Which way to the finish line!?

Saturday’s Tri For The Kids Olympic Triathlon in Rome, Ga. was a race I had signed up for last year. However, tornadoes devastated much of the Southern U.S. shortly before the race was to be held. Organizers made the right decision and canceled the 2011 race and deferred entries to this year.

Flash forward 12 months and I made the 90-minute drive to Rome excited to race in my first tri since Ironman Florida in November. Yes, it had been exactly SIX months since my last tri. In between, I had run several road races, including the Boston Marathon, but not a single tri.

First, I had to remember what to pack. Once I got everything organized, I was ready to get down to business.

This race was definitely “small town” with fewer than 100 competitors registered. This was a HUGE change of pace from the 2,600 people who lined up on the beach at Ironman Florida. The volunteers at packet pickup were very friendly and helpful. Turns out, some of those volunteers would also be racing.

SWIM:
The swim down the Etowah River (aka Etowah “rapids”) was fast… I mean, REALLY fast. A couple days before the race, the Army Corps of Engineers had released water from nearby Lake Allatoona producing a strong current. As soon as you hit the water, you were headed downstream. It was actually hard to make sure you didn’t drift off course. There were plenty of kayakers and canoes to keep you going in the right direction and make sure you were safe. However, a couple large trees in the river created some issues. One racer I know of slammed face-first into a tree and another guy was briefly caught up in some branches of a tree. Dangerous stuff. (After the race, I suggested to the race director that next year they should make sure to have a kayaker positioned by the large trees, if possible in future races.)

“After the third bridge, get to the right,” were the last words I heard as I entered the water. With the current so strong, if you missed the swim exit area, you would have to try to swim upstream to get out. That would be bad, to say the least.

While I have been swimming with some really fast people at Dynamo Multisport, I’m by no means a fast swimmer… except on this day. 13:38 for 1,500 meters is ridiculous. I had the 8th fastest swim time of the day, which is also ridiculous in its own right. (Truth is, I felt very comfortable on the swim and settled into a very nice, steady rhythm after the first 250 yards or so.)

SWIM EXIT:
Coming in to this race, I had battled two separate issues with my left leg. First, I had a nagging calf strain that just wouldn’t go away. Finally, a couple weeks ago it went away. Second, I had somehow developed a lower leg infection right before Boston. With the help of some serious antibiotics, that  finally went away, too. I was pumped to be racing without an injury for the first time in a long time.

Wrong.

As I reached the dock to exit the swim, the two male volunteers were obviously used to lifting much heavier guys out of the water. They yanked my 150-pound body up so hard that I SLAMMED my left thigh into the dock. HOLY CRAP that hurt. One of the other racers suffered a big cut on his knee when he was yanked out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for all of the volunteers, but I will make a mental note on my next “dock exit” to lift myself out.

My bruised thigh bothered me for the rest of the race. Two days later, it’s black and blue and still hurting. (Wow, what a sissy boy I am.)

T1:
After limping my way up the hill to get to bike transition, I have a bit of a hard time getting my wetsuit off, as usual.  Helmet on, sunglasses on, threw my Garmin 305 watch in the back pocket of my top (I planned to wear it for the run and wanted to save time in T2. I strapped it on my wrist as I rode.) My shoes were clipped in, with the left shoe latched to the rear wheel’s skewer with a rubber band. This kept my shoes from flopping around as I saddled up with a death-defying “flying mount.” It’s always a crowd-pleaser. T1 time: 1:45… blah.

BIKE:
My plan coming into the race (not knowing how my calf injury would hold up) was to hammer the bike and try to hold on for the run. This might not have been the smartest strategy, but that’s what I was going with.

The course was a good mixture of rolling hills with some harder-than-expected climbs. I had hoped to average about 23-24 mph, but there were more hills than I expected. (According to my Garmin, there was 543 feet of elevation gained over the 25 miles). In the end, I clocked a 22.5 mph average for a 1:06:40 bike split. Reached a high speed of 39.37 mph on Lap 4 (My Garmin 500 intervals are set for 5 miles each, so this was miles 15-20). My last lap (miles 20-25) was my fastest with a 23.5 mph average pace.  Other than the winning relay team, I had the fastest individual bike split of the day. That’s a first for me! Psyched.

For this race, I removed the water bottle holder on the Blue Triad SL frame and taped the Vittoria Pit Stop tubular tire sealant canister under my seat. I only carried one water bottle, mounted between the aero bars. My goal was to be as aero as possible. Next on my shopping list… my very own aero helmet. All the cool kids seem to have one.

While on the course, I scared several little children on the side of the road with my WOOOOOHOOOOOO! screams as I rode past, I made sure to “lick the lens” by sticking my tongue out (Gene Simmons-style) at the on-course photographer and gave a shout out to a few Army guys I saw out on a run.

At the half way turnaround, I counted the bikes that passed me in the other direction. There was the lead guy (he was FLYIN!) from a relay team, then there was an Asian guy I saw earlier in the morning in the Transition area and next up was a guy named Brett from The Sport Factory, a tri club near my house. I met Brett for the first time before the race. He was a nice guy, but like me, he was 41. Looking around, I knew he would be my only AG competition and we would both likely be in the running for the overall podium, too.

Holy crap, I was in 3rd overall! (Yes, it was a small race, but 3rd is still 3rd)

After turning around, I started riding back towards the pack. I saw Brian (an All3Sports teammate) hot on my wheels. Uh oh, this is going to be a run to the finish… and my running form was in VERY bad shape.

The best part of the bike course was the last mile. When you turn on to Shorter Ave., they had the entire right lane coned off for the race… Knowing I was nearing the finish, I decided to drop the hammer and race the cars down the final stretch. A couple of little kids in car seats in the back of thair parents’ car were staring at me as I screamed “WOOOOOHOOOOO!” at them. If you can’t have fun, why race? Right?

The bike finish came up so fast, I almost forgot to unstrap from my shoes. Crossed the line, raced to my rack, hooked the bike on, slapped on the socks, running shoes and visor… and like a prom dress, I was off!  (This is the moment when something else hits me. This was going to be my very first run off the bike since IM Florida six months ago. Doh! Training is overrated…sort of)

T2: 36 seconds (Tied for 4th fastest. Much better than T1.)

RUN:
OUCH! Oh no, this is going to suck!

My dock-slammed quad was screaming at me every time my left foot hit the ground. Time to adjust the game plan. This was going to be a survival run. I was just happy to be racing again (yeah, sure… keep telling yourself that.)

“I wanna go FAAAAAST,” Brian yells Ricky Bobby-style as he passes me within the first mile of the run course.

I try to tell him about my dock mishap to let him know why I was moving at a snails pace. He pretended to listen (I think), but kept running away from me. I expected other people to pass me soon. When nobody else did, I realized that Brian was now in third. That was MY third place spot and I wanted it back! (Mile 1 was 7:34)

Screw this noise… pain is a state of mind.

I never let Brian out of my sight and slowly begin to reel him back. 7:30, 7:17, 6:58… When I caught up to him, I decided to mess with him a little and just run right behind him to see if he would ever turn around. Finally he did. This was a fun race, so I decided to run alongside Brian for awhile rather than drop him (I also didn’t want to make him feel bad for getting caught by an old guy like me. I’m a team player… remember that part for later)

In the distance, we both can see Brett. He’s coming back to us quicker than I had expected. A short distance later, Brett starts walking…

Screw you Brian, I’m taking off…

I catch Brett and quickly realize why he’s walking. WE’RE ALL LOST! There were no signs and no volunteers to point us in the right direction. (There was a mix up earlier in the run and we got pointed in the wrong direction by a volunteer.) Brett thinks we should go to the right through a parking lot and back to the trail along the river. Just then, a volunteer pulls up in a van and tells us to go straight. I wait with Brett as Brian takes off… Son of a %&*@$#!

We reach a MAJOR intersection with about 8 lanes of traffic. Crazy. Brian makes it across but Brett and I have to wait for the light to change. I actually had to hit the “push button to cross street” button. It was kind of funny… but not really.

“Wait for me,” I yell to Brian. (I never thought he would stop, but it was worth a try. He slows for a  brief second and then continues on.)

Damn, I knew I should have passed him when I had a chance.  That’s the last time I play Mr. Nice Guy. Haha.

After Brett and I cross the street, I try to chase Brian (my former friend) down, but he’s too far gone. The finish area is a nice long downhill road so I let it all hang out. When I cross the line, the only person I see is Brian. He’s first!

What the heck happened to the other guy? I’m second? Huh?

Brett crosses in third, then another guy comes across in 4th, then the original race leader comes flying around a corner on the OTHER SIDE of the finish line, crosses the line and slams a water bottle to the ground. He was MAD.

“I got lost!” (Yeah, welcome to the club buddy.)

“I’m never coming back here! I need to speak to the race director!”

He was fuming. I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out, but I knew he deserved to be first. I also knew that sometimes these things happen and that’s just the way it is.

In the end, we all got together and spoke with the race directors and told them how the order should be. The other guy got first (rightfully so), Brian second and I was third.

(Premature photo shoot below. BTW, nice cell phone clipped to the waist Brian. Not very aero.)

RUN TIME: 45:39 (7:19/mile) 5th fastest run time overall

This run hurt, mostly because of my sore quad, but I’m pretty happy with it considering it had been 6 months since my last brick run and I had some serious leg issues to deal with between Ironman and now.

The winners all walked away with cool a hand-painted plate (pitured above at the the top.) A very nice touch.

While there were some issues with this race, I plan to return again next year. After all, I need a matching dish so my wife and I can dine together!

Race #1 of 2012 is in the books.

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Sprint For Pat – A Family Affair

It’s not everyday that I get to spend a morning running a race with my kids. To be clear, I have a  hard time running races for “fun.” I’m too competitive and want to “race” all the time.

After winning the 35-39 age group in the 2011 Sprint for Cancer 10k, an injured leg held me back this year. Looking back, I couldn’t be happier that it did. It made my decision to run with my kids that much easier. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. But race day is race day and I usually prefer to go as fast as I can. One day, I hope they feel the same way and go out and beat their old man in a race. Competition builds self-confidence, I believe.

But this day was all about family fun.

The Sprint for Cancer 5k/10k holds special meaning in our community. In 2008, father/husband/runner/triathlete Pat Kane died during the swim portion of the Gulf Coast Triathlon. Here is the last picture ever taken of Pat on the beach with his two boys moments before the start of the event.

(Photo courtesy of: Kristin Kane Holland)

One of the last races he did before the Gulf Coast Tri was the 2008 Sprint for Cancer. The photo below was taken during that race and was used to create the design for the current Sprint for Pat race shirts.

(Photo courtesy of: Kristin Kane Holland)

The “two thumbs up” pose has become my go-to race photo.

(Photo credit: Ernie Janelle)

In 2009, some close friends of Pat’s and his wife, Kristin, began running the Sprint for Cancer race in his memory. Thus, the Sprint for Pat was born. While the name of the actual (Sprint for Cancer) race hasn’t been officially changed, when you look at all of the Sprint for Pat shirts on the course, you’d swear it had been.

(Photo courtesy of: Kristin Kane Holland)

Heck, as you may have noticed, his shirts can be seen all over the event’s official website.

Many of Pat’s friends and/or family members around the country wear their Sprint for Pat shirts in other races in other cities, such as Sacramento, California. (below)

Here is his oldest son, Colin, running this year’s race.

(Photo credit: Alex Hinerfeld)

This year, my son decided to run the race with many of his school friends, while I hung back with my daughter and ran/walked at her pace.

(Photo credit: Alex Hinerfeld)

My son, after reluctantly being dragged out of bed, surprised me a bit with his effort and ran an entire 5k without stopping for the first time! He finished 7th in the 11-14 age group. I was so proud. (he got edged out at the line for 6th by his hard-charging friend, Max. Lesson learned: Never let up at the line.)  As you can see, Max is diggin’ deep and coming after him!

(Photo credit: Alex Hinerfeld)

Many of the race’s age group winners were kids/adults who knew Pat or are still friends with his boys. I can only imagine how this would make him feel.

After having so much fun running the race alongside my daughter and seeing the effort my son gave out on the course, I look forward to running the race again next year. In fact, I think this will be my annual “fun” run. After all, memories — not the finishing time — is the real reason behind this “race.”

(photo credit: ChalkTales.com)

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Boston Marathon: We were high, we were Sherpa-high

I’m a selfish person by nature. (Yes honey, I said it.) Doing things for others doesn’t always come easy to me. I have come to learn this character flaw about myself over the past several years. Perhaps that’s why running and doing triathlons has become my sports of choice lately. It’s a solo endeavor… most of the time.

Not on this day…

Leading up to my first Boston Marathon, I had intended to run “my race.” But with a nagging calf injury and a forecast calling for a high of 87F, that plan quickly disappeared. Yet, I still found myself searching for a race-day “goal.” I needed a reason to run. I needed something to focus on. (I also have self-diagnosed adult ADHD.)

Enter Jill,  a friend of mine from Atlanta. Battling a very serious hip injury, Jill decided to run  despite not running for the 2 months prior to Boston (a fact she failed to mention to me until we crossed the starting line in Hopkinton.) She had visions of running 3:30. We both agreed that would be our “goal.” It makes me laugh just thinking about it now.

After searching for each other in the athlete’s village for the better part of two hours, we finally found each other in the Corral 5 area for Wave 2 (I dropped back from Wave 1, Corral 8 to join her). Because we were both mentally prepared to run alongside each other, running solo would have been a crushing blow to our race-day plans.

Just a few feet in front of “The Starter” statue in downtown Hopkinton, we began our journey to Boston. As we started the so-called race, I discussed the “plan” with Jill. If I start hurting, she was to continue on without me. After all, her goal was what we were focused on. However, if she started hurting, I was going to stick with her. (She tried to resist my offer, but it was futile. I was in full-on Sherpa mode for this one.) With the amount pain I figured she might end up in, I wouldn’t want anyone to have to fight through it on their own. The only other rule was that she wasn’t going to “chick” me at the finish line. I was going to make sure I finished at least one second before her.

 And we spoke long at length

Of the fight or flee

And of nothing in particularly

Underneath the cannonball tree  – “Sherpa” by The Tragically Hip

I’ve heard many stories of friends acting as a Sherpa to help others achieve their goal and I always thought it was such an unselfish thing to do. This was my chance to give back a little for all of the encouragement and help people like Jill have given to me along the way.

Fittingly, the lyrics in one of my favorite Tragically Hip songs has the words “fight or flee.” On a day like this, It would have been REALLY easy to choose the flee option. Instead, we decided to fight.

We started out just fine and were clicking off 8-min miles until we reached about Mile 8. Occasionally, Jill would let out a whimper or a groan. These were the early indications of what was going on.  My ailing calf was feeling fine, but a shin splint in my left leg was beginning to ache. I quickly blocked that out and focused on the Sherpa duties.

I made no bones about it with her, whatever she needed to do, that was what we were going to do. If that meant walking, stopping to stretch or even… dare I say it… dropping out, that’s what she was going to do. BTW, my suggestion of dropping out didn’t seem to go over too well with her.

By Mile 10, the run-walk-stop-stretch plan was in full effect. I’m not exactly sure what kind of pain Jill was in, but I knew it wasn’t good. Basically, from what I could gather, her hip muscles weren’t working as they should be. (Here is her explanation.) She was running on a leg that wouldn’t propel itself forward. At one point, in a distraught/frustrated voice she said something along the lines of — “It’s just not working! I can barely lift it!” The hills were especially hard. On numerous occasions I looked over at her face and she was visibly biting her lower lip. I’m pretty sure she had tears welling up behind her stylish sunglasses on other occasions, too. (Crying is allowed.)

To get through it, we started to focus on small goals… A lamp post at the top of the hill … A telephone pole off in the distance… The half-way point. Those became our targets. The actual finish line was too far away to think about. We went through the halfway point at 1:54:21. There was still a glimmer of hope that we might be able to break 4 hours. However, the second half of Boston is where the hills are. It was going to require a really hard effort.

“Talk to me,” Jill said early in the race, a sign that she needed something to shift her focus away from the pain. So I did. We chatted about how we each came up the names for our kids, how we ended up in Atlanta, etc.

“Talk to me about hockey,” she insisted. So we chatted about the greatest sport ever created. Turns out Jill’s brother is one heck of an athlete. He even played goalie for the Jr. Penguins. He might be a natural, but Jill made sure to mention that she’s a faster runner than him.

“If you could be a superhero, which superhero would you be?” I asked her. Not surprisingly, she wanted to be one with healing powers. I suggested Mr. Miagi and his healing hands.

Eventually, much later in the race, it hit her… Jill decided on Wolverine. Nice call!

From Marvel.com “Wolverine is a mutant who possesses the ability to regenerate damaged or destroyed areas of his cellular structure at a rate far greater than that of an ordinary human.”

I decided on Superman. He can fly — enough said!

Back to the race…

My motto, which had been adopted from long, hot, hilly runs with some of my ATL training partners was to simply say “this is AWESOME!” in a mocking tone whenever the going got tough. For Jill, she went into her gracious motherly mode and began to thank every  volunteer/cop/fireman/military member that she could find. In return for her heartfelt “thanks” they responded with words of encouragement. It was give-and-take all the way.

Oh, did I mention that it was WICKED HOT!? It was so hot,  3,853 people decided not to run at all. Even defending champion Geoffrey Mutai dropped out with cramps at Mile 18, putting his Olympic dreams in jeopardy.

(Here are some great pictures of what it was like along the course.)

The temperature rose into the high 80s. Spectators had mounted sprinklers to telephone poles. Fire hydrants were spraying all over the road. There were several misting tents, too. We hit them all! We walked numerous aid stations without shame. If there was shade to be found, we tried our best to find it.

When we spotted a little boy handing out Flavor-Ice, Jill and I nearly fought over the grape one. Luckily, the kid had more than one to hand out. I can’t possibly say enough about how great the crowds were. They were all Sherpas in their own way.

As for us, the next goal was the Newton-Wellesley Hospital at mile 16 1/2. That’s where my dad and his wife were going to be. Once we reached them, we stopped to chat for a bit and put on our best smiles.

I was VERY grateful that my father was able to make the trip up from NJ and fight the crowds to come out and see me for a brief second along the course. Marathons are not very spectator-friendly events. His effort to be there was truly appreciated.

After a brief stop in front of the hospital, our next appointment was with Heartbreak Hill. While we had walked several of the hills along the way, Jill made one thing clear to me: “I’m going to run Heartbreak Hill!” As we rolled through the hills of Newton, “Heartbreak” was quickly approaching. On a normal day, this hill wouldn’t be too bad. Both of us had run many tougher hills on long runs in Atlanta. Heck, the Georgia Marathon has about 5 hills harder than Heartbreak. But this wasn’t a normal day. We ran every step of it. When we reached the top, Jill found a friend of hers in a shade tent on the left side. They hugged briefly and I could sense that Jill was relieved to see a familiar, encouraging friend at that point.

Less than 10k to go now… “We got this” was the refrain.

Onward we went through the Boston College section. These kids were crazy (aka drunk)! As we ran, we yelled at them and they practically fell over the railings trying to give high-fives as we ran past. It was an absolutely awesome, chaotic scene.

We reached the outskirts of Boston and people all around us were walking. Many others were lying or sitting on the ground off to the side of the course. It was carnage. According to the Boston Globe, 2,181 runners sought medical attention. The day after the race, nine runners remained hospitalized.

Jill and I did our best to keep a steady pace and focus on reaching our next mini-goal — her husband. I had asked her earlier where he and T.J. (another friend of ours from ATL) were going to be. She said they didn’t have much of a plan.

“You’d think I’ve done enough of these things that I would know better by now,” Jill said, laughing.

I was kind of bummed that she might not see them on the course.

Just then, I saw a sign on the left side of Beacon Street reading “Poonstar!” It was her husband, Alex, and T.J. Just in time! Alex appeared to attempt to hand Jill some water, but all she wanted was a hug. She basically collapsed into his arms. It appeared that her will to continue was almost gone… almost. After a brief stop, we carried on running. Alex and T.J., carrying coolers with them,  ran alongside us for about 1/2 mile (BTW, thanks for the water T.J.)

As we wound our way through downtown Boston and approached the left hand turn onto Boylston Street, the conversation going on between us subsided a bit. It was clear that we were both soaking up the moment. Finally, we could see the finish line ahead.

“Not everybody gets to run under that sign,” I said to Jill.

More high-fives were exchanged. Then, about 1/8-mile from the finish Jill began to slow and offered me the chance to avoid being “chicked.” No such luck girl. We were going to cross together. 4:15:30 was the end result for both of us. Looking back on it, I should have let her go first. On a day when there were few “winners,” Jill was clearly the more worthy candidate of the two of us.

Now I know why women are the ones who give birth. She’s one stubborn, tough woman.

As for me, I have no regrets. I wish I would have been healthy enough to “race” Boston, but this was not the year for it. I’ll be back again. I had an absolute blast and wouldn’t change a thing.

Even though Jill said “thank you” to me many times for being her “shepherd”, as she put it, I’m the one who is thankful. While running the greatest marathon in the world, I got to experience up close what it’s like to want something so bad, you’re willing to fight for it with everything you have.

A wise man once said to me EAT THAT PAIN! On this day, Jill sauntered up to the buffet and had several helpings of pain. She ate it all. As a parent, I know what that means. Now, she gets to enjoy some dessert!

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Boston … you’re my home!

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40 years ago, I was born in Woburn, Massachusetts. I spent the first 11 years of my life living in Billerica, Mass. While most of my “growing up” years were in New Jersey, the Commonwealth is my original “home.”

My first hockey game I attended was at Boston Garden. The first baseball game my dad ever took me to was at Fenway Park (Paahk, if speaking with a New England accent). I survived the Blizzard of ’78 there. (We didn’t have school for a week and my brother, sister and I dug snow tunnels all through our front yard! It was awesome). When I was young, my parents drove me all around the area to play hockey in some of the COLDEST hockey rinks you have ever been in. I can still remember crying (I was about 6 or 7 years old) and the feeling of my tingling, frozen toes as my dad rubbed my feet to warm them up after early-morning practices… the things parents do for their kids.

While in college in Vermont, I spent several fun-filled weekends in Beantown. It’s one of the world’s best cities, in my opinion. You can just feel the history of the place when you walk around. Now that I live in Atlanta (a relatively young city compared with Boston), I realize just how great some of our country’s older cities are.

Forty years later, I am on a plane returning “home” to run in the 116th Boston Marathon. Yes, the ONE HUNDRED and 16TH. That’s crazy. As I said, there’s plenty of history here.

For a few reasons, this race is going to be a little different than the other marathons I have run in.

1. To start with, I will be running in the world’s oldest/greatest marathon. Hard to top that. Duh.

2. I’m not 100% (not that anybody ever is). I’ve been battling a calf injury for a while. It’s getting better, but I still don’t trust it. The injury has dramatically impacted my training (or lack thereof.) This one is going to be a serious fight to the finish line on Boylston Street. (The 87F forecast certainly won’t help either.)

3. Most importantly, I will be running in honor of my mom, who passed away earlier this year. Yes, I know I can run for her everyday and anywhere I want to, but being in Massachusetts brings back so many childhood memories. It’s hard for me not to get caught up in the emotional aspect of it all. As I type this while sitting on a plane, memories fill my head. Most are great memories, but the one that just hit me really sucks. I was on a plane trying to get up to see her when I got word that she had passed. I still kick myself to this day that I didn’t find a way to see her more in the end. A life lesson learned too late.

Truth be told, I shouldn’t be running this race. I’m hurt. I might hurt myself more by doing it. Sometimes people do things against the advice of others. This is one of those times. Sorry coach, this is just something that I have to do.

My nagging calf injury has forced me to reevaluate my race goal. About a month ago, I had dreams of going sub-3:10. Needless to say, that’s not going to happen.

My new “coach-approved” goal is to have fun and enjoy the accomplishment and soak it all in! No whining. To make it even more fun, I will be running with my friend Jill from Atlanta. Sshhhh, she’s injured, too. It will will be a mad hobble, dash to the finish! To make it even better, my dad and some other friends and family members will be out on the course and at the finish line.

Never in a million years while I was growing up in the New England area did I imagine that I would return “home” to run in the Boston Marathon. Not only is it the greatest marathon in the world, it remains one of the most iconic athletic events on the planet. How cool is THAT?

Let’s do this thing.

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Somebody get me a wooby!

A few months ago, a calf strain stole my mojo.

I vowed to get it back and did.  I rested my leg for about 3 full weeks and “recovered” from the injury, or so I thought.

Over the past couple of months, my mojo and I were very happy.  We slowly got back into training for my first Boston Marathon (April 16) and  set a new 10k PR in the only race we did together. Things were looking up.

Then yesterday came. I felt a minor twinge in the same left calf muscle. I brushed it off. Then I went to see my physical therapist, Dr. Missy Holas at C.O.R.E. Elite in ATL. She said she could feel/see the issue and treated it with some Graston Technique massage. Neither of us seemed to think it was a big deal.

Wrong. Just one mile into my SLOW morning run today, it became a big deal. The calf completely tightened up on me. I stopped immediately, walked home, got a bag full of ice and sat with my calf elevated on it for about 30 minutes. I squeezed into my CEP Compression socks and continued on with my day.

I’m currently looking into scheduling ART massage and hope to get back on the road to Boston soon.  To say I’m frustrated is an understatement. However, I’m going to keep a positive attitude and make sure I’m ready to go when I reach Hopkinton.  I might end up being a bit undertrained when I get there, but I don’t like to make excuses.

Injury or not, Boston is going to be a good day.

Until then, I’m feeling a bit like Kenny from Mr. Mom when his “wooby” was taken away from him by Michael Keaton.  “Can I have a moment to myself, please?”

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“You can read about it on my blog…” Who would ever say that?!

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Ironman Florida Race Report – The Run

Continued from bike report

As I stride under the “Run Out” banner with renewed focus and determination, I look down at my right hand with the initials of my wife and kids written on it. I was ready.

I make the turn East on South Thomas Drive and let out a quiet, barely audible “Let’s get it ON!”

The time had finally come.

As I begin the run portion of the race, my main thought focused on the countless  times I have told myself and others who inevitably asked “so, which part of a triathlon is your strength? The swim, the bike or the run?” My answer was always the same. The run. It’s kinda “my thing,” I would say.

Like so many others, I began my triathlon journey as a runner. That in itself is odd for me to say, considering I didn’t run in my first official race until 2009, at age 38. In truth, I’m a hockey player masquerading as a triathlete… kind of like Happy Gilmore: “I’m not a golfer! I’m a hockey player!”

Since that first 10K two years ago, I had run four marathons and qualified for the 2012 Boston Marathon with a PR of 3:16:14. So, by default, I guess I had morphed into a “runner.”

My other thought revolved around my pace. Two months earlier, at the Augusta 70.3 half Ironman, I made the mistake of going out too fast and paid for it over the second half of the run. I was hurting as I ran a mediocre 1:44 and ended up in the medical tent.  The last thing I wanted was a repeat of that ugly performance. There is no better feeling when running a marathon than finishing strong, as I did at the 2010 Georgia Marathon.

With that in mind, I had two goals as I ran onto the course:

1. Save enough energy for the back half so I could really RUN the last 5 miles.

2. Beat my 3:46 time from the 2009 NYC Marathon, the first marathon I ever ran.

I was confident in my running ability and had tried to set myself up for this moment. Per coach Chance‘s advice, I spent a LOT of time on the bike while training for this day. The thought is, he told me… the stronger I was on the bike, the less beat up I would be by the time I got around to putting my running shoes on. Needless to say, he was right.

I exited T2 and quickly realized that my legs felt pretty good. Not great, but pretty darn good with all things considered. With spectators lining the exit and the first 2 miles, it was hard to pull back on the reins. Finally, by the time I reached Mile 3, I slowed myself down from an 8:07/mile pace to 8:30/mile trot.

Here are the splits.

At this rate, I felt I would be able  to conserve enough in the tank in anticipation of letting it all pour out over the closing miles.

As I make my way down South Thomas Drive and make the first turn onto JoAn Ave., I get a sense of what the next 4 hours (or less) will be like. There’s a group of Dynamo cheerers on one corner and Coach Chance on the other. I take in the cheers and Vuvuzela horn-blowing from Team GREEN and get some quick words of wisdom from coach.

Betty blowin' her horn! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

“Relax your shoulders,” he says.
(Yessir,  I nod.)

I press on. For those who have never done IMFL, this next section along Surf Drive is GREAT. The local residents come out in full force to support the runners. There’s a “Santa’s workshop” section, compete with elves and “Santa” himself!

Santa's helpers (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

Every time I ran through this section, this is ALL I could think of…

There’s also a “girl’s section” complete with corsets, lace and leather whips. I’m not going to lie, I liked this section more than “Santa’s workshop.”

Along the next stretch, I pass a friend — Todd Neville —  who is heading back to the transition area to complete his first lap. He was flying and went on to finish his first IM in 9:24 and punch his ticket to Kona. Impressive.

I trudge along through some winding streets until I reach St. Andrews State Park. I’ve been warned about this park. It’s a pretty desolate stretch and can suck the life out of you if you aren’t mentally prepared for it. Using some reverse psychology, I was prepared to make this park my “biatch” all day long. I embraced it as my “favorite” part of the run. “Look at those lovely sand dunes? Oh wow, there’s some driftwood. Isn’t this lovely?!,” I thought as I ran through.

WooHooo! I love this park! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

As I exited, I realized that there was a guy around me running about the same pace I was. At Mile 8 (or so) he ran alongside me and said “what’s your goal?”

“I’m looking to break 10:30,” I told him.

“Me, too.” he responded.

This is perfect, I thought. The two of us will “work” together and drive this run train to the finish! I recognize him as a guy also swapped places with a couple of times along the bike course.

As I approach the turnaround of Lap 1 and run past Team GREEN again, I’m all smiles and give them a “thumbs up.”

When I round the next corner back onto Thomas Drive, I spot my wife for the first time on the run. I had no idea where she would be, but somehow I managed to find her in the crowd.

She shot this little clip as I stopped to pick up my special needs bag.

In the bag, I had two new bottles for my Fuel Belt. Each one was filled with Carbo-Pro and a NUUN tablet, just as I had on the bike. I also had a banana and a Peanut Butter Crunch Clif bar. I grabbed the bottles and the banana, but left the Clif bar behind.

I start to eat the banana, but then decide I would hold off on eating the entire thing until I turned the corner and saw Team GREEN again.

While nobody caught a picture of the moment, Scotty Runyan — a fellow “Lane 2” swimmer with me at Dynamo — captured it in words.

Things are going smoothly at this point. However, I’m starting to feel some cramping and bloating in my stomach.  I try to ignore it. I didn’t want to think that this could be the moment I was dreading the most. Was I going to suffer GI distress? It’s the kind of “issue” that has derailed so many others (Sorry Jill! #sadface). It’s something non-runners/triathletes don’t think much about. However, it remains the main thing that can quickly put an end to a good day.

I honestly have no idea what to expect. I’ve suffered from muscle cramping in other marathons, but my stomach and “insides” have always remained intact. I’m now just praying for the best. My pace is slowing to about 8:45/mile. This isn’t a good development. I need to do something about it. And I need to do it NOW!

As I run along, I get passed by several members of Team GREEN, who have now taken their bikes out on the course to cheer everybody on. The infamous Haley Chura let’s out a … “Go MIKE! How are you feeling?”

Haley taking a picture of my ass! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

How do I tell her — in a gentlemanly way — that I feel like I need go #2?

She gets the idea when she sees me stop at a port-a-potty up ahead.

“Yeah! Go MIKE! Stop at that port-a-potty! GO MIKE!” (Those were her actual words. Nothing like getting a cheer for stopping to poop.)

Darn, it’s LOCKED!

Rather than waiting,  I continue on. Then I spot coach Chance on the side of the road. “How you doin’?” I tell him that I think I need to stop. The bloating in my stomach was getting painful and was slowing my pace.

“If you feel like you need to go, then go. Just make it quick.”
(Yessir, I nod.)

There’s a place to stop just as you enter the park, but it’s on the “exit” side of the park. Hmmm… what to do? I have to backtrack about 50 feet along a dirt path to get to the port-a-potty. A volunteer yells “Hey! You’re going the wrong way!” All I can think of is the John Candy line from “Plains, Trains and Automobiles.”  How would she know where I’m going?

These little thoughts keep me amused on long runs.

Speaking of amusing: Chance caught the moment on “film” as I exit the port-a-potty.

(Photo: Chance Regina)

(NOTE: Not to get into too much detail, but the odd part of it all was the fact that I didn’t even have to “go.” I simply had a giant buildup of intestinal gas that needed to “escape.” I’m not sure what caused this, but I wonder if it was from the NUUN tablets or the amount of salt tabs I was taking throughout the day. I suspect that it was more of the former than the latter.)

As I pull up my Lycra and adjust my Fuel Belt and run out, coach’s final words of wisdom were clear. “I want to see you run a minute faster per mile now!”
(Yessir, I nod.)

As I suspected, I felt MUCH better after my brief pit stop. My stomach and insides no longer hurt. I was finally free to run again.

Soon, I meet up again with my running friend from the first lap.  We’re now a team. And we’re going to do this thing together.

“What’s the overall time?” I ask him.

“9:36,” he says.

By my calculation, we have about 8 miles to go.  We’ve got it. No problem.

If we’re going to do this together, I might as well get to know this guy a little.

Me: “What’s your name?”

“Saul,”  he says.

“Where ya from?”

Saul: “Miami, but I’m from Peru.”

“Got any kids?”

Saul: “Yeah, three.”

“Is this your first IM?”

Saul: “Yes. How about you?”

Me: “Yes. My first.”

We run alongside each other through the park. We cross the 20-mile mark.

“10K to go,” I say to nobody in particular.

Saul begins to pick up the pace.

“We got this,” he says. “Come on. We’re going to sprint the last three miles.”

I pause and let out a little laugh. “We are?”

He wasn’t kidding. He starts to move quicker as we exit the park. I see Chance a couple more times. He can tell I’ve got a good running partner with me. To me, Saul has taken the place of Chance on the many long runs we have done together. As a former collegiate runner at Ole Miss (I will keep my comments about the University to myself), coach had a habit of slowly “dropping the hammer” over the closing miles of our runs. We NEVER finished slowly. Many times, our closing miles were run at sub-7 mins/mile, if not faster.

I was familiar with what I was facing. Did I have that burst of energy in me now… after a 2.4-mile swim? … after 112 miles on the bike? … after 20 miles of an Ironman marathon?

Saul starts to pull away a little. I reel him back in. We’re running together again. I see Chance again.

Saul trying to run away from me! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

“Don’t let him get away.”
(Yessir, I nod.)

We reach an aid station. I walk for a few steps to grab some water and coke. Saul keeps running.  He’s now 50 feet ahead. Darn it! There’s Chance again, sitting on his bike at a corner. He stares at me with a puzzled look. I know what he’s thinking. “WTF?!”

“I know! I know.,” I say. “I’ll get him.”

After a quick surge, Saul and I are back together again. I vow not to lose him again.

Now it’s my turn. I put in a little surge and start to pull away from Saul.

I open a small gap. I’m feeling strong. There’s another guy about 100 yards in front of me.

“Go catch HIM now!”
(Yessir, I nod.)

(NOTE: Each time I see Chance, he is in a static position along the side of the road. He is not running or riding alongside me so as to avoid violating rules of “outside assistance”.)

In what seemed like less than 1/4 mile, I catch him. Done. Whose next? I’m now moving through the pack of runners/walkers like Secretariat in spandex. (Maybe not quite like the greatest racehorse of all time, but just indulge me a little here.)

Mile 22 marks my first sub-8 mile (7:58)

“He’s moving like a tremendous machine!”

As I come through Santa’s workshop and the “girls in leather” section again, I start to hear a lot of cheering specifically aimed at ME. Sweet!

“Looking STRONG 1578! GREAT pace!”

Feelin' good! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

With 4 miles to go, coach appears again on the side of the road.

“Come on! Three miles to go!” I think he’s lost his math skills for a second, I’ve got 4 miles. What’s he talking about?

“That last mile will run itself,” he clarifies.

Oh. Now it makes sense.

I continue on, slowly picking up the pace over the closing miles.  Mile 24 = 7:56. Mile 25 = 7:58.

As I try to lengthen my stride, I start to sense tightness in my right hamstring. This is a familiar feeling. I know what’s coming next… pain. Instinctively, I start to back off the pace a little. I guess somebody else could see me slowing a little, too.

“What are you WAITING for? GO!”
(Yessir, I nod)

My last instruction from coach was simple:

“See that guy up there? He’s in your age group. GO GET HIM!”

ONE MILE TO GO! I’m alone as I run through a tunnel of spectators. This is awesome! Everybody is so close. I can literally FEEL their energy.
I look up ahead at my last victim.

I’m back to the beginning of the run. It has come down to this… Let’s get it ON!

I close in on him. I’m less than 1/2 mile from the line. He’s about 100 yards in front of me. I hit overdrive. I come up behind him and see “44” (his age) written on his calf. I pass him and think to myself. “Man, he’s gonna be pissed that he got passed by somebody in his age group with less than 1/4 mile to go.”

Too bad. So sad.

My wife snaps this pic as I approach the line. All smiles.


I hear the race announcer. I can’t quite make out what he’s saying at first. Then I then hear the words that everybody has told me about. The words you savor the most the FIRST time you cross the finish line.  “Mike Buteau… YOU are an Ironman!”

Final mile pace: 7:13. Take THAT!

That brings me to this musical interlude, which sums up my attitude going into the day. I didn’t want to “just finish” my first Ironman, I wanted to impress myself and others who wondered why I was training so hard. This exact moment was the reason why!

Marathon time: 3:39:10

Goal #1: Break 10:30 total time – DONE. Goal #2: Finish strong- DONE.  Goal #3: Break NYC Marathon time of 3:46 – DONE.

It made me think of this song by The Heavy.

About 2 minutes after I cross the line, Saul gets to enjoy his sub-10:30 moment, too.  He makes it across the line with just 16 SECONDS to spare. Nice work!

After a hug from my wife, I feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s Saul. We exchange high-fives and smiles. He gets his girlfriend to snap a picture.

While we had never met before, Saul and I did something together that was pretty special. As Bill Murray says to Chevy Chase in the “maintenance shed” scene of “Caddyshack” … “Buddies for life, I figure.”

My favorite part of the above picture? (other than the medal around my neck, of course) The smile on the face of the guy in the green shirt.

Thanks coach!

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