Friday, November 26, 2010

The chronicles of Ironman Week

This is a long one so get a couple beverages and a snack and I hope you enjoy my mind dump of Ironman week.

Tuesday November 16

Kevin and I said our said our farewell to Sampson as we dropped him off at camp and we headed south to San Antonio where we stayed with Sean and Meredith since we had a 5:45 am flight to Phoenix. Uneventful, we arrived just in time for wonderful send off dinner and a great night of catching up.

Our gracious host were nice enough to drop us off at the airport so we could leave our car at their place (money saved could be spent on Ironman gear) and we were on our way to Tempe and IMAZ 2010.

Wednesday November 17

After a great and stress free flight we arrived and met up with Veronica at the airport. After grabbing our luggage we were off to pick up the rental car. IMAZ we’re here to kick butt & chew bubble gum, and we’re all out of bubble gum so get ready for a butt kicking!!

After a good lunch we headed over to Dorsey Place condos to check in and this happens to be where most of the T3 crew is staying so it’s T3 central. Since we’ve all been schooled by the great nutritionist Meredith Terranova, we knew getting our food shopping for week was a priority.

Grocery shopping check!!

Back at the condos, I had a good relaxing massage by Michelle and then it was time for potluck dinner with the early arrivers. We really didn’t start the potluck with a set menu/plan but somehow we had a wonderful well balanced meal, I guess this is how in sync we are with each other after the many hours of training we’ve spent together over the past 7+ months.

Thursday November 18

Our final condo mate Travis arrived and we were off for our first visit to Ironman Village. After hitting the store to pick up a few things and meet up with some of the crew it was time to go through the check in process. The check in process for Ironman is very different than regular Triathlons, but this is not just another triathlon this is IRONMAN.

After working my way through the many stations I get to the table where they go over the numerous bag stickers, timing chip and then the wonderful volunteer breaks out the famous Ironman wrist band. This is another point where it hits me; this Ironman thing is really going to happen.
After checking out the race site a little more I finally head over to Tempe Town Lake to look at where we will be swimming on Sunday. We’ve been here the past two year for Ironman as spectators but this year was different so I need to make peace with the water. Standing at the rail, I said another prayer and proceeded to have a short conversation with two of our volunteers for Sunday who will be signing up for the race on Monday. Wow, that was me a year ago, wide eyed and getting ready to start my Ironman journey at the registration table.

I found out of the guys was doing wetsuit stripping, so I asked him to keep an eye out for me and make sure he took good care of me. Of course I told him it was going to be easy to spot me. J

After a little more walking around I decided to go ahead and get body marked to save time later in the week. This was a very good idea because we would hear later on Friday that the lines were very long. Back at the condo we decided to head out for dinner and we met up with Andrew and his friends Adrian and Maurice from Colorado. A great dinner to wrap up another great day in Tempe.

Friday November 19

Since swimming wasn’t going to be allowed in Tempe Town Lake until Saturday, several of us decided to join locals Michael Nemeth and some other members of One Multisport for a swim at Saguro Lake. This lake was going to be alternate swim location if Tempe Town Lake wasn’t repaired and filled in time for the race. I’m so glad we went out there because it was absolutely beautiful. The water felt great and surrounding mountains made for great back drop for the swim. Back in Tempe, Kevin decided to go for a run with Kevin Russell and Frank and I took this as some well needed quiet time. Until this point I didn’t realized how much noise was around me. Time for Chris to recharge and I decided to start my race bag sorting and packing process. This quickly turned into another moment when I realized how many details go into race planning and prep, but following a checklist is a huge stress saver.

After a couple of hours of down time we got ready to head out for the evenings activities. We made it to the Tribe Multisport party and got to mingle and get pictures taken with several top pro athletes like Amy & Brandon Marsh and Matt Reed. After winning a few door prizes we headed back to Tempe for the team picture, welcome dinner and athlete meeting. It was great to see most of the team together for the picture and the dinner was better I expected. Once the welcome dinner officially started and they showed one of the Ironman motivational videos that I’ve seen many times but this time it was different. Goose bumps on my skin and tears rolled down my face because this time the video was for me as I prepared to become an Ironman. Then the voice of Ironman Mike Reilly officially started the welcoming party and it was an all around great evening.

Saturday November 20

Was a day full of activity and it started with the one and only practice swim in Tempe Town Lake where the race was going to be held. After meeting up with several other teammates to carpool we headed to the lake and there were people everywhere. Since the practice swim was only going to be open for two hours everyone had to get dressed, get in and get out in that time frame. After getting in my wetsuit several of us headed to the water and jumped in. Since the water was 61 degrees I braced myself for a bone chilling cold, and I was quite surprised that my chest didn’t lock up and I could breathe just fine. However, as soon as I started to swim my goggles started filling up with water. I think, no problem just clear them and move on. Tried once, no good, try again same thing and now I start to think what the heck is going on because the exact same goggles worked great the day before. I swim over to a kayak and try to clear them and get a good seal and the same thing happened when I tried to swim again. By this point I’m freaking out because my last swim to prepare me for Ironman and I’m having trouble keeping water out of my goggles. Finally I give up and start swimming back to the exit by only looking out of one eye because the other one is completely filled and it was like trying to look through a cloudy fish bowl. About 100 meters from the exit they both were filled with water again and I just kept swimming because I could make out the images. I get out of the water very upset because had this been race day I would have been in serious trouble.

I change back into my regular clothes but take a minute to gather myself to not let the swim bother me and put negative thoughts in my head. I thought, tomorrow no matter what make sure I have good seal on my goggles before getting in the water.

After running a few last minute errands, we grabbed lunch and prepared for bike and gear bag drop off. It was smooth and seamless and while over dropping off my T1 bag I ran into Barb and her sister who we met the night before. We chatted and I happened to mention my goggle issue earlier in the day and she asked if I had my goggles over or under my neoprene cap? I had it over it and she told me she had the same problem the previous week because just the little extra thickness of the neoprene cap can prevent getting a good seal.

Back home for dinner and quiet time before heading to bed it was officially IRONMAN EVE.


As many of you know I get up two hours before I need to leave before a big training weekend or race so this way was no different, follow the plan that’s worked for this long. Since Kevin was volunteering for the early shift he needed to be there by 4:30 which meant we needed to leave by 4:15. Therefore, I had to get up at 2:15 am, but what the hell let’s just make it 2 am just to keep it an even number.

The clock goes off at 2 am and I get up well rested and ready to engage my race day plan. I had written out a few notes the night before to make sure I didn’t forget anything and laid everything out that I needed. Start brewing the coffee, grab my banana and check a few emails and see lots of good luck messages. I also, grab my three cards that were given to me and told not to open until right before the race. First, I read the one from Kevin, followed by the one from Jen and then Shawn. They brought tears to my eyes because they all have gone through what I was about to go through and they all wanted me to succeed. With all of this support and encouragement I said a prayer for good day and to cross the finish line.

The weather forecast as the week went on the forecast got worse and it proved to be true. It was cold around 50 degrees and the winds were already blowing around 10 mph.

I proceeded with my morning breakfast menu and got the rest of the crew up at 3 am. By Just after 4 we were heading out the door to the race and I put on my noise canceling headphones and started my IMAZ play list. I immediately went into the zone and would probably not speak another word for the next hour.

We head over to drop off our special needs bags and by the time we got back to transition they were letting in athletes

After entering transition I head over to drop off a few nutrition items in my T1 & T2 bags and then head to my bike to get it ready. I go through my mental checklist probably 3 times and make sure everything is just right.

Once everything was set I headed over to the morning clothes area where some of the other T3 team members were hanging out and we settle in to chat and relax before the race. Before we know it, it’s 6:15ish which meant it was time put on our wetsuits and get ready for the day we had been training for the past 6 months.

Wetsuits on, good luck wishes and fist bumps are flying around and Kevin gives me one last hug before I head off into the unknown of Ironman. I walk over to the water with my teammates and we’re all excited but very nervous about what’s to come. We’re all standing near the water and the cannon goes off for the pros and then it’s our turn to jump in the water.

I had my swim start location picked out based on some advice I was given by a local so I jumped in the water worried about my goggle issue from the day before and YES sealed!! Energy is getting high, heart rate is through the roof as I swim to my planned spot and then I just tread water for a few minutes taking it all in. Looking at the people on shore they must have been 5 deep as far as you could see down the lake, I turn and look above to the Mill street bridge and wave at the people up there and then I turn back to look at my 2,300+ close friends all bobbing in the water with me. I look for the helicopter but because it was a windy day no helicopter.

It was almost 7 am somehow I found myself in the water about to start an Ironman race. Still today I find it hard to believe 18 months ago I didn’t know how to swim and was afraid to be in water over my head and now I was about to swim 2.4 miles in water way over my head with people who would swim over me and punch me in the face just to get clear water.

Right at that moment, one of my favorite songs started playing over the speakers, “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay and at that moment, I became confident that I was right where I belonged in my first Ironman race.

Mike Reilly got the crowd pumped to cheer us on throughout the day and then asked us if we were going to be an Ironman at the end of the day?, we yelled yes in reply and then the famous Ironman cannon blasted and our seventeen countdown started.

I felt comfortable right away and settled into a grove and the meters went by one by one. A few times people tried to swim over me and when I felt them I gave them a kick to get back and when someone got to close from one side or another I gave them an elbow or push to get back. Somehow I had instantly turned into an Ironman swimmer and deserved to be there just as much as anyone else.

Finally we reached the first turn and 1.2 mile done. Going down the back side of the swim I probably had a smile on my face because at that point I knew I was going to make it. A few times I caught a draft off of other swimmers but quickly figured out they were even slower than me because I had caught them. So I pulled around them and kept swimming. Finally one more left turn and there was the swim exit and it was time to go have more fun. Out of the water, I reached back to start undoing my wetsuit and my hand cramped up. Not good, I thought. I let one of the volunteers undo my zipper and continued down the carpet a little ways because based on my viewing the last two years I knew this area was less congested.

Wetsuit off I was onto T1, one of the volunteers immediately came over to help me with my things and then asked me if I wanted to change outside? I thought to myself, are you crazy it’s cold out here. However, I just replied, I’m doing a full change so I need to go inside. Inside two volunteers helped me get my things out of my bag and organized and probably would have dressed me if I had wanted. I put on my full cold riding gear and out of the tent I went. Kevin & Frank were waiting there to cheer me on when I came out and there was my bike waiting for me from the bike valet volunteer. Grabbed C1 and off I went giving Joe a high five and I left. Mount line, on the bike and off I went. It felt great to be in this race and I know I had a smile a mile wide because I was going to be an Ironman at the end of the day. Out for my first loop, the cold that was there at the start of the day was still there and the wind had picked up. Crap this was not in the plan. As our coaches always say, “you don’t know what race day bring so be prepared for everything”. Ok, cold and rain I can handle you so let’s just get this thing done. Out on the Bee Line Highway, I stat seeing more and more of my teammates and everyone is looking good. But the wind is behind me and I going up hill with ease and I think this is not going to be good going the other way. After the turn around I was going down hill slower than I was going up because the head wind was so strong. Right about that time I noticed my left shoe sliding back and forth on the cleat and peddle so I stopped at the bike tech area to get it checked and good thing I did because one of my screws was about to fall out and another one was very loose. Quick tighten and I was back on the bike. Back in town it started to rain and I thought REALLY!! First cold, then wind, and now rain, oh well Ironman isn’t supposed to easy. The rain picked up and backed off and I finished the first loop with the loud cheering of the T3 support crew.

Back out for the 2nd loop which was pretty much the same and but this time I would get to have my PBJ at the halfway point. When I got there and got off my bike this lady was standing there with a not so happy look on her face and said she was very hungry. I gave her some of my PBJ and she was very thankful. Finished my happy snack off I went. The miles few by and soon I was back in town and going out for my 3rd and final loop. More wind, more cold and more rain oh well I’m at mile 90 of Ironman and I had he biggest smile on my face. Other cyclists were looking at me and I saw them smile when they saw me so it was great and we’re in a freaking Ironman race. I cruised back into town and there was the T3 crew still there cheering for us while everyone else was long gone. Talk about loving your teammates, I really felt the love and “flat Chris” was still out there. Back at the dismount line the volunteer was there to take my bike and asked me if I needed anything off of it and I responded “no, you can have that thing.” I love C1 but we need to spend some time apart. Off the bike it was time to test out the knee that failed me 3 weeks ago.

As I had been told by many others make sure you have your head wrapped around doing a marathon before leaving T2 and that’s exactly what I did. I got dressed, chatted with the volunteers found out who won the race and then set out for my last 26.2 miles of the Ironman race. Right out of transition I saw Dan so he and I ran/walked together for the first 5-6 miles and then he went on with his race and I was actually feeling very good and comfortable with my run/walk pace. Again I couldn’t believe I was actually on the last 1/3 of my Ironman race and I would finish with some time to spare under the 17 hours. Coming to end of my first loop I was going to ditch my arm warmers and the contents of my special needs bag to Kevin when I saw him on the second loop and then it started to rain. Nope, decided to keep the arm warmers and told Kevin I would give him the special needs contents when I saw him.

Just as I started my second loop I needed to stop in the port-o-potty. When I came out I saw this lady who was doing her Ironman shuffle and by this time I was power walking. After about ¼ of a mile we noticed that her Ironman shuffle and my power walking pace were the same and we quickly knew we were meant to be together. After meeting my new friend Jill from the Tempe/Phoenix area we said we’re in this together to the end. So off we went and there was no stopping us. Mile by mile went by with Jill, we introduced each other to our support crew, I dropped my special needs bag with John because Kevin was away eating at the time and Jill and I continued our Ironman marathon. For the most part we were both very upbeat but there were some low points that we wanted the pain to stop but never once did we consider stopping. We knew we would finish this race and we were committed to keeping each other going. When one of us stopped the other waited and vice versa. We ran into teammates from both of our teams and Ali even asked if I had met Jill before tonight because we seemed like such good friends. I responded no but we’re friends now. At the start of the 3rd loop I turned on my new light saber and it was game on because we were going to be an Ironman. The miles went by, 21, 22, 23, 24, then 25. I got teary eyed because the dream I started almost over 18 months ago was about to come true. We quickly talked about who was going to go first because we both wanted our moment in the finish chute so we agreed since I had a little extra left I would go. I picked up the pace and made the big left that said “FINISH.” I saw Natasha taking bikes back to trailer and she gave me a cheer. A little further up the road I could hear people calling my name it was Kevin, Dionn, Joe and a few others I gave them a high five because I was about to make the biggest left turn of my life. That’s when I saw the finish line. I was about to become an Ironman. Because I’ve been to a few of these before I knew your name was called before you cross the finish line so I slowed up coming down the chute, gave several people in the crowd a high five, did several jumps in the air as I heard Mike Reilly say those magical words “Chris Garlington from Austin, Texas, for the first time YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”

I had done it, I beat the swimming demons, battled through the cold, wind, rain, hail and the knee that had failed me three weeks before held up perfectly.

After crossing the finish line I immediately saw Chrissie Wellington and I gave her a big hug and she said congratulations to me and I replied the same to her. I continued through the finishing area with a volunteer and that’s when I saw Kevin and many of my other teammates. It was a great ending to a truly magical day that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Post Race
Finishers Gear
Kevin and I both got our Ironman tattoos
After party with many of the IMAZ racers and support crew
4 days and Thanksgiving in the Grand Canyon with Kevin and 5 others from the IMAZ race and support team.

Answering the common questions:
1. Was it the hardest thing I’ve ever done? Yes
2. Will I do it again? In a heartbeat, in fact #2 will be on May 21, 2011 with Kevin and several other close friends
3. Am I sticking to only doing two Ironman races? Probably not but I will take some time off to fix my knee after the 2011 race season
4. Am I happy with my time? Yes, I finished but I will be more aggressive for the next one

Until the next time,



mikeINaustin said...

Chris, that was awesome! Tears started to flow as you described nearing the finish line. I'm so so happy for you! Well done! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

Do iron mans eat chips and queso for lunch?!

Anonymous said...

You could, you would, and you did, Chris! Great race report - I can clearly hear your voice in each sentence. It's been amazing to share this journey with you. Has reality set in for you yet? I'm still waiting...

Rockin Austin said...

You are amazing Chris, this was a great post and I felt like I was right there with you. Tears at the end...just fabulous!