Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ironman Texas Race Report: Adam Lee

Utah Tri Buzz reached out to Adam Lee, newly minted Ironman (and recently announced SLTC president) for a race report from Texas.

He obliged, and did not disappoint... enjoy!

On August 18, 2016 at 10:43pm my heart dropped as I half-heartedly submitted the order for my entry into the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas. (Those who know me understand the significance of this date.) Seconds later the vibration of my iPhone rattled the desk with the registration confirmation email – it was done. I did not choose the insurance option as my mind was set. I was determined to complete one of the most difficult physical and mental challenges on the planet, the Ironman – my first. At that point, my longest distances were a 2,000-meter swim, a 100-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run.

Fast forward to April 19, 2017, my training was complete and included over 96,000 meters in the water, over 1,700 miles on the bike, over 200 miles on foot, and hundreds of hours away from my family to prepare. Before I left my home in Utah, I wrote the last of many motivational statements on my mirror – the statement was, “Did you do it Adam?” I knew my family, friends, and colleagues would still love and support me if I did not finish the race, but I also knew the one person I would have to live with every day of my life would remember forever – me.

Pre-race preparation was less stressful because of the experience I gained at the St. George 70.3 event. I was already familiar with the registration process, however as a full IRONMAN first-timer, the race volunteers in the tent ring their cowbells and yell “first-timers,” which prompted a special feeling. Little details like where to place the race stickers and how the gear bags function would not cause any worry. I was confident in my nutrition plan. ProBike Express made transport of all my equipment a breeze and staying at a family member’s house provided the familiar food and environment that I need to stay relaxed. I attended the athlete briefing on Thursday and ran a 5k in the evening to simulate the run time of the IM.

On Friday, April 21st, I swam 1,200 meters at a local country club then hopped on the spin bike for 10 miles to keep my legs loose. Bike check-in was next. This brought some nervous feelings due to a mechanical issue I experienced on the bike at STG on mile 2. Up until this point, my bike and I were not on good terms and had yet to “make up.” So, I clicked through all the gears several times and meticulously checked the torque on every bolt and screw. I dropped off my bike bag and run bag after checking the contents five times, then another four times for good measure. Stepping away from the bags, I gave my bike one last kiss and left the transition area. On the way back to the house I rented a few movies with plans to relax until the following morning. My 1.5 day carb load and pre-race dinner of chicken, salad, two bowls of rice, avocado, brussels sprouts and Gatorade were down the hatch. All systems were ready.

Saturday morning…my first alarm went off, letting me know it’s race day!! The selection of awakening is the pleasant sound of “Earth” from the Man of Steel motion picture soundtrack. Then, I step things up a few notches with my get-up-and-go anthem, “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” by AC/DC (I’m not the biggest fan, but I like that song). EDITOR'S NOTE: classic pre-race choice. My wife, Kirsten, already had my standard breakfast ready, consisting of four egg whites, avocado, two pieces of Dave’s Killer Bread, along with coconut oil and Gatorade. Time to put on my smoking hot, neon green SLTC TriKit and grab all my swim gear and race day nutrition. As I made my way out to the car, the weather felt cool with clouds covering the sky.

Kirsten dropped me off at the transition area to fill my bike bottles with nutrition, remove the seat cover and rack ties. I then made the 1-mile walk to the swim start, being sure to slip on my $1 flip-flops only to leave at the start. This setup and walk was not like those of the recent past…I did not have 20 to 100 SLTC members there to keep me loose. Which was in-line with the personal purpose of this event.

The scene was familiar…spotlights shining in my eyes, the portable generators rumbling, the glow of the sun waiting to climb the east horizon accompanied by quiet conversations and a touch of creeping anxiety. I spent the remaining time swinging my arms around and around to get them warm.

The pros dashed into the water at 6:30am sharp and then the rolling wave of black seal suits churned that water. Months of training was about to be tested. I stayed back a few moments to let all the crazies go frantically by, grabbed one last drink of water and entered at 7:00am. As my stroke started to find a good rhythm I anticipated the usual tightening of my shoulders between 400-600 meters. I know it’s coming, but also know it goes away – no biggie. 600 meters passed and I didn’t feel a thing so I pressed on and picked up the pace a little. The two goals I had for the swim were to, of course, make it out before the 2:20:00 cut off and to not stop my stroke during the whole swim – even during spotting or getting hit by fellow seals. 1,000 meters passed, then 2,000 and I was smiling in the water and giving fellow swimmers a thumbs-up as my hand came out of the water. I passed the 3,000-meter mark, then finished the remaining distance up the narrow canal. During the open lake swim, either the buoys were not straight or I wasn’t straight, but I only had to make corrections for going off course a couple times. Back to the canal – by this time I knew I was going to make it and have a lot of juice to spare. Not knowing how the whole day would transpire, I continued my steady stroke and saw the waterfall which signals the exit stairs are near. “Oh my, was that it?? I feel great.” I climbed up the ladder and asked the first person I saw what time it was, the kind soul said 8:40 – YES! I made it. The first portion was done.

Pumped and ready for the bike…I trotted to the bag pick-up and retrieved my goodies. Kirsten and my mom were there and cheered me along. I entered the dark, muddy, locker room (tent) to change after my wetsuit was stripped – I told the excited strippers to settle down as I had to hold my SLTC TriKit around my waste, didn’t want any pictures with the influence of cold water.

I zeroed in on Vader (bike) and asked him to focus on the Force and stay away from the dark side, grabbed my bike and headed toward the mount area. Due to the mud, I spent a couple minutes cleaning off my tires then jumped on and started that spin. Advice I had been given suggested the biggest mistake triathletes make in an Ironman is to go out too fast. So, I listened and kept the heart rate down but noticed the mph was high. I kept passing people and thought to myself – I am going out too fast but I feel fine. This went on until I hit the Hardy Toll road. By then I could tell there was a little tail wind but didn’t know the speed. I was warmed up and thought about all of those SLTC KickrLab hours throughout the winter and knew I could pump those pistons. I was averaging 25-28mph for miles…I was passing several people, which kept my energy high. Then I noticed the pros and all-world athletes coming back up on their loop and could see the body language suggesting a firmer position. I scanned the horizon for flags and couldn’t find one for miles…but I kept the HR just below 150, which was my goal knowing I had a bloody marathon coming up. After about 30 miles I looked over at the loop aide station as a top rider went down hard while grabbing a bottle and it did not look good. That picture in my head kept me away from the aide stations. I did grab a couple waters but had everything I needed on my bike. Well, there is the turnaround – let’s see how bad this wind is. Holy schnikey – this blows, ha ha.

It was not pleasant, I had trouble maintaining 15mph and knew I had approximately 20 miles to go. It was a slow painful drag – like climbing a 20-mile hill. Seeing the turnaround going back south was like Christmas morning. After I pointed my Rudy south, I burned up the pedals and cruised to the last loop knowing the ride back up will be rough. Of course, the wind was worse the second time and I was in the 13-14mph range. Riders had pulled off to the side because it was too much for them. At about mile 80 the bones in the balls of my feet started to hurt – a new pain that progressively got worse. The pain was so bad that I undid both straps on my tri shoes to give me about an inch of up/down play and pulled up the last 10 miles to relieve the pressure on the bottom of my foot. It was at this point the dreaded marathon entered my mind and the pain issue provided additional doubt. My legs were strong and fresh, my lungs and heart were ready for more but the feet said no. Well, I pulled off Hardy Toll road entering the final segment and my family was there cheering me on. The adrenaline and familiar voices reduced the pain and I pushed to the finish – still feeling confident. I hopped off the bike and gave it a big kiss – we are “cool” now – I knew there was good in him. No mechanical issues and all that remained was my body, mind and 26.2 miles. I finished the 112 miles with an 18+mph average.

The run – big sigh. I took my tri shoes off and walked to the bag area with stinging pain in the feet. I heard my uncle Spencer yell, “How are you felling?” I responded with – my feet hurt, but that is enough about me, let’s talk about you, what do you think about me? A little joke to keep my spirits high. I entered the muddier locker room and found cardboard to put under my feel. I grabbed my feet and shifted the bones by grabbing each side and pushing in opposite direction, then I twisted them until I heard a pop and cracked my toes. After I put on my shoes and loaded my bag, I headed out of the tent and started my VivoActive. I told myself, stick to your plan, stick to your plan. The plan was jog 3 minutes and walk 1 minute. Here we go…wow, feet don’t hurt, legs don’t hurt, body feels good. I got to the first aide station as scheduled and hit the next 7 miles without much trouble.

As I made my first loop I asked for the time, the kind spectator said 5:30ish – holy cow I have 6.5 more hours to run 18 miles, I could walk and still make it. After the first lap I finally had to use the bathroom (#1) which seemed like a long time. My stomach, problematic left calf/shin and knee hadn’t given me a thing to worry about. Don’t get me wrong, this was still the longest run I have ever attempted. Being that I only trained up to 13.5 miles (longest distance ever ran prior to race), this distance was extremely taxing and it took a lot to keep going. At this point in the run, I thought to myself, “This is going as planned and I may very well finish.” Then, at mile 13, I felt my left achilles start to tighten up. Of course, I kept jogging and the tightness turned into pain and then turned into, “How in the H-E double toothpicks am I going to finish the remaining 13 miles?!”

Yes, I just got blindsided with an uppercut. I had every emotion flow through me and then I remembered the note I wrote myself on the mirror before I left, “Did you do it Adam?” I thought of all the support the SLTC had given me. I thought of everyone at the office who knew I was taking on this challenge, all my non-tri friends who were following me, my extended family, my children and especially the person who has sacrificed the most – my wife Kirsten. There was NO WAY I was stopping – I told myself this “thing” will have to snap and roll up my calf to make me stop and then I will hop until I can’t hop and then I will crawl until my knee caps shatter. I pressed on for the next 3 miles until my right hamstring tightened up due to my compensation for the left achilles – oh my! Everything is just fine Adam… I think at this point there was a little blubbering or a lot. But I could walk and I had time and it was just pain, after all – I know I could take the pain. So, I walked as fast as I could until I felt like I could jog…then I would stop when it hurt too bad…and so on. Just after this, I saw Kirsten and my mom where I told them what was happening. Looking back, it was eye-opening that when I told them about my issues they simply said, “You only have 10 miles to go, you can make it.” I replied, “I know” (all captured on video).

They told me that they would see me at the finish line. As I walked off, Kirsten said it is ok to walk, which made me want to run – so I did. As I did these run/walk sessions, I always made it a point to give high fives, cheer others on, ask if people were ok who looked hurt or sick, and talked to those who were walking when I was. I took the issue of not being able to stick to my plan and soaked in the lives of all those around me. I ended up with Scott Sporer bib #536 who had both hamstrings tighten up. We chatted for the next 7 miles and learned about each of our families and life – it was great. We pulled each other to the finish line.

Yes, the finish line. I had been dreaming of this moment for months. Every video I had watched on YouTube, every story I head heard, all those in the club who had finished… I couldn’t believe it. As I came around the corner I saw the chute and basically broke down. There was the red carpet…As I got close, I got more emotional and stopped to reach down and touch that magic red carpet. It was really happening…and I had over 2.5 hours to spare. This was the second hardest thing I have ever done in my life – and I loved every minute of it and it can never be taken away.

I will end with how most of these recaps end… I heard my name being called over the speakers loud and clear, “Adam Lee, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN,”

WE did it everyone!

“Take Advantage of Today, it Doesn’t Happen Often.”

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  1. Nice work Adam! As a club member I am glad you are so willing to share your experience. Keep it going! You will do bigger things than this.

  2. Adam, I'm so proud to call you my brother. You are an inspiration to our whole family. Thanks for making the effort to show us all that we CAN DO WHATEVER WE PUT OUR MINDS TO!! Keep up the hard work, but first spend some much deserved QUALITY time with that cute family of your's. We sure love you!! Love, your little sister, Jayme and family.

  3. Just saw this Jayme. Love you so much!!!