634 Minutes - Dan Gronross, You Are an Ironman

634 Minutes - Dan Gronross, You Are an Ironman

Words: Dan Gronross

634 Minutes 

That is the length of time that it took me to swim 3.8 kilometers, ride 190 kilometers and run 42.2 kilometers. Do I remember any of it? If I think back, I will wager that I can account for about 30 minutes of it.

The road to Sacramento was not linear, so much so that I wasn’t even supposed to do the Ironman in Sacramento. But after watching a forest fire start on the Penticton Ironman bike course a week before the race was due to start there, the options were few. I could defer to 2024. Nope, I wanted my life back. I could get a refund. Nope, I was the most fit I have ever been and I needed to do something about it. And finally, there was an option to do any one of the remaining Ironman races within North America. Sacramento fit the bill for a race that wasn’t too far out, so training didn’t have to continue too long, and it was easier to get to with driving. There was no way that I was flying with all the gear. 

Jesse fixes a mechanical problem at the side of the road

Just outside of Olympia, Washington it became clear that something was wrong with the truck. Jesse had to bleed some oil out of the truck on the side of the road. What is a road trip without some vehicle issues?

Mercedes Sprinter camping at Lake Shasta

The second night we stayed at Lake Shasta, backing the truck up to the edge and sleeping with the doors open all night. 

Like the I/2 Ironman in May I was strangely calm at the start of the race. It was cold in Sacramento in the morning, about 14ºC, as we lined up at 6 am. The gun fired at 7 am, and after working my way through the starting participants, I got into the water at around 8 am. First time swimming in a river meant that I was faster, going by people like they were swimming against the current. 

Dan Gronross rides his felt Triathlon bike in the rainI wish I had better pictures of me riding in the rain. This was when it was lightly raining. I had packed a jacket so I stuffed it down my skinsuit to look like one of the pros with the chest foils. Do I look pro?

Getting out of the water, the transition was a kilometer run from the water to the bike. Now this is where I should have done better, but two things limited my time: my fear of going too hard on the bike portion and crippling the run, and probably more so - the pouring rain. In my entire non-existent pro cycling career, I have never ridden in so much rain. There were literally times when you couldn’t see the rider in front of you. I also discovered that TT bikes (special thanks to Will at Steed Cycles for the amazing rocket of a bike), direct the water off the front wheel right into your face. Awesome, especially when we were riding on country roads frequented by dirty tractors. My white shoes and socks ended the ride in a fine shade of brown. Ultimately, I was passed by no one, however at times I was all alone on the double 90km out and back. 

Rolling into the run transition, I pulled an amazingly executed cyclocross side dismount, only to be berated by the volunteer out of fear that I would not stop in time. It was when I dropped the bike into the rack, I realized that my running bags were semi-floating in a 2” deep puddle of water from the biblical rains. Wet and muddy running shoes are no way to start a 42.2-kilometer run. 

But with the sun finally working its way out, my nutrition sorted, and semi-knowing the course, a sloppy H that I had to run twice, I was looking forward to the run. From the solo nature of the bike, outside of the few groups of people at the ends of the driveway, the run was a whole different story. The people lining up for much of the course were outstanding, cheering us on and helping stave off the darkness. I was lucky to catch up to a lot of people on their final lap as I started my first. This is what separates this sport from anything else except maybe cyclo-cross, and that is the support from other participants. I got to run with some amazing athletes who gave me kudos, pointers and generally some amazing banter. 

Dan gives the thumbs up as he runs past

I was having a great time at this point. I was just coming into my second lap and my wife was cheering me on. I was toying with her, saying never again. 

As I crossed the finish line my mood had mildly soured a bit. I had hoped for a sub 11 hour time and according to my subpar, fatigued brain, I had it in my head that I was completing it over 13 hours. The returning pouring rain didn’t help matters. After collecting my finish bag with semi-dry clothes, my wife Andrea ran over and jumped into my arms congratulating me. She couldn’t understand why I was despondent and when I explained that I was upset with my finish time she laughed and explained that I had completed it in 10 hours, 33 minutes, and 47 seconds. 

Dan crosses the ironman finish line

Crossing the line in the pouring rain and hearing “Dan Gronross you are an Ironman” was surreal. 

In closing, I will say that this was easily the hardest thing I have done in my life. It was a challenge that was created by some people at work, all of whom backed out, so having a buddy Jesse along for the trip helped. Mentally it was a challenge not to give up, both during the 6 months, well 8 because of the 2 months delay due to the original race being cancelled, and in dealing with my crippling anxiety. But I learned that you put one foot in front of the other, and that if you put the effort in, anyone can accomplish it. During the race, positive self-talking, and revelling, sometimes all out laughing in the commentary from the people watching helped me cross the line.

Dan and his wife Andrea at the finish line

At the finish line with my wife Andrea. It was her support that got me through the hard parts of the prep and the race itself. 

There is one person that I have more to thank than anyone, and that is my wife, Andrea. Without her, I would never have finished any of it. From making sure that I was eating, dealing with me falling asleep literally everywhere during training, and her overt cheering at various places around the course that kept me going; her encouragement made the entire process easier. 

I also wanted to thank Jesse for driving to California with me and being there for the long days training, and for the race itself. And finally, the good folks at Steed Cycles. I know the disappointment on Kim’s face when I mentioned doing an Ironman, because it was the hardest thing admitting to myself. HA! For prepping the bike, offering tips, and even keeping the jokes to a minimum when I came into the shop asking triathlon questions. 

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