In February 2008 I did the Malaysia Ironman,
which took me nearly 15 hours. This last
Sunday, seven weeks later, I did the South Africa Ironman, which took
me just over 12.5 hours, missing my best time by just five minutes. In hindsight I now realize I should not have
stopped to take a 10 minute shower in the middle of the run. My bad.
You learn something in every race. And some things are never as they appear. Take the guy I ran past last Sunday in South Africa. I could tell that he had a bit of a hygiene problem going on. So I said, “Hey, I think I should tell you that you have some diarrhea seeping through the back of your run trunks.” He says “You mean it looks like I ’shat’” my pants?” I nod. He then proceeds to take his right hand to scrape the back of his shorts. He can now see it as he has this brown gunk on his hand. He looks at it. Smells it. Then licks it! He looks at me and says “Tastes like mango.” Apparently some mango-flavored supplement ended up in the wrong place. However, had I been thinking more quickly I would have said “Did you have mangos for dinner last night?” In any case, he thanks me, shakes my hand … mango poopy material and all … and then we part ways.
Here is another big lesson that I seem to learn over and over. “Sighting” during open water swims is important. In this most recent race I did the first half in 38 minutes, yet the second half took me an extra seven minutes. Why? Well, my big mistake was selecting a cloud that was hovering way out over the Indian Ocean as a sighting point. About 10 minutes later while I was basking in how lucky I was not to be kicked and scratched by other swimmers – it dawned on me that I had not seen anyone in quite some time. So I poked my head out of the water to locate the next race buoy only to discovered I was actually en route to India itself. Great white shark territory, I was thinking – and without all the feeding options (the other athletes) … just me.
And on that note, here are a few new triathlon tips for those like me who don’t actually have the time to train properly:
- Go long. If you can only ride 2-5 times a month, make each ride super long (75 to 200 miles) and hard – hills are good. Same goes with runs.
- Try a full marathon on a treadmill. What is great training about this is the monotony.
- Swim training. Never. The training time it takes to get faster is not worth the effort when you are in my hacker category. (In my first triathlon I did the stroke known as the “backfloat” which by the way, on a related note, was shortly after I asked triathlete legend Scott Tinley just before the race if fast people can actually swim the whole distance freestyle. I recall he looked at me in a disgusted fashion.)
- Brick workouts (practicing going from bike to run) are hard and take more time. There is probably a reason they are called bricks. I think I have only done three bricks in my entire life. Try to avoid these.
- Swimming. Don’t sight on clouds, boats, or other things that move.
- Get a time trial bike and stay down on those aero bars the whole time (unless out of your saddle climbing). I bought a Cervelo P3C bike about a month before my last race. Had four rides on it before the South Africa race getting used to the new position (two rides at 38 miles, one a 58 mile ride, and one 200 miler). This bike gave me my best bike time ever in an Ironman race, shaving nearly 45 minutes off of my previous best time. I almost broke 5.5 hours (5h33m) averaging 19.6mph!
- Drinking (alcohol) the night before the race is approved. It helps take the stress off the night before the race. Tell your friends you are “carb loading!”
- During the race don’t drink weird stuff you have not trained with on the race course. If you do try something new. Only take a sip or two and then see how you feel in 30 minutes before ingesting any more. Stomach cramps suck.
- Shave (the undercarriage) the morning of the race. Otherwise, if you shave the night before your morning micro stubble will serve as sandpaper. Ouch-O-rama.
- After shaving the same morning of the South Africa race, I boldly slipped on some brand new, untested, tri shorts for the race. Ouch-O-rama times 100. A very bad idea. They caused such severe chafing my huevos were bleeding by race end. I could barely walk. Girlfriend says it is one of the grossest things she has ever seen. I’m simply hoping there is no permanent scarring. Reminder: don’t try untested things race day.
- Water and nutrition will make or break your race. I continue to remain uncertain about the importance of mangos.
Now a few race specifics.
(Langkawi), February 2008. Beautiful
country. Extraordinarily nice
people. The swim is a “no wet suit”
swim. Aside from this messing up the
swim times of hackers like myself … the real problem was the stinging sea lice
(some called it plankton). I did not
know what was stinging me. But whatever
it was … it was getting caught in my chest hair (which was behaving like a
little net). Key point: It is hard to
maintain a decent swim stroke while trying to beat these little critters out of
your chest hair. Tip: In such
conditions, maybe try shaving all that hair off so that less of these critters
get stuck on you. The bike course was
smooth. Some portions were closed to
cars. Others portions were not
closed. Watch out for the begging kids
on the bike race course – there were a few – they appeared to think one of us
might pull over to give them money! Anyway,
by the time you get to the run, the temperature and humidity are killing
you. On my race day it was something
like 32 degree C (90 degrees F) and 40-50% humidity. To add to the suffering, some parts of the
race course are right next to heavy traffic (smog) and, what appears to be,
open sewers. I spotted some athletes (mid
run) lying down in bus stops, others being assisted by ambulances, and quite a
few simply puking their guts up. Looked
to me like they were all from Japan! (This is
a popular race if you live in Japan). The Singaporeans, on the other hand, seemed
to fare very well (to know humidity is to love humidity – because I live in Las Vegas, you can
guess how I feel about humidity). Finally, this race course itself is also not even remotely spectator
friendly. You will hardly ever see
anyone. Needless to say, this was my
least favorite Ironman race so far.
South Africa Ironman (Port Elizabeth), April 2008. Very smooth waters on race day (I heard this was not that common). Extraordinary bike and run course – all roads in excellent shape and 100% closed to traffic! Simply fantastic. Very professionally organized. And this race course is the most spectator friendly I’ve seen – in part because you see your friends at least three times on the bike ride and up to six times on the run! This was my favorite race of the eight Ironman-sanctioned events I’ve done. Only one word of caution: South Africa is suffering from a power shortage, which is evidenced by the roaming (scheduled) blackouts. The point being if you decide to get out and cycle the course before the race, pay special attention when passing through intersections with disabled traffic signals! And finally, if you see the beautiful little shower facility in the middle of the run course … and you are positioned to possibly beat your best time … don’t take off your socks, shoes, hat and shirt … for a dreamy little 10 minute shower (asking around for soap) in the middle of your race … unless it is really going to be worth it … which for me, it was!