Saturday morning my phone woke me up at 4:10 a.m. to the theme song of Friday Night Lights.  I grabbed it off of the night stand, slid the switch over to off and took a deep breath.

Ironman was less than 3 hours away.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do before I left for the parking lot to meet up with a couple of fellow competitors to car-pool over to the transition area as most of the pre-race preparation took place over the 72 hours leading up to race morning.

I had arrived to the Woodlands on Wednesday, taking my time driving down from Austin.  I was remarkably calm during the trip, did not let traffic frustrate me, just tried to stay relaxed and conserve physical and mental energy.  I was going to need all of it on Saturday.  Instead of going to the hotel on Wednesday, I went directly to Athlete check-in, signed my waivers, picked up my Ironman Texas bag, my bib, timing chip, transition bags and did a little shopping in the Ironman Store.  I returned to the hotel, got my bags packed, numbered, put the stickers on my bike, my helmet and got my shopping done at the local grocery store.

Thursday was a bike ride through the National Forest to scope out the most technical part of the bike course (Miles 40-57) and then on Friday, a short 500 meter practice swim to get used to the water temperature, sighting lines for the buoys and the clarity of the water – or lack thereof.

No surprises on Race Day.  That is always a good philosophy.  But with a race with as many moving parts as this one, and one covering 140.6 miles across three disciplines, you don’t want to be making it up as you go along out there.  I was determined to stick to my plan as close as possible, and then be confident and secure enough in my ability to improvise when necessary never losing sight of the ultimate goal.  Just finish this damn thing no matter what it takes.  Get the medal.  Earn your spot in the club.

Ironman.

I glanced down at my 10 item checklist that I made the day before and started crossing things off of my race morning list:

1.  Apply your Race Numbers (Done Friday Night).

2.  Apply Body Glide anywhere that skin contacts skin or clothing.

3.  Apply sunscreen (don’t forget the backs of your ears or top of your head).

4.  Get your frozen Bottles out of the freezer.

5.  Place one frozen bottle in the cooler and put in your bike special needs bag.

6.  Put on your timing chip.

7.  Bring your cap, goggles, wetsuit.

8.  Grab bike special needs bag and run special needs bag.

9.  Put your phone in your goggles case and inside your morning clothes bag.

10. Have Fun.  Do Not Quit.

So after crossing off all of the items with the exception of #10, I calmly forced down a bagel, bottle of EFS (Electrolyte Drink), A water and a small jolt of Coke Zero for the Caffeine it was time to go.  I said my goodbye to Dawn who was kind enough to wake up early and get my sunblock in all the right spots on my bake, said goodbye to a sleeping tow-headed girl still dreaming away and walked down to the parking lot.  Cannon in less than two hours.

TRANSITION AREA – PRE-RACE – 5:35 a.m.

I walked into the transition area, showed my Ironman wrist band and headed over to my Quintana Roo CD.01 that I had racked on Friday.  I did not have a lot to accomplish, just put my bottles on the bike, clip on my bike computer and inflate my tires to 120 lbs. psi.  I did not bring my own pump down, but I did remember my headlamp to help make things a bit easier.  The line to have the bike technicians fill up tires already had more than 20 nervous athletes in it, so I decided to make a friend at my rack and ask if I could borrow his pump.

I supplied the light, he supplied the pumping power and in less than 10 minutes I was walking out of transition, headed to the swim start.  The last thing I wanted to do was spend anymore time around the energy that was going on in Transition.  People thinking too much, making adjustments to their set-ups.  Tweaking their bikes.  There was a time for all of that, but it was several weeks ago.  At this point, you have to be committed.  I was sticking with my plan and going to just simply do my best to hang in there.

Swim Start – 6:30 a.m.

I made the walk over to the swim start with two friends, Sean Shaikun who I worked with at my last company for more than a decade, and Tim Tait, who I met just this past weekend.  Both in town from Atlanta, GA – we were coincidentally and rather amazingly staying at the same hotel.  We were able to hang out quite a bit before the race, rode our practice ride and swam the practice session together.  The walk distracted me from what was in store and as we got to the Swim start I still was feeling in control and calm.

Then the bathroom line was backed way up and it looked like we would not have enough time to get everything done and get a good spot in the water at 6:45 a.m.

We made the decision to abort the bathroom line, change into our wetsuits, drop off our morning clothes and special needs bags and head over to the water.

At 6:45 a.m. I zipped up, pulled down my goggles and slid into the lake.  My nerves were really starting to build now and as I said goodbye to Sean I was all alone swimming over to one of the kayaks.  My plan was to hang on to the kayak up until the last minute before the cannon fired so I would not have to tread water and waste precious energy.  I had a good spot, only 3-4 rows of swimmers off of the starting line, but as 7:00 a.m. approached the number of swimmers around me more than quadrupled.  I was going to be right in the middle of the swim start – bodies were going to be flying everywhere around me – there was no doubt about it now.  I was about to start Ironman Texas.

Entering the Water at Ironman Texas

Entering the Water at Ironman Texas

The Swim – 7:00 a.m.

At 6:59:30 I switched my watch off of time of day and into swim mode.  I pushed off of the kayak, took three breathes of water, dunking my head and waited for the sound.

BOOM!

Chaos.  I could write paragraph after paragraph at this point and I do not think that I could possibly due justice what ensued.  This was going to be the most violent, physical, aggressive swim that I’ve ever been a part of.  There were a few factors that made it a challenge.

Swim Start

Swim Start

1.  Visibility.  There is none in Lake Woodlands.  this is a shallow body of water with a silt bottom.  The rain from the week leading up to the race washed a ton of dirt etc. into the lake and with the swimmers kicking and pulling the silty bottom gets stratified in the water and it is a dark brown.  I could not see past my elbow under water during my catch, so there was no way to avoid another athlete before you made contact.  No adjustments could be made in advance of hitting another swimmer.  It was entirely backed up and we were swimming on top of each other.

2.  The Course.  Most Ironman Courses start with a straight shot to allow the swimmers to spread out.  This lake had a subtle turn to the left, then a turn to the right before you reached the first turn buoys approximately 1.500 meters away.  All of the swimmers were basically funneled from the widest part of the race (the start) to a narrow point at the first red turn buoy, so the contact actually increased as you went along instead of decreased.  I never swam more than 15 strokes at any point without making contact with another body.

3.  The Canal.  After making the turn around and heading back North on the swim course, the route then made a right hand turn into a narrow canal for the last 800 meters.  The Canal was 30 meters wide at the widest point, about 22 meters wide at its most narrow, again.  Full contact, no relief all the way to the steps.

First 500 Meters

First 500 Meters

Reading the above and knowing that I am not a swimmer, having taken my first lessons only 3 summers ago, I’m sure you are thinking that I was freaking out.

The funny thing is I have never been more calm and in control during a triathlon than I was at Ironman Texas.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that I knew that the “freak-out” factor was going to be very likely going in, the fact that I was not surprised at all by the chaos, or that I knew that the only way I was going to hear Mike Reilly call me an Ironman was getting through to the end of that swim, but I remained relaxed throughout and simply hung in there to the end.

Canal Portion of Swim

Canal Portion of Swim

Swim time:  1:25:17

1,352 place – dead middle of the pack.

Transition 1:

I pulled off the goggles and cap, unzipped and plopped down on the mat for the wetsuit strippers to do there thing.  I gave the volunteer a quick hug/thank you and started making my run up the hill to the bags.  Just before reaching the rows of Bike Gear Bags off to the left I saw Dawn and Landry cheering for Dad as he went by.  Seeing there smiling faces, and I’m sure relief to some degree for Dawn that I made it out of the water got me excited to get changed and start on the bike.  This was going to be the longest and in some ways most difficult part of the race for me.  Winds were blowing hard from the SSW, not the SSE that would provide a tailwind on the way out.  The bike was going to be a battle.

I grabbed a seat in the T1 with the goal of being completely dry and into a fresh triathlon kit for the bike.  I wanted to start with dry feet and a dry seat.

Off came my jammers – yep, full on nudity in the Ironman Tent – and started with the bodyglide everywhere.  Toes, bum, inner arms, waist, nipples, all the bad spots.  Got into my gear and bike shoes, strapped on my helmet, filled up my T1 bag with all my swim stuff and handed it to a volunteer.  I ran to the rack, pulled down my bike and made it to the bike mount line.

T1:  12:00

Bike – 8:37 a.m.

I started the bike computer, clipped in as a cyclist was having problems right in front of me and headed out onto the course very controlled.  I wanted to keep my heart rate low and ride the first 30 miles under control.  This was the only part of the course where I really could have ridden in the 22-25 mph range the way the wind was blowing, but that would come at a huge cost on the back half of the bike.  I had originally hoped to ride something around 5:45/5:50, but quickly focused on a 6 hour bike.  If I could ride 18.7 mph average, I’d have plenty of time on the marathon course to come in under 13 hours.

I immediately dropped down into the aero position and started to tick off the miles.  I found a nice pack to ride with and due to my somewhat slow swim time, a lot of the faster athletes were already out in front of me.  I was able to just stick to the left hand “lane” on the bike course, and constantly stay out of drafting trouble while passing the competitors in front of me.

My nutrition plan was to take in a package of sport beans every :30 minutes past the hour on the bike, 2 salt tabs every :45 minutes, 1 stinger waffle every hour and drink my electrolyte replacement drink every 10 minutes.

As we rode through the Woodlands and entered the National Forest at mile 30, everything went according to plan from a nutrition perspective and a degree of effort.  I had averaged 18.93 mph through the first 30 mile check-point of the race, but at this point things were going to change pretty significantly as we turned West and headed right into the SSW wind.

The next 26 miles were tough.  Rolling hills and a lot of headwind/crosswind.  My average speed through this section was only 16.34 mph, but the effort actually increased quite a bit.  I was able to stay on my nutrition plan until we reached the 4 hour and 30 minute mark.  When I pulled my sport beans out of my bento box on top of my frame, the thought of eating a single one of them made my stomach churn.  I tucked them back in, decided to stay on plan with my hydration and salt tab regimen, but I would skip that feeding and see how I felt at the 5 hour mark.

At the midway point of the ride, 56 miles in I thought to myself that I had never raced further than the half-ironman distance on the bike (56 mi).  In a lot of ways I was heading into uncharted waters and once we eclipsed mile 100 on the bike, I was really in no-man’s land, as I had never ridden further than 100 miles at any point.  I tried to hold back on the first half, so I could push harder on the way back and it was time to start that pursuit.

I continued to pass riders and finally we reached the Woodlands again for the final 12 miles of the bike course.  My legs still felt strong, but mentally I was ready to get out of the saddle.  I was not able to at the 5 hour mark or the 5:30 mark, just relying on Ironman Perform for my calories, salt and water for my hydration.  I was able to pee twice on the bike, but the second time, I could tell that I was behind the hydration schedule as very little emptied from my bladder.  I washed things off with cold water as I pedaled for home.  But the wind had really beaten us up on the way in.

I averaged 19.90 mph over the 2nd 56 miles of the bike course.

I hit the dismount line, clipped out of my pedals and kicked off my bike shoes for the run back into transition.  Ironman Bike was in the books.

Bike:  5:59:41

911 place – we had passed 441 riders on the bike course.

Transition 2:

I had a hard time finding my run legs coming off the bike.  I ran a few strides, walked a bit, tried to run again, walked a bit.  It was pretty clear that I needed to take some time in T2 to get my legs back under me, so I took my time as the volunteers called out my number 2330, 2330, 2330.  By the time I reached my bag a volunteer handed it to me and I made my way back into the tent.

I sat down, pulled open my bag and saw running shoes that did not belong to me.  The volunteer had handed me bag #2230 not 2330.

I had to wait for them to change the bags out, which ended up costing me a couple of minutes.  Once they returned, I started the second costume change of the day and got into my compression underwear and compression run shorts so that I would be able to place and hold ice in my pants during the marathon to stay cool.  Fresh socks, fresh tri top and visor.  I stopped at the suntan lotion volunteers on the way out and hit the run course at a comfortable, but slow jog.

T1:  12:59

Marathon – 2:49 p.m.

I entered the run course, crossed the timing mat and made a mental note that all I had to do was keep moving and I was going to finish.  With 9 hours left in the race before they started DNF’ing athletes at Midnight – I could walk the entire marathon and finish.  I came into the event with the goal of running the whole marathon, only walking the aid stations for nutrition and hydration.  I started off with that plan in mind and took my first strides down the course.  Keep in mind this felt very hard to me at this point, but my pace was closer to 10 min/mile than the 9 min/mile I had envisioned during training.  When you mixed in the walking of the 26 aid stations I was going to be averaging 11 min./miles – but I very steadily started picking my way through the field with each mile.

The course was a 3 loop, 8.8 mile route.  So again, just break it down into bite-size chunks I thought.  Run this thing one loop at a time and before you know it you’ll be on the final lap and just 90 minutes or so away from the finish.

Dawn and Landry would be at the hotel pool for the entire first loop, so I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for them.  Instead I met up with a runner, George from Washington State and we decided we would run together, keep each other company and motivated and just keep ticking off each mile before we reached the next aid station.

I was trying to make up for my lack of nutrition over the final 90 minutes on the bike, but my stomach was feeling a little queasy from all of the liquid sloshing around in there.  The aid stations had the same set-up mile after mile.

Plain Water, Perform, flat Coke, Ice Water, fruit, potato chips, Gu, Gu Chomps, Cookies, Cups of Ice.

My routine consisted of:

1.  Grab two cups of water and drink them down.  Grab a third cup and pour it over my head.

2.  Try to take sip of perform.  I got a gulp down once or twice, but most aid stations I had to throw it out.

3.  Flat coke, drink one down.

4.  Grab a cup of ice water, pour it over my head.

5. Grab red grapes and watermelon when they had it.

6.  Put an orange slice in my mouth, suck it dry and throw it away.

7.  Grab two cups of ice, pouring one into my shorts, the other down the front and back of my tri top.

8.  Grab two more cups of ice, combine it into one and exit transition.

I would drink the melted water from the cup of ice over the first 1/2 mile of the run on the way to the next transition stop.  Then I would get a mouthful of ice and pour the remaining ice down the front of my shorts.

Don’t judge me.  It was 85 degrees, We are running a marathon coming off a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike.  Comfort above all else.

They say that there are no atheists during the ironman marathon.  I can attest that this is 100% gospel truth.

The run course took us through a quiet area along a wooded path for a couple of miles and then through a beautiful neighborhood of huge homes in the Woodlands.  At the 6 mile mark of the course, we then landed on the waterway, scene of the ironman swim and ran along the path with huge crowds of spectators.  All hooting, hollering, encouraging the athletes.  They were providing a hug boost to the competitors with high-fives, motivational signs, shouts of encouragement and calling each of us out by name telling us how great we were doing.Run

The first loop was sort of a recon mission.  I quickly learned where the wind was helping, where it was hurting, where the aid stations were and were there were potential for tight spaces, turned ankles and danger.

George and I continued to click off the miles at 10:00 min./mile run pace, 11:00-11:15 total pace including the water stops and never looked further ahead than that mile on that loop.

We spoke about how we ended up at Ironman Texas.  Our families, what finishing meant to us and laughed quite a lot at the spectacle that was unfolding.

Every mile we ran became one more mile that we weren’t going to walk and that became the #1 goal.  Let’s run this whole thing.  No walking, no giving up, just keep going and get that medal.

At the midway point of lap 2 I was able to see Dawn and Landry, pick up Ironbaby and give her a big kiss and hug.  Dawn told me she would catch me at the finish line and as we passed the turn off that separated lap 2/3 and FINISH we started the final loop.

To this point things were going fairly well, but the aid stations started becoming more and more welcomed for that :60 seconds worth of walking.  Like clockwork, we would pick out a trash can, a sign or a flag and determine that as the starting point to begin running again.  We ran through the trail section, back over the bridge that went over Lake Woodlands and past the swim start where our day had begun close to 12 hours earlier.  We ran back past the Mansions, and finally the waterway.  3 miles to go.  Just a 5K to Ironman.

George and I never separated, never broke cadence and simply ticked them off.

As we got to the turn off we decided we would split up to create some separation between us so we could enjoy our moment at the finish line.

As I started to hear the crowd my legs finally woke up from their slumber.  In what I’m sure surprised George a bit, out marathoner’s legs sprung back to life and I dropped pace down to 7:00/mile flat for the final 400 meters.  At the first turn of the corral, Dawn and Landry were on the front row, hanging over the barrier with huge smiles on their faces.  At that point I never felt my feet hit the ground again until I hit the mat.

As I approached the finish, arms up, I heard Mike Reilly – voice of Ironman, say the words I had played over and over in my mind throughout all of the long rides, long runs, swims in the quarry.

“Joe Marruchella, You. Are. An. Ironman.”

For good measure as I clapped my hands in the chute he added, “You’re an Ironman Joe”.

Marathon:  4:51:59

Total Time:  12:41:39

830th place – we had passed another 81 athletes on the run course.

Post Race:

The volunteers at Ironman truly make the event.  I had my own volunteer Chris who helped me through the chute, checked to make sure I was o.k. while another volunteer took off my timing chip, grabbed my finisher’s hat and shirt.

Another volunteer put an ice towel around my neck, while another held my gear for post-race pictures.  First class all the way around.

I made it to the end of the chute and caught up with Dawn and Landry – which was the perfect end to a long, long but amazing day.

The complexities of a race like this are truly mind-numbing if you have not experienced it firsthand as I still had to get my morning clothes bag, try to get some food and water in me.  Make my way back to the Transition area about a mile away, pick up my transition bags, the Quintana Roo, load everything up, grab some dinner with my girls and then head back to the hotel.

I returned to the hotel room exactly 17 hours after I had left it.  A long day by any definition.

But as I got out of the shower, changed into dry clothes and tried to wind down enough to get some much needed sleep over and over in my mind I kept hearing the same thing over and over again.

“You’re an Ironman Joe.”

Damn skippy I am.Finish Area

 

 

90 hours to race day.  A place we’ve been almost 100 times before.

Big races, small races, long races and short races.

International Marathons.  Local 5K’s.

Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Denver, Charleston, Virginia Beach.  The list goes on and on.

But this one I have to admit has me feeling as uncertain as I did back on November 19th, 2006 as we were getting ready for our first ever marathon.  I remember thinking before the race that I knew what I had gotten myself into.  That my training had prepared me.  That once the gun went off, all of the nerves would go away and we would be fine.  Surely at some point things would get challenging, but we would be able to push through and finish.

I was right in some ways.  Wrong in others.

In fact, I had absolutely no idea how high the highs would lift me and how low the lows would drag me.

That race made me the runner that I would become.  Without it, there are no New York City 3:o8′s or Boston Marathon Finishes X2 in my pocket.

Which brings us basically full circle getting ready for Ironman Texas.

One of the things about Ironman training is that it provides you a lot of time to think.  Long swims, long bikes, long runs all done for the most part by yourself.  No matter how confident an athlete you are, no matter how much work you put in or how many workouts get skipped due to illness, injury or life simply conspiring against your training - I don’t think you really “know” how it is going to turn out until you are approaching that finishing chute on the marathon.  Instead you play scenarios over in your mind and hope that on race day a few of those play out in your favor.

It is what makes this type of race so life affirming and exciting.

It is also what makes it pretty darn uncomfortable at times.

I’m not going to use the word afraid, as I think that is thrown around a little too often in situations like this one.

Do I have concerns?  Certainly.

Are the first 10 minutes of this race going to be one of the most uncomfortable and stressful situations as an athlete I have ever been in?  Absolutely.

Packing over 2,800 athletes into a narrow lake, firing a cannon and having them all swim off to a single Buoy a mile away is not exactly a peaceful situation.  There are going to be elbows flying, people are going to be swimming on top of me, pushing my feet down as I try to kick to the surface, splashing water in my face, nose and mouth as I rotate out for a breath.  It is going to be a good old fashioned street fight until we can get some clear water.

I’ve worked hard on my eight 2.5 mile Open Water Swims to stay calm, fluid, concentrate on the things I can control.  My strokes, my breathing and my sighting.  Everything else is just background noise.  I need to filter it out.  Push it out of my mind.  Concentrate on what I have to do and not worry about anybody else.

Saturday is going to be a long, long day.  Close to 6 hours on the bike more than likely, 4 hours on the marathon course if we are fortunate and the weather cooperates.  The 1 hour and 18 minute swim +/- is just a warm-up, it needs to be treated as such and I am going to try my best not to lose it out there and burn precious energy fighting over a 2′X6′ area of water.

Once we get out of the water, I am going to keep repeating my race day mantra.

Move with a sense or purpose.

Act with a sense of urgency.

Keep moving forward.

The Bike course will prove to be much flatter than anything we have trained on.  That is a fact.  1,100 feet of elevation change spread over 112 miles is 1/2 as hilly as our 50 mile route that we train on.  The hills should not be an issue.

The wind however will most certainly be.  By the time we make the turn “for home” at the top of the bike course, 55 miles in, we are going to have head winds and cross winds to deal with for the next 40+ miles.  Somewhere in the 10-15 mph range.  Not good.

The wind can really sap your energy, but it also can break your spirit.  You pedal furiously and watch your speed drop from a comfortable 20-22 mph down to 14.5 and there is no escaping it.  The only way through it is to keep moving forward.

I am going to use that time to focus on our nutrition, drinking every :10 minutes, sports beans every :30 minutes, salt tablets every :45 minutes, stinger waffle every hour.  If we keep up that pace we should be taking in around 320 calories per hour and be right where we want to be coming off of the bike.  Barring a flat tire, something mechanical or some sort of injury/soreness – we should get off our QR CD.01 around the 5:45-5:50 mark.

Then it is marathon time.

Our time.

9′s off of the bike, 8:45′s as long as we can keep ticking them off (I’m betting about 15 of them) and then someone is going to throw a bagful of hammers on our back.  I know it is going to happen, it is a matter of when not if.  High 80 degree temperatures, dripping wet, feet sloshing, blisters likely, muscles in full-on revolt.

Keep moving forward.

I’ve always been big on visualization during the final stages of the marathon.  Imagine yourself making the last turn, entering the chute, seeing the finish line bounce into view, pick out faces in the crowd, thank them for being there to root the athletes home.  Try to spot Dawn, now Dawn and Landry.  Imagine how great it is going to feel to be able to stop.

Only this time there will be an extra boost as we approach the finish line, the words of Mike Riley calling out, “Joe Marruchella, You. Are. An. Ironman”.

Just like the pain that is going to come during the marathon.  It is not a question of if.  Only when.

On to Houston.

 

 

Mark Twain

Posted: March 24, 2014 in Motivation

To borrow a quote from the great Mark Twain – “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

In fact as my friends have been reaching out via social media posting on my Facebook wall, sending me tweets and e-mailing me here at Run for Dom, I began to feel a bit like old Mark Twain must have as my endurance athlete friends wondered aloud just what happened to Joe?

Well the honest answer is I have been searching a bit over the last few months.

The past few training cycles leading up to the Houston Marathon and then Big Cottonwood I got ever so close to the starting line – just two weeks before the taper in both cases – only to wind up injured and unable to race.  The disappointment in both of those marathon training cycles “gone bad” left me not only disappointed and hurt (mentally and physically), but I started to wonder if I ever was going to get the chance to celebrate another race day at an “A” event.

So as Ironman Texas training started I made a deal with myself.

I was not going to get too high or too low.  Ironman requires a similar approach on race day.

I was going to shut things down from a social media perspective, not talk about every swim, bike and run.  Not chronicle the journey every step of the way as I know that while the support I have gotten over the years has fueled me to reach some pretty lofty goals, it also put an amount of pressure on me to meet expectations.  Or at least the expectations that I thought my friends, followers and even Dom had for me.

If something were to happen to me again along this journey to Ironman, I didn’t want to let everyone down again and talk about another missed opportunity.  Perhaps I was hoping that by changing a variable in my training, I would change the outcome and have an injury free training cycle.

Maybe it was superstition or karma, kismet – I don’t know, but I felt like I would just keep this cycle to those closest to me.  My wife, daughter, and training partners and the occasional morning when I would check-in with Dom and ask him to push me out the door, onto the saddle or into the pool.

A funny thing happened over the past few months.

It worked.

On Saturday morning I climbed onto our Quintana Roo CD0.1 with nothing but 100 miles ahead of us.  Our first century ride.  5 1/2 hours later, we had our 100 in the books and felt pretty darn good doing so closing with a few miles in the 21-22 mph range.

Sunday I decided to run without my GPS watch, just like the old days I glanced at the oven clock when I walked out the door and glanced at it again when I returned.  I focused on effort and not pace, knocking out my long run in 7:30 pace +/-.  Much faster than our goal of 8:30/mile for Ironman Texas.

Then tonight I dropped into the pool after a long day at work and swam for an hour straight with no breaks, 20 minutes +/- shorter than what our Ironman swim will take us on race day God willing.

With 7 weeks to go until race day I am exactly where I want to be – it feels like we are not quite at our best, but we are getting stronger and stronger every week.

Instead of the past few marathon cycles where I was “trained” 2 months out and just tried to be “extra ready” for race day – foolish in hindsight – I am trying to peak for one day and one day only.  May 17, 2014.  I do not care about being ready the week before or the week after.  Only for that one moment in time.

That’s what life is.  Just individual moments strung together that presents the illusion that they are somehow connected.  But living in the moment and for the moment is really what it is all about when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

In 3 weeks I will be heading down to New Orleans for Ironman 70.3 (Half-Ironman) – nothing more than a dress rehearsal for Ironman Texas 4 weeks later.

Everything that day is going to be done in preparation for Ironman.  What I eat the night before the race, what I have for breakfast, my race kit, socks, shoes, nutrition, suntan lotion, helmet and glasses.  Everything identical.  No surprises.

Time in New Orleans is irrelevant – all I want to do is dial-in my nutrition plan, dial in the bike with my race wheels and gearing – make absolutely certain that our equipment and body are functioning as one.  I won’t be chasing our Half-Iron PR of 5;07.  In fact if I get within :20 minutes of that mark I am going to be fairly angry at myself.  The worst thing I can do at Ironman Texas is to “start racing”.  I need to stay within myself.  Swim easy, bike smooth, run smart.

I remember back to my first marathon where I honestly doubted if I could cover the 26.2 mile distance.  3 hours, 58 minutes and 8 seconds later I was a marathoner.  It was my slowest marathon by quite a large margin.  Even the second marathon I ran for Dom 13 days after Boston was more than :20 minutes faster.  But one thing I remember vividly about Philly in 2006 is that while the race was unfolding I stopped caring about my time around mile 12.  All I wanted to do is finish – time was irrelevant.

On May 17th I will run another marathon.  Only this time my warm-up will be a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike ride.

I have a few goals for Ironman Texas.  I suspect that by the time I get on the run course, I won’t care about any of them.  The only thing that will matter is that I didn’t give up and I made it to the finish line.  I have played the scenario over and over in my mind as I finally enter that .25 mile long finishing coral lined with fans, supporters and family members who have not only cheered for hours and hours on race day for the Ironman Triathletes who have taken on the 140.6 mile race course, but have supported “Their Athletes” for months leading up to the race.  Popping blisters, rubbing sore muscles, cooking meals, taking care of chores and holding down the fort while their loved one put in the time, the effort, the miles to prepare for that 1/4 mile finishing chute.

I am going to look those spectators in the eyes and thank them.

I am going to slap every child’s hand on the way to the finish line.

I am going to revel in the moment.

I am going to listen for Chris Reilly (the voice of Ironman) to call out to the crowd:

“Joe Marruchella, you. are. an. Ironman.”

I am going to collect my hugs and share some tears with Dawn and Landry and I am going to walk gingerly away from these moments.

The sport of running and triathlon has given me more than I ever could have expected or deserved.  A sense or purpose, inspiration and motivation.  Great friendships.  Some very happy post-race feelings of accomplishment.  The occasional feeling of utter failure and defeat.  I have a lifetime of memories not only of race days, but of full-moon morning runs on dark trails and sunrises that God seemed to place there just for me to see.  It provided a vehicle to bring people together when Dom was battling cancer and helped raise money for Sierra and Nico’s educations.

I don’t want to paint a picture that after Ironman is over I am never going to race again.  I think that would be foolish – as I’ve learned to never say never.  Especially after saying that I would NEVER train for Ironman.  But they say that you are never the same after Ironman.  That it changes your outlook on our sport and on many things in your life.

But I will say this – I have found the joy again in running easy.  Not worrying about every single mile split and if I am getting “faster” or “slower”.

I know that May 17th is not going to be all unicorns and rainbows.  It is honestly going to be the most difficult day of my life as an endurance perspective.  Most people can’t run 2.4 miles, let alone swim them.  They don’t like to drive 100 miles, let alone bike 112 of them.  And certainly out of the less than 1% of the population that has run a marathon – very few of them would consider doing so after combining those two “warm-up events”.

It is going to hurt and I am going to want to quit at some point.

But I am not going to.  Quitting just isn’t an option.

That is why the finish area is lined with spectators from 9 hours after the cannon fires to start the mass-swim start at 7:00 a.m. up until Midnight when the final finishers struggle to finish under the 17 hour time limit.  Watch footage of an ironman finish on youtube and you will start to get it.  Witness it first hand and it is something you will never forget.

If all things go according to plan (which is a foolish statement in and of itself when it comes to Ironman) I should reach the finish line sometime between 11 and 12 hours after we enter the water.  90 minute swim, 5 hour 45 minute bike, 4 hour marathon, :20 minutes in T1 and T2 (transition areas) combined.  That puts us around 11:35:00.

We’ll see how it all plays out, which is sort of the whole point now isn’t it?  But if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been lately or what I’ve been up to – worry no longer.  As I said earlier – the rumor of my death has been greatly exaggerated.

I haven’t gone anywhere – and I’m not about to anytime soon.

After the race I’ll share the full training cycle, full of car accidents that took a couple of weeks out of our training cycle and a bike wreck that I survived …. it’s been a little bit of a bumpy ride – but hey.

It’s Ironman.  If it were easy.  Everyone would do it :)

 

 

Happy New Year everyone!

Over the past several years I have posted on New Year’s morning or thereabouts, sharing my goals for the upcoming year.  They started out pretty vague back in 2009 and 2010, then became very specific in 2011 and 2012.  Entering 2013 I thought that I had a pretty firm grasp on what I wanted to accomplish.  Specific races, distances and my assault on PR’s.

Above all else, I wanted to finally take that 800 lb. monkey off of my back and run that 2:59:00 marathon.  But a funny thing happened to me along the way.  As I recovered from injury at the start of the year I climbed back on the horse and circled a Fall Marathon for my sub 3:00 hour effort only to re-aggravate those pesky strained ligaments in my left ankle and I was once again on the shelf, facing more than 6 weeks away from running and training.

I was able to piece together a solid two months of training and ran a strong 5-mile PR in Cedar Park at the start of November, salvaging what had been a very frustrating year.  I spent the last month of the year thinking long and hard about what I want to accomplish from here on out as a 46 year-old dad, husband and part-time endurance athlete.

What I’ve come to realize is that there is really only one more medal that I want to earn and that is at Ironman Texas.  At that point we will have run more than 10 marathons, competed in more than 100 run-only events, hung more than a dozen half-marathon medals on our rack and filled a couple of shelves with age group awards while compiling a pretty impressive running resume of Personal Records and best ever times.

Sub 3 hour marathon?  Who really gives a sh#%?  Not my wife, not my daughter, certainly Dom would care less about something like that as he certainly had a handle on what was truly important when he said goodbye to all of us.

So in 2014 I’m going to keep it really simple.

  1. Train smart, stay healthy.  It all starts here.
  2. Pace my friend Bob at the Austin Half-Marathon to a 1:28:59 and his guaranteed entry into NYC Marathon 2014.
  3. Ironman 70.3 New Orleans in April.  Dress Rehearsal for IM Texas.  Dial everything in.
  4. Ironman Texas.  Never give up.  Never quit.  Always try.  Get that finisher’s medal.
  5. Spend the rest of 2014 running when I want, swimming when I can, biking when it’s fun.
  6. Spend time with my family, raise my daughter and collect smiles.
  7. Hop in a race from time to time when it feels right and I miss it.
  8. Run in the rain because I want to, not because I have to.

I started the new year with an “easy 10” – wrapping things up in a little under 1 hr. 14 minutes (7:24 pace).  From here to Ironman there will be very few if any rest days or complete days off.  That’s fine, one more push and we’ll have crossed off one heck of a list since we started all this running for Dom back in 2009.

Make no mistake, don’t think I’m about to lay down out there.  If you are hoping to beat me on race day, you better bring it – because I’m certainly going to.  I just don’t know any other way to do it.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

Friday night will be the last chance for us to lace up our flats and do a little racing in 2013.  In fact, it may be the last time we really try to “go fast” before Ironman Texas.  Immediately after Friday night’s event the focus will shift to volume, volume and more volume.

Long steady runs, long, cold, windy bike rides and early morning long swims in the pool.  80-120 laps long.

But one more time this year we’ll push the limits at the Ronald McDonald House Lights of Love 5K.  This is an annual event that the whole family has gotten involved with since our good friends the Smith’s here in Austin had their little boy Caleb a couple of years ago.  Little Caleb had a ton of challenges when he was born.  Most to do with his digestive system and ability to go potty.  He struggles getting nutrition, going to the bathroom still even after numerous procedures and surgeries.

He and his family traveled to Cincinnatti a little more than two years ago for the first time to consult with the best Doctors in the country for Caleb’s ailments and for his surgeries.  The cost of flights, meals, time away from work and finding a place to stay became a huge struggle for our friends and as the stress of the situation became harder and harder to deal with – Ronald McDonald House stepped up to do what they do best.

Provide a welcoming environment for the Family to stay together.  A safe place to stay, do laundry, cook meals, play together and be a family.  All for less than $20 a day.  Truly amazing.  Ronald McDonald House Charities has been doing this since it was founded in 1974. 

That year the first Ronald McDonald House opened its doors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  At the time Kim Hill, the daughter of Philadelphia Eagles football player Fred Hill, was undergoing treatment for leukemia.  Throughout Kim’s treatment, her father recognized the need for a supportive environment away from the hospital for families of seriously ill children.  He enlisted the aid of his teammates and local McDonald’s restaurant owners to raise funds that would help purchase and renovate the first Ronald McDonald House.

The first Ronald McDonald House was named, not only because of McDonald’s fund-raising support but also for the positive, hopeful, and fun-loving feeling Ronald McDonald was able to instill into the minds of so many children.

Today there are over 300 Ronald McDonald Houses located in 30 countries and regions world-wide. 

Growing up in suburban Philadelphia at the age of 7 in 1974 and having lost a sister to Leukemia the mission of the Ronald McDonald House has always had a special place for me and after seeing how much they helped our friends the Smith’s with their son Caleb’s needs we have tried to do all that we can to help.

This year Landry is again raising money for Ronald McDonald House as part of Caleb’s Army.  To help her out her Mother and Father have committed to match every donation that she secures dollar for dollar up to $1,000.  Come Friday night we hope to be donating at least $2,000 to Caleb’s Army and then Dad is going to go out there and see if he can’t chase down one more PR this year.

Fast or slow won’t really matter at the end of the day, this one is all about helping those less fortunate.

(I’m still going to try to run pretty fast though ….)

Today is Giving Tuesday – so please make the most of it and visit Landry’s fundraising page located HERE and make your gift today – any amount will help her reach her goal and it will be doubled by Dawn and I.

You can also visit:  https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1069880&supId=396480510

Landry & Ronald 2012Thanks everyone!  Hope to see you on Friday!

 

Plugging back in …

Posted: November 25, 2013 in Training
Tags: ,

Ever since we started training to “Run for Dom” in the winter of 2009 we have been training, posting and chronicling all of the highs, lows, struggles and victories along the way.

Back then I was concerned with how in the world I was going to be able to run two marathons just 13 days apart.  I trained hard, tried to take care of myself the best that I could and strapped myself in for at the time was the most difficult race of my life.  Pittsburgh in May 2010 was a long day at the office for sure, but in the end it was still over with in less than 3 hours and 45 minutes.

I wondered at the time what was going to be the next adventure, never really thinking we were going to top that effort.  One of the by products of training to run those races for Dom was cross training on the bike. I planned on some day trying a triathlon. Just for fun of course.  But never anything crazy.  Certainly not an Ironman.

Maybe I’m one of the few people who honestly believed that, but I honestly didn’t think we would ever “go there”.  I have told numerous runners that unless you feel like you “need” to run a marathon, you shouldn’t do it.

Wanting to just isn’t enough, to do it in a serious way, you have to need it. The requirements are just too stringent for us amateur athletes. The penalties too severe if you are undertrained or injured.

For Ironman, the same disclaimer applies.

2.4 mile swim.  112-mile bike.  Marathon.

Not something to enter into lightly.  That said, here we are as in just 23 weeks we will slide off the dock into the water with 2,700 other athletes for the most grueling, challenging endurance athletic event in the world.

Dom would have loved this.

So where have I been the last few weeks?

I took a break quite honestly.

I knew what these 6 months were going to be like.  Swims, rides, runs, weights, nutrition, posting workouts.  Many professional athletes do exactly what I did, which is take it easy, let all the bumps and bruises heal and then attack their training with renewed vigor.

Let me tell you something, it works.

I ran ran a bit, biked a bit, swam a bit.

I refined my swim form.  I dialed in my new bike set-up. I trained for and absolutely crushed the 5-mile in 30:25.

I also hit the reset button mentally and I am completely stoked for this training cycle.  Much like Run for Dom, I really don’t know how this is going to all work out.  So much can go wrong in an Ironman, there are too many variables to count.

But there is one variable that I have no concern over whatsoever and that is being prepared for race day. I am attacking this event emotionally detached and very businesslike. The emotions of it all are going to be suppressed until the cannon fires on May 18.  Then it will be time to let it all hang out.

140.6 miles in what I hope will be somewhere around 11 hours.

There is a little more than 7 billion people on the planet right now with approximately 500,000 ironman finishers walking among us. Pretty elite company.  I have no illusions of sneaking onto the podium at Ironman Texas or of securing a qualifying spot for Kona and the Ironman World Championship.

What I do plan on doing however is honoring a close friend who was taken from us far, far too early.   With his name on my flats and my daughter’s on my race kit I am going to race and finish every damn one of those 140.6 miles.

A long time ago I promised Dom that no matter how hairy things got out there I would always try.  Never quit, never give up no matter what.  Seemed like the least I could do.  So after taking a little mental health break here we are once again making the same promise.

Dom, this one is for both of us. As little guys who were told all our lives we were too small, not big enough, not strong enough … I say now to those people they underestimated one thing about us egregiously.

The size of our heart.

Two weeks ago after a solid effort at the IBM Uptown Classic 5K I started to feel like I was getting close.  I wasn’t all the way back to where I was before our bout with Achilles/ankle issues, but I was starting to resemble that runner.  I had lost that tentative feeling every time I dropped my hips a bit and tried to push pace down towards 6:00 flat.

My stride was feeling very even and when I tried to lengthen things out just a bit, the snap had returned to my turnover.  I still don’t have the volume that I typically do at this time of year, which is holding me back from jumping into the Run for the Water 10-miler next weekend, but I feel like with a few more weeks of quality workouts with the group I can build out my long runs back to 15-16 miles and be half-marathon ready by Christmas.

I had mentally circled the Thanksgiving Day Thundercloud Turkey Trot as my next “A” race – trying to go for my 5-mile PR of 30:50, but there was another 5-miler in October that seemed to line up really well for us.  The Cedar Park 5-miler which was celebrating the 18th running of the event.

When I was building speed back in 2010 and making the fastest and largest gains in my performance I was racing hard and racing frequently.  There is just no substitute for that kind of intensity and effort when you are trying to force adaptation.  As the weather forecast came out for Sunday’s race about 5 days in advance showing cool temperatures, I decided to jump in and see just how far away we were from our previous effort at the 5-mile.  A distance that is not very common here in Austin.  Only a handful of opportunities each year locally to tee it up.

I treated this past week as an “A” race week.  10 miles on Monday with an afternoon Swim, Tuesday – complete rest.  Wednesday a short but intense speed session of 300 meter repeats with 100 meter recoveries in the 5:40-5:45 range.  A Thursday 30 mile bike and swim followed by an off day on Friday and just a 2-mile shakeout on Saturday.

A lot of short, intense workouts, with plenty of rest and very little volume that would leave my legs feeling fatigued.  On Sunday morning for the first time since December of 2012.  I would show up on race morning looking to go low and with any luck, have a chance to take down an 11-month old PR in the 5-mile.  My first legitimate PR attempt in 2013.

On Saturday morning I drove the course to measure the inclines along the route which features gentle climbing up to the turnaround point, with that same gentle decline on the way back home.  A course that set-up for negative split miles, where going out under control would produce the fastest overall time, as opposed to running out fast to start and hanging on to the end.  I thought that I needed to be very disciplined early, so that when the course tilted in my favor late in the race, I could actually do something about it.

6:20, 6:15, 6:10, 6:05, 6:00 would produce a time equal to our 30:50 PR.

If I could hang tough through mile 4, perhaps I would have enough left to kick over the final 400 and eek out a new PR.  That was the plan as I played those splits over in my head as I dozed off to sleep on Saturday night.  It was the first race in a long time that I had planned out each mile along the course.  A formula that had served me very well in the past.  All I would have to do on the course is go out and execute.

Pre-Race:  We stuck to the program with a 6:00 a.m. alarm clock, shave and a shower to loosen up the muscles.  A bagel and Gatorade breakfast and after changing into our race gear I left the house at 7:15 a.m. to get to the race site.  I parked, retrieved my timing chip from the timing tent (ankle strap) and went back to the car to get ready.

I decided on a slow 2-mile warm-up to get the muscles ready to go on a very chilly, but beautiful 45 degree morning.  I ran the first mile of the course, measuring the incline of the opening mile, spun around and trotted back to the start.  2 miles, 14:50.  Everything to this point was perfect.  I changed into my New Balance Race flats, took off my sweats and headed over to the start area to run a few strides.  With approximately 375 runners in the event, I was able to get in my last few reps, and then duck into the start area about 10-12 runners from the front.  A lot of the usual suspects in attendance.  Looked like if I ran well, I would have a shot at a top-10 finish – but all I was really hunting was that 30:49.  Placement was irrelevant.

The announcer counted us down, “Runners to your Mark – Go!”

Mile 1:  We ran uphill leaving the shopping center and turned left onto Buttercup Creek Road.  We would run the first 1.25 miles on a gradual incline until we would make a right turn onto Nelson Ranch.  The race course was coned off into the bike-lane, which was enough room for 2-3 runners to run next to each other.  This would not be an issue later in the race, but for the first mile we were running 4-5 to a group and it was congested.  I glanced down at my watch repeatedly over this mile, making sure that I never dipped below 6:20.  The pace felt relaxed and at a few moments I felt myself wanting to increase my stride.

The first 1/2 mile was spot on in 3:10.  Finally I was locked in and ticking things off smoothly.  I was running somewhere around 10th or 11th place and had found a group to run with.  I tried to disassociate a bit and not focus on the incline, just stay smooth and tall – no faster, no slower.  At the mile 1 marker I glanced down at my watch.  The course measurement was exact.  Opening mile – 6:20.  Perfect.

Mile 2:  As mile 2 started the course again started to climb just a bit.  About 50 feet over this section of the course.  No big climbs, just a gentle slope that you can barely see.  A “False-Flat” as runners call it.  The kind of slope that tricks you into thinking you are running your goal pace effort, but you are actually working just a bit harder than usual to hit that mark.  At the end of the race, those :05-:07 seconds that you pushed for imperceptibly cost you twice as many when you go to your kick.

I was hoping to run this mile at 6:15, but at the halfway mark I was right around 6:18-6:19.  I felt myself get slightly discouraged.  I decided to stay even through the end of the mile and see if I could wake things up a bit over mile number 3.  At the mile 2 marker the watch beeped at me – 6:16.  I was :01 behind after 2 miles.

Mile 3:  I decided to stick to the plan and press just slightly to drop pace down to 6:10.  I had a good group to work with and we took turns leading the pack.  Nobody was going much faster than 6:10-6:11 at any point, but it was nice to share that responsibility.  I kept monitoring my watch every 400 meters or so, this would be the last mile that I would look at my watch as when we hit the 2-mile to go mark I would just run as hard as I could to close it out.

We hit the 180 degree turnaround that required us to come to a near-stop at 2.5 miles.  The slow-down cost us about :05 seconds.  I pressed just a bit to get back on pace and locked in the harder effort.  The course was finally tilting ever so slightly in our favor and I was able to make up those :05 seconds without expending too much precious energy.  We hit the mile 3 marker with a 3rd mile in 6:08.  We were :01 seconds ahead of goal after 18:45 of racing.

Mile 4:  At the start of mile 4 I moved to the front of our small pack.  I would use the footfalls behind me to keep me honest and from this point on I was going to run my race.  If somebody was able to drop me, good for them, but I felt like I had run a very smart opening 3 miles.  Now it was just a matter of seeing how much we had left.

I snuck a glance down at my watch at some point over the mile and saw my pace below 6:00 flat.  I thought about dialing things back ever so slightly to load up for the final mile, but it was time to run by feel at this point of the race.  If 6:00 effort was producing sub 6:00 results, I chalked it up to the slight decline and went with it.

At the beep I looked down and saw a 5:56 mile.  Time to go.

Mile 5:  The final mile would roll up and down ever so slightly for the first 7/10 of a mile before a nice 3/10 of a mile descent to the finish line.  I decided to press ever so slightly on the accelerator to keep the pace under 6:00 flat and then start to empty the tank at the start of the downhill.

We were comfortably locked in at 5:55 pace at the start of the descent, and I could see the right-hand turn ahead that would lead to the finishing chute.  The pace was starting to hurt quite a bit, but I could tell that I was holding strong, not losing any speed as I struggled to keep my form in place.

We made the final turn and kicked to the finish.

Final mile – 5:45.

30:25 official time, 1st place Age Group, 7th place overall.

Post-Race:  Dawn and Landry decided to skip the race on Sunday and grab some extra sleep (I don’t blame them) – so I had some time to myself waiting around for the awards ceremony to begin.  I replayed the race over in my mind a couple of times and tried to find a time where I executed my pre-race plan as well from start to finish.  IBM Uptown in 2011 perhaps?  Possibly the first 20 miles of the NYC Marathon.  But never had I closed a race so strong before.

It was the first time in 2013 that I exited an event completely satisfied in the result.  Not a single thing I would change about my race on Sunday and with a :25 second PR in our pocket, we finally are off the shneid in 2013.

Man, this sport never gets old.  Now it is time to stop feeling sorry for myself and see how strong we can close out the rest of the year.  We have 2 months and two events left to go.  Perhaps we may have a shot at our 5K PR at Lights of Love in December.  With 6 weeks to get ready – I’m starting to like our chances.race