Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I Never Metatarsal I Didn’t Like - Florida Ironman 70.3, May 19 2013

“It ain’t the heat. It’s the humility.”
Yogi Berra (attr)

Last weekend my activities consisted of the following: I swam two kilometres, biked 90 kilometres, ran 21.1 kilometres, and drove 4,200 kilometres.  The first three were in my first triathlon of the season. The last was to get to the triathlon, which was the Florida Ironman 70.3. Not unsurprisingly, I found the drive to be the easiest but least fulfilling of these activities.
The race, which like all 70.3 events is beautifully organized, is held in Haines City, south of Orlando. This is a move from  the former venue of Disney World, at which I always felt a bit out of place, being an athlete surrounded by thousands of tubby tourists waddling around in their oversized T- shirts and Mickey Mouse ears. The Haines City townfolk came out in huge numbers and supported us as volunteers and as cheering well-wishers.

The swim was probably the most daunting part of the day, not because of the distance but because of the medium. The lake—a term which would be laughable to anyone used to the pristine beauty of Muskoka waterways—was really a glorified swimming hole, with attendant mud and weeds making the water into an opaque and unappetizing subtropical sludge. The lake is not large enough to accommodate a complete 2K swim, which is not unusual; many triathlon swims have two loops in them. Rather than having a two-loop swim here however, the one-loop course doubles back on itself, making a large ‘M’ shape, which happily is not as confusing while you are swimming it as it is when you just try to think about it.

Since the lake temperature was well over 80F, there were no wetsuits allowed, thus removing a layer of insulation between my body and whatever liquid suspension the lake was filled with. In the end, it was swimmable however, and swim we did, nearly 1700 of us. As I became horizontal and began my slow freestyle stroke I forgot what the lake was made of, forgot what might be living in the muck beneath me, forgot to wonder if a stray alligator had ventured in overnight, and just concentrated on enjoying my day. It was one of my slowest swims ever for this distance, a fact which mattered not a whit to me, even though having started in one of the first waves, I got subsequently swum over by nearly everyone else in the race. I was glad to be back in a long distance triathlon on a beautiful morning.
The bike ride was a great one for the early season. I have not given my terrific Cervélo P2 much outdoor exercise since the very hilly Muskoka 70.3 last September, so it was good to be back on the road hearing the gears clicking precisely into place and feeling the carbon fibre, metal, and rubber moving smoothly and responsively beneath me. The 90 kilometres of the Florida course are fairly tame hillwise and the road surface is mostly good. Winds kept calm; in any event, I mostly stayed down on my aerobars and enjoyed the feeling of being streamlined and swift. Overhead, the sun was climbing in the sky and was already warming up the run course like a light bulb in an Easy Bake Oven. The heat and humidity were waiting for us.

One of the first things you encounter as you start the three-loop run course is an aid station offering water and ice. I wanted lots of both, and I took as much as I could drink or carry every chance I got. In my last 70.3 race in Florida, my feet had swollen up from the heat and had really hobbled me; the memory of having to stop and sit down every mile to massage my pinched and protesting feet had been nagging at me for months. I was determined to do whatever I could to stay upright and keep moving forward despite the potential dangers of the oppressive heat.
I swallowed a lot of salt tablets and took in oceans of sports drink to keep my electrolytes in balance as much as possible. I have come to believe that there is a relationship between electrolyte imbalance and the swelling and pinched nerves in my feet, which affects me almost always in very hot conditions. But as they say, correlation is not causation, and I had no assurance that I would not once again be hobbling painfully for most of the 21.1 kilometres. At every step I monitored the intermetatarsal plantar nerves that run from my heel to my toes for signs of distress.

Secret to a good, comfortable run:
don't let your feet  touch the ground

There was only one challenge in the Florida 70.3 run: the relentless and unforgiving sun proved a great leveler, an agent to inspire humility in even the speediest runners. Many people, as they began their third and final 7K loop, started to resemble the extras in The Walking Dead (but with redder faces). In addition to popping Lava Salts, I ate and drank as much nutrition as I could stomach and stuffed ice everywhere I could think of:  my hat, my pockets, my shirt, and even down my shorts (distracting, but not recommended unless in dire straits). Whatever it was I did, my third loop of the course turned out to be my strongest, easiest, and most comfortable. Best of all, there was no twinge of pain from my feet; they were not exactly fresh as daisies, but they carried me across the finish line with a minimum of fuss.
My splits were all slow. I had expected this though, and my goal was to accomplish nothing more than I did. I now have a good benchmark for Ironman Mont Tremblant training, which I plan to begin immediately. As slow as I was, I loved every minute of this race; it was a treat to get back into an event as challenging and well organized as this one was, and to push my body and mind against the distance and the elements once again.