Ironman Arizona 2019 – DNF

Yes folks, you read the subject title correctly. I have managed to rack up another DNF. My second. My first was at Ironman 70.3 FL. Once again, the swim was the cause, but more on that later.

My day started off a little hectic. Transition opened from 5-6:30am. I was doing the Ironman with my sister Alana and a few other folks from Trinidad, two of whom were staying at the same hotel as us (Abeo and Giselle). We decided to get to transition for 5:45am figuring that 45 mins was a good amount of time. It was just barely enough time.

Lesson Learned: Next time allow a full hour.

While in transition, I realized that we needed to get our wetsuits on as we had to put our clothes into the morning clothes bag and leave it in an area within the transition. That is, we couldn’t put on our stuff outside of transition. Time was running out and in my haste to put on my wetsuit, I tore a 2″ hole on the right side of the abdomen area. That raised my stress level a bit. We managed to try and patch it with some electrical tape, but we knew it would not hold and it came off in the first few mins of the swim. In the end I don’t think the hole caused any issues.

Lesson Learned: Have some duct tape and possibly a wetsuit repair kit as they can repair it in 5-10 mins and can be used right away

I then heard the start of the pros and I was no where near the swim start so that was a little stressful. I hugged my wife and hurried off to find my self-seeded position. Since I swam 2.4 miles in the pool in 1:40, I figured I would start near the back of the 1:40 group. And then we had to wait…I think it must have taken about 20-23 mins from the time I got to my corral till I got into the water.

As I got it, I pulled on the neck part of the wetsuit to let water in. It was cold, but not too bad and that helped relieve any suction of the wetsuit. I then started swimming and within the first 50-100m I started to feel the way I had at my Ironman 70.3. I was out of breath and started to panic a bit. Not to the level as before, but it was there. I rolled over on my back and took a few breaths and then continued swimming. I just could not get into any kind of rhythm. I would swim for a bit and then have to roll on my back to rest or grab a kayak. This continued for a while.

I would look at my watch to see how far I had swam and the time. At one point I saw 1100 yards on my watch and I think it was about 30 mins. That was a bit slow, but knowing the race was 4200 yds I figured I was OK. I then continued swimming and resting. I got to about 2000 yds and my watch said about an hour. I was half way there and still good on time, but…I recall at the Athlete Briefing, the announcer said that when the buoys change from yellow to orange you are half-way there. I was still seeing yellow buoys. I then thought that perhaps the announcer was just trying to help boost our spirits and the orange buoys started past the half-way mark.

When I finally got to the first orange buoy I asked someone on a kayak if that was the half-way mark and they confirmed it was. I looked at my watch and I think it was about 1:15 or thereabouts. I was totally deflated at this point! I knew in my heart that I was not going to make the cutoff. Sure, I could swim 2100 yards in the pool in 45 mins, but based on how I was swimming in the lake, I was not going to suddenly swim faster. I debated if to just pull out, but I remember my wife saying to just keep swimming no matter what happens. I decided to carry on.

Interestingly, it was at around the half-way mark that I did manage to get into a rhythm and feel more comfortable swimming. I still had to take breaks but they were a little less frequent. That same volunteer I asked about the distance at the half-way mark kept kayaking alongside me and encouraging me. She was so great. I was surprised after seeing her for the next several hundred meters and in the end she actually stayed close and kept encouraging me for the entire remainder of the swim until I got out of the water.

Then my watch hit 2:20 and I was still no where near the exit. My day was definitely done. I kept going. By the time I hit the exit, I was swimming for 2:31. I missed the cutoff by 11 minutes!

The volunteers helped my out of the water as I was a bit wobbly after swimming for 2:30 and one told me that I missed the cutoff. I told them I knew and they took my timing chip. Later that day I was thinking about the volunteers and I have to believe that having to pull someone from the course is probably one of the hardest things they have to deal with during the day. As I was walking to the transition area to collect all my stuff, I was walking alongside another lady that came out of the water around the same time as me. She too did not make the cutoff. She mentioned she had completed 4 other Ironmans and realized she didn’t train as hard for this one.

When I uploaded my swim, Garmin Connect said I swam 3.05 miles. I doubt the course was long by 0.6 miles so the GPS while swimming was just way off. That accounted for my thinking I had enough time. Interestingly, while I didn’t stick to each buoy, the map didn’t show me being much off course, but it did show me swimming on land a few times 🙂

Lesson Learned: Don’t trust any distances I get when open water swimming

After all the work I had done for the last year, my day was done in two and a half hours. Surprisingly, I was not as devastated as my DNF at the 70.3, but I was massively disappointed. Leading up to my race, I had told myself that regardless of the outcome, I was done with Ironman racing. The training was too long. I was prepared to continue doing triathlons but only up to the 70.3 distance. Not the full 140.6. I think that is why I wasn’t as devastated or depressed. In my mind, I tried, I failed, and I was done. I would just move on to other challenges. I think the other factor that made this DNF easier to swallow is that I actually finished the swim. I did not quit! Afterwards my wife was encouraging me to try again and I told her I would consider it.

For the remainder of the day, I relaxed at the hotel and headed out on the course at various points to cheer on my sister at the bike turnaround, at T2, and at the finish line.

Out of the group of us racing, Abeo didn’t finish either. She couldn’t make the bike cutoff for her third loop. Everyone else finished. Alana bettered her IM time and one of the guys came in under 14 hours.

So what is next? I’m actually thinking of trying again next year. More on that once I make a firm decision.

Rose City Sprint Triathlon – Race Report

On Sunday, I completed my very first triathlon. It was the Rose City Sprint Triathlon. It consisted of a 650m swim, 13 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run. My final time was 1:54:08. My sister Alana did this triathlon with me, but she is much faster. She managed to win her age group (50-54), placed second in the Masters category (40+), missing 1st place by just 15 seconds, and placed 9th out of all the women.

The day started off with us arriving at the transition area around 6:15am. There must have been perhaps 20 athletes already there and setting up their transition area. There were no assigned racks so Alana, being more experienced, had us choose spots that were near the bike in/out so as to minimize how far we had to walk in our bike shoes. We had one hiccup in that I couldn’t find my tire pressure gauge and since the gauge on my pump doesn’t work, Alana ended up borrowing one to pump her tires. I decided to not touch mine and trust the pressure was OK. I found my gauge when we got home. It had slipped into a hidden compartment in my bag.

After setting up, it was just a matter of waiting. Alana did her warm up routine and also did a warmup swim. I chose to simply wait and contemplate the upcoming swim. It was not a wetsuit legal swim and while I did a 650m swim earlier in the week without my floaty pants, I was still a bit nervous, more so after my swim fiasco at Ironman 70.3 FL. In the back of my mind in the days leading up to the race and on that morning was that I had to get through the swim. It was almost as though that was a prerequisite to having any sort of success at Ironman AZ in November.

The swim was organized into 4 start waves, each 5 minutes apart. I was in the second wave and Alana in the third wave. I was joking with her that she will pass me on the swim despite starting after me, but I will catch her on the bike.

Once the first swim was off, my wave was called to line up. I chose a point away from most of the swimmers and not right at the front. I wanted to minimize having people swim over me and also from trying to go out too hard.

Once the starting horn was sounded, I waited a few seconds before starting so as to allow the faster folks to take off and then I started swimming, and swimming, and swimming. For the first several minutes I had people nipping at my heels or swimming into me from the sides, but it wasn’t anything that really bothered me. I did my best to swim my pace. I didn’t do any sighting at the start as I was side breathing from both sides and when breathing I would see folks on both sides so I figured I had to be at least going in the right direction. Eventually I was alone and had to sight. It wasn’t too bad and afterwards when I look at my swim track, it was pretty much spot on. My issue is that the swim was hard. I was slow and it was tiring. It wasn’t so tiring that I had to stop and hold on to a kayak to rest, as I saw several people having to do, but it was tiring enough that I couldn’t wait for it to be done. I had to tell myself to keep going! It was a HUGE relief when I got to the end of the swim and was out of the water. If I ended my race at that point, I would have considered it a success!!

Once out of the water, I made my way to the transition area. I wasn’t surprised to see that Alana’s bike was gone. I later found out that she got out of the water 5 mins ahead of me. Since she started 5 mins after me, it meant her swim was 10 mins faster. Of the 200 participants, my swim split was 183rd. I was among the slowest and near last.

My transition took just under 2 mins which I was happy with. I know it wasn’t super fast, but in the end it was only 1 minute slower than the fast transition folks.

I don’t know if it was because if I was tired from the swim, but after walking my bike past the mount zone, I had a really hard time clipping in my first foot. I eventually got it in and was able to start riding. I had one gel which I ate in the first few minutes of the bike.

The bike course consisted of a lot of rolling hills. Once I noticed that, I tried to go as fast as I can on the downhills so that I can get a lot of momentum on the following uphill. One guy passed me in the first 1-2 miles, but after that no one else passed me on the bike and I passed a ton of folks. I spent most of the time in the aero position. I did have one hiccup though on the bike. For the bike and run, I planned to wear my running t-shirt with the bb number pinned on. I didn’t need it on the bike, but I didn’t have a tri belt and I figure it out be OK . But, one of the safety pins became undone so one corner of my bib number was hanging down the entire time, flapping in the wind and acting like a parachute. Lesson learned! Next time I’ll use a tri belt. The other issue is that I know I didn’t drink enough. It was tough to focus on and remember to drink while in the middle of a race.

My eventual bike time was a middle of the pack performance. Of the 200 participants, my bike split was 89th.

Coming into T2, I dismounted at the dismount line and walked into transition. I racked my bike and changed my shoes and was about to head out on the run when I had another hiccup. I was about to head out with my helmet still on. That would have been a disaster as I would have been forced to run with it (on my head or carrying it) for the entire run. Luckily a volunteer pointed out my faux pas before I left the transition area. My T2 time ended up being about 1:45

I headed out to the run walking. I ate a gel near the beginning and then ran/walked the entire 5K. I ended up averaging about 13 min a mile. The one concern I had was that I started to cramp about 1.5 miles into the run. It was manageable and I hope it was only because I didn’t really consume any salt or electrolytes. Lesson learned! Next time, I will ensure I consume enough electrolytes even for a short race like a sprint triathlon.

My eventual run split was near the bottom. I was 180th out of the 200 participants.

My overall place among all participants was 163rd out of 200. Since I placed so low in the swim and run, only my bike split prevented me from placing near the bottom overall. But even then, Alana still had a faster bike split than me by about 90 seconds. That was disappointing to me.

In the end, the triathlon brought a mixed bag of emotions. I was extremely glad to complete it and I was ecstatic that I got through the swim. If I had failed in the swim, or had not completed the triathlon, it may have doomed my upcoming Ironman. If I couldn’t complete a sprint, what hope would I have for an Ironman!

But, that doesn’t mean my confidence has been boosted. The swim was disappointing in how long it took. I swam it at a 3:00 pace per 100 yd whereas in the pool. I would do 2:15 regularly. I know part of that is due to not having my buoyancy shorts, but I don’t know how much can be attributed to that. The bike was at the pace I want for the Ironman and the run was also at the pace I want, but placing so low overall has me concerned about whether I am, or will be prepared enough. And, while I was thinking I may have a good amount of buffer to make the various cutoffs, I am starting to wonder if I really do that those buffers. Am I going to be among the last coming in with just minutes to spare?

Signed up for a Sprint Triathlon

After the fiasco that was my Ironman 70.3, I realize I need some experience actually doing a triathlon. There are several over the next couple months near to home, but the swims are all in a pool and I need open-water experience.

I found the Dallas TX Triathlon on September 29. They have Super-Sprint, Sprint, and Olympic distances. I have signed up for the Sprint distance. Ideally, I should be doing the longer Olympic distance, but I figured I would start with the Sprint just to ensure I finish and get through both transitions.

Ironman 70.3 – DNF

Today was my Ironman 70.3 race in FL. The race I have spent the last 20 weeks preparing and training for. So, the most appropriate word I can find to describe my DNF (Did Not Finish) is devastating.

My race ended just 5 mins into the swim. Yes, you read that right. I didn’t DNF because I swam too slowly and missed the cut-off, nor did I have multiple flat tires on the bike, nor did I end up cramping on the run, nor did I get dehydrated, nor was the weather was too hot on the run. No, I DNF’ed 5 mins into the swim.

This was not my “A” race for the year. This was a practice race in preparation for my “A” race, Ironman Arizona in November. This was a race to get used to training 6 days a week, doing double workouts on many of those days. This was a race to prove to myself that I had a certain level of fitness to at least do half the distance and then I would ramp up even more towards the full Ironman. This was a race to help iron out any kinks before my “A” race.

So, while this race accomplished what I needed it to accomplish, it is still extremely disappointing. I did do training workouts 6 days a week. I did get up at 4:30am most days and did double workouts. I did ramp up my training load and handled it well. And yes, it did identify a major weakness as I iron out the kinks… swimming.

So, what went wrong today? The net result is that I basically panicked and could not get into a swimming rhythm. As to why I panicked, I don’t know the exact answer, but I have a few suspicions:

  • I think I may have started out too fast. While I can swim the distance with plenty of time to spare before the cutoff, I am used to swimming a constant, comfortably pace. I think with the race and then swimming with people around me and basically swimming to keep up with them, I may have gone out too fast. As a result I was out of breath, inhaling water, and swallowing water. I’m not accustomed to swimming different paces and thus I have no real feel for when I’m going to fast. This is very much like a runner going out too fast in a 5K or 10K race except that doing that on a swim has more dire consequences.
  • The water was dark and murky and so I couldn’t see anything while my face was in the water and so I think that made me “hurry up” to breathe so I could at least see to my sides. Oddly, I have no issue scuba diving in murky, low visibility water
  • I never practiced sighting and so when I tried to see in front, I ended up swallowing water
  • I did take a couple breathers while holding on to a kayak, but once I resumed swimming, I didn’t identify what was causing my issues and so I simply went back to my fast, hurried pace, inhaling and swallowing more water
  • Since I started in the last wave and with my stops, I realized I was dead last and that added to my urgency as I didn’t want to be last out the water

After doing this for 5 mins and finding that literally every breath resulted in my swallowing water, I realized that my day was done. I signaled to the volunteers and they towed me to the dock where my number was given and my timing chip removed. I collected my bike and gear, called my wife to let her know I had dropped out, texted a few people and then returned to my hotel.

I then spent the next few hours feeling sorry for myself and second guessing my trying to do triathlons, and especially a full Ironman. After all, if I can’t even do more than 5 mins of a Half-Ironman, what chance do I have in a full Ironman? I even went on the internet to lookup when the next Powerman (run-bike-run duathlon) was to see if perhaps I should stick to running and biking.

In the past, I have DNS (Did No Start) a half-marathon due to injury, but I have never had a DNF in any kind of race. I may have had slower times that I wanted, but I have always finished. This DNF is a new experience.

Luckily, a phone call with my wife helped get me out of this funk and I’m starting to analyze what went wrong and ensuring I have a strategy in place for the swim.

Prior to my race, I had visualized all the parts of the race from the swim exit onwards. I had a hydration and nutrition strategy for the bike and run. I had planned for what to do if I got a flat. I thought about how I would handle the hills. I had a strategy in place for the run and the forecasted hot weather. Basically, I had planned my race from the swim exit. I had taken for granted that I would get through the swim since I had been swimming 2000m multiple times a week for the last couple months and I was doing it in just under 50 mins…..well within the swim cut-off. I naively assumed I’ll just get in the water and do my normal 50min swim and then get on to the real meat of the race. The hard part of the race. 5-6 months ago, I had considered the swim the hard part of the race, but once I worked up to swimming 2000m consistently, it became the easy part in my mind and I just focused on the biking and running. I saw no need to try and swim faster or do swim drills.

I had taken the swim for granted and I had no plans nor any strategy for the swim other than to wear my wetsuit. I now realize that I could be in the best cycling or running shape, able to do the full distance, but it would all be for nothing if I can’t get through the swim.

Another sign that I had taken the swim for granted was that I had no nervousness before the swim and while waiting for my wave. I was calm and I had no butterflies in my stomach. I was feeling no different to how I would have felt before getting into the pool to swim 2000m

So, as I prepare for Ironman Arizona, I need to give the swim the attention it deserves. I need to prepare for it and have a strategy in place for when things start to go wrong. As a start, I plan to:

  • Look into a US Masters Swim program that swim at a pool that is only 5 mins from where I live. I had actually gotten the ball rolling on that before my race and I had arranged to observe a swim session this coming Friday and chat with the coach
  • There is a triathlon club in the DFW area that does weekly Saturday morning open water swims in a lake with a coach. They actually teach you, and you get to practice swimming with other people, turning at buoys, sighting etc. All the skills needed for a successful triathlon open-water swim. I had looked into them before and they had only recently resumed those sessions after winter, but there was only one I could have attended before my race and I figured why bother. They run these through September so I need to try and fit that into any IM training plan I follow.
  • I should have done some shorter triathlons before attempting a 70.3. That would have given me a chance to swim in a race locally and with less at stake. I found one local sprint triathlon in June and I will look for others before IM AZ to get as much practice as possible

I may have to end up swimming 3-4 days a week and adjusting workouts in order to open water swim on a Saturday and not treat the swim as just something I need to get through before I get on the bike and run.

Today’s race was devastating and I doubt it will ever fade from my memory, but in the end, I need to learn as much as possible from today’s failure so I can accomplish my main goal for 2019 which is to finish Ironman Arizona in November.