Welcome to Ironman Emilia-Romagna, I will be your guide.
Suddenly I start to feel like an object, depersonalized – standing on the shore, in a perimeter created with railings. All around me are others, myself – us. Us, people who have spent the last year training, planning, pushing our own limits mentally, physically and all for the sake of one goal – to withstand a long day ahead of us. We look almost all alike, black neoprene suits, swim caps, goggles. The difference to naked eye is insignificant – colours, stripes, logos on the full-body black suits, swim cap of a different colour and maybe goggles – if you look hard enough. Other than that, myriad of people covered in neoprene, standing in a very confined space, close to each other. I always wonder whether it is difficult to notice the person you are rooting for before the swim start.
But once you are there, you see small details, you feel the trembles in the air, in the breathing patterns of your own and athletes around you. Most of the trembles are from within myself today. I am standing in the area, where people promise to swim the 3.8 km distance in under an hour. Can I do it? Confidence right now is having a ride on a roller-coaster. Highs are high enough, but the lows really make myself question whether I should even be on the shore. The “party” is vanishing, there are less and less of neoprene people. We are moving to the “counter”, just like in your local supermarket. There, we divided ourselves into five lines. We run in the water, once the sound on tableu goes “ERGHZZ”, allowing the person behind us to come up closer to his own race start. Few more sounds and I find myself standing in 10 seconds, or 2 people, away from the start. They are longer than normal 10 seconds and shorter than you would want them to be though. I want to stay here for a tidbit longer and I do not want to be here altogether. My mind goes from blank to reminding me what I will need to do in a second and then blank again. Suddenly the buzz and I am running in to the water. People around me, people in front of me, some “washing machine” effect but not too much. I run deep enough, so I can start swimming, I have water on my face – no, it is the other way around, my face is in the water. I start to breathe frantically, but maintain consistency, 3 strokes – to the right, 3 strokes to the left. Will there be enough oxygen for me to inhale, next time my head is out of the water? One, two, three – breathe in. I am further from the shore, but not far enough to feel comfortable that I will soon be on it again. My heart rate fills in all of my body, almost as if there soon will be no more space for my heart rate. The only sound I hear is my mouth exhaling the oh-so-precious oxygen and making bubbles. I want to yell out the bubbles, perhaps it will create more space for my heart racing after the next breath of air. But yelling does not help. Oxygen which was a thing of every moment, feels like a luxury right now and I am not wealthy enough to afford as much as I need. Body is burning, my arms are waving, scrolling through the water, one, two, three – inhale. It is even less than the last time, I start to panic, all I see is the bubbles in front of me and endless water below me. I start to tremble. Luckily, I find a way out of all this stress – I wake myself up.
Still at night, lying in my bed, I decide to restart my sleeping from the ground and do not try to visualize my race morning. Sometimes it works. However this time it did not. I still feel my heart racing and I understand that I have less hours to sleep now. But it is ok. I decide to myself that whatever happens tomorrow – happens. I have done everything already to be able to race tomorrow and visualization tonight of tomorrow will not make any difference, at least none positive. I leave it behind me. I start breathing deeply and slowly, calm myself down and smile. I am happy and I want to see what tomorrow brings, whatever it does bring – I will be there and I am ready as much as I can be.
Once upon in Italy
Myself and Dovile came to Italy just two days before the race. It was a new experience – from one side it tried to stress me out if I will manage to build my bike, after the travel, do the last few warm-up/tapering workouts before the race and finish the formalities (i.e. race briefing, registration, placing everything I need for the race in my race bags, etc..). On the other hand, it meant that the time before the travel was used to nail the sessions, preceding the race with extreme precision and to the last numbers. With the summer of 2018 all around Europe, swims were either cancelled in multiple Ironman races, due to the high amount of some bacteria, or were non-wetsuit swim. Non-wetsuit swim, because the temperature was so warm. The rules state that if the water temperature is above 24.6 degrees Celsius (76.2 F), the swim becomes non-wetsuit swim. Logic dictated months in advance, that the chances for the water temperature to drop down were null. Especially with it becoming warmer every day, up to 32 degrees Celsius few days before the race. I still packed it. Logic & hope usually travel in parallel with their own itineraries in my head.
During the race briefing, just one day before the race, there is an announcement – the shore of Adriatic sea is full of jellyfish, which came here from somewhere and stuck around. The water temperature is above the legal temperature, allowing us to swim in our swim-suits. However, they give us a small glimpse of good news – because of the danger related to jellyfish stings and swimming in such water, they might allow us to wetsuits, even if the temperature is above. And of course – they will keep measuring. Hope gets boosted, logic stays few steps behind in my head. I keep remembering words from my coach – “they will keep measuring the water most likely, to find a way to allow a wetsuit swim”. However unrealistic right now does it sound, this is all I think about in relation to tomorrow’s swim.
I will quickly explain, why wetsuit swim matters for your every-day hero athletes: the suit is made out of neoprene, which increases your buoyancy. With increased buoyancy you float more easily on the water and it increases your confidence in the water, as well as your swim speed. By not much, but every second counts and increased confidence, means less nerves. That is why myself and every other athlete was hoping for that 0.1% chance of wetsuit swim announcement on the race morning. I myself did not care about the jellyfish, I did not know what they can do to me or I did not really think I will encounter them anyway. All I cared is to be able to swim easier and faster, even if it meant it is going to be too hot in a black wetsuit with 4mm neoprene on your body in very warm water.
Other than that, the pre-race days went better than I had hoped and I was all ready in the afternoon. We agreed to have a quick dinner with the some of other athletes, who came from Lithuania. It is always fun to do the carbo-loading together with other athletes. And before 8pm I was on my way home thinking of my race day.
My race morning routine did not really change for the past few years and some readers might be familiar with it – I wake up 4 hours before the race start, to do some stretching and yoga routine. After that, I eat some porridge, which I have been eating during my mornings for the past…almost a year, wow (consistency is the key, remember?). It is somewhere around 700-800kcal, pack my water bottles and my meal-drinks for the bikes (a mix of different types of carbs with a water, so I can consume calories in the form of liquids, when sipping the water and hydrating myself altogether) and off I go. The only difference this year became that we go to the start separately with my wifey, Dovile. It allows me to peacefully stress it out without inducing it on her, listen to some tunes on the way there and allows her to get a bit more sleep. Her day is tough as well, do not forget – standing there, trying to spot me for 10+ hours and running all around the course. I give her a kiss and leave our apartment we are staying at.
I come into transition area – a place where we leave our race gear through the night – a few minutes after it has opened. I need to put my aforementioned “alchemy” drinks, so they are ready for my run and fill my bike bottles with those liquids. Transition zone is filled in the this specific silence. Where we emanate noises, we talk, however we are very conservative about all this – as if it would waste the energy, which we will require through the long day ahead of us. And all of that because we are waiting for the promise land to be announced, we are waiting for our casino roll, to see which side of the dice did we get, from 50-50 chance. Will it be a wetsuit swim or non-wetsuit? I am in a limbo state, I do something, I check my bags, try to think, try to remember what I have to do, but it all does not matter.
The answer will become apparent in my next post, which is soon to come. Hope you come back for it and I will try not to keep you waiting for too long.