The alarm went off at 330 in the morning, and I wondered: is 330 really the “morning”? It felt like the middle of the night. I hadn’t slept much, but I (and many others) have found that sleep the night before the race matters less than sleep two nights before the race. I tip-toed downstairs and started assembling the Debi Bernardes breakfast of champions: unsweetened apple sauce, vanilla VegaSport vanilla protein powder, and cinnamon, along with a banana and a bottle of PowerBar Perform. I sat down to my delicious meal and chatted with my friend Anne about the day that lay ahead. My Dad wandered downstairs around 4 and, gifted conversationalist that he is, bravely attempted to engage two sleepy, soon-to-be competing in an Ironman athletes in conversation. I’m not sure we had much interesting to say! After retreating upstairs to apply massive amounts of sunscreen and various anti-chafing products, we checked and double-checked our gear bags and got ready to go. Dan, part of Anne’s support crew, emerged a little while later and drove us through the darkened fields to the transition area in downtown Cambridge, Maryland.
The first thing we heard as the volunteers were writing our numbers on our arms and legs was that the race would be wetsuit legal. This was welcome news and a positive start to the day. I found my transition spot in the dark (note to self: stick a headlamp in transition bag) and did a quick inspection of my bike to make sure nothing had gone wrong overnight. I pumped my tires up, dropped my bike and run special needs bags (these magically appear halfway through the bike ride and run, respectively) in the appropriate spots, and joined everyone else in the bathroom lines. I had planned to get into the water for a ten minute swim warmup, but the announcer said that the safety boats wouldn’t be in position in time and that there would be no swim warmups. Oh well!
The atmosphere became increasingly electric as dawn broke and people started pulling on their wetsuits. The reality of what I was about to do began to set in and I fought back a wave of adrenaline, figuring it would serve me better later. Dan helped me pull on my wetsuit, I handed him my bag with post-race clothes and nutrition, and I joined the crowd of racers waiting to file under the swim start arch. We were supposed to self-seed based on our expected total swim time. I lined up around the 1:20 sign, which I though was realistic for the relatively moderate pace I planned to swim. The rolling swim start was chaotic, though perhaps less so than if it had been a mass start. As soon as we entered the water, it became clear that a lot of people had been optimistic in their self-seeding, and I spent a lot of the swim navigating around slower swimmers, as is pretty obvious on my GPS swim track. At one point towards the end of the first of the two laps around the swim course, I crashed into a stationary object. Utterly baffled by what this could be, I looked up to find a guy standing up in the fairly shallow water — we were close to shore at that point — taking a long look around. I was too stunned to say anything, or even to ask if he was alright, and I put my head down and kept swimming. I figured he would be alright because a) he was standing up in shallow water and b) there were more water safety boats per capita than I have seen anywhere, ever. The sun was more fully up for the second lap. That made sighting more of a challenge on the outbound portion of the second lap but also made it super easy to see the swim finish, which was a welcome sight. My goal was for the swim to be a non-event, something I would complete without expending much energy, and it worked out that way. I suspect I could have finished the swim a few minutes faster if I had self-seeded a bit more aggressively, but my goal for this race was simply to finish and I was one-third of the way there.
I emerged from the water and pulled the top half of my wetsuit off before letting the wetsuit strippers do the rest. They seemed to be having a blast doing their job, and there’s little doubt that they pulled my wetsuit off much faster than I would have managed on my own. I grabbed my bike gear bag and headed into the changing tent, where I immediately noticed a problem. I put my Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor on my arm, hit the power button, and nothing happened. That was a little concerning since my entire race plan depended on intelligent pacing based on my heart rate, something that would be particularly important on the bike to ensure I had enough energy left in the tank to run the marathon. It was so concerning that after I got the rest of my bike gear on, I made a beeline for my run gear bag to grab the identical Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor that I had placed in there to use on the run. I rifled through the bag, found the other monitor, put it on, and hit the power button. Nothing. I couldn’t believe it. Choice words may have been spoken. I had fully charged and tested both monitors before dropping them off the afternoon before, when you have to rack your bike and leave your bike gear and run gear bags in the transition area. But what could I do? I wasn’t going to drop out of the race just because my heart rate monitors weren’t working. So I set off on the bike and decided to ride extremely conservatively, relying on my power meter to get some sense of my level of effort.
I had ridden the bike course about a few weeks earlier as part of my last long brick workout, a 6hr ride followed by a 1hr run — so I knew what to expect. The winds were mercifully calm and it was hot but not brutal. It isn’t the most riveting bike course, but it is flat and fast and you can pretty much lock into your pedal stroke and let the miles tick by without giving it too much thought.
I enjoyed the encouraging messages that people had written in chalk on the road the night before and also had the chance to chat with some of the people who were riding at about the same pace, including a guy from New York named Nat. We would share snippets of conversation as we leap frogged each other for the last forty or fifty miles of the ride. I didn’t enjoy the pre-bottled version of the PowerBar Perform sports drink, which tasted different (worse) from the powdered version I had been training with all summer, but I choked down the two bottles per hour that Debi specified. I also ate rather a lot of Hammer Gel, a few Honey Stingers, and a few of Larabars. Thanks to a good bike fit from my friend Smiley and countless hours of training rides in the aero position, I was able to stay in the aero position for basically the entire 5.5hrs.
There was one “climb” on the course — a few feet of ascent up and over a small bridge over a creek out in the wildlife refuge — which the race officials amusingly marked by writing “climb” with an up arrow on the pavement.
I finished the bike feeling pretty good. Mostly, I was thrilled that I hadn’t experienced any flats or mechanicals. I also knew that even if I had to walk large parts of the marathon, I would still have plenty of time to make it to the finish line before the cutoff. I handed my bike to a friendly volunteer, headed to the changing tent to pull on my running shoes and hat, got covered in sunscreen by yet more friendly volunteers, and hit the pavement to run my first ever marathon.
I genuinely enjoyed the run, which was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day. I had been nursing an injured adductor for most of the summer, so pretty much all of my run training consisted of pool running and runs on the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill. I only resumed running on pavement a month or so before race day. My longest training run before race day was 15 miles. I had also never run a marathon before, let alone a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. Suffice it to say, I had pretty low expectations for this run. And then I had a total blast out on the course.
I ran with a guy from Texas for most of the first lap. At one point, we came upon his wife and kids on the side of the road and his son — who was all of maybe 6 years old — started running with his dad and said “Daddy, you are going to be an Ironman!” And I realized that, as is often the case, little kids speak the truth (albeit sometimes comically bluntly) and the realization began to sink in that I would be crossing the finish line before too much longer too. Without a heart rate monitor, I ran extremely cautiously. I aimed for mile splits of between 9-10mins/mile, which was quite a bit slower than my usual Zone 2 pace but I figured it was better to err on the side of caution since I was at the end of an Ironman and it was hot. My race plan included walks through every aid station to eat/drink and get whatever else I needed, and those walk breaks helped keep my muscles somewhat limber. About five miles in I noticed that lots of the people running fast were making liberal use of the ice sponges on offer at the aid stations. I grabbed two at the next aid station and tucked one under each shoulder of my jersey. Man, that felt good!
My friend Allison was kind enough to come out and volunteer at the aid station at the far turn around point on the run course. Seeing her each lap helped me break the run down mentally into manageable chunks. The out and back course meant that I always had people around, and lots of people offered high-fives as they passed going the other direction. I felt great, and people kept telling that me I looked great. I figured that was just BS encouragement, but looking at the race photos I actually do look pretty happy and untroubled!
I saw my parents and Nick a bunch of times and appreciated their cheering and high-fives each time I ran past:
Note the ice sponge under the right shoulder of my jersey. I noticed a lot of people suffering badly on the run, either from what looked like caloric deficiencies (vacant stares) or cramping (hobbling or writhing on the ground). I was grateful to have fueled properly during the bike portion. At the special needs bag drop, about 18 miles into the run, I grabbed a couple more gels and honey stingers and handed my bag of super salty potato chips to a guy who was on the ground dealing with bad leg cramps.
Before I knew it, I was on the last lap, and then very soon after that I was back at Allison and the far turn around point. I still felt great, so I decided to allow myself to pick up the pace with a few miles to go. It felt amazing to run — really run — through downtown Cambridge, past piles of spectators who shouted nice things and seemed impressed that I was running fairly quickly (note: a relative thing) at the end of an Ironman. At the turn-around point at the center of downtown, runners heading to the finish turned left, while runners with laps still to run turned right. When I turned left, the crowed roared and total strangers reached over the barriers to slap me on the back. The adrenaline surge I had pocketed in the morning before the swim hit me like a tidal wave and I took off down the final stretch to the finish line.
As I entered the finishing chute, all I could think about was Lauren. There was no way I could have done this without her strength and positive energy driving me forward.
I nearly lost it when the announcer yelled “Peter Roady from Washington, DC — you are an Ironman!”
Details of the run here. I think the absence of functioning heart rate monitors actually helped me have a particularly enjoyable race. It forced me to be more conservative than I might have been with them because it would have been hard for me not to bike and run right at the specified maximum heart rate numbers. I probably would have been a bit faster on the bike, and maybe a little bit faster on the run, but in the end I simply listened to my body and enjoyed the day. I had such a huge smile on my face when I crossed the finish line that I made it into the official race highlight video. You can see me at about 8:43 in the video:
As soon as I crossed the line, volunteers descended on me with medal, t-shirt, and started quizzing me about how I was feeling. I felt great. They seemed surprised — they are clearly trained to all-but hold up seriously depleted finishers — but let me head on my way to have my sweaty finisher’s photo taken:
I had three goals for the race: 1) finish 2) finish in under 12hrs 3) beat my coach’s time from IM Lake Placid (sorry, Debi!). I would have been happy just finishing, especially given my limited running before the race. In the end, I achieved all three goals.
I saw Nick, first, and the expression on his face helped me internalize that I had just finished something pretty cool. Monica found us next, and we set out in search of the bag with my post-race clothes and nutrition. I was so excited to drink a VegaSport Recovery Accelerator that I could almost taste it. Alas, it was not to be. Dan had taken the bag back to the house in the morning after dropping us off at the transition area. While the volunteers were looking in vain for my bag, I bumped into three of my teammates, each of whom had a great race. After chatting for a few minutes, I decided that I really did need that post-race fuel and Monica and I set off for the mile-long walk to her car. But what’s another mile after finishing 140.6?
I downed a Recovery Accelerator as soon as we walked in the door, followed by a VegaSport Chocolate Performance Protein, and hopped in the shower, which quickly revealed some sunburned and chafed spots. Soon it was time for the ice bath. The master bathroom at the awesome rental house had a huge jacuzzi tub, which my amazing support crew had filled to the brim with cold water and ice. I got in and lasted maybe 30 seconds before deciding that really only my legs needed to be iced. I drained a bunch of the water out, put on multiple upper body layers and a wool hat, set my iPhone timer, and gutted it out for ten minutes. I went numb after the first 90 seconds, and it seemed to help quite a bit. Certainly, I felt a lot better the next morning than I had anticipated feeling the day after an Ironman.
In what is becoming an excellent post-big race tradition, I was treated to another world-class post-race feast, this time whipped up by my friend Monica. Two different kinds of chicken, steak, good veggies…all a welcome reprieve from Hammer Gel, Honey Stingers, and Larabars. I wanted to haul myself back out to the course to be at the finish line to cheer for the people finishing right at the midnight cutoff, but I was dead asleep long before and I doubt anyone could have woken me up if they had tried.
After spending a startling amount of money in the Ironman merchandise tent the morning after the race, I drove back to DC with Nick and then hopped on a plane the following morning to Charleston, SC for a few relaxing days at Kiawah Island with Jack and Sharon. I can’t imagine a more pleasant way to recover from an event like this than floating in the salt water and soaking up the sun, lounging around, and eating good meals in the company of loved ones. Thank you to everyone who made Ironman Maryland possible for me!