1.2mi S - 56mi B - 13.1mi R
by Troy Soares
The morning was cool, breezy, and threatening clouds were everywhere. It's been almost two years since I've done a 1/2 Ironman, so setting up my transition area took more thinking than usual. The sold-out race had 1500 competitors and some of the best pros in the world. I knew a 4:31:00 (28:20 Swim, 3:00 T1, 2:31:00 Bike, 2:12 T2, 1:27:00 Run = 4:31:00) was needed to be near 4th place to get an Ironman slot, but with some of the training setbacks I've had, I was shooting for a best possible case of 4:38:00. This would be 10min faster than my previous best in '96.
I got in a good swim warm-up and lined up on the left (I learned from my previous Wildflower stories that the middle is bad). It was great to see Laura & Dale cheering me on just before our group of 190 hit the water for a dash to the first sailboat. I had a good start but we had arm and foot contact for half the swim. I focussed on deep breathing, long strokes and staying in the draft. Repeatedly, I'd duck my head and move up through the thrashing arms to the next group and then rest on their toes. All the way back I fought with another guy for the good draft position. I came out at 28:20, right on qualifying pace, and the Pam-greased wetsuit came off fast. I heard the cheers from people I knew, but only saw faces for a split second as I rushed down the sharp asphalt (ow!) to my bike with a transition time of 2:27 (ahead of schedule!).
The bike start felt great. My heart rate was screaming but I settled it down and resumed my routine of recovering on the hills and hammering on the descents and flats. I saw familiar competitors going by up Beach Hill but I remain calm, remembering the ten practice rides I've done up this hill this year. On the first 20 miles of rollers I fill up on water and dilute my concentrated Cytomax. I'm jockeying with Todd Morton, letting him by on the hills and passing him on the flats. I know he's qualified here twice before. We had a slight tailwind and hit 20mi in 57min. Then we turn into the wind. I lose Todd and the others when I start chafing on my saddle and have to fix it with my stash of Vaseline. I'm on my own through the "5 inclines" and begin drinking and eating more. By 28mi I'm feeling great and remembering from the six times I've practiced this course that the critical section for making up time is the upcoming "back stretch".
A black flash goes by with a "31" on its calf and I realize the next wave has caught me. At first I'm content with his "pass of conviction"and then, realizing this is the key part of the course for me, I think loudly, "Not in my house!" as I turn it on, re-pass him, push the heart rate to 166 and hold on to 28mph for the next few miles. He eventually passed me again but I had new things on my mind. After passing women pros, I suddenly see a siren on a pace vehicle 2 miles ahead. "Is that the lead women? Is that Paula?" I've never been this close to her! Now my heart rate monitor is beeping. I'm trying to remain relaxed and smooth but I've got to catch that truck. At 37mi I pass Holly Nybo. I must be close! I feel great. If I can catch her by the Mile 41 "Nasty Hill" we can climb it together, how cool! The truck starts up the hill and I'm closing. "Is that Paula up ahead?" I ask some volunteers. "Paula? No, she's WAY up there!" Bummer, but I'm happy with the 22mph average I'm at.
Recovering up "Nasty", I prepare for the next grueling 10mi of the course, the part that has sunk many good efforts up to this point. But I smile, thinking back to my April 3rd practice ride, the hardest one, during one of those evening wind storms, when I wanted to turn around at 20 but continued on, giving the ride to God, and being open to what he was about to teach me. On that ride, the tough 45-55 mile stretch was the fastest I've ever done and gave me a whole new outlook on the end of this course. I finished that ride over-exerted and nauseous, but with a new confidence about the course I never thought I'd have.
Now I'm reliving that great ride. Down the big hill at 52mph, passing most of the female pros, and powering through the long grades, I pass a couple more in my age group that got away from me on the climb. Flying into the park I go by Lori Bowden and Heather Fuhr! The reigning Ironman World Champion! Up the long Mile 54 grade my heart rate is way high but Fuhr is behind me and I see a lone rider up ahead. Paula! The guy I've been battling comes along side and I say, "There she is". He says, "Who? The Queen?" "The Queen!" I say as I motor ahead.
But it was Todd Morton! The black bike, orange Speedo and the heart monitor chest strap had looked like the signature outfit of Paula Newby Frasier. Catching Todd was just as good! I finish very happy in 2:34:05 (now only 2.5 minutes off qualifying time) and head off on the run (I'll need a 6:30 pace).
The bike took its toll. The right hamstring and hip are tight and sore and the shoes are too tight. After a 6:45 mile it doesn't feel better. Fuhr, without effort, goes blazing by me. In our game of "Tag", Todd Morton motors by saying, "You're it!" Two more guys in my age go by. I stop to adjust my shoe. I stop again. A spectator asks if I want a beer. It sounds good... The picture isn't looking good but I don't force it. I give it to God and listen. After 3mi it gets better. The ham doesn't hurt when climbing so I look forward to the hill at 4mi. Almost up the hill, a tendon on the inside of my left leg goes taught! Instantly I'm walking. "Well that's new!" I think. I want to run but have no choice. A competitor is up ahead also having problems, frantically looking back at me. We're both hobbling to the top. If I can just get to the flat I know I can run by him. I think of Wendy and Sian at the end of Ironman '97 trying to out-crawl each other. Running along the top I assess my new spasm problem; I must go easy on the climbs and get electrolytes... drink Gatorade. On the mile 5 hill, I watch amazingly as cute little Lori Bowden, 2nd at '97 Ironman, scampers up the hill by me and leaves me and the guys in the dust. By 6mi I've lost 6 minutes but I'm taking Gatorade, GU, water, and an Aleeve and I'm feeling great and working back to my 6:30 pace. The weather is perfect, overcast, with light sprinkles. I see the bikes coming in at mile 55. I fly through Redondo Vista on mile 8, soaking in all the encouragement from the spectators and Olympic Course athletes. I pass three more guys and a pro guy through the overflow camping section. My efforts seem limited only by the sensitive "trip wire" in my left leg. Then I pick it up a notch too many and suddenly the tendon begins tightening. I stop to stretch and massage it and am forced to relinquish my "kills" like a cat letting a mouse go just to catch it again. Up the mile 9 hill I take it easy but then let it fly on the backside and re-pass the same guys.
On the other side, I see Jim Grant, Chad Hawker (favoring his sore rib but in great position!), Heather Fuhr, and Lori Bowden. Another GU and I make the turn at 10mi and head back up the hill. I see John Dougery 3-1/2 minutes behind. Did his wave start 3 or 4 minutes after mine? I try to run as fast as I can without disturbing that tendon and I compensate with the right leg. Almost to the top... it's starting to go... but I make it to flats!
Two miles to go, no one in front or behind me. I want to coast in and not hurt myself. But I feel encouragement from God to give it everything I've got even if there's no chance of catching anyone.
On the steep final mile to the finish, I'm running just about out of control. Feet slapping the pavement faster than the nerves can transmit the pain (well, maybe not). Amazingly, I'm gaining on someone. 2 minutes ahead, 1 minute. I can see the crowds and the finish chute; I suck it in and go by as fast as I can, he's in my age! I should go wide so he can't see my age but I shoot right by his arm. I get a good gap on him but feel like I'll collapse as soon as I get to the chute. It's 400yds to the finish. Yells from my friends give me more strength but I can't hold this 5min/mi. pace. Then I see the next guy. He's 80 yds from the finish. Automatically, I go into an all out sprint, I can feel the back of my legs hyper extending (this is going to hurt tomorrow), and he's in my age, too! I go by with 30 yds to go and he jumps on my heels but I beat him by 1 second to the line. Wow, what a great memorable finish. The first thing I do is say a prayer because I had no idea what to expect in this race. I was merely along for the ride! The run was 1:31:49 and the total time was 4:37:57. It turned out that the last qualifying time was 4:33:27.
I was 8th place and 17th overall. But the really exciting part was that I beat Heather Fuhr, the women's Ironman World Champion, by 1 second. It was a great race and I thank God for allowing me to be a part of the action!