Big stakes race day. That’s what an Ironman is. Not just for those who race with elite amateurs. Or for those who compete at the top of their age groups. But for duffers like me.
These days, you have to sign up a year in advance for most Ironman races, and the only sure way to sign up for Ironman Wisconsin 2011 was to volunteer at Ironman Wisconsin 2010.
My plan was simple. Last year, two friends, Mike Stec and Eligio Pimentel, qualified for the granddaddy of the Ironman — Kona, to take place in October 2010.
Because I will never finish near the top of my age group in any Ironman, I will never be invited to Kona. But I don’t like to train alone. So I searched for an Ironman that would occur around the same time as Kona.
Triathlete magazine listed Chesapeakeman as one of the smallest — with only 200 participants — and nicest ultras in the country. It takes place two weeks before Kona.
The bike and run courses are pancake flat. I am a lousy climber on the bike, and a flat course seemed my only chance at a relatively fast time, so I signed up.
The race was a few weeks ago in Cambridge, Md. When the weather is cool and the wind is calm, it’s a great place.
Getting to the Chesapeake Bay early on race day, I noticed a stiff wind already blowing.
There was some wave action on one leg of the 1.2-mile two-loop swim caused by a receding tide, but nothing extraordinary. Happily, there were no jellyfish.
I came out of the water “refreshed” and ready for the long bike. I did not anticipate that the temperatures would reach 95 degrees or that road surfaces would top 100. I did not know the wind would settle in at 18 mph.
The bike course followed two 56-mile loops through the Black Water National Wildlife Refuge. It is marshy and desolate and without more than a stitch or two of shade.
The sun blazed. The wind came up. I kept to my hydration plan, forcing down two bottles per hour. But that was not enough on this day, and my stomach shut down by the beginning of the run.
The run was three 8.7-mile loops out and back on Egypt Road, which must have gotten its name because it is hotter than the Sahara Desert. The pavement clung to my shoes. I could not sweat. I was salt-caked and dry, looking for an oasis. My body temperature skyrocketed.
Once, as I jogged, I turned to see a guy passing me doing a speed walk. That’s what happens when you are on an Ironman death march putting one foot in front of the other.
It was not until mile 16, when the sun went down, that my body started to sweat again. By that time, the race was effectively over. Reinforced by salty chicken soup, I soldiered through the dark and arrived at the finish line at an unglamorous 15:01. I now know: beware the “easy” Ironman course. Next year, I will hope for better luck on a more difficult course at Ironman Wisconsin.