Saw this on Hamilton's website. 4:33 for 112 miles plus 10,000 feet of climbing on a windy day. That's 24.6 mph! Freeking flying!
LAS VEGAS, NV: It's been a while since I've written a race report. But over the weekend I tried something new by entering an Ironman Triathlon as part of a relay team. There aren't many opportunities to try my skill at a 112 mile time trial. My longest previous time trial was about 64 kilometers or 40 miles which is a sprint in comparison.
I rode the cycling leg of the 2nd annual Silverman Ironman Triathlon in Henderson, Nevada. The race course is considered one of the toughest of all the Ironman races. The race director decided to get someone to put up a $100,000 challenge to any relay team that could break eight hours.
My friend Howard Jacobs helped organize the team and invited me to be a part of it. The other members were 24 year old University of Florida swimmer Scott Kauffman and 20 year old Kenyan distance runner Ernest Kimeli. Both super talented guys. All of us were specialists in our areas of discipline but none of us had ever participated in a triathlon. So we knew it was going to be an interesting day.
The cycling leg included nearly 10,000 feet of climbing. I knew last year's fastest rider was out there for 5 1/2 hours. So I was preparing for a long day in the saddle. My biggest worry was how and what I was going to eat. In a normal bike race, there are jersey pockets and support cars to help feed you if you are hungry or thirsty. But in this race, there was no team support and only a tiny custom pocket sewn into my new Verge time trial suit to store food.
I wound up eating so much the day before and the morning of the race, I literally started the ride full. In fact I had eaten so much I wound up barely touching the Clif bars, Bloks and Shots I had on board. Every time I tried to force myself to eat, my stomach would threaten to send it back up, so I didn't want to push it.
The swim took place in Lake Mead. Scott flew in from Florida for the race. He is a super talented pool swimmer but has recently discovered his gift for open water swimming. His story about racing a 25K that lasted over five hours would humble the tallest tales of most bike races. Needless to say he is a tough guy.
We knew he would finish first or among the leaders. And he didn't disappoint even though the water conditions were pretty gnarly. There was a ton of wind gusting and the water was really choppy. It was so bad, that a kayaker who was supposed to help keep the leaders on course had to bail at the half way point leaving the front runners to find their own way. Scott finished in around 45 minutes in second place but right on the tail of the winner. It was kind of exciting to see the swimmers running up through the transition area. My adrenaline was definitely pumping.
I was a little nervous about the handoff of the timing chip. I had to strap it to my ankle before taking off. While crouched down on the ground trying to frantically get the velcro bracelet on I could hear someone getting seriously sick. I later found out it was my teammate suffering the effects of taking in too much water from the choppy waves.
The bike course was primarily set through a national park surrounding the lake. The terrain was up and down through the dessert and red rock. I don't think there was a single tree on the course. I was a little concerned when early weather reports were for gusty winds. Temperatures were going to be ideal however, in the mid 60s. As it turned out, the winds were pretty fierce for most of the ride. I stressed over which wheels to put on my bike at the start. I must have changed my front wheel 3 times that morning trying to gauge which would be fastest without sending me sailing. I finally settled on my Zipp 808s.
For the first 80 miles we rode into a headwind or got smacked from the side by big gusts. The up and down course was among one of the most challenging I've ever ridden. I don't think there was a single flat patch. The down hills were a little harrowing when I would pick up speed to about 60 mph and then get pelted by a gust. I almost had my bike blown out from under me at a couple of points.
There was a small section of the course that ran on a bike path where a tailwind picked up and part of me wanted to shout out: It is about time! But before I could get too excited the course changed direction again and it was back to the suffer-fest. Reports that this small area of tailwind was the deciding factor in the relay race were misguided. I don't want anyone -- team wise or individual -- who rode that difficult course to be underestimated. Everyone who finished it put in a Herculean effort. It was one of the hardest rides I've ever done under the conditions.
I have a lot of respect for the folks who did the entire race. I can't imagine having to do that bike ride after the 2.4 mile swim and then heading off to run a marathon afterwards. The field at Silverman was really small compared to more famous Ironman races, but the way I figure it, these were probably the tough guys of triathlon. This course was so hard, start to finish, that it is pretty intimidating.
I was relieved to make it through the course without bonking or getting a flat that I would have had to fix on my own. The final left hand turn delivered the riders into a transition area near the race finish. I took the corner pretty fast thinking I had to climb one final hill up to the finish area to make the hand off to Ernest. To my surprise, the bike dismount and transition were located immediately after the turn. I flew over the dismount area timing wire and into the transition area only to be greeted by a bunch of screaming volunteers yelling what seemed to be million different directions:STOP! RUN! BIKE! TURN AROUND! It was a pretty stressful moment. When I realized I should have stopped immediately, I dismounted my bike and offered to turn around to cover again the 20 or so feet I had over shot on foot like I was supposed to, but I was told to just keep going. So I ran up to Ernest and gave him the ankle timing strap.
There wasn't any communication from out onto the course to race officials or to the finishing area, so everyone was pretty much in the dark about the race progress. So Ernest had been getting mixed reports from volunteers about my arrival time. At one point he was told to expect me in twenty minutes. Then a minute later they said eight minutes. Then a minute after that they screamed two minutes. About thirty seconds later I blew through the dismount area and chaos erupted.
I was the first cyclist in, about 12 minutes ahead of the second place finisher. I had completed the bike course in about 4 hours and 33 minutes which combined with Scott's swim time gave Ernest about 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete the marathon. He was capable of running about 2:15 to 2:20 on this difficult marathon course (which had over 2000 feet of climbing). So, we thought we were in good shape to beat the eight hour time limit. So Ernest took off and his agent Teddy was instructing him on the course to just run steady.
At this point everyone around us was banking on the record being broken. But as I know all too well from racing so many years, the race ain't over till it's over. And I kept telling everyone that.
About 20 minutes later someone from the race staff came out and told us we had to get in touch with our team's runner. Thankfully Teddy was out on the course. Ernest was going to be forced to: stand down which means STOP for 4 minutes to serve a penalty for my mistake of not stopping and dismounting when and where I should have. The race director had originally told me the situation was okay. But another team had protested and requested the penalty and the officials enforced it. So somewhere between 4 and 5 miles into the marathon Ernest had to take a break. Under normal circumstances, I think I would have or should have been the one to stand down, but the delay on the ruling forced this penalty onto Ernest.
Although the initial news of the penalty raised a lot of confusion and shouting from about 20 people disagreeing and demanding an explanation we still felt that Ernest had a good cushion given his talent and that we could still break the record. After waiting out the penalty he had to finish within two hours and about 36 minutes to beat the record.
Ernest flew through the first lap of the two lap course finishing in about an hour and 12 minutes including the 4 minute penalty. He was on 2:20 pace so we thought we were in good shape. But as he headed out for the second lap it became evident that this pace was too fast and about half way through he began to encounter some trouble. He started to cramp. I think a combination of the first lap speed, lack of drinking and the stress of the penalty all caught up with him. He literally collapsed on the course.
When I later spoke to a race marshal who rode a bicycle beside Ernest on the route he said he had never seen an effort like Ernest had made that day. At one point the marshal was literally cradling Ernest in his arms. It looked as though he was headed straight to the hospital. An ambulance was called. But Ernest started to compose himself, stood up and started to run again and proceeded the final six miles to the finish. It was a pretty heroic effort. What he did out there on the course was the kind of thing that makes people like me love sports and such a fan of competition. He kept going for his team even though the 8 hour record was illusive at that point. What happened to Ernest proves that athletes of all levels are still human. How he handled the situation and pushed himself to keep going is the part that makes him super human. He is a huge talent with a very bright future, and someone I know I will continue to follow throughout his career.
When Ernest closed in on the finish line the clock read about 8 hours and 15 minutes. As Ernest headed into the shoots, he was passed by a local team's runner who ultimately won by 29 seconds. Ernest finished a heartbreaking 2nd after his heroic effort. But at that point we were more concerned about our new friend's health than anything else.
Haven and I tried to grab him and get him some help as soon as possible. Clearly he needed water, and one of our friends brought him some kind of electrolyte drink. He started to drink it only to have the drug control officer assigned to him start freaking out that he was drinking something without permission after the race. We made sure he got to keep it though.
We finally got him over to the medical tent where he spent the next three hours getting intravenous fluids. He was totally hypothermic at that point from dehydration. His body temperature was only 91 degrees. It was pretty scary. I really felt for him having put myself through similar experiences on multiple occasions during my career. He could have easily stopped and saved his legs for another race, but he kept going because he didn't want to let down his team. It was almost unreal to see what he did to himself to try and recover.
So you could say each of our team's legs ended with some drama. It was such a roller coaster of a day both literally and emotionally. But I was so honored to race side by side with two of the most incredibly talented athletes I've ever met. We gave it our best shot. At the end of the day, that?s what it's all about. My hat's off to everyone who attempted the race. It was a tough haul top to bottom.
Sure it would have been nice to break the record, pocket some change and spend the night out celebrating. But we all walked away with the memory of an incredible day, one hell of an effort and a lot to be proud of. In the end, this is why every athlete competes.
My two cents on the 8 hour record is that it's totally doable with the right team. We had it within our grasp under much less than ideal conditions. I think the race promoter should offer the challenge for another year to help build his race and attract more participants. There were only six relay teams involved this year. But I think they have a challenge worth meeting and should capitalize on their good idea for another year.
On a personal level it felt good to finally get a read on my fitness level. After two years, I think I still have the drive to race and win. You could say I still want to be here.
As for everything else in my life, stay tuned...
Thanks for reading.