Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Splits Never Lie

I took a week off from Ironman race analysis, just to regroup mentally. But as I set out for my first real run on Sunday, I realized I can't keep avoiding IT -- my watch. In order to use my stopwatch again, I would have to zero out my Ironman CDA race splits. I had avoided it long enough. It was finally time to face the music.

My biggest fear? To find out how badly my marathon spiraled out of control to end up at a pace about 1.5 minutes slower than it started out. The decay would have to be massive to destroy the first 16 miles of averaging around 7:45s.

I sat down to write. I remembered the importance of splits. You don't have to be a world-class athlete to keep splits. Looking at race splits is how you measure YOUR improvement -- the result of all the training. My college swim coach taught me to write them down no matter what. Before big meets or races, I always found myself in the pool office going through the folder containing my entire career's worth of splits -- learning what I did right and wrong and exactly where my races fell apart. Years later, my meticulously-kept running split book would help me finally conquer the Columbus Marathon course after several tries. Reviewing splits from years past illustrated where I needed to focus my effort -- a "dead zone" on the course, revealed only by my mile times. Even if you don't "race" races, learning how to pace yourself using splits can mean the difference between having a great experience or a miserable one.

I started writing. My swim and bike splits were the same as my official times. My total time, however, was about 2.5 hours slower than the clock time. Why? Because I stopped my watch on the way back to the hotel AFTER being treated for hypothermia. Had I even hit the split button upon finishing? I would know soon enough.

Reviewing my splits yielded a pleasant surprise! It actually confirmed what I still didn't know for sure: was I conscious in the last mile? did my brain and/or body actually shut down from the hypothermia? I now have answers. My brain DID begin to shut down -- and I was probably semi-UNconscious in the last mile. How do I know? Because the second-to-last split on my watch was indeed my finish time: 11:13:something. The split before it was mile 24. And my last 2.2 miles took over 24 MINUTES! (Up to mile 24, my average pace was still around 8:50 min/mi.) Part of me is relieved that I don't remember that last 2.2 miles, even though a "conscious me" would have finished faster. Still, the "unconscious me" managed to push the split button at the finish. Force of habit, perhaps?

After digesting this information, I realize how lucky I am to even have finished Ironman Coeur d'Alene. When Jim said I "looked bad" at the finish, I think he was being kind.

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