Duke Blue Devil: Making it Happen

So I don't want to bore you with all my trivial thoughts, motivations, and desires going into this race; but I will. I don't want you to go away with the perception that I'm a screwball tri-geek; but you might. It's an Iron-distance race, baby, and if you want to finish one, or be competitive in one, or, imagine - win one - you better get into it. It's no walk in the park. It's no picnic in the Sun. It's just one degree of pain, suffering, and mental torment after another. And maybe some fun, and perhaps, enlightenment. There are no guarantees.

Can I stay ahead? Can I finish? Can I run? Can I keep this up? Will it stop hurting? Will it hurt more? When does it end?

I feel great. I am fantastic. I love life.

I hate running. I hate sitting on my bike. I hate the wind!

GRRRRRRRRR!!!! There is no spoon, you little bald headed freak! There is no spoon!

These, and many thoughts like them, are just some of what you will encounter on your journey to your Ironman. All I can do is tell you about mine.

The Setup...dot Inc

I decided to do this race back in November of 2001 after a friend from North Carolina passed the word that a new triathlon had sprung into action. It came from grass roots, and lo and behold, it was for charity! 200 of my hard earned dollars would go, not into a race organizer's pocket, but into the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center Research Fund. I'm not a big philanthropist, but on seeing the sorry state of commercialization in the M-dot world, if I was going to race long in 2002, it would be for something like this. Not to mention the fact that I would have a fighting chance to place (with prize money) in a lower key race, whereas M-dot world is ruled by full-time professionals. God bless 'em for what they do, but hey, most of us can't have a full-time job and win those, too.

February, 2002, however, saw my intention waver, after a miserable experience at the Austin Marathon. I tightened up, hurt, and fell apart. No more long racing, said I. Enough is enough. Why torture yourself? What is the point? Do you really, I mean really, have anything left to prove?

No, says I. And I put it out of my mind.

But the mind is funny, as they say. It has a way of forgetting how things can be, and sees, instead, how things might be. In June, my motivation was back. I had done reasonably well at the Wildflower half, running 1:35 on a difficult course. I signed up for the Devil. My new, supportive sponsor, Trinity Endurance Fitness & President Rob Moulds, even pitched in half the entry. Now that's faith. Thanks Rob.

But the training was, for lack of a better word, half-assed. I had obligations. Committments. Places to go, things to do, and babies to kiss. A social life! A job! Classes! Cripes!!!

The Training

I had a decent all-around base, came off of about 6 weeks of 10 hours per week, then gave it the nine week knockout plan. Long rides whenever I had the chance. Total run volume was relatively low (avg 30 per) but geared around a weekly, progressively longer, long run. Up to 2:45 with little discomfort. No problem with 5 hour rides, a walk in the park. I was feeling better. Swim? Ha! I can swim with my eyes closed and both hands tied around my back. You want cocky? I give you confidence. I can swim well. That is truth.

The Race Arrives, is Our Hero Ready?

Holy Big Banana, Batman, it's race week!! What do we do? Do we panic? Do we try for one last long run? Do we carbo load big pasta dinners 'guaranteed' to bring a good result?

Nope. Relax. There's nothing you can do. Just put your feet up, keep the blood flowing, and ease on into it. When race day arrives, folks, you are either ready, or you are not. And you will know which one you are. Only you can prevent IM meltdown - only you.

Dancing Blue Devils, and One Hell of a Bike Ride (Ha ha, I made a pun)

I did feel pretty confident going in. I swam only twice during race week (Mon & Fri), but my plan was to cruise the swim and then ride and run well. It worked out pretty close. I felt a bit uncomfortable on the swim, but after 500 yards was in 2nd place and moving away from the pack. One guy was hammering in front of me, but that wasn't my plan. Loop 1 came and went, and soon, so did loop 2. Time was 44:18, swim was a bit short, and I probably would have been 48 mid to 49 low on the real distance. No worries. Looking good.

This ad showcasing a bike and wheel brought to you free by Marty

The bike ride started strong....and just stayed strong. I felt great. Phenomenal. Effortless. Flying. Zipped past the fast swimmer 2 miles into it, then just kept my eye on the course and rode. My turnover was up. My heart rate was low. My speed was...fantastic. Halfway split around 2:26, got my special needs bag, and kept moving.

The course was not easy. Coming from the flatlands I knew it would be a bit tough...but it didn't bother me. I can climb, but the question is usually, how long can you climb? The answer, that day, was all day. 2nd half bike split - 2:28.30. 4:54.33, or 22.8 mph for 112 tough miles. Not too freaking bad, kiddo. It was the kind of long bike ride we all dream about and hope we one day achieve.

(For you techies: Bike gear - Cervelo P2K (2000 version) 700c, Hed trispoke front, Renn clincher disc back, Vision aerobars, Dura Ace components)

Ah, I hear you say, what about the run?

The Longest Marathon in the Whole Wide World

Going up hill, in the freezing rain...you get the picture.

So, it wasn't that bad, but close. Never felt good. Felt pretty bad. Abdominal cramps in the first miles. Heavy legs. Slow turnover. Difficulty breathing. The whole nine yards. It was hilly and raining, too, to boot. I ran about 8-8:30 minute pace for the first 12 miles, then discovered that I was actually feeling better, but running slower, from miles 12-20. Half marathon split ~1:45.

A quick side note on nutrition - I used Hammergel Sustained Energy on the bike along with a couple bottles of Gatorade, 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and the caffeinated Hammergel Mocha (from the halfway point on). I was very methodical about consumption. I had bonked at IM Cali 2001 at mile 15 and didn't intend to make the same mistake. I may be cavalier but I ain't a dodo. I drank water, gatorade, or coke, or all three, at every water stop, and had another 3 ounces of Hammergel waiting for me at my run special needs bag.

What place was I in? First off the bike at 5:42 or so. David Glover, having a great race, passed me just before the 4 mile mark of the run. He was holding about 7 minute pace, out of my reach on that day. Thus, my plan became to survive to the finish line and be the best...of the rest.

The last 4 miles

Hurt. I didn't bonk. I didn't hit the wall. I just ran next to it all damn day. Walked a few seconds at the last 10 waterstops, but didn't cave in. Ran, jogged, trotted. Made it to campus. 3 miles left. No one behind. Run, Marty. It's all you can do.

Did I suffer, have doubts, think about stopping? Briefly, you bet I did. When you head into a race planning on running 7:30 pace comfortably, but the reality is that you're running 8:30 and it's hurting, it can be frustrating. But my frustration with my run performance was mitigated somewhat by the following facts:

  • I didn't log a lot of miles from February onward (and I am a high-volume guy)
  • The course was difficult and it was raining (meaning 100% humidity)
  • I crushed the bike course
  • I supposedly do this for fun, as a number of friends reminded me prior to the race, and
  • I was in 2nd place!

    And so I made it. PR. 9:27.36. 3:45.19 marathon. 2nd overall male, and 3rd across the line after the first relay. Ran a bit scared for... well, for 10 miles. Who is back there? How fast are they coming? Can they see me? Stop it. Be positive. Go forward. Move ahead. Whip it. And whip it good!

    The end. That's really all I have to say to you.

    Once you're across...there's nothing left to say.

    For now, anyway.

    Race review: Great. Duke and Set-Up, Inc., put on a well-organized show and your money goes to charity. There were a few minor adjustments that need to be made, but the RD knows what they are and is sure to fix them in the coming years. For those of you who don't feel the need to have an 'M-dot' affixed to your iron-distance race, I would recommend this one. The scenery was gorgeous, the volunteers were plentiful and helpful, and the awards ceremony and breakfast were top-notch.

    Race course: Difficult. I am familiar with Great Floridian (where I train & why I choose not to do that one...I would be too tempted to just ride home!) and IM California (2001). This bike course was slightly more difficult than both of these and slightly less difficult than Wildflower half. The run course was much more difficult than California and about the same as the Floridian, which is mostly flat but freaking hot. Swim was in a sheltered lake, chances of waves, etc, negligible.

    PS - Next year I return to the Coca-Cola and Clermont sprints with the intention of smushing everyone as often as possible. Yes, this means you!!! Bwaahh hahhh hahhh hahhh!!!

    Thanks for listening and have a great day.

    Marty Gaal

    PPS: Wanna know what it feels like to finish an Ironman?