I signed up for the Ironman U.S. Championship not really taking into account that it was in the summer. I was more excited to be racing on home turf and didn’t really add up this equation: NYC + August + Ironman = (please fill in the blank).
This being my second Ironman distance I was not stressed out at all and my nerves were pretty good.
The day before the race (a work day for me) was when we needed to check our bikes in. I think I was the only guy in a suit and tie in transition. It was pretty funny looking I think. I also had a bit of a laugh when one of the volunteers checking my run bag gave me some advice. He looked in my Run Bag and saw my sneakers and a hat, nothing else because that’s all I need. He said, “Have you thought about nutrition? You know it’s an important part of the race.” Shut up! You mean, I should be eating things on the run? I immediately called Coach Sonja and scolded her for leaving out this important piece of knowledge. Seriously though, I told him I will be just fine and tied my bag shut.
That night Abbe and Claire came over for our Ironman sleepover party. We started off with some fine cheeses and some exotic beer Claire brought. Abbe then made my new favorite pre-race meal of Cacio e Pepe pasta with a tomato mozzarella salad. While making dinner the gals helped me get my gear bags in check. The whole night was really fun and you would never know I had to do an Ironman the next day! Off to bed by 10:30PM…
I woke up at 4:30AM Folgers Style. “Baker, what’s Folgers Style?” I’m so glad you asked, let me explain. You know those Folgers Commercials where people just wake up to the sound and smell of brewing coffee? My new coffee maker has a timer on it (I know, not new technology) and so I could hear and smell it brewing. I love coffee.
The three of us rolled out to grab a cab at 5AM. I had until 6 to get into transition. Did I need to? Not really, but it’s always safe to make sure your bike still has wheels.
Our first cab driver was whack. Put the scene together… we are on a quiet street off Park Avenue at 5 in the morning. Birds are starting to stir, the air is still. I get in the cab and he tells me it’s going to be $50 to go over the GW to the start. I yelled, “What? Turn on your f&^ckin meter man! I’m not paying that much to go over the bridge.” He, in turn, told me to watch my language. I called him an asshole and stormed out of the cab. He mumbled some profanity and then Abbe yelled at him, “Hey, YOU watch YOUR language!” He responded with “No, you watch YOUR language!” Since Abbe hadn’t cursed she clearly had the upper hand.
As I got in a new cab the driver calmly explained that to go to New Jersey there is a flat rate of $50. I looked at the girls and we started laughing. Why didn’t the other driver just tell us that?
We arrived at the entrance to the start at 5:30AM. The girls were not allowed in so they staked out some good cheering locations.
As I started the 2 mile walk down into transition I decided I probably needed to run in order to make it on time. I was cruising down the road when all of a sudden this car rolled up along side of me. How are cars allowed in here I thought? The driver said, “Are you running because you want to run, or do you want a lift to transition?” Hello angel in disguise! I hopped in and he told me he was a volunteer and was running late. We passed like 100 other racers going to the start, why choose me? Where ever you are Warren, thanks for helping out!
Now, with oodles of time to spare in transition I watched an episode of the office on my iPad to kill the time.
After dropping off my various gear bags I wandered over to the ferry line. I started eating my oatmeal and bananas and finished my coffee. In line I bumped into my friend Jim! We chatted for awhile about the race and our goals. (Congrats Jim!) Then, I found Neal. He was really excited and we got all jazzed up talking about the swim. We boarded the 4th (out of 6) ferries and got a seat on the upper deck. It was a sticky morning but the view on the Hudson of the swim course was beautiful.
The way the swim worked was, as a boat docked at the barge racers just filed off. When you reached the lower barge your timing chip activated and you just jumped in and tarted swimming. Imagine penguins just filing one by one into the soup, that’s what it looked like.
As we docked 20 minutes had already passed by. We walked down and after a quick fist bump to Neal my second Ironman race began.
I have never been more excited to start a triathlon swim. My training in the water has been amazing the last 2 months since joining a new pool by my office. I swim at lunch almost every day and because of that I knocked 4 minutes off my mile time! (Jim from ‘Dad Posse’ also taught me a new technique which was instrumental) I started the swim nice and easy. The water was probably the cleanest I have ever experienced in the Hudson.
I got bumped a bit here and there but didn’t get too beat up. One thing that was different about this swim for me was that I drafted off a few fast swimmers. I have never been able to do that before, but with my faster stroke I held on! For me, the swim is the calm before the storm, so I try and enjoy the serenity of the water. On every ‘left breath’ I watched the sun start to rise over Manhattan.
As we neared the end of the swim portion I could feel my heart rate increasing as my excitement grew. My bike was calling my name…
Up on dry land I ran to the wetsuit strippers and skipped over a bunch until I found Susan and Jocelyn! I said hi and they were like, “Lay down Baker, lay down!” Duh. They had me stripped lickety split and I was off. Just then, I heard my name yelled and it was my friend Gio spectating!
Over in T1 I found Neal. He had a fantastic swim! Coincidentally, we both ended up at the bike starting line together too!
SWIM TIME: 54:49 (2.4 Miles)
As we made the ascent out of Palisades Park I tried to stay steady. When we made the turn to go up towards the bridge the crowds got thick and I saw Abbe, Claire and Maria screaming at me! It was awesome. Their cheers helped me manage the steep hill that led out onto the highway.
Once I was on the open course I smiled and yelled, “Wind it up!” I dropped into aero and started increasing my speed. I felt awesome.
The bike course was a double, ‘out and back’ so I basically broke it into 4 (28 Mile) sections. The first ‘out’ portion was fantastic. I even hit 44 MPH on one of the downhills! We were screaming down the hill and it’s really too bad there wasn’t a photographer there because I must have looked like a bat outta hell, all smiles.
The first turn around took FOREVER to appear. It was really a lot farther than I was mentally gauging. Up in the northern part of the course the streets were in pretty poor condition too. I even lost my Clif Bar after I took the first bite because I hit a bump and it went flying!
Remember that crazy fast downhill? Well, we had to go back up it on the return trip, not fun. I was playing the numbers game with my Garmin and I had just hit the 21 MPH Average speed for the course when this hill appeared and knocked me back to 20.4 MPH… not cool. I was diligently drinking my EFS and my UCANN. (they were in separate bottles. Could you imagine how gross that would be to mix them? Vomit City.) I also had my first of many pee ma pants moments. I am very courteous when I pee ma pants and make sure other bikers are a good distance behind so they don’t get sprayed. To anyone unfamiliar, this is a pretty common practice in triathlon. If you stopped on your bike to pee you would easily lose 10 minutes per stop.
Right before the second turnaround (back by the Start) was Special Needs. I screeched to an abrupt stop right in front of my helper. It feels funny going from 3 hours on a bike at 20MPH to a sudden stop. It’s like coming out of warp speed. My bike almost fell over but he was a great volunteer who supported me. I grabbed my fresh EFS bottles and my back-up Clif Bar and was off riding again!
As the 3rd leg of the bike course began the clouds dissipated and the sun was out blasting us. It got real hot real quick. You could feel the heat radiating off of the asphalt and it was kind of slowing me down. I knew things were about to get real and the pain was to start. I had that huge downhill to look forward to and devised a new strategy. To conserve my energy I was going to quickly max out my speed on downhills then coast, resting my legs. I also ate a bit of my Clif Bar which boosted my spirits. It was, after all, past noon and therefore lunchtime.
I peed again to kill the time.
Then, out of nowhere this guy rolls up on me and says, “Hey KE! Good luck. I’m with Runner’s Roost!” I yelled something back and then it dawned on me, he must be from Colorado, the home of Kompetitive Edge, and must be a local racer. I am the NYC faction of KE so I rarely have a moment like this and I was quite excited.
I was not excited when I saw 2 brutal bike crashes. These guys were laid out and in bad shape. I hope they were okay in the end.
A few miles later we finally hit the turnaround point. I yelled out, “Bring it on home boys!” (homage to Led Zeppelin) and got some wind behind me. I knew these last 27 miles were gonna be hard, so I tried to be goofy any way I could. I even did my ‘Scotty from Star Trek’ voice a few times yelling, “Captain, were not going fast enough to make warp speed, give her some more power!” Whatever works right?
It was blazing hot and at the next aid station I grabbed a water on my drive by. I sprayed it all over me and instantly felt great. Duh Baker, your overheating, that’s why you felt crappy. I also peed ma pants again.
For the remainder of the bike my crotch and neck hurt, my legs were sick of riding and ironically, I wanted to run really bad! I cruised into T2 and the spectators were out in force!
BIKE TIME: 5:43:17 (112 Miles)
T2 went pretty smooth. I hit up the sunscreen gals (of course) since it was an inferno out there. We had to immediately run up a steep hill to get to the course. It was painful and I tried to keep my heart rate as steady as possible.
Out in the park I made my way towards Mile 1. There wasn’t an aid station there which disappointed me because I was in need of water and potato chips bad. I think it was more like the 1.4 mile mark when it showed up. I poured 4 cups of water on my head, drank 1, ate chips, drank more water, grabbed a cold sponge, stuffed it down my short and kept going. I would repeat that process basically at every aid station in order to stay hydrated, cool, and sane.
The first portion was a 2 loop out and back totaling 14 miles, little did I know it would be hell on Earth.
There is this notorious hill in Palisades Park that bikers know. It is a 1 mile ascent that is grueling on the legs even in the lowest gear. As we rounded the corner I saw that we got to run up it, twice in fact. I said out loud to someone, “You have got to be kidding me!” I slowly ran up, not wanting to waste any leg power as this was only Mile 2. The only good thing about these first miles was that there were periods of shade. The air was still and humid though, like an oven. I was dry by the time I got to each aid station and I tried to just take the race one mile at a time.
At Mile 3.5 we turned around. I tried to be positive but these rolling hills were beating me up bad. I was still doing my ‘systems check’ and trying to figure out what my body needed. I had eaten a ton of chips and pretzels, now I was onto orange slices to try and get my mind in the game since I was starting to wonder if I was going to make it to the end.
I tried to make up time lost going up the big hill by cruising down it at break neck speed. Mission accomplished. I was running at an 8-8:30 pace the first half and wasn’t happy about it.
Back at the turn around by the start I was walking through the aid station hosing myself down and eating more pretzels when I heard someone yell, “Baker, what are you doing walking! Get your ass moving!” It was Gio who was joined by Gallagher! I chuckled and ran over to get some high fives replying, “Guys, it’s a freaking inferno out here!” “We know!” they said as I started up again. Always good to see buddies on the course and this was just the beginning!
Lap two felt a little better, especially since I had the aid stations and the course mapped out in my head.
I saw something slightly disturbing (I wonder if people are writing that about me) on the final return lap. I started to feel really good and strong and was passing people. As I was passing this gal I noticed some wires flopping around. She was listening to an iPod! Totally illegal but I was secretly jealous.
As I was finishing up my second lap of the double out and back I saw my buddy Jim who gave me a high five, then Neal showed up looking great who also hit me with a fiver! Way to go fellas!
Passing the start area and moving onto the final 12 miles felt great. (Sounds silly to get excited to only have 12 miles to run.) The course cleared out a bit and got quiet which was very peaceful. I was listening to the wind in the trees and the birds, knowing that mighty Manhattan would surely bring the noise. 2 factors knocked my mile pace way down right here at mile 14-15. One of them was the monster hill heading up toward the GW Bridge. I know this hill well because I bomb down it on my bike all the time thinking, “Wow, it would suck to have to ride ‘up’ this.” Then, as we entered the North side of the GW we were confronted with maybe 5-10 sets of staircases leading to the pedestrian walkway. Not cool IM Corporation.
As I ran across the flat GW Bridge I looked to the south at my beautiful city and got fired up. My pace increased and I was once again passing people. As I exited the bridge and started moving through the streets I saw Michelle and Tavia right at mile 17 screaming at me! Awesome! Through out the next 9 miles I would see countless friends, so please excuse me if I missed you on my shout outs!
Miles 17-21 happened in a heart beat. Along the flat path I saw Lam at an aid station. I also ran up along side of my Runner’s Roost buddy. I introduced myself and told him that I was part of the East Coast faction of the Kompetitive Edge Team. We had a few chuckles before I took off wishing him a good race.
Next, I caught up with my friend James (the Iron Cowboy) who is attempting to break the world record for most Ironmans raced in a year. I think this was his 15th or something!
I was moving at a sub 8 pace now, but I was exhausted. We were now right next to the river on the running path and I was praying that the cloud cover we had would remain. Then, off to my left across the West Side Highway was this group of super loud spectators making quite a scene. As soon as I saw Claire’s giant foam finger I was like, “Hey, its my crew making all the noise!”
I wound around the course and started heading up towards them. I saw my friend Julianne here who wished me luck! Then, as I approached my gang I saw Abbe, Claire, Erica, Gillian, Kelly, Susan, Bojana, Elyssa, Maria, and Maura! They made a Power Arch and I blasted through it high fiving as I went by! Go Runner Army!
Right after them I entered this out and back zig zag part of the course that was a total mental killer BUT it was great for spectators. I saw my friend Jason here and gave him a sweaty high five.
As I rounded back I was now higher up in the park on a beautiful paved walkway. The whole crew ran up there and was now joined by a second gang of friends… Jeff, Billy, Ali, Todd, Ila, Keenan, Asher, Ilka, and Adelaide! This was a serious cheer force. I was so tired but the support really fired me forward. On the return I passed them one more time (Mile 24 or so) and headed into my final 2 miles. I saw my triathlete friends Michelle (Trilife) and Amanda (Terrier Tri) here who cheered me on.
They made us go up one more hill right at the end. It hurt bad.
As I cruised into the long finishers chute with no one else around me I decided I was going to celebrate a bit on the way down. I slowed up to almost a walk and threw out my arms, big smile on my face! As soon as I crossed the finish my friend Elizabeth was in the Press area (she works for TNT) and she gave me a huge shout out!
RUN TIME: 3:42:13
OVERALL TIME: 10:27:47 (a 50 minute PR!)
DIVISION PLACE: 30
Look! There’s my friend Elizabeth taking my picture to the right!
Right after I finished my 2 handlers (as I like to call them) started asking me questions like, “What’s your name? Where do you live? Let me see your eyes, please take off your sunglasses.” Once they saw I was fine they asked what I needed. “Pizza. I saw someone with pizza so just point me in the right direction.” Right before I could make it into the pizza tent the whole crew caught up with me. Abbe gave me a sweaty hug even after I warned her!
The true New Yorker in me came out when I was at the pizza table too as I asked them what restaurant the pizza was from, as if I was going to not eat it.
After my pizza, Abbe, Claire, Maura and I caught a cab over to my place so I could shower. We then went to Brother Jimmy’s and had a few quick pints with Jeff, Ali and Gillian before hightailing it over to watch Neal finish. We caught him right at the end as he was coming through! Awesome work Neal!
Finally, Erica hosted us at her place for beer and pizza for the final celebration. Whew!
This, my second Ironman, was an amazing experience. What I learned was that the mind truly IS more powerful then the body. Having done one of these before I mentally knew I could complete it, even with minimal food sources, making it that much more easy. It doesn’t matter how physically fit you are, what matters is that you believe in yourself. If you can do that, then your legs will do the rest.
Thanks to Kompetitive Edge, my sponsor, who provides me with the support needed to accomplish such a race!
Thanks to Sonja, who has trained me in such a way that all of this keeps getting easier!
Thanks to my cheer squad up and down the course, especially Abbe and Claire who hiked around NJ for 3 hours before the race!
Big ups to Neal. You sir, are an Ironman!
…and remember to always have some fun out there no matter how difficult things get.