||Silverman Half 2008
||Half - Ironman
Hey My Favorite Tri Peeps,
I promised a number of people that I would report on this year’s Silverman Half, so here it goes -
Many of you may have heard that the Silverman Half and Full Iron Distance triathlons through Lake Mead National Park and Henderson, Nevada are the most difficult races of their lengths in the world. Sunday’s events certainly did not diminish that reputation in the least. Just ask Macca the next time you see him.
Silverman Half was one of my three focus races this season. I worked with Gareth Thomas to design a training schedule that would let me peak and stuck to it. I drove to Nevada on Friday very excited to test myself on this course from hell for a second consecutive year.
At the pre-race dinner hosted by Frank Lowery, the race director, Dave Scott tried to terrorize the new participants. He was, as always, very funny. In addition to the festivities, we were shown a film about CAF’s Operation Rescue, which enables physically challenged veterans to participate in races across the country. Over a dozen came to Silverman, including the winner of the long distance handcycle gold medal in Beijing. They were a truly extraordinary bunch. During dinner I sat with two young guys from the UK that I had met at last year’s race. This year they brought a whole group with them. They both went on to win their categories and another member of their group won his age group after running a 2:40 in last week’s New York City Marathon – unbelievable.
To make it easy to do my prep, I stayed at the Hacienda Hotel in Boulder that night. I got a good night’s sleep and headed down to Boulder Beach (where Pumpkinman starts) at 8am to get in my swim. The sun was shining with not a cloud in the sky. The temperature was already in the high 60s. No wind. Essentially perfect conditions. You know when things just seem perfect the day before a race and you wish it was the day of the race? That was me on Saturday.
Now the swim is generally my limiter, but I felt better than I expected during my 500 meter easy cruise and four 100 meter sprints. I was thrilled. After the swim, I drove over to Hemingway Harbor, near the park entrance from Boulder, where the race start and T1 were set up on a climb substantially steeper and longer than the start of Pumpkinman. I took a nice leisurely 45 minute ride with a few sprints to get my heart up and then rode back down to T1 from the highway to check in my bike and bike and run bags. It all went really smoothly. The volunteers were gracious and truly helpful. They actually knew what they were doing.
After dropping off my stuff, I did my run prep up on the path near the Lake Mead highway. I was raring and ready to go.
I got a surprisingly good night’s sleep at my new hotel in Henderson on Saturday night and woke up full of vim and vigor at 5:10am. Silverman has generally been windy, but there were no winds on Saturday and none forecast for Monday. Of course, given that this is Silverman, there were winds forecast for race day. However, as of Sunday morning, the weather channel predicted that they would be less than 10 mph – not too bad. In addition, it was supposed to be slightly overcast with highs in the high sixties. Decent conditions, right? But of course, once again this is Silverman.
As I started to drive to catch my shuttle to the start, it began to drizzle. Hmm, I thought. But I wasn’t going to let a little drizzle get me down. I got on the bus with a smile on my face and a jump in my step and wished everyone a great morning. Most people laughed, smiled, or groaned, except for a grumpy neighbor who didn’t seem to like my cheery outlook. (He apologized for being grumpy later, so all was forgiven.) When we got to T1, the Full participants had just launched into Lake Mead, the sun was coming up, and the wind was non-existent. But this is Silverman.
Ten minutes later it was blowing so fiercely that the numbered signs in the transition area, which had been weighed down with sandbags, along with helmets, shoes, and assorted other stuff, was being blown all over the place. Now that’s Silverman.
Then the wind died again. I did my warm-up swim and got back to the shore about five minutes before the 8AM scheduled start time.
The Silverman swim starts in the marina, which provides protection against winds from the Boulder side until you’re about 400 meters out. Once you enter the start area, however, you can’t get back to the adjacent changing tents or T1. 200 or so of the 300 participants, including me, waited in the water for the gun. The wind whipped up again. The rains started falling. 8AM came and went and no start. We stood in the water shivering for 15 minutes while Dave Scott gave us an “I don’t know” shrug from the end of the dock. At 8:15, a shout went up from all of us: “We want to swim! We want to swim!” Was I about to participate in the first ever triathlon riot. It sure seemed like it. And, of course, our confusion was exacerbated by the fact that we couldn’t hear the announcements coming over the speakers due to the wind and rain. Finally, at 8:30, just about the time we were all ready to call it a day, they pulled us out of the water and let us get warm in the changing tents. It was already two hours after the start of the full and dozens of swimmers were still out on the lake struggling against the winds. We cheered on all of the stragglers trying to change among 300 strangers before being told we could get back in the water. “Great,” I thought. I’m freezing, the wind is tempest-like, it’s still raining and we’re going to swim. Yay!
Having, from shivering, lost the benefit of the energy from the gel I had taken at 8AM, the breakfast I had eaten after waking, and, quite possibly, my previous night’s dinner, I decided that I would go easier than I had planned on the swim. I hit the first turn buoy in 17 minutes and the next one at 25. Great, I thought, 60 percent of the swim done and I’m close to my 40 minute target. At that point, the wind kicked up again, straight into our faces. OK, so 44 minutes – still five minutes faster than last year. I was back in a mindset of possibility.
I hit the changing tent, did what I needed to do, and crossed the bike mat in just over three minutes - a decent transition. I pushed strongly up the 1.2 mile hill start and hit the Lake Mead Highway heading towards Vegas/Henderson. For those of you who don’t know this race, the Half bike course has well over 6000 feet of climbing on it. Most of the hills are rollers ranging from grades of 3% to 6% with a few 7-8% hills thrown in for good measure. As a result, when the wind is low, you can hit 37-40 on the downhills and a good climber can climb at 12-17. Of course, when the wind is high, it changes things. Luckily, during the first 11 miles of the ride, the wind wasn’t bad, so I was really moving. In fact, only one serious dude with a disk wheel passed me, while I passed over 100 people. Then I made the right hand turn onto the downhill into Lake Mead National Park and found myself slowing down despite using the same amount of power. What the heck? A friggin’ flat – first time ever in a race for me. OK, it’s gonna happen sometimes, right? Let’s get the tube changed and get rolling. But no. You see, because my bike had been out in the cold and rain the night before, the rubber on the tire had stiffened. As a result, it took me four minutes just to get the tire off. By the time I had replaced the tube, 12 minutes was gone and I still had to stop at the next aid station for additional CO2. Total time lost 15-20 minutes for repairs. Bah!
So I ride the two miles to the aid station on about 40 psi in my front tire, I blow the tire up to 80 or 90 pounds and head on my way. All of a sudden the wind picks up again blowing about, you guessed it, 20 miles per hour. Woo hoo! At this point I go into survival mode – In other words: Please just let me finish this race. I get to the turn around and head back right into the wind. Finally, I climb out of the park and get to the dreaded Henderson bike path, which starts at Mile 37 – think a narrower, twistier, version of the promenade with three of the nastiest short hills you’ll ever climb followed by six miles of a 3% grade on top of a plateau completely open on all sides to the wind. Sounds like fun right? The hills are called “The Three Sisters,” but race participants call them “the three b----es.” They are 14%, 16%, and 18% and after 37 miles, they feel twice as steep. Despite my troubles, I caught up to Mike Schiepke and we rode to the end of the bike path together. Amazingly, the wind was not as bad once we got past the hills. Last year, I had averaged about 13 mph on the bike path and this year it was closer to 16, so I thought we had caught a break. Then we got to the last 10 miles through Henderson – one climb after another with 25 mph winds blowing directly at us. With no sun, the temperature stayed in the mid-50s. People were slowing to a crawl. Even on the downhills, we couldn’t go over 22 or 23 mph. My fingers were going numb and I began to think I might have to eat a fellow competitor to survive. Ahh, the exquisite pain.
I dropped Mike for a bit, but he caught me just before the bike finish. We basically hit the tent together. Mike got out quickly. I, on the other hand, had to get my half frozen Power Bar, which I been unable to open during the ride due to my frozen fingers, down my gullet. For those of you who haven’t tried it, it is well nigh impossible to eat a rock hard Power Bar quickly. It’s even more difficult when your entire body has gone numb. After seven minutes, I had eaten the Power Bar and warmed up enough to hit the run.
The run starts flat for a quarter mile then has a 9/10 mile downhill. My goal was to run the course in 1:45, about an 8 min per mile pace. To do that I wanted to run the downhills fast, but not too fast and save energy for the approximately seven miles of uphills. I kept my pace at 7 minutes on the way down and then took the first right onto a 1.3 mile 4% uphill with no flats until the top. I’m feeling good. .25 mile. 5 miles .75 miles. Arghh!!!! Noooooo!!!! Both of my hamstrings decide to lock up on me. I start to fall over and decide it might be a good idea to sit down. The folks I had passed on the way down are now running by me with looks of sympathy (or was it pity?) on their faces. “Are you OK?” six of them ask me. “Only if you are a massage therapist,” I respond.
At that point, I’m thinking “What else can go wrong.” After about a minute, I decide to get up and try to gingerly run again. I make it nearly to the top of the hill when they go into lockdown mode again. At this point, I’m seriously considering calling it a day. But I have never quit during a competition in my life, so I decide to limp to the finish line if I have to. After spasming another four or five times, I finally reach mile five, where a very kind runner, who is doing a relay leg, offers me two of her endurolytes. I thank her profusely, gulp them down, and continue to hobble up the longest hill on the course. At mile six, I realize that I am so hungry that I stop at the aid station and just start scarfing food down – three chocolate chip cookies, two cups of coke, potato chips, five orange slices. It was like I was at a feed trough. Although I knew I shouldn’t eat that much – my body was saying “FEED ME!” and I obliged. After that three minute break, I headed back out and, with the extra salt in me, the spasms lessened and, amazingly, I didn’t puke. At mile 6.5 I finally pass the same guy I had passed four times already for good. By this point, we knew each other so well that he said to me, "Hey. There's the man. How's your family?"
I got to the turnaround at about 7.5 miles and almost cried, I was so happy to be heading for home. Even as we ran through the open air mall a mile from the finish, cheered on by those patrons supportive enough to brave the crappy weather, all I could think of was: it’s almost over, it’s almost over, it’s almost over. And then it was – one last hill, a sprint to beat a member of my age group who was just in front of me 200 yards from the end and a two minute collapse on my back twenty feet past the finish line as the fans and volunteers roared. Then I got up and, lo and behold, I felt fine. I may not have had the race I wanted to have, but conquering Silverman for the second time is something that I’ll never forget nor soon repeat. But boy, what an amazing challenge.
Given how brutal these races are, would I recommend them? Absolutely. Not only are they perhaps the greatest challenge you could take on short of an Ultraman, despite the confusion at the start, they are beautifully run and Frank, his staff, and the volunteers (all 1500 of them this year) treat you like royalty. So, if you want to feel the way you did when you crossed the finish line at your first Triathlon, sign up for next year’s Silverman. You will not regret it.
Two Time Survivor Josh Futterman