Here is the race report from my training partner Kevin Gammon, aka Racer K. I was really happy to see this in my inbox because, a) He is intense and real with his posts, and b) we haven’t really talked about Wisconsin since we raced. Kevin and I spent a lot of time together (much of it beating each other up in the water) the last nine months and became good friends who shared a lot of highs and lows. Hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
IMOO 2013 Race Recap – Kevin Gammon
Warning: This is long. It is an Ironman. What do you expect? Read it in chunks if you like. Or not at all. Thank you for your consideration in either case.
Traveling to an Ironman competition is far from a vacation. This time around, we had a group of five competitors traveling to Wisconsin and an impressive number of supporters. My best count is around 15 supporters although I’m sure I may be missing a few. A fan-freaking-tastic turn out. My trip to Madison began in the wee morning hours of September 5th. Four future competitors (Jim, Mark, Daniel and myself) and two loving partners (Christina and Bettina) packed their stuff in a van like it was a masters game of Tetris and hit the road well before the Nashville rush hour.
The ride was just as quick and painless as a root canal but we managed to make it, twelve grueling hours later, without voting the weakest link out of the van.
Daniel, Christina, and myself decided to stay at a hostel for the trip. Well, Daniel and I decided and Christina more or less got stuck with it. She was very unhappy with the situation, which made things a bit stressful, but she did her best to put up with it for me. I know it wasn’t easy, thank you for that. The hostel was a hostel- for those of us who don’t mind such things it was a great, cheap way to travel. Daniel and I even got lucky, completely by accident, and ended up with our own “room.” Meaning we had a small wall with no door between us and the other four beds.Ok, enough about the hostel, if you would like to hear more about that traumatic experience I am sure it will end up on my girlfriends blog – here. The first night we take on a local pub for a few brews and then the Great Dane.Day two consisted of an hour at athlete check in, a quick walk through the expo, and some time with my parents who drove up for the race. Later that night we had our only full team dinner and a mediocre Italian restraint. We were surprised when coach decided to show up. He pulled a nice little trick making us think he was in Vegas and popped up. We now had the fab five, our small group from Rx Endurance, a coach, and a boat load of significant others. A well supported race. But this is also one of the most stressful parts. If you have been following the Fab Five reality series and kept count while reading this, you noticed that I had four distinct circles of people there for me- Christina, the RxE Group, the non-RxE group, and my family. A lot of people in this situation would just say good luck guys and worry about the race. But I’m just not that kind of person. Coordination is difficult and stressful. Finally we get to Saturday. The Rx team had an easy pre-race hour workout (which ended up taking two hours) followed by bike gear check in.
Speaking for myself, bike gear check in is the first time all weekend where the athlete can really relax. There is officially nothing left to do except race and mentally go over your race.
It felt good to finally relax. And by relax I mean hunt cheese and food. It seems Madison shuts down between 2 and 5. Seriously guys, what is wrong with you? So, the day before the race I am irritated, nervous, have sore feet from walking, and I’m hungry because apparently all you can do is drink in the afternoon. If you really want to excel in your Ironman do not do what I did. Finally, my 5th group rolls into town- Eddy and Steven. Luckily I trust Eddy like a brother and know he will get things done with no assistance needed. We crawl over to a little pub, work out the spectator details, and then head to a small indian restraint for dinner. At some point during dinner I finally relax. It is that point when you realize there is nothing left to do. Everyone has a plan. You finally have food because the restaurants in Madison are off their siestas. Your shit is in transition. Crap will be over, one way or another, in twenty-four hours. Give or take a few hours.
I slept like a baby that night. No fear. It was strange. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well before a race. I did wake up a bit before the alarm but didn’t mind. Its much easier to get ready before anyone else was awake. Met up with CK in the kitchen for breakfast, waited for Daniel, and then traveled to transition for body marking.
Coach called it right in his race recap. My love of punctuality got me in the water early. I was about the 10th non-pro to enter the water. Cool except that I had to tread water around 30 minutes give or take. I latched onto the ramp to help rest a bit. Closer to the start of the race I noticed Jim and Mike to the right of the ramp but I couldn’t get their attention. Instead I decided to creep up as much as the kayakers would allow trying to steal a few meters. Yes, you can do that. I had an aggressive plan that had me skipping all of the buoys except the turn buoy. I caught a dip in the trees that looked like a V at the end of the swim course and called that my sighting target. The cannon goes off and the day starts. I actually didn’t have to fight many people for a few hundred meters. Why? Because I’m not a shitty swimmer. I started in the front and, at least with the people around me, stayed in the front for a while. Then again I am also not the fastest.Eventually people caught up with me and the melee began. As much shit as I talk in the water I actually tried to be nice. I can be violent, just ask Mike, but these people had dreams of finishing just like I did.
As long as they didn’t intentionally do anything to me I let them go. I didn’t pull or push anyone without good reason. However, if you did things on purpose, and Mr. D. Head next to me found out, I do retaliate. He pulled a little maneuver where you grab someone’s (my) shoulder, push them (me) under, and propel yourself forward. Hell no. I grab his feet and yanked him under, elbowed him, and kicked like swimmers with bad form just to remind him that there are bigger fish in the water. I hope cried and coughed up water on the bike.Other than that there is a constant bump and grind because most people simply can’t swim a straight line. I couldn’t without some wonderful coaching and long practices. I get it. You get a free pass. Unless you choose to keep doing it after light correction.
The big problem I had from the swim actually came from the wet suit. I still am not 100% sure about what caused it- its never happened before and I’ve logged some serious hours in the wet suit. Neck chafing. Serious, serious neck chafing. It started to hurt so bad that it hindered my form. I had difficulty properly extending my arm and reaching. Meaning, on my right (most powerful) side, I could not properly extend, catch, and pull. I still had the follow through. But that really sucked. Especially after practicing all summer. But you work through it. It’s an Ironman after all. (Not a luau, right coach?). He may kick me out of the group for that.So, I come out of the water pissed but overall on target. I had planned to swim easy because, while I knew I could swim faster, I also knew it would take valuable energy that I needed on my weakest leg: the bike. The gains in time from my usual swim would not outweigh the loss of performance on the 112 mile hilly, windy little course coming up.
Swim time: 1:26:08
I came out of the swim annoyed. I knew I had held back and wanted to be further ahead, my neck hurt like hell, and I was dreading the long hours I knew were up next on the bike. I ran up and found two helpful wetsuit swimmer but things did not go according to plan. They had a hard time getting my wetsuit off and lost my goggles. The sat around searching for them for a bit and I said “fuck it guys, this is taking too long” and ran off.
I am fairly certain I heard my parents, Christina, and Eddy but I don’t remember actually seeing them. Water dries out my contacts. Inside the Mona Terrace things were equally frustrating. I ran around looking for a place to sit down before giving up and standing to change and not a single volunteer offered to help me with my gear. Let me repeat that- at every single point on the course I loved the volunteers except in transition. I’ll bring it up again when I talk about T2 but during my entire time in changing area not a single volunteer even acknowledged me. Period. Not a “hi, good job, let me help” or even playful slap on the ass. Thanks guys. So, I threw my bike stuff on, lathered with enough euro—butter to be considered naughty, packed my gear back up, and I found where to take my bag and left the transition area. I also had some difficulty getting my sun sleeves on (which were completely pointless- it was a perfect cloudy day.) If you are wondering why the hell someone would have a 10-minute T1 when they didn’t even change clothes- that’s why. Well, Madison is a long transition anyway. But not that bloody long. Outside of the changing area the volunteers immediately became more helpful, offering to lather me up with sunscreen. But when the sunscreen hit the neck I knew it. Stupid wetsuits. I jogged down the long transition to find my bike and I was finally off to the longest part of the day. I heard my dad calling my name a I went down the well known spiral and at the end saw Robbie and Allie. Surprisingly, it was comforting. I think I heard my dad as well. The bike ride had begun.T1- 11:35
I’ve been in the tri world from somewhere between 2 and 3 years now. I’ve grown to love the swim and I’ve always enjoyed the run. But I have never been excited about spending 6+ hours on a bike. I don’t know why. The only thing I like about it is being done.
So, lets get to it. Like everything that day, coach had given me a ballpark plan to follow that looked something like this: First 16ish just spin. Chill out and enjoy. The first 40 mile loop use a recon. Go easy and learn the course. Work on the second 40 miles. Go easier on the way home. So that was the plan.
I felt that I was spinning on the way out. I don’t know if the wind was at my back or I was just feeling cheeky but my spin was actually a decent clip between the 18-19 range. I did have some stomach issues and I was afraid I was going to have a Louisville repeat so I forced myself to slow down, eat and drink. The first person I saw on the bike was Daniel. Around mile 20 he caught up. I told him about the stomach. We talked a bit and he went off. When people pass you is the hardest time to stick to your plan. Remember, it is your race. If you run theirs you will most likely suffer. So I let him go. After around another 5 – 10 miles and some long hills, my stomach finally started to feel better and I got my second wind. Oh the hills. I did not scout the course. I think that’s silly. You won’t remember 112 miles (ok, 56 because it’s a loop) and you will freak yourself out because it looks harder than it is. Weight the mental costs and benefits before you hop on the bandwagon. But the difficulty of the hills was surprising. Still not as bad as everyone warned but that is simply because of proper training. I saw several people, even at the beginning, give in and say they were done. Work hard before the race if you are coming to Wisconsin.
The spectators were great. I remember passing a clown in a corn field who spookily pointed the way up the first “major” climb. These climbs had people lining both sides, drums playing, horns blowing. The atmosphere was amazing. Just keep pushing and you will get to the top. Nothing to it. But there were three such climbs close to each other. You will feel it by the end and wonder why someone would make you do it twice. But take heart, you are about to enter the area where a free shuttle runs. That means if you have a good support group, you are about to finally see some people you know. Sure enough at (another) sharp turn I see the smiling faces of John , Robbie, Allie, and Carolyn. Or +2, coach, +1, and Mrs. +2. There may have been others but it went so fast I didn’t catch it. Sorry guys. So I roll up to a water stop, make an ungraceful exchange, and then another group surprises me. Christina, Eddy, and Steven start cheering as I am clumsily taking in water from the bike. Very cool. Its nice to get a second wind. At this point I am afraid I am slightly behind my goal (and I was) because of the need to slow down for my stomach. But I didn’t get sick and I was still rolling. At a minimum I knew that would make this better than Lousiville. So I keep pushing to loop two. (Quick side note- I was wearing my EN kit and a random person yelled ENFL. So someone other than our group really knew EN. I love getting shout outs.)Second loop, same as the first. I stopped a few times on the second loop to stretch a bit. If I had realized how close II was to Jim at that moment I would heave kept going but what can you do. My second loop pace was slower than I liked- I could have sped up a bit but after going through that collection of hills I decided to do my best to save a bit. The course was less crowded- fewer people on the hills. I was glad to be greeted by the Waskys at the same corner. The last few miles in were just a slow and steady spin, trying to relax the muscles and get ready for the run. I was very happy to hand the bike off to volunteers and move on to the rest of my day.
One last note on the bike. It is a technical. There are several sharp turns on fast downhills. When you see a sign that says slow down, do it. I saw one man carried off in an ambulance and multiple people with some serious road rash. Take care people.
Bike Time: 7:11:30
T2 was almost an identical experience as T1 except I was very happy to be off the bloody bike. The day was practically over.
The run is my favorite event. There is more support, more people to talk to, more energy to pull from. Of course it is at the end of having traveled 114.4 miles. It feels good to be running. Changing the motion from the bike. I am having a hard time judging my pace- I feel that I’m going easy but am still clocking some aggressive (for me) miles.
I start off feeling great. Did I mention it was nice to be off the bike? I try to hold myself back because I know its.. well, its still a marathon. Even at what I perceive to be an easy pace turn out to be some decent miles. Not even breathing heavy at this point. What I’m really looking forward to is mile 6ish- where I know my support is waiting- and slowly hunting down some of my friends. Around mile 6 I get a nice shock when I see mighty Mike T close to finishing his first loop. He was looking good and in the zone but popped out of it when I yelled for him. As competitive as we all are it was good to see him ahead, after his change of lifestyle (which took a few months) he truly put in more work than any of us. So, good for him.
So the run continues. There were a lot of little out and backs and then finally the stadium. It was cute to do it one time but I must say not worth the extra effort. After the stadium we traveled up observatory hill (where I choose to walk a bit and save my strength) and then down back into town. (Again around mile 6ish) This is where things good interesting for me. I knew my patience would pay off- I just didn’t know how much, when, or how. But I saw Jim- at what I estimated to be very close. I should have passed him silently but I decided to yell out. I could tell he wasn’t feeling 100% but hell, its an ironman. Who does? It was probably my most mature racing moment when I held myself back and did not speed up to try and pass immediately. It was wise. My “close” estimate was off by a mile. The out and back was much further away than anticipated. I would have blown a lot if I had gotten excited. So I carry on. Around mile 6 was great, it was the first time on the run that I got to see Eddy and Christina (I think Steven was still with them here but I’m not positive). It is a great pick up to see people you care about. So I keep running.Staying slow and steady. Slow and steady. It took about two to two and a half more miles before I caught up with Jim. It was after a small dirty path and towards another turn around. Longer than I thought. But I finally caught up to him. We talk a bit and I hear about his troubles. It does suck. I was having troubles to but didn’t want to say anything. I will say one thing; I’ve had a lot of bad and painful races which prepared me for what Jim felt. I didn’t know if he had the same experiences. So we ran together for a bit. I told him my plan- 12:00 minute miles, anything under I would walk the difference to recover. He stayed with me for about a mile or two until we reached the stadium and he said, “have a good race.” That was the last I saw of him until after the finish line.
Somewhere between the stadium and the turn around I ran into Christina and Eddy again. Eddy decided to run with me a bit- technically illegal but that is a minor detail. It wasn’t long. And then I make it to the first loop turn around. I hear my parents, my friends, and somehow over the roar of the crowd even Robbie’s every present badgering voice. He was perched like a bird of prey above the crowd. But the odd thing was that he was yelling encouragement. I spent the next mile wondering if he was sick or drunk. In either case, it was a good pick up and I kept running. Still feeling great. Still sticking to my plan. All smiles and thumbs up. Knocking people off by the handful.
The second lap is the same for some time. I make it to the stadium and still feel great. I’m slightly sore on the bottom of my feet but not bad. Then I get to the college. Close to observatory hill- and I start to feel the need for a bathroom break. Unfortunate. When I sat down to handle the situation I started to feel dizzy. The dizziness didn’t go away. I soon felt a bit sick to my stomach and sat down for a second. This would be the beginning of the last 8 miles. The last eight were a combination of running happy and painful vomiting. It was probably nutrition. This has been something I have fought with during my entire racing career. On the bright side, the fact that I didn’t have problems until the last 8 miles is a huge improvement.
Let me just hit some highlights. First- the dirt path by the lake sucks at night. Total bull shit. I slowed down at least :30 per mile because I couldn’t see and didn’t want to twist my ankle. But whatever, everyone had to do it. (That hadn’t passed it already.) There was also one moment where I was literally on my hands and knees sick and had to push myself off the ground. A woman in a kangaroo suit offered to run me in the last mile (I declined.) And finally, right before the finish, I saw the RX crew. Clearly intoxicated this time. Allie ran with me a little bit and filled me in on everyone’s status. It was great to have some company. Around the last corner she let me go and went back to wait for Jim. I round the corner and see the arch. I knew my people were there but the lights were so bright and the sound so loud that I couldn’t see anyone. I pull it in, finish the race, and take a deep breath. The day was over.
Run: 5:37 (Note- even though I felt great I am disappointed. This was only a minute fast than Louisville, where I was a bloody fucking mess. I don’t know where this broke down but I was expecting at least 30 minutes faster. Although I do think that was mainly getting sick in the last 8. Who knows?)
Total Time: 14:33:36
Ah. Post race. So beautiful. My “catcher” was a great guy. Turns out we both raced Louisville the year before but the heat got to him and he dropped out. It reminds you how anything can happen on any given day. I leave the chute and I’m only feeling slightly ill. I always feel sick after races by the way. Its almost universal. I sit around for what I perceive as a while and didn’t see my friends/family so I resort the backup plan – The Great Dane. Well, it turns out they were there. I was either so out of it that I couldn’t see them. I later learned that this caused a great deal of panic and confusion. So, I was sitting at the Great Dane. Getting sick mind you. And my friends/family was looking for me on the side of the road and the medical tent. Whoops. Emotions are high. Luckily I find a nice couple that let me borrow their cell phone. Finally we regroup. Friends and family and athlete united. For beer of course. We hit the Great Dane and are quickly joined by Hudgins and Jim and have a great celebration. Now the day was complete!
Well, if you are still reading you are either my friend or looking for a course review. If you are looking for a course review let me give you a quick summary. It is windy and it is hilly. Train appropriately. You will burn your legs on the bike. Period. You can clock out now.
Where do I start for the friends.? Let’s start with my race future. Well, I am taking at least a year off from Ironman. There are several reasons. First, I am going back to school to get yet another masters degree. That takes time. Second, I plan to spend more time in my relationship with Christina. Again, I have put Ironman training first for two years. Its time to look at other things. Also money. This isn’t a cheap sport. The average ironman salary is $126,000 (USAT, 2012.). As a math professor for a small college… well, let’s say I bring the average down. Way down. It is an expensive hobby. My entire 2014 race entry budget (at this point) is a little over half of one Ironman entry. The final reason is that I am thinking about leaving Nashville. It has been a good, long run but things are coming together and the signs are pointing West. I go where life takes me. So I do not want to take on anything serious when I don’t even know where I will be in nine months. Right now I am focusing on running. Mainly because I don’t feel guilty when I miss runs, I can do it “for fun.” The triathlon has always been competitive for me so the guilt of not giving 100% would be uncomfortable.
I’m not sure what that means about my future with RxE. Strict running is not really Robbie’s favorite area. If nothing else I am an RxE alumni.
I’ll still throw in some posts from time to time if MT allows it. I have a race in a week actually. A pleasant walk through the park called Stump Jump. I’m not in my best running shape but again- its about staying in shape and having fun right now. Because I don’t know what else will happen at the moment.
And my post race health? I’m glad you asked. Let me mention a bit about that. Last year, after Louisville, I gained weight, became depressed, and lost direction. This year I have dropped more weight, I’m happy as hell, and I’m very focused. The difference? This time I planned my post season before my race was over. If you are a first time ironman, I highly encourage you to do the same. When you take something that has been such a large part of your life and throw it away- well, it is easy to get in a depressed spiral. This year I had goals- even if they were fun ones- mapped out well before that void hit my life. I am much happier and better off for it.
Thanks to Christina and Carolyn who took most of the pictures you see here!
Read Kevin’s Louisville Race Recap from 2012 here.