I was now on the bike, and getting ready for 112 miles worth of peddling. The Maryland Ironman course is considered “flat as a pancake.” No hills at all, and the overall vertical climb is about 300 feet. However, given the location of the ride relative to the bay, there is a pretty nasty headwind that usually comes in from the south, so you can feel a bit like a mouse on a wheel.
The first 15 miles out of town were with the wind, and I was flying. As I mentioned in the previous post, I broke the ride into 5-mile chunks. My watch was telling me my pace every 5 miles, and I was averaging well over 22 mph for the first 15 miles. I realized I wouldn’t keep that pace up the entire ride, but it did feel great. I wasn’t even working that hard!
The first issue came as I was heading out of town. They say you should do everything in the race exactly as you did in practice. I did that for the most part, but with a few caveats. One of the caveats is that I hadn’t carried my nutrition in my tri kit when I practiced. What I learned is that my “goo” (nutrition that is in a small pack and liquid-y, so you squeeze it into your mouth vs. chewing) is too large for my pockets. How did I learn this? On the way out of town, I heard it fall out of my pocket and onto the road!
I had planned my nutrition to the minute. Without my goo, I’d have to eat some of the on-course nutrition — food I hadn’t trained with. This dominated my thinking over the next 10 minutes, until I realized that we were actually in a short loop and I’d be coming back exactly where the goo fell. “I wonder if it will still be there?” This thinking took my mind off the goo and back to the road.
As planned, about 5 miles later we hit a turnaround and started coming back the way we came. I was in a groove, so I just kept it going and was looking at the road from time to time. I didn’t recall exactly where it fell out, but I knew I was close. And then, there it was! Lying right in the middle of the street. I stopped my bike, picked it up, folded it in half and put it back in my tri-shirt. Pretty funny!
A few minutes later, we hit the school where our “special needs bag” lived. This is where you could pick up a bag of assistance (we handed it in first thing in the morning, one bag for the bike and one for the run). In my bag were two nutrition bars, an apple pie (I’ll explain later) and another goo, as well as two baggies with my nutrition powder so I could mix it with more water. Now, since we had only gone about 25 miles so far, I did not need my bag yet. But the school was the start of the “big loop” that we did two times. I would pass the school again around Mile 63 and that was when I’d need the bag. So, I flew through the school and all the cheering volunteers and got ready for Loop 1.
I was in a groove and feeling great. What I didn’t know is that the beginning of the loop is where the southern winds hit the hardest. Right after I passed the sign for Mile 30, the hard work started! I was suddenly peddling and working much harder, but moving a LOT slower. This went on for nearly 20 miles — the only saving grace was that the scenery was beautiful. But it was hard work, and by the time things eased up, just past 50 miles, I was ready for that break! The other thing that got to me more than it should have was that the loop was marked every 10 miles. So, after I passed the 30 mile mark, I quickly saw a sign for 70 miles. After 40, I saw 80. And so on. It was a constant reminder that I had a second loop to go and that I wasn’t even half way done. I should have tried harder to ignore that, but it was tough!
I finally got to the school again around Mile 63 and grabbed my special needs bag. There were a ton of volunteers, and one young man was particularly helpful! He helped me fill up my bottles with my SIS powder (and seemed genuinely interested why I was doing this vs. just drinking the Gatorade). He “pre-ripped” my energy bar so when I needed it, I could easily open the package. And he just kept encouraging me, telling me how awesome I was doing and that I was more than halfway done with the bike. All the volunteers were like this, and it was just great.
I was told that it’s a good idea to have a “special treat” in your bike special needs bag so you have something extra to look forward to. I decided on those packaged apple pies that you see at rest stops – they have always been a guilty pleasure. Today was no different – I literally inhaled the pie in three bites! It was yummy.
Ok, after a quick rest stop to pee, I was back on the bike and ready for loop #2. This time I was ready for the headwind, so it didn’t impact me as much the second time around – I was able to maintain a steady cadence. The only issue is that I started feeling the beginning of a leg cramp around Mile 80. It came and went, but wasn’t going away. I didn’t think about it much, but in the back of my mind I knew it would likely lead to issues on the run. But first things first: finishing the bike ride.
There was a tiny rain shower around Mile 105 as we headed back into town. I was thinking that if the rain kept up lightly, it would keep the temperature down, which would be awesome. That thought lasted about 5 minutes, as the sun came right back out and it seemed like the temperature spiked 10 degrees as we biked into town and back to transition.
Andrea was perfectly situated and saw me come down the main street back into transition. I re-racked my bike and started lightly jogging towards the changing tents. On the way, the familiar “THREE THREE EIGHT” was yelled out and my run bag was ready and waiting for me, held by a smiling volunteer. I grabbed it and went into the changing tent.
This transition (called T2) should have been quick. All I really needed to do was take off my bike stuff (helmet/cleats/gloves) and put on my sneakers and my racing bib. However, as soon as I sat down, everything seized up. Ugh!
The three guys next to me were all talking about how much they needed Advil – I was told not to take ibuprofen during the race, but in hindsight, I’m wondering if they knew something I didn’t? One guy actually said he would not go out on the run without it. I focused on getting my running shoes on and trying to stretch. The stretching was a total fail, and I should have asked for help. I did not. I just handed my run bag to the volunteer, got yelled at for doing swinging leg kicks in the tent (“you’ll kick someone in the face!”) and headed out.
The same friend who told me about the “treat” during bike special needs also told us about a parking area right near transition where you give a donation to the host family which they use for an annual mission. This wound up working great for Andrea – it was an awesome place for her to hang her hat and use as “sherpa central.” She had to keep herself busy for the 5+ hours I was on the bike, so she brought her own bike and biked to the town library. She did some schoolwork, grabbed some lunch, talked with a few friends, and got back in time to see me get back on the bike and head out on the run. Seeing her immediately at the start of the run gave me a really nice boost. And she was so energetic!! Given the “bow tie” double loop of the run, I knew I’d see her several more times before the finish.
The first few miles of the run were uneventful. I was definitely tight, but running at my target pace. There were aid stations pretty much every mile, and I stopped at each mile to get some water, Gatorade, and ice. Unfortunately, there was no shade on the run and the temperature kept climbing. By mile 5, the cramps were getting worse. My watch battery had totally died so my watch was now off and I couldn’t track my time each mile. Now it’s just a matter of will, and focus on getting to the finish line.
The bottom line is that my run took a lot longer than I had planned or hoped. That was really disappointing. However, I kept my focus and worked out a walk/jog pattern that kept me going. Seeing Andrea was great – she saw that I was struggling and was collecting voice messages from Naomi and her crew, and Aliza and her crew (all the way from Africa!) that she played out loud for me. That put a big smile on my face.
The way the route was set up, we basically did 2 full loops back and forth through town. The last (3rd) loop was a very short loop – we only ran 2 miles out and 3 miles back. So, once I hit the final loop and did the turnaround to come back, I decided I needed to jog the last 3.2 miles with no walking. I honestly did not feel tired physically, my legs just wouldn’t stop cramping. But I had figured out that taking an orange wedge at the aid stations tasted delicious and helped with the cramping. So, that became my plan for the last 10K – water, orange, ice on my head (and in my tri-top).
When I finally got to the very last loop before the finish (1 mile to go!) I realized this was it. All the training, all the injuries, the stretching, the good workouts, the crappy workouts, it was all behind me and the finish was here. I’m pretty sure my smile did not waver for that entire mile. People were cheering like crazy, and screaming. The last mile was on a brick street, which sucked horribly for my legs, but I didn’t care. You could hear the music blaring and the announcer stating people’s names and saying “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” I was ready to hear my name!
The last 100 feet (I think?) of the race was on a red carpet. It felt SO much better than the brick road! It was just about dusk, so it was a little hard to see and the lights were on. I couldn’t see Andrea but I could hear her yelling – “I can’t wait to hug her after the finish!”
And then, the words I have been fantasizing about all year — “Scott Barnett, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN Scott!” — I cross the finish line and just simply stop. I don’t know what to do. A woman walks up to me and says “Are you ok? Feeling ok?” and I say “No. Yes. I don’t know. What do I do?” She starts laughing and says “Are you having chest pains?” and I say “No.” She says “Are you having difficulty breathing?” and I say “Yes.” A look of panic comes over her face, and I say “I mean no. I’m fine. I just want to sit down. Can I sit here?” as I point to a wheelchair. I just sit. I look up at her and say “I did it. I’m really fine.” She asks me to sit there for 5 seconds and comes back with some water. I stand up, say thanks, and keep walking.
Now I need to find Andrea – and somehow, I still have my wits about me. They have to take my timing chip, so I let them do that. They give me my medal and swag for finishing. I have to ask about my “Crabbie” – an award they give to people that complete the Half Ironman in June and the Ironman in September at that same location. They point me to a guy who already has one ready – he puts it on me and says “way to go, dude!”
I turn and see Andrea on the other side of the fence. I run over and give her a huge hug. We’re both emotional as the finality of what I had done finally hits me. I tell her I love her and thanks for everything. Then they push me back to get my official finisher picture taken. I stand for the picture, then stand toward Andrea so she can take my picture. Then I’m done. I’m out of the chute and able to hang with Andrea.
The rest of the night was boring. I got to watch a bunch of folks throw up in the strategically placed garbage cans all around the finish. Andrea picked up my “day bag” which I had dropped off in the morning. It had a change of clothes so I could get out of my tri kit. I iced my legs a little, just laid and stared at the sky, and enjoyed hearing the names of all the other competitors crossing the finish line. We made it back to the car, grabbed a quick dinner (all I wanted was soup and a beer) and then went back to the hotel where I showered and collapsed.
I’m still in awe of what I accomplished. Reflecting back, I am a little bummed about my run, but it doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. My final time was very respectable – good enough to be in the top ⅓ of all racers. I worked exceptionally hard and I finished. I knew I wasn’t going to win or place, so it was really just my own personal goal. And since I didn’t quite get to where I had hoped, it does keep the door open to doing this again
We have a lot of things to catch up on this Fall, and I’m hoping to have a more healthy distribution of working out vs. fun on weekends this Fall and Winter. But this event and experience will stay with me for a very long time.