Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Race Report: Ironman Sweden

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RACE REPORT - Ironman Sweden - The Vietnamese Lesbian
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Before we begin, I'd like to throw a shoutout to my comrades in arms for this race ... the beautiful lesbian Supermodel, Deb Hopkins (2x Ironman), the hippie from Cali, Mike Leshnower (7x Ironman), and the old Iron horse, Doug Hartman (5x? Ironman).  This was my 5th Ironman, 3rd overseas.  I've also done 5 Ironman Vietnam, but due to the Fascist political environment that we currently have in America, you won't find any of my Ironman Vietnam results anywhere on Athlink.

Every race report needs eye candy.  Deb, 2x Ironman.    Don't let the smile fool you.
She's beautiful on land, but she will eat your first born alive in the open water
 On a more serious note, Ironman training isn't easy.  Much like watching porn on govt issued computers, while on billable hours, it is *often* done in isolation.  It's hard to explain why we spend so many hours training in the pool, on the bike, and on foot to those who have never traversed the path.  It's simply a passion ... the training, not the porn during billable hours.  You don't log that many training hours without that passion that burns from within.  At some level, you have to love and be excited about the hardcoreness of it all.

Sometimes, you go on a 100 miles+ bike ride in the middle of the DC summer heat, you feel so physically and mentally exhausted that your testicles itch.  You question your sanity.  You ask yourself if it's all worth it.  I mean, the itch ... could be a STD for all I know.

Speaking of STDs,  all you single ladies in the Clarendon/Court House/Ballston areas, what's a cool STD to have these days?  I'm not into those old school retro ones.  I'm looking for something hip, modern, and Penicillin resistant.

Anyhow, sometimes you finish those 100 mile bike rides so strong that you feel like you don't need any testicles.  They're overrated and make you less aero.  I carry one spare tube on my bike.  Why the heck do I need to carry more than one spare ... you know ... on a ride?

The race crew and our sherpas

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TUAN MANIFESTO
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This race report is part of my race report manifesto.  For those who have not read any of my previous race reports, but are aware of the flavor that I put in my writings, please visit the entire series to understand why, as a young Vietnamese college coed living in America, I experimented with peeing while sitting down ... for a few years.  What made that worse was that I wasn't even a Liberal Arts major.

Pee-ing while sitting down isn't something that I'm proud of.  It was just something that we all did in college back in the '90s.  Just ask any women in the Clarendon/Ballston/Court House areas that went to college in the same era.  They, too, experimented pee-ing while sitting down.  I'm sure glad we *ALL* outgrew it.

The Manifesto
--------------
Chapter 1: Making Love to Buoys at the Luray Sprint
Chapter 2: Vietnamese Saigon Tango with a Naked Anna Kornakova at the IM Longhorn 70.3
Chapter 3: Plight of a Vertical Swimmer at the IM California 70.3
Chapter 4: Confessions of a Bike Pee-er at the IM Eagleman 70.3
Chapter 5: Ironman Florida - I Hear Voices (2009)
Chapter 6: Ironman Florida - Spirit of the Bricklayers (2010)
Chapter 7: Ironman Germany - What Happens When A Man's Nut Freezes?
Chapter 8: Marine Corps Marathon - The Orphans Shall Be Fed
Chapter 9: Challenge Copenhagen -  The Nutcracker Does Europe
Chapter 10:Ironman Sweden - The Vietnamese Lesbian

If this race report seems long to you then you should do what I did during my senior year in college ... stand up when you pee!  It's 2013 for heaven sake.  You can't party like it's still 1999.  People will judge!

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PRE-RACE
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On race bag check-in day, my little sister asked if I had everything that I needed.  I told her that it was my 5th Ironman.  I have everything under control, I said.  Apparently, that was the wrong answer, for I had only brought ONE biking shoe and no race bib to transition.  She then asked me how I could possibly bring only one bike shoe with me?  Was I waiting for the shoe fairy to bring me the other one, she asked.  Needless to say, I didn't dignify that with an answer.  She also wondered how I expected to enter transition without a bib.  Man, these kids that went to public schools ... they ask the most stupid questions at the most inappropriate time.

 
Bike check-in.  Day before race.  Volunteers are there to make sure you
have everything ... like your bib and two biking shoes.

On race morning, my sister asked me again if I had everything I needed.  I told her that it was my 5th Ironman.  I have everything under control, I said.  Apparently, that too, was the wrong answer.  As we entered the swim start, I noticed that everyone was sporting a cool looking timing chip, except Vietnamese #1.

I feverishly ran around looking for a race official to find a replacement chip, but one official kept passing me to another.  With only a few minutes before the start time, I decided to enter the water and just do this race in stealth mode.  That's right, I was going to hidden dragon crouching tiger this son of a bitch.  Timing chips are for the weak and the sterile.  Besides, this was the Ironman.  Dealing with adversity is part of the program.

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SWIM
=======

The swim course was shaped like the middle finger.  Well, all swim courses are shaped like the middle finger from my vantage point, but that could just be my own middle finger pointing at the open water.  I tend to do that a lot prior to open water swims.

I'm not sure what the water temp was, but it was cold enough to be a "wetsuit mandatory" swim.  That's the first time that I've heard that phrase used at a race.  I think that my fellow lesbian racer, Deb Hopkins, said that it was 62 degrees.  In the straight world, it is common knowledge that lesbians have an uncanny ability to gauge water temperatures without usage of a thermostat, so I didn't doubt Deb one bit. 

The swim was in the Baltic Sea, off the eastern coast of Sweden.  It's a place, I'm told, that had testicles eating fish.  No, a lesbian didn't tell me that.  CNN did.  I didn't know if they were screwing with me or what, but I wore an extra cup during that swim just to be safe.  I'd be a fool not to.  I mean, think about the extra buoyancy in an area that really needs extra buoyancy in case of an emergency.

The swim was an in-water mass start that consisted of two loops.  Nothing beats the beauty and artistry of a mass Ironman swim start.  Once the canon goes off, a mass sea of humanity takes flight.  It's breath taking to be a part of.  Everyone jockeys for clean open waters where none exists.  The bumping and grinding that goes on in that water resemble a typical Saturday night at the Clarendon Ballroom.


Last stretch of the swim.  I'm not in the picture.
I'm still out at sea getting gropped
From shore, the splashing from 2,000 swimmers probably looked like a school of fish trying to outmaneuver a pod of killer whales ... simply beautiful and terrifying at the same time.  It's kind of like staring into the eyes of your wife/girlfriend.  You want to say that you think that she's beautiful when she's angry, but you also don't want bad thing to happen to your crotch when you utter those words ... out loud.  Well, I don't have to tell you all about how emotional women are when you try to give them a complement in the heat of battle.

IM Sweden had signs set up to allow people to seed themselves properly.  Having swam a 1:28 last year in Copenhagen, I had planned to line up in the 1:30 corral.  However, with the chip issues, I was late getting into the corral.  This meant that there was no way that I could have weaned my way to the proper place prior to the gun going off.

I found myself literally all the way in the back.  The last swimmer, to be exact.  What that meant was that I had to fight my way through a lot of world class vertical swimmers.  That just made the first lap brutal.  I had a guy whacked me across the head so hard that it almost dislodge my goggles.  Treading water to adjust the goggles meant taking in a few more licks for the team.  I don't know why people swing their arms so hard when they're aqua jogging.  Vertical swimming is about grace and technique.  Trying to muscle your way to verticalness will only result in tipping backward.  Nobody likes a showoff.

The other thing that I had to deal with was the constant ankle touching and nut grabbing.    If you can't tell the difference between a Vietnamese and a buoy, you shouldn't be doing an Ironman.  Brother couldn't even pause to pee in his wetsuit without someone grabbing him in his naughty place with the Vulcan grip of death.  I should have dated more women from the Clarendon/Court House/Ballston area in my younger days to prepare for this race, but I digress.

I'm vertical enough in the water without needing the assistance from other swimmers pulling my legs even further down.  Because I started so far back, I had no clean water to swim during that first loop.  Swim a little to the left, I'm greeted by some dude that wants to tongue me.  Swim a little to the right, some chick is trying to cup me.  FREAKEN ANIMALS, are these vertical swimmers.

The second loop, the swell and current from the Baltic Sea became much stronger.  I was convinced that my wetsuit was leaking and taking on water, but that could have just been me peeing inside the wetsuit. I don't know.  I couldn't triage properly because I was under so much duress.

Every once in awhile, I would get a mouthful or noseful of water as I attempted to go up for air.  Now, bilateral breathing might have fixed that quagmire, but the Tuan-man does not bilateral breath.  He's got other issues to deal with when he's in the water ... like trying to not drown.

I got out of the water at around 1:45.  I was still in stealth mode so I have no idea what the exact time was.  Suffice to say, it was 15+ minutes slower than what I was expecting.  On the brighter side, no testicle eating fish made their way to the family jewels ... knock on wood, still plural.   The number of testicles that I had before the swim = the number of testicles I had after the swim.  That's a win on most days.

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T-1
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Still in stealth mode, I ran to the Nutcracker (my bike).  On the other side of the fence, near my bike, stood my sister cheering for me.  I approached and told her that my timing chip was in the backpack that she was carrying.  Again, she threw some public school type questions at me ... like, "why didn't you wear it during the swim?"

She quickly searched for it and gave it to me.  I strapped it around my ankle and left T-1.  I was now legit.  No more stealth mode IM racing.  The CIA can now track me with their drones ...  happy early birthday to the fellas back at Langley.

Tu (my sherpa sister), Kristin (Deb's sherpa), and Sean (Mike's sherpa).  They were everywhere on race day.
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BIKE
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The bike course took the form of a figure 8, all on closed roads.  The first half was on the island of Oland.  The second half was on mainland Sweden.  Oland, in Swedish, means "the land of wind and sun."  It did not disappoint.  Let me paraphrase what my fellow lesbian racer, Deb Hopkins, wrote in her race report ... 20-25 mph sustained headwind, with 35-40 mph wind gust.  Besides from an innate sense of water temps, lesbians are also known for their abilities to gauge wind speed with remarkable accuracies.

I've done IMFL 2x and have ridden Eagleman about 6x.  The wind conditions there were minor leagues compared IM Sweden.  It was just long and sustained wind.  There weren't much you could do except to just stay aero and ride small.  The crosswind were, by far, a lot more difficult to handle than the headwind.  My speed into a headwind was faster than what I could muster during those crosswind sections.  Staying in aero in some of those crosswind sections was like giving the Gods the middle finger.  You were basically riding sideway with fear in your heart.

The wind was so strong that I didn't even pee on the bike the entire day.  I feared the crosswind/headwind ramifications.  I had to do the unthinkable.  I stopped and used the port-a-johns.  Sons of Bitches ... I had cheated myself out of the Ironman experience.  It was one of the low moments of the race for me.

To get to Oland, you had to ride across a spectacular bridge that is 6 km long <<-- That's what she said!

That's 6 km on the way out to Oland and 6 km on the way back to the mainland.  The bridge, when it was first built, was the second longest bridge in Europe.  Let me tell you, it was very cool to be biking on that bridge ... until that 40 mph crosswind decided to make your front wheel flap back and forth like a fish out of water.  My bike was shaking and vibrating so hard that I wasn't sure if I was sitting on a vibrator or VMW  ... Vietnamese BMW.

I actually feared for my safety during the bridge stretch.  I first tried to man-up by going aero on the bridge ... until I saw that 2 feet from me was a 200 feet drop into the Baltic Sea.  I'd be damn if I have to swim twice in the same Ironman!

A little voice then came over my head.  It said, "don't be a dumbass, Vietnamese #1.  Get out of aero!"  I then gave my handlebars the Viet Cong grip of death ... 6 fingers on each hand working as one.  That 6th finger didn't do much to stabilize the front wheel (Zipp 404) from flapping feverishly.  That little voice then came back to me and said, "oh Vietnamese #1, you are sooooo going to loose your favorite testicle on this one!"  Emotionally, I was devastated, but I had to dig deep for the team.

After that little side wind action on the bridge, the bike course took us directly into the path of a 20-25 mph sustained headwind.  For the next 25-30 miles, it was nothing but headwind.  Sons of Bitches!  It was like riding up a 25-30 mile hill with no end in sight.  After the headwind action, the bike course had us making a sharp left and directly into the path of a 20-25 mph crosswind ... Again, Sons of Bitches!  God must have ate a burrito the night before or something.

The crosswind was bad enough that I saw two riders get knocked off their bikes during the course of the race.  I saw a few more bandaged people with road rashes during the run.  I thought to myself, "man, it was either a typical date with an Arlington chick or the wind had really caught people off guard."

I also heard of a report of a rider going down hard during the Oland Bridge section.  All I could think about during those heavy wind sections was how judgmental my future righteous wife would be when she sees that I am a man with no testicles.  It might just be enough to drive her into the waiting arms of a Casanova Cambodian ... might.  This is why I advocate no sex before marriage.  It's like a game of poker.  You don't want to show the family jewels too soon.  You're Asian.  There are ramifications.

Eventually, the bike course led us to the direction of the mainland.  For the next 25-30 miles, it was all strong tail wind.  It was a beautiful thing.  I was easy pedaling and saw 26-28 mph on my Garmin.  It sure beats drinking your own vomit while trying to stay above 10 mph into a head wind.  I finally knew what it was like to be like Lance Armstrong ... riding a bike fast, on one testicle.

Once back on the mainland, it was same the same shit ... 20 miles of tail wind leaving town, 20 miles of head wind coming back to transition.  Sons of Bitches!

Back on the mainland for the last few miles of the bike


At around mile 100, I rode past Mike.  We exchanged pleasantries and recipes.  He told me that his boys were hurting.  I told him that if they hurt then he's got too many.  Stop bragging!

Final bike time was 5:45.  15 minutes slower than anticipated, but given the wind, I'll take it.

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T-2
==========

No co-ed transition tent this time.  Instead, I was in a tent full of naked Euro men.  That's what every straight dude want to see after a 112 miles bike ride ... a room full of naked sweaty Euro dudes.  Sons of Bitches!  It's as if the NSA had been reading my emails and sent in those naked dudes there just to screw with me.

I'd tell you what my T-2 time was, but with not having the timing chip at the start, my entire splits were out of whack.

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RUN
=========

I didn't see Deb on the bike, so I was hoping to see her during the run.  Besides from their great abilities to judge water temps and wind speed, lesbians are well known for their abilities to detect air temps.  I wanted to know what the air temp was, but we never connected on the course throughout the day.  As it turned out, she was having a race of her life, with an IM PR of almost 1 hour to go with an IM marathon PR of almost 50 minutes.  I'm going to have to note it down that lesbians are also known for getting PRs at Ironman races.


Deb celebrating her incredible PR
 I think that I paced very appropriately on the bike because I was quite fresh and minty for the run.  The run was 3 laps on mostly flat roads.  You spent a few total miles running in the old city of Kalmar and the rest on trails and local neighborhoods.  Each lap had you running parallel to the finish line.  Some people would find that demoralizing.  I find that exciting.  The crowd were the biggest and loudest in the areas leading up to the finish line.

My run nutrition plan was simple.  Two cups of water over my head at every water stations.   That's right.  Call me an elitist if you want, but I don't drink water given to me by peasants.  Part deux of the nutrition plan was to not pee on myself ... I was no longer on the bike after all.  A gel now and then.  A coke from the most beautiful female Swedish volunteer I could find at each water station  ;)

After my second lap, I saw our group sherpas (Tu, Kristin, and Sean) sitting at a cafe literally right next to the run course, very close to the finish line.  I stopped, chatted for a few seconds, signed a few autographs, and off I went.  They were everywhere on race day.  I saw them a few times in Oland and mainland Sweden during the bike ride.

On my third lap, I picked up a little green prop (pic below) from Mike's sherpa, Sean, to run across the finish line with.  It's an Ironman, so I figured that I should enjoy myself a little bit.  Ironman racing isn't all about peeing on the bike.  It's about other stuff that I can't think of at the moment.

Running toward the finish line
As I approached the finish line, I saw the announcer standing 100 feet in front of the arch.  I went into my Rocky simulation boxing stance with my props and went toe-to-toe with him for a few seconds.  The folks in the stand seemed to enjoyed it ... then off to the finish line to celebrate the end to a wonderful journey.

The Ironman always lay out a carpet in the last 50 yards or so of the finish line.  When you reach that carpet and see that finisher's arch, it's a beautiful thing.  In a marathon, you have a few dozen people crossing the finish line with you at about the same time.  In an Ironman, it's just you, the bleacher full of spectators, and the finisher's arch.  The guy/gal behind you will back off to let you have your moment just like the way you backed off of the guy in front of you so that he can have his moment.  It's an unwritten rule and it's an awesome experience.

Mike putting on some warm clothes for his final lap
As I've said, this was my 5th Ironman.  Listening to the announcer say, "Tuan Nguyen, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN," as I cross the finish line, does absolutely nothing for me.  I know, I'm jaded and emotionally dead on the inside.

What I look forward to is seeing all the volunteers at the finish line smiling at me and congratulating me.  It's just you and 20 different volunteers smiling back at you.  It's a very satisfying feeling.  IM Sweden assigns a volunteer to you the moment you cross the finish line.  That volunteer walks with you until you've picked up your finish line clothes bag and have reached the food tent.  The volunteer takes care of your every need and makes sure that you get your medal, finisher's pic, and points out the locations of everything (i.e., port-a-johns, med tent, massage tent, food, showers, swag, etc).  I thought that that was a nice touch.  It doesn't happen at every Ironman.

Final run time:  somewhere in the 3:45-ish neighborhood.  It was within 20 minutes of my Boston Marathon time back in April and exactly where I thought I would be for this race.  Not too bad.

Final overall time:  11:31:58.  That's about a 25 minutes PR.  People,  lesbians are known to get PRs at Ironman races.  Facts are facts.  I just became a Vietnamese lesbian.  I can't wait to break the news to mamma Nguyen.

I would have liked to have gone under 11, but there are still many more IMs in my future.  I'll get there.  I still have a bunch of testicles left.  Let's hope they're all still functional after I go under 11.  One can dream the dream, I supposed.

This is the 3rd time that I've gone under 12 at the IM distance, but have yet to crack 6 hour at the half Ironman distance.  Sons of Bitches! ... is the swim at all HIM races longer than advertised?
Finisher's pic

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FINAL THOUGHTS
=================

Deb and I exchanging war stories in the bleachers
as we waited for Mike to cross the finish line

IM Sweden is an awesome course.  Swimming underneath the bridges full of people was cool.  The mixture of running in local neighborhoods and old city Kalmar were neat experiences.  Yes, the wind was bitching, but Ironman races are always too hot, too cold, too windy, too choppy, too hilly, too this, and too that.    You're out there all freaken day.    Conditions will change with the rise and fall of the sun.  That's what make them fun.  You do them.  You bitch and whine a little.  At the end of the day, you just sit back with a sense of pride and say to yourself ... "man, that was cool!"

More than any destination races that I've done, it seemed like the Swedes in Kalmar take great pride in their city and the race.  When you talk to the people in the store or the volunteers on the course, you sense that pride.  It's kind of nice to see the community vested in a race like that.  It's got that small city charm to it.

People often ask me why I do Ironman races.  Why I spend so much time training for an Ironman, year after year.  The answer is simple ... I get great pleasures in being a Vietnamese lesbian.  Don't hate me because I'm beautiful!

Take care,
Tuan

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Deb read the draft version of this race report.  She wants all the single and semi-single straight dudes out there to know that she's not a lesbian.  That still does not explain how she was able to gauge wind speed, water temps, and air temps with remarkable accuracies.  Me thinks someone is in denial.



Cool medal to wrap things up

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