9 months ago I started training with the IronTEAM, and I didn’t really know what to expect other than I wanted to a new challenge while still helping other people in the process. I had some conversations with IronTEAM alumni, but just snippets, never in too much detail (or what I could understand at the time), and I never read anyone’s race reports. I could have easily walked away and not even tried because I didn’t know how to swim, I didn’t have a bike, plus I wasn’t really that fast on the run. Little did I know what kind of ride I was about to take, and 10 Days ago I finished something I once thought was impossible! I had to gather all my thoughts & feelings (and also unpack everything & reset) before I decided to write this. First and foremost, this race was dedicated to our TNT Honored Teammates Laura & Anabel, a close friend recently diagnosed with a form of Leukemia, and all affected by blood cancers who I have crossed paths with my past 5 years in TNT.
THE DAYS BEFORE
I carpooled with a teammate, Chris M, on Wednesday afternoon after work from Burbank while the majority of the team were already resting in our hotel. After the traditional In N Out burger on the way there, we arrived in Santa Rosa at 12:30am. It was really important that we get there on Wednesday because starting that Thursday, there was a pretty strict timeline with some early morning low intensity workouts (yes, swim, bike & run), getting our race packets, TNT dinners, and of course, prepping everything for the race (bottles, special needs bags, bike transport, making sure everything was packed). In between, we were required to keep hydrating with water, or diluted sports drink in preparation for possibly some really intense heat on raceday.
Slept at 9:30pm, woke up at 3:30am, and that photo was taken around 4:45am. I don’t know how I even had the energy that early in the morning, but I was pumped! I didn’t really have trouble sleeping, except the fact I had to wake up a few times to go pee because of all that hydrating! It was so exciting to see everyone ready in their TNT tri-gear and IronTEAM jackets. It was such a cool sight – all of the LA IronTEAM all jumpy, talking, laughing, having fun in the lobby, braiding hairs, writing names on arms, taking pictures – we were pumped! The NorCAL IronTEAMs had a different strategy, very quiet, all had their gamefaces on, and very focused. Hey whatever works, right?
As for me? Wasn’t really nervous. Just the normal pre-race excitement I get like the marathons I’ve done. I felt our coaches prepared us well, and I trusted that. They taught us that it’s all about what we do to adapt to a certain situation if anything goes wrong. I knew my nutrition strategy was tried & true in the prior practices, and I’ve already done all the distances. We’ve conquered much steeper hills on the bike & run, we’ve practiced in rough ocean waters, practiced in rough wind & rain during a camping training weekend in central CA, and we’ve already swam, biked, and ran the whole course. We even drove the full bike course the day before. I knew that this was all about the journey, not the destination. I learned from being disqualified at my first triathlon, Desert Tri (International distance), that I should pay attention to the road and signs more. My second triathlon, Wildflower (Half Iron), I overdid it on the bike, and didn’t leave energy for the run, so I learned to conserve. Vineman Full was only my third triathlon, so I knew I still had a lot to learn and add to my young triathlete career, so I didn’t set super high expectations for myself this time around.
I knew I wasn’t going to podium (getting 1st, 2nd, or 3rd) in my age group anyway, so being in last place gets the same medal as anyone else, so my main goal was to finish & just have FUN! Of course, triathlons have much stricter time cutoffs than marathons, so to calm my senses a bit, I calculated my finish time based on training sessions. My comfortable pace prediction was: 1:50 swim + 0:10 transition 1 + 7:20 bike + 0:10 transition 2 + 5:30 run = 15:00 hours. 16:30 was the limit, so I still had 1:30 left room for error.
By the time we got to Johnson’s Beach, there was a long line just enter the transition area, and this got me a little worried because we only had 45 minutes to set everything up and maybe warm up. Ater setting up transition, I decided to get in the Port-O-Potty line, which took FOREVER. Sure, most people will just pee in their wetsuit, but the problem was, I needed to go #2! Clock was ticking, and I wasn’t even in my wetsuit yet! Someone noticed that no one got out of Port-o-Potty #1 of 3, knocked a few times, then was able to unlock it. It was empty the whole time! After I did my business (which helped A LOT! There’s nothing more uncomfortable than having to hold that sh*t in for hours on the bike!), I raced to my transition and suited up faster than I’ve ever done all season! You have to realize, I was in the first wave (start time 6:30am), and you see that photo above? That was taken at 6:28am!
Jumped in the water, heart was beating fast from the excitement (I was thinking, “WOW, this is REALLY happening!!”). I remember seeing teammates Patrick, Adam, & John W, which calmed my senses a little. I took a few moments to calm my breathing, then I didn’t even have time to crawl to the back of the pack, so by the time the horn went off, I was in the middle of the pack! If you don’t know, here’s a quick video of what it felt like:
It was really helpful we swam in the Russian River on Thursday & Friday because the first new hundred yards were the most intense part of the race. Although I was being punched and kicked, surprisingly, it didn’t phase me, and I kept on swimming! Luckily, the water was a nice 70ish degrees. The swim course is a 2 loop deal totaling 2.4 miles, going upstream for 0.6 miles, then downstream for 0.6 miles. Again, I get punched in the head, and I think I saw a few Twitter birds circling around me. I took a few moments to get back into my rhythm, then that first lap felt like it went by in an instant. A few hundred yards in preparation for the second half, I took a Gu pack. Second lap, I could definitely feel the fatigue set in, then the Gu kick in, so aside from the bottleneck at the turnaround where most people ended up walking, I felt I finished pretty strong (especially since it was downstream too!), and I was cheering at the swim chute just as if I already finished the whole race! Just 9 months ago I couldn’t even do a lap in the pool, and I did what?!?
I finished 12 minutes faster than I expected, so I was so stoked about that. It was awesome to see my family waiting there for me at the chute along with my friends, so that definitely gave me a burst of energy. Unfortunately (or, actually fortunately), I was one of the last ones of my age group to finish the swim, so it was so easy to find my bike! My bike was all lonely in its own transition rack, with the rest of the other racks already disassembled. Volunteers were already cleaning up trash around me! One was really nice and gave me a towel to stand on while I organize everything. At Vineman training weekend I forgot to apply sunscreen after the swim, so that was one mistake I wasn’t going to repeat. I took my sweet ol time in transition to do that. Helmet, check. Gloves, check, Sunglasses, check. Oh yeah… bike, check. So I walked my bike on the ghetto carpets they had placed over the Johnson Beach gravel towards the entrance to the bike and was greeted by my awesome friends cheering me on. They were yelling “Ring the bell, ring the bell!”, and once I did my little *DING, DING* on that infamous bike bell of mine, a roar of cheers from the sidelines, and weird looks from strangers, then that eventual smile once they realize it was my bike that did that!
The first part of the bike was an immediate hill, and was known as the most entertaining part of the course for spectators because people will TRY to get on the bike and ride up that hill to save mere seconds of their time. Oh not me, I’m NOT going to fall and risk injury. So I walked my bike up, waited for people to pass me until it was clear. Our IronTEAM Photo Captain was there with the good ol “Hurry up! There’s no one there!” to assure me I can go. The bike course was 112 miles, 2 loops, with a Special Needs stop in the middle to swap out bottles and other nutrition. The first loop was overcast and perfect weather. My goal for the first loop was to survey the course and see where I can push/conserve my energy the second loop. With so many people zigzagging trying to overtake each other, I was mainly focused on that first loop. It seriously zipped by and didn’t really remember much. At mile 29 though, it was such a surprise to see my family standing there cheering me on (I was thinking, “Wait, how did they get there and how did they know?”), but it was such a rush! Not too long after, I hit the railroad tracks and my rear bottle popped off. Maybe I should’ve noticed the 4-5 bottles on the ground as a warning to that bump. Oops! I stopped to get it because it was too early in the game to lose any nutrition. I had my Garmin watch beep every 15 minutes to remind me to drink/eat. My drink of choice was Accelerade + Carbo Pro + Elete (electroltye add on), and my solids were Clif Bars. The amount of carbs, electrolytes, calories were calculated precisely for each other, but I’m not going to get into that now. Another piece of the puzzle that helped me on the bike was my Sponsor-A-Mile list that I clipped on near my aerobars to give me motivation mile by mile. I’d take a glance to see where I was at, then I’d imagine that person being there helping me through.
56 miles in, I noticed I was only a little over 3 hours, WAY ahead of schedule! It was at the Special Needs station that I saw my teammate Adam, which gave me a bit of relief because I was actually catching up to the rest of my age group (same wave start). Since I familiarized myself with the course again, the second loop was time to push it a little more, but it was a race against the sun. By then, I think I drank TOO much because yup, you guessed it, I needed to pee. Didn’t want to pull over or wait for an aid station, so yeah, you know what happened. Overcast was peeling away and in came in the sun! It wasn’t terribly as bad as expected as we were expecting 85-90 degrees out there. When it did start getting hot, I took water bottles from the aid station to cool myself off.
Another surprise came in at mile 63. I saw this one girl all by herself by her car with a hat & shades on. I was totally checking her out, and even did a double-take. By the second time I looked over, she yells “MARVIN!!!!”. I realize it’s my longtime TNT friend from SF who came to be a part of the cheer squad! OOPS! That was awkward. I thought she was going to be at mile 69, and it was only 63! So she jumped in her car and met me at a turn and flashed her… signs. HILARIOUS! One sign had a penis and had “Doing an Ironman takes BALLS”, and another said “Marvin is the shit!” with a piece of turd on there. By mile 69 (not going to mention why they picked that mile, but you get the picture), a group of my friends were surrounding their truck with even more signs. It took a few seconds to realize I knew them, so we stared each other, until a crazy loud burst of cheers! A-mazing! That totally gave me energy to finish up the 40+ miles. During the rest of the bike, I enjoyed the scenery of the Santa Rosa Vineyards. I was so tempted to stop at a vineyard and do some tasting! I’d pass by other TNT IronTEAMers from other chapters and gave each other cheers & support. I remember an IronTEAMer with a pinwheel attached to her helmet – genius! Some of our teammates who did Vineman 70.3 two weeks prior came out to cheer us on at the top “Chalk Hill”, the most dreaded hill of the course (I didn’t think so), so that helped a bunch. They were dressed in multiple costumes, wearing tu-tus and banana suits. So fun!
The last few hours, the people I was pacing with stuck together, and pushed each other through. Once I entered Santa Rosa suburbia, I was so excited! It was then that I realized that I AM going to finish! There’s no stopping me now! A few small turns and I was at Windsor High School! Shortly after entering the lot, it was the dismount line, and a HUGE sigh of relief happened. Why? Luckily, no flats, no mechanical problems! Finish time: 6:40 vs an expected 7:20, which came out to a 16.8 mph average. Already 40 minutes ahead of schedule!
Bike, RACKED. My roommate Carlos and I had this conversation multiple times. When he first did Vineman a few years ago, when he racked his bike at T2, he knew right there and then he’s an Ironman. That’s exactly what happened and how I felt at T2. Coming from a marathon background, there was NO question that I was going to finish.
After I put on my run gear and sunscreen, I checked my watch, and I had 8 hours to finish the marathon! EIGHT! My marathon PR was 4:58, and on my marathons I ran “for fun” averaged at 5:30, so I went out on the run with the goal of just having fun with it. There was no more pressure! I just had to watch my hydration and make sure I don’t overdo it because I wanted a strong finish. First few steps out of T2, I was actually RUNNING! Wow! A month ago at Vineman training weekend where we did the full 2.4 swim then 112 bike, we did a 30 minute run and oh man, my legs were HEAVY. Not this time around! I had a pretty good pace, and again, I saw my friends & family with signs near the entrance/exit of the high school which gave me that added boost! (Seriously, they SAVED me multiple times.. they were awesome!)
So we’ve seen the run course before. It was a 26.2 mile, 3 out & back course. Nothing new, but what surprised me was the amount of aid stations – 30 of them! Fully stocked with Gatorade, water, ice, bananas, pretzels, Gu, Clif Bars, fruit, RC Cola and much more. It was a buffet! “Nothing new on raceday!” was ingrained in my head, so I only took the liquids with an occasional banana. I already packed enough Gu & salt pills that I’m used to having on my run. This part gets a little tricky for some people because sometimes people’s stomachs act up when you consume new stuff.
The out & back nature of the course was a blessing because I got to see most of my teammates several times. We cheered each other on, gave high fives, and just even a smile would do the trick! Teammates who weren’t racing were decked out in costumes and signs at the top of the largest hill of the run (THANKS guys!), which made that super fun & entertaining. My friends were camping out near the entrance of the high school, so things got crazy then, so I always looked forward to that on each loop. Oh there goes that “Balls” poster again! My run strategy? Well, I tried intervals, but it never aligned with the hills, so I modified it to walking up the large uphills, then run the rest. I kept in mind who I was running for, plus the Sponsor-A-Mile list the whole time. I also tried to make sure I didn’t over do it because the most we’ve ever practiced was about 9 hours, so anything more was unknown territory!
Once I made that left into Windsor High School, I could hear the announcer & crowds! I was unexpectedly still full of energy. I never hit “The Wall“! I ran the rest of the way to the finish, hearing my friends & family start a “Marvin!” cheer, which spread to other people, then the announcer did as well! I originally wanted to do some dance, or some slow walk to the finish, but that finish line tape made me want to RUN! Oh what a rush! Imagine watching the endings of Rudy, Rocky, Friday Night Lights, Karate Kid, Field of Dreams, Remember The Titans… take all that energy, put it in a box, and have Chuck Norris riding a unicorn, hand delivering it to you , with huge explosions and double rainbows in the background, with a Michael Bay movie soundtrack playing in the background. It was that EPIC. I’m an IRONMAN! 13:53:57!
After I crossed, I hugged everyone in sight! In the photo above it was my TNT Friends Louise & Traci who gave me the medals, Tom who got my timing chip, Coach Jason making sure I was still coherent & not needing medical attention, then it was my teammates who finished before me. Oh the joy & love all around! Next I saw my family & friends behind the fence & ran over to greet them! Here’s a photo of my Mom & Dad, sister Jenilee and her husband Johnny.
It will be really hard to imagine what I’m about to tell you. After almost 14 hours, I actually felt fine! I wasn’t limping or crawling. Just a few aches and minor tightness. I’ve felt worse after marathons. What the?!?! Could I have gone faster? Maybe. That wasn’t my goal. I just wanted to finish. Aside from maybe tightening up from the 8 hours on that ride back home to Los Angeles, I felt normal. I was expecting it the day after, or even the day after that. It was a different feeling than marathons. I just felt drained, as if I pulled an all nighter and all I needed was SLEEP. I still need to get a massage because muscles feel out of place, but nothing too major. I believe it was the training, and how well our coaches prepared us. It was a race plan I intended to follow, and that I did. I just made sure I rehydrated and replenished my nutrients the days following. Believe it or not, I showed up to our swim practice the following Tuesday and did an hour and half of swimming!
This experience has been so amazing! I’ll never forget it! That finish line moment, so unbelievable! Sure, the training was very challenging, some workouts made you want to cuss out the coaches for putting you through it, we also made a lot of sacrifices – taking time away from that favorite TV show, nights out with friends, happy hours with coworkers, and even some family time, but… all that will still be there. In the final months to Vineman, no matter what workout was scheduled, I looked forward to seeing my teammates, I looked forward to the next challenge. I actually LOVED it! THIS was an experience of a lifetime. Wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. Our amazing coaches have molded a TEAM of people to accomplish once impossible dreams. Support staff & teammates have turned into lifelong friends, with a bond that is truly unbreakable. We’re the IronTEAM!
So what’s next? I’m definitely coming back for another round of the IronTEAM, starting again in November. Who wants to join us? Let me know! Races for the TEAM hasn’t been finalized yet, but a TNT event or not, my eyes are personally set on Ironman Canada next August.