An “Intentional” Wrong Turn and a Run-In (Literally) with a Flatbed – Waterman’s 1/2 Ironman Report

This is one long race report. Since almost no one (other than maybe my mom and my wife) will likely read the full thing, here’s the executive summary:

  • 2016 has been nuts – assaulted on my bike; broken toe; lost CJ to cancer; broke 4 hours and PR’d at Rev3 ½ Williamsburg; A good (but not great) race at IM AC 70.3
  • Decided to do Watermans sort of last minute – wanted work on run execution and see what sort of fitness would be left after 4 weeks of taper
  • Swim – uneventful
  • Bike – led on wrong part of course by motorcycle course marshal; later decided to make intentional wrong turn, go off course, and make up the 5 miles
  • Run – Hit by a flatbed trailer. Ouch. Grabbed shoe and kept running. PR’d run.
  • Overall – Epic race. Super happy with how I reacted and performed.   12 minute penalty but luckily still got the race win. Time for off-season, rest, and baby #2!

 

2016 has been quite a year. A recap: February I was assaulted by a driver while bike commuting home. Good news was it was captured on police video, bad news was I ended up in the hospital with a septic infection. In April, I broke my toe, two weeks out from the first big race of the season and was in a boot for 6 weeks. In June, our 8-year-old dog CJ became extremely sick (cancer) and we had to put him down. Somehow I rebounded from the broken toe quickly and in July I PR’d at Williamsburg Rev3 1/2. In August I PR’d my Olympic distance triathlon time at Fort Ritchie and in September I raced at Ironman Atlantic City (IM AC) 70.3. I had a good day but not a great day – really just came down to failing to execute.

Going into IM AC, I had ZERO intention of doing any more racing. We have our second baby due in early December, and I was ready to take a break. But after the race, I made the decision (I actually think it was Alice’s idea!) to race one more time at Watermans 1/2 Ironman. The race was only two weeks after AC, and being that I already had a two week taper, I really had no clue how I’d perform.   Three years prior, I had raced at Watermans as a sort of “redemption” after having a really disappointing performance at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Vegas. And my race that year was a giant disaster. I had my first (and hopefully only) bonk/meltdown during the run and had to walk much of the course.   This had taught me that racing out of frustration or anger from a past performance is not a good reason to race. This year it was about simply focusing on the little things, executing my race plan, and having fun.   Never did I expect this race to turn out the way it did; perhaps it was quite fitting to end 2016 with just a little more drama to top things off…

Race morning was fairly typical, drove down the morning of with my good friend, Ryan Barone, got checked in and set up. The swim too was fairly uneventful. We had a good amount of wind and chop in the water, but I felt relaxed and strong. As I posted after AC IM 70.3, the Xterra Vengance wetsuit is fantastic – I’m quite confident that it saves me at least a couple of minutes off my swim time. I exited the water, got through transition, and headed out on the bike in the lead.

The bike course was a “lollipop” style with two laps around the loop. As with my last two half-distance races, my HR started super high but it gradually lowered down over the first 20 minutes even while maintaining power. The course was marked every 5 miles, which allowed me to keep an eye on my splits — enough to realize it was fairly windy – miles 0-5 took me 13 minutes and miles 5-10 took me 10 minutes!   Things were going really well, I felt smooth and relaxed as I passed through mile marker 15. As I continued on, I noticed it odd that not only completely missed the 20 mile marker, but that the 25 mile marker was out of place – about 5 miles early. I didn’t first make too much of it, thinking that a sign had been simply put in the wrong place. But as I hit mile marker 30, and my Garmin was displaying 25 miles, I knew something wasn’t right. The lead motorcycle peeled off after guiding me around the first loop, and I picked up back on the course for loop two, now with some of the bike traffic from later swim waves. As passed mile marker 35 and my Garmin showed 30, I knew something was just wrong. I continued and reached a point in the course where traffic for the olympic distance race made a right turn, but the half distance race stayed straight. As soon as I went through that intersection, and found myself on a part of the course for the first time, I realized what had happened: the motorcycle lead me through the shorter loop Olympic distance loop the first time we went around, cutting short the distance by exactly 5 miles. Although I was still feeling fairly strong physically, I was now mentally confused, stressed, and completely out of sorts: what do I do? _dsc0423

As I passed mile markers 40 and 45 with my Garmin showing 35 and 40, respectively, I realized that I had a choice: continue to finish the course and end up in transition with only having biked 51 miles (should be 56), or make a wrong turn and somehow figure out a way to bike an extra 5 miles.

I recall reading a news story about a few Pros who went off course at an Ironman a few months prior due to incorrect signage on the road, and they were later disqualified since they failed to bike the correct course. So I knew at this point – whether I biked directly back to transition and ended up with 51 miles, or went off course to make up 5 more miles – there was a decent chance I would be disqualified anyways. And because I really was doing this race for the purpose of better executing my bike, and run; not necessarily for a PR or for a particular overall place, I made the decision to do the unthinkable – intentionally make a wrong turn in the middle of a race.

The race was in a fairly rural part of Maryland so it took a few miles for me to come across a road that was: 1) not part of the course and 2) paved. Fortunately, around mile 45, I spotted a right hand turn for a road that looked reasonably paved, and took it. The road brought me through a few other quick right and left hand turns, and as I was maneuvering through the residential area, I thought to myself – how am I going to remember how to get back to the course! Within a matter of minutes, I found myself approaching another intersection that put me back on another section of the racecourse.   I pedaled on- now with other athletes again – and soon heard the somewhat familiar sound of a motorcycle that was coming up behind me. In fact, it wasn’t just any motorcycle, but was the lead motorcyclist who led me around the first lap – he just happened to be riding the course again to offer race support. As he pulled up alongside, he asked “what I are you doing on this section of the course?”

You led me on around the wrong part of the course and I am 5 miles short…so I am making now up the distance,” I replied.

“I was just following the map they gave me,” he stated.

“Well that’s fine, but now I am f*in’ screwed,” I exclaimed.

He picked up his walkie talkie, radioed something in, and drove away. As he pulled ahead I glanced down at my Garmin and realized I had already biked 2.4 miles, so I turned around and rode back the way I came.

Fortunately, I managed to find my way back to the racecourse (the part I was supposed to be on), and raced back to transition, having made up the missed distance. Somehow, with all the mental and physical distractions, I managed to hold my power to just about same numbers that I had for Rev3 Williamsburg and IM AC 70.3 Being that I had thought I just got “lucky” on both of those previous races – it was a huge confidence boost to have consistently biked similar wattage and all under 2:15 for the three half distance races this year.

I arrived into T2 with my Garmin showing 55.6 miles which, was one-tenth short of what the race course was listed at – pretty incredible, given the circumstances. Other than being surprised to hear my parents’ voices cheering me on (they surprised my sister and I by showing up at the race), my transition was uneventful, and out on the run I went.

My priority goal for this race was to execute the run according to plan, which meant taking the run out much slower than AC and building the pace as the race progressed. After about 6 minutes of running based on feel, I glanced down at my watch and saw the same exact number as I did after the first mile in AC: 6:05. Determined to not repeat the same thing, I put the brakes on (to what felt like a way-to-slow pace for a race) and backed things off quite a lot. By mile 3 I had eased up enough so my average pace was exactly where I wanted and was feeling super relaxed and comfortable – so much so I was able to converse a bit with the course marshal leading me out on his bike.

Continuing to feel strong and relaxed, I ran back into town (it was a two loop course) where the roads were a bit narrower and runners were scattered on both sides of the street. I was a bit surprised that they allowed traffic on the roads since there were quite a few people on both sides, and there really was no shoulder to run on. As I approached mile 4, a pickup truck pulled alongside me, close enough that the truck almost brushed my elbow. Just as I internalized how close he was, I noticed he was dragging a trailer and was slowly starting to past me. And just as I realized he was dragging a trailer, the trailer ran over my leg.

Ok, that’s slightly dramatic, but exactly what happened, and how I didn’t break my leg in half, I may never know. What I do know is that the wheels of the flat bed trailer were slightly wider than the truck, the metal wheel housing struck my left calf, my leg was pulled down and slightly away from me, my shoe got pulled off and catapulted into the back of the truck, and I screamed (partially from the shock of what happened, partially from the pain).

The lead cyclist/course marshal stopped abruptly (he was about 10 yards in front of the truck), turned around, and screamed to the driver, “what are you doing?!… you just ran into the guy running in first place.!”   The truck had come to a complete stop at this point so I hobbled a few steps forward, grabbed my shoe and yanked it on. Before I had a chance to fully comprehend what happened, or assess the situation, I found myself running again. In fact, I looked down at my watch and noticed the average pace had only slowed by 7 seconds, so somehow, the whole ordeal tool less than half a minute. I picked up the pace (the adrenaline and anger really had me gong at this point) and ran off glancing over my shoulder to see the course marshal calling the cops on his walkie-talkie. My leg was in a good deal of pain at this point and I was a bit scared to look back to inspect how bad the damage was – all I could really see was a good sized cut and blood running down the back of my left calf.

As I kept moving forward and my HR came back down, I figured that nothing could be broken or too terribly injured – else I’d be on the side of the road.   Even still, for the next 6 miles, I repeatedly did mental check-ins asking myself: how’s the leg feeling – getting worse, getting better, staying the same? Is the bleeding becoming problematic? Did my foot or other parts of my body get banged up?

Remarkably, by mile 10, my pace was still where I had planned I was feeling great (well, everything other than my leg).   I was able to push last 3 miles pretty hard and finish with a ½ Ironman run PR._dsc0208-2

The finish was extremely anti-climatic – they announced my time as 3 hours and 3 minutes thinking that I was doing the Olympic distance race and there was no finish line tape to break. But with the race that I just experienced and the fact I was able to execute exactly as I had planned – despite the issues that came up – I really didn’t care too much about lackluster finish line (I was also slightly distracted by the blood dripping down my leg and wasn’t quite sure how much damage was done (or how much damage I did to it by running 9 miles on it!)).

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Me and my sister (who finished 2nd OA in the Oly Aquabike)

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Vince Marchione and Jonathan Michel – Some great guys to share the podium with

After getting the leg checked out (short answer from the medic was that it will hurt like heck in the morning but should be fine in a few weeks), and getting myself cleaned up, I met with the race director and the head USAT referee regarding my intentional wrong turn. The referee made the decision to assess two 6 minute penalties: 1 penalty was for going off course and 1 penalty was for cursing in the presence of a race official (my statement of “I am f*in screwed” to the motorcycle marshal was apparently offensive to him). Fortunately, my 4:03 unofficial time)+ 12 min penalty put me at 4:15, still good enough for the overall win

Thinking back on it all, I don’t have any regrets about my decisions to make an intentional wrong turn, or keep running with a pretty banged up leg. As the medic predicted, my leg certainly did “hurt like heck” the next day (and for many days to come), but it was quite worth it. All in all, a really fantastic ending to a fairly chaotic 2016. Well, the year hasn’t ended yet. With our second baby due on December 12, there will likely be some more chaos yet to come…