10:55:44 – 24th out of 325 in AG
Swim: 1:06:20 – 85th AG
Bike: 5:09:32 – 5th AG
Run: 4:29:58 – ? AG
Friend: So John, how are you feeling about Ironman?
John: Pretty good man, pretty damn good.
Friend: Any goals in mind that you can share:
John: Sure, so I’ll probably go about 45:00 ish on the swim, it’s a fast swim man, did you hear about the currents there? That’s going to be really nice, a whole lot less effort and off to the bike. On the bike, it’s hard to tell, but if it’s not too windy probably a 4:45, best case is a 4:40 worst case is a 5:00. Then on to the run, I’ve got to go sub 4 hours this time, I know I can do that, but really I think I should be able to run a 3:50, and if I’m having a great day maybe even a 3:45.
Friend: Wow, that’s pretty awesome – that all adds up to about a 9:30 right?
John: Yup! But I don’t think it will quite play out that well, just as long as I go sub 10 I’ll be really happy.
Friend: You think you’ll get a Kona spot with a time like that?
John: Ha, no way man. To get Kona on this course in my AG, you need to break 9 hours.
As you can see, things didn’t exactly play out the way I wanted them, and not even close to what I expected. Race reports are far easier to write when things go well, there’s not as much soul searching and digging through all the details to figure out what went wrong and where. I’ve been gathering data over the past five days, trying to figure out what went wrong, well – as of now I can find many little things that add up, but there’s no big red button. We’ll start with the BLUF format; or bottom line up front.
What went wrong for me?
- The easy one, heat acclimation. The heat thankfully was not oppressive, but I certainly wasn’t acclimated to it. There’s some good evidence of my heat issues with the very red face in some running photos.
- Subpar bike execution. The plan coach Shelly and I laid out was to start at 235 watts and increase up to a max of 250 based off of how I was feeling and correlations to HR. Well, my first 5×5 mile laps looked like this:
So I spent 15 miles at the beginning going too hard before I got it in check. Why did I do this, this is what really needs to be answered. I can sum it up a few ways, but understand I know this is wrong and I’m not justifying it.
- 112 miles on the bike – fuck that, this is easy. I was a cocky son of a bitch.
- My heart rate is fine, I’ll be okay. Riding on emotion and justifying with reason.
- Nathan went too hard on the bike at the beginning too, just settle down it’ll be okay. I’m not Nathan, nor do I run like him, I can’t afford to miscalculate.
- If you want to do great, you’ve got to ride the edge a bit. True, I still believe this, but starting too fast is not the way to do it. If you feel good on the bike at mile 70, tick it up a tiny bit and continue doing that. You’re supposed to feel great at the beginning.
In the end, this was not a total failure on the bike, but if I were to grade myself on my execution I’d give myself a C Minus.
- Water intake: I actually drank too much water on the bike, more than my plan which was already slightly more than I’ve ever done before. The most water I’ve ever taken in before was about 40oz per hour, the plan was 50oz per hour, I took in closer to 60oz per hour. What I did get right was the electrolyte balance; since I increased water I also took in more salts to go with it. I think this contributed to not wanting to take in any calories on the run and feeling like I was going to puke. I peed six times on the bike… Really?? 6 times? Who does that?
- Mental preparedness and backup plans. Honestly, I thought I had sub 10 in the bag. When I got on the run and saw I had to run a 3:40 I deflated. When I got sick on the run at mile 2ish, walked to mile 3, I gave up. There’s no excuse for that, I just wasn’t in a good place at that time. I started walking backwards on the course, I was going home, I was done. Finally I turned myself around. Now I think of the people that are on the course walking it in after mid-night. They’re not going to the finish line for the big crowd of cheering people, they’re not getting a medal and a photo finish, they’re not even getting an official time – but they have their priorities straight and they stick to them. Never again.
The day started at 3:50 AM, waking up in beautiful Cozumel. I went to the kitchen where I had most of my food waiting for me. I had to make my oatmeal and I had coffee, bananas and some sports drink. Total calories was 836. I sat around shooting the shit with Kristine Wooten hoping the digestive system would kick in so I could drop a few pounds; thankfully that all worked out.
At about 5:15 we left the house and walked a block over to the hotel where buses were waiting to take us to the swim start. There was excitement and anxiety in the racers, I felt very calm this time – my third Ironman and in the best shape I’ve been for any of them.
At the bikes, it was just adding some bottles, checking the gearing, brakes, making sure everything is good to go. Then Kristine and I met up again and headed to the swim start on another bus.
Swim start was a pretty cool place, it’s a new marina that’s being built, it seemed like it was near completion. There were a fair amount of porta-potties which I made use of. My friends and family found Kristine and me at the start, we hung out with them and took a few photos. Then it was warmup time. I can’t swim well unless I’ve warmed up some, typically it just causes problems about five minutes into the swim, takes a few minutes to work itself out then I’m good again. There was no warmup swimming allowed, I didn’t have shoes, so I just did some plyometric and swimming arm warmups. I took two vanilla gu’s at 6:50, sipped a bit of water, pulled up my speed suit and then got lined up.
Our age group was the second to last to go, we were scheduled for 7:07 and didn’t actually start until 7:15 AM (I didn’t actually know the start time at this point – which messed me up later in the race). I decided to go to the far end buoy, my thought was deeper was a better current, but I really had no idea. The reason for the delay became pretty apparent, the opening to enter the water was just big enough for two or three people to get in at a time – so we were all funneled in and waiting for our age group to get in the water before they could let us go.
As soon as I got into the water I sprinted away from the start and towards deeper water, then did some relaxing swimming towards the start. I did this to escalate the HR, open up the breathing and get my body used to doing some work. The gun finally went off and I started swimming about two rows back from the lead guys, I found one person’s feet for about five minutes before I lost them. Due to the wave starts everything settled down really quickly, I swam quite comfortably but focused nearly the entire swim.
The salt water was quite nice, it makes you more buoyant than I expected. Even better was the 100’ visibility, you could see beautiful corral, many fish and sighting off of other swimmers without bringing your head up was easy peasy!
About halfway into the swim, I realized three things.
- There’s no current to speak of.
- I’m swimming quite well, I’ve passed quite a few people in many waves ahead of me.
- I didn’t lube up – rookie move I thought to myself.
Back to swimming, can’t worry about chaffing, it won’t get better by going slower so just swim your best.
Eventually I spotted the finish line where we had to make nearly a U turn to get out of the water, this was the roughest part of the swim, there were tons of people there and everyone heading to a set of stairs in the water, I swam a bit harder here, and jumped out of the water heading to T1 when I looked at my watch and saw 1:06, five minutes faster than my previous PR – certainly not the 45 minutes I thought I would get but due to NO current and my perceived position I was happy. Turns out I was 85th in my AG or top 26%.
In my first Ironman I was top 41%, last year at Tremblant I was top 33% – so there’s certainly some relative improvement here.
T1 – A total mess
I grabbed my bag and ran to the tent, there was a line of guys trying to get into the tent, I scooted around them a saw a total mess, but the middle of the tent was empty, everyone was around the edges – so I ran up one side, stepped on some chairs to get to the middle and sat down. Usually I don’t wear socks on the bike, but I’ve got new shoes and they have been bothering me without socks – so I’m definitely wearing socks.
My big problem – I have a single piece suit with sleeves that was under my swim skin I need to get that wet clothing over my wet body. Thankfully a volunteer had just arrived to apply sunscreen to me; I had him put it over my shoulders, then I was off; it was a longish run to my bike, then to the mount line. This was a very slow transition for me at 6:29.
Ahhhh… Now I’m on the bike and in my element. Fast and flat it is, Uh Oh, power is too high, relax, relax. Power is still too high, you can’t ride 270 watts all day John, bring it down. Finally I start riding a bit closer to 250 watts, which is not where I wanted to be but acceptably high versus crazy high. I had tons of people in front of me since I was so far back in the wave start, which was a good thing – I was going to “slingshot” past everyone – just like Ricky Bobby baby!
I made it towards the southern end of the island, still going quite fast and started feeling the winds, I knew if I could feel them now it was going to be a rough ride when I made the turn to head north on the east side – which is where the winds are notorious. Sure as shit, I was right- I hit those winds and slowed from 25 mph to 20 mph towards the Southern end to 17.5 mph on the East side. The east side was a long ride getting blown around. Here I got my first water bottle, I had to grab two of them because they were half filled.
Heading north now, I was about 12-14 miles in when I caught up to my good buddy Kristine, she seemed to be fairing okay in her first Ironman. She told me her power meter wasn’t working; I told her to just keep it steady and she’d be fine. At this point I started to heed my own words and ease into a more appropriate 240ish watts.
I could feel the heat hitting me, so I focused on drinking water every five minutes, drinking my calories every 15 minutes and taking a gel every 25. I was drinking a bit more water as well, so I decided to increase my electrolytes by taking additional SCaps I had with me.
After the first loop I still felt great, as I’m sure everyone did. I saw my coach and yelled 250 watts – feeling good. That was my AVG after 1 lap. I knew this was too high, but not catastrophic, so I focused on getting it right for the remainder of the bike.
I was heading south again, nice and smooth riding here with very little wind. After I passed Chankanaab park (where the swim finished) I could already feel the winds, clearly a bit worse than they were earlier. I kept aero at all times and kept my watts in check this time. Turning the corner to the opposite side of the island I was hit with wind like I’ve never felt before – aside from a few hurricanes I’ve been in. The winds were steady at 25+ with gust much higher than that. I passed a few people that were clearly on their first loop and they must have been going 6-7 mph; I felt so sad for them. This time the trip north felt endless, I kept thinking maybe the turn is up here, maybe it’s up there…. It seemed like it would never come. When I hit the 56 mile mark I checked my TSS (goal of sub 300) and I was really close to 150 at this point, so I backed down just a little bit more – I knew that my initial watts goal was for a 4:45 bike, now that I’m looking at a 5+ I have to adjust.
At this point I also noticed salt is getting caked on me (see photo), I had so much salt on my body I could grab it with my hands and throw it in the air. So I started grabbing even more water in the aid stations and washing it off me to help prevent chafing.
On this second loop I did a mileage check for the turning point, that way I wouldn’t have to wonder where it was, so now I knew mile 93 on the next loop is where I turn and get some wind at my back. This loop I made the turn to cut across the island and I biked the whole 9 mile stretch solo, not a single biker was in front of me, odd? This could only mean one thing – I’ve pushed my way through all the bikers except for the really fast ones, which I’ll probably never catch. I got to the other side of the island, saw my family and friends there again, my coach yelled that I was in 8th place – I saw my wife having a good time and my son playing outside – that made me happy.
Now, I’m in 8th place – how do I setup for a good run. Damn, I need to piss again, this is the fifth time, at least I’m not dehydrated. Sticking to the plan, I’ve gone through my 600 calorie bottle of fluids, and at mile 85 I’m changing over to Coke. Here, I realize I lost one GU somewhere – that’s only 110 calories plus I really don’t feel like taking it – no big deal I thought. Just drink the Coke you’ll be okay. Again, I make the turn to head north and I’m passing people on their 2nd lap in drones, I tried everything I could to get on their tail, get a tiny bit of draft benefit when passing but there was none to be had. The winds were hitting us from 2 O’clock, this time it felt like they were steady at 30+ mph. Kristine later told me people were clocking the winds at 35 mph, not gust, just a steady wind.
I kept dialed in on my watts, watching my heart rate, finding a respectable cadence and just focused on getting to mile 93 where the wind would be at my back. Eventually, I got there. The winds were so strong at the back that I felt sitting up was not a negative factor in biking and felt really good on the back; I pissed for a 6th time after the next aid station – I usually tried to hold it until just passed the aid station so I could grab an extra bottle of water, I used that to rinse all the piss off of me, and of course – some more salt. I cruised into the finish, happily gave up my bike, and went into T2.
I finished in 5:09:32 – top 1.5% in my AG, vs. top 13% in Placid, and top 8.5% at Tremblant.
T2 was the easiest T2 I’ve ever seen in my life. I dismounted and handed my bike to a volunteer, about 10 meters up were our bags hanging, directly in front of that was the changing tent. I knew going into the tent I wanted to drop the top off my single piece suit, I hoped I could race the whole way in it, but thought I might not want to, so thankfully I packed a run singlet. I dropped the top, put the singlet on, saw some Vaseline and lubed up my chaffed chest from the swim, then I was off.
RUN – SO MUCH MISERY, I QUIT – THEN QUIT QUITTING.
I immediately saw the crew and Zoya out cheering for me, and coach told me I was in 5th place. Seeing that running is not my strong suit, I knew that wasn’t going to get it done. I tried to settle into my running pace, 162 HR and 8:40’s – I ran about 8:00 flat and low HR, I knew I knew I knew I had to slow down, mile 2 I hit the right pace, and then I came to a screeching halt, I couldn’t drink my EFS in my hand bottle, I wasn’t taking water from the aid stations, everything I saw made me want to puke. I started walking, then shuffle, then walk, then shuffle.
At mile 3, I completely stopped under a tree. Nearly puked, spit a few pieces of vomit that did make its way up. I saw my time and realized not only will I not go mid 9’s, I won’t go sub 10 either, and low 10’s was looking pretty questionable too. I had no motivation left, I couldn’t take in calories or fluids, and I’m done. So done. And here, I quit on my race and myself. I started to walk back towards the start, I made it almost half a kilometer – people tried to cheer me on. My mental state was broken, but I started to think of all the reasons I was here, all the people that are here for me, who I really am, what I tell my two boys when I make up excuses of why I quit. My wife I believed I could tell, she knows me through and through, but I couldn’t show my boys this side of their father. I cursed myself out, I was really pissed (I’m sure the people who saw me thought I had Tourette’s syndrome) and I turned back around, got on the other side of the road and started moving towards the turnaround point.
I had made the hard move of going the right way, and let me tell you this wasn’t easy. I’ve never had a mental breakdown like this – not in ultra runs, not in multi-day adventures, not in the Marine Corps – NEVER. How it happened on this day, I can only believe it was a combination of an upset stomach, pushing my body and losing all of my goals. Thus, the importance of having backup goals. So, I went on, I saw Kristine on the run, I told her I was done – I wish I hadn’t told her that, it made me feel bad that I gave her some negative energy on her big race day, but I did give her some encouragement and high fived her.
Can I quit now? I’ve done one lap, I see Zoya, my friends and my coach. I tell them, I’m done. Zoya said take a break. Coach said, nope, you’re going to finish, keep going. Steve – the real motivator in his drunken state wearing nothing but a banana hammock put the hammer down on me, let’s go you son of a bitch, we’re going to walk run this whole thing, come on, let’s go… This was the final bit I needed, I found a way to keep myself going for a lap, my friends didn’t let me quit, so I started running. My stomach had finally settled too, so that was nice.
I wanted to just run one mile nonstop; I ended up running the whole loop, I was taking cola, water, cola water and even bananas. I never eat bananas on the run, but it looked so good – I figured any calories that looked good, were good. Now, I’ve got one more loop – I see Kristine, she’s having stomach issues too, I keep on running and I realize that if I can make it to the finish line by 6:10 PM I could go sub 11 hours, this is my new goal and it keeps me motivated and focused. At about mile 22 I walked an aid station and almost fell over, that was the last time I walked at all, I kept pushing for that 6:10 PM mark and in the last mile I knew it wasn’t happening which really sucked, but I was going to keep running anyways, I turn the corner to head down the finisher shoot, everyone was there cheering me on, I kissed Zoya & Alex, I high fived Stas and brought it home, some dude from QT2 systems sprinted past me, I tried to give him chase but that lasted for about 4 steps – my body was toasty. And I had a bit of pie to start eating.
So, before the race I said ER or PR, I basically got ER. I stopped at the finish line, I could only take a few steps and I just stayed there. A medical person came and got me, he took me into the med tent and they sat me in a chair. They offered me things to drink, I couldn’t take anything, I couldn’t focus on anyone or anything, so they moved me to a bed where my arms went tingly, my hands clenched up, my face was numb too and my lips were all puckered, my feet were also tingly. They hooked up me up with an IV I got two liters of fluids and a massage person helped get my blood flowing. They had to strip all my clothes off and put me in scrubs, that felt sooooo good to be in something other than my race clothes. I asked the nurse if she could find Zoya and give her an update, I told her she’s probably waiting for me by the fence and she’s the only tall red headed Ukrainian on the island, no surprise, she had no problem finding her. Lynn was a great nurse who was from Washington, D.C. who decided she’d rather live in Cozumel forever – I think I can relate.
I finally felt like I could take in something and they had Cup-O-Noodles; oh baby that sounded so awesome. I downed a cup, then asked for seconds. After about an hour in there I had come around pretty well, and they were out of beds, stretchers were coming in with bodies by the dozen, I felt bad for taking up space so I got up and headed out, this tent was crazy, and it was getting worse by the minute. I headed out, and went home, walking around town in scrubs with a finisher medal. When I got home, I found out that I went sub 11 after all, this made me happy.
I’ve never suffered so much, never broken so hard, I learned a lot about myself on this course, a lot more than if I went 9:40 and had a perfect race. This course on this day was far harder than anyone expected, there was a high DNF rate and I found a few limits that I was able to push beyond.
Final time 10:55:44 top 7.4% vs. top 13% at Placid and top 17.4% at Tremblant.
Next Ironman goal is simple – perfect bike execution and great run off the bike. I know I can go 3:50, if I get better in my running between now and then, maybe even better than that. The only time I will be focused on is my run time, everything else will be whatever it ends up being.
John Schaller & Kristine Wooten – Scrubs & Medals baby!