By PAUL KRUMRICH
Someone once told me that races are nothing more than an event where you can show off how hard you have trained, and I think that an Ironman triathlon represents this more than any other type of event. The more I am involved in endurance sports — my past is in soccer and more traditional sports — the more I appreciate the work ethic it takes to be good at these events. You can’t fake it, and you can’t walk up to the start line and gut it out. It may not be your day even if you are well trained, but it will never be your day if you are not.
For anyone who does not know what an Ironman entails: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and a marathon (26.2 miles). They call it a triathlon, but some people consider it a quadathlon: Swimming, Biking, Running, and Eating. Due to the distance and length of this race, fueling your body is as important, if not more important, than physical ability.
Krumrich on the run
I signed up for the Ford Ironman Arizona in March of 2008 after completing the Oceanside 1/2 Ironman in California. The 56-mile bike was the longest bike ride of my life at that point. Eight months later I found myself on a cot in a hotel room two blocks away from the start of the Arizona Ironman in Tempe. I got up at 4:45a.m. in a room with two training buddies also doing the race. I had banana bread with dark chocolate chips, a banana, and some Endurance formula Gatorade. I grabbed my Quintana Roo wetsuit, Swedish goggles, swim cap, transition bags and headed down to the start about 5:45a.m.
The sun was coming up when they said we could get into the water, I was trying to stay close to my training buddy, Nate, who was an experienced triathlete and a slightly faster swimmer than I. The water was 65 degrees and a nasty brown color when we jumped in off the side of the concrete abutment. I was surprisingly calm. There is a lot of hype surrounding an Ironman, but when you are floating at the start looking at the sun come up over some rigid silhouettes of desert mountains, you realize that life is a pretty cool thing.
I also realized at that point that I was simply prepared for the day, I knew I could have trained harder, rode more miles, run much more (I was injured all summer with tendonitis), swam longer swims, ate better, slept more, not have had so many scoops of ice cream or glasses of red wine. . . but I also knew that I have a job, a life, and a sweet tooth, and that is just who I am.
First the national anthem, then some cheers, and a kayak trying to push us back, and then the gun sounded. I was sandwiched between two aggressive swimmers at the start and I took an elbow in the face at about the 100-yard mark which caused me to stop and feel for blood and put my goggles back in place. The swim goes 1.1 miles along the shore, and then 1.3 miles back on the other side of the lake. I just swam as easy and long (long smooth strokes) as I could. I flipped over for a few backstrokes on the return leg to see the churning masses swimming behind me. I got out of the water after a floating bathroom break at just under an hour. My transition to the bike was less than stellar, clocking in at just under 7 minutes.
The Swim Start in Tempe, Ariz.
I decided to wear tall 2XU compression socks and an Oomph long sleeve shall for the bike and the run. I did this for the compression, cooling, and sun protection characteristics. Being a larger athlete, body temperature is always a concern. I clumsily mounted my trusty steed — a 2008 full carbon Kuota Kueen-K with HED Carbon Trispoke wheels. I removed all of the technology from my bike so I could race ‘Zen’ and go by feel.
The bike is a three-loop out and back course, which left Tempe up a false flat into a head wind and returned on the same road. My plan was to ride the first loop super slow and easy, then on the second and third loop raise my effort to a moderate level. The bike was a tale of two rides, the way out of town was a slow wind beating churn of the pedals. Staying in my aerobars, and taking in as much Gatorade and food as I could was my goal. At the turnaround, the slight downhill and tail wind were enough to bring a smile to your face as your bike hummed towards Tempe peaking into the low 30s mph.
Kuota Kueen-K tri bike
I ate all of the food I had, including Clif Blocs, Clif Shots, Enduralite salt tablets, and a special yam/peanut butter/honey concoction I picked up from some roadies in California over the summer. I ran out of Chamois butter at about mile 35 and that made for a rough ride the last two loops. This forced me to constantly change positions and stand up in the saddle, this undoubtedly slowed me down, but at the same time it prevented any of my muscles from being overcooked.
My bike split was 5 hours and 17 minutes, good for a 21.2 MPH average. I was happy with this as my goal was a 5:30, and I felt like I hadn’t pushed at all.
The transition to the run was pretty quick for me and within 4 minutes I was out on the brutally hard concrete sidewalk run course. The course loops three times and crisscrosses the Tempe town lake as it winds past the start line twice per loop. I felt like I was running in reverse for the first mile, but felt surprisingly good considering the tasks just completed. I had mild tightness in my right hamstring and was just body tired as I crossed the 6 mile mark.
2XU compression socks helped Krumrich on the marathon
My plan was to run the entire thing, only walking through the aid stations to ensure I was well hydrated and that I kept cool. I was focused on the task at hand, but made sure I personally and audibly said thank you and made eye contact with all of the people who shouted out encouragement to me. It is a wonderful thing to hear your name called out with positive energy when you have self admitted yourself to the pain cave.
My pace gradually slowed from 8 minute miles to 9 minute miles from the start of the run to mile 20. After passing the 20 mile marker, I knew it was just a matter of will and determination, and at that point I ran as hard as my body would let me.
The Finish Line
The last 6 miles clocked in at just over 8 minute miles. I knew as I hit the 25 mile marker that it was going to happen. I passed a lot of walking and struggling 2nd loopers as I floated (sarcasm implied) to the finish line, upper body all but separated from the pain below. I almost caught one of the male pro racers who got a 10 minute head start but he finished just in front of me. I crossed the finish line being the only one in the chute, and grabbed the tape which seemed like it was made from lead. I finished the marathon in 3 hours 43 minutes.
Overall Time: 10 hours 9 minutes 36 seconds — 169th place out of 2,200.
I think that I can sum up the Ironman in saying what someone told me in the pool on a January morning when I was complaining about the training: ‘I will do what you won’t do today, so that I will do what you can’t do tomorrow.’
Krumrich in the depths of the marathon
I truly believe that anyone can do this race, just like anyone can be successful, a good parent, climb a mountain, start a business, or what ever they want. . . it is just that 99% of people won’t do what it takes to achieve that goal because it is hard, and it takes commitment, and there is no guarantee that you will succeed. Every person has got to know their limitations. And unfortunately the only way to truly find them is to truly find them.
I don’t know if I will ever do an Ironman again, but I am a better person for this experience, and if nothing else it reminded me that in our instant-gratification society, nothing is sweeter than working and sacrificing for something because when you give so much to achieve something, the achievement gives you 10x as much in return.
—Paul Krumrich lives in Bloomington, Minn. He trained 15 or more hours a week for several months leading up to the Ironman.