"Rest not. Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time."— Johann Wolfgang Van Geothe
“Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness” - Fyodor Dostoevsky
What you are about to read is not the race report I started to write.
The one I was intending to write started with a comparison of Ironman to a beguiling mistress followed by a bit thanking John Collins for coming up with the masochistic marvel of athletics that is Ironman. I intended on telling you about my race and making a promise vowing vengeance on Lake Placid and the elements for the race I had. It was full of piss, vinegar, and hellbent on coming back to Placid and kicking butt. But, I won't be telling that story. That story doesn't matter anymore.
Rather, events of late have shown me a lot of things and the important point I want to convey is that over the years I lost something, but I found it again at Lake Placid. I found it on a day so righteously wrong that it wound being right. A day where, despite consuming so much water I nearly had gills, I still lost 9% of my body weight. A day where one family brought towels and wetnaps out to clean me up after throwing up in their yard. Twice.
A warning before proceeding, this will be a long race report. While I will tell you about my race as best I can recall, there are bigger issues that came out of the race...I needed to write this as a memorial, a record of sorts, or maybe just something to be held accountable to later on. So if you're allergic to metaphysical or existential self-analysis, consider yourself warned. If you want to read the story of my Lake Placid 2012, read on....
Arrived in Lake Placid on Wednesday so that I could settle into the house that Brian "Ed Hardy" Richards had rented out near White Face. I was initially skeptical about staying outside of town, but it turned out to be the perfect location. The house was brand spanking new (And currently selling for $549,000), really beautiful, and secluded so it was quiet. Of course there was no cell phone reception so if a crazed deformed chainsaw wielding madman had come to cut our carbon fiber to pieces we were sunk. Thankfully that never happened.
Thursday was a light training day and time to check in for the race. After a quick loop of the swim course I headed to the Yost compund to sample some of Bob Bartolo's 35 year old pancakes. They were awesome. After another short training day Friday, I headed back to the house at White Face and started getting my bags together. I calculated my nutritional needs and divvied up my food for the race. Saturday I went for a quick two mile run with Brian and my legs felt great. I was ready. After racking my bike and handing in my bags, it was back to the house for rest and relaxation.
My goal for the race was 11:30, which was completely within reason based off of training data and predictors. Of course no race is run with predictors and possibilities.
I got up at 3am and started to get ready. After a shower (I don't know why, I like to feel fresh and clean) I got my kit on, donned my Superman t-shirt and headed out, breakfast in hand.
My breakfast for races used to consist of oatmeal and banana's, but I've found these sit in my stomach like a brick. Over the last year I've transition to having a Chocolate Chip Clif Bar with two table spoons of peanut butter about two hours before the race. I was sipping water and G2 and headed into town around 4am. Mark Yost was gracious (Isn't he always?) enough to let me park at his house and after milling about, we all headed to transition around 5am.
If you've never been to an Ironman on race morning, it is truly a sight. Hundreds of volunteers ably serving, a brightly lit, tightly confined transition area with millions of dollars of bikes, and athletes, lots of nervous athletes. Coming down to the Olympic Oval you can see the entire area teeming with energy it gets your heart racing...and the fear rising.
After body marking, setting my bottles on my bike, and tending to my swim and bike bags, I headed to the MMTC tent to hang out until the race started. Once again the MMTC peeps brought the house and we had one of the best tents at the race. It's not hyperbole to say that MMTC's cheering, support, and signs made the race. Knowing another friend was around another corner or at the next aid station really meant a lot.
At 6:40, I made my way over to the swim start and saw my good friend Lenny Rogers. Gave him a huge hug, told him it was a blessing to race with him on this stage, and wished him well. Lenny wound up setting a PR at the race and I think it was my hug that did it for him. Really, my hugs are magical.
Nothing will get your heart racing like hearing Mike Reilly counting down to the start of an Ironman. You can't not get excited, it's impossible. The cannon (No guns here) went off and like Koi trying to get a pellet in a pond, 3000 people started swimming together all headed for a bright yellow cord called "the line."
Swimming the line, though, can be a time saving strategy but also brings great peril. If you swim the line you don't have to sight, which allows you to swim faster. If you swim the line, however, you will be subjected to a beating the likes of which you've never experienced unless you were the fat kid with the Star Wars lunch box who wore husky jeans in second grade...Ahem, no names shall be mentioned.
Anyhow, during the first loop of the swim I counted at least five punches to the midsection, three kicks to the head, and at least three full on ankle grabs. It was just like when I was in second grade and...Um, nevermind.
During the second loop the mess cleared slightly and the assaults were minimized. However, with about 400 meters to go I got swum over and then person stopped doing freestyle when they got over me and switched to breast stroke. Unfortunately my face was in front of their left foot when they switched and I got kicked in the head. Hard. Twice.
I walked out of the swim in a bit of a daze, got stripped of my suit, and jogged towards the transition area about 1/3 of a mile away. The crowds were thick along the path to transition and it was already a bit warm, which would be a harbinger of things to come.
There was a moment on the run into the tent where I wondered if it was actually a good idea to continue. I wasn't afraid of the race, I was afraid that I wasn't all together in my head. In fact, I was so loopy in T1 that I didn't even notice the pungent scent of....dudes
Brian Richards was waiting for me as I ran into T1 and was a godsend. He helped me get my stuff on and asked me twice if I was OK. I think I only replied "I got kicked in the head." Brian patted me on the helmet, and sent me on my way, shoes in hand. Rather than putting my shoes on in the tent and running on the oval looking like a newborn pony, I decided to don my shoes near the bike mount area. This is a key strategy for Lake Placid since the risk of injury running on the oval is great, as is the risk of clogging your cleats with mud by running 100 yards in the grass.
Bike (6:08:27; 18.3 mph):
The bike at Lake Placid is a pretty straightforward affair. Climb out of town for the first 7 miles, bomb down to Keene for 6 miles, roll to Ausable Forks for 25 miles, and then climb back to Lake Placid for 18 miles since the 7 "new" miles from Ausable Forks are slightly uphill.
My strategy on the bike was to control my effort, take one bottle of water at each aid station, pop a salt tab every 10 miles, and consume 250-300 calories per hour. I thought this would leave me in a good position to be fueled for the run and well hydrated. For the first hour of the bike I was sweating profusely (normal) but replacing all of my fluids with bottles on the course. The descent to Keene was one of the most harrowing things I have ever experiences, including the same road in the torrential downpour of 2008. I was holding speeds of 40-45 mph and people were blowing by me like I was standing still. Once we got onto the flats to Ausable I caught most people and was holding sustained speeds of 24-27 mph. I felt in total control and everything was going according to plan.
Once we started the 2 mile climb to Wilmington, I noticed that it was really warm and I was still sweating profusely which was not normal. I saw a TriLife guy on the side of the road and asked if it was hot. He replied "Damn straight it is; it's 85 right here." Holy smokes that was hot and I looked down at my trisuit to see that I was already covered in salt stains.
All was going well on the bike until Mile 43 when, out of the clear blue, my left groin/adductor area went on full lockdown. As in I could barely pedal while seated and had to stand on the pedals to shake out the leg. It had first happened at Eagleman five weeks earlier and what I assumed was merely an adductor cramp was actually a torn gracilius muscle in my left thigh. I was able to keep pedaling and the "cramp" would release over the course of a few minutes, but could return at any moment. Good times, really.
The second loop of the bike course was a lot like the first loop except that it was hotter and windier, but the traffic was thinning out. My left leg gave me problems every 5-10 miles and I was getting frustrated since I thought it was a salt issue. Whoops.
At mile 106 of the bike, as the wind in the gorge pushed against us like a wall, I said to the guy next to me "You know, I love riding my bike, but right now I don't want to ride my (bleeping) bike anymore."
All tolled I had 15 bottles of water on the bike and two bottles of calories. I ate all my food (Clean plate club award!) according to schedule. I did not, though, pee, which was not a concern for me at that point.
I got off the bike at the dismount line and fully expect my legs to revolt, but nothing happened. I clip clopped to my bags and hit the tent...
The one thing I did for this race that I have never done before was leave notes for myself in my T2 bags. When you come off of the bike, you're in a very weird state of being fatigued, but also pretty amped up yet your mind isn't clear. I took T2 as a place to reset the mechanism and get ready for the run, so leaving a note that said "Empty your pockets" was a good idea. I was able to get rid of wrappers, warm GU, and an extra CO2 I had, none of which would have served me on the run.
I had some issues with my socks and foot powder in transition, but once I got it figured out, I grabbed my baggie of nutrition (yes even at Ironman), slapped on some sunscreen, and headed out of the tent onto the marathon course where I thought most of my time would be spent on River Rd, but instead it was spent on the road to Perdition.
Run (5:04:49; 11:39 mpm)
The run plan was to let me legs flow down the first hill and shake them out on the two rollers out to the horse show grounds and onto River Rd. My goal was to eventually run straight 8's and come in at a 3:30 marathon. First mile was 7:18, second mile was 7:28, third mile was 7:48 and the plan seemed to be working. Heart rate was perfectly fine and I felt great. I yelled for Mark Yost and Steve Levickas as they passed going outbound on their loops. All seemed well and I thought running 18 two weeks earlier in 105 degree temps trained my body well.
Shortly after passing Chip Warfel on the run (And singing Happy Birthday as I went by), I started to feel, well, bad. Like "Oh boy this is not going to be good" bad. After a mile or so waves of nausea starting rippling over me accompanied by some awesome cramps in my upper back, lower, back, hamstring, hell, everywhere. I was reduced to a walk and thought I could walk it out, but as I passed a lovely example of an Adirondack house I bent over and, well, yeah...The couple sitting in their driveway was a bit shocked and the woman leaned to husband and said "Honey, go get a towel." After leaving what I thought was most of my stomach contents over their lawn, the kind folks cleaned me up and asked if I was OK. I said I was and continued, but knew it was going to be a long 22 miles.
I wish I could say that my mood lighten or loosened after realizing that my race was not going to go as planned. I wish I could say I turned into a cheery chap happily dawdling along the rest of the run/walk/crawl. I wish. Rather my mood darkened and while I tried to encourage those I knew on course, I was hurting more and more with each step. At Special Needs all of the "goodies" I left in the bag seemed positively revolting and when Heather B asked how I was doing all I could say was "Everything hurts" and grumpily moved on.
Taking in food didn't work because I was nauseous so I relied on some deflated coke, warm water, and on the second loop, chicken broth. Apparently my GI system didn't like one portion of River Rd because I got sick again on Loop 2. On the same lawn. And the couple did the same thing they did before, which was awesome.
Around Mile 22 I was in a dark place. Perhaps the darkest place I have ever been in when racing and it hurts my heart and spirit to recall that place. Even now I don't think it possible to truly convey how bad I felt. My legs were cramping, my head was hurting, I was hungry, my goal time was out the window, and I really, honestly, truly didn't know if I even wanted finish. As I walked along River Rd I would try to run and immediately being stopped by a cavalcade of cramps and nausea I was despondent. Ironman was truly administering a harsh dose of hurt and force feeding me an all you can eat buffet of humble pie.
As I was crawling deeper into the hole perhaps never to come out, I heard my name softly being called "Bob...Bob...."
It was Leslie Miller. My friend. My hero. An angel.
She was on her first loop and looked great, the exact opposite of me. . Before the race I promised Leslie a huge hug on the run course and when I saw I tried to turn to her, but my legs wouldn't move. The mere though of going backwards on the course caused them to lock up in protest. Leslie saw my pained expression and came over to me. She gave me a hug and all I could mutter was "I'm having a really bad day." She squeezed harder and told me to finish strong. I hugged her back, kissed her on the cheek and said thank you.
It isn't hyperbole to say that Leslie pulled me out of the hole. If look you at my run splits there was a noticeable pick up in my pace because of Leslie. Talk about magical hugs. Suddenly my legs hurt less, my spirit was raised, and I was headed home to the finish. The main street hill still hurt, but I got up and through the out and back without my legs completely falling off.
Coming into the oval you are charged up with the feeling that (a) you're almost done (b) holy crap I did an Ironman and (c) holy goodness this is THE Olympic oval. I checked back to see if anyone was behind me ( Need a good finish line shot), adjusted the uniform (to make the sponsors happy), high fived Kathi Cover 50 yards from the finish and after 12 hours and 51 minutes, heard Mike Riley say "Robert Villanueva from Cockeysville, MD YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!" We even have video.
After crossing the line Keely Ireland caught me, got me my shirt and hat, and helped me over to the railing. I bent over and the enormity of the day hit me...and I cried. Like a baby. Ok, now I know it seems like I cry all the time, but, um, I'm in touch with my softer side and feelings. Really. Or there's just a lot of ragweed and pollen. Nonetheless the release of emotions felt good because of the dark place I was in just 45 mins ago.
After pulling it together Keely walked with me to the massage tent and stayed with me while some dude went all shiatsu on my legs. When he was done, I stood up and, well, that's when the fun started as my blood pressure collapsed worse than Facebook's stock after the IPO. I muttered "I don't feel so good" bent over onto the massage table and in the words of Howard Cosell "Down goes Frazier!"
I was taken (dragged maybe?) to the med tent and was put on a scale. I was down almost 19lbs despite drinking 400 plus ounces of fluids during and immediately after the race. The only real memory I have of the med tent is me holding a shoe in one hand, a hat and sunglasses in another, and wearing my medal. Damn if anyone was going to take my medal. After a few mins I started feeling better and able to walk. Keely got me to the exit of transition where Heather B had my bike and bags.
We walked my bike back to Mark Yost's house and, apparently, had a street-side conversation with Mark and Steve Levickas as they ate their dinner, having finished hours earlier. I wish I could tell you what we spoke of, but, well, I don't remember. At Mark's I showered and then apparently had over an hour plus of conversations that, yep, I don't recall. Not one second. I somehow made it back to the rental house at Whiteface (Again, I don't recall the drive) and sat around waiting for people to come home. Despite drinking so much during the I didn't pee until about 1am. If you're doing math, that's over 18 hours without peeing. Yeah, I guess I was dehydrated.
I woke up Monday morning feeling decent and was able to pack my car and get out of dodge pretty quickly. My medal was strung around the passenger seat headrest and had a great view on the ride home to Maryland.
And so closed the adventure of IMLP 2012.
So what went wrong for me at Lake Placid? Well, I could cite lots of things and reasons, but simply put I had a bad race on a big stage.
Hindsight is 20/20 and the essence of the issue was, as Mark Yost said, "you cannot cram for Ironman." You have to put in the massive volume weeks months out from the race. I tried to "cheat" Ironman and do a ton of volume in the five weeks after Eagleman. Riding 900 miles in the five weeks before Placid and running another 170 miles seemed like a great idea, but it simply did not work. Was I tired or fatigued? I certainly didn't feel it, but my legs showed otherwise.
In analyzing my race, I also realize that a mistress like Ironman (C'mon I had to work this in somehow) doesn't like you to cheat on her with other races. In short, I raced way too much this spring and early summer. It was a conscious decision and something I do not regret since I won my AG at most races and a national championship, but it is true. If you race a lot, the days of travel and tapering, in addition to the days of bike racking add up. Ironman counts those days and makes you pay.
In the hour or so after the race I received 15-20 emails and texts asking me if I was upset, distraught, alive, pissed, etc. Some of the folks were well meaning and some were, well, not so well meaning. Several folks asked if the pressure on I put on myself was too great; some asked how a medieval beat down at the hands of Ironman felt; and some asked if I felt like I failed.
Pressure? Beatdown? Failed? After finishing an Ironman?
Is this what people thought of me? Is this how I presented myself as a racer and athlete? Is this how I was viewed, that I wouldn't be happy if I didn't do a time "worthy" in my eyes. Apparently, yes.
When you crash and burn people bring up the story of Icarus, a Greek dude (Opa!) who dared to fly with self-made wings, but who fell to the sea when he got to close to the sun. It's a parable about the perils of reaching for greatness or ambition and the fall that inevitably ensues. It's a nice story, but when people cite Icarus, they forget the main point brought up in "Failing and Flying" where Jack GIlbert said "Everyone forgets that Icarus still flew."
Icarus still flew.
Damn straight he did. He still had the audacity, the courage, and the gumption to fly. While he he didn't escape Crete, he tried.
So, despite missing my time goal by 1:20 did I fail at Lake Placid? Not. Even. Close.
Ironman Lake Placid 2012 was the most revealing, humbling, and honest race of my entire life. If Dostoevsky was right and we achieve consciousness when experiencing true pain, then the crucible of an Ironman distilled everything into the simple essences of life and I was able to see the singular, cellular reasons for every action. In other words, the pain opens your eyes and what I saw did not make me happy.
So what did I see and learn?
Well, I learned that I love racing. It truly completes me. But, more importantly, I love riding my bike and running. I've been biking since 2002 and running since 2003 and both bring me unrivaled joy. I got into triathlon because I loved doing these two things, but lost sight of that joy. It makes my physically ill (No not like River Rd) that it took a friends illness, some heartbreak, and a day like I had to show me the truth. I see it now, I get it.
Will I still race in the future? Absolutely. Will I still AWRV (those who know this, know this) when on the bike? Without a question. Will I still run as hard as I can and suffer like a dog? No doubt. Will I still dislike swimming as much as a child dislikes vegetables? C'mon this is me, of course.
What then has changed? Well, from now on I will do all of this because it is fun, not because the training is chore and not because my only goal is to win an award. I will do this my friends out of joy and I will do it happily, all the while cheering for you and trying to help you bring out the best in yourself much as you, as a club, have done for me. I owe it to you and I owe it to myself because our years here on this little marble called Earth are short and it's time to have a bit more fun.
You have my word on that.