned many valuable lessons from each and every one of them. I thank every of my friends on Endomondo for their encouragement and comradeship. I want to thank my company’s swim/bike/run alias (SBR) which provided infinite wisdom and advices for becoming an ironman. I also want to congratulate all my friends who have completed their Ironman with me and I wish we could have spent more time before or after the race but due to busy schedules we didn’t get to spend quite enough time together which was one pity I had. I also want to thank the owners and manager of Mr Crampy triathlon shop (Kyle, MacBeth, and Justin). Because of their generous help, my bike performed flawlessly and it made it so much easier for the bike leg which I dreaded the most. I also want to thank all my coworkers who gave me all the support and well wishes, as well many other friends I haven’t listed here.

Finally I want to thank my wife and my daughter. They have sacrificed and endured so much as I was pursuing my selfish goal of becoming an Ironman. They didn’t quite approve what I was doing but supported me nonetheless. I have missed so many of my daughter’s swim practices and meets because I was out there training. My wife also took over many duties in the family which traditionally should be my job. I am truly grateful to have so many great friends and great family. You made me an Ironman!

 

Appendix 1 Zule’s Facebook Message

 

My apologies for the looooong post, I meant to post it last week… but Mark & Kevin, I promise you it’s worth it:

Right now you are about to enter the taper. Perhaps you’ve been at this a few months, perhaps you’ve been at this a few years. For some of you this is your first IM, for others, a long-overdue welcome back to a race that few can match.
You’ve been following your schedule to the letter. You’ve been piling on the mileage, piling up the laundry, and getting a set of tan lines that will take until next year to erase. Long rides were followed by long runs, which both were preceded by long swims, all of which were followed by recovery naps that were longer than you slept for any given night during college.
You ran in the snow.
You rode in the rain.
You ran in the heat.
You ran in the cold.
You went out when others stayed home.
You rode the trainer when others pulled the covers over their heads.
You have survived the Darwinian progression that is an Ironman summer, and now the hardest days are behind you. Like a climber in the Tour de France coming over the summit of the penultimate climb on an alpine stage, you’ve already covered so much ground…there’s just one more climb to go. You shift up, you take a drink, you zip up the jersey; the descent lies before you…and it will be a fast one.
Time that used to be filled with never-ending work will now be filling with silent muscles, taking their final, well-earned rest. While this taper is something your body desperately needs, your mind cast off to the background for so very long, will start to speak to you.
It won’t be pretty.
It will bring up thoughts of doubt, pain, hunger, thirst, failure, and loss. It will give you reasons why you aren’t ready. It will try and make one last stand to stop you, because your brain doesn’t know what the body already does. Your body knows the truth:
You are ready.
Your brain won’t believe it. It will use the taper to convince you that this is foolish – that there is too much that can go wrong.
You are ready.
Finishing an Ironman is never an accident. It’s the result of dedication, focus, hard work, and belief that all the long runs in January, long rides in April, and long swims every damn weekend will be worth it. It comes from getting on the bike, day in, day out. It comes from long, solo runs. From that first long run where you wondered, “How will I ever be ready?” to the last long run where you smiled to yourself with one mile to go…knowing that you’d found the answer.
It is worth it. Now that you’re at the taper, you know it will be worth it. The workload becomes less. The body winds up and prepares, and you just need to quiet your worried mind. Not easy, but you can do it.
You are ready.
You will walk into the water with 2000 other wide-open sets of eyes. You will look upon the sea of humanity, and know that you belong. You’ll feel the chill of the water crawl into your wetsuit, and shiver like everyone else, but smile because the day you have waited for so VERY long is finally here.
You will tear up in your goggles. Everyone does.
The helicopters will roar overhead.
The splashing will surround you.
You’ll stop thinking about Ironman, because you’re now racing one.
The swim will be long – it’s long for everyone, but you’ll make it. You’ll watch as the shoreline grows and grows, and soon you’ll hear the end. You’ll come up the beach and head for the wetsuit strippers. Three people will get that sucker off before you know what happening, then you’ll head for the bike.
The voices, the cowbells, and the curb-to-curb chalk giving you a hero’s sendoff can’t wipe the smile off your face.
You’ll settle down to your race. The crowds will spread out on the road. You’ll soon be on your bike, eating your food on your schedule, controlling your Ironman.
You’ll start to feel that morning sun turn to afternoon sun. It’s warmer now. Maybe it’s hot. Maybe you’re not feeling so good now. You’ll keep riding. You’ll keep drinking. You’ll keep moving. After all, this is just a long training day with valet parking and catering, right?
You’ll put on your game face, fighting the urge to feel down as you ride for what seems like hours. You reach special needs, fuel up, and head out.
By now it’ll be hot. You’ll be tired. Doubts will fight for your focus. Everyone struggles here. You’ve been on that bike for a few hours, and stopping would be nice, but you won’t – not here. Not today.
You’ll grind the false flats to the climb. You’ll know you’re almost there. You’ll fight for every inch of road. The crowd will come back to you here. Let their energy push you. Let them see your eyes. Smile when they cheer for you – your body will get just that little bit lighter.
Grind.
Fight.
Suffer.
Persevere.
You’ll plunge down the road, swooping from corner to corner, chaining together the turns, tucking on the straights, letting your legs recover for the run to come – soon! You’ll roll back – you’ll see people running out. You’ll think to yourself, “Wasn’t I just here?” The noise
will grow. The chalk dust will hang in the air – you’re back, with only 26.2 miles to go. You’ll relax a little bit, knowing that even if you get a flat tire or something breaks here, you can run the damn bike into T2.
You’ll roll into transition. 100 volunteers will fight for your bike. You’ll give it up and not look back. You’ll have your bag handed to you, and into the tent you’ll go. You’ll change. You’ll load up your pockets, and open the door to the last long run of your Ironman summer – the one that counts.
You’ll take that first step of a thousand…and you’ll smile. You’ll know that the bike won’t let you down now – the race is down to your own two feet. The same crowd that cheered for you in the shadows of the morning will cheer for you in the brilliant sunshine of a summer Sunday. High-five people on the way out. Smile. Enjoy it. This is what you’ve worked for all year long.
That first mile will feel great. So will the second. By mile 3, you probably won’t feel so good.
That’s okay. You knew it couldn’t all be that easy. You’ll settle down just like you did on the bike, and get down to your pace. You’ll see the leaders coming back the other way. Some will look great – some won’t. You might feel great, you might not. No matter how you feel, don’t panic – this is the part of the day where whatever you’re feeling, you can be sure it won’t last.
You’ll keep moving. You’ll keep drinking. You’ll keep eating. Maybe you’ll be right on plan – maybe you won’t. If you’re ahead of schedule, don’t worry – believe. If you’re behind, don’t panic – roll with it. Everyone comes up with a brilliant race plan for Ironman, and then everyone has to deal with the reality that planning for something like Ironman is like trying to land a man on the moon. By remote control. Blindfolded.
How you react to the changes in your plan will dictate your day. Don’t waste energy worrying about things – just do what you have to when you have to, and keep moving. Keep eating. Keep drinking. Just don’t sit down – don’t EVER sit down.
You’ll make it to the halfway point. You’ll load up on special needs. Some of what you packed will look good, some won’t. Eat what looks good, toss the rest. Keep moving. Start looking for people you know. Cheer for people you don’t. You’re headed in – they’re not. They want to be where you are, just like you wanted to be when you saw all those fast people headed into town. Share some energy – you’ll get it right back.
Run if you can.
Walk if you have to.
Just keep moving.
The miles will drag on. The brilliant sunshine will yawn. You’ll be coming up to those aid stations fully alive with people, music, and chicken soup. TAKE THE SOUP. Keep moving.
You’ll soon only have a few miles to go. You’ll start to believe that you’re going to make it. You’ll start to imagine how good it’s going to feel when you get there. Let those feelings drive you on. When your legs just don’t want to move anymore, think about what it’s going to be like when someone catches you…and puts a medal over your head… all you have to do is get there.
You’ll start to hear the people in town. People you can’t see in the twilight will cheer for you. They’ll call out your name. Smile and thank them. They were there when you left on the bike, and when you came back, and when you left on the run, and now when you’ve come back.
You’ll enter town. You’ll start to realize that the day is almost over. You’ll be exhausted, wiped out, barely able to run a 10-minute mile (if you’re lucky), but you’ll ask yourself, “Where did the whole day go?” You’ll be standing on the edge of two feelings – the desire to finally stop, and the desire to take these last moments and make them last as long as possible.
You’ll hit mile 25. Your Ironman will have 1.2 miles – just 2KM left in it.
You’ll run. You’ll find your legs. You’ll fly. You won’t know how, but you will run. The lights will grow brighter, brighter, and brighter. Soon you’ll be able to hear the music again. This time, it’ll be for keeps.
Soon they’ll see you. Soon, everyone will see you. You’ll run towards the lights, between the fences, and into the night sun made just for you.
They’ll say your name.
You’ll keep running.
Nothing will hurt.
The moment will be yours – for one moment, the entire world will be looking at you and only you.
You’ll break the tape at the finish line, 140.6 miles after starting your journey. The flash will go off.
You’ll stop. You’ll finally stop. Your legs will wobble their last, and suddenly…be capable of nothing more.
Someone will catch you.
You’ll lean into them.
It will suddenly hit you.
YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
You are ready.
You are ready.

Appendix 2: PRSFit live tracking race progress