I rarely decline a good challenge, and I often go out of my way to find new ones. When Taylor decided to run the San Francisco Marathon the day after Vineman AquaBike – an event I was already registered for, the pieces fell into place quickly. Two weeks after a PR half Ironman at Vineman 70.3, I set out to nail my second ever 2.4 mile open water swim and 112 mile bike ride – my first attempt at either distance since Ironman Lake Placid 2012. After crossing the finish line, stuffing my face, and taking a nap, San Francisco Marathon pacer duties would be waiting for me back home. My goal going into the weekend: finish the equivalent of a full Ironman over a two day span without driving myself into the ground. Easy, right? Here’s how it panned out:
Saturday morning consisted of a pleasant 4:00am wake up, a gluten/dairy-free bagel, and as much Gatorade as I could stomach before 5am. We set out for the swim start and T1 at Johnson’s Beach, prepared our transitions, and patiently waited amongst hundreds of nervous full-Ironman athletes. After enjoying a warm up swim in the Russian River on Friday morning and racing two weeks prior, I knew exactly what to expect once the starting gun went off. I swam super easy on the first lap and finished in roughly 36 minutes – slightly slower than my half Ironman swim two weeks earlier.
The water was warm, calm, and very low – most people could touch throughout the course of the swim. Although I haven’t swam 2.4 miles in over a month, I had no problem with the distance and felt strong from start to finish. I’m convinced that the swim was longer than 2.4 miles: between comparing GPS data with several people and knowing my swim pace, I was quite sure that I even split the second lap at worst. Much to my surprise, my Garmin read 1:16 – over 5 minutes faster than my last Ironman swim. Onto T1.
Knowing that 6 hours of biking would be the next leg of my relaxing Saturday, I decided to kick back and put on a pair of comfy bike shorts – Pearl Izumi Elites. The plan was simple: ride the first loop very easy, and even/negative split loop 2. After throwing down 2:40 at Vineman 70.3 and 2:45 during an open course ride, I knew that 2:50-2:55 per loop was well within reach.
I comfortably rode the first loop in 2:50, and it was scorching hot by the time I approached the 50 mile mark. Soon after I passed the 50 mile mark, I somehow managed to send my aero bottle flying after I hit a bump. It nearly got stuck in my front wheel and forced me to hit the brakes hard to avoid it – I almost went down. No harm done – a volunteer picked it up for me and I continued on.
My pace started to drop drastically after I passed the halfway mark. Although it was very hot, I was also quite surprised: I was very well hydrated and nourished, and thought I had plenty in the tank. Knowing that SF Marathon was looming and I couldn’t afford a mishap, I spent lots of time off the bike drinking water and Gatorade, and taking down a variety of calories to ensure that I didn’t put myself too far in the hole. I chalked it up to heat – the high was allegedly 105, and rode progressively worse and worse until mile 85 – more on that later. Once I knew the end was near, I dug deep and pushed my pace back over 20mph for the final 20 miles, eventually finishing the ride in 6:25. Strava captured a moving time of 6:15 – a 30+ minute improvement from my last Ironman bike leg.
My friend Keith was waiting for me in transition – for a long time. He threw down a blistering 5:11 bike and took first in our age group – sixth overall. I was lucky enough to find myself on the podium as well, and my time was good enough for second place in M25-29. Carolyn and two of her friends also swept the podium in the F25-29 age group – what a haul! I was thrilled to get off the bike feeling good enough to run if I had to. We regrouped just in time for the podium ceremony, grabbed our celebratory bottles of wine, and bolted back to San Francisco for the marathon.
The good: Pacing myself on both the swim and the bike, sighting great lines on the swim, and finishing very strong despite almost 8 hours of activity.
The bad: My longest bike ride prior to this race was 72 miles. I definitely would have benefitted from a ride in the 80-95 mile range leading up to the race.
The ugly: Discovering that the source of my problems from mile 50 on was actually my rear brake rubbing against the tire. My brake alignment shifted when I hit the brakes hard at mile 50, and I didn’t bother to check. I pushed way harder than I had to for over 60 miles due to mechanical issues – lesson learned!
I managed to get some sleep before the marathon and felt surprisingly good when I woke up. Taylor graciously grabbed my bib and multiple pacing wristbands to help me do my job, and we stuck to the script in the early miles. Although a PR marathon would have been a far stretch, my legs were holding up just fine and I was accelerating to a respectable pace as needed. I could see that Taylor was hurting early on. As Taylor mentioned, her leg was not feeling too good from the start, and we discussed a possible half-marathon finish starting around mile 10. After much deliberation, we ultimately opted to finish at the halfway point and save our legs for later in the summer. It was undoubtedly disappointing, but sitting on the sidelines for a long time would have been far worse than cutting one race short.
Thanks again to everyone who wished us well ahead of the race and after we finished – we appreciate the kind words!