Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Orangeman Triathlon Race Report

First, I want to thank Jamie for her unending support of my racing and being my number one fan.  Secondly, I want to thank Tom and Blair for getting out of bed early and coming to support me.  It's awesome to have the support of people that care about you.  (Also, thank you guys and gals for the awesome pictures and video below.)  

Finally, here is the race report.  It's a little long but this is how I will remember it when I have long forgotten.  

Days before race:
Putting together my race nutrition days before the race
I was smart enough to break down every meal from Friday night on, including how much insulin to give myself.  I then had a break down of how many carbohydrates I would eat per hour during the race.  This included pre-race, per hour on the bike and per hour on the run.  From here I had a regiment of overnight basal rates, race basal (which was Levemir [levemir is a long acting insulin that lasts for nearly 12 hours] over night and during the race, no sense in letting the pump ruin my race) and a good idea of what my bolus rates should be during the race (this was however an estimate having never done a race of this length prior).   Looking back, I will say I was spot on with the nutrition.  The days before worked, the race day worked.  The only real issue was a slightly low bolus before the race.  

No matter what though, I feel like it's really hard to bolus dead on in a race.  The Medtronic pump isn't the best for reaching into the pocket, setting a bolus (I have it preset in 0.5 unit increments) and then eating.  This however, is more of an excuse; the more I race, the more I learn and the easier it gets.   Looking back a year ago, I am far and away better at racing with the diabetes, from the 5k all the way up to this Half-Ironman.  Thanks Mom and Dad for my type-A genes.  As long as it's planned, there is at least a good idea of what should happen.  

Up early, 4:10am.  Three hours prior to the race.  Bolus with an injection (once again, no need for the pump to ruin my morning) and eat ten minutes later.  (I woke up at 181, my mistake, I was low prior to bed and had too many carbs, I knew it was too many but lows prior to bed are scary.)  Ninety-minutes later after setting up transition I was 182, dead on for my plan.  

Jamie and I laughing before the race.
This is when some of the planning goes a little haywire.  Although I knew a spike in blood sugars might happen, it was (and still is) difficult mentally to bolus for it.  Once again, the more I race, the more comfortable I will become bolusing for "nerves".   Twenty minutes after my 182, I was 206.  That spike doesn't just happen, nerves happen.  I gave myself some insulin, then my Levemir balas injection.  

Right before the race I had my planned Ensure shake.  350 calories, 49 grams carb and plenty of vitamins to keep my going.  A small bolus.  Right before the swim however the adrenaline was still going strong.  It's been a long time since I was this nervous before an event.  Probably back to my baseball days actually.  My blood sugar ended up at before the swim start 286.  Tom was next to me (also has diabetes) when I took that blood sugar.  I told him I thought it would come down in the swim, his confidence back reaffirmed my thought.  To depths of the sea I went.

Third group, 7:06 start, it was a little late but what race isn't.  Beach start, run in.  Waves were small luckily.  The course was a little odd, a lot more turns than usual, in the shape of an L.  Out, right turn, straight, right turn, right turn, long back, left turn, in.  

Besides the entire group going eastward (toward land) on the last major straight away I would say the swim went very well.  Especially for an ocean swim.  If this was a lake swim my time would be even lower, everything considered I am very (very very) happy.  Near the end of the swim I thought to myself, "I still feel really good, I am totally ready for this race".  

Swim Exit.
The groups become bunched around the buoys but this happens in nearly every open water swim, although it seemed to happen a little more this time.  My total time for the swim was 40 minutes, making the time in the water (on my watch around 38 minutes).  I'm really happy with that.  I have improved vastly since I started this journey.  Considering I couldn't even really "swim" when I graduated college and now I can do a 1.2 mile swim in the ocean, comfortably and relaxed at that, it makes me happy.   If not for Jamie I'd still probably be in the shallow end with floaties on.  My swimming from this point on will only improve.

Rating: A

Transition 1
A looooong run up a cliff (another downfall of an ocean swim).  I tried to go slow to keep the heart rate from spiking (as did most people).  

For taking the wetsuit off, this is the best transition I have ever.  I have zero complaints, it went well.  Looking back, I would put my cycling shoes on near the bike instead of having them rubber banded to the bike.  There was a large hill leaving the transition (750 feet incline), right before mounting I decided to put my shoes on instead of trying to do it quickly on the bike.  In a six hour race, no need to rush everything.   Four and a half minutes in transition.  Very good considering the run up the hill.  This is also where I know my swimming has improved, I never really had that "disorientation" in transition.

Rating: A-

O yes, not a full A because for the second triathlon in a row I didn't look to see where the "bike out" was located and started running the wrong way.  Oppppssss.  Dear parents near me on the other side of the fence, sorry for the choice words trying to find it.  

Not the best course, no passing zone for the first few miles.  That's no fun behind a slow person.  I thought the guy behind me was going to have an anxiety attack from not being able to pass the woman in front of me.  In a weird way I was happy though, it forced me to warm up.  The bad part is I couldn't check my blood sugar for some time (don't even ask, I'm not checking in transition, a nondiabetic doesn't have to do that so I'm not going to).  When I did, about six miles in, 206.  One click of the pump, 0.5, down to 181 in no time.  I was able to keep it in the 180's until the turn around 28 miles in.  

Here's where the difficult parts come in.  (Stay with me the following charts are in two pieces because I screwed up my Garmin watch mounted on my bike.)  

This is the first 13 miles.  
As you can see from the chart, after going up that initial hill we then began a long climb to the turn around.  The course was a beautiful out and back.  Besides a complete nutrition plan I will say the smartest thing I did was drive the course the day before.  (I definitely learned that I always need to do this in long course triathlon.)  I knew it would be a long climb to the top.  Miles 18-28 (below) being the worst of it.  It was beautiful but just like all hills, it's a long way to the top.  

The last 40 something miles, after getting the watch restarted.
The climb was long but I made it.  The thing I am good at (considering my 189 pounds, not a lot in the "real world" but a lot in cycling terms), is climbing.  It hurts but I don't mind it (kind of sick isn't it).  Means your arrive.

The thing that doesn't make me feel alive?  Coming back down.  I passed a lot of people going up but got passed on my way down.  I topped out at 42 miles-an-hour.  You know, I do a lot of things to make my life better by using triathlon; I eat better, I go to bed on time, very disciplined.  However, one thing I have a really hard time doing is going faster down a hill.  I've never even had a bad experience but something bugs me.  The longer I ride hopefully the better I get (once again Blair is right, I could gain a lot of time here).  

The cramping started about five miles from the top.  Not terrible but it was there.  I started popping electrolyte pills at a much higher rate then I had planned.  I wanted to drink more but didn't really "decide" to do until going downhill.  Well, you can't really do that.  Grabbing a bottle at 35mph doesn't really work.  We passed the last aid station, I didn't grab water, planning to grab my last bottle and... disaster.  Reached back and my bottle dropped.  No more water.  

Near the end of the ride.
Begin learning curve!  Next race I need to drink far far more water on the bike.  Looking back, in my swim and bike combined I drank 30oz of water.  That's four hours and only 30oz, I drink more than that at work in four hours.  Plus I have a very high sweat rate.  I should have been taking water in like it's my job but I didn't.  I need to learn to start drinking the second I get on the bike.  When I first began in triathlon I couldn't drink when I first got on the bike because I would swallow so much water during the swim but those days are long gone, it's time to learn to drink more water.  

Another thing that would make the bike much easier is aero bars.  I've ridden in aero a lot but had no aero bars for this race.  I thought being a tough bike course with many switchbacks I wouldn't need them.  Wrong.  Some times after the swim you just need a place to relax.  Not to mention, it would be much easier to take my blood sugar while on aero bars.  Before my next race I will get some aero bars.  With a road bike there is no way to take my hands off safely in a race.  

Overall I am still very happy with my bike split.  Besides the lack of water, which would make the wheels come off the wagon later, it was good.  

Bike: A-  (I was thinking B or B+ but this is my first half distance race, can I really complain with such a tough course?  As I've heard, can't complain after a PR [personal record].)

Transition 2
Off the bike, shoes on. No complaints.  

Transition 2: A-

I started to feel the inner right quad cramp right away but then .75 miles in, hamstring lock.  Awful.  I mean I couldn't even bend the left leg.  I was able to limp into the aid station one mile in.  Drank who knows how much water, stretched and tried to run again.  It hurt, a lot.  It was back and forth like this the first three miles until the turn around, all up hill.  

The thoughts at this point aren't fun.  "Why did I screw up my race like this, how could I be so stupid."  But then, there becomes this weird acceptance.  Almost like "okay fine, this is a life lesson".   A grieving process.   At this point I knew I wouldn't hit my six hour goal.  Considering the course, can I really complain?  

Run course elevation from my Garmin watch.

Near the end of the first loop.
The first three miles or so were completely uphill.  Just an awful time for me.  Cramps, drink water, run, cramp, drink water, run.  Going back toward the start line (two loop course) wasn't as bad.  This is the first time I have truly experienced the "it never always gets worse".  Meaning, it goes from good to bad back to good in endurance sports.  It would hurt so bad then I would think I could run the rest then hurt and cramp again.  

Seeing Jamie and my friends at the turn around really gave me a good lift.  I needed to see them, it helped a lot.  It hurt but I knew I could finish.  At this point I swore this wouldn't happen again.  That this too, was a learning experience.  

I knew my nutrition was solid.  How did I know?  My thoughts were positive.  One thing I've really experienced and learned through research is that negative thoughts many times in a race are tied to nutrition.  (This happens with my diabetes as well, negative thoughts in the brain typically mean a high blood sugar.)  Plus although I was cramping my energy level felt good.  It's like putting a bouncy ball in a small area, it can't bounce very far.  

Coming to the end of the run.
The run was tough but I knew a lot of other people struggled too.  Making my struggles not seem as bad.  Guys with Ironman tattoos that look like they are in great shape walking.  Jamie and Tom at the turn around heard one athlete say, "who ever made this course is a masochist".  

The course was also long, I'm not complaining but it was.  Near 14 miles on my watch.  Jamie brought it before I had ever even said something, other athlete's weren't so happy. O well, instead of doing a 70.3, it looks like I've done a "70.3 PLUS" as Tom put it.

Run: O lord, D+

Overall, it was a rough course and it is only my fault that I cramped.  One thing I can say, I put myself in a position to be under six hours with an ocean swim and a hard hill climb.   Plus I need to remember my run training has severally lacked, with the groin injury and some IT band issues.  I should be happy with simply being in that position for my first one.  It makes me even more excited about the Soma Triathlon with my Dad as numero uno spectator.  A lake swim and a much flatter ride/run.

At the finish.
The night before the race I had written on my hand, "Relax Big Guy" and "33".  The Relax quote is for my Dad, who would always tell me that before going to bat in baseball.  Indeed, it may be the most calming thing I can think to tell myself.  I can hear him say it in my head, calming me in those tough dark moments.  The 33 is for something Coach Hartman once told me when I asked him why he was riding the stairmaster for 33 minutes instead of just 30; "because anyone can ride for 30".   I knew the 33 would remind me that the body always has more to give, always.

I need to remember the only person I am really racing is myself.  I'll never be a pro, never be in the four hour range, I do this for fun, do this to better myself and my diabetes.  There is no reason to stress over the small things.  Triathlon has taught me that, I can tell you baseball never taught me that.  As I stated before "it never always gets worse", it's a reflection of life.  

Overall: B-
From left to right: Jamie, Myself, Tom, Blair, Christian

Overall:      6:30:38.3

Swim:         40:02.9 (2:04 per 100 pace)
T1:              4:26.4
Bike:           3:20:52.5 (16.72 mph pace)
                    04:05:20 total time before run
T2:              1:30.5
Run:            2:23:45 (10:57/mile pace)

What I learned
  • In long course triathlons no need to rush putting on the cycling shoes.  
  • During the bike portion only bring two water bottles to save weight, grabbing a new bottle at each aid station drinking as much as possible. 
  • Include in nutrition plan; electrolytes.  
  • Aero bars, enough said.  

"Do the thing and have the power"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. Brennan, I learned a lot from this, as I do from you all the time. If you don't mind I am definitely going to use your "33." (I guess that means I'm going to have to do some racing...) Remind me to tell you my Billy Mills "You can do anything for three minutes" story. It was so great to be there for this race and I look forward to many more!

  2. Brennan as always you did an amazing job!!! You make me so proud and you make me a better person.. I mean i have worked out everyday this week :)... I am also glad I remembered your gum!! That would have started the swim as a disaster!! "Against the World"

  3. Awesome post Brennan. Love the translation from Race lessons to Life Lessons.

    I do however have one request. Even though I'm slightly in the Health Care Industry, I even have misconception and a general lack of knowledge about Diabetes, and specifically Type 1. Would you ever do a "Bete's 101" post and go over some of the basics (terminology - Bolus, Basal Rate details, etc.). Would be helpful in understanding your posts better. On my desk by Monday morning would be great, thanks! ;)

    Keep up the awesome work!

  4. Building the betes 101 right now.. Great suggestion!