By Bruce Yang
The Ironman was as tough as I expected since I had been studying the terrain, elevation, and climate for the past two months in detail. The swimming was relatively “easy” for me since I had done swimming events in the Hudson River previously – the 2006 NYC Triathlon (Olympic distance), 2006 5K Swim Across the Hudson for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and two swim practices prior to that. So I knew the quality of the water, temperature, and current very well. I finished the 2.4 miles of swim easily with the help of the water current in about 1 hour and 2 minutes.
The 112-mile bike course was quite hilly for the most part on the Palisades Interstate Parkway, especially between Exit 3 and the turnaround point beyond Exits 13 and 14. The weather was hot and humid and the predicted thunderstorms did not really come during my bike segment. Perhaps due to my busy work schedule and lack of sleep prior to the Ironman, my legs cramped up severely in pain by mile 20. I had two choices at that time, either DNF or utilize my experience to massage and stretch my leg muscles while I was biking. So I constantly massaged and stretched my muscles while on the bike. By mile 60 I finally fought off the cramp. However, the heat caused the damage to accumulate during the bike course and by mile 70, I had to take a break and pour cold water on my head to cool down the heat at one of the bike aid stations. I felt much better afterward so I continued on slowly and finished the bike course in about 7 hours and 1 minute.
Incidentally, I personally witnessed four cyclists who felt off their bikes close to me on the opposite side during my bike ride. Three of them fell around the same vicinity of the downhill prior to Exit 13 southbound. Two of them were severely hurt and knocked the ground hard. They became unconscious and bled profusely from their head wounds. The volunteers and medics were frantically trying to get them some urgent medical help. The other two got up and walked away with severe bloody spots on their bodies but were conscious. The causes of their falls could be as follows: One probably had a flat tire; two probably hit the water or Gatorade bottles thrown on the road by other participants and skidded and landed hard on the ground; the fourth one probably hit an oily and watery patch of the road. I saw them while I was biking up the hill around 8 miles per hour speed while they were flying down fast around 50 miles per hour from the other side. So the falls could be very dangerous. I did not know the status of them but hope they all recovered completely. And those four were the ones I personally witnessed. I would not be surprised if there were others who fell during the bike leg. I almost fell myself twice at water aid stations due to some very wet road surfaces. Thankfully I was going slow and maintained my bike control.
Once I got to the run., I had the confidence to make up some time with my running background and the training with RRR. So I was ready to roll. The first 16 miles of the course had some steep rolling hills. So I planned my strategy by walking up the hills and running the downhill or flat portions. The strategy was working well except that unknowingly in the beginning of the run, my body was already suffering from heat stroke from the intense heat from the sun that was beating down on my head for seven hours on the bike course. I realized something was wrong 1.5 miles into the run course when my head started heating up and felt dizzy when I started running. As an experienced athlete, I would listen to my body for signs of trouble before it is too late, so immediately, I stopped running and I started to pour ice cold water on my face, head, and body. I walked very slowly to decide if I should DNF or continue by observing my body signs. I felt a bit better after I took that break with ice water to cool my head. However, once I started running again, the overheated feeling would come right back. So I had to take more walk breaks than I planned and stopped at every aid station to try to get ice water. Fortunately, there was almost one aid station every mile during the run course. Unfortunately, not every aid station had ice. Some only had water that was already heated up to the same ambient temperature outside. Those regular walking breaks and ice baths kept my head from being overheated again. I struggled for the first 16 miles and finally made it across the GW Bridge without fainting. The strong wind on the GWB and the subsequent aid station with abundant ice and ice water helped me recover mostly from the heat stroke. However, each “ice bath” on my head would only cool my core temperature for about two or three minutes. So I would grab some ice cubes and hold them and rub them around my head while I continued to run. That was how I got through the rest of the miles. I knew I had to dig in deep for the last 10 miles to fight off the heat stroke and finish. So that was when mental strength and focus had to be in full threshold. It was finally around 23 miles when I knew the finish line was near and I should survive the heat stroke. So I picked up my run speed in the last three miles and finished strong. My marathon time was about 4 hours and 24 minutes. Including the T1 and T2 transition times, my total finish time was 12 hours 44 minutes and 41 seconds.
I was very proud and honored to be able to complete the first-ever, inaugural Ironman NYC/NJ on the home turf. Despite the challenging bike and run courses, the home court advantage definitely helped me carry through those dangerous moments when I encountered cramps and heat stroke.