Sunday, May 19, 2013

IMTX - the inferno I DNF'd

Where to start... yesterday was a tough day on so many levels. I've been in the Woodlands since Wednesday staying with the most incredible host family (and good friends of my mom). Everything was lining up so well for the big day.  Feeling strong in the water, strong on the bike, strong on the run - confident with my preparation and eyes set on a top-10 OA amateur placing. The heat was a wild card (forecast of 90 degrees with high humidity) but I had a plan for keeping myself cooled down. I even sat down with Ironman reporter Dave Erickson to provide a glimpse into my race day plan:

The swim started off a little too well. I hopped onto the feet of the eventual OA amateur swim-winner and held on for a little too long. They say drafting can give you a 20% advantage, I guess I still need to work on getting that full 20% because 48 min swim sure would have been nice! My shoulder started bugging me so I dropped off and found another pair of toes. They had a lot of kick so I was pretty stoked with my choice until I realized brother here couldn't hold a straight line. Tried to make several passes but he just kept swimming into me so I decided straight or not these were my feet.

My shoulders really started to bug me after the first turn around and I felt my technique go to town. Overall, I'd say I was in similar spirits to my awful swim at IMCdA and resisted the urge to check my watch and become discouraged. I just kept telling myself to keep on those toes... if you'd been plugged into my brain my subconscious sounded a bit like this: "keep on the feet, nice feet, where the heck is he going? find the feet find the feet! phew. wow that's a huge house. sh*t where are my feet? what is he doing over there? good feet..." I did eventually lose the feet about halfway between the turn and canal and was on my own the rest of the way home. It was a decision/rookie mistake that probably cost me a min or two. All said, coming out of the water in 59 min wasn't quite as bad as where I thought I'd be or would have been if I had stayed on my toes.

The bike started off strong. I stuck to plan and road at an effort that I felt was quite conservative, averaging a little under 24 mph through mile 40. I caught two female pros right off the start (which I knew was a good sign), guzzled my bottles and started chipping into my 1200 cal bottle of EFS. I grabbed two water bottles at every aid station and had them downed by the time the next one came around. A couple strong engines did pass me over this period (an amateur and two male pros) but I knew this was going to happen and kept my eyes on the prize. Then around mile 50 I hit a big bump and my Timex cycle trainer ejected. I remember feeling very thankful that I gave up power and could just keep doing my thing without worrying about the numbers. But I soon felt myself slowing to the point where I thought I might have a slow leak. It looked ok and I really didn't want to stop. The SAG motorcycle actually road next to me for a while (2-3 minutes) and I wondered if he was trying to give me a sign. He waited for my thumbs up before gunning down the road.

From mile 50-90 I lost any advantage I'd gained in the first place. The female pros caught me again, as did a pack 7-8 cyclists - it was discouraging to see so much drafting but I kept my honor and let them do their thing. And then Frederik Anderson passed me like I was standing still. I knew I'd have him on the run but I wondered if he'd build a big enough gap to hold me at bay... I was starting to wallow in self pity and my nutrition plan was taking a dive. 3h30 min in I had yet to crack into my solids and my salt tab protocol had stopped a good hour before. I thought of my coach and how I really wouldn't want him to see me in this state. It was way too early to give up. I opened my bento and tried to grab a chunk of clif bar but the whole thing had melted together. This is how hot it already was! I found a second wind at the mile 90 marker and passed back the drafters and female pros. I pushed myself and was feeling strong, I knew I had lost a lot of time in those middle 40 miles but tried to stay positive. It's a long day, anything can happen.

side note: I felt my tires before dropping my bike off at tribike transport yesterday and sure enough my rear tire seemed to have lost some PSI. I'd guess it at 90 psi or so (I race at 140). I don't know whether this happened in the race or played a factor.

I felt terrible out the gates of the run. What should have been extremely conservative 7:40 miles became 8's then 8:30s. My heartrate was super low and I knew I was overheating. I stopped at the first aid station and filled my baggie with ice and held it to my carotid artery. I stumbled upon a wonderful carrot at mile 3 -- a walking Frederik Anderson. I was in bad shape but with this pass I knew I had the AG win in the bag. My goals coming into this race were out the door... all I wanted to do was seal the deal so I wouldn't have to do this again to KQ!! I repeated my ice process at every mile and managed to hobble 8:30s... but as we all know it's a long day, and things started to fall apart. Mile 9 I started walking, the 1000+ calorie deficit from the bike had kicked in (as had the lack of salt for a couple hours). Good friend and training partner Sonja Wieck slapped some sense into me and I spent a couple minutes at the next aid station loading up on calories, water and salt. I started jogging. I felt good. I started running. I felt great. All of a sudden I'm running low 7 min miles like it's nobodies business. I kept this up for 13 miles. In a sea of walkers I was the big star, people giving me high fives and cheering me on. It was carnage out there and I'd found a way out of the slaughter house. Despite the great pace I kept stopping at every aid station and spent a good min loading up on calories, salt and water. I needed to keep this formula going.

I was making moves and soon learned I had a 15+ min gap on #2 in my AG. I passed mile marker 20, the pace slowed but only 10k to go - I can do 10k in my sleep. Mile marker 21 I start walking... what the heck is going on? I've been keeping to the formula!! Some lady in a green polo comes up to me and tells me to sit down. I tell her to buzz off - If I sit down my race is over. I grab some water and down the rest of my salt tabs. I'm weaving now and this lady is still following me. I'm not going to sit down, not going to sit down, not going to... now I'm sitting. It's over. I borrow the ladies phone and call my mom: I'm at mile marker 22 - it's over, I'm out. She doesn't understand, tells me I have a 17 min gap but I'm done. I tell the lady to give me a big bag of IV, that I'm overheating. I need some ice. But these people are not listening to me. I finally tell them to call the medics - I'm not joking things are taking a turn for the worse. I start having a tough time breathing - I am begging for them to dump me in a bucket of nice but nobody cares what I want (or perhaps they just know better). They load me in a stretcher and stick a tube of oxygen up my nose. I'm instructed to breathe in through my nose, hold it for 5 seconds and then breathe out through my mouth. I smell gas, am I supposed to be smelling gas? I'm having trouble doing this breathing thing... I know I need oxygen to keep my brain working and I'm getting worried it's not getting enough. I start doing simple math problems in my head to make sure I'm not becoming mentally handicapped. Things like 2x4=? I try to keep my body as relaxed as possible to not waste oxygen. I keep my eyes closed but I'm afraid I might be going blind so I open them. I can still see. Ok good, closing them again. I do these little checks every couple minutes... wiggle my toes to make sure I won't be in a wheelchair, math to make sure I won't be mentally handicapped, open eyes to make sure I won't be blind. My breathing isn't getting better and I'm really fighting to stay strong. For being so close to the finish line you'd think this transport would go a little quicker :) Woops - better not think, don't want to waste oxygen!

Hopefully this race report supports the fact that I am still normal (albeit a little shaken!). It's not the dream day and I am of course disappointed to come so close and not make it, but I'm also walking away incredibly grateful for being here (in my mind shock induced mind this whole thing felt near death). IMTX is a fantastic course but we all just got caught on a brutal day. That last lap of the run was a supposed 96 degrees at 100% humidity. Despite my DNF here, I highly recommend this course. The swim and final stretch through the canal is magical, the single loop bike (despite some nasty chip seal) is quite fantastic, and the run is just something else with the spectator support and the beautiful lake Woodlands homes.

I plan on being back on the race circuit very soon. I'm not ready for a double-whammy like last year (IMLanza followed by IMCdA) so will probably try my hand at a kona-qualifying + vegas-qualifying 70.3 in a few weeks. I am confident in my fitness and am not going to let it go to waste!


edit: the medical diagnosis was dehydration (likely instigated by the heat and over-zealousness on the salt tabs) and the ordeal I experienced on the stretcher was pure shock. I did not overheat, or have an asthma attack and I wasn't code 0 or even come close. My kidneys took a beating which isn't good so will need to be diligent in the future to keep from repeating this ordeal.


  1. Great recap! Pretty crazy how it hit you hard and fast so close to the end. Maybe those "too good to be true" 13 miles where an indication...

    For tire pressure, 90PSI is plenty enough to not slow you down at all, in fact on less smooth roads it could even be faster than 140PSI. From a feel/mental PoV though, you'll have lost the harshness of the higher pressure which you'll definitely notice while riding, and that could easily mess with your head as it could be hard to tell how much the pressure dropped (i.e to flat levels or still OK)

  2. Thanks, theo! Knowing how it all ended up I shoulda coulda woulda eased up a min/mile for that 13 but there's no way of knowing in a game time situation. Pace was still off target but on this type of day I was happy to take it. I did what I thought I had to and it didn't pay off this time around. Live and learn!

    1. p.s. Don't know if this changes anything, but min psi on my tubulars is 115. Pretty sure this was more of a nutrition thing. Hey, at least I got a great workout in!

    2. Indeed, more than a good workout! Didn't know that min PSI for tubs was that high, I was thinking normal tire/tube combo so maybe it doesn't apply. Another thing that I was thinking about, and would be interesting to do a bit of research on or talk to some docs about, is whether your strategy to avoid overheating by icing your carotid artery may have actually fundamentally backfired on you. If you think of your brain as the "check engine light" on a car, by keeping your brain cool, you may have basically unplugged your "check engine light" on the dashboard so that it wouldn't turn on and warn you of problems, which means you wouldn't have the warning signs that a foggy brain overheating may have otherwise given you. i.e. keeping your brain cool via neck icing caused the rest of your body to get way further down the path of overheating without any warning signs coming from your brain.