Remember that time I wanted to PR the Paris Marathon and dropped all triathlete knick-knacky stuff to focus on only running? Yes, well the Challenge AC Half Ironman crept up very quickly after. With 3 long rides in the realm of 40-45 miles and one swim since my honeymoon in October it was sure to be pretty. At least my run game was on point… or so it would seem.
Some exciting things I had going for me aside from ‘me’ though were that one of my athlete’s ‘The Cardiac Crusher’ had been destroying his training regimen in a good way and was set up for a good race. Another privilege I had was the possibility of sending another one of my athletes into Ironman status. It was an exciting weekend.
Dougie D picked me up early Saturday and we made our way south towards AC. The gals (my wife Abbe, his soon to be wife Danika and a rogue Russian/Serbian named Bojana wanted in Macedonia for espionage) were already there trying to take advantage of a beach weekend. It was a flawless entry and approach into Atlantic City. I had never been there and immediately noticed a lot of junkies and strange folk milling about. What was this strange land?
Bally’s was the host hotel of the race and that was where we were staying. The ratio of people racing to people in town to gamble and stay up all night was 1 to 50 without exaggerating. I felt like I was in the movie Casino, patterned carpet, mirrored ceilings, the smell of stale smoke everywhere and pings and pongs, bleeps and bloops sounding off in the distant casino floor. I questioned everything.
It was very easy to check into the race and get all our gear. We then met the gals (plus our friend Brian, an Irish guy dating the Serbian) and headed to an Irish Pub that was supposed to be cool. By now the weather was taking a turn for the worse. It would soon get very worse.
We had some lunch, a few beers and then tried to formulate a game plan. That game plan included Doug and I running the 1/2 mile from the Irish Pub to Ballys in a downpour. We grabbed the car and picked up Abbe and Danika who would help guard the car while we dropped off gear in transition.
Have you ever seen The Wizard of Oz? Of course you have, it’s the oldest color movie. Imagine transition like that. Not flying monkeys or a witch but crazy 30 mile per hour winds, torrential rain with port-o-johns flying around. Doug and I were yelling to each other just like Marty and Doc in the final scene of Back to the Future, “Dougie! Lash the bike to the bar with the bungee cord!” “What?” it was so windy we couldn’t hear each other. We just bungee corded our bikes to the transition bars, threw some bags on the seat and handle bars and rolled out, soaked to the bone. I even had my new Brooks/Gotham City Runners rain/windbreaker which should actually just be renamed windbreaker.
Dinner was at Carmine’s, the AC version. Good news though, the bolognese tastes just like the Manhattan version, which rocks! We pigged out. Seriously, I could not eat anymore but I wanted to.
We were in bed by 9:30 or so, not bad at all.
I often tell people that I only need 6 hours of sleep nightly. Sometimes I jinx myself, like on this night where I woke up at 3:30 on the dot wide awake and ready to roll. We were going to wake up at 4:30 so I just tried and tried to sleep just a few more minutes to no avail.
Doug and I were quietly (at least we thought) moving about the dark room gathering our triathlete belongings. We put on the arm marker tattoos which would later pose an issue as they never come off. I even used Goof Off, on my arm! Ironman brand ones come off a lot easier, what’s the deal Challenge Family? We left the hotel room at 5 on the dot and guess what, the casino and bar were bumping as if it were happy hour on a Friday! Then again if we went up to any of those fools and told them what was about to go down they would probably say we were the crazy ones. Touché pussycat.
We had 10 minutes to spare in transition. I have done this enough that it’s like making my bed. I am not saying this to sound arrogant, I am just saying that in triathlon experience is a big part of the game.
I was cracking up as the guy across from me was confused as I was hosing my neck, shoulders and ankles down with Vaseline.
We rolled over to the swim start as they were announcing things and prepping the crowd. I was looking for David (first time Ironman) and Joe. We found Joe and settled in. My friend Elik came over at some point and was confused as he knew Joe and I but didn’t know that Joe and I had known each other or that I was now coaching Joe. He also knew David which further blew him away. Triathlon is a tight community and that’s why I like it!
I looked up and said to the guys, “It’s going to get sunny” in a half excited half scared tone. With a shrug of our shoulders we gave each other fist bumps as our final water entry was announced. March of the Penguins had begun.
It was time trial single file water entry which has it’s pros and cons. Pros… you aren’t getting your ass kicked in the soup. Con… you have no idea who was in front or behind you once the bike and run starts.
I gave a fist bump to Steve, the race director, and then jumped in holding my goggles to my eyes Navy Seal style. It was go time.
The water was salty and the perfect temperature for wetsuit swimming. I calmly began my race, focused on my form and every stroke. I was really enjoying myself. I had on a brand new wetsuit, my goggles were locked in place and I just plugged along doing my thing. It was a right to left loop and for the most part was a pretty mild swim. As I neared the last turn buoys I just didn’t feel right. My sighting was throwing them in different directions and I felt like I was making zero progress. Finally, at the last turn as I made my way toward the homestretch I popped out of the water (something I never do but I was curious) and was pushed back quickly. Ah ha! We were indeed swimming against the tide. I was immediately overwhelmed with anger. “This is bullshit.” Then I thought to myself, “No, it’s not. If this shit were easy everyone would do it.” I pushed real hard, fighting the current and eventually made it to the dock. It was my worst 1.2 mile swim to date (48 minutes), but only by 2-3 minutes.
I passed numerous people walking towards T1. My heart was revving up, I was pumped. I got my wetsuit off, threw all my bike gear on and blasted out of T1. As I mounted I noticed it was raining! What? We also had to ride over these crazy ass carpets protecting us from what I could only guess what was quicksand.
Out on the highway making my way to Jersey the rain wasn’t quite blinding, but it was getting close. The 30 mph headwinds that would haunt us all day were not helping my mentality either. I was pretty bummed about my poor swim time.
We quickly made a few lefts and rights and were all of sudden in rural New Jersey, not far from where I spent the first 9 years of my life in fact. As we barreled down this straightaway I remember seeing dark storm clouds coming at me. It was very ‘movie like’ and I just said to myself, “Lets go into this storm and see if we come out.” I mean, there was no visible lightening so it wasn’t a tall order.
At some point early I looked down and realized my timing chip had fallen off my leg. Most likely this happened while I was pissed in T1 taking off my wetsuit. Whatever.
I was holding down a solid 20 mph average pace, yet I wasn’t happy. I was in pain, the stupid ref motorcycle was up in my grill for like 10 miles and it was raining. As mile 25 rolled around my sunglasses cleared up, the clouds dissipated and the sun reared it’s face. Good? For now. Everything clicked in and I started blazing the second half with no pain. I was passing people liberally and really feeling like a biker. The guys I was riding alongside were great (for once) and we played leapfrog for awhile.
Getting close to T2 I noticed that I hit 56 miles (the bike course distance) way prior to T2. When I would finish it would be 58 miles. Strange and not cool.
Finishing the bike portion of the race I had a lot more steam in me then I realized. This is good. I also realized that the sun was blazing and this 13 mile run was not going to be pretty. Let the battle begin.
Pulling into T2 was great as I got to see Doug and Joe (one lane apart) prepping for the run. The three of us exchanging silly banter as we geared up, it was like homecoming for triathletes. They took off a minute ahead of me. I made sure to try and lather up in sunscreen, although I don’t think it was very effective.
I felt great leaving transition. I started off with a 7 minute pace, knowing it was soon to fade in the ungodly sun. We hit that boardwalk and went south and I thought to myself, “How the hell are we going to survive this with the heat?” Aside from the heat being bad, no one in the immediate 20 miles of AC had any idea there was a race going on. That means that as we ran all along the AC boardwalk no one knew or cared that some serious racing was going down.
Approaching the crux of the Atlantic City Boardwalk was quite an ordeal. Smells of cigarettes, fried food and disappointment wafting your way as you try and tough out the 80 degree shade free course. As you navigated all the clueless people you wondered why this location was chosen as a race destination. I thought of my athlete David and got very worried and upset knowing he would have to deal with this hours later… more crowded and his mind in not such a forgiving place.
I can’t even tell you how many times I ran out-and-back. It was exhausting. Making my way north for the first time I saw Abbe and Danika. Abbe was yelling, “Hi Husband!” I pulled over, gave each gal a kiss. Bojana was at a neighboring restaurant and asked if I needed water. “Um, Yes” I grabbed some and asked how their morning was before taking off. There was laughter and then there was me, Baker, speeding off. At mile 6 I really thought about stopping. It was stupid hot out with limited aid stations. I kept going.
I saw Doug every now and again as we passed each other on the numerously ridiculous out-and-backs and we would high five. It was the worst course I could remember in recent times and the aid stations were so spread out you could die of dehydration or motivation between. I fought to hang on, going for aid-station-to-aid-station mentality. I also thought about how ridiculously horrible the run course was for the full distance athletes.
I made many a friend running that course. Everyone was way cool which I expected at a triathlon, it helped my motivation. At one point I passed a guy and said hello, mentioning the tough conditions. He said, “Hey man, mind if you pull me along, I could use it.” Smiling and replying “Hell no man, let’s go.” He hung on for awhile. We chatted, he was from Colorado Springs. He knew my old team, Kompetitive Edge as well. At another point I gave a shout out to a guy who was biking the entire course with me prior to the run. We had been playing leap frog all day.
I soon came back around passing Abbe again who had a bottle of water. “Hi husband, do you want more water?” Um, no brainer. Even if they disqualified me for ‘outside help’ this was not going to be a PR day. As I grabbed the water I looked left at the woman I had been running along side and we chuckled together. I took a big sip and then hosed myself down. The bottle was still half full so I offered it to my friend. She took it and repeated my maneuver.
This was the final out-and-back and I was catching up to Doug. As I approached the 11 mile turn around I saw him heading back toward the finish. I took my time at the aid station, pouring water on my head, drinking my flat coke and thanking volunteers before setting off.
Dougie had a 1 minute lead on me and I thought, “How cool would it be if I caught him and we finished together!” Mission set, lock and deploy.
With 800 meters to go I rolled up behind him and said, “Can you smell the beer?!” We slogged out the last section in probably our fastest pace of the day. We finished and made some faces which at the time we thought were bad ass. You decide. We kinda just look beat up.
Abbe, Danika, Bojana and Brian were there right at the finish to greet us. After cooling off we made our way to a local hang out for food and beer. We were pretty spaced out/banged up until the solid food started processing into energy.
We found Joe soon after and yes, he had PR’d by 4 minutes and broken the 6 hour mark! We went to Transition, collected our things and had a few more beers at Ballys before taking off. I wanted to stick around to see David finish the full, but at this point that looked to be 4-5 hours from the current time.
We arrived back in mighty Manhattan in time for a late dinner and some much needed sleep.
The course was not my favorite, it down poured, it was hot and sunny, I had zero training going into it and AC is weird. But, the rave staff and volunteers were amazing. To be out and about in the rain and heat is true dedication, thank you.
Big ups to Joe, who I knew had it in him to break 6, and pulled it off like a boss.
Big congrats to David, who is now officially an Ironman after completing the full course just over 14 hours!
You both are prime examples of ideal athletes to coach. I dish out the punishing work and you execute with no questions asked. Thanks guys, you make me a proud coach!