OK, I’m in (under the California Cookie Monster) and looking forward to this one. The Furnace Creek 508, is approaching fast. Life, despite our hopes, has not slowed down. The pressures of work continue to mount. Lately, I’m finding it more difficult to focus. What used to be an evening escape to unwind from work, my runs now are sessions of work dilemmas played out for miles and miles. Mentally, I’ve reached the point where I just want to stop, fall down and take a long hard nap. But we all have pressures and I’m just trying to keep my head down and plow ahead. That’s probably my biggest problem…
So the 508 is coming up. Two weeks ago I ran the San Francisco Marathon and finished just under 3:02. Not my best performance. I felt great the first half but pulled or strained my right groin muscle during the second half. Actually, I probably strained it during the Tahoe Rim 100 and just haven’t taken the time to rest it but it really started to bother me the last 6 miles of the marathon. Then on Friday, I entered the Vineman the day before the event. I had done absolutely zero swim training, no long rides and was trying to rest my groin muscle. What better way than a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile ride and 26.2 mile run? That’s what I thought.
Not knowing what to expect other than swallowing a lot of Russian River water, Nicole and I drove out to the start Saturday morning around 6 AM. Nicole waited in a never-ending bathroom line for me while I setup my bike in T1. I squeezed into my wetsuit and we gave up on the bathroom. Nicole wished me luck and I jumped in the river. The gun went off a few minutes later and chaos ensued. It’s hard to describe the start of the triathlon but unless you’ve been in the water, amidst the bodies, it’s hard to imagine. The gun goes off and arms and legs are everywhere. For the next 10 minutes, you are being kicked and hit and you are kicking and hitting anyone around you. (There is a video on YouTube that gives a good description of what it is like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3S0wu4Zbfk.) I finished the swim in 1:08, a lot faster than I was expecting, which I can only give credit to the wetsuit. Entering T1, Nicole and Phil were there, encouraging me on and Nicole was saying I’m only 1 minute behind Bob Shebest. I’m thinking “No Way!”
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It took me a few minutes to slip out of my wetsuit and get my bike shoes on but soon enough I was running towards the road, my heart pumping fast and my legs already tired. I jumped on my bike and took off down River Road in shock. I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe my time. I did some quick calculations in my head and thought I might be able to finish in under 10 hours if I can run a 3:15 marathon. However, my legs were already sore and I started to think I just spent myself on the swim… Real smart!
Within a few minutes, I felt comfortable cruising at about 25 MPH down River Road and passing a few cyclists. I knew I couldn’t sustain the pace but it felt good for the time being. My legs started to regain their strength and I took a Clif Shot once I was settled on the bike. Awhile later I caught Kevin as we approached Healdsburg and we talked for a bit. He said he wasn’t doing great and might drop at the run. We wished each other luck and I edged ahead. I completed the first lap in 2:33 and felt pretty good. My second lap was much slower and I also had a head wind coming back from Geyserville. But in Geyserville, Nicole and Phil met me and took some pictures. It was great to see them and they rejuvenated my spirits. After about 90 miles, I was starting to tire knowing I still had a marathon to run.
The Chalkhill portion of the ride was tough the second time. The hills seemed a little longer and the sun felt a little hotter. I took another Clif Shot in preparation for the marathon since I could feel that I was running low on energy. Two bananas and two Clif Shots were all that I had up to that point. When I arrived at the high school for T2, Nicole and Phil were there and it was really good to start on the run. But at this stage, I knew that I was not going to run a 3:15 marathon. After a quick check, I reassessed and started thinking more like 5 hours! So I loaded up on fluids leaving T2 and headed out to the run course. My legs felt dead and my body felt drained.
The marathon proved to be more mental than physical. Sure there was the physical aspect and that was grueling. But the mental side proved to be the real battle. The course was almost 9 miles out and back and we repeated it three times. The course had some small hills and as the run got longer, I could see a lot of the runners slowing and walking. I passed one runner, bent over at the waist and emptying his stomach on the side of the road So many times I wanted to walk it in but I kept giving myself little goals, “OK. Just make it to mile 9.” But after reaching that goal I would give myself another one, “OK. Just make it to the halfway. You can at least run a half marathon.” This went on for most of the marathon. I wasn’t breaking any speed records. I think that I was averaging around a 8:30 to 9:00 minute mile but I was running on empty. I spotted Bob well behind the leaders during lap one. During lap two, he was closing the gap. And when we crossed paths during his lap last, he was dead even with another runner for 1st place. As I headed out for my last loop, he was coming in, running strong and a good 100 yards in front. We high-fived as we crossed.
As I came into the finish, my mood improved and I felt wonderful. I couldn’t believe what I had just finished. I thought that I could do it, but after doing it I realized just how hard it is. Nicole, Phil and Suzan cheered as I approached the finish line. Even though there is a personal satisfaction with finishing and reaching a goal, it’s always nice to finish in the company of family and friends. I finished in 10 hours and 34 minutes but was assessed a 4 minute penalty for drafting. So my official time was 10 hours and 38 minutes.
Phil took pictures throughout the day and you can view them all at http://photos.yahoo.com/michael_cook. We hung out for nearly an hour after the race. Nicole and I went to Chevy’s for dinner later that evening and even though I felt hungry, I just couldn’t stomach too much food.
Two days later, we celebrated Nicole’s 32nd birthday on Monday night after work with sandwhiches at the coast.