Emile raced Ironman Santa Rosa on May 11th. He placed third in his age group, but more importantly had a great time doing it. Awesome job Emile!!
Swim: I walked down a long boat ramp from the transition area to the swim start at Lake Sonoma knowing full well what I was getting into. I wasn’t apprehensive though. I was relaxed, joking with my Dad and other friends who were participating in the race. My wetsuit felt restrictive, as they usually do, but I didn’t really care that much cause I’m used to it. I got up in the front pack, because I anticipated that I would be one of the fast swimmers of the day and didn’t want to have to scramble over people. The only thing I was worried about was coming around for the second 1.2 mile lap of the swim course because that’s when I would collide with the back and middle of the pack as they were on their first lap. Throwing 2,000 people through a 4 person wide gate into a 1.2 mile swim course in which everyone is trying to swim the same way, twice, leads to violence and fear in the water. I ran into the water with the cannon and had a good steady first lap staying with the leaders. This was relaxing and fun for me, but I knew the second lap was coming. I was still feeling fresh when i came around for the second lap, but as soon as we intersected with the back of the pack, the swim turned into carnage. I spent the second lap dodging and weaving through the pack, getting kicked and shoved the whole time. As a fast person with an extensive swimming background trying to PR my swim and stay in the lead of the race I move quite close to people as they swim, but I stop short of pushing and shoving. I know I was doing my best to not be rude, but I also know that when people swim with a large group, they sometimes take the elbows, knees, and feet that hit them in all different ways a little too personally and some people have a breaking point with their frustrations. It’s every man for himself when that gun goes off and there’s something interesting about the depersonalization of other people when they’re competing in a massive event where nobody can see each others face or hear each other talk. We all should learn not to take bumps to seriously, and not to give bumps too generously during the swim. I still managed a personal best Ironman swim, so that was a great sign! Got out of the water in 53:21 and ran up that boat ramp to transition 1 to hop on my bike.
Bike: I hopped on the bike after a smooth transition that surprised me. My transitions are usually clumsy and embarrassing, but this one went very well! We headed out over the bridge and down the hill from Lake Sonoma into Dry Creek Valley for the first bit of the bike. Climbing a short hill, I realized I was pedaling too hard and backed off significantly as we descended towards highway 101. Riding south alongside 101 and veering into the Alexander Valley I was passed by a significant amount of people, but I kept my pace manageable for myself. I knew I would have to do the Alexander Valley section twice, so I took note of the landmarks that I saw and the sections of road that were rough enough to cause a crash. Climbing Chalk Hill was a steep hill, but also an easy section of the race because it gave me a chance to get out of the saddle. Coming off the top was a nice part of the bike with a screaming fast descent that really recharged my motivation. Riding across 101 again near Santa Rosa, we came very close to the finish line, but had to head north again to complete the distance. After a rough rolling section we crossed a bridge over the Russian River and veered north. A few more people passed me, then we repeated the Alexander Valley and Chalk Hill sections. My legs had lost their pop at this point, but the ride was nearly over. Veering south towards Santa Rosa, I backed off on the pedals and took it a bit easier to freshen the legs up. About two miles from the finish, I was about as ready as I’ve ever been to get off the saddle and run. Hopped off the bike, finishing with a time of 5:16:34, which is a close second to my personal best of 5:13:11 at Kona. Overall, I don’t think I passed a single person during the bike ride and I feel like it’s still my biggest area for improvement, but that just adds more fuel to the fire for next training block.
Run: Had another smooth transition, although it felt a bit slower, and headed out on the run. I set myself the ambitious goal of running a 3 hour marathon off the bike and I set out for exactly that however foolish it was. I set out on the first of 3 loops and decided not to think about distances on the first loop, but just get the lay of the land and see what the course was like. It was totally flat, mostly shaded, and there was even a 2 mile section of very quiet trail that ran alongside a creek. I passed some people and was passed by others, but I wasn’t too worried about that. I knew that I had to maintain my pacing if there was any chance of getting a kona qualification. At this point I was third in my age group, and I got a bit disheartened when I realized that I probably wouldn’t be getting that kona slot, but I held on to a sliver of hope and kept pushing. During these events many people have told me they experience the “why am I doing this?” self questioning, doubting, and negative mindset. I started to get this same mentality early on in the run, after I had a bathroom break and started running again. I sulked while running for a while, then later on realized that my time really doesn’t mean anything, a kona slot didn’t mean anything because other people are way faster than you sometimes, all that mattered was my mentality and my goals. I signed up for this for an intrinsic reward and for a feeling of personal growth. For pushing myself harder than I ever had before and forgetting about time, competitors, and conditions. For the last lap of the 3 laps, I gritted my teeth and put myself through as much pain as I could mentally take. I didn’t just want to finish, I wanted to make it to the finish line satisfied that I had brought myself to the very brink of what my fitness in that moment would allow. My last lap was tough, but I didn’t bend or buckle. I turned the corner around the finish line and gave a couple of shouts, because I had made it. At the other two Ironman races I had done, I remember running in with a smile because I had finished with stubborn intent, but not that real fire. This time I was screaming and yelling down that finish chute because I had made it to the finish line without sulking and feeling sorry for myself for the last few miles. I signed up, I paid the entry fee, I worked for 5 months preparing for it, so how could I not enjoy the very thing I worked so hard for. Had a great time out there and can’t wait for the next week.
Finally: It was a good race and like always I learned a lot, but I am so fired up for the next big race. I think I am going to race some shorter stuff to increase my speed on the bike so I can hang with the front pack out of the water. My Dad had to DNF because his rear derailleur was sheared off when his chain derailed near the end of the bike course and got caught in his rear wheel. He’s ok and has signed up for Ironman Maryland to get that finish and earn his “you are an Ironman!” experience. My next race is Alaskaman and I’m very excited. I’m planning on pursuing Kona again, but first I need to race more and feel more confident on the bike, because I’m still just not there. Santa Rosa was the hardest I’ve ever pushed in a race and I’m proud of the result. I’ll be back to Ironman with more experience under my belt. Growth Mindset.