At a leisurely 8 miles an hour, my wife and I joined more than 1,220 bicycle riders in Davis, CA this weekend and set the world’s record for the longest bike line.
The details can be found here: http://www.dailydemocrat.com/news/ci_16248025
At a leisurely 8 miles an hour, my wife and I joined more than 1,220 bicycle riders in Davis, CA this weekend and set the world’s record for the longest bike line.
The details can be found here: http://www.dailydemocrat.com/news/ci_16248025
I live minutes from the beach and I rarely go surfing nowadays. It is unfortunate because I really enjoy the sport but I don’t improve because I hardly practice. I might need to schedule time to force myself to get out in the water… maybe it is what is needed so that I make sure to partake in an activity that I know will bring me joy. Plus, I want to get tubed one day!
February 2005: To complete my visit to the final continent needed (for all seven) I went on an organized trip to Antarctica via Marathon Tours. Antarctica is unbelievable.
April 2004: I sign up for the Vodkatrain which is a trip organized for young adults to tour China, Mongolia, and Russia. It was unreal and I made a few international friends that are now so dear they flew from their respective countries just to go to my bachelor party.
July 2002: On my first vacation after starting Zugara I link up with three old friends from high school to explore South America. Together we tour Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. I go by myself to Peru to tackle the Inca Trail.
May 1998: On a trip sponsored in part by Kodak, I am sent to the Cannes Film Festival in France. It is here were I first meet Matt Szymczyk. We later go on to start Zugara together.
May 1998: On location in Zambia, I was shooting my graduate thesis – a documentary on what it is like to be bi-racial.
March 1997: Spring Break in Mazatlan, Mexico, with one of my best friends Nate. This trip was unreal!
April 1993: I am an exchange student in New Zealand at Lincoln University. This picture was shot at my flatmate’s 21st birthday party.
My day started about 4:00am this morning. As the clock alarm went off and the telephone started ringing from the wake up call I ordered, all I could think about was, “what if I fail? what happens if this event comes crashing down on me? why am I here?” All of the doubt that I had done so well to suppress leading up to today was starting to boil over. But then an email I got from Dave Scott came into play, “it’s just an Ironman,” he wrote. And he is right, the worst that could happen today is that I don’t finish, and if I don’t finish it will suck but I will get over it.
By now it is 4:45am. I have my best friend Micah’s rental car, a car he wanted back at his Taupo accommodation by 4:30am (although he knows me well enough now I expect he was hedging his request a little). Anna and I drive twenty minutes to Micah and Kirsten’s bed and breakfast. We are staying on one side of Taupo and Micah and Kirsten are staying on the other, which means Anna and I have to drive through town. At 5:00am the city is still rather quiet and traffic barriers are ready to be put up but are not in place yet.
We get to Micah’s place, and he is already geared up to go. His accommodation has a breakfast pantry, so I make myself some cereal, some fruit, and a bagel. I am eating rather slowly because the morning is cold and I am not eager to go outside and wait for the start of the Ironman outdoors. Everyone in the house knows I am staling but I don’t really care. Eating right now takes precedent of waiting for the Ironman to start in the cold.
By 5:30am Micah makes it clear that we should be going. The girls are up too but I think they want to take a nap before the race, which means they are eager for us to get to the start as well (since they are driving us there) so they can sneak a nap in before 7:00am (Ironman New Zealand’s gun time).
Micah and I arrive at the main pavilion about 6:00am, an hour before the start. The pavilion is centrally located around the swim and bike starts. We tend to our bicycles and put back the items that we had removed last afternoon. Being the rookies that we are, we did not think to cover our bicycles with plastic, protecting them from condensation, so both our bikes are soaked with dew. At this point, I don’t think either one of us cares.
After handling our bikes we make our way to the Information Center, where hundreds of Ironmen have taken refuge from the cold. Micah and I both use the toilet (and not to urinate either) which relieved both of us, because the last thing you want to do is have to defecate while competing on the course. We both dressed into our wetsuits and joined the other athletes in unorganized ceremonial stretching exercises. This type of pre-stretching is scientifically proven to be worthless unless you had done some prior aerobic activity, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
It was now getting close to 7:00am and time to make it to the lake. As Micah and I made our way down I heard a familiar cry of my name. It wasn’t Anna because Kirsten and she had arranged to view Micah and me from a boat. It was my parents and it was one of the coolest greetings I can remember in my lifetime. Coming all the way to New Zealand from California is a long trip and it meant so much to me that their faces would be the last thing I remember heading into the water. My parents proved to be a valuable asset to Micah as well, because Micah had forgot to put his walking shoes in with his equipment bag before the swim and he was in jeopardy of losing them. Micah gave his shoes to my parents and that would be the last time I would see him until the run. I waved goodbye to my parents and their hosts (who had given them a ride to the competition) and I went into the water. And then the fun began.
There are three lighted signal lights on a stick that are in place at the Ironman New Zealand to help you know when the start is. They are supposed to turn off in progression, one per minute until there are no more lit and the actual start is signaled by the firing of an authentic military cannon. I sat in the water staring at the three colored signals just hoping that they would stay lit for a while, so that I could calm down, collect my thoughts, and think about strategy. As I gazed at them, willing God for more time, the first light turned off. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “two more minutes.” As soon as that thought had come and went in my mind another light went off, about ten seconds later. “Wait a second, what is going on here?” By the time that thought had passed, the third light went off and the cannon ignited. To quote AC/DC:
I was caught in the middle of a railroad track.
I looked round and I knew there was no turning back
My mind raced and I thought what could I do
And I knew there was no help, no help from you
Sound of the drums beatin’ in my heart,
The thunder of gun tore me apart.
Ironman New Zealand had begun, and I had found myself “Thunderstruck”. All the participants swimming at once kicked up a mist that made it impossible to see. My sensory respecters are now on full overload. I cannot see in front of me. What I hear now is what I imagine the inside of a washing machine is like if you were trapped inside. It feels as though I am trapped in a whirlpool and I can only taste and smell the flavors of a mixture of some breakfast vomit and fresh lake water, as my nose and throat are now submerged in these two liquids. My heart rate is now at about 180 beats per minute. I tried to calm down and do a slow freestyle stroke. I couldn’t breath. I had to settle for a breast stroke/dog paddle combo. All I could think about is that my dad is watching thinking to himself, “we flew out for this?” Then I thought to myself, “should I quit now, because this sucks!” “Give it thirty minutes,” I thought to myself. I am not exaggerating my thoughts. The first thirty minutes were hard. I could not stabilize my breathing, which meant I couldn’t freestyle swim. Without the ability to freestyle there was no way I could finish. I continued with my breast stroke until I could see again. My heart rate began to come down after twenty minutes and I could then freestyle for bursts of about 100 meters before I would lose my breathing again. If I continued down this path there was a chance I could make the swim cutoff, my confidence began to restore itself. Then I found a slow but steady swimmer I could draft. The swim completely turned around at this point. My stroke became extremely efficient. My breathing normalized. I was feeling good again. My only thought at this moment was, “damn, I am now too far away from my parents to have them watch me succeeding.” Up to the half way point of the swim things were going great.
Then the unexpected happened. I had to use the toilet again and once again not to urinate. “Are you kidding me,” I thought. I had just gone an hour ago, but the urge was excruciating. My second half of the swim was dominated by the fear of soiling my wetsuit. Every act of flatulence was another dodged bullet. I started swimming faster because all I could think about was the outhouse at the transition. My stroke became extremely efficient and I began thinking, “is this going to be the difference between now (the second mile) and then (the first mile)? Will I have to explain to my friends that having to use the toilet was the catalyst for a better than expected swim?” I guess that is exactly what I am disclosing right now.
I made it close to shore and was eager to enter the first transition, but the strong currents held us middle-of-the-packers from an immediate exit. I kept searching for the ground, at the same time I was consciously aware of my possible plight if I stopped concentrating on my digestion issues. I finally found my footing on the lake’s bottom and started to shuffle the quarter of a mile that was between the lake and the bike transition. People were cheering for me to move faster, with no clue of what I was holding back. Climbing a set of stairs proved to be the worst part of the journey but luckily I can tell you today, I made it to the transition unscathed and with a clean wetsuit. With that said, I did run pass the wetsuit strippers directly to the toilet, where I stayed for about ten minutes (ten minutes well spent I might add). “Okay, one down, two to go,” I said to myself, “I can do this!”
I probably had one of the slowest transition times of the day. I was taking everything in. I was in a good place though. I came out of the transition feeling good and the spectators were feeling me. By kilometer 10 however, I realized I was by myself. I would pass the random cyclist but more often the random cyclist would pass me – none of it mattered though because I was in a zone. I was thinking about all the people that helped me get this far, I thought about my family and Anna and how stoked I was that they were here, and I thought about my brother and considered that my efforts today might inspire him in the future. I kept thinking about all the advice from everyone to relax and stick to the readings of my heart rate monitor. I was keeping a steady pace (above 14 miles per hour – which was my goal) and my heart rate was staying below my lactate threshold. It appeared that my bike portion would go better than expected as well.
By kilometer 40 something had gone wrong, the gastroc muscle in my left calf really began to hurt. The bad sort of pain that you know is not going to go away. Some pains during a race move around a bit, and you know they will work themselves out (at least this is true in my marathon experiences). This pain wasn’t going anywhere though, which meant it was going to get worse. However, it was a dull pain at first and manageable. The more I got off the aero bars of the bike the less the pain, the problem now was it was getting windier and my altered bike stance made my effort on the bike a lot less efficient.
The next 45 kilometers would be the darkest hours of the race for me. At about the beginning of this segment in the race the leaders lapped me (right at the main turnaround in the two looped course). I was in pain and I knew I was biking too slow, but conventional triathlon theory was whispering in my ear: keep a steady state, follow your heart rate monitor as though it were God. Conventional triathlon theory had gotten me this far, so I wasn’t prepared to second guess it just yet.
As I got near to the half way point on the bike it was like someone kept increasing the difficulty of the ride. The mountain became steeper and the winds had headwind bursts of 30 kilometers per hour. I did not feel like an Ironman at this point. On the contrary, I wanted my mommy, who I knew would be the one person who would be cool about my failure. In fact, she had actually pleaded with me in advance that if I was in this state, to stop the race so that I could fight another day. I love my mother dearly, but fortunately for me (or unfortunately depending on which authoritative figure you ask) her advice has always fallen on deaf ears (I hope you still love me mom).
I have to be honest, at this point I wanted to quit. I was all by myself, in pain, going on four hours of cycling now, staring at four more hours of greater pain under greater fatigue.
I wasn’t on target either, because the pace chart I had prepared forgot to take into account my poor transition time. At my current pace I would fail and miss the race’s cutoff for the bike portion, but I didn’t realize this fact yet.
I stopped at a volunteer depot in which to pick up our special needs bags (which is basically just a grocery bag of goodies at the halfway point the Ironman race allows you to have if you feel you need it). I had a boatload of contingency items in there: pain-relievers, candy, more batteries, more bike salve, bread, etc. I stopped here because I really wanted to get off my bike, I especially wanted to get off my seat/saddle, which was really painful by now. I went to urinate in the nearby bushes and then made small talk with the volunteers about my bike’s sound system, as I replaced the unit with fresh batteries for the second leg of the bike. Someone asked me at this point if I thought I would make the bicycle cut off. I hadn’t given it a ton of thought yet but we both started doing the math and I realized I had less than half the allotted time left. It hit me; I am not going to make it!
I was more fearful than sad. I have made it halfway and now I am not going to finish. It is different to quit something than to be told by someone you can’t finish. A sense of dread came over me that is unexplainable. I thought about all my friends, my family, Anna, and the non-stop barrage of questions that would undoubtedly come my way about what went wrong. Something needed to change.
The third part of the bicycle course, kilometers 90 to 135, would be the only chance to make up for lost time. I had the wind on my back and I was a little reenergized from eating some gummies that were in my special needs bag; plus, I was relieved of some pain from taking some anti-inflammatory pills that were in my bag as well. What I knew at this point was that my butt is hurting from sitting and my knee feels better when I stand. I adjusted my style and stance even more and pumped away at the bike peddles from a standing position. The next 45 kilometers would save my race.
By kilometer 100 the New Zealand roads had begun to take a toll on my sound system. It was cutting in and out and although this was annoying I left it on cause I didn’t want to stop. What this meant though was I was serenaded by the constant beeping of my heart rate monitor telling me I was well above my upper limit. I barely sat on my seat, I just pushed the bike. I must have averaged over 20 miles per hour. People passing me (going the other way on their last 45kms of the course, well on their way to the run) knew exactly what was happening; I wasn’t going to make the cut off. They all kind of looked at me as to say, “try your best to keep it up buddy, but that is going to be an impossible pace for 90 kilometers.” I could hear their thoughts in my head and I cursed them all, “don’t tell me what I can and can not do.” I just kept pushing. I wasn’t going to stop. At this point the race volunteers weren’t ready for me; no one in the back of the cycling pack was going as fast as me. I missed water on two occasions because the volunteers weren’t prepared for me. Since I was primarily alone at this point I would sneak up on the water tables, but would be gone before they could calibrate with me. By now I was getting really thirsty, but at the same time I couldn’t afford to stop. I was getting dehydrated, but not having to urinate at this point might have been a blessing in disguise time wise.
I got to the main turnaround for the second (and last) time. I started doing math equations and conversions in my head: 6.2 miles to 10 kilometers, there are 42 kilometers in a 26.2 mile marathon, etc. All with the hopes of figuring out what my mph pace needed to be to finish on time. I finally figured out I had made it back to my original game plan. I needed to maintain 14 miles per hour on the bike to make it in time. The only problem with this is that I wasn’t able to do this before on the first loop, so what makes me think I can do it now. My heart rate now was going through the roof and I could only anticipate when the lactic acid would conquer my legs. “The hell with it,” I was thinking, “at this point I either get to the run or I don’t, it doesn’t really matter what condition I show up in.”
I kept plugging away with what was working. On any normal day my steady state of standing and pushing the bike would be a lot less effective facing a headwind than leaning on my aero bars, but today it was a better alternative than facing the now sharp pain I felt in my knee from being in any aerodynamic position. I was starting to pass people now too, which motivated me a little bit but then these same people would in turn pass me on the hills because I couldn’t compete with their long-term pacing strategies. I just blasted away in high gears where I could, trying to make small gains.
My plan was working up until kilometer 160 (I was just barely keeping pace to finish in time) when the lactic acid finally attacked one of my quadriceps. My muscle froze and this is the first time I would meet Charlie Jones, he passed me and asked if everything was okay. I explained my condition and he pressed on, as I would have, after hearing there was nothing that could be done. I felt helpless. I stretched it out, but I have had these cramps running before. There is no possible way the cramps won’t continue to reoccur, especially with the need to push the peddles the next 10K of uphill in the wind—I was sure of this. If only I could make it ten kilometers more, the last of the course is downhill into town. I have to try. I wish I could add some creative dramatics here, but honestly the cramps just never came back. I thought for sure my race was crippled from here on out, but someone or something wanted me to finish.
Meanwhile, my supporters back at the bike/run transition were getting restless. The story goes my father was already packing his gear (you should know better than that by now dad). I could taste the bitterness of the bicycle cutoff time and I refused to swallow it. I put the bike in the highest gears I could handle and peddled for my life. I passed several bikers, I passed Charlie, and then I passed some more bikers. I was not going to let seconds come between me and my goal. If I was going to quit, it would have been four hours prior and I would now be enjoying beers and wine with my mother cursing the Ironman from a pub. No, I was going to make it!
I found out in hindsight—as my father was gathering his stuff to go home because he thought I wouldn’t make it, my mother started taking pictures of me coming into the bicycle transition, which clued my dad in that there was hope. I came into the last transition with five minutes to spare. I had made it!
Now that I had made it, I wasn’t going anywhere fast. Let me say it one more time, I had made it (thanks, it feels good to say it) and although my knee was damaged I welcomed the run. The run is what I know and I had six hours to finish the marathon portion now.
I watched in the transition tent as participants were turned away and told their day was over only seconds after the bike cutoff. The Ironman has zero tolerance for the cutoff and all I could think about is that could have been me. In fact, I probably thought about it too long because even though I was something like eighth to last coming into the last transition; I left the transition dead last. Again, I didn’t care; it’s the home stretch now.
From here the story quickly turns from a nail biter to feel good. I had to walk the first eight kilometers because my knee was just in too bad a shape to run yet. So I just enjoyed the walk and I began taking everything in again. It was still light out but I knew that wouldn’t last so I enjoyed my time observing Taupo and taking mental pictures. I realized I would have to start jogging soon, but I wasn’t really in a hurry to do so either.
At about kilometer eight of the marathon I saw Micah heading back from his second loop, some how we had missed each other on the bike. Seeing Micah on the run and slapping hands with him and sharing some positive expletives (of which verbose divulgence will be reserved for the vocal inebriated telling of this story) was another one of my top three memories of the day. Micah continued on to finish the Ironman in less than 13 hours. Not a shabby accomplishment considering this was his first triathlon and he had only trained for 13 weeks.
Seeing Micah inspired me to pick up my feet a little. I started to jog and my knee pain was working itself out. I caught up to Charlie Jones again and we walked for about a kilometer together. Charlie told me that he had pulled a muscle and just couldn’t run. I walked with him a ways but I did not want to repeat the anxiety I had on the bike about the cutoff so once we hit the first downhill portion of the marathon course I left Charlie behind.
I made it to the marathon halfway mark with a little more than three hours left to spare. Now my worrying had been transferred over to Micah who had already finished but was tracking me and seemed to be carrying my anxiety for me now (I guess he was afraid of not seeing his buddy share the enjoyment of the medal he had gotten an hour prior). He had obviously started going through the same mathematically calculations I had done seven hours prior on the bike. “Okay Ruck, you just need to keep a thirteen and a half minute mile pace to finish in time,” Micah said. In my head I was like, “beat it nerd, I got this one” but what came out of my mouth was, “two 10Ks in three hours, no problem.”
And it wasn’t. This is where my mohawk and board shorts finally paid off. I looked different than anyone else out there so spectators remembered me. The only annoyance of the first half of the marathon was people thought I was actually on my second loop and were like, “you are almost there” when I really wasn’t. But now on my second loop their cheers were even louder than before. I cannot say enough good things about Kiwis, the more we were struggling out there the louder their cheers and support, it was nothing short of awesome.
A family/group took me under their wing the last two hours of the race. A family (I learned later) that was actually originally there to just cheer on Charlie. They were so neat. They liked my shorts so they gave me a lei to wear to go along with the shorts. They followed the two of us (I don’t know how far back Charlie was from me at any given point) all the way to the finish line. Micah, Anna, and Kirsten started following me as well, it was all pretty cool.
A quarter mile to the finish I was provided with some comic relief from my father, although I think it was unintentional. He popped out of nowhere and congratulated me, his words were, “you only have about a quarter mile to go and twenty minutes left to do it, so I think you can make it.” He was being serious too. From there until the finish line I had a smile on my face. I had done it. I am an Ironman!
Anna met me at the finish line with a burrito from the local burrito establishment Bros Burritos and a beer from our mini bar at the hotel. Another memory I will always treasure. The announcer mistook the burrito for a pair of Nike socks (the same announcer earlier had mistaken Micah’s wife for a kissing bandit that had come to accost Micah at the finish line) but the other announcer got the beer right.
The rest as they say is history, I finished in 16:38:49. Oh by the way, Charlie made it! He was the last official Ironman finisher to cross the finish line with a time of 16:58:43. I didn’t get to see it, but I was really glad to hear it.