The Story After the Madness

It’s Monday. I’ve been feeling incredibly high all day after the completion of the ½ ironman yesterday. Not even learning that I finish about 1,700 out of 1,800 finishers has lessened my mood. Finishing this event feels like one of my biggest accomplishments. I feel great. Legs are sore, but spirits are high.

I did not coordinate the support efforts very well, so I’m sorry to the men that showed up and missed me. It was great to see the men at the swim and bike start and great to see Nick riding his bike out on the run course.

My day did not start out in the best way as my bike tire was low. I had just filled it up the day before. A low tire is a sign of a slow leak. I figured I’d fill it up again before the race and see what would happen. I had a spare tube and could change it out at any time, but would rather not if I did not have to.

Mark Beam walked over to the start with me. I was feeling nervous in an excited sort of way. After setting up my transition area and pumping up my tire I was ready to go. There was Nick smiling as I headed into the water. I swam across the river to the Parker Resort beach. No one was there. I wound up starting 16 minutes before I had published. Everyone was still sleeping or drinking their coffee. I swam back to the start line and awaited the starting gun.

After an uneventful swim that was a few minutes faster than I had anticipated, I ran up to the transition area. Mark was supposed to be there waiting to grab my gear to take back to the camp. I felt my tire. To my disappointment it was a little low. It was too fast of a slow leak to make it through the bike, but enough for me to ride on for now. I would take my chance. I finish my transition and packed up my gear. I looked one more time for Mark. There he was down at the finish line looking in earnest for me to come out of the water. “Mark” I yelled. “There you are.” He did not see me come in. He ran up to grab my gear. And I was off.

On my way out of the transition, pushing my bike towards the bike mount line I saw the familiar faces of Mike Peck and Lynn Marchand cheering me on. The bike ride began.

My tire was lower that I thought and rather spongy. If I took a turn hard I could feel it slip. My strategy was to make it to the first aid station and pump it up there if they had a pump. I could make from aid station to aid station pumping it up at each station. I had to ride carefully, especially on turns down hill. I reached the aid station. They did not have a pump. I took my time changing the tire and was on my way again. It was nice to have a solid ride.

I wanted to take it easy for the ride. Even so I was moving at a fast pace and by the ½ way point I was very happy with my time. I continued through the hilly second half still taking it easy but still maintain a 17 mile per hour average pace. The last ten miles I really backed off as I began to think about the challenging 13 mile run. The run was the great mystery of event for me. I was nervous about the run for a couple of reasons. First I had never ran 13 miles before. Second, running is twice as hard when place at the end of a triathlon. I did not know what to expect, which led to me with a little apprehension about it.

I rolled into the bike/run transition feeling good. I took my time in transition to procrastinate the run a little. I checked my cell phone to call Nick to let him know where I was. He was supposed to be my contact person for me to call at various landmarks to let people know where I was. This turned out to not be possible as I was not allowed to have my phone on the course. I decided to leave it at the bike/run transition to at least make a call there when I arrived. I did not have a signal. I was completely out of communication. I finished putting on my running gear and headed out.

The first couple of miles of the run after the bike are usually pretty tough. Legs are getting used to one way of working after working hard in another. I usually just have to buckle down and get through it. Perhaps it was the training, but I was not feeling bad this time. This was the first good sign.

I continued on. My sights were set on the 4 mile mark where my triathlon club, the Golden Gate Triathlon Club (GGTC) had an aid station. I missed the first mile marker, but at the second I was at 22 minutes … faster than my desired 12 minute mile pace. I slowed it down a bit. With each aid station every mile I took in lots of water. I had gel packs in my bags and took in energy through those. I continued on through the next two miles at a 12 minute mile pace. If I could keep up this pace I would finish the run in 2 hours and 42 minutes. Combined with my faster bike time I could finish the entire event in 7 hours 15 minutes. 45 minutes faster than I was budgeting. Perhaps it was too early to be thinking of that.

I made the turn onto Mark West Station Road, knowing the GGTC aid station was just up a way. Over the hill, around the bend I could see it a few hundred yards ahead along with another welcoming sight of my coach’s canopy, Tri More Fitness. I expected to see my coach somewhere on the course, but did not know where. “Jay Ligda!” I heard him yell and I drew near. “You rock! Way to go!” “Hey, Jay Ligda is coming through,” he turned to yell to the rest of the people at the aid station. I got lots of cheers from friends as I ran through grabbing up my water. 5 more miles and I will be back to this welcoming crowd. For now I set me sights to my next goal, the turn around point. I ran on.

By mile 5 ½ I was still feeling pretty good and I felt good about that. A friend from the GGTC caught up with me. He was not feeling good. He started to tell me what he was feeling wrong with him and I was glad to know the solution. “You need electrolytes,” I said. I did not have any, but knew there was plenty in the Gatoraide that was being served at the aid stations. “Drink Gatoraide,” I said. He slowed down and peeled off to use the pora-potties. I reach mile 6 and began the 1 mile loop through the winery back out to mile 7, the same location as mile 6. That was when it hit me. My legs started to feel fatigue. My same friend passed me. At least he was feeling better. “Drink more Gatoraide,” I yelled as he passed at a fast pace. I was starting to slow down.

It was great to see friends from the club running in the other direction, or passing me. Even if we didn’t know each other we would cheer each other on when we’d see the “GGTC” on our clothing.

By the time I reached the GGTC aid station again, at mile nine I was really hurting. My time was down to about 14 minutes per mile. It was a great pick up to see friends again, but as I passed, what was there to look forward to. The finish? It was still 4 miles a way and would take almost an hour at the pace I was running. I kept plugging away slowly. I rounded the corner off Mark West Station Road and began the windy Starr Road. The sun was getting hot. I was feeling miserable. “Jay” I heard a voice and looked up. There was Nick on his bicycle. “Perfect timing” I said, glad to see him. It was a nice pick up. Nick let me know that Mark and Aerin were out there looking for me too. While I never saw them it was great to know. Nick talked with me for a while and reminded me that everyone back at camp was thinking of me and then he road off. Perhaps I’d see him again, closer to the end. I know he wanted to ride around and check people out.

With each mile I would look at my watch and do calculations in my head. How much time was left? My 14 minute miles were turning to 14 ½ minute miles and then 15 minute miles by the 11th mile. If I can make it 11 miles I can make it 12 and eventually there will be a finish line. I had not stopped to walk yet, except during the aid stations to take in water. That was what I wanted to finish without walking. At the pace I was running, however, some people were walking faster than me.

In the midst of my pain I suddenly thought of a joke. I just needed someone to share it with. As I turned off Starr Road there was a volunteer at the corner to point runners into the correct direction. I looked up at her like I needed help and she engaged me visually to offer support. “Do you know the way to Windsor High School?” I asked, Windsor High School was the finish line. She looked at me at first like it was a strange question to be asking before she realized it was a joke, a joke that she was not expecting from a suffering runner which seemed to make her appreciate it more. She laughed and I smiled. “Well you are heading in the right direction,” she said I inched off in that right direction.

After Starr Road there were two more short streets before turning into the high school. Short roads become long roads plugging away at a 15 minute mile pace, but they get shorter again with each step. I passed the 12 mile mark. Only one more mile to go. I looked at my watch and started counting down. 15 more minutes.

I was keeping my focus towards the road. It was still hot and I did not have any more fluids with me (I carried a belt pack with containers of water). I knew I would finish, but 15 minutes can be a long time when one is suffering. “Jay?” I heard a woman’s voice call out. I looked up and there was an angel up ahead on the other side of the road. She waved and I waved back as I tried to recognize who it was. My mind raced through the people that I expected to see on the course, but it was not coming. “It’s Elisa,” she said. Elisa was a woman from my training program who was training with us, but not doing the event. I had a little crush on her, so was a little awkward around her. She was a little evasive around me. When I realized it was her I started heading across the road towards her. “Don’t come over here, keep going.” But I did not, I kept heading to her. I don’t know what I was doing. I just wanted some contact. As I reached her she held her arms out to offer the hug. As I hugged her I said, “I’m going to finish this” and I got a little emotional as I ran on.

I made the turn onto the main road and looked at my watch, 7 ½ minutes … only ½ mile to go. I made the turn into the high school. I still had to run all the way to the back of the school. I made the turn at the back of the high school and looked for the finish line. It was not there. I kept running and remembered as I saw a runner ahead of me turn onto the field in the back of the school that the finish line was half way down the field. I turned onto the field and into the finish shoot. I had 300 yards to go. A man passed me with “39” on the back of his calf. He was the same age as me. He was going to beat me. There was nothing left in the tank to match his pace and race him to the finish. “Let him go.” It does not make a difference. I just need to finish.

There were no cheers as I crossed the finish line. No one I knew was there. I just stopped and stood there. I didn’t have to move anymore. After 7 ½ hours of strenuous activity I could just stand there and that was what I did for a few minutes. Bad news … I was standing in the sun and the food was a hundred yards across the field. I had to move a little more to get out of the sun and get some food. There were a few friends from the club milling around. “Remind me never to do that again,” was all I could tell them. I was happy I had finished. I was happy I did it the run without walking, and I was happy I did it in ½ hour faster than I thought I would. However the pain I was feeling was not worth thinking I would want to try that again. I got my food and sat down, waiting for more friends from the club to come through the finish shoot.

So here it is the following day. The high that I’m feeling is great and has overpowered the memory of the pain I felt and I’m thinking ahead. “What’s next?” I think I could do one of these in less than 7 hours. I took my time in transitions. I could take 10 minutes off my time there. If I did not get a flat tire I could take 10 minutes off my with that. I have performed much better in the swims in the past and I can probably take 5 or 10 minutes off my time there. I could have gone a little harder on the bike and perhaps taken off another 5 or 10 minutes off with that. I can trim off more than 30 minutes without even addressing my worst of the 3 events, the run. I can do it in less than 7 hours. Not this year. Maybe next year. I look on-line and did signed up for a ½ marathon later this year. Now that I know I can do a ½ marathon, I want to see what it is like without the swim and bike in front of it. I also have a few Bay swims also scheduled this year … another Alcatraz crossing, a swim from Angel Island to Tiburon and one from Treasure Island to the Embarcadero. That will be enough for this year. The ½ ironman was the big goal for the year. Next year I will make plans for next year.

I was 302 of 313 in my age group, 1173 of 1221 men and 1704 of 1817 overall.

My Final Times

Swim 00:47:47
T1 00:09:57
Bike 03:28:53
T2 00:09:44
Run 02:55:55
Finish 07:32:17

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