If You Can Make it There: Ironman US Championships Race Report
In 2011 three friends got the news they had prostate cancer. Each dealt with the news differently as progression, treatment and quality-of-life decisions dictated each course. Then in the fall my friend David, who’s family attends the church I pastored and fellow triathlete told me his father had prostate cancer. Was this just bad timing or am I at that age now where my friends and I are at risk and this is now the new normal?
Prostate Cancer is considered one of those “Silent Killers” because symptoms are often undetectable. Add to that, it’s a disease among men who are less prone to go to the doctor and more likely to “man up” to the pain. Men tend to ignore personal warning signs while running to the alarm of everyone else’s trouble. This is truly unfortunate when it comes to detecting and treating prostate cancer. If detected early it is arguably the one cancer that can be fully treated and overcome, too late the treatments severe and the chances are slim.
When it came time to think of what race I would do for 2012 again, most had sold out and I was considering another early season race like IMTexas but didn’t want to do two early season IM races two years in a row. Then an email came to my inbox indicating the new Ironman race in New York City, which had sold out in 15 minutes at a hefty price tag, was taking charity slots I decided to see what kind since I had begun to race for charity through Compassion International. Although I didn’t expect to see Compassion as one of the listed charities I hoped there would be one for support and awareness of prostate cancer. There were two and after reading about the mission of each I decided on one: ZERO – The Project to End Prostate Cancer. Instead of just raising funds for cancer research (which is important!) they set out to lobby for awareness by targeting the average guy in America and the leaders of the medical and governmental associations surrounding this disease. So… after digging a little deeper into the organization as a viable 501 c 3 and assuring myself they were making traction on their mission, I decided this was the race and this would be the charity!
Here’s how it worked, Since IM NYC was sold out, ZERO had been given 20 slots to fill. They in turned required each member of their team to raise $5000. ZERO would cover the cost of entry in the race and we were on the hook for our related expenses. Well, having race entry covered was nice but there was that thing about raising money… “No problem,” I thought. Been there, done that. However, I knew I’d have to wait until the spring as the holidays and a significant need in our church would require sole attention for some time. So, in March, I began my appeals with only a couple months to raise this support. Thanks to some incredibly generous friends and a little fun I had along the way, promising dinners, wine auctions and tastings, I was able to be the top fundraiser for the entire team, raising $7300. Last I heard, Team ZERO raised over $80,000!
The race was called Ironman US Championships but everyone was calling it IMNYC. This happens. Ironman World Championships are known as Kona, IM70.3 World Championships, Vegas, Ironman Wisconsin, IMOO! Funny though, hardly any of the race was in New York City… but more on that later. What I did know after booking flights and our hotel; getting around Manhattan was not going to be easy! Cue: “But it’s Ironman… it’s not supposed to be easy!” nonsense.
We arrived at Kennedy on Wednesday evening. I had researched online the best way to get into Manhattan. In the past I’ve used both, a shuttle and taxi. Taxis cost more but if the taxi cue is long you can wait a while. Shuttles can take time too if they make multiple stops. I found one that was to go straight to the Port Authority where Joy and I would need to hop on a bus and exit the first stop over in New Jersey at the Lincoln Harbor Sheraton. This hotel selection was strategic for one simple reason… it was the ONLY hotel that had direct ferry pickup on race morning! More on that later too. So, after grabbing our bags I quickly found the kiosk for our shuttle pickup and within 5 minutes our driver help put our bags in the van… should have been a sign I thought it was going to be a bus. Our driver said hold on… I’m looking for another person. 5 minutes later, Susan a really nice lady from upstate joined us and we were off! “Saweeet!” I thought, that was fast. BUT then!! we stopped again, and again, and again this time waiting almost 45 minutes! Susan asked, “Were you guys under the impression this was a straight stop shuttle from the pick up to Grand Central?” I said, “You mean Port Authority?” uhoh! Then the next stop the van is now officially packed with bodies and we leave the airport an hour and a half later! I’m doing everything I can to be polite which means I just shut up and don’t say anything. As we approach the east river I can easily see ahead and although I am no native new yorker I’ve been there a few times enough to know that the turn our driver made toward BROOKLYN was not the right turn! I looked at Susan, she gave me a look like “What the Hey!” What happened next I will refrain from putting into this report as to protect you from the yelling, cursing and throwing of cell phones (I kid you not!) that did not come from the passengers but rather the driver! We arrived at our hotel exactly 4hours and 25 minutes after loading into the van! What was to be our first and only “fun” night in the city was reduced to having a late night dinner looking across the Hudson upon the New York City skyline (see above photo).
Because of our late arrival we got a river front room, which gave us awesome views of the city. I had shipped my bike via FedEX to the hotel and it was there waiting for me. The next day I assembled the bike and Joy and I went back to the city for registration and to explore the expo. It was typically hot and humid being the second week in August. Joy and I first explored the theater district. Joy was mesmerized by Times Square and we made our way over to Rockefeller Center. It happened to be the same time as the Olympics so the Today Show was broadcasting from London and Joy, who loves the Today show felt as though she lost a tad bit on her NYC experience but said, it wouldn’t be a reason to go back. We then walked up to Central Park, then down to the Parker Meridian for lunch. I had to take her to the Burger Joint, a NYC secret (email me if you want details), now having eaten there with all three of my girls! From there we walked over to the pier and did all things Ironman and then back to the hotel for our second shower of the day… Did I mention it was hot and humid? Then back over to IMNYC central for the welcome banquet which promised all things New York.
The banquet and mandatory athletes meeting was held in a large open warehouse. It was loud, ugly and chaotic. The entertainment was mostly lost due to the horrible acoustics. While in line somebody asked me about the swim being cancelled. What? “What are you talking about?” He said, there was a sewage spill in the Hudson the night before and they were canceling the swim. At this point even with the bad food which they tried to make as Authentic New York, I was going to stay to find out what was going on.
Eventually, the race director gave report of the sewage spill. 50 million gallons of raw sewage was released into the Hudson 15 miles up river and health authorities were monitoring the situation. They would give us a report the next day at 4:30 if indeed we would swim or not. Wow… I’ve been part of some of the most epic swims in IM history, Utah and now New York City. Watching the news that night in our room confirmed it, Mayor Bloomberg was telling everyone to stay out of the Hudson! The next day we had to take a ferry up river to drop off our bike and transition gear bags. When we walked outside to board the ferry, it was again warm, a bit breezy and slightly sprinkling. Half way up the 10 mile ferry ride it started to rain pretty hard! When we got off the boat it was pouring and the ground had already collected a large amount of water. Hopping puddles was useless as there were places you had to walk with 3 to 4 inches of water. Now, my shoes are soaked and I’m completely drenched. I find my transition spot which is AWESOME. I’m right at the bike exit, one row behind the pro bikes… How’d this happen… oh! this section is reserved for the charity slots. Sweet! From here I walk through the pathway back to the swim exit but I’m thinking this is a waste (get it, waste) of time.
From there we head back to the city as the rain lets up. We planned to meet folks from Team ZERO at Carmine’s for dinner so Joy and I took a little extra time to swing by the expo to hear the news first hand regarding the swim! It also was an excuse to have my right knee worked on by a couple ART and tape experts as it had been hurting getting around the city. Well… it was official. The swim was going on as planned! Now trekking up to Carmine’s we meet our new friends from Team ZERO and stuff ourselves on stuffed mushrooms, salad and pasta! We share stories of past races and expectations for the day… we’re exited and a little on edge about this swim but oh well… we’ll see each other in the morning! After we leave Joy and I stop in at a Duane Reade and pick up morning food of bagels, fruit, juice, grains and yogurt muffins and plenty of water! We’re back at the hotel and in bed by 8 as it’s gonna be the earliest start to any day EVER!
I told you there was a strategic reason for staying at the Sheraton Lincoln Harbor. There are only four ferry locations to pick you up and take you to Fort Ross in the morning of the race. Only one of those spots has a hotel… this one. Since you HAD to be on the ferry by 4am or you don’t race, this was the place for us. Literally you walked out of the hotel and across the boardwalk to the ferry. Only having been in this time zone a couple days my body was telling me, “Hey, it’s 1am!” But trance like I walk onboard. I had arranged for Joy to have a half day ferry pass telling her to sleep in and not bother going to the swim start. There’s no way you see the start and not worth all that time and lost sleep to see me start the bike out of T1. She agreed. Once up to the transition area we check all of our wet gear and tire pressure, get in line for the port-a-potty and then board a ferry for the 2.4 mile trek up river to a barge awaiting 2200 neoprene clad triathletes. Pete, fellow teammate and I encourage each other as we board the SS Point of No Return. As I sit looking on the grey sky from the upper deck the diesel fumes are a bit much so I move to the front of the boat. I observe landmarks along the way to tell me where I am in the course of the swim back. Soon we’re lined up with the two ferries that left ahead of us and now we’re watching the men’s and women’s pro start. After the gun goes and the Age Groupers line up on the barge we cue up and unload for the time-trial start. In other words your time doesn’t begin until you cross the timing mat and jump off the barge. I’m now about 5 people from the bottom of the steps and I realize this has the potential to be a crappy swim… get it, oh never mind, or a great swim. We’ll see and holding my goggles to my eyes I jump in!
Swim: The first thing I notice is the taste of the water. Uh, it’s kind of salty, kinda brackish, kind of old; it’s, it’s… it’s yucky! With this type of start you never really find yourself congested. The water is a bit choppy and it’s not easy to see anything through the murk. But this swim has a few awesome things going for it… one: I breath to the right and the sun is coming up on my left, two: It’s a straight swim. There’s not a single turn buoy in this swim and finally: it’s got the best landmark to sight the finish location – the west tower of the George Washington Bridge. About halfway through the swim I notice the landmarks I saw on the ferry flying by and the time from course buoy to the next seemed to be coming faster than usual. Soon I could see the dock and hear Mike Reilly’s voice. Wow! I don’t really feel all that tired for doing this swim and really? I’m almost finished? As I find myself exiting among the crowd running up the carpeted steps I look at my watch and see… hold on. Does that say 46 minutes? Yes… wow that swim was amazing! Could it have been my BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit provided by Wetsuitrental.com or is that what happens when you get a little current going your way! Total Swim time: 46:22
Bike: The run through transition isn’t that long but it takes a little time. Once through I grab my bike and mount for a pretty steady climb out to the Palisades Parkway, which is nothing more than a well maintained highway. It’s flanked by trees on both sides and there’s not a whole lot to look at. I’m sure the countryside in these parts are nice but I’ve not seen it. The course is two loops up New Jersey into the State of New York and back. It’s warm and extremely humid. My glasses are fogged and I have to lower them on the bridge of my nose just to see. The first loop is relatively windless and smooth. The road is a series of slight up and down rollers with a little pitch at the end toward the turn around. Nothing extremely challenging but keeps you honest. the second loop the wind picked up. Here the wind travels up river so it wasn’t really enough to help going out but as time went on it got stronger making it noticeable on the way back. All in all, it was a basic ride and well paced thanks to my nutrition plan with Hammer gel, Endurolytes and water. A couple times I found myself pushing a little on the danger zone feeling lactate build in my quads so just backed it off. Heading down into T2 I check my legs for fatigue one last time and the legs felt fresh… what I wasn’t looking forward to was this run back and out of transition. People were already walking it and I’m told this isn’t the toughest part of the run. Total Bike time: 5:29:22
Run: Getting through T2 I took my time to be sure to make my feet comfortable thanks to SKIN Strong‘s “Slick” and take in more calories! It was hot and the humidity made everything wet. If you tried to wipe off your glasses they just smeared because nothing was dry. So, thanking the volunteer who grabbed my gear bag I ran out of the change tent and across the transition area and met a cheering crowd of spectators heading out which quickly thinned as the road turned upward. About a quarter of a mile up the road I hear my name being yelled frantically, “Go Dan, Go Dan!” I look and I don’t recognize this crazy woman but she’s enthusiastic her friend next to her was waving but not as into it… then I realize her friend looks familiar, really familiar. It’s my wife! Joy’s holding a camera and smiling trying to record this painful moment. The crazy woman, who I later met. Her name is Eve, also is snapping photos. I wave and grimace as I go by. Finally, at the top of this mile climb the road turns right and wait… more climbing, then it goes down, then it goes up and so on and so on. The big hill everyone’s been talking about Dyckman Hill approaches and it lives up to everything I heard. It’s a mile grind and steep! At the top of the hill I see George one of the ZERO guys who’s volunteering. He is incredibly encouraging I get some ice from him and keep running. You’d think the run would just get to the bottom of the hill and turn around but NO there’s another hill and you turn around at the top. Here the course is nice and shaded. Occasionally, you run down to the water’s edge but primarily you’re floating well above it in the up and down motion of this run. Cruel to all those running today is the notion of having to repeat this section so, it’s not just one, not two but four times up and over Dyckman Hill… woof. On the way back on the second loop I find myself walking up Dyckman a bit. I know once that habit forms it’s hard to break but wow. Finally, I pass the turn around and head out of the park. It’s mile 14 and I’ll soon be on flat surfaces but first I have to get to and across the George Washington Bridge which shown on the elevation profile as the longest steepest section of the run. And it was!! The length and grade getting to the bridge either made you walk or chop your run stride so much it didn’t matter. Another guy was with me and we just encouraged each other up the road. He’d run a bit, walk a bit. I’d run a bit, walk a bit. Finally at the bridge we see the steps we heard about. Two flights of stairs up, one flight down and another up and on the bridge. The wind had kicked up pretty good by now and going across the bridge you definitely get pushed around some. As I start to go across I hear a giant “BOOM!” What the… Then again, “Boom!” For a moment I think are we under attack and this is some defense? Who are we shooting at. Then I realize, it’s probably some demonstration after all just below us is Fort Ross Dock, could it be? I look later online… yes it is. By now I find myself running through a lot of people walking outright. One person is a top female pro, obviously having a tough day. As I get to the other side it’s time for the same flight of stairs in reverse order; one down, one up, two down. At the bottom there is a HUGE crowd meeting the athletes with deafening cheers! As I run to the turn there is a volunteer there clapping and seeing my name on my number yells out in the strongest of new yorker accent, “Welcome to New York Daniel! Welcome to New York!” Immediately this makes me chuckle and puts a little pep in the step and I make my way around the chicane leading to the river path that will be an eight mile journey to the finish! As I turn south, now against the river a stiff head wind sits me up. I literally say out loud, “Are you kidding me God? Please a little help here!” I don’t think the Lord was impressed. So, I just grind out the last few miles to Columbia University where along the river they put this funny out and back section to make up a mile or so done in the shape of an M. It’s supposed to be flat but NO there’s still more, but not much ground to move upward. Now out of this silly section there’s about a mile to go. I’m looking at my watch and see I’ll finish in about ten and a half hours. I’m happy with that! I have no idea where I am but I’m glad it’s almost over. As I run up into the park where the finish is I see another huge crowd. The music is pumping and Mike’s voice loud and full of energy.
Coming in pretty much by myself I hear the usual description, “Here comes Dan Perkins from San Jose, California… You are an Ironman!”
I cross the line, they take my timing chip, hand me a medal, t-shirt and cap and walk me to the food tent. I grab water and some fruit. I’m thinking I’m feeling pretty good but as soon as I sit down I get really nauseous and lower my head between my knees. Immediately a volunteer grabs me and starts asking questions.”Do you need help?” I tell her no but she doesn’t let up. Soon I find myself in the medical tent lying on a cot with a team of doctors and nurses around me. I tell them there are probably more important folks to attend because I don’t think it’s that bad. Unlike Wisconsin where I lost 8% of my body weight I’ve only lost a couple pounds on the day which is normal. While I’m lying there I hear a familiar sound… “Dan, Dan!” I look up and through a hole in the tent I see Eve, my wife’s new found friend from New Jersey! She’s taking pictures and waving! Oh, great… that’s all I need. But soon I’m out feeling much better and eating true New York pizza! Oh, it was good! I find Joy and Eve, meet Eve’s boyfriend and together we jump on a ferry and head back up to get our bikes and gear at Fort Ross Dock. Total Run time: 4:10:05 Total Race Time: 10:33:40 Race Place 153/2739 overall 5/215 Age Group.
Post Race: Because I had pre-paid to have my bike and gear transported back to the expo, I wasn’t able to get my bike and gear until the following morning. I had come into this race thinking should I do well and qualify for Kona I’d let the slot roll down having traveled a lot this year and trying to be financially sensible. I went to get my bike at 9am which also was the time for Hawaii qualifiers to claim slots. Out of curiosity now knowing I had secured a 5th place podium finish, I had no idea how many slots were in my age group so, I went upstairs just to look. When I saw a line drawn under my name, I knew I had qualified. Oh, boy… I started pacing the room talking to myself. Finally, I agreed to my self proclaimed argument should I not take a slot because it was too expensive I would have to hear it from several who would have shamed me for making that the reason (yes, I know you’d help and some of you certainly did!). When I got back to the hotel room with my bike I just looked at Joy and said, “I did a bad thing.” and held up the qualification certificate.
Our final morning in New York consisted of the awards ceremony and having brunch at Norma’s. Again, something iconic to New York for all of the ladies of my life now. I’m so grateful to Joy for letting me do this and going with me on the journey, for my coach Brian for preparing me for this journey and to both of the churches that were gracious enough to allow me this neurosis; Twin Oaks and now WestGate. To the kind folks at ZERO, my Teammates and those who supported us… I hope to have made you proud. Finally, to the God who gives us strength for the journey of this life and this race, from the one who competes for your honor, the glory is Yours alone.
- What is IF