"Sorry, pal, but Iron Man doesn't have a sidekick." - Tony Stark
I desperately wanted to start this blog off with a suitable and relevant quote from Iron Man 2 that would set the whole tone for a write-up on my second Ironman and allow me to tell the tale of my training, my race and my recovery. The above quote definitely doesn't accomplish all of that, but it certainly seems a relevant place to start after not blogging about my triathlon exploits in almost a year.
Let me explain...
I'm not an expert on all things Avengers, but I do like the movies, and it struck me that one of the central premises of Iron Man 2 was Tony Stark's coming to grips with Colonel Rhodes donning an iron suit of his own and joining Stark in his exploits.
Like Stark, shortly after my first Ironman in May 2013, I found myself struggling to accept that my solo exploits would henceforth be a team effort. I am, of course, referring to my own version of 'War Machine,' Lacy Shea Healey.
About 36 hours after I completed my first Ironman, I found myself in a custom bike fit studio in Houston watching my wife get professionally fitted to one of the world's tiniest triathlon bikes. Less than a day later Lacy signed up for Ironman Cozumel.
To say I was thrilled with the development would be inaccurate. I was especially bruised, burned and battered after 14 hours of racing in the 110 degree heat index and blazing sun at IMTX and feared that my wife, a veteran of exactly two Olympic distance races and one sprint, was biting off way more than she could chew. I was also concerned as a husband about the torture she was likely to endure on race day. Frankly, it scared me.
But, like Stark, who wasn't looking for a sidekick but got one, I found myself transitioning from Ironman to Ironmate over the course of the summer and fall of 2013 as Lacy tackled two more Olympic races and a 70.3 and laid the base for her first 140.6.
Starting in July with open water swims in Allen Pond, and ending outside of a bus in front of Chankanaab Park in Cozumel, Mexico, I spent five months training, coaching, racing and sherpa-ing alongside Lacy as she progressed from this:
Watching her leave on that bus to the IMCZ swim start was terrifying but also made me incredibly proud. And watching her race that day gave me amazing perspective on the sport. If you want a nice write up on Lacy's race at Ironman Cozumel, you can read her blog from December. I suggest you allow yourself a few minutes...it's verbose.
At any rate, dutifully enduring the duties of Ironmate in the summer of 2013 helped me shake off the post-IM hangover and gave me the confidence to throw my hat in the ring for Ironman Texas 2014. Lacy, fresh off of Ironman Cozumel decided she'd join me in The Woodlands this time...so, voila. Iron Man gets a sidekick.
So fast forwarding to 2014...Lacy (coming off of five months of IM training, two more Olympics, two more half marathons, a 70.3 and a 140.6) and I (coming off of 17 months of IM training, two more Olympics, a half marathon, a marathon and a world class sherpa performance at IMCZ) found ourselves at the finish line of the Austin Marathon (where we had just watched about 40 of our training clients finish their first half and full marathons) feeling completely exhausted.
A few of our half and full marathoners before the gun. We had our hands full this winter.
Lacy and I, unlike our big screen counterparts, are not super heros. We're weekend warriors with full time jobs, busy schedules and only a finite amount of time to train and coach. And right as we were supposed to hit our peak training period for IMTX 2014 we both found ourselves totally burned out. We talked about it a lot. Neither of us had the drive and desire to push out the extra swim, bike and run sessions we did ahead of previous races. It was three months out and we were both nursing nagging injuries, fighting the doldrums of training fatigue and, essentially, going through the motions. We decided it was best to focus on quality over quantity. By eliminating junk miles, we reasoned, we would be able to stay focussed on the goal without suffering terminal burnout.
Lacy focussed heavily on repair and rehabilitation through her peak training by keeping standing appointments with Dr. Joe at Airrosti and at Desiree's Spa. She also reduced the mileage and focussed on the intensity of the work she was putting in. I found motivation by training alongside my Crazy Legs Running Crew teammates on weekend runs and putting a reemphasis on strength and core training to supplement my cardio sessions.
Oh, yeah...and we also got new bikes. 2014 Cervelo P2's courtesy of Wally's Bikes in McAllen. That helped. A lot.
It is so choice. If you have the means I highly recommend picking one up. And the bike is nice too.
With the reduced workload and new mules (I call mine "La Flama Blanca," while Lacy has named hers "Magnolia") we set off for Boerne at the end of March to race the Tall Texan 70.3
La Flama Blanca
I'll spare you the boring details, but suffice it to say, the race was tough. The day started out with 40 degree air temps and 57 degree water temperature for the swim. 56 miles of hilly, chip sealed, cattle guard covered country roads followed on the bike (as well as a derailleur issue that kept me in the small ring the last 30 miles). After that, a 40 degree temperature climb and varied surfaces from trail to pavement on the run course. I was able to finish in 6:03 which was good enough for third in my age group and a top fifteen finish overall. Lacy pulled out before the race due to the extremely cold water temperature (a smart move given her size).
Finishing up the first lap of the run at the Tall Texan 70.3
Six weeks later Lacy and I arrived in The Woodlands on a Thursday after a hectic last two weeks of training and work. We had spent April and early May taking the P2s up FM 1420 towards Port Mansfield, swimming in the 50 Meter Victor Pool (clutch move opening it early, Harlingen), running some late afternoon "hot miles" around Treasure Hills and desperately watching the 10-day forecast for hints as to what we had in store. We were as ready as we were going to be, but I still had a good deal of trepidation after last year's sufferfest.
Fortunately The Woodlands greeted us with beautiful weather in the mid 80's with low humidity and tolerable wind and the water temperature in Lake Woodlands solidly in the wetsuit legal range. Very nice.
After checking in and making friends on Thursday (Lacy's favorite part of Ironman), we went to the athlete's dinner and heard some inspirational stories and funny jokes from Mike Reilly. A lot of people skip the athlete's dinner, but I love it. Seeing the race videos, meeting other athletes and hearing the stories of what people overcame to get to the start line gets me fired up. The essence of the Ironman community is on display at the athlete's dinner and it is truly an inspiration. Lacy, of course, was in her element. Before we'd left the athlete's dinner she had made three friends (Alyx, Linda and Stacy) that we would see time and again on and off the course all weekend.
Representing Team Never Quit and Lone Survivor Foundation at the athlete's dinner
We hit practice swim and bike check on Friday morning (where we ran into fellow RGV athletes Rick Seija and Billy Flores) but then spent the better part of our Friday fueling, shopping and relaxing. With lights out by 9:30pm we even managed a solid 6.5 hours of sleep before the race morning routine began.
The biggest difference for me on race morning this year had to be the feeling of calmness that I experienced from the time I woke up until the time the cannon sounded. Last year I was all nerves, but this year was different. I felt entirely peaceful. I'm sure it had everything to do with the knowledge that I could and would finish the distance and the relatively mild (by Texas in May standards) conditions that were projected. I also felt like I'd arrived at the start line in better health and with a better fueling plan than 2013. The "quality over quantity" training had left me feeling fresh and ready. I knew the course, knew my body, knew the race and knew that at the end of the day I'd more than likely beat my PR. I was confident.
And I was also feeling pretty good about the fan club that had made the trip to The Woodlands to cheer us on.
Team Bod Squad greeting us at transition on race morning
If nothing else, Lacy and I were well supported. We had more than 15 familiar faces on the course cheering us on from the canon until the finish line in addition to the other half dozen RGV triathletes that were joining us in the race. Knowing that our friends and family were out there was especially motivating for Lacy who knew that her Bod Squad cheering section would pick her up on the run course and keep her moving towards the finish line.
We made it to transition by about 5:45am, topped off our air, water bottles and nutrition and started the walk to the swim start with our entourage. The swim start parking lot was, or course, a mob scene with epic port-a-potty lines and nervous athletes and family everywhere. Lacy and I donned out wetsuits and sunscreen while giving last minute instructions to our fans and then headed towards the ramp as the pro's cannon went off. Unfortunately, it seems that about two thirds of the field had the same plan and we were still on the ramp when the cannon sounded again at 07:00am.
Mugging for the cameras when we should have been in the water.
After seconds passed, and then a full minute, I finally got into the water. I turned around as I did and blew Lacy a kiss. I wouldn't see her again until 11:00pm.
As I started my swim I was slightly panicked. I was irritated at the slow progress on the ramp and the fact that I was starting my day late, and I worried that it was going to be a bad omen. In the first 400 meters I struggled to find a lane amongst the thrashing arms and legs, struggled to get my goggles on correctly and struggled to feel comfortable in my wetsuit. I realized that my heart rate was skyrocketing and knew that I was probably pushing myself harder than necessary out of frustration. I made the decision to slow down slightly, catch my breath and then find a clear lane to swim in, even if it meant getting a little wide of the field.
I'm the one in the green cap
I managed to calm down but in spite of my efforts I never really got into a rhythm. I finished the 2.4 mile swim in 1:26:59, a full nine minutes slower than 2013.
Transition was relatively quick, and I managed the first 20 miles of the bike at a decent clip before I ran into my first familiar face of the day. Somewhere between miles 20 and 23 I saw the unmistakable Footworks bike jersey worn by fellow Harlingen triathlete Jun Ellorimo and rushed to catch up. Jun, is an excellent cyclist, and far stronger than me in that regard, so I was surprised to catch him. It was short lived. Jun was taking a few minutes to stretch out some early race leg cramps and after a short chat he hit the gas and took off. I made a slight effort to match Jun's pace, but by mile 30 he had receded from my view on the horizon.
Even though Jun dropped me, I was feeling good and executing my nutrition plan flawlessly. La Flama Blanca felt fast and the weather was perfect. I was confident that a sub 6:00 hour bike course was doable and pushed my pace to make sure I was on point. With the speed turned up, the next twenty miles went by without a hitch...but then, in an instant, everything changed.
I was at mile 52 and I was cruising along at 23mph (I know this because I happened to be looking down at my speedometer) when, less than 25 yards ahead of me, a flatbed truck began to slowly turn left out of a small ranch road on the right side of the course. What happened next happened in slow motion.
I looked up, saw the flatbed halfway across the road and realized in a split second that it had no chance of clearing my path before I closed the distance. I recall saying, out loud, "You've got to be kidding me" as I came up from the aero position, locked up the brakes and began to slide to my left.
Boom. I hit the pavement with all of the force of a 175 pound man traveling at 23mph, landing solidly on my left forearm, knee and hip before sliding away from my bike and onto my left shoulder. Powered entirely by adrenaline, I was up like a flash and in a rather animated manner walking towards the cab of the flatbed who was now less than 10 yards away and completing his laborious turn through the middle of an active bicycle race. As he approached me, I realized that A) he was not stopping for the screaming/swearing/bleeding lunatic in the stretchy pants and, B) I had abandoned my bike in the middle of the road and had no idea what condition it was in or whether it was impeding the progress of other riders. So I tossed a few more choice invectives at the driver as he passed me and then picked up my bike and carried it to the left hand shoulder to assess the damage.
First, the bike. It's funny, but my first concern was for my bike, not my bloody left arm and leg. A quick check found that aside from a few scrapes on the left pedal, a tear on the handlebar tape, and the chain hanging loose, the bike was fine. It would seem that my body strategically absorbed the impact of the crash on behalf of my bike.
As for me? My left ankle, left knee, left hip, left forearm and left elbow were all bleeding to some degree and my left upper back near my shoulder was one big patch of road rash. The inside of my right thigh was throbbing but not cut or bleeding. I was bleeding through my sun sleeve on my left arm in two patches, and the forearm was noticeably tender to the touch, but I was able to lean into the aero position anyway and picked up the pace as I rode angry for the next twenty miles. I started to feel the bumps and bruises I'd incurred as anger replaced adrenaline, but it kept me going as I worked to make up the time I had lost during and after the crash. I was truly pissed, but I was also a little bit nervous and worried that I was snakebitten. Every passing car freaked me out. Every piece of debris ahead of me foretold disaster. The crash was definitely in my head and I was worried it might happen again. They say bad things happen in threes. First the delayed swim start, now the crash...What was next? I wanted off that bike. Bad.
As I turned back into the wind, the miles started to tick by a little slower, but I was still in line for a sub-6 hour finish when I turned onto Magnolia Freeway and closed in on The Woodlands. As I turned into the neighborhood and past mile 100 I felt good. I had nailed my nutrition, set myself up for a strong run and was cruising in for a sub- 6 hour finish...then...pssssshhhhhhhhhh...mile 104....flat front tube. And not just any flat. It was an epic flat. I had managed to rip open the tire and shred the tube. The Continental 4000/tire guard combo that had worked so well in the past had finally failed me.
My frustration and irritation with the situation was acutely heightened by the fact that it was now 2:00pm and the heat and sun were out in force. Stopping suddenly removed all of the benefits of convection and heat dissipation that came from traveling on a bike at a high rate of speed. Now I was on the side of the road in the sun fumbling through a tire change with sweat pouring into my eyes and down my arms. Not ideal. Still, I managed a quick change of the tube being careful not to overfill it and cause it to hemorrhage through the ripped tire wall, exposing it to the road. I didn't have any additional tubes and didn't want to ride out the last eight miles on the rim of my race wheel, so I under-inflated the tube and dialed my speed way back for the final half hour praying that I didn't have another blow out. Goodbye sub- 6 hour finish. Between the crash, the flat and the last easy eight miles, I finished the bike in 6:20...14 minutes slower than last year.
After handing off my bike to a volunteer I saw Carolina and a few of the other Bod Squad girls on the left side of the transition area. I told them about my frustration on the bike course as I ran by, holding up my bloody sleeve to emphasize the point. Entering the change tent in transition brought back some bad memories. I remembered entering that same tent a year prior and not wanting to step outside to start the marathon. I was just happy to be in the shade for a few minutes and didn't want anything to do with that run course. This year, I felt better hitting the tent. I changed into my running shoes, race belt and hat quickly and charged out the door into the afternoon heat. Before I cleared the first 300 meters of the run I saw Jetts and my father-in-law on the left hand side and Jun's wife Edith on the right. That picked up my spirits.
The helmet helped me shave valuable seconds of my T2 time
Within the first 5K last year I started experiencing painful cramps in both calfs that were likely the result of low sodium intake on the bike course. I had vowed to do better this year and was taking plenty of Nuun and salt tabs on the bike in between crashes and flats. As such, my initial pace leaving the transition was close to my normal marathon pace of 8:00 min/mile.
After the first aid station I slowed down a little. I didn't want to burn out so I dropped the pace to the 8:30-9:00 min/mile range. The pace still felt too good to be true and I kept telling myself, "It won't last...keep going until the cramps start because it won't last." But it did last. I felt great charging through the first three then five then eight miles even picking it up again as I entered The Waterway and the cheering crowds along the course. Near mile seven someone handed me a "Flav-R-Ice" which I gratefully accepted. A few hundred meters later I ran past the Bod Squad tailgaters and their awesome signs. About a half mile later I caught up to Jun who was still struggling with leg cramps and working his way towards the second lap.
What isn't motivating about that sign?
Passing back through the transition area and onto the second lap of the run I stopped for a second to ask Ed and Jetts where Lacy was. All they knew was that she wasn't off of the bike yet. I had hope that she was and that I would see her on the second lap. It wasn't going to happen.
That was the hardest part of the day for me mentally. I had really hoped that Lacy would be off the bike by the time I started my second lap, and not knowing where she was or how she was doing put me in a dark mood. I kept my pace fairly consistent for the next four miles but Lacy was in my head the whole time.
That changed when I hit the Bod Squad tailgate near mile 15. As soon as I saw them I shouted "Where's Lacy? Where's my wife?" A flood of responses from "She's okay" to "She's off the bike" to "She's running" hit me. Awesome.
Bod Squad Iron Tailgate
I took the news like a shot in the arm. My pace was slowing slightly, but I felt great knowing that Lacy was off of the bike. She would finish by midnight for sure.
A few minutes later I caught up with two guys named George and Joe who had met in T2 and decided to pace the marathon together. I had been behind George and Joe for a little while and realized that they were running a pace that I could manage. Joe and George were both racing their first Ironman and both were hoping to finish under 13 hours. I shared the next six miles with them, chatting about training, past races, jobs and family. Meeting them on the course happened at the perfect time and kept me motivated on the first half of lap three.
We parted ways around mile 21 when my right calf finally started cramping up and I had to take a few minutes to walk. I had done the math and knew that I could afford to power walk a couple of miles if I needed to and still finish under 13 hours. A few minutes turned into a run/walk/shuffle for the next two and a half miles while I worked through my leg cramps and downed sodium packed chicken broth at several aid stations. When the I hit The Waterway again and heard the crowds and Mike Reilly at the finish line I sucked it up and picked up the pace. As I came into the chute Ed handed me a Texas Tech flag and I carried it with a guns up across the finish line. 12:58:47. Everything that we went wrong on the bike and swim went right on the run giving me a sub 5-hour marathon and a new Ironman PR by a full hour and eighteen minutes.
I ran into Rick and his girlfriend Nancy in the finisher's area and learned that he too had suffered a crash on the bike course (and two flats to boot). He had finished about 20 minutes ahead of me and had managed a new PR of his own in spite of having a tough race. We were soon joined by Ed and Jetts and we hung around trading stories and eating Freebird's burritos until Jun crossed the finish about 20 minutes later with his own PR. It was a proud day for Harlingen's Ironmen!
Jun, Rick and I. Three 2 x Ironmen from one small South Texas town.
After loading mine and Lacy's gear from transition into the race wagon, Ed, Jetts and I planted ourselves on The Waterway about 1.5 miles from the finish line to wait for the little one to pass by. We cheered on every runner that passed us as we waited for Lacy. She was hurting when she passed us, but managed a smile and a kiss and hit the last stretch knowing that she was well under the cutoff.
By the time she made the loop back to the finish area, we were ready for her with the entire Bod Squad crew and several others who had filtered into The Woodlands in the last hours of the race. As is her custom, Lacy made a splash before crossing the line.
Camera shaking scream...curse words...yep, that's my wife.
So, Ironman ended with some flair and Lacy and I retired to the hotel room to lick our wounds, check our myriad texts and Facebook messages and swap war stories. Neither of us slept much that night. All of the cola I consumed on the course left my on a caffeine high and Lacy was having some lasting stomach issues from the course, but, whatever...we were Ironmen...again
Look who I found!
I cannot thank our sherpas/cheering section enough. Renea, Melissa, Carolina, Jody, Colleen, Laura, Michelle, Alex, Jacob, Jetts, Ed, Kelly and the Footworks and Lone Star Pacesetters people were everywhere from sun up to the final hour and kept us motivated and on and off the course...and they bought us a cookie cake.
Best. Friends. Ever.
So what's on the docket now, you ask? Is there an Ironman 3 in the works? Let's just say that negotiations are underway. But in the interim, we're going to return to coaching mode and do our absolute best to inspire and encourage a new group of women and men across their first sprint or olympic distance triathlon finish line.
You can look for Team Healey and the newly formed Bod Squad Multisport Team at the Small/Tiny Texan Triathlon in Boerne in July. I'll be the one standing next to the fired up red head who seems to be yelling a little too often and a little too loudly as the girls that cheered her to the finish line in The Woodlands tackle their first race.
Thanks for cheering us on! Ironman, out.