Mountains to Sound: Race Report

Never before have I stood at a starting line and thought that I was the least fit person in the bunch. Never before have I felt I was in over my head or utterly unprepared. And never in the thousand races I've run, cycled, and swam have I ever thought that "finishing was all that matters". Those were the words for losers. For chumps. For the millions of Oprah fans who decided to run a marathon just like their television heroess. I was always there to win -- and I often did. Sunday was a whole new experience...

Leg 1: Mountain Bike

About to enter the tunnel at the start of Leg 1.

The race began with a brief run on the gravel trail before we were able to mount our bikes and start down the railroad grade trail to Rattlesnake Lake. The ride immediately plunged us into the darkness of the Snoqualmie Tunnel, where even with my HID light system I had to hold my sunglasses in my mouth in order to see. The tunnel dripped onto us as we rode through it, but I had a great pace going on my cyclocross bike and was able to keep it upright for the full duration of the ride. I took turns drafting with a few other guys -- mostly people in the relay -- and held a 23mph average almost the entire way down the trail. Two of the trestle bridges were filled with deep angular scree and were extremely treacherous for those on skinny tires like myself, but I made up lost time on the hard-packed sections.

23 miles
5th Rank Iron Male
25th Rank Overall

Leg 2: Road Bike

Changing into my road biking shoes in the first transition area.

I got in and out of transition pretty quickly and was off on my own for the 50 mile road bike leg. The route would lead right through the roads I train on and I knew the first two-thirds of the course extremely well. Unfortunately for me, I put forth such a good effort in the first leg that I found myself alone for much of the road bike leg. Early in the race I did have a group of four or five guys to draft with which was nice -- especially since they refused to let me take a pull since I was wearing one of the red "Iron" numbers and they were all part of 5-man relay teams -- but I eventually either pulled ahead or dropped off the back. Later in the race several very large trains of racers came cruising by me at about 27 mph, but I lacked the strength to latch on and found myself continuing on alone.

The sun was reaching its highest point in the sky and the promised heat wave was suddenly upon us. I refilled my water bottles at the lone aid station 28 miles into the ride, and continued on towards the day's big hills. Ouch. The hills weren't as bad as the ones I normally train on, but then again I don't always hammer for an hour on my CX bike before I go out for a ride. Fortunately, the descents were refreshing and I caught a nice draft at 44 mph off a Toyota Sequoia. The course wound its way into the city of Redmond and included a mile-long stretch atop a historic red brick road. The race directors warned us of the likeliness of getting a flat on this stretch -- and a couple guys rode cyclocross bikes the whole distance to minimize this risk -- but I lucked out and made it through unscathed.

50 miles
9th Rank Iron Male
86th Rank Overall

Leg 3: Kayak

Near the start of the third leg, in Redmond.

I spent a good ten minutes or so in the transition area loading up on liquids, electrolyte capsules, and lots and lots of oranges. Kristin strapped a 100 water bag to the bow of my kayak and had my gear all ready for me when I got there -- I couldn't have done this race without her. Upon entering the water, I was immediately surprised how tired my upper body was from the cycling. I never noticed that before -- must have been the climbing. Anyway, another racer in the Iron division quickly caught up in the same exact boat as me and together we paddled the 12 miles through the Sammamish Slough. The current was a minimal 1/2 knot which would have helped a slight bit if not for the nasty headwind. But, as my paddling companion noted several times, the wind was a blessing in disguise as the temperature was really getting pretty high. Several racers in lengthy sea kayaks and racing-class surf-skis flew past us, but we held a good pace and passed several racers as well. This being my first time paddling for more than 5 miles I was pretty pleased with my performance.

Moments before hurting myself getting out of the boat.

All went well in the kayak leg until it came time to get out of the boat. Two volunteers held the bow and stern to stabilize it so I can lift myself out. Only, when I did, I strained my pectoral and oblique muscles. I was in agony, almost in tears. It felt like a muscle pull, or maybe even a tear. I couldn't move my arms and my entire torso was screaming. I thought briefly about throwing in the towel and bagging the remaining legs of the race. I stumbled over to Kristin and my running sneakers and with her help was able to dry my feet off and lace up my shoes. I didn't want to sit there too long and think about the pain I was in, so I simply started walking out onto the running course.

12 miles
9th Rank Iron Male
112th Rank Overall

Leg 4: Running

Getting my jog on for the camera and crying on the inside.

It took a long time before I could actually start to run and when I did, it was the dreaded j-word. Never in my life have I called what I do "jogging". I always ran. Well, on this particular day, with an exhausted and depleted body, in temps that hovered around 102 in the sun and 91 in the shade, I jogged. And I barely did that. At no point in the half-marathon portion of the race did I maintain a stride that even resembled a jog for more than 3 minutes time. Instead, I walked. I walked. As someone who once allowed himself to daydream of breaking four minutes in the mile, this is an especially difficult thing to say. But it was either walk or quit and, well, I had done enough of that in my life already. It was time to persevere. After all, that was why I entered this damn race in the first place.

These were the longest 13 miles of my life. But eventually they were behind me. I didn't know if I was in last place or not, by this point in the day I didn't even care. I just wanted to finish because, like me, Kristin was also outside in this heat all day doing a great job as my support crew and, well, we were a team. I wasn't just doing it for me, but for both of us. Not long ago, I was able to transition from a 56 mile bike ride (after a 1.2 mile swim) right into a run and hit a 1:30 half-marathon to wrap up a Half-Ironman. Today, my time in the half marathon would be more than double that. Walking really slows you down.

13.1 miles
14th Rank Iron Male
128th Rank Overall

Leg 5: Running

The final leg of the race was a 6 mile "glory run". I imagine it was only glorious for a handful of people on this day. The course wound from Seattle's Gasworks Park through Fremont -- have fun navigating around the construction -- and along two miles of railroad tracks to Golden Gardens park on the shores of Puget Sound. I can't even tell you if I saw a single person during this final stage of the race. I was sure that I was in the dreaded DFL position (that's Dead F'ing Last for you non-racers) and the thought of that was actually quite comical to me. Yes, that was the first sign that I was losing my mind.

As I got closer to the finish I was able to maintain a steady jog for about 4 or 5 minutes at a time in between spurts of walking. I asked every single pedestrian I saw how much further it was to the finish line. And when I started to see dozens of trucks with kayaks and bikes on them, I knew I was getting close. I began dreaming of taking a dip in Puget Sound and washing the salty crust off my skin; I salivated at the thought of heading to the North Bend Bar & Grill for their awesome nachos and some beer; and above all else, I simply wanted to lie down next to Kristin in bed and hear her say how proud of me she was for not quitting.

6 miles
11th Rank Iron Male
120th Rank Overall

Finish Line

One Day... 100 Miles... Too Many Hours...

The officials said that they would start taking down the finish line at 7pm, eleven hours after the race got underway. I finished in a time of 11:03:10 and came in 10th place of the 15 entrants in the Iron Male division and, fortunately, the finish line was still up. There were a total of 135 teams and solo entrants, of which I only beat 10 of. But I don't care. I finished and that's all I really wanted to do anyway.

And while I didn't take a dip in the Sound and was too tired to go out to eat, Kristin did tell me she was proud of me for not quitting and that made the whole thing worthwhile. Thanks for all the help on Sunday, babe. I love you.


Eric Floyd said...

Super Proud of you man!! Great Job!

E said...

Great Job Buddy!!!

Todd said...

I think you'd like the Bellingham Traverse. Solo, Tandem or Relay. Check out the course:

Todd Elsworth, Race Director