A Whole New World: IM 70.3 World's

            As the finale to a great year in triathlon I competed in the Foster Grant Ironman World Championships 70.3 on Saturday November 14th.  I had never competed in a World Championships at the 70.3 distance so this was a whole new experience for me.              The week leading up to the race was not optimal for a World Championships.  After a ten hour day of work on Tuesday, I followed it up by a fourteen hour work day on Wednesday.  From work I scrambled home with one hour to pack and eat before leaving at 9pm for my red eye flight overnight to Tampa, Florida.  Upon arrival in the Tampa Bay airport I collected the remains of my gate checked bag that had been pulverized by some sort of hammer or smashing device that the airlines must have installed to decrease luggage size.  As I opened up my bag I pulled out the almost unidentifiable remains of my bike helmet.  It had been crushed into thousands of pieces the size of packing peanuts and the plastic outer shell was now a flexible Frisbee.  My vitamin bottles were impacted as though beaten by a sledgehammer and the inside pockets of the bag were slashed as though a panther had taken to it with its claws.  Anything that had not been crushed in the bag was covered with a solid layer of electrolyte drink powder that had exploded from puncture wounds.  Come to find out my bag was not the only one to get attacked by the baggage monster.  Another non-English speaking Brazilian man also got his bike box smashed around a bit.  Luckily, Delta realized that the damages were a bit worse than general wear and tear and agreed to replace the damaged items. 

            From the Delta Customer Service counter we rushed to get on our shuttle and arrive in Clearwater in time for a 12pm TV interview with the NBC local affiliate.  From the interview we proceeded to pick up our bike from Tri Bike Transport and head to the athlete dinner at 6:30pm.  The dinner was held right on the beach which would have been perfect minus the lingering effects of a hurricane that was still lingering in the gulf and bringing cold gusty winds with it.  By dinners end everyone was huddling together as if at a winter campfire.  Even the Canadians were wining about being cold. 

            Friday rolled around and I was on the run from the get go.  From my 7am wakeup call until 2pm I was passed back and forth between the many media affiliates that were covering the race.  My training schedule was turned upside down and next thing I knew it was dinner time and I hadn’t even set foot on my bike.  Matt Miller and I quickly strapped on the shoes and got a 20minute spin in through the gusty winds and then put our bike in transition before hitting up a restaurant named Water Colours for dinner.  The food was good but I think a more appropriate name for the venue would be Garlic Colour because we would be sweating out garlic for weeks. 

            By 9pm I had finished preparing for the early morning wake-up call and I spent a short time conversing with agent Carrie Goldberg and friend Stephanie before calling it a night.  My alarm sounded at 4:30am in the morning but evidently my snoring served as a constant alarm for the others in the room.  If I wasn’t already woken up Matt Miller brought his two English bulldogs in to finish off the job.  The dog’s names are Diesel and Delilah but Delilah is also known as “fatty” due to her “large boned stature”. 

            We had a personal escort (Carrie Goldberg) to drop both blind duos off at the transition entrance.  As we entered transition we were treated to a special type of body marking that only Ironman can pull off.  Our race numbers were stamped like prisoners with big ink blotters.  I also continued the tradition that Matt Lieto taught me of the smiley face on the calf and then we went on our way.  As Matt and I prepared our bike we were surrounded by the NBC cameras as the race will be aired nationally in the coming months.   Also, they would know our every move as we were given GPS tracking devices so they could hone in on us from the helicopters and motorcycles. 

            After finishing our transition set up we attempted to find the alternate swim course we would do.  Due to the rough waters that the recent hurricane had churned up it was deemed too dangerous to swim on the Gulf side of Clearwater Beach.  Luckily, just across the street was the harbor where the yaughts of the wealthy were docked.  Also docked there was a giant pirate ship that served as the landmark for our swim exit.  Of course, there were complaints from some but there always are.  I on the other hand was super excited because I prefer calm water versus coming out sea sick.  The Paratriathletes would be starting in the first wave of the day which would also include the professional women.  Just five minutes behind were the professional men.  We would be constantly chased and hunted from the start. Among the field were the greatest triathletes in the world.  I had a goal of breaking 4hrs 20mins.  This would be nearly 50 minutes quicker than my previous 70.3 best but this was my day to shine. 

            Much to the approval I am sure of the mansion dwellers on the harbor the canon blasted off at 6:45am and we shot forward into the rat race of female pros.  Right off the bat the tether was yanked from Matt Miller’s waist and it dragged behind me.  I was now detached from my eyes (Matt) and would have to use splashes to direct my path.  This has become a recent trend so it wasn’t exactly the most devastating thing that could happen.  Matt recognized this and stayed very close to me and yelled commands to me when he could get a spare breath.  A few of the females got a lead off the front but we hung in there with the second pack as we rounded the turn buoy for the second half of the swim.  Half way back to shore we had a second encounter with the tether when another female swimmer decided to wrap the tether around herself and use me as her tug boat.  I wanted none of that game and so I slipped the tether off myself and left her in the dust.  This was yet another tether that would be sinking to the bottom of the sea.  I couldn’t be worrying about this because I had to keep myself up with the pack that was surging to the swim exit.  We managed to hang in with them and came out of the water in a blistering time of 25:39.  The new Xterra Vendetta wetsuit that I wore for the first time did wonders. 

            As we stripped our suits and ran to T1 I could hear the loud voice of Goldberg and some of the K Swiss peeps that lined the chute. Wetsuit strippers did the honors of removing our outer skin and we strapped on our aero helmets for the fast and furious 56-mile ride ahead.  I had borrowed Aussie Luke McKenzie’s boxing kangaroo helmet so we were sure to have a great ride. It took a few minutes to settle in to a good pace but we found out that we were in 12th place overall and moving up quickly.  By mile 15 we had moved up to 3rd place and Matt knew we were closing on returning champion Joanna Ziegar close not far up the road.  At mile 20 from out of nowhere came an army of male pros just absolutely blasting at well over 30mphs.  These guys were absolutely trucking and they formed a line that stretched for a quarter mile.  I was in utter shock at how fast they came tearing through but it didn’t take long before we decided it was our turn to make a statement.  From up in the captain’s seat Matt yelled back to me, “wouldn’t it be cool to take the lead in this race?”  I replied, “Heck yeah, let’s go for it.”  With all the camera crews, helicopters and race officials watching we blasted by the men’s field and into the lead.  It was absolutely crazy how many motorcycles were surrounding us.  Then the moment came.  The moment that I want to do away with for the future. The lead official pulled up on the motorcycle and motioned to Matt to pull off to the side.  We complied and he then proceeded to say, “You guys are messing up the men’s race.  I gotta have you drop back.”  Me being in my feisty competitive mode replied back with, “So you are basically saying you don’t want me to compete?”  His reply, “Just work with me here please.”  To not cause too much controversy we followed his instructions and let off the steam to fall back behind the line of men’s leaders.  For the next 10-15miles we laid off the fuel pedal and just savored the moment.  We were in between the first and second pack of male pro and still sitting in a nice position.  Miles 25-40 were also the fastest miles on the course.  There was a nice tailwind pushing us along the flat and straight stretch of Florida highway. 

            At mile 45 I must have been smacked across the face with the letters B-O-N-K because I began tossing and turning on the rear of the bike trying to find a position that I could create some power.  Griffen bikes are rigid and great at transferring force but they are also great at transmitting force straight up the back seat.  Not exactly the greatest feeling in the world and basically I was trying to hold on for the last 10miles until I could get off that bike.  The last miles had two long cosways to climb over before making the swooping turn back into transition.  I was glad to hear that Jamaica triathlon guide Andrew Staryckwicz was first off the bike for the second year in a row and K-Swissler Matty “Boom Boom” Reed had moved all the way into 3rd place as we prepared for our run. 

            Miller had the official time on his watch and we came into transition at 2hr 38min, a sizzling pace.  Matt donned the new K Swiss K-Roos and I slipped n my American flag K-ona’s and were off on our run.  We had preplanned to slowly build into the run which I thought may take patience for a jack rabbit like myself.  My legs were uncharacteristically heavy to start the run, but I knew if I put one foot in front of the other sooner or later they would loosen up and I would get into a rhythm.  Unfortunately, right off the bat we had to climb the longer of the two cosways we would have to repeat four times.  This was the moment that the race changed purely into a mental event.  All I could do was use the energy from the crowd and continually tell myself “Smile through pain Aaron.” 

            The run consisted of two 10.5K loops where we ran over the two cosway hills lined with thousands of spectators and then into a windy neighborhood where we ran right by the house of another human that is known for wearing tight clothes, WWF legend Hulk Hogan. 

             By mile 3, I finally established the rhythm that would counterbalance the slower first few miles.  As we came across the cosway to complete lap one of two there was an obnoxious fan screaming, “Go Aaron, from the median.”  Matt mentioned to me he was holding up the Ironman program opened up to my story.  I chuckled to myself and then turned my head to yell, “Come to me after the race and I’ll sign it.”  Absolutely hilarious, all I have to say.  From there we returned to the huge crowds surrounding transition and I did my normal circus act giving high fives and throwing up my hands in excitement.  Again, I heard the loud mouth of Goldberg and then heard a few shout outs from the K-Swiss crew and pointed in the direction of their cheers.  I came around the first lap averaging a solid 7:30/mile pace.  This was not as quick as I hoped but was still very respectable. 

            By mile 9, it hit me for the third time in the race.  If you follow boxing rules 3 bonks and you’re out but I follow my own set of rules.  Three bonks to me means you better get your butt across that line quickly or you’re gonna filed under the DNF division.  Dumping water after water over my head and selfishly taking two sponges at each aid station I sloshed along.  My pace had slowed to 8:30/mile and I would have sworn that they just tarred the road because my shoes were sticking to the ground.  Matt kept encouraging me and informed me that I could accomplish my goal of 4:20 or under.  As we hit mile 11 fellow blind competitor Ryan Van Pret was just passing mile 8.  Right about that moment we also passed obnoxious super fan again on the Memorial Cosway.  This time he screamed, “I’m coming to the finish.”  I replied back, “you better get going because I’m headed straight there.”  At mile 12 we hit the motivation mat which read Goldberg’s personal message of “Go Scheidies go,” on the big screen for Matt to read to me.  I had nothing left but I knew I had a huge crowd awaiting and a big win to celebrate so we picked up the pace the last mile.  As we came off the cosway the NBC TV cameras pulled ahead of us on motorcycle getting our every move on film.  I zipped up my top to display the giant K Swiss shield and straightened out my Tri Bike Transport visor.  When we made the sweeping left hand turn onto the blue carpet Matt and I pumped our fists to the crowd and I jumped to slap the finishing arch as if to be a basketball player coming from the tunnel.  We crossed the line in 4:18:58.  I felt like complete cow dong and in complete paradise at the same time.  It’s a very strange but unique feeling if you ever have the opportunity. 

            As I was given the microphone to say few words to the crowd, all I could think about was how proud I was of Matt Miller for stepping up his game and training as though it was his own personal World Championships for the past 9 months.  The teamwork, accountability and effort that goes into guiding can only be described by those that have personally experienced it.  It wasn’t “me” that won, it was “we” that one!

            Proceeding  the exaltation of finishing the race I managed to raise my arms up just a few more times to give a couple high fives to Goldberg and K-Swiss PR girls Jen and Marianna before stumbling like a drunk over to the med tent.  I seem to have this issue with my temperature dropping to chilling levels prior to finishing long races.  For precautionary reasons and of course to get a little lov’in from the sweet medical staff I was escorted to the med tent for a short stay before resuming my party celebration. 

            Once I had returned from the med tent Diesel and Delilah (i.e. fatty) were there to give me a few congratulations of their own.  Also, Seattle training partner and ridiculously fast newcomer into the sport Stephanie Ewart crossed through the line in a time of 4:22 in only her 6th triathlon ever.  Talk about some natural talent.  It was also a little hint that I better get my butt moving or she is gonna beat me next year.  This was not time to think about next year yet.  This was the last race of a long season and there was no better way to celebrate than with a giant post race party at a place called Sheppard’s.  From there the details of Clearwater 2010 will conclude.  The rest is for your imagination to decide.  Until next year this is so long to a groundbreaking season and one that will hopefully only propel me farther towards breaking down barriers.