Ironman Maryland 2016 Race Report

They say doing an ironman, more than anything, is all about the journey. It’s also all about facing adversity and learning how to deal with it. Ironman Maryland is probably the best example I’ve ever had of that.

My journey to Ironman Maryland 2016 actually started way back in 2012. I was living in NYC at the time and wasn’t really itching to do another (I did Ironman Florida in 2008 and Ironman Canada in 2010), but I went to volunteer at the inaugural Ironman NYC in 2012. The next day, my buddy Adam and I signed up for 2013. There was something about the idea of doing an ironman where I grew up (much of the course was in NJ) and I thought I’d be nice to do one more ironman, then retire. Long story short, 2012 was the first and last year of Ironman NYC as the race was cancelled 6 months before the race due to a bunch of permit/logistics issues.

In hindsight, it was probably a good thing as training for an Ironman (or any triathlon) is really tough in NYC. Good bike routes and pools are tough to find and the only open water swimming you can do is in the Hudson, but you might come out w/ a third arm if you do.

Fast forward to 2014, I had moved back to San Francisco, felt great getting back into the swing of tri things and decided to sign up for Ironman Arizona 2015 (which was in November). Early 2015 was probably the best “base” shape I’ve been in leading into the formal Ironman training period. Then March 29, 2015 happened. Our dodgeball team Ballsagna, was in the championship match of our local league. We were up 2–0, jumped to dodge a wrench, I mean ball, landed, and thought someone kicked me in the back of my leg. Turned around, and nobody was there.

I tore my achilles. And even worse, we lost the dodgeball championships 😔.

I had surgery to repair my achilles on April 3, 2015. It was nice knowing you, Ironman Arizona 2015.

About 6 months into rehab, around October 2015, I still had the itch to do another and was honestly curious if it was possible to recover from this and doe one more. Signed up for Ironman Maryland October 1, 2016.

After a loooooong year of rehab, it felt good to be getting back into shape and over the mental hump of always being worried about my achilles.

Fast forward to 2 weeks before race day — I was doing my last long brick workout (bike + a run), but when I hopped off the bike, I could barely run because the outside of my right knee was killing me. I’ve dealt w/ IT band issues before, but never this bad. I cut my run short and decided to shut it down till raceday.

1 week before race day — on the day I was flying to NJ to visit home before the race, the forecast for the race was sunny and 70s all week. PERFECT! No need to pack any rain gear.

4 days before race day — Forecast starts to change pretty dramatically. High chance of rain, thunderstorms up until and including race day. I immediately goto REI to buy a rain jacket for the bike. And for anyone who knows me, I’m a pretty big wimp when it comes to riding in non-ideal weather conditions, so this made me really nervous 😨.

2 days before the race — Head over for a practice swim. The swim for IMMD is in the Choptalk River which is off of the Chesapeake Bay. The water is brackish, which is basically half salt and half fresh water. Water temps in the 70s feel absolutely amazing compared to what we swim in around the bay. Water was pretty choppy, and lots of other athletes were worried about the swim for the next day since swim was shortened the year before for choppy water conditions. Starts raining like CRAZY later in the day.

1 day before the race — Still raining, so an announcement is made that part of the bike course is flooded so they need to remove 8 miles of the course (when I say flooded, I mean like 4+ feet of water on some roads). Hmm…kinda stinks but no big deal I guess.

Race day

Woke up around 4AM, ate the usual yogurt and granola and got down to transition around 530AM. The ground was relatively dry, so I was happy that our transition bags didn’t get soaked overnight from the rain. Took about 45 mins to get the bike and gear bags all setup then started heading over to the swim start.

Around 640, all the lemmings are ready to go in their wetsuits. The swim was scheduled to start at 650, but at 645, the race director gets on the loudspeaker and says “due to dangerous water conditions, we’re delaying the race 30 mins to see if things calm down”. Wow. I’ve never seen this happen at a race before.

I take off my wetsuit and am counting the minutes till 715, but still no word when we’d be starting. The crowd starts getting restless. The race director gets on the loudspeaker again, this time saying “due to weather conditions, the swim has been cancelled”. WOW. WOW. It was amazing, the huge range of emotions from people. Some laughed. Some cried. Some screamed in anger. Some were relieved to not have to swim. I was in a bit of shock and didn’t really know how to react.

But now came the real choice — quit or continue?

Personally, I said screw it, I’m here, might as well do it. Plenty of people packed their bags and went home. I don’t blame them as it was going to be a rough day. The people I felt the worst for was the first timers since they wouldn’t be getting the “complete” ironman experience. I tried to give as many words of encouragement as possible and remind them that this sport has many parts that are out of your control and the beauty of it is how you deal w/ those things and handle the things you can control. If you do this sport long enough, you’ll get your fair share of lemons.

Next step was T1 and into the carnage known as an ironman changing tent. Conceptually, it’s the place to change clothes during transition. In reality, it’s nudity, vaseline, funny jokes, more nudity and more vaseline.

They decided to do the bike as a time trial start beginning w/ the lowest numbers. #1486 here, which basically meant I wasn’t starting anytime soon 😬. It took about 2 hours to get to my number and so I wasn’t on the bike till after 9AM. Hopping on a bike after just sitting around for 2+ hours in the cold isn’t too fun, plus my nutrition plan pretty much went out the window.

The bike was a 2 loop course around a big wildlife refuge. It’s a pancake flat course, but with high chances of wind. On this day, there was wind, rain and thunderstorms, but luckily no flooded sections. Victory!

It actually turned out to be a pretty uneventful bike (which is a good thing), nutrition stuff sorted itself out, but was not the most comfortable doing a 100 mile ride in rain gear. One of my favorite parts of the bike was asking people how their swim was. That question usually got a lot of good laughs or responses like “really really fast”, or “my best ever”.

I was so relieved to finish the bike course, as I was going back into transition if someone wanted to take my bike for free, I seriously would’ve given it to them.

Grabbed my run gear and back into the changing tent. More nudity and vaseline.

Because of the knee problem I’d been having before the race, this was a really nervous moment for me. I hadn’t run for the past two weeks, so now came the moment of truth to see if I could. I grabbed 2 advil out of my bag, then wondered if it’s possible to OD on advil. I asked the dude next to me and he said “no”, so I grabbed 2 more and ended up popping 4 advil and walked out of the changing tent.

As I start to do a light jog, I could totally feel the pain in my knee. Shit. I start trying to run as much as possible, but I knew I was dragging it along like a peg leg. Could I really keep this up for 26 miles? Isn’t my other leg going to cramp up or something while compensating for this one?

That’s when I first saw my mom, dad and sis on the course. Jen started to run a bit with me and said I was looking pretty normal, even though I’m pretty sure she just being nice.

It was about 25 mins into the run I think the advil started to kick in. I was finally able to get a more normal running gait and was like, OK, we’re good to go for now. Let’s do this. This was actually the point where I decided I was going to finish this race. My plan was to keep popping the advil, hope the knee holds up, then crawl to the finish line if I had to. This is probably the first race I’ve ever seriously considered not finishing, so it was nice to get over that mental hump.

The run course for IMMD is interesting, it’s basically a 3 loop course, which is AWESOME for seeing spectators. However, it’s not so great for repeating challenging sections of a course. The run is also pancake flat so you might ask, “what are the challenging parts of a flat run?”. This is:

Hello swim course!

That’s right, at some point during the afternoon, high tide came in and started to flood the run course. The first encounter w/ water was about 6 miles in and it presented a pretty interesting decision. Just blow through it and have soggy shoes/socks for the next 20 miles (that would suck), or take your shoes off, wade through the H20, then put them back on after (that would also suck).

My thought process was, I’ll probably get a cramp or something if I bend over to untie my shoes, and I didn’t get to swim today, so bring it on. The water was shin high, probably about 40–50 yards of it. Not gonna lie, at first the water felt refreshing, but coming out of it, all I could think of was the hot mess my feet were going to be from running in soggy shoes all day.

We run through some mud, no big deal compared to shin high water. Then we come around a bend and boom, more water! In total, there were 3 areas on the run course that featured the shin high water. Did some quick math, and since the course has 3 loops, with back and forth sections, we’re going to have to run through this shit 15 times!!! I’ve trained on sand before, but man, running through water is even harder. Though as I kept going through the flooded sections, I will say, they became more and more fun. Where else have you ever done a flooded run course before!

I usually say ironman doesn’t start until mile 13 of the run, mainly cause you’re probably trained for most of the work up until then, then the last 13 miles is all about determination and will. I’ve always hit some point of desperation during the run where I can’t even look at another GU or gel and will eat anything in my sight. I think that happened for me around mile 22 this time, potato chips, oranges, cookies, chicken broth and red bull all went down at a single aid station (great recipe for a stomach ache later in the night).

The final few miles of the run were a blur, but I do vividly remember the last 1/2 mile through the downtown area of the race and had a huge sigh of relief hearing those words “Gregory, you are an ironman!”

All in all, for a day that included, cancellations, delays, course detours, floods, mud, rain and thunderstorms, it was quite incredible. So while the actual race wasn’t my best and definitely didn’t go anything close to plan, reflecting on the journey of getting to there and dealing w/ the unique challenges made it one of my most rewarding and memorable race experiences ever.

Thank you Ironman Maryland!