Training & Recovery 2-8 Nov

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Short entry for a recovery week.  I was feeling a bit run down by Friday, and decided to make this week a lighter, recovery week and focus on swimming and TRX.  Well, the best laid plans often go awry.  I over extended myself on Tuesday’s TRX session (though I really thought I was going easy) and I could barely get out of bed Wed morning from DOMS.  I tend to forget how fast muscle strength drops off at my age.  So Wed/Thu/Fri were simply off days.  I probably didn’t need all three days to recover, so I picked it back up on Saturday with a 90 min bike ride and Sunday with a 90 min hike.  The bike ride sucked from the outset.  Very low pace, struggling with low BP sensations, and complete lack of power on any incline.  Sunday’s hike was better, but still pretty weak on the hills.  As HR increases, I tend to get dizzy, similar to how I feel if I stand up too fast.  I’m almost positive it’s the BP meds.  I think it’s time to meet with the cardiologist again and discuss my meds.

Lessons learned:

  • A solid reminder that we don’t get stronger from the workouts, we get stronger from the recovery.  Train Hard, Recover Harder.
  • Stretching and movement are VERY important after strength training sessions.  Keep the DOMS monster at bay.
  • A well planned recovery week isn’t a failure!  It sets you up for achieving more in the following weeks.

Training & Recovery 19-25 Oct

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Work is picking back up, so I wasn’t able to hit all the workouts I had planned.  A bit short of hours this week (planned for 8-8.5), but TSS was higher this week.  High point was Thur/Fri walks of 5 and almost 7 miles.  I was pretty wiped out on Saturday (fuzzy headed, cranky, tired) plus we stayed busy all day so I figured another ‘rest day’ was in order.  I felt a lot better by the end of the day so I think skipping the workout was for the best.  Saturday I got back on the bike trainer for a TrainerRoad recovery ride.  I got a very late start (5:00pm) but rode a nice Z1 pace.  Very low mileage, but I felt great through the whole ride and MUCH better than last week.  I’m going to try to get two rides in this coming week.

Since Fran was going to be away from home at the time I needed to be at the hospital for the Mended Hearts meeting, I decided to go ahead and drive myself.  I’m only 5 days out from the 6 week point, so I figured why not.  The earth kept spinning and I didn’t spontaneously combust. I did make a stop on the way home for Starbucks.  Because Decaf Mocha Frappucino Light…

Recovery & Training 14-18 October

Post OHS Training - Week 1 12-18Oct2015

First week of ‘training’ in the bag.  Not bad for 4th week out of surgery.  I did 4×3.5 mile walks, most with Tula Mon-Thu, then a 6.75 mile walk on Friday, again w/Tula.  I was pretty tired on Saturday, so I made that a rest day.

Each of the walks felt better than the last, which is why I decided to push the distance on Friday.  Plus it was a beautiful day, and I really needed a mental break.  I was tired at the end, but I felt great.  My HR stayed steady, except on the hills where it sped up a bit from the effort, but nothing that I haven’t seen pre-surgery on the same route.  It also dropped back to normal pretty quickly on the downhills.  At about 5 miles, HR started to trend up a bit, but that’s to be expected when extending duration.

Since my HR was pretty steady on the long walk Friday, I decided to do a short bike ride on the trainer on Sunday.  I set up the road bike on the trainer, since it was going to be easier to ride with a sore/tight chest than the tri bike.  I decided to try The Sufferfest’s “Elements of Style” video since it’s pretty low intensity, focuses on form and is one of the shorter videos.  Also, I wanted to re-establish the winter training setup in the basement with the Cyclops Powerbeam trainer, TrainerRoad software and the new Garmin speed & cadence sensors on the road bike.

As usual, getting everything set up and reconnected was a snap.  Kudos to the folks at TrainerRoad for making this so straightforward.  I set my output to 60% of my pre-surgery FTP, and was up and riding in no time.  My goal was to keep my HR at about 120 for the ride, but for some reason I was riding at 130ish for most of the ride.  That was a bit more uncomfortable at first, but pretty quickly felt ok.  My crotch and left hand went numb pretty quickly, so I figured the elevated HR and other physical symptoms were mostly due to being off the bike for 5 weeks.

When I got done with the bike, and looked at the data I was pretty down on myself.  38 min, 4.5 miles, and 67w avg power.  Pretty poor showing.  But I figured it was a start, and I was better off than any number of other people weeks out of surgery.  You take what the day gives you and this is what I had today.   After I showered and got some lunch I still felt that ‘post-workout’ glow that I really love and all the bad vibes had disappeared.  Nice.

On to week two….

Recovery – 4-14 October

Quickie update…

Recovery continues and seems to be progressing quickly.  I’m off all pain meds, including Alleve.  As of Tues, 13 October, I’m off beta blockers and only taking Enalapril once a day. The allergy “drip” that has been a problem since I got home seems to be ever so slowly resolving itself, but will probably be another week before it’s all gone.  I’ll be glad to get rid of the cough.

Twice in the last week (Saturday 10 Oct, and Wednesday 14 Oct) I had higher than normal HR.  BP was fine, but pulse on 10/10 was 128 and stayed between 120 and 130 all day, despite doing nothing at all.  10/14, pulse was 89, but as soon as I did anything would jump into 110 plus.  On my 3.5 mile walk HR was 105/125/140 (low/avg/max) but the day before was 84/95/102 for the same route/distance/duration.  I also felt pretty hungry most of the day, and was sleepy after I ate so I’m wondering if there is some blood sugar issue involved.  On both days I did feel a bit more anxious/tense and didn’t sleep well the night before.  I’ll be keeping my eye on this set of symptoms to see if I can correlate to anything.

Dr. Dixon also said he thought I would feel that cardiac rehab would be a waste of my time.  I’m already walking briskly for over an hour, and the rehab center would likely push me into a reduced program under their protocol.  He said he would prescribe it if I wanted it, but strongly felt that I’d probably drop out quickly.  I have a call set up with the insurance nurse on Thursday 10/15 to go over my cardiac rehab benefits, so I’m holding off on any decision until I get more info.  Dr. Dixon also said that I could start running or other harder workouts so long as they were lower body workouts, and base my effort on how I feel.  I tried jogging a bit today, but with the already elevated HR, didn’t find that to feel so good, so I just kept walking.  Assuming I do feel better over the weekend, I’m going to try to setup and ride the bike on the trainer.  After 6 weeks, I should be cleared to engage upper body workouts, and I may try some light TRX work.

Lessons learned:

  • Going into this type of surgery otherwise healthy and fit means a much more rapid recovery
  • There will be days that are off.  Accept them and do what you can.  Progress is not linear.
  • Be grateful for the good stuff, so many people have many more complications & challenges.  Share your story, but be respectful that others have it much harder.

Recovery 22 Sep – 4 October

Getting home from the hospital was a major milestone, and doing so two days earlier than I had expected was a pleasant surprise. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep in my regular bed because of the tight fit of the bed in the room, so I set up my recovery ‘center’ downstairs in my easy chair. Fran quickly took over the nursing duties and kept me very comfortable and attended to my every need. If it weren’t for the post-surgical discomfort, I could get used to this.

The first few days home were pretty uneventful. I had a follow up appointment with the cardiology group and they said that everything looked normal and my numbers were still good. I was a bit concerned about the swelling at the site of the cardiac cath procedure, but the Dr indicated it was normal (it was not, more on this later).

Over the weekend, we got to help out with a TeamNRGY emergency pickup of a teammates bike after a very bad bike accident. That did get us out of the house for a couple of hours, and added some excitement to an otherwise quiet and rather boring week of recovery.

Over the week of the 31st, I started to develop a bit of post nasal drip followed by a cough. The coughing was painful, but relatively non-productive, but the Dr. wanted to see me again, get blood work and X-rays. So off to the clinic again for more labs. Later that afternoon I got in contact with the office and they indicated that the blood work and X-ray were both normal. So I took some OTC meds (Coracidin HBP) and that seemed to help the drip/cough.

Also, by this point I had taken myself off the Tramadol, and was using Alleve liquid-gels 2x per day instead. It seems to work as well as the Tramadol without the opiates.

I also had moved into my regular bed about mid-week. It was a bit tough to sleep completely flat, but over the course of several days I got used to it (mostly). I’m now trying to slowly adjust to sleeping on my side, which is my normal sleep position.

This past week I’ve been going through hot ‘flashes’ that seem to be sort of a sudden increase in metabolism. It’s been happening at night and I wake up really warm and sweaty. I think it’s part of the healing process, as I do get these same events during big build phase of IM training and immediately post IM racing.

The incision point is ever so slowly clearing up. The scabs are falling off (sometimes with some gentle tugging) with clear, pink skin underneath. The very top of the incision is still a bit sensitive. The tightness across the top of my chest (pecs) is loosening up ever so slowly. At this point, any remaining discomfort is isolated to certain spots on my chest, and not systemic across my entire chest and abs.

Last night (Sunday, 4 October) Dr. Dixon, my primary cardiologist called to check in on me after looking at the blood work and X-ray. I explained that I also had concerns about the cardiac cath site. Earlier in the week while I was taking a shower, I noticed that it was oozing pus. I squeezed it and it discharged about 1.5 tbls of pus. It wasn’t sore, or hot to the touch and seem to be mostly solid discharge, sort of like a big zit. Dr. Dixon wanted to see this, so it was back to the office again today (Monday). Both Dr. Dixon and Dr. Rosen, who performed the cath procedure, took a look at the site. They extracted a small bit of gunk out of it, but seemed to feel pretty strongly that it was only a skin infection. Still, I was sent home with script for antibiotics for the next 10 days. The biggest concern of everyone is an infection setting into the annuloplasty ring. That would be very bad, so the antibiotics are a precaution.

Finally, today has been a tougher than normal day. It seems my BP has a tough time catching up when I stand up. It’s been worse than ever today, a couple of times I was wondering if I’d black out completely. Dr. Dixon reduced the Enalapril by 50% (1xday) starting this evening, so we’ll see if that helps at all.

  • Lessons learned this week:
    Patience is everything in post-OHS recovery. This is a long, slow road. It may seem like one step back for every step forward, but you have to take each milestone as a sign of progress (reduction in meds, better quality sleep).
  • The recovery process takes a lot out your general constitution. The hot flashes, and being really hungry, despite lack of activity seems to indicate the the body is in full-on recovery mode.
  • Getting out for walks is a huge benefit for mental as well as physical well being. Just like doing a workout at the end of tough day.

More next week

Surgery and hospital recovery (17-22 Sep 2015)

During the run up to scheduling surgery, Dr. Macgovern told me that I would need a cardiac catheterization procedure to check my coronary arteries for any blockages, and if any were found, they would fix them “while they had the hood open”. So we scheduled the cath for Thursday morning, 17 September, then I would be admitted to the hospital for surgery early on Friday morning, the 18th.

The last few days at work were hectic, similar to going out on vacation. All of my team and management partners were very supportive. They wanted me to focus on getting through surgery and recovery and they would take care of the rest.

Since I have had allergic reactions to iodine, and the cath contrast is iodine based, I started on the hospital’s anti-allergy protocol the night before. 50mg of prednisone 13 hrs, 7hrs and 1hr before the procedure, along with 50mg of Benadryl 1hr before the procedure.

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Thursday morning I got to the hospital and sent straight down to the cath lab. Mom arrived after I was already in the prep area, but she sat with Fran during the procedure. I was given an IV drip and IV sedative (valium?) then sent into the main lab area. I was conscious, and I wanted to watch the procedure. They were going in through my right side groin area so I was propped up on my left side and had a pretty good view of the ginormous monitor set up in the room. Looking around the room reminded me more of a flight deck on a sci-fi movie space ship than an operating room. Lots of LCD stuff, equipment on multi-pivot arms. Lots of chrome, bright white, black and blue lettering. It was impressive.

The whole process is only about an hour long. I got to see them get the catheter up to my heart and felt then saw the contrast solution go through my coronary arteries. That was pretty cool.

The rest of the day was spent napping, watching some TV and just hanging out. Fran went home in the early evening.

Friday Fran came into my room early, around 5:00am. Surgery was scheduled 7:00am. Shortly after she arrived the pre-surgery vitals and IVs got started, and I got a strong sedative in the IV. I’m assuming this was also valium, but don’t know for sure. I vaguely remember getting taken out of the room, but nothing after that point. I’m told that my sister in law Sheryl, and brother Steve and my mom arrived while I was in the procedure. I was in the procedure about 4 hours. After the procedure, Dr. Macgovern gathered everyone in to the conference room and told them that everything went well, and they could see me in recovery. Afterward, they were told to go home as I’d be in recovery for several hours. At some point I started to gag on the ventilation tube, and they pushed me back under a bit longer as they were’t ready for me to come all the way out yet. Approximately 7pm, they did take the tube out and I do recall this, but only from the physically feeling, I don’t recall ever opening my eyes during that process. Fran called the hospital about 8 and was told I was awake and doing well. She zipped down to see me. I was awake, and sitting up in bed, feeling a bit out of sorts, but not as bad as I expected to feel. Of course I was pretty well hopped up on pain meds and still under the influence of anesthesia.

Boy was I happy to see Fran, and I could tell she was really relieved to see me sitting up and smiling. We visited for a bit, then she went home. I was really, really thirsty, but the nurse was strictly limiting my intake as I came more fully out of the anesthesia. I got ice to chew and that helped. I had problems with violent vomiting during my last surgery (hernia, 34 years prior) and did NOT want to go through that again. Any coughing I did was quite painful. I had three chest tubes in me draining out the lungs, one of which wrapped around to my back, and those would rub or vibrate when I had to cough, not to mention the shaking of my chest. I got the standard heart pillow to hug tightly to help cough. I did throw up just a bit, but it was very small. Always listen to the nurses. They do know best. My CICU nurse Lenore, was from Jamaica. Stunningly beautiful, wickedly funny and a total professional. I don’t think I could have been in better hands.

I could not see the clock very well, but I figured I was down in ICU for at least 30 hours. At some point Lenore got me up and sitting upright in a chair. Again, pain levels were no where near what I had expected, and I actually felt pretty good. Sore abs, like I worked my core way to hard. About 10pm while I was sitting up, my mom called. She was pretty upset and had clearly been crying. I knew that she was taking this whole process pretty hard, but she calmed down pretty quickly once she heard my voice and I could tell her that I felt pretty good.

There was a delay in getting room in the Gagnon Center so I hung out in the CICU. I think I got some jello and juice for breakfast, then I finally got the urinary catheter removed, and then transferred to a wheelchair and sent up to my room. I think I was in my final room by 2:00pm.

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The rooms at the Gagnon Center are all single rooms, and set up very nicely. They are visually appealing, spacious and some have halfway decent views of the woods behind the hospital. I’ve stayed in smaller, and much less attractive hotel rooms.

As usual with any stay in the hospital there was an entire team dedicated to my care, and dedicated to ensure I sleep no more than 45 minutes at a stretch. Lots of wake-ups to check vitals (BP, temp, pulse and pulse O2), administer meds and just to see how I was doing. At this point I had three IV lines in my body (each arm, and jugular vein). My meds included pain reduction, which cycled between morphine, percoset and tramadol. I don’t do well on opiates, and by Sunday I really wanted to be off of them. When they kicked in I could not keep my eyes open and all and would be sliding in and out of sleep for hours. Even when the meds were wearing off, I was groggy. They finally settled on alternating between percoset and tramadol, and then finally got off the percoset by Sunday evening.

At some point on Saturday I was weighed in my bed and was told I was up to 181 lbs. I don’t recall EVER being that heavy, but the nurse tech told me that this was all water weight gain. As I looked over my normally vascular arms and legs, I realized I couldn’t see a single vein. I was one puffy boy. But I was also on diuretics and they started kicking in about the time that I was told I could get up and move around on my own. The cardiac rehab nurse came in and had me get up and walk down the hall a bit and back to my room. After she observed this, and I didn’t experience any dizziness or cardio-respiratory issues, I could get up and walk on my own, and should do so a few times each day.

Truly, the most uncomfortable part of the process (besides trying to cough) was the drain tubes. The one that wrapped around the back (inside of me) was irritating nerves in my lower back on the right, and eventually lead to pretty serious referred pain into my shoulder area. There just wasn’t a great way to sit or lie comfortably to relive the discomfort.

But later Sunday afternoon I was told the drains would be coming out. By this time the nursing team and cardiology team were all raving about how quickly I was recovering. I was improving by the hour, and it was a testament to the fitness I was carrying in to the procedure. It also helped that I had no other medical issues, was on no other medication and was a good bit younger than any other patient I met in the hospital during my stay.

Once the drain tubes came out, I was a LOT more comfortable. Slowly the IVs came out as well, until I was just left with the one in my right hand.

Each succeeding night I was left alone for longer durations between meds and vital sign reads. I tried to get back to my usual bed time/lights out at 10:30, and then up by 6:00-6:30. Usually I’d be up earlier as the blood draws would be taken between 4:00-4:30am and I wouldn’t sleep much after.

Sunday and Monday I got to choose all my meals. While I had some appetite, it still wasn’t back to normal mostly due to the pain meds. Also, my lower GI wasn’t working well until late Sunday afternoon. While the food was OK, it wasn’t great and left a lot to be desired. For example, Sunday’s lunch was going to be a chicken Caesar salad. I assumed (wrongly) that it would come with dressing, at least on the side. What I got was cold chicken strips on a bed of dry lettuce with croutons. What I DID find out was that there was a small kitchen area with other food for patients to get as they needed. Simple stuff like jello, juices, sandwiches etc. So I was able to put together a decent PB&J on toast a little later.

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I also had a great set of visitors stopping by to check in on me. Fran was a constant presence there with me every day. My brother Steve and Andy both stopped by, as did the pastor at our church, is also an old high-school friend. My triathlete friend Matt stopped by as did fellow cardiac athlete Laura. Mom stopped by and brought gifts of a book and a new Tommy Bahama shirt. During the whole time I was in the hospital, I was getting floods of emails, text messages and FB posts supporting my recovery. Friends from all over the world logged in to show their support, well wishes, prayers and simple words of encouragement. There were also a health doses of sarcasm, humor and ass-crackery as befits those who know me best.

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On Monday, it was pretty clear that I was recovering well enough to be cut loose on Tuesday, so everything got accelerated. My meds were cut back again, my discharge paperwork started to make it’s way through the system, Dr. Macgovern stopped by to let me know that he was approving my discharge. We did discuss the situation that resulted in needing a sternotomy vs the less invasive process we agreed to post surgery. The explanation he gave indicated that once I was under anesthesia and was intubated, the esophageal echocardiogram showed a very minor leak in the aortic valve. While small enough that it didn’t warrant repair at this time, the drugs that would be used to stop my heart would swell the muscle and it could lead to worsening of the leak, if the muscle wasn’t protected well. He could not ensure adequate protection without going through the sternum, so it was a choice for safety. I have no problems at all with that choice, and given how well I’ve been recovering, I’m not sure it would have made much difference in the end.

Monday night was relatively peaceful. Tuesday morning came and my new RN Laura started gathering up all the info I’d need and we went through all the discharge and post op stuff I’d need once I got done. I did have some nursing students stop in for vitals, as it seems Tuesday is a training day for them. Laura mentioned that I’d be a good patient for the students, since I was doing so well and was positive and upbeat. That felt good to hear.

Finally the cardiologist stopped by to officially declare me “released” and I was able to walk out of the room about 90 minutes later.

Some key points I learned through this process:
The whole process is so much more advanced than I was really prepared for. From the cath process which used a new foam “filler” to close the hole in my vein, to the mix of meds to the total lack of post-op antibiotics, so much was different than I had expected.

Everyone on the med team was more than willing to help me learn about the process. They really wanted to make.

Nurses run the hospital. Ask them questions, listen to their answers and do what they say. They were completely committed to making me as comfortable as possible in order to get me out of the hospital as quickly as possible. I truly appreciated each and everyone of the team of nurses, techs and other staff that worked with me. Total professionals across the board.

A new adventure

Shifts in ones life can be subtle. Sometimes they are slowly revealed in a series of small changes over many weeks, months or years. My journey as an endurance athlete was something like this. Other times, the shifts can be dramatic and sudden. Such was the case when the phone rang on Wednesday, August 5th. That’s when I got the news that I’m now a cardiac patient, and need surgery.

I’ve known about my mitral valve issue for about 10-11 years and always knew that it would need to be addressed at some point in the future. But I thought that future would be a long way off, and beyond the point that my endurance sport career had ended. At my last physical, my GP suggested that the heart murmur sounded worse, and I should probably arrange for an updated echo test. On Monday I had the test, and my cardiologist called with the news on Wednesday.

Of course, this comes about two weeks AFTER I signed up for Ironman Lake Placid.

So my life-path has diverged and I begin a new chapter of my life. Got it.. I’m trying to go into this change as any in my life; buy learning, and reading and understanding as much as I can and they writing and talking and teaching about what I learn. I’m already starting down that path by getting involved with on-line groups and real-life folks, building a large team to get myself through this.

So this blog is likely to change up a bit, or may even shut down and be re-created in some other form. But I’m going to have to have some sort of outlet for this journey. Stick around for the ride.

2015 – The beginning

My plans for more consistency in training went by the boards in 2014, so I’m going to try to do better in 2015. So far I’ve been doing pretty well with two-hour MTB rides over the last three days. Today the weather will be working against me, but I’m going to try and get out for a run, or at the very least, a strength training session.

I’m also going to try to snap a pictures every day. It’s a forcing function to get me to stop, take a breath and look around a bit. Time flies by too fast, and I ned to take time to appreciate stillness everyday.

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This was taken along the trail at Six Mile Run park. It was a great day out on the bike, and I just had to stop and grab a shot.

The voice of experience…

When I signed up for IMAZ I had visions of hitting a PR and continuing on my long term plans to get to Kona.  During the early part of the season I was hitting my workouts, staying healthy and having fun, all good signs to having a great race.

In April, I was presented with an opportunity to join a fast-growing start-up company. Somehow, I rationalized that taking the job shouldn’t impact my training too much, and I could make some adjustments as needed.  Then the 60-70hr work weeks and heavy travel schedule started, and my workout log began to get filled with zeros.

After a couple of months of craziness, I sat down and thought through all the reasons that I wanted to race IMAZ, and tried to prioritize them.  I knew that the PR unlikely and that my work schedule would continue to get in the way of training.  I wasn’t even sure I could train enough to finish.  But I never wanted to bail out on the race.  What I hadn’t told many people was that I had originally signed up for the race to honor my stepbrother Hollis, who committed suicide in March 2013.  Hollis was always excited to hear about my racing, and I had promised him I’d race IMAZ and he could come see the event.  However, he was never able to see me race.  But I still wanted to keep my promise.

Family H-Man

So I spoke with Coach Debi and explained my work situation and she adjusted the plan and kept me on task as well as she could.

As many of you know, 4 weeks from race weekend, I had a bike accident where I injured my right leg, and kept me off the bike and off running for about two weeks.  So come race week, I knew I was going into Tempe woefully under-trained (less than 200 hrs since Jan 1), but ‘over rested’.  My one last hope was that I could draw on my experience racing the distance six times prior to IMAZ.

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Thursday of race week, Ultimate IronSherpa Fran and I flew out to Tempe, having shipped the bike via TriBike Transport.  Our travels were uneventful and we arrived in Tempe ready and determined to have fun.  My stepmother (Hollis’ mom) and her husband were going to join us for the circus that is Ironman, and Jason & Powerbar came through with VIP passes for the four of us.  Friday I picked up the bike, and reassembled it only to find that I could not get the Garmin Vector power meters to register on either my Garmin 810 or 910xt.  So I wouldn’t be able to race using power readings, just my HR and experience.

Friday night we attended the VIP viewing of the Ironman World Championship DVD at the beautiful Tempe Center for the Arts.   It was a small affair with drinks and nibbles, then the video viewing.  As usual, the video was awesome and inspirational.  Watching Rinny Carfrae come back from a 14min deficit was just the sort of visualization I needed for my race.  If she could WIN by running on guts and experience, then I could finish using the same formula. And have fun doing it.

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Saturday meant early bike check in, transition bag drop off, then back to the room for calm, quiet reflection, reading, TV watching and mental preparation.  Fran knows that I’m not a lot of fun the day before a big race, since I’m not much for conversation during this time.  So she went out to dinner with my family and I hung out.  I actually enjoy the quiet time before race day, and Saturday was no different.  I get to visualize my race day, make my final strategy plans, go over the course on paper and in my head, think about where I’m going to see my family and friends, and make last minute adjustments to special needs bags.  But mostly I reflect on the reasons I want to put myself through the ordeal.  I think the most important point for me this year, was that I had external motivation to race.  I wanted to honor Hollis, and I wanted to make my family proud by doing so.

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Race morning started early, getting my nutrition down, personal needs dealt with and then off to transition.  Our hotel was only 1/2 mile from the transition area, and because of the layout, there weren’t a lot of crowds to deal with.  IMAZ is run really well, and has the best spectator layout and athlete flow that I’ve experienced.  I quickly dropped off special needs bags, got my bike set up then Fran & I camped out in the VIP tent near the swim finish unti it was time to race.  Having the VIP passes meant that I could sit in a relatively quiet and uncrowded place, have a cup of coffee and (most important) a clean bathroom without a line!

The pro men went off at 6:45 and the pro women 5 min later.  The swim is in Tempe Town ‘Lake’ which is really a dammed up stretch of the Salt River.  If you picture a cement drainage ditch, about 75 yards wide, you have a good image of the venue.  The swim is one lap, upstream on the way out, and downstream coming back, with no current to speak of.  Because the lake level was down, they could not use the normal starting point, so we all climbed down the swim exit steps, jumped in the water and swam 300 yds or so up to the start line just upstream of the Mill St. bridge.  IMAZ is a deep-water mass start, with athletes spread about 1/2 way across the width of the river.  I wanted to stay out of the scrum as much as possible early in the swim, so I put myself right against the wall of the riverbank.  When the gun went off I started swimming and just kept my effort hard for 400 yards, then backed off a bit into steady effort.  I found that if only took breath on my right, I could easily see spectators sitting on the wall, and a lot of them were waving at me.  That was pretty cool, and I waved back at a couple of small kids, making them laugh.  What I failed to remember was that the river curves to the right on the upstream leg, but the course goes straight up the river.  When I finally looked over to my left, I was WAY off the main line of the swim, and had to swim pretty hard to get back nearer to the buoy line.  If you look at my GPS plot, you can see where I started to go back, got into the scrum, swam away from the scrum for a bit, then eased back into the main line.  At the turn around, I was right back into the thick of the swimmers and got kicked in the face for my troubles, I managed to round both corners then again stayed to the far right, out of most of the traffic.  I was continually passing swimmers the whole route, but I wasn’t expending a lot more effort, which felt really good.  As we approached the Mill St. bridge, I checked my watch and saw I was at 1:01.  My race plan had me getting out of the water no later than 1:10, so when I popped up the ladder in 1:07, I was right on schedule.

Transition was a bit of a long run and a bit chaotic since transition bags are placed on the ground in long rows.  The volunteers were scrambling to get bags and it took a little time for me to locate mine, as they were MOVED since we checked them in the night before.  I got my bag, got into the  tent, took some time to clean all the dead grass and mud off my feet, get slathered in sun screen, then off to get my bike.

Once out on the course, it was immediately clear that we would be in for a challenging day.  I watched at least three barricades or signs blow over from the strong, gusty winds.  As we made our zig-zag way out of town onto the Beeline highway, I knew that we would have a strong headwind on the outbound leg and thus have a strong tailwind on the way home.  The bike course is three out-and-back loops, with a long, gradual 5+ mile climb to the turn around on Beeline.  To give you a sense of the winds, my first 1/2 of the first loop was completed in 1:07 (about 18 miles).  I finished the return trip in 43 minutes.  The most challenging part of the ride back was the gusty winds grabbing my deep section front wheel.  A couple of times the wind almost tore the bars out of my hands.  Scary stuff at close to 40mph.

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On the return leg of loop one I told myself to remain patient, that the straight and relatively flat course was the type of terrain I like, and I that my bike really excelled in the wind.  Loops two and three were windier, with stronger steady winds, but less gusty.  The tough conditions were mentally taxing more than physically exhausting.  I had to keep focused on my HR, and less on the speedometer reading 9 mph.  At the turn around on loop three, I got off the bike to use the bathroom and eat one of the bars I brought with me.  The wind had completely dried the bar out so that it was hard as a rock and un-chewable.  That got a laugh out of the volunteer holding my bike.  I pressed a bit harder on the last return trip, and tried to get out of the saddle to stretch, but hamstrings and quads were starting to cramp a bit, so I knew from experience that I was at my limit.  I just kept steady effort to get home safely.  My plans were to finish the bike 6:15-6:30 and I came in at 6:12.  Perfect!

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T2 was pretty quick and I was off on the run.  IMAZ run is a two-loop route with long out-and-back stretches, almost all of it on hard concrete.  There is a stretch of about 2 miles on a crushed stone path.  I had run most of the course when I was in Tempe on a buisness trip in Sept, but I didn’t have the whole route and I managed to miss the one “hill” that is on the backside of the return leg around mile 9-10 and 20-21.  I clicked off the miles, walking all the aid stations end-to-end and just kept moving.

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I was getting passed by a lot of people, but I wasn’t concerned as I knew that steady effort would get me to the finish, and any speed spent now would come back to haunt me later.  At the special needs I pulled out my jacket as the temps were dropping as it got dark. About mile 14 or 15 I met up with a gentleman in my age group going at about my pace, and we got to talking about the race.  This was his 2nd IM and 2nd at Arizona.  He was from Phoenix, and his team mates were running one of the aid stations.  We decided to keep running together and to keep pushing each other along.  That made a HUGE difference in both our races. When one person needed a walk break, the other wouldn’t let it go on too long before saying “OK, lets get back to work” or “let’s get this $%@&? thing done”…  The hard miles between 18 and 23 came and went, and once we made the turn on the Priest St. bridge, we could hear Mike Riley calling out finishers, and we could see the top of the US Air building which marked the finish line. Frank & I picked up the pace just a bit and ran it in to the end.  12:54.

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Of all my Ironman races, this one is my most memorable.  Not for the overall performance, nor for any specific segment.  I was happy to have done the race well, smiling all the way, having a great time, honoring Hollis and my family.  I was able to draw from my prior race experience to manage my effort, deal with race-moment situations and still come out as a finisher.

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