Ironman NZ 2005 Thursday 3-3-05

When my buddies from San Jose arrived, I’ve been mostly hanging out with them. It’s been great having them around as they’ve done the race before and have been giving me lots of tips. In the morning, we head over to registration and already by 845am there is a long line to get our race bags. I hand in my picture, which they seem to make super important but yet they just throw into this box with a hundred other pictures. I get a red wristband with my race number written on it and it stays on until after the race. The wristband admits me to the carbo load party as well as into the transition areas so that I can change or pick up my things. I get weighed and I weigh 69 kilos, which I guess is 151.8 lbs. Very low weight for me and in the last few weeks, although I feel that I’ve been munching continuously, I have gotten down to my fighting weight. This is even with sneakers and clothes on too! I am glad I did not balloon out, which just means extra pounds of fat to carry with me to the finish line. Waste of energy!
We wander through the sports expo where there are sponsors with booths. We grab some Ecuadorian micro bananas from the Bonita Bananas booth, the main sponsor of the event. Very tasty! I guess they have extra small monkeys in Ecuador, to have evolved such tiny sweet bananas!
After registration, we head to the beach for a quick swim. VERY SCARY. Today the wind had picked up in the morning, which is unusual because every other day it has been very calm. There were 2′-3′ swells out there.
I once swam an Alcatraz swim in those conditions. I remember the water being somewhat calm in the beginning, but once we got out about half way between Alcatraz and Aquatic Park, the water started getting real choppy. You wonder if you’re even moving forward because the waves are tossing you around. Several people get seasick due to the motion. Not pretty. Don’t want extra one-time edible stuff out there to attract sharks! Every breath you take you wonder if a wave will wash over your face and give you a mouthful of salty water – yeeech. It drains you because you try to keep moving but the waves keep sweeping you around. Amazingly, you still move forward even if you can barely feel it. Sighting – when you occasionally stick your head up to make sure you’re moving the right direction – is very difficult as you float up and down between the waves. You need to time your head going up at the top of the wave so that you get a quick look before swimming a few more strokes. And all the while, you’re expending more energy than in calmer conditions and always wondering if you’ll burn out before hitting the beach.
Today was just such a day on Lake Taupo. At least when you’re out there with a few hundred other racers, it doesn’t feel so lonely. But I quickly lost my two swimming buddies within the waves and tried to remain calm and stroke. Upon clearing the beach, it was a bit easier because the shallow waves caused the waves to rise higher and break. Still very tough swimming and glad to have made it back to the beach.
I wonder if race day will be like this. I am sure they will pull people from the water. But at least I know that I’ve swam in these conditions and while tough, I know how to survive and keep moving. I am still worried about being those waters for 2.4 miles though….
We get cleaned up and eat. On the way back, I pick up an extra Memory Stick (one I brought didn’t work!), some suntan lotion as well. I head back to do laundry and take a shower.
Later in the day, we head back to the tents for the carbo load party. On the way there, I look to my left on a street at a printing shop. In the window was a sign that said, “Go #861, DAVE SHEN, Stopping is Not an Option”. Wow! What a pick me up! My spirits rise as I snap a few shots and remind myself to stop in the store tomorrow and say hi. Maybe they will give me the sign after the race! I think they must have seen the message I wrote on this T-shirt in a small department store where they try to get all the competitors to sign it each year. I wrote the exact same message on the T-shirt and they chose to print it to help sell their printing services to create signs for spectators.
Those signs are great. It helps you locate your supporters and also it is an incredible boost as you’re struggling to the finish line and then you see a sign on the side saying, “GO DAVE GO”, and you smile, wave back, and some of your energy returns knowing there are people out there supporting you and encouraging you to the finish line. My friends will be doing the same and I am glad for it.
At the carbo load party, there are some pre-race festivities like a Maori performance and a parade of nations. Certainly amazing that people from so many nations come to compete. We run for a large table as we have a party of 10 or so who will sit with us. We load up on pasta and food and eat. Then some announcements from our race directors. They show us people who have done an incredible number of Ironmans. One Japanese guy has done 53 Ironmans! Unbelievable! And there are 2 people who have done 20 Ironman NZs, which is every year since its inception in 1984. They bring the pro field up. They are an interesting bunch and it will be exciting to watch them, so I remind myself to tell my friends to make sure they watch the pros come in.
Last, Greg Welch, Ironman competitor and announcer, gets up on stage and gives us a few words of encouragement. He gives us 3 amazing ironman stories which have always inspired me:
Julie Moss 1982 – She is in the lead of the women field and as she hits the finish chute, she collapses, her body all but spent and out of control. She tries to get up but can’t. But the finish line is so close and she wants it BAD. The second place woman comes up and passes her. That prompts her to crawl. Her face is a grimace of determination as she puts one hand in front of the other and doggedly makes her way to the finish line. Even with the crawl, she comes in second. But I think she really is the top finisher. It is an incredible series of photos to see. Her crawl is the crawl that put Ironman on the map. It is her crawl which so accurately described the iron will of the competitors to reach that finish line at all costs.
Paul Newby Fraser 1995 – Queen of Kona, she is the top seed for the women. All race week she is beset by reporters hounding her about how she will do, will she win, etc. The pressure breaks her resolve. About a few hundred meters from the finish chute, she is way out in front. But then, she just collapses and sits down on the road. She cannot go on. The pressure just wore her down the will to go on just evaporates. Nothing will move. She just sits there and weeps. Other competitors pass her. But then something changes, she gets up and walks to the finish line, learning a valuable lesson which was to not let the pressure get to you. It can be tremendous. And that the battle is truly between you and yourself, not everyone else out there. It is what Ironman is all about.
Shawn Welch, Wendy Inagraham 1997 (I think I have the year right, but let me know if I did not) – Shawn Welch in the lead and hits the finish chute. But something happens. One minute she’s running, the next minute she just collapses. Her body has lost all control. Her legs will not support her. Her arms are flailing about, her balance gone. She tries to rise but can’t. The second place woman, Wendy Inagraham is running and makes it up to her. But somehow, there is some psychic field around Shawn which touches Wendy. She collapses next to her, limbs flailing. They both lay there unable to control their bodies. But then, something recovers in Wendy. She realizes that even though she cannot get up to run, she can still get to the finish line. She starts crawling, crosses the finish line, and claims first place ahead of Shawn. This is the second best crawl in Ironman history!
Truly unbelievable stories. I, too, hope to have some great stories to tell after race day is over. But, as Greg Welch calls it the “Dance of a Thousand Headless Monkeys”, I really hope I don’t do the same dance that Julie, Shawn and Wendy did so many years ago, when your body has been pushed beyond its limits and at some point the brain and body just shut down, your limbs go whipping about, your balance gone, and you collapse uncontrollably to the ground.
After the carbo load party, I get to my room to do some pre-race preparation as I need to check in some stuff tomorrow. I attach race numbers to my bike and race belt. I get out my nutrition, fluids and electrolytes. I put things into the right bags and get all my clothes ready to go. I put some reflective dots on my race jersey and one of my friends remarks that it looks like a disco suit! I just hope the reflectors don’t ruin my race pictures… The pre-race preparation is a welcome activity usually the night before but in this case two nights before race day. I mentally go over my check list on everything I’ll need for race day and for the transitions.
I talk with my friends and plan on how and where to take pictures. One person will video my finish. How cool is that! I also ask my friends to use my digital recorder to record the cry that we all want to here as I cross the finish line: “Dave Shen, YOU…ARE…AN IRONMAN!!!!”
Also, I am happy to feel some of the annoying knots in my legs start to unwind finally. I hope they are all gone by race day. One more day and then…IRONMAN.

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