Ironman California


AKA, Some People Just Don't Know When to Quit

Well, I made it. I finished my first Ironman competition out at Ironman California two days ago.

There are a lot of things I could tell you about it, but the second best part of the day was crossing the finish line. The best was getting a kiss from my girlfriend afterwards, and hearing her tell me how proud she was.

All the training. All the time in the pool. All the miles I'd logged on the bike. Crossing the finish line was the payoff. The crowd cheered. Friends that I hadn't seen in years called my name. They held up the banner and I got to run through it, pretending it was me that had won the race. My finishing time was 9:42.07, more than an hour slower than the winner, but a respectable time nonetheless. I was 45th overall, and was in 9th out of the swim and 18th place off the bike.

Everyone has a different experience with an Ironman. My experience was a good one. I did not have a life changing experience. I didn't have a startling revelation about my place in the Universe. What I did have was a good day, and an experience I'll remember for a lifetime.

My goal was to go out there and do the best I could. I knew I could finish the race, so I was racing it to be competitive. I was doing great until mile 15 of the run, when I had to do a bit of walking. Even so I was able to pull myself together and run the last 10k at a decent pace, and I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face.

Sadly, the day was not without tragedy. An experienced triathlete from Ohio, Perry Rendina, while trying to avoid his fellow competitors, lost control of his bike on a sharp downhill section of the bike course and crashed into the guard rail. He died on the spot.

What do you say about something like that? What can you think? We all know the dangers that are involved with our sport. We know the risks we take in our training and our racing.

It's the people close to us that suffer the most when we get hurt. Remember that the next time you take a turn too aggressively, or stop paying attention in traffic. Should you have a fatal accident, your pain may only be momentary. Your family's pain will last a lifetime.

I wish I could tell you I had a great insight, or a revelation of cosmic magnitude while out on the course on Saturday. I can't. I simply had a good time. I swam well and, after some pushing and shoving, found myself in the first pack. I made some rookie mistakes in the first transition and had to run around like a headless chicken for a bit before jumping on my bike to start the ride.

The ride. Good grief. I had prepared the best I could for the hills and distance of the Ironman California course, but nothing short of moving to San Diego and training out here could have prepared me for it. It was difficult. The first 20 or so miles were flat, and then we entered what the natives call 'rolling hills,' with a smile.

Goofy Californians. We were riding in mountains. Two of the climbs were very steep. I climbed them at about five miles an hour and then had to recover on the downhills. We did two loops of the course, so I was to experience the pleasure of those hills twice.

The US Marines lining the course were an inspiration. I was lucky enough to be near the front of the race, so didn't have to struggle through a crowded course to get food and water while on the bike. My only problem on the bike was a technical one, when my seatbolt cracked at mile 86. That meant I finished the ride on a loose seat. That's not a safe thing to do, and I certainly don't recommend it, but I didn't fly 2500 miles to let something like a broken seat stop me from finishing.

For motivation on the ride I had an old buddy of mine from my lifeguarding days a few minutes ahead of me. Lance Muzslay is proving to be one of the top Ironman triathletes in the world, and he passed me coming out of the first transition. I caught up at mile 25 and he dropped me in the hills. I caught up again at mile 65, and we rode together until around mile 105, when his experience showed and he simply rode away. Lance went on to finish 10th place overall, with a 2:57 marathon time. Wow.

The run was great. There were thousands of people lining the course, yelling and cheering for us. We had a great view of the Pacific Ocean for a few miles on each lap, and the waves and surfers provided a pleasant distraction from the pain and discomfort of the run. My only complaint about the run was that we ran a good bit on concrete as opposed to pavement, and you experienced runners out there know how that feels. Painful feet, especially for a stomper like me.

And then I finished. I got my head on straight and ran the last few miles with what I had left. I had predicted my best time would be around 9 hours, and a good time around 10 hours. I made it in 9:42. No complaints, and no regrets.

And now I get to focus on training exclusively for the sprints and a couple more Olympic distance races. And I plan to do well.

One last thought. Finishing an Ironman race is an accomplishment. I know it. But if you want to do it, be prepared to get yourself into some serious shape. I wouldn't have done this without getting myself ready. I'm talking about years of getting ready. There are people out there that get into this sport and then go out and do an Ironman right away. Please don't. Give yourself a few years, and then, when the race won't injure you, do it. And do it well. But until then, let it be a dream, a dream that you will someday catch, and then carry next to your heart.

It means more that way.

Marty Gaal