After-Action Report: Toughman Indiana 2016

It is kind of funny that a triathlon can be called “half-distance”–which is 70.3 miles, or half the Ironman distance–and still be an ultra-endurance event (i.e., a race that carries an endurance load exceeding that of a marathon).

Toughman Indiana-Noblesville, a half-distance triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run) just north of Indianapolis, was my second triathlon. (My first, Ironman Louisville 2015, ended in a DNF when I got pulled at mile 17 of the run, as I missed the final turnaround cutoff time.)

In my anger, I quickly signed up for Toughman Indiana.

I also bought a bike trainer and rode it all winter. Also swam, a lot. In my triathlon club, I was one of the mileage leaders during the winter. I’m not fast, but I AM very steady and I get it done.

I also ran the stairs often during my lunch breaks: my Ironman race was killed as my legs deteriorated, so I worked overtime to strengthen my quads.

Four weeks before Toughman Indiana, I had my first century ride of the year: Redbud Ride 2016. It was very smooth.

Two weeks before Toughman Indiana, I had a really nice brick workout: a 4-hour trainer ride and a 10-mile run.

I felt like I was ready for a half-distance race.

Going into Toughman Indiana, I had only one major concern: the water.

It wasn’t that I was intimidated by the 1.2-mile swim distance–I was plenty comfortable with that–or even with open-water swims in general. But this time, the water temperature was a major concern. Even with a wetsuit, 62 degree water can suck for someone like myself who is not very cold-water tolerant. Especially when you throw in longstanding asthma issues.

But I took advantage of he 15-minute practice swim beforehand. I slowly waded out into the water, wearing both the wetsuit and my neoprene sleeves. The shock was awful. My feet went numb, my hands went numb. I attempted to swim short distances, and lost all breathing control. It took me most of that 15 minutes to get acclimated.

Then they pulled everyone out of the water for the pre-race briefing.

After the pre-race briefing, it took quite some time to get everyone into the water to start the race. By the time it was my turn, I was already dry and had to re-acclimate.

As I started the swim, I went out of my way to be deliberate. I swam slow, allowing the wetsuit to do the work. But I had two problems: (a) the cold water was still causing my face and neck muscles to tighten, and (b) wake from the boat traffic was causing some unsteady chop, making it hard to establish a breathing rhythm. (During the Ironman swim, the waters were choppy, but it was rhythmic: you could time your stroke, go with the waves, and it was actually kind of fun. Not so much at Toughman.)

I started having asthma issues about 200 yards into the swim. I began hyperventilating, and I ended up spending considerable time on my back.

My first concern: “Dear, Lord, don’t let me get pulled out of the water.”

My second concern: “Dear Lord, let me recover, and let me make the cutoff time. Let us celebrate a good finish today.”

About 0.4 miles in, as I approached the island for turnaround, I recovered. I found my rhythm. As I rounded the island, I had it back. Now I was racing the clock. Toughman had only one really hard cutoff: everyone had to be out of the water by 9AM.

I put on my best application of HTHU (An acronym for Harden The Heck Up, although many triathletes often substitute F for H) and went all-out to the finish. I knew it was going to be close.

I beat the cutoff by about a minute.

As I went into T1 (swim-bike transition), MrsLarijani had already laid out my necessities, making my transition easier. I was methodical in T1, making sure I got down my necessary calories, got dried off, got my socks and cycling shoes on, and made sure my helmet was strapped on.

And then I hit the bike course for what I thought would be a nice, flat, fast ride.

Within the first couple miles, I noticed that the winds were quite significant. I hadn’t seen THAT in the forecast.

Still, I focused on what i could control: I stayed aero, kept it steady, and focused on getting adjusted to the ride. I knew the winds were slowing me down, but I wasn’t too concerned about it.

Then, I began the first of two 24-mile loops, and that’s when the headwinds from Hell began. They were unrelenting.

Normally, if I’m on a flat course, and I’m in my high gear and in the aero position, and I’m going at my comfortable pace, I’m between 16 and 17mph.

This time, I wasn’t even pulling 14mph. Newton and Bernoulli were kicking my arse.

The funny part: I still felt pretty good.

On the back part of the loop, I began to capitalize with the wind at my back. But I made one wrong turn and that killed my momentum and added about 2 miles to my ride. But I laughed that off and kept fighting.

The second loop was ugly, but I caught up with a ride named Dale, who was a retired Army vet. We began to chat it up. While this event was a race and not a ride, I figured it would be tacky to try to race this guy. Besides, when I told him about the 1:00 cutoff time, he said, “Oh no…you don’t understand: that’s not a cutoff for us; that’s the cutoff for the police. The only hard cutoff time was the swim.”

At that point, I figured what the hell…I’m going to enjoy the ride, The headwinds have already killed my time goals anyway.

Still, I surprised myself: my swim-bike split, even with the headwinds, would have been within Ironman cutoff times.

In T2 (bike-run transition), once again, my wife hit it out of the park. That was the smoothest transition I’ve had in a triathlon.

As I began the run, I felt very good. My legs weren’t sore at all, and I was jogging steadily. I felt like I could run faster, but I wanted to play conservatively because I had no idea what I had left.

For 11.5 of the 13.1 miles, I felt very good, albeit a little dehydrated. I was losing water faster than I could get it down. At this point, it was hotter than Bill Clinton in a cathouse. I had been battling some GI issues all day–they had started before the race, and were probably travel-related–but they started to come to a head at mile 11.5. I became concerned that I might have a problem. So I slowed to a walk. But as I felt I was ready to get back to running again, Dale–the Army guy–caught up with me. So we started chatting it up and I figured we would finish at the same time.

As we neared the finish line, both of our wives were waiting for us to give us our medals. For him, it was his second half-distance (70.3) finish.

For me, it was my second triathlon, and my first finish.

The course was seemingly easy, but conditions were brutal. That added the “Tough” to Toughman.

I’ve had a combined 13 century rides in the last 4 years, and I’ve never had headwinds that bad. And the run conditions were no picnic, as the temperature made dehydration a problem. I still felt otherwise very good at the end.

But coming back from an asthma attack to beat the cutoff on the swim, that made my day. Everything else was details.

Next stop: Horsey Hundred this Saturday.

One thought on “After-Action Report: Toughman Indiana 2016

  1. “Next stop: Horsey Hundred this Saturday.”

    i’m not sure the word ‘stop’ is the right choice here … just sayin 😉 🙂

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