#93: Ironman NYC – the after “math”

Did you ever have something that you worked really really hard at?  Something that you wanted and you could almost taste, touch and smell but it seemed to just stay out of your grasp?  Me too, and that pretty much caps this chapter of the Red-iculous effort.  Significant progress…..but not yet achievement.  Ugh!  But a solid journey…..so here’s how it went.

3 AM – up and at ’em

Want to see depleted?  Compare this to the last pic – yikes

It was a really early day…..get up, dressed, something light in the stomach, top off the blood-sugar and get on the ferries going “up river”.  No real curveballs here, all went according to plan, I was pretty well prepared and felt surprisingly calm.  I was a little worried about the ferry rides, I haven’t been on them in a while and the last thing I wanted to was to find out that they made me motion sick…..thankfully I found a seat far enough away from the diesel fumes and with enough open air to feel decent.  We eventually made our way to transition and I went through my normal routine…..for a few minutes anyway.  I got my bike off the rack and gave it a quick once over and got in the “air line”.  I stood there for a few minutes and realized that one poor woman was really struggling and that the line was not moving at all (I’m pretty sure she had a flat on the bike course…..so something was definitely was messed up).  Finally, after several more minutes and feeling my frustration rise when “calm” is the order of the morning, I got back out of line and decided to alter my routine with bag checks and re-checks, sipping some fluids with the hope that I’d have enough time to put some air in……I circled around the transition area and ran into Justin who greeted me with a big smile and told me that Lindsay and Lauryn were right behind him.  This was an unexpected treat for me and we snapped a picture and I moved on.  As the messages of “get out of transition” started to resound over the PA system I hurried back, found a pump and put some air in the tires (glad I did, they were lower than I thought), and got in line for the swim start ferries……some foreshadowing perhaps…..because with the sun coming up I was starting to sweat.  I found Chris and Nisim and we chatted and passed the time until we were prodded onto the next ferry……the one that was going 2.4 miles upstream.

7 AM – it starts
We were one of the last boats to unload, so we got to watch some of the race start, including the pros who were moving very very fast…..hooray for swimming in a river…..even if it was a river that had millions of gallons of raw sewage dumping into it only a few days prior.  We made our way down the ramp, I crossed the timing mat, looked down to make sure I wasn’t going to jump on anyone and splash…..in the drink and swimming.  As usual the first few hundred yards were faster than I could sustain, but after the adrenaline wore off I was determined to swim steady…….that of course was my mantra for the day…….steady and smart.  I continued to move along well and things were going fine…….I was really hoping to see the buoys change from yellow to orange (which they told us occurred at the 1/2 way point) and eventually they did.  It wasn’t much further until I could tell my arms were fatiguing enough for me to lose form because that’s when the zig-zagging started.  I’d lose the buoys for a while and then get back on course…..then repeat.  I’m sure it cost me a few minutes, but it was OK, because the goal was to stay easy and I did.  I never felt panicky or over-done a very good thing.  I eventually got to within a visual of the transition area and kept moving that way…….I knew I was getting close b/c all of the sudden the water went from green and semi-visable to brown, cloudy and totally opaque……”just get there” I said to myself and eventually found someone in a blue shirt who was 1/2 in the water reaching out his hand.  It was only 1 second later, when my feet sunk into 2 feet of mud that I realized how much I instantly appreciated him.  Into transition I went, grabbed my bag and started to focus on the bike.

Palisades Parkway North (in the southbound lanes)
I made it through transition fairly well and got on my bike…..I instantly heard the squeaking of my (rented) race tire as I pushed up the hill……”OH NO!  I’m not going to be that guy am I?  The guy with the annoying squeaky wheel?  I remember him in Rhode Island”  Well, I was, but thankfully only when pushing an easy gear with force…..because once we got out of town and onto the Palisades, I was off and feeling good.  I took a glance at my heart rate and it was settling in where I wanted it…….time to get to business.  I had the urge to GO…..but I didn’t…..I held back but was still moving pretty well……right where I wanted to be…..almost easier than I had expected.  More foreshadowing?

At about mile 20 there were several expansion lines in the concrete that were now far enough apart that they were pretty bumpy.  People were losing bottles and gear all over the place and there were more than a few flats.  I stayed focused on the task and all was well until…..snap…….thud…….I heard my bottle fly out.   “DARN” I yelled (Ok, perhaps it was a bit less G-rated) realizing that my entire nutrition plan had just literally flown off my bike.  I regrouped and started doing some calorie math in my head.  I was going to have to switch to GU packs (about 100 cals per) until I could get to mile 56 where I could grab my back-up bottle……which had far less calories in it (about 600-800 less).  All seemed to be going OK and my pace and heart rate continued to do well and I was passing a lot of folks marching toward the front of the ride.  At the turn I grabbed some water and heard “GO MIKE EISENHART” and looked back to see Luis L, a friend from a client-site who is also a triathlete, with a huge encouraging smile on his face.  What a great boost…….it was at that point that I realized I had miscalculated and was expecting to see them at a different stop.  I looked back and saw another triathlete-friend Ray, but couldn’t get his attention……and off I went, making solid time and feeling great.

Cue the headwinds…..
It wasn’t until mile 95-ish that I started to feel a nice head wind….definite foreshadowing there; I was riding in a pack that was making a nice slice through the course and all was well, the problem was that I was all out of calories at this point and was really afraid to put in a bunch of GU packs so close to the run-start in fear that I’d redo the St. George stomach blow-up I had in May of 2011 of being dehydrated + over-heated…..so I let my mini-pack go and my pace dropped to what felt easy in hopes to be fresh(er) off the bike….by mile 107 I was starting to feel depleted, far more than I should have been and stuck in fueling no-mans-land from a timing perspective.  I had to make a call there and I opted NOT to force down the calories…..which as it turns out, may have been my fatal error…….I finished the bike, but was feeling a lot less strong than I had hoped and was now weighing all of the variables I was faced with (in addition to going 26.2 miles):

  • The caloric deficit was there – no going back at this point – my only hope was to move forward.
  • The body temperature was about to go up (no more 20+ mph wind) so putting a bunch of calories in right at that moment was a bad bad idea
  • There first part of the run course (15 miles) was the toughest with lots of hills and going to be tough on a fuel-depleted body.
I decided to take it really really easy…..walk the hills, get as much ice as possible to keep my body temp down and try to get into a rhythm…..at which point I could start the chore of refueling while on the run…..not the best scenario……but having been depleted in Rhode Island 70.3 after losing my calories (this time from a bike crash), I figured I could do it.

It was at this point that I pretty much knew the idea of a Kona slot was gone.  I would have to be at the top of my game and have a basically flawless performance to pull it off.  I knew this going in, and that was a really tough decision to make – go for it with the very very real risk of winding up a course casualty and not finishing…..or let it go and do my best to salvage the day…….most folks who have done Ironman would tell you this decision is an easy one…..FINISHING is always the #1 goal of the day, whether you are running, crawling or rolling across the finish line……and it was relatively easy after looking at it that way……let it go and keep learning.

Over the hills I went until I got near mile 4 where I knew I would see some friendly faces.  I heard Justin scream “here comes Mike Eisenhart” and then the group of Pro-Activity friends and Basecamp31 community erupted…….as if something truly amazing was happening.

As a side-note:  There is something to be said for the love and energy of friends and family.  So much build-up goes into hearing “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” (which they actually pronounced correctly this year)….but in all sincerity – this was my finish line experience……almost impossible to put into words how meaningful it was from my wife snapping pictures like crazy, to my oldest daughter’s huge smile, to my Dad and brothers’ encouragement, to my sister right there with ice and “are you OK?”, to all of the friends there……..there were smiles and high-fives, jumping up and down and “do you need anything?” and of course the familiar and surprisingly soothing sound of John’s cowbell, something I’ve heard several times at races and made me feel like I was right at home…….to my friends and family – you are truly the best……and although all except for the die-hards were gone by the time I hitched a ride back to canoe beach to say it, I’ll say it again….thank you for being a part of this – I love you all.

I made it past them and started up another big hill, walking again, got around the turn and did the whole thing a second time.  I eventually got back to mile 14/15 and grabbed my special needs bag……it was then I realized I was loopy……I shouted out – “1520”, “bag 1520 please” and then finally a bystander said in broken French-English “You are 1502″…….oh, right, 1502.  Normally this would just be something kind of funny…..but I had been feeling sort of fuzzy for a few miles now and to have a “mental slip” like this had me very concerned.  Too many miles to go to be out of it……..and there were still 3 possible issues at hand:
  • Despite having a lot of shade in the park, it was hot enough……so I could easily have been dehydrated.
  • Being fuzzy for me is the most obvious sign of low sodium……and I had been taking in a decent amount of water…..which can be the most serious issue and the fastest way to checkout
  • I was fifteen miles in, so I could be “bonking” (i.e. blood sugar so low that I was getting dopey)
I had put some salt in my special needs bag, so I figured I’d work on salt and calories first…..water is pretty easy so work on the hard stuff first right?  I dropped my salt tab into a swish of coke and proceed to get it down.  Not as bad tasting as I expected, and I was able to get it down without too much of a fight.  I made my way up another hill and got to the George Washington bridge.  I had been telling myself that I would run the bridge and everything would be OK, that I would make up some time now……sort of.

I got up the steps and onto the bridge where I was met with some significant wind……but I had rehearsed running the bridge so many times b/c of the coolness factor, that I was able to get the legs going for most of it……I was IN NYC now…..and it was time to get this finished.  It felt like the salt was helping and I was getting more clear…..but my body was HURTING.  My legs were crampy and sore, my left shoulder and back were starting to cramp, my feet were blistering and it was getting harder to breathe normally.  Mile 16-18 went (very relative) quickly and I was getting to mile 20-ish when I saw another familiar face…….a colleague from another client site, who is a top notch triathlete (he opted out of this race b/c he already qualified for Kona this year…..monster).  I slapped five with him and could only muster “pretty tough run”……he smiled and I kept moving along……slowly.

By the time I got to mile 22 I was in a weird spot mentally. I knew it was only four miles…..something that a couple of days ago I was doing in less than 7 minute miles with a smile on my face……and yet it was like someone had pulled the plug on me…..I was fading…..fast.  By the mile 22 aid-station I knew I looked pretty rough b/c instead of people saying “you look good” (which we all know is a lie out there)……they were saying “are you OK?” – I was so tired I couldn’t even tell them what I wanted…….I just nodded when they offered me something. I trudged along.  The park was full of switch backs, which was harder on me than I expected…….every time I thought I was getting near the final turn…….it was another switchback.

Finally we got to mile 25-ish and the rest-aid folks said “this is it, home stretch, last mile, last aid station”.  I jogged a little bit and was in a fair amount of pain.  I was moving along and then one of the many people to pass me by was a woman and fellow PT-triathlete who I know of, but don’t really know.  I think she recognized me too b/c she sort of glanced back…….”that’s it I thought, let’s go” and if I ever meet her officially, I owe her a big thanks.  She is a tremendous athlete (placed 10th in her age group) and for some reason that glance was enough to pull me along on her shoulder for the next mile.  Somehow I passed her with only a few hundred yards to go…..and all I could think of was what a jerk move that would be, to finish ahead of her after she pulled me along (without knowing it) that final mile.  For the first time in a while I walked without being forced to……and she and one other athlete passed me by……..I started jogging again for the last time and eventually got within Mike Reilly distance:
Almost there.

And then, 11 hours and 25 minutes after I had begun this journey (about 90 minutes off my “if things go perfect goal”, about an hour off my “stretch” goal and 25 minutes off my goal) I heard: “Mike Eisenhart from Annandale, NJ…..for the second time YOU are and Ironman”

I was so glad to hear those words b/c now I could stop.

Somewhere around mile 24 when the world was crashing in, I glanced at my legs…….they were like sticks and every shred of muscle was obvious.  I knew I was going to be in tough shape so I got across the finish line and a volunteer spotted me quickly.

“Are you OK?” he asked 
“I’m pretty beat……can I sit in that chair?”
“Yes, of course, I’m going to stay with you…..can I get you anything?”
“I could really use some calories”
He rattled off a bunch of stuff that sounded pretty awful and I opted for yet another can of Coke.  I began sipping it and he was keeping a watchful eye when I heard:

“Hey You……you OK?”  this time it was Chris’ daughter Cassie who popped out of nowhere.
“I’m pretty shot…..how’s your Dad doing?”
“Last I heard, he was on the bridge” she said.
“Awesome” was about all I could muster.
“Do you need anything?”
“Can you help me find Lindsay and Lauryn?”

We eventually got up and moving again, I got my finisher’s swag and found them a few more steps down the line.  We convinced the security guard that they were allowed into the athlete area b/c they were volunteers and we went to find a place to sit…….

The Let Down
“I’m really really depleted” I said and Lindsay was ready for what was going to happen next.

“Drink the Coke” she said and by now a few other medical volunteers had their eye on me.

“Don’t worry, he gets like this after these” she said, but they were not satisfied.  They scrambled and got me some broth (salt) and some chocolate milk (fat, protein, carbs) and I kept working on the cola.  They eventually took my blood pressure which was higher than I’m used to and my heart rate, also higher.

“Why don’t you come to the medical tent?” they kept asking, but I knew I’d be alright once I got some calories in…….

Is that Skeletor?
I looked up to a worried Lauryn and said – “stop worrying kid, I’m OK” and although I would not normally sit down for a coke + chicken broth + chocolate milk meal……it did the trick.  About 10 minutes later I was stiff and sore, but making sense again.  We got on the Ferry to Ross Dock to pick up gear and say some thank-yous to Pro-Activity contingent at canoe beach and anyone I could find from the American Physical Therapy Association of NJ group (who were volunteering as part of the medical tents).  I had had a hand in getting both groups involved with this race, so I felt like I owed them a thank you at the very least…..they were all so appreciative…….these events have a great way of bringing out the best in folks.

We eventually made it home…….exhausted. I washed off the salt, sweat and tears and climbed into bed.  I awoke to my absolutely trooper wife tapping me to say goodbye as she climbed back in the car to take kid #2 to a soccer tournament several hours away (a tourney we had opted out of, but with her team down a player, she decided she’d save the day – trooper).  My mom dropped my 5 year old off (kid watch, another family “job” that is all part of Ironman) who gave me a big hug and then another:  

“the first one was from me, the second was from Grammy” he said…….and I was happy to have them both.

And….as I sat here typing away this chapter – he called down the stairs:

“Dad, are we going to Hawaii?”…….
“Not this time, Andrew” I said, with a little lump in my throat.
“Oh man…..I wanted to go to Hawaii” he responded
“Me too, buddy”…..

Where does the effort go now?
Well, we know where it’s not going…….Kona…..yet…….but where is it going?  This is tough to say for me.  I have made drastic improvements in my racing over the two years I’ve been after it……but, as I knew last year when I signed up for this event, 2012 would have to be my last Ironman for a while…..to train at the level that I want to compete takes so much time……and with my kids at the age where things are busy enough to require both Linds and I to be involved, it’s time to turn the dial back a little.

To be clear, my pursuit is NOT over……and the effort continues……but how we build the next phase of progress is a little less clear……the most immediate goal is rest and recover……and therefore a few weeks of not-very-much……which at this point is welcomed.  

I have learned a ton this year, and my confidence as an endurance athlete has made major jumps.  I am not THERE yet….by a long shot……but I’m still moving in that direction.

Thank you for being part of the journey, 

Mike E.

*Super-huge congrats to Chris B and Nisim P – both of whom completed yesterday’s race and are now able to wear the title Ironman.  They say the Ironman is a simple formula:  Swim 2.4 miles, Bike 112 miles, Run 26.2 miles……and brag for the rest of your life.  Guys, start bragging……you earned it!

**My heart and well-wishes goes out to the family and friends of the unknown athlete who had complications in the water and could not be revived.  At the end of the day, this is still just a fun pastime for most of us….and to hear of a tragedy like this, is very difficult.  My prayers are with you.