August 9, 1998
Lake Perris State Park -- Moreno Valley
Almost two years passed since competing in a triathlon in a new state. A week before swim training started for the season, my dad died back in Indiana. Doctors diagnosed him with stomach cancer the previous April. January included a flurry of calls filled with brief discussions with him and family. At last peace came for him during the first week of February. We buried Dad on a beautiful, sunny day at the family plot in central Indiana with family roots going back six generations to the late 1840’s. He enjoyed coming to races when his schedule allowed. He always made an effort to thank my coaches in school and with the track club. Memories of him continued to join me in races. The longer the races, the more frequently he came to mind.
In 1998 I joined the Sun Devils’ Masters Swim group to be coached and learn how to swim again. Though located in the Valley of the Sun, it rained continually at the first practice. Grey skies dropped water all afternoon and the assistant coaches dispensed little coaching. Workout was a continuous swim of 45 minutes. One of the assistants apologized afterwards about lack of guidance and said this was not the norm. Two days later met Ron Johnson, the owner of the swim club, and former Arizona State University (ASU) Swim Coach. He and his staff taught me how to get faster in the pool with less effort. Not necessary faster in a race but could exit the water after a 23 minute 1500 meter swim leg and not feel winded or tired when jumping on the bike. Such was not the case before training with Coach Johnson’s swim club. Changes to stroke mechanics and workout content resulted in a more efficient and stronger stroke. Should have secured coaching years before.
Six months after the swim training started I arrived at Lake Perris State Park located in the Inland Empire of Southern California. The terrain was part desert, part mountains, part water, and part town setting. The race was advertised as a half-ironman distance and a Hawaii Ironman Qualifier race. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to qualify for Hawaii at a distance less than a full Ironman Kona and within driving distance from my house. I entered thinking qualifying was definitely a possibility. The actual distance came in at a 1.2 mile swim, with an extra 10 miles of biking for 66 mile bike leg, and finished with a 13.1 mile run. Never a strong bike rider, always looked forward to getting off the bike and on to run. At the Lake Perris race should have been more a tuned to getting the race over. The whole day was an ironic challenge of survival to finish and return home safely.
With sunny skies and smooth water at the start of the race the swim went great. From the start I positioned myself behind a like paced swimmer in my age group and did a smooth, high elbow stroke and glide form as taught in practice. Popped out of the water as fresh as when the race started. The bike leg consisted of two 33 mile loops around the greater Lake Perris State Park area with some periodic views of the beautiful blue colored lake.
In the transition area I put on a bike helmet and stuffed the Speedo swim suit, which doubled as bike shorts, with nutrition for the bike ride, a single banana for the next 66 miles. Fill in your own joke here. Unfortunately I didn’t consult Mr. Obvious about the amount of calories needed, or where to store them to prevent becoming more than a butt of a few subtle and not-so-subtle jokes. Set myself up for the bonking due to lack of calorie intake, not the other bonking because of the subconscious enhanced phallus symbol. Went from knowing to consume over 5,000 calories a day to keep body weight steady during training to not thinking the number of calories required during a race to finish strong.
In April I committed to the half Ironman distance race with the expectation of earning a qualifying spot for the Hawaii Ironman race. I hedged against wasting training efforts by signing up for a one week bike tour in mid-August in northern Montana including the Waterton-Glacier National Park on the border between Montana and Alberta, Canada. The bike tour, a non-competitive activity, was scheduled for the week after the Lake Perris triathlon. As a kid I set a goal to visit all 50 states by age 50. Montana would be the 48th state on the check-off list. Why not experience the visit atop a bike seat while in the great outdoors of Big Sky country.
Specific training for both events started in early June. Saturday training rides in the desert setting of the Ahwatukee neighborhood in south Phoenix dehydrated me. Chris knew I didn’t drink enough on the ride when returning to the house with a high pitched voice that took more than a water bottle or two to bring it back down to normal. Before every training ride she encouraged me to drink more fluids and made drinking mandatory when back in the house. Any run over five miles wore me out.
When training for the first half Ironman distance race the ability and need to consume mass quantities of calories for the extra time and effort spent training and not gain weight was both amazing and welcomed. The requirement to ensure triathletes eat enough calories can also be embarrassing. At a business lunch one of our customers told my boss how much I ate made him uncomfortable and didn’t align with my physique. He thought I harbored a tape worm or some other rare metabolism disorder after watching me eat three large pieces of decadent chocolate cake following a full plate of food.
I was a slow learner for race day fluid and nutritional requirements. More of the course was through the desert than climbing in the nearby San Jacinto Mountains to the south or the San Bernardino Mountains to the north. The bike course was open to vehicular traffic which required extra caution on our part. Near the end of the first lap we crossed over a set of train tracks and the front Spinergy wheel on my red Kestrel 200 SCi bike flexed too much and seared off the magnet that triggered the pulses for measurements within the on-board bike computer. No more feedback about speed, distance, or cadence. The stopwatch function continued to work until the auto shut-off default kicked in due to the lack of a magnetic trigger. A similar thing happened to my body as the exercise shed off my limited storage supply of easy calories used for energy. The banana was long gone. No more food and only limited drinks at aid stations. The head winds over the next ten miles on the start of the second lap were stronger than the first lap. While pushing the pace on the bike I moved up five places in the age group but paid for this strategic error on the run. Once starting out for the run leg, the heat pushed temperatures upwards towards 100°F.
Kind of ironic at a nutrition supplier sponsored race I didn’t carry enough food on the bike nor did the race director furnish enough fluids for competitors during the run. The aid stations went dry. My run pace dropped dramatically. I walked more than ran. An independent observer could argue both were better described as a stagger. Only the pace changed between the two classifications, slow and slower. I vaguely remember somewhere over the dam Paula Newby, accompanied by two other racers, ran by with a pained look on her face. All the others who passed were unknown faces but I recognized and could relate to their varying degree of pained expressions.
Condition went from bad to worse. At one of the aid stations volunteers draped me with an ice water soaked race sponsor logoed towel. This helped to lower skin temperature though my core temp would not drop. The towel was dry before I shuffled over the finish line. Other competitors’ conditions went from worse to intolerable. Many racers did not finish. The medical tent overflowed with causalities. Ambulances were the most common vehicles on the road in this section of the park. Moving out of the finish chute I joined other racers sitting on the lake bottom near the parking lot. The warm lake water did nothing to bring down the body temperature.
I collected race gear and packed up the car and sat in the front seat with the air conditioner on max. I questioned whether to drive to the hospital for treatment or to exit the car and wait in the heat to be evaluated in the med tent. The latter was not an option since I could not muster the energy to get out. After 30 minutes I slowly switched gears to Drive and left for drinks and food at the first opportunity, a McDonalds. To eat lunch at the fast food place took three times as long as my swim leg. I would have called 911 for immediate medical treatment had I seen someone in my deterioration of physical condition at a restaurant. At this point, I had no clues in how to survive a six hour drive home to Phoenix. At Mickey D’s I drank two gallons of fluids: water, Coke, shakes, melted ice, and more. After ninety minutes of drinking and eating, my color and senses returned. I loaded up with more fluids and eats for the car ride and drove non-stop home. The kids welcomed me with big hugs as I returned even stronger ones for them. And my kidneys welcomed relief after peeing for the first time in 15 hours.
Looking back at the race after a few days of recovery helped put my preparation in prospective. I set short term and long term goals to build endurance for the race. I held myself accountable to train to the goals. What I didn’t do was understand how much of toll the training would take on my body to get prepared. And worse, didn’t learn how to prepare for nutrition on race day under optimal conditions nor with a back-up plan. I really thought I could qualify for Kona. Instead the race convinced me I would never be able to achieve the endurance required to race at a half ironman distance competitively and never ever finish a full Ironman distance triathlon. At age 39, the training required for such a distance was too much for my body to tolerate and without a solid training base, doing an Ironman was too far to push the body for a single race day.
While disappointed and continually haunted by the Seattle based triathletes whispering in my memory you are not a triathlete without being an Ironman finisher, I correctly convinced myself otherwise. In the bigger scheme of life’s ironies, Dad suffered much more than I did as he concluded his final race of life finding peace as he passed on. I found peace and motivation while thinking of him during the race and thought maybe I needed to reach deeper to achieve my goals.
Results: ?th overall. 11th in age group.