Each journey leads to another – the road to Cedar Point both ends and begins here.
We have been training for 7 months. Sacrificing 20 hours per week, for nearly 30 weeks. Rest days were earned while others were sometimes taken by exhaustion – literally. Some nights I fell asleep on the floor, waiting for a trainer course to download or the lightening to clear for my run, or a simple pre-run stretch.
For the people that know me, falling asleep on the floor or at my desk chair at 2 am is par for the course.
Nick Logan of Bike Express in Danbury, CT provided me with the coaching plan and a tri bike to ride. Rev3 provided me with a race entry to Cedar Point “full rev” 140.6 mile triathlon. All they asked of me in return was to share my journey.
What did the training plan look like this year? In retrospect …
- Swim almost 100 miles.
- Bike nearly 3,000 miles, on a combination of stationary trainer and roads.
- Run almost 1,000 miles, mostly in the dark and by year-end, I’ll be well-north of that.
- Weight-down, about 30 lbs since we started training in February and down over 40 lbs since last year.
Rev3 is an amazing group of humble people with a simple purpose – try their best to make sure everyone has a fun day. I stumbled upon them a few years back while trying to find a race venue with a kids race, adults race, and stuff to keep everyone entertained. I found Quassy and raced my first 70.3!
Cedar Point is the “roller coaster capital of the world” and my kids were asking to come back next year, before my race even began.
I’ve made an attempt to blog about the road to Cedar Point, training, race venues like Quassy and Old Orchard Beach, and age grouper related stuff. Usually it was around 2 am at my desk, in the waning moments before falling asleep.
Like I said, a venue with a kid race, adult race, and something fun to do …
Saturday: Kids triathlon and roller coasters! Race entry gets a free ticket-to-ride for the weekend. Wait times were under 15 minutes for almost every ride in the park.
Race Briefing: Swim will be in the marina. Mandatory Saturday bike check-in is waived due to expected overnight weather – yeah! I can get an early morning warm-up ride from the hotel to transition. The bike course has a few choppy segments and there are a few detours to be aware of. It’s the athletes responsibility to know the course – no worries here … The bike course is added to my Garmin and I’m simply going to follow the person in front of me. What could go wrong?
Dinner: Hotel lobby TGI Fridays does not serve pasta dishes and I’m not feeling hibachi … Pancake breakfast-for-dinner at Perkins?
Pancakes are probably the most appropriate meal to eat, considering one of the few training constraints my kids asked of me – be home to make a chocolate chip pancake breakfast on the weekend. Let’s do it!
Hotel: Packing my race bags … this is my first 140.6, first time using a changing tent, first time using special needs bags, and first time in a “clean” transition. I packed and re-packed my bags until midnight. Then I packed them into my tri bag and set every alarm possible.
Sunday: Race Day!
I’m very excited to be racing my first 140.6 but this feeling in my stomach is not butterflies. Oh, crap!
Swim 2.4 miles, allegedly with a 6 ft long water snake in the water.
Yes … there is a blurry video and first-hand accounts of people that “saw it” and talk of some triathletes that “touched something” in the water. I too wondered how I could feel the zipper pull-string of my wetsuit, underneath me. The truth is out there…
Swim course was moved from “open water” in Lake Erie to the marina. When the wind is coming from the north, Lake Erie can literally be a monster to swim. There is a part of me that thinks it would be fun to swim in 3-4 ft swells but today is race-day, not be-a-moron day.
I head over to swim start at the marina and make some small talk with everyone. Considering that it’s 5:30 am and we’re walking a half-mile to go race 140.6 miles, everyone is surprisingly relaxed and chipper… or maybe we’re all crazy and there aren’t enough butterfly nets to stop us.
It’s always a good idea to have a race plan, that way you know when things are going well and when things are going wrong. Example: Spending 30 minutes on the toilet, pre-race wasn’t part of my race plan – something is definitely going wrong. But no worries, I’ve told myself the worst is behind me. I decided to start with a pun in loo of crappy jokes! Three days of stomach cramps was no fun but this stinks … Ok that’s enough … I didn’t know it at the time but I would have nearly 30 more minutes throughout the race to think of more toilet jokes.
Since we’re in the marina, there’s a two-by-two time trial start. Like a reverse Noah’s ark with far too many imitation penguins that pee themselves before getting out of the water. In case you’re looking for me, I’m the one in the black wetsuit an orange swim cap that looks like a sucker fish.
My wife told it’s surprisingly easy to identify me because my stroke rate is so much more “graceful” than anyone else’s. Technically, she said “slower” but I know what she meant.
At Rev3 Old Orchard Beach, when I first saw the buoys, I thought they were far, until my older daughter wanted to swim out to them. We chatted and goofed-around while swimming out. Today, I hear her mischievous laugh saying, let’s swim to the next buoy. As I finish the first lap around the marina, I see my amazing wife on shore. I try to say hello and wave to her, while I’m swimming, without looking / sounding like I’m drowning. She’s awesome.
Out of the water and on target with the plan – exactly 90 minutes … maybe she did mean slower but I have fresh shoulders and a face that only partially resembles a sucker fish.
Transition 1: Run-from-Swim to Bike.
There are more volunteers and spectators than swimmers – so cool! The wetsuit strippers are surprised to learn that I intend to run a barefoot half mile in my cozy warm wetsuit to transition, rather than hold it while I run, dripping wet on a brisk breezy morning. Maybe I’m not the crazy one … maybe.
Speaking of holding it … did you know that there are two types of triathletes? Those that pee in their wetsuit and liars – I did not pee in my wetsuit … honest.
By the way, I am in full-meathead mode, running toward an opening in the crowd that isn’t in the entirely wrong direction but arguably, certainly not the correct direction. The correct direction was marked with pink, orange, and maybe yellow day-glow duct tape with enough arrows and lanes on the ground that it could be seen from space. Not to mention all the people pointing where to go. That makes me one of the few special people today. I am both special and crazy.
A half-mile and a few conversations later, I’m in the changing tent where I have a personal butler volunteer at my beck-and-call. Seriously. He’s folding my wetsuit and asking if there is anything he can get for me, while I put my socks on. Like I said, I’m special today.
Bike 112 miles: The weather is perfect but there is a rain cloud over my head that grows bigger with every mile – remember those bathroom jokes? It’s about to get a lot funnier …
I come out of T1, in hot pursuit of anyone I see. I’m flashing back to the strength of my ride at Old Orchard Beach. Cedar Point is a flatter course – I am mentally ready to dominate the bike course today and if I do, I have a chance at finishing in under 12 hours total time and achieving my unspoken goal. I’m not one for excuses – I’ve had a variety of problems in prior races. From flat tires, to gearing issues, to face-melting heat. Coming into this race, I knew my stomach could be a factor and it is becoming a major factor. On Thursday, I caught some bad stomach bug that hasn’t gone away and that is my rain cloud today. None of that matters right now – I’m pedaling hard and feeling strong. Note to self: Keep a few tablets of Imodium in the tri bag next time.
I am executing on my nutrition plan today and feeling strong. Anytime I start to feel “weak” I simply think back to our family bike rides when my youngest rides tandem with me – I simply ask her for some “pedal power” and I hear her excitement to ride – I visualize her pedaling behind me and I’m strong again. Cycling is fun!
I’m on the aero bars, ripping down the road on a blazing fast bike that is perfectly fitted to me, thanks to Jason Twedt at Bike Express of Danbury, CT. I have everything I need to fly. Nothing can hold me back!
Fortunately, my Garmin Edge just ran out of battery but only after momentarily flashing “off course” … by the way, I haven’t seen anyone for a little while… If I am off course, how would I know? Note to self – even if I don’t know the course, I should know how long the longest segment is.
FYI: I just passed the world’s longest green caterpillar at mile 33 as it was apparently crossing the road. I swerved around it because it looked like a branch. I’m fairly certain that it winked at me.
Seriously – where is everyone? I’m fast but there’s no way that I’m the race leader. I’m regretting not studying the map better. Finally, there is a duct tape arrow. A convenience store … I wonder if they have Imodium?
… There’s a problem … my pace has started slowing because I’m hurting. Like a child that just put on their snowsuit, I need a bathroom – right now.
B1: I buried my breakfast at Cemetary Rd.
– The volunteers on Cemetary Rd were so nice. I grabbed a water bottle while riding through and accidentally hosed one of the kids with it and they laughed it off. One of the little kids offered to hold my bike as I ran toward the port-a-potty. I politely declined and leaned my bike against the nearby fence. I love the positivity of the volunteers and I’m trying to remain optimistic …
– I’m no longer in first place … I hear the clapping
– I think a dozen more people passed me … I stopped counting
– I can barely move right now … I’m hurting
– Rev3 provided a complementary Quarq GPS tracking device to all “Full Rev” competitors and I’m mindful that anyone tracking me has seen me stationary for a while.
– People are probably worried that something is wrong
I need to get moving.
– A volunteer asks if I’m ok. I tell her “food poinsoning, I’ll be ok” … She was going to call race support for medical assistance.
I need to get moving!
– I’m back on the bike and pedaling again but feeling much weaker.
I NEED TO GET MOVING!
Decision time: Do I get aero and subject my stomach cramps to some heavy pedaling, or do I stay upright and watch the day pass me by? When in doubt, pedal it out!
I am going to ride approximately 42 miles, in constant search of “the next” aid station, i.e. toilet. I make one more stop on the ride (B2). It wasn’t easy but I decided to not make a third stop at the “open house” showing and continue on to bike finish, where I am certain there is a field of blue porta-potties.
I have the tendency to get very excited when I see my support crew. I yell with all my breath when I see them – they are amazing and I want them to know how much I appreciate them. To the uninitiated, you could call it insanely positive but I want them to know! I roll into T2 fast and silent. Now, they understand that I am not well – I rack my bike and head away from the changing tent but this time, I’m unfortunately going in the correct direction.
Transition 2: Bathroom-to-Bike-to-Run
B3: Thoughts from my plastic throne …
- I have successfully negative split my bathroom segments!
- I have zero fluids in my body.
- I have zero nutrition in my body.
- I am going to run a marathon, no matter what it takes.
- Need to grab the granola bars off my bike and bring them to have something solid.
- Stick to the race plan and think on my toes.
I’m back on the course, coming out of T2 and my crew is waiting for me. Of all days, today is the day that I have needed them the most.
Run 26.2 miles: The “signs” surround us, we simply need to see them. Coming out of T2, I have zero fluid or nutrition in my body and I’m about to run my first marathon. Ever.
My support crew is waiting for me at “Run Out” and they are awesome – signs, bells, matching shirts, pictures – I am very blessed to have these people in my life. I am so excited to see them that I just paced an 8:59 mile to start on a support-high.
Rev3 has aid stations positioned every mile on the run and these volunteers are professionally organized. My nutrition plan is 2 cups of water at every aid station and a gel every 35 – 45 minutes. Next 10 minutes are easy paced, then I’m going to reduce my average mile pace by 1 second, each mile / aid station, and try to negative split the marathon.
Shortly after turning onto 1st St, there was a banner hanging from a fence along the race course that read “Lighten your load … give it to God.”
Shortly before I turn onto Meigs, Penny Pooch is on her front porch and waving her cowbell for every runner. She was preoccupied cheering for the runners in front of me then apologized for almost missing me as I “snuck up on her.”
Everyone in this town is cheering. The course has enough turns to keep each segment fresh – there’s not really any long slog to wear you down and there are volunteers at every marked curve, bend , and turn on the road. Enough people have called me sugar and honey to give me a cavity, if not diabetes – it’s so sweet. I’m cheering for everyone I see and the more I cheer the more solid I feel.
As I’m cheering, something peculiar happens around mile 6 – are there twins running this course? I just saw that guy … Ginger beard, hipster sun glasses … He was ahead of me but now he’s behind me at the next turn. Strange. Now triplets? Here he is again … what is going on? Am I hallucinating? Is this guy cutting the course with a GPS tracker in his pocket? If I was really cool, there would be an awesome ghost story here but like I said earlier – I’m in meathead-mode and Rev3 apparently allows multiple gingers with hipster beards and sunglasses to participate – very progressive of them. I know this because I’m now cheering for people by the name on their bib. Sorry for doubting you, Maxwell and Benjamin. No one else ever saw a third ginger on the course though …
My best mate recently completed IM Lake Placid and his lasting advice was, “if you feel strong and your legs feel fresh, simply ask yourself – is it mile 18 yet? If the answer is no, chill-out and stick to the race plan!”
There are a bunch of loops to this course and then you do it twice. When I come back to the park for the turnaround, my support crew isn’t in sight. Turn-around is vacant – two volunteers, maybe. Hopefully my crew is enjoying the coasters still and will catch me at the finish. That’s when I decided that if they’re not at the finish for any reason, I will ask someone to call them and I will wait at the finisher’s chute for them, before crossing the finish line. Rev3 gives you a free finisher’s photo, which is one of the few guaranteed family photos for us.
Back out onto the course – 13.1 miles to go and I’m just warming-up. Stomach has held up well and legs feel good. I’m sticking to the nutrition and pacing plan.
My coaching has been on-point:
- Nick Logan of Bike Express asked me a simple question back in February – “Would you be ‘ok’ walking during the marathon?” Lots of people do it and some race strategies incorporate intermittent walking. Ultra marathoners often walk the uphills. Me? I intend to run the entire marathon, without stopping unless I absolutely need to. Nick said that’s all he needed to know when building-up my run training plan.
The cheering is even better on the second lap:
- The volunteers and townies are wonderful – they have a good sense of humor and are great at quick banter.
- Kids in the neighborhood are riding their bikes around and I overhear a few saying they want to do the race when they are older.
- There is a yard full of ladies with signs that have stopped whatever it was they were doing to grab their signs and cheer for me, each time I ran past.
- One of the ladies from the corner pub is riding back to the park in a tutu – allegedly, she has a bag of Oreos in her backpack that she is willing to share, back at the finish line.
- All the volunteers tell me how they look forward to this event – one guy explains “this volunteer station is my home away from home, every year. I’ll see you next year brother!”
I’m focused on staying positive – it’s the only way I’m going to finish strong.
That’s when it happens … I see them. MY CREW! Signs, bells, matching screaming-yellow shirts. They came out onto the course to cheer for me. I’m elated to see them. The kids are running with me. We’re all cheering. Townies are walking on the side walk and smiling at the sight of my crew. I hear local kids saying they want to run in the race too. My wife tells me about all the text messages she’s been receiving today from everyone watching me from afar. That Quarq GPS tracker was a game changing experience today.
I feel invincible at this moment – and right next to my best mate is the Mile-18 marker. Runners high is an understatement. I am reborn. Strong? I feel like i just started the run with fresh legs. Thea is running along with me and we’re catching-up have enjoying the run. My crew from near and far are carrying me today – my feet might be in the sneakers but there are so many people running this race with me in spirit that I honestly feel like I could run forever. I didn’t realize how much I needed them until they were with me.
Until this moment, I always thought of triathlon as a solo event – I usually train alone, in my own swim lane, on the trainer in the basement, and running in the dark, while the world sleeps. The truth is that it takes a village to get a triathlete to the starting line and if you have the right village, you will make it over the finish line. The cheering didn’t start today – my crew has been there from the start because they are the ones that encouraged me to start. My crew made me believe in myself and helped me realize my potential is far beyond expectations. Bonita, Emily, Melanie, Tig, Thea, Ella, Maddi, Kai, Moms, Dads, Catherine, Michael, George, Wendy, Nick, Jason, Jerry, Oliver, my Facebook friends, fellow triathletes, Rev3 staff, Instagram followers, blog readers, Strava friends and the countless other people that have encouraged me along the way – you are all my crew and MY CREW IS FAMILY!
The harder I push, the easier it gets. I say farewell to all the cheering people in the neighborhood. Be safe, to all the first responders. Thank you, to the volunteers. Dude running a marathon in jean shorts and sandals – did I just see that? Stay strong, you’ve got this to all the triathletes still on the course.
… Almost there.
… Onto the bridge as the sun is starting to set to the west, over the Lake Erie horizon.
… Two final cups of water from the last aid station.
I see the coasters.
I see the finish chute.
I see my crew – they are all waiting for me. Bonita and all the kids! Tig and Thea are snapping pictures and cheering along. We cross the finish line together.
Sweaty hugs, high-fives, and fist bumps. I am filled with gratitude that I had the good fortune to prepare for and to participate in this race today and be surrounded with love, support, and encouragement.
My crew is my family and I have no idea how to express the depth of my gratitude that I have them in my life. My family is my strength.
The road to Cedar Point has been long and filled with sacrifice but we made it over the finish line today!
I’m at the finish, sitting down, talking and listening but have no memory of what was being said. That’s when my wife comes over with the unofficial results. She knows I like these little scrap book mementos, even though it will likely sit in the pile of mementos on my desk. I’ve often told people that I’m a “back of the pack” age group finisher, I’ll never be a “threat” to the podium, and big guys don’t win triathlons.
She tells me that I placed third in my age group.
I’ve never stood on the podium until now.
Finisher’s brunch and awards ceremony is the next morning at the pavilion.
As my younger daughter is closely inspecting the hat and bronze medal, she makes a special request …
“Next year, when we come back, can you win one of the gold medals? It comes with a Snoopy doll.”
I start to wonder…