Impromptu Ironman

Thursday morning, 6 am run, two weeks before Michigan Titanium.

Neumann: “how fast do you think you could do an Ironman right now?”

Mind you, I hadn’t swam since March, had one 80 mile ride (fun ride with a 2 hr picnic in the middle) and only 2 other rides over 40 all year and hadn’t run more than 10 miles since a May marathon…

Me: “I don’t know, good question…”

Neumann: “you think 11 hrs?”

Then we went on and on about average this and do that… the seed was planted… a very shallow seed.

Fast forward, two weeks later, still on track to do the Olympic at MiTi. We were at the kids race the morning of the expo, I don’t know what happened. I saw the swim course, I had been thinking I might not be quite ready to race the Olympic as fast as I would like and then saw Lori.

Me: “hey, Lori… if I wanted to switch races, is it too late?”

Lori: (insert sassy tone) “of course not, go see Bill at the expo. What do you want to do the half? relay? you want to do the relay all by yourself? blah, blah, blah :)”

I laughed it off, still thinking… When Kari and I got home (after an awesome job by the kids) I asked her…

Me: “what if I did the full?”

Kari: “really? why?”

Me: “i don’t know, just to see if I could…”

Kari: “well, you know you could. But, if you want to be miserable for a few hours, sure, it would be fun for me to watch.”

We went back and forth a little more and headed off for the expo, still having not made a decision exactly what was going to happen. The only rule was she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. As we wandered around the expo, she told me to go get my stuff and decide. Terence was there.

Terence: (insert South African accent) “what are you two over here so seriously talking about?”

Kari: “Ben’s trying to decide whether or not to sign up for the full.”

I smack her arm…

Terence: “why not? you’ll either have a good day or a bad day, but, sometimes you have to take a risk to have one of those good days.” (probably said so much more poetically than that)

Me: “yeah, good plan from the guy who isn’t potentially quadrupling his race distance in a few minutes.”

I walked off towards the registration table… in the back I see Bill next to his computer. I wander in his direction knowing what I’m about to do.

Bill: “hey Ben, what can I do for you? want to sign up for the full?”

Me: “yup”

Bill: “seriously? I was just kidding.”

Me: “yeah (grimacing)”

Bill: “okay… (shakes head)”

3 minutes later, I’ve got my new number, 8090 (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it) and a huge list of shit to do in not enough time. Nutrition… I’m out of everything I would normally have, so we stop at Harvest Health on the way home. Finding nothing tried and tested, we walk out with a bunch of clif bars, some coconut water and a jar of alfredo sauce (it’s tradition) and whatever else we can scratch together for my “last supper”.

Once home, time to get the bike ready, rig up hydration, change wheels and tires, find flat stuff, dig through the tri race bag to see what got put away and what I need to find. I actually pretty easily remember how to pack up all the bags and also help Susan get her bike ready just in time to eat dinner and head to bed.

Race morning, we load up bikes, do the race tats, almost forget to eat breakfast and are on the road right on time.

Kari drops Susan and I off at the race and parks the truck as she’s not starting until an hour and half after us. As I’m going through my mental check list, I realize forgot glasses for the bike (never say to yourself “I’ll grab those in the morning”). Three emergency texts later, Kari shows up with 2 pair, phew!

2 minutes and 2 Hot Shots later, I’m at the waters edge and 5 minutes from the start of the race. A few light conversations later and a beautiful national anthem we’re ready to go!

Swim – 1:11:56

Considering I had swam only about 10,000 yds all year (all in Feb/Mar) I started off pretty conservatively. Like a rookie, I zipped up my wetsuit poorly and the string thing on the zipper kept wrapping around my arm. First chance I got I stopped next to a buoy and fixed it. Off I went again. I found a guy who was similarly paced and we traded feet most of the rest of the swim. Sun and sighting were on par and difficult as always at this race, but we managed a pretty straight course and ended up about 4400 yds (good considering the course is traditionally long in my opinion).

Out of the water in 1:11, I was 2 minutes faster than last year and 1:37 pace. The best part, I was ecstatic to learn that it is completely pointless to include swim training in an IM training program as it makes absolutely no difference at all! The only thing it would have helped, maybe I would have remembered tri glide on the back of my neck so I wouldn’t have to answer “hickey” questions all day at work on Monday… P.S. the double hot shot worked again, no calf cramps!!

T1 – 5:36

Full change into a bike kit, my crotch would not tolerate 112 in a tri kit, no sense adding misery to stupidity! Walked out to the mount line, joked with a few volunteers, had some fun and headed out.

Bike – 5:42:33

PC: Michael Mielock

I aimed to ride between 180-200 watts, just guessing what I thought I could manage for the full bike and still be upright when I finished. I made a conscious effort, especially in the first half, to not spike my power on any climbs. I also made a point to sit up to get out of aero any time I was below about 12 mph and climbing. I knew my back and neck would hate me if I tried to stay in the bars the entire time.

I loved seeing all my Apex teammates out on the bike and was able to sit up and wave and give a whoop when they passed! About mile 80, it wasn’t quite as much fun My neck was starting to hate my fat head and my hamstrings were starting to question what I had been doing to them for the last 4 hours. Thankfully Cannonsburg Rd and thought of the finish came quickly. I caught my second wind and enjoyed the downhill over the last 10 miles. I came into T2 feeling pretty decent and upbeat. I finished with a 19.6 mph average, average power of 193, NP of 203 for a VI of 1.05. Pretty good considering I definitely was not as consistent the second half. Most of that due to me changing positions on the bike to stay comfortable and to give my legs a little break by standing, etc.

T2 – 3:40

I hit T2 and stripped out of my bike kit and tried to slip into my tri kit. Balancing naked on one very tired leg with a foot stuck in spandex… not the best move. Thanks Mr volunteer for catching me! Now that we had broken the ice, he helped me get unpacked and keep me moving.

Me: “so, how many people have been in here so far?”

Mr volunteer: “you’re the 3rd one!”

Me: “dammit! I guess I’m going to have to run!!”

I threw on my brand new Clifton 3’s (I have run in at least 10 pairs of Clifton 2’s, so I was mostly confident they’d be fine, whelp) and headed out for the run.

Run – 4:01:15

It went really well for the first 13 miles. It was hot. Very hot. I used lessons learned in Kona and dumped water/ice at every aid station starting about mile 3 or 4. Cooling is key on a hot day. I saw a ton of teammates and friends out on the course and joked with the volunteers and spectators to try to keep my motivation high. As I plodded along and watched my pace drop, I was sure the next guy was coming to catch me. I looked over my shoulder about mile 15 and every muscle on my right side cramped from my knee to my armpit. I knew I was in bad shape and my lack of distance training was starting to show. But, if I kept moving straight forward, I could keep my momentum from aid station to aid station.


When I hit loop 4 and mile 20, I still had a 15 minute lead on 4th and caught a glimpse of 2nd a few hundred yards ahead. As we made the left onto Grand River, I saw him start to walk. I was dreading the hard effort I was going to have to give when I went past so he wouldn’t think he should start running again. At that very moment a stroke of luck appeared in the form of a cart and a chatty volunteer! Emma pulled up and started asking him how he was doing, etc. I knew she would keep him occupied and distracted just long enough! I changed nothing, moving slowly and surely towards the turn around. No response from 2nd, I was good!

At the turn, I confirmed I still had a 15 minute cushion and started 3 minutes running/1 minute walking the last 3 miles. My quads felt like someone was poking nails in them and my calves felt on the brink of completely locking up at any time. I did some math and thought I still might break 11 hours. I might have, however, I hit 26.2 miles at the corner of Grand River and Northland drive with another half mile to run… a 26.65 mile marathon and my slowest by a long ways.

I’m totally amazed what the body and mind can accomplish. Since June, I’ve averaged about 4 hours of training per week. However, feed it, pace it and have a little confidence and it can take you so much further than you thought was possible. It makes me question my past training and wonder where the law of diminishing returns is for an IM training program. Is it 6-8 hours per week? 10?

P.S. had I looked at my training log and see that 4 hour average, no way in hell this day ever happens!!

In looking back, this race report grew to the length it did due to the fun of the day, the circumstances from which it grew and in a small part due to the result. I’m in no way delusional enough to think this was some great race to boast or brag about. It was an hour slower than my time last year (penalties excluded…) and my second slowest time ever in 6 tries at the distance (only faster than my first).