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No one likes to talk about their failures, but blogging about them is a little easier. Last week I attempted my first Ironman distance triathlon at the Vineman in Windsor, California. This was the culmination of a year of training and done with the support of my family and friends. Throughout the year of training, I never thought there was a chance I would not complete the race. Even though I knew how difficult the event could be and that in any long distance race there are a multitude of reasons why someone might have to drop out, I truly believed I would be able to overcome any issue and finish. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
As I reflect on my failure to complete the biggest race of my life last weekend, I have experienced the whole pendulum of emotions. I experienced the expected sadness and disappointment of not achieving my dream of completing the Ironman and the let down of having worked so hard without seeing the result. During my training I received a tremendous amount of support from many people. In the first few days after the race I felt like I had wasted everyone's time and energy, and I had let everyone down by failing. To see a DNF next to your name at the biggest race of your life is a tremendous blow to your personal psyche and self-esteem. I have a great network of family and friends, and I have received many messages and words of encouragement since the Ironman disaster. My uncle told me DNF stands for "Dave Never Fails" and I should keep my head high despite the disappointment. My mother said the truest test of my character is what I do right now. I let myself be sad for about 48 hours, and then I got back on my bike and went for a ride.
Below is my race report of my failed attempt to finish the Vineman.
Vineman Full Distance Triathlon Race Report
Pre-race: I woke at 3 AM after a good night's sleep and had a big breakfast and felt prepared mentally for the event. We had driven the bike course and saw the swim area the day before. It was a cool 52 degrees with no humidity. Perfect for racing.
Swim: The 2.4 mile swim is in the Russian River in Guerneville, California. The water was comfortable (low 70's), and I was wearing a full wetsuit. The swim was a double out and back with the the "out" being against the current and the "back" being with the current. The start went off without a hitch but about 10 minutes into the swim the river narrowed and it started getting real crowded in the water. I have been competing in triathlons for over 20 years and in this race I was hit the most I have ever been hit in the water. Many people were swimming off line slamming into my ribs, banging my head, chopping my legs, etc. I had to continuously site and try to steer away from the chaos. None of this really effected my time but it made for an uncomfortable and irritating swim. As the swim waves converged I was constantly being passed by faster swimmers catching my wave or running into a "wall" of very slow swimmers from the waves ahead of me. Due to the narrowness of the river sometimes it was difficult to find some clear water. Another factor on this course is that in a couple of areas on each lap the river is extremely shallow. It was so shallow my hand hit the rocky bottom forcing me to stand up and walk for 2-3 minutes before it was deep enough to swim. Despite all of these issues my time was not really affected. I finally exited the water in 1:21. I wanted to be at 1:20 give or take 5 minutes so I was right on track. First event done..I felt great and now onto the bike.
Bike: The bike was a rolling course that traveled through many vineyards and small towns. In my experience when passing through large areas of farmland usually the crop is corn. This area was very similar only the crop was grapes instead of corn. The bike course is two loops with the only difference being about 8 miles on each loop. The first part of the course was rolling with no major hills. The main challenge during the first part of the race was negotiating all of the rough road. I saw a lot of lost water bottles and an unusual number of flats during the first 20-30 miles. I was feeling pretty good and kept to my plan of just riding easy on the bike. I made it to the only big hill on the course, Chalk Hill, and made it up with about 90% effort. Surprisingly I was starting to feel better as the race went on. Miles 50-80 went by at a steady pace, and I was feeling good. It was about mile 80 that it started to fall apart. For some reason I started to feel hot for the first time and I started feeling bad. During the next hour I went from feeling decent to feeling terrible. I began to have major leg cramps and my speed dropped. I took a longer break at the next two aid stations, but I couldn't bring myself back. Finally, I stopped at an aid station about 3 miles from the start of Chalk Hill. (2nd time around) I knew it was going to be an extreme challenge to make it up that hill again with terrible legs cramps and almost no strength. I probably stopped for 10 minutes and then decided to go. Climbing this hill took everything I had to make it to the top. Once I crested the top I was relieved but I am sure my heart rate was over 200 BPM. I immediately pulled over and rested until I was able to get my breath back. The last 10 miles of the bike were absolutely miserable but I was finally done. 2nd event done....but barely hanging on...
Run: The run course at Vineman is 3 out and back hilly loops. At this point in the day it was pushing 85 degrees, and I had just barely survived the bike. I was greeted in transition by my family who had made signs and were very excited to see me and cheer me on. They had no idea what kind of condition I was in or what a fight it was just to finish the bike. I tried to rally; I changed and headed out on the run...sorry, I meant walk. I could not run. My heart rate was still through the roof and I was struggling. Over the next few miles I tried to run the downhills but as soon as I returned to a walk my heart rate was so high I had to slow down to a slower walk or stop altogether to catch my breath. I knew I was in serious trouble. After the first 4 miles I stopped attempting to run at all. By mile 6 I had trouble walking. I was seeing black spots and walking any pace was a struggle. I finally completed the first lap (8.6 miles) and knew I was done. After speaking with a race official I was assisted to the medical tent and my race was over.
Post race and reflection: In the days after the race I relaxed and let my body recover from the event. I had the usual soreness, chafing, swelling (I was stung by a bee during the bike), sunburn, etc. Unfortunately, you still have to deal with those issues even if you didn't finish the race. At this point I will be re-analyzing my nutrition/hydration plan and try to figure out where I went wrong. My training was right on target, and I was in the best shape of my life. Completing the Ironman in my first attempt and having the story book ending would have been a dream. But life is not always easy. The reality is, sometimes we do fail....and guess what...we try again..and again..and again..until the goal is complete. I will make my second attempt at Ironman glory on September 8th, 2012 in Montreal. I do not want to waste my current high level of fitness and I will not give up on my goal. I will finish the Ironman.
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