Friday, October 10, 2014

The Triple Anvil - 420 Miles of Fun?

Before I get to my report, huge thank you for all the support and love I got from friends, family, race management, volunteers and fellow racers. I am especially grateful for the support from Nicole, Heather, Tara and Nellie. I would never consider taking on the stuff I do without your support.  I am your biggest fan.

I get asked a lot why on earth I would sign up for the Triple Anvil (Triple Iron Distance Ironman); 7.2 mile swim, 336 mile bike, 78 mile run = 420 mile total. It is insane. It is ridiculous.  Isn’t an Ironman (140 miles) enough? I don’t have a real good answer. Perhaps it was because I was inspired by friends who had done it before, maybe it was to find out if I could, or it was just the next thing in a sequence of really hard, stupid stuff that I wanted to try. Never the less, when I emailed race director Steve Kirby last spring (we had been emailing each other for about a year) and asked when this year’s event was going to be held, and he told me he had already signed me up, I simply accepted it and began planning. I was very excited to find out that fellow Death Racers Dan Grodinsky and Frank Fumich, and my friend Jim Wilkes would also be there. One caveat, Frank and Jim would be doing the Quintuple Anvil (5X = 703 miles, holy crap!).

Training had gone really well. I was very satisfied with what I was able to complete in the months leading up to the race. 420 miles is a big number and the format of the race is mind numbing insane. The swim course is 18 laps. Not too bad. The bike course is 67.5 laps of a 2.5 mile stretch of road, back and forth. The run course is 39 laps of a one mile stretch of road. Again, back and forth.  Like I said, mind numbing, but I had tailored my training to simulate this as much as possible.

In the week leading up to our Thursday morning start I was starting to feel not so great. Headaches, icky feelings. I chalked it up to nerves and tried to put it out of my mind. I’ve been there before, I can handle it. Dan, Frank, Jim and I communicated often. I was excited to find out Any Weinberg, the Death Race Race Director, would be there to cheer us on. Andy had done the Double, Triple and Quintuple Anvils and knew he would be motivating. Besides, he’s just a super nice guy to be around.
I arrived on Thursday afternoon and set up my tent in a field along the course (yes I was going to camp out) and set up my race area with my food and supplies. Every athlete had a support team except for the three of us who had been in Death Race. We really are an odd bunch! We decided that we would support each other.

Mosi Smth, Me, Beat Knechtle, and William 'The IronOx Pruett
At the Thursday night pre-race meal I met the other twelve competitors; 12 men, 1 woman. Everyone was so nice, encouraging and genuine. Everyone was a great athlete. I have done a lot of long and difficult race but felt like an imposter as their resumes were read off. I looked out at Lake Anna from the deck we were on and a sinking feeling overcame me. My head really hurt. Pre-race jitters? I hoped so.

I actually slept well but arose early with the same headache. I walked down to the lake to think and breath. I had a bad feeling in me. Something wasn’t right. I was having real thoughts of backing out. That was a first. If I packed up and left no one would know right? Pushing aside my concerns, I got dressed anyway, ate some food and headed to the water for the 7:00 am start. Even as I got in the water my head was throbbing.  Steve started the race by striking an anvil with a hammer, the same anvil we would each get to strike when we completed the race. Would I get my chance? I had my doubts at this point but off we swam.

Dan Grodisky and Me - Pre Swim
I swam well, a little off course at times, but relatively comfortable. There was a mist over the water which made it hard to find the buoys but it burned up as the sun came up. At one point I got very off course and heard my name being screamed. I didn’t realize who it was at the time but afterwards I learned that it was Jim, who had dropped out of the 5X the day before due to illness. He had helped me out at a 50 mile ultramarathon that I got hurt in a few years before. I guess he was helping me again.

I finished the swim in 5:20, a very respectable time. My head had throbbed the whole time but I was very pleased. Off to the bike. A very long bike ride awaited.

From here things headed downhill very fast. My plan was to do four laps and then stop and eat real food (pizza, peanut butter and jelly, potatoes), while eating power gels and bars on every two laps in between. I knew that I would burn through 8,000 calories on the bike alone. This was working very well but as time went on I was in more and more achy pain and getting lethargic. The sun went down and the temperatures dropped. Biking in the dark is kind of interesting. You feel like you are riding in a small envelope of light from your headlamp surrounded by deep darkness. There were no street lights (we were in a state park) by the way. Dark.

My body was holding up fine, just a very ichy feeling and headache. At 100 miles I decided to really sit down and take inventory. It was now the middle of the night. I discussed my situation with several people. They suggested a one hour nap. I set my alarm and closed my eyes. One hour. I sat up. The headache and aches were worse. Crap. I decided to set my alarm again. One hour. No better. It was
Andy Weinberg and me
time for a big decision time, a big hard decision. I decided that I had no choice, I would sleep until morning knowing that I would probably not have enough time to finish the race. Reality sucks.

When I got up at 6:00, I still felt bad, maybe even worse. I was in a bit of a daze.  I went and checked in on Frank. He was still running. He is an animal unlike any I have ever known. I walked down to the lake. The Double Anvil swimmers were getting started. I talked to Andy for a while and watched the swimmers. I tried to encourage Kevin, competing in his first triathlon ever! Go big or go home I guess.

I still felt yucky and could not fathom getting back on my bike. My decision was made. I had toed the line with some of the very best. I had swam a good swim and biked 100 miles. My training had worked. My fitness level was where it needed to be. I started an extremely difficult race that most would never even consider. I was just sick.

I had no regrets and decided for the next few hours I would support my friends old and new. If I couldn’t race, I wanted to make sure they were successful. In that time I spoke to many of my fellow racers and their support teams. It was gratifying to a part of something larger than myself. Of course I would have liked to have finished, but was glad to a part of something so huge.

Post Script  - Dan Grodinsky is from Montreal. On the night if the bike the Capitals were playing the Canadiens in the season opener. We made a bet that the loser had to sing the other's national anthem at the tent area of the race. Because of my early departure we did not get the chance to settle this bet. The Caps lost. I owe Dan a performance of Oh Canada.