Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rommel of IronMan Past and Present

This picture was taken during the 2004 IronMan training season. I think I was carrying about 205 pounds.

This is me at the Lake Placid IronMan 2006. I'm weighing in at 152 pounds.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Race Report: IronMan USA-Lake Placid July 23, 2006

**This is a very long entry. If you don't have time to stare at the screen and read this, you may want to consider printing it out (makes good bathroom reading). You can find the PDF version (the PDF version has more pictures than the blog version) at You can also download it at this link You'll need Adobe Acrobat to view it. **

Here are the official race numbers for me from the IronMan Triathlon.

Swim (2.4 miles) 01:24:49
Swim to Bike Transition (T1) 00:12:22
Bike (112 miles) 07:03:53
Bike to Run Transition (T2) 00:15:47
Run (26.2 miles) 05:54:57
Total Time 14:51:46

These are just the numbers. They tell you how fast (or slow depending on your point of view) I went for each segment of the race. The numbers do not tell the whole story. To get a full understanding of my journey to IronMan Lake Placid, we would have to start several days before the event.

If you read my race plan, then you know that I spell out exactly what I want to eat, what I want to drink, when I should rest, etc. on the days before the race. Plans are great, aren’t they? Unless you really did become a rock star or a princess, you probably already know that things hardly ever go according to plan.

The plan:
· The team leaves San Francisco at 8:00 am on Thursday 7/20/06
· The team arrives in Chicaco at 1:30 pm
· Catch a connecting flight to Albany, NY. Arrive at 7:00 pm
· Drive to Lake Placid and arrive around 10:30pm.

What actually happened looked very little like that. Oh sure, we got to Lake Placid, but our journey took a wee bit longer than expected.

Around 7:30am we started to board the plane. We had just settled into our seats (my wife Vickee, our 22-month old son, Jesse, and I) when the captain announced that there were thunderstorms in Chicago, and that we were going to be delayed at least 2 hours. We were instructed to get off the plane, but that we should come back to board at 9:30am.
We all got off the plane, but now we were faced with the question of whether or not we would be able to catch a connecting flight out of Chicago. Kristy (our fearless team manager) went to work right away. She started to call the travel agent to make sure that we would indeed be able to catch our flight out of Chicago. There should be nothing to worry about. I’m sure the airlines deal with this type of situation all the time. We were traveling with one of the best in the business. We were flying American.

The truth was that we were going to miss the connection out of Chicago. Furthermore, the storm coupled with backlog of flights meant that we could not get a guaranteed flight from Chicago to Albany for 48 hours. That would mean we would arrive on Saturday… maybe! IronMan registration must occur by Friday… NO EXCEPTIONS!

Kristy got back to work making calls and haggling with the boarding gate. After much angst amongst the team, Kristy gave us the solution. We would leave at 4:00pm on a flight to New York City. The flight would arrive at 12:30am. The bus company that would have been picking us up in Albany agreed to drive an extra 4 hours to New York City, but that they could not pick us up until 6:30am. So we would have to sleep in the airport. Why 6:30am? Bus drivers need to sleep. Anything earlier would not allow for adequate sleep for the bus drivers. Fortunately, Kristy would later inform us that a bus company was found that would be willing to drive us at 1:30am. We would be in Lake Placid by 7:00am. Woo-hoo!

So the plan wasn’t perfect. Yeah, we would be inconvenienced. It didn’t matter. We were still going to Lake Placid. We were still going to race. Everything was going to work out! Right?

American Airlines for some reason did not want to transfer our luggage to the new plane. “Don’t worry,” they said. “You can pick it up in Albany.” I guess that works. We could stop in Albany on the way to Lake Placid. Nobody is sure why they would not transfer our bags. There are a few theories (and some choice words) floating around about the incident. I really wish they transferred our baggage.

The trip from San Francisco to NYC went off without incident. Jesse was fussy, but everybody swears that he was an angel. He did cry when we started to land, but he was for the most part, well behaved.

We arrived in NYC just after midnight and took up some floor space near baggage claim. We weren’t claiming any baggage, because American Airlines sent our luggage to Albany! Anyhow, many of us hadn’t really eaten very well, and there was a good chance that most of us were getting dehydrated (traveling does do that to you sometimes). Luckily we found a 24-hour cafĂ© on the 2nd floor. I grabbed some stuff just in time so that we could get on the bus.

The bus… Oh my God! The bus! It looked like your standard issue Grey Hound bus. In fact I think in a previous life this machine was once a Grey Hound bus. What it was now was a bus covered in spotty white paint (used to hide the graffiti). I would tell you what bus company we were using, but there were no recognizable markings on it! Our bus driver looked like he could use as a cup of coffee or 10.

I’m really glad that I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep, because it allowed me to sleep through some of the more horrific parts of the trip. I was awake for the car fire in the road that caused us to move to a different highway. I did sleep through the 2 times that the bus went off the road when the bus driver fell asleep at the wheel!

We stopped in Albany around 5:30am to pick up our luggage. You know… the luggage that we shouldn’t worry about… the luggage that would be there in Albany for us to pick up. Well the luggage was only half there. Out of the 4 bags that we checked in, only 2 were there. We weren’t the only ones. Most of the team had some luggage missing. Unfortunately for some, the missing luggage contained their race gear (wetsuit, cycling shorts, tri shorts, etc.). My paranoia had anticipated a loss of luggage, so I packed all of my race gear in my backpack, so I was okay.
At 8:30am, after almost 24 hours of traveling, we finally arrived at the Comfort Inn in Lake Placid, NY. Teammates who did not travel with us were there to greet us with applause for the Herculean effort that we made to get there. I felt like the castaways on Gilligan's Island, and we had just been rescued... "a three hour tour, a three hour tour..."

Race registration opens at 10:00 am. That would give me just enough time to shower, rest up, and get some breakfast. Vickee and Jesse looked tired. I told Vickee that she should stay and rest. She wasn’t going to argue. I wished that I could stay and sleep too. Though I was tired, I was very happy to know that I was going to race. It seemed that we had gone through the worst of it. Things could only get better from here on out.

I was in a fog the rest of the day as I mechanically went through the rigors of race preparation while still trying to maintain a relaxed state. Rest over the past 24+ hours had been sporadic and filled with interruptions, as was nutrition and hydration. It was nice to get a walk around, and breathe the fresh mountain air.

The day consisted of:
· Race registration
· Bike pick up (thankfully transported by truck)
· A swim in Mirror Lake (site of the race day swim). Some team members had to swim without there wetsuits, which were missing along with their luggage.

Good news did occur later that day. By now, everybody back at the TNT office had heard about our trip; the lost luggage, the bus, etc. One of our honorees, Leslie, was flying into Albany. She gave a call and said that she saw our missing luggage at the airport! She rented an SUV and transported ALL of our missing luggage to Lake Placid! Things were finally starting to fall into place!

The hardest part was now behind us. Now for the easy part… time to race the IRONMAN!

The Night Before
I ate my last meal around 5:00pm on Saturday night. Trial and error determined that I would eat a light pasta meal with some vegetables. I followed this up with some watermelon and an all-fruit smoothie (no dairy). If I got hungry, I would snack on pretzels or drink water and Gatorade.

We had a relaxation session at 9:00pm led by Coach Tom. Something he said stayed with me the rest of the night. “You have given of yourself selflessly for the past 10 months raising money to fight cancer. Now, for one day, it is time to put aside your selfless ways. It is time to celebrate your accomplishments as you race in the IronMan tomorrow.”

I got into bed around 9:30 pm.

The night before a race is usually the not the most restful of nights. A typical pre-race sleep involves tossing, turning, and a paranoia-induced urge to check the clock 5 times during the night. Once you accept the fact that much sleep will not happen, it actually becomes quite restful. The trick is to get an ample amount of sleep TWO nights before the race.

I set about 5 different alarms to go off at 2:30am. I was relaxed as I talked to Vickee. I went over my race plan in my head one final time. I was feeling good… really good. I fell asleep around 10:30pm while watching “The Waterboy” on TV. I did not awake again until all 5 alarms went off at 2:30am.

The first thing I did was put on my timing chip around my ankle. I drank some water and walked around to try and wake up. It wasn't difficult to wake up since I had been waiting for this day for 2 years! I was excited to have the day finally here.

At 3am I had 4 waffles with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup for a total of 600-700 calories. This would be the last solid food for then next 19 hours. I then drank more water. It was time for a bathroom break.

I find it relaxing to take a shower before these races. It is silly if you think about it since I'm going to swim first. It just feels good to wake up this way. It also gives me time to think and relax. So I stood in the shower for a few minutes.

A put on my speedo, warm up pants, jacket, and hat. I gathered my special needs bags and my wetsuit. I got the bag containing my bike nutrition. I was ready to go. It was 4am. Only 45 minutes before the first shuttle would leave for the transition area. I sipped on Gatorade.

At 4:30am, I decided to walk towards the shuttling area. I gave Vickee and Jesse a kiss, and was out the door. I was the first one there. I heard people in the breakfast area of the hotel. I thought about going over and talking to them, but I was so much in a world of my own at the time. I was focused on the race. That's where I wanted to be.

Alex and Mike finally pulled up. They seemed a little surprised to see me there so early. They went in to get breakfast. So I waited. And waited. Race morning was here! The thought was sinking deeper into my mind. I started to think about all the hours I trained. The miles on the bike and run. The vast improvements on the swim. I just needed the race to start.

I honestly do not remember who was in the shuttle with me. All I could think about was, "What next?" First, put some last minute items in my transition bags. Second, check my bike and attach my water bottles and food. Third, get body marked. Fourth, walk my special needs bags up the road to the special needs drop-off. Fifth, put on my wetsuit, sunscreen, and walk to the water.

We had gotten to the transition area a few minutes early, so the gate wasn't open. "Breathe," I told myself, "Relax and let the day unfold." Once the gate opened, everything went off without a hitch from the time I checked my transition bags to the time I walked down to the water. Along the way I saw the familiar green and purple flames of other TNT racers and supporters. I gave them hugs, high-fives, or the cool faraway head nod. I noticed at this time I was starting to smile. It felt good. All year long I had been so focused on training, that this was the first time that I remembered to have fun.

I got down to the water. I stood on the grass for about 15 minutes and stared at the water. There was quite a bit of overcast from the previous day’s rain. There was steam rising from the lake. I pictured myself getting in the water and swimming smoothly. I knew that I would get kicked, punched, slapped, but that wouldn't matter. I would stay calm and relaxed.

It was almost 6:30am. We would be allowed to enter the water soon for warm up. I wanted to have as much warm up time as possible. I headed down to the entrance. I saw more TNT people. They commented that I looked ready. I knew they were right. I felt it too. Bobby commented on the new body, and how I didn't look like I did back in 2004. It made me want to cry, but I needed to stay focused.

I was maybe the 3rd person in the water for warm up. I heard people swimming and thrashing all around me. I stood there for a moment up to my waist in water and stared again at the water. It finally dawned on me... I was finally here... at the IronMan. To express what I was feeling at the moment is difficult. All I could tell you is that I felt as if I had something to prove; to the guy who laughed at me when I told him that I was doing an IronMan, to the people who never believed that I could stick to anything, to myself. This was the place to prove it.

I started to warm up for the swim. I felt relaxed. I wanted to warm up for at least 400 yards. I didn't want the first strokes I took to be right after the gun. I've been there before, and know that it is an easy way to get tired. I just kept swimming.

Around 6:50am, I found a spot on the far right side to start. The area had a good place for me to stand too. I wanted to stay as far away from the combat swimming area as possible. My plan was to swim from my spot to the first turn buoy. I figured it might add another 0.2 miles to my swim, but it was a good trade-off to getting kicked and punched repeatedly. After the first turn, I would find the underwater buoy cables and sight off of that.

I already accepted the fact that I'm not the fastest swimmer… yet. I don’t have the years of training that it takes to hone those fast swimming skills. But the swim is just the "Entry Ticket" to a much bigger race, so I also wasn't worried. The minutes that I use during the swim will be gained back during the bike.

The race was about to start. I stood as others treaded water during the singing of The Star Spangled Banner. I even sang along. Then there were the bag pipes playing Amazing Grace. Then, BANG! The gun sounded and the race officially started.

The Swim
As I said, my race strategy was to head straight for the first turn buoy to avoid the combat swimming zone. The problem with that plan was that from where I was I could not see the buoy. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just follow the people in front of me.” It seems logical, right? It would be logical if they were headed for the buoy that I wanted, but they didn’t. Pretty soon I found my self near the underwater cable right in the middle of all the combat.

I got kicked, punched, whacked in the head, and my foot got cut (on a bracelet I assume). All of it was unintentional for sure, but it was what I had been trying to avoid. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. When I got kicked in the head, the water helped absorb the impact. I was actually starting to like all the combat! I even rolled over a few people to try and find open water. I found some clear space in the inside of the swim loop too.

First loop was done. I jumped out of the water, crossed the timing mat, and then jumped back in the water. It was time for the second loop. This time I swam right back into the fray. I wasn’t going to be intimidated anymore. The combat was good. I was feeling so good during the swim that I felt like I could have swum 4 more miles. That was a good sign! My pacing was good, and I wasn’t too fatigued.

I finished the swim in 1 hour and 24 minutes. That’s much better than the 2 hours at Full Vineman in 2004! As I exited the water, I ripped off my shirt, cap and goggles. I looked for a stripper (those are people that strip the wetsuit off of the racers). I’m sure it looked funny from the perspective of the audience. They told me to lie down as they ripped my wetsuit off. The stripper threw the wetsuit at me and I was off and running to the transition tent.

Once in the transition tent, I stripped down and toweled off. In retrospect, I should have toweled off much better than I did. All I had on my mind was to get my bike shorts on. The volunteer offered to help me get my shorts on, but I still think there are some things that a guy should do on his own without the help of another guy. He could have helped me put on some sunscreen, but I overheard one volunteer saying that they were running low on sunscreen… way to be prepared! I finally asked, and he gave me a quarter-sized dollop of sunscreen to use. I got a hold of the bottle so that I could cover more of my body than just my right arm.

I made one final check before leaving T1. Helmet? Shoes? Race number? Chamois Butt’r? Everything seemed like it was in place. I ran out of the changing tent. A volunteer had already unracked my bike. Time for part 2!
The Bike
At the top of the hill, where we mounted our bikes, I saw Steven. He said something to the effect of, “Yeah Baby.” Or, “Let’s do it, Baby.” It had that sort of feel to it with the word, “Baby” in it. Steven went down the hill really fast. The road was still wet from the rain. I wasn’t as ready to go all out just yet… especially with the wet roads.

The entire bike ride was absolutely perfect! It was a beautiful scenic course with rolling hills. The hills of the San Francisco Bay Area made these hills in Lake Placid seem harmless. Yeah, there was some effort, but there wasn’t anything here that I wasn’t prepared for. The whole course was so perfect that I had this permanent smile plastered on my face. I either looked extremely happy, or like I just had a lobotomy.

Throughout the course there were the familiar faces of TNT supporters. One person that deserves honorable mention is Laura’s friend. She was cheering like a cheerleader on crack! It made me really happy and proud to be part of TNT. She was yelling and screaming like my mom at a Tom Jones concert! “It’s not unusual…” Seriously, it was like she was cheering just for me. The amazing thing is that she cheered like that for every single TNT person she saw, which, in my opinion is harder work than doing an IronMan.

There were some oddities on the course. For instance, guys with one foot clipped in while peeing on the side of the road. I mean, if you are going to make the effort to pull over, you might as will clip out and pee the right way. Can you imagine falling over with your bike while peeing? If you get a bunch of guys falling over while peeing it would be like the fountain at the Bellagio. And of course there was the older guy who passed me on the right (a big cycling no-no). I would later see him on the run course walking and peeing at the same time… now that’s talent.

I sure do talk about pee a lot.

I entered T2 having finished the bike portion in about 7 hours. My lower back was really tight and sore. I can only assume this was the price I was paying looking good in the “Aero Position.” I had some difficulty stripping out of my bike clothes and into my run clothes. There was also this “Raw” feeling in my crotch region. As I was reaching down there to check, I felt sand. “Where did I get sand?” I thought. Like I said earlier during T1, I should have toweled off better.

I was dressed and looked ready to go, but I was not ready to go. My back was making it difficult to walk. Luckily there was a massage therapist in the tent. He stretched my back out. He also helped me stretch out my hamstrings. He said that my hamstrings were some of the tightest he has ever seen. MENTAL NOTE: Take a yoga class.

This is it! The home stretch! It was sudden death overtime in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals! Time for Part 3!
The Run
Out of T2 and on to the run. It was only 3:30pm. There was still 8.5 hours left in the race. I knew that I could walk 4 mph… easy. What that meant was that if I walked the remaining 26.2 miles, I should finish in 6-7 hours. Bottom line… I was going to finish! I was going to be an IRONMAN!

I obviously wanted to finish as fast as possible. My strategy for the first part was to run 4 minutes and walk 2 minutes. I didn’t want to go out too fast and burn out. No problem… my back was so tweaked that I was a bit burned out already. The walk breaks were important as they helped me recover.

One spectator said to me while I was running, “You call that running?” I know it was supposed to be some form of encouragement. I was oddly at peace with what he said. Okay, he was drunk. I was smiling and enjoying the moment. The thought had already entered my head. I was going to be an IronMan.

Let’s talk run nutrition. On the course I had Gatorade, GU, chocolate chip cookies, flat cola, and chicken broth. Chicken broth?!!! Surprisingly, it is really good during these events. It has protein, salt (electrolytes), water, and it warms you up. By the way, it was very cold as the sun went down.

On the second half of the run, I was getting a bit chilly. I had already abandoned my run/walk strategy and adopted a strict run strategy. I passed my special needs bag that contained my long-sleeved shirt (for when it got cold) back at mile 13.1, and it was getting pretty chilly. I figured if I kept running, it would help me keep warm. It was a bit of double edged sword. I would run faster, and the wind would cool me down.

I saw Heather walking. I walked along side her for little while. It started to get cold, so I started to run again. I left Heather with my Xena Warrior Princess yell “Ai-yi-yi-yi!”

In the darkness, I started to see people wrapped in space blankets. You know… those shiny, silver, plastic things? It looked like a good idea, and I wondered where I could score one for me. Somebody informed me that they were handing them out at one of the aid stations. Score!

I walked/ran with a space blanket on from mile 20-23. Meigan passed me. She laughed at me too. I was still okay with it. I was even okay when her father (who was cheerleading on the course) said to me, “Meigan told me to tell you to suck it up.”

It’s hard running with a piece of plastic wrapped around you (it also turns your arms silver). At mile 23, I threw the blanket away and started to run. Only 3.2 miles left! I could feel my pace quickening. Hey, there’s Vickee (my wife), Jesse (my son), and Alex (coach). I waved to them as I ran the little out-and-back portion before the finish.

As the race drew to a close, my mind was flooded with thoughts of my IronMan journey. I knew I had come so far. Not just today, but in the last 2 years. I thought about Full Vineman in 2004 and not finishing. I thought about the undying love and support of my wife who helped me get here. I thought about the person that I had become. I realized that the events of one single moment could erase the torment of the past. Finishing the IronMan could be that moment, and it was going to happen tonight.

I saw Vickee, Jesse, and Alex. Vickee and Alex told me that they were really proud of me. I’m sure if Jesse could talk, he would say the same too. There was still a quarter mile left. I wanted to soak up the moment. Vickee handed Jesse to me, and I proceeded to walk to the finish.

I entered the speed skating oval. The lights, the sounds, the cheering people, are all still imprinted in my mind as I saw the finish line in the distance. Jesse was feeling heavy, and my arms were sore, but nothing was going to tear the smile off face. 10 more steps left. 9, 8, 7,…

At 14 hours, 51 minutes, and 46 seconds I crossed the finish line at IronMan USA –Lake Placid. I never did hear it over all the noise, though I’m sure the announcer said it. It didn’t matter. In my head, I heard the phrase that was 2 years in the making, “Rommel, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”

Here are some interesting stats for the year:

Never had any flat tires.
Spent almost 1000 miles on my bike
Ran almost 400 miles
Lost 35 pounds this year
Lost 65 for pounds since 2004.

With my first COMPLETED IronMan race behind me, I am now looking towards the future. I never expected my IronMan journey to end with any one race. I always expected that the experience would remain a big part of my life whether I decide to race again or not. It is like life, right? You have a goal in mind, you strive for it, encounter obstacles along the way, learn how to beat those obstacles, and whether or not you reach the goal, you become a better person.

It is now a month since the race, and already I miss having the camaraderie of the IronTeam. Part of my team is racing IronMan Canada as I write these final words. From here, my heart is racing with them as they too cross the finish line and become Iron Men and Women. GO TEAM!

I do have some upcoming races. I will be doing the Silverman Iron-distance triathlon in November 2006 in Las Vegas. As a warm up, I will be doing the Big Kahuna Half-Iron-distance triathlon in September 2006 in Santa Cruz, CA.

Eventually I would like to qualify for a spot at the IronMan Triathlon World Championships in Kona, HI. If I only do one race next year, I plan on doing the Vineman 70.3 (formerly known as the Half-Vineman). The Vineman 70.3 is a qualifying race for Kona.

For now this ends this leg of my IronMan journey. I will now continue my journey as I look for the road to Kona. The road to Kona may be packed with hardships and obstacles as well as reward and fulfillment. Will I ever get to Kona? I don’t know. What I do know is that the road to Kona starts now… Posted by Picasa