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Event Report: T1Decaman (10x Iron)
I would stand in line for this— Moby, “Extreme Ways”
There’s always room in life for this
Oh baby, oh baby
Then it fell apart, it fell apart
Oh baby, oh baby
Then it fell apart, it fell apart
About Deca Iron Events
Believe it or not, deca ironman-equivalent events are a real thing that people do. The athletes that compete are a pretty small and tightly-knit community, and it’s seldom that more than 100 people register for such events.
The biggest and best known such events are run by Wayne Kurtz and Steve Kirby, respectively, and it’s largely their personal passion for pushing the envelope that led to the formation of the IUTA, or International Ultra Triathlon Association. IUTA oversees and sanctions events in a number of places, but Leon, Mexico is usually where the action happens. Once athletes have weaned themselves on 3x Iron event and “quints”, they move on to the “big” races in Leon, which include 10x, 20x, and 30x Iron distances.
A regular Ironman consists of 2.4 miles of swimming followed by 112 miles of cycling, followed by a marathon, 26.2 miles. So a 10x is ten times that, or 24 miles of swimming, 1120 miles of cycling, then a 262 mile run.
Easy peasy, right?
You get 14 days, so finishing on time adds a fourth sport of creative sleep management. Speaking from experience, it’s bad enough to run while hallucinating from basically no sleep in 4 days, and there’s no way most people, even seasoned athletes, can push much past that point. So doing a deca in 14 days is a commitment to limited sleep.
In order to soften up the challenge for myself, I gave myself an entire month, with weather days and rest days, no more than needed, peppered in where I had to.
When I set out to do, on my own terms, the equivalent of 10 Ironmans, I didn’t know what to expect, but I had a few reference points from which to extrapolate.
As far as the swim, I had already been training since 2022 to swim a 12.5 mile marathon swim around Key West, Florida. I knew I was slow, so in my training, I focused on how I could gain speed while maintaining mileage. That’s harder than it looks, since if you Google “how to swim faster”, very very few of the links returned consider the distance. Even I can cut 20 seconds off my 100-yard time, if i go all-out and “leave everything in the pool.” But I cannot do that for 8 hours.
For Key West, cutoff times are based on tides, and I had to be able to manage a 2:30/100yard pace for at least 8 solid hours. A corollary to that challenge was the fact that historically, my right shoulder has gotten tired and sore after just 4 or 5 hours of swimming. So I felt optimistic leading up to the T1Decaman (which I sometimes just call the 10x or deca) when during the summer of 2023 I found that I could knock out 8 miles in either the lake or the pool with no soreness and a consistent 2:30 pace. All I had to do now was do that three days in a row.
As far as the bike went, I hadn’t ridden a lot leading up to the event. There are several reasons for that. One is that of all the triathlon sports, the one I dislike and suck at the most is the bike. First of all, I’m not fast. Second, for safety and personal choice reasons, I don’t clip in. Third, even the bike-safe roads in the DFW area have moments when they’re decidedly unsafe. Fourth, when it’s not an actual event with aid stations, I have to carefully plan my route for food and hydration refills, which means locking up my bike at a gas station, which just takes extra time; or else I need to “mule” everything I’m going to consume that day. That means loading up my jersey with a whole lot of stuff I wouldn’t normally take, AND to make matters worse, if there’s a broad swing in temperature during the day, I have to plan my clothing choices carefully. Then on top of that, when you add the time taken suiting up in the morning and standing at traffic lights to the time taken for the 4 or 5 food breaks on a 112-mile route, the bike ends up taking WAY more time than any of the other sports. If you run the numbers on a regular Ironman, you can see quickly that the bike is basically half the event. Accordingly, I set my expectations low, but in the interest of getting it over as fast as I could, I decided to attempt 112 miles a day for 10 days.
As far as the run went, I felt pretty confident based on my experiences running Texas and the USA that I could run eight 33-mile days within available sunlight and wrap up the run a little faster than usual.
Bumps in the Road
We knew that with an event that lasted almost a month, something would pop up.
I had originally planned to complete the 10x in September so that the water temps would still be warm, and also so that as the approximately 23-or-so days played out, I wouldn’t be facing wintry weather at the end of the event.
The first road bump was that due to my work schedule, I couldn’t really start in September, so we reset the date to the first week of October. Then early in October, one of the potential sponsors we reached out to, a prominent national fitness chain, responded with interest in having the event hosted at their flagship fitness facility in Allen, TX. We let a few days lag in our planning so they could consult internally and get back to us. There was some initial hubbub as we received detailed questions and encouraging responses from their national marketing office, but after a week, they kindly informed us that despite the attention the event would gather, it would actually negatively affect their revenue to block out the parts of their facility we would need, and declined the sponsorship.
That pushed us out a week.
In the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, lake temperatures for open water swimming usually change dramatically in the first week of October.
And this time, right on schedule, they did. The lake swim would no longer be in comfortable 75-plus-degree calm water (a little chillier than a swimming pool, but not much), but in windy, choppy, 68-72 degree water. The swing between morning and afternoon temps on the bike would require careful planning for where to stow long-fingered gloves, gilet (cycling vest), arm warmers, and a neck buff once the day warmed up. That space in my jersey or on my bike could now not be occupied by food or spare water, which meant more attention to meal planning and water stops. Similarly, for the run, it meant starting off dressed like it was late November and ending the day in short sleeves.
Not that big a deal, but an annoyance for sure.
What Actually Happened
I thought it was possible that I’d find the lake too cold to swim without a wetsuit and wasn’t looking forward to logging eight miles in a rubber outfit, so I REALLY wanted to avoid having to don a wetsuit. There was also the issue of how much extra effort Leslie had to make to crew a lake swim–essentially delivering regular feeds of maple syrup mixed into a whey shake–every 45 minutes or so–while taking on both her AND my workload from our ad agency while I spent my time chasing rainbows.
Accordingly, we planned on doing the first swim day on Wednesday, Oct 11 lake swim (a week past the start of wetsuit season), followed by Thursday and Friday at the rec center across the street from the neighborhood where we live.
The swim went reasonably well. I didn’t enjoy the chop at Lake Lewisville, but it was mild, and with a wetsuit top only, I was warm enough to get in most of the swim.
I put in 6 miles at the lake before one of my dental crowns started coming loose, which apparently can happen in cold water. I called my dentist, who saw me on an emergency basis and said that the crown was safely back in place, but suggested that maybe I shouldn’t swim in cold water for a while, at least at a lake where recovering dental work would be almost impossible. So I decided to finish the last 2 miles in the pool at the rec center. I have the screenshots from Garmin Connect if you want them.
For day two and three of the swim, I swam in the balmy, 82-degree waters of the rec center, in pretty much in the same time I had trained. I was feeling a click in my right shoulder that wasn’t producing major pain, but I decided to alter my stroke a little to accommodate it. The result was sloppy but it didn’t slow me down in any meaningful way, and while I wasn’t 100% happy with it, I called the swim a success. I had done 24 miles of swimming in 3 days, and in the back of my mind, I kept thinking that this was good training for a 2024 attempt at Key West; so no matter how badly things went with the rest of the event, I had accomplished something.
Bike – Day 1
Instead of taking a rest day the Saturday immediately following the swim (October 14th), joined my longtime friend and training buddy Scott Conway on a ride out to the DFW airport and back, hoping to catch some evidence of the annular solar eclipse expected that day. The best I could do was some reflections in the lens of my cell phone, shown on the right.
While I had to improvise my return route a bit, felt good about the first day of cycling.
Bike – Day 2
By day two of the bike portion, Sunday, Oct 15, reality began to settle in.
On October 15th, there are approximately 11.5 hours of daylight, and each day that number decreases by about 4 minutes. My average speed with planned breaks was just short of 10 mph. That meant that to do 112 miles, I’d need 11.2 hours to finish. The best case scenario would be if those hours were daylight. But I knew from Ironman training that waiting at stoplights added an average of 1.5 hours to a typical 112-mile local bike ride, making my realistic expectation that the day’s ride would last 12.7 hours from start to finish, which in mid-October meant riding 1.2 hours in the dark.
I’d have to suit up in time to be out the door no later than first light, I’d be arriving home 20 minutes after sundown, and I could not afford any flat tires, traffic detours, unplanned dismounts, or ANY delay. And the schedule would only get tighter.
I chose to buy a little time by riding in the pre-dawn hours when I didn’t expect much traffic; the down side was that if there was any, I might be in serious danger if I didn’t watch my tail. This, plus my urgent pace trying to get off roads as soon as possible and onto bike paths, added to the early morning chill and temps in the low 40s, made for some unpleasant mornings. To add insult to injury, the afternoons would often still be sunny and warm, so I had to dress for a cold day at the start and find places to stow extra layers as the day went on.
It made me quite nervous to ride my bike in the dark alone at 6:30 in the morning. It’s one thing to be part of a large peloton of cyclists with dozens of blinking lights; it’s another to hope some distracted driver manages to see your multiple bike lights, helmet light, and reflective gear. Because even if you look like a cross between a lit Christmas tree and a rolling Parliament-Funkadelic concert, at 6:30 AM, nobody notices you. NOBODY. And this is in the town where Lance Armstrong grew up and people KNOW to expect cyclists pedaling around at all hours of the day dressed like French clowns.
My planned route of 112 miles involved taking paved bike path in the dark up to a bike-friendly road about 4 miles north of home, then heading east 6 miles on that road to another bike-friendly road that would eventually connect me to a third bike-friendly road that eventually led me to bike paths I could take into downtown Dallas, along the Trinity Skyline Trail, and west to Irving and Grand Prairie, TX, southeast of the DFW airport. It was a decent route in that it didn’t have too many traffic lights, and of course, the bike path had none at all.
Despite the chilly start, the second bike day went well. I reached a small park about 7 miles from our house where I learned that I could time my progress by the sunrise. I was on time if I reached the park by sunrise and late if the sun was already off the horizon by then.
Today, I was ahead of schedule. The sun didn’t rise until I reached the intersection of southbound Chase Oaks and Legacy.
Planned Rest Day and Novamax Booster
I had been trying for some time to get the Novamax Covid booster shot, and a few days prior had learned that Costco was doing them in the coming week. As a result, I took Monday, October 16th as a rest day, got the shot in the morning, and just rested in case there were any side effects.
Bike – Day 3
Tuesday, October 17, I set out on my usual route along Ridgeview lane toward the quiet neighborhood where I had taken to stopping and checking my progress against the sunrise. This time, I was right on schedule and not ahead of it. I wasn’t sure how to account for my slightly slower progress compared the the previous day, and after all, I WAS exactly on schedule. The day went uneventfully and I settled into a routine. My first food stop of each day would be around 8:30 AM at mile 20, near the start of the Central Bike Trail just south of a large local Blue Cross Blue Shield office. There was a little table with a checkerboard layout and a bench. Leslie had found me some crepes at Costco that were moderately high in calories, absorbed well, and didn’t take up much room in my cycling jersey, which made things easier when the mornings were cold and I needed the extra space. I would usually stop and eat a couple of crepes here every day until the next food stop in downtown Dallas at the Ron Kirk bridge around 10:30 AM.
I took to calling this little table the “Frenchy crepe table” and the name stuck somehow; possibly because I could not imagine anything more French than riding a bike and eating crepes. Maybe cheese, I guess, but somehow I was never in the mood for it.
Bike – Day 4
Bike day 4, Wednesday, October 18th was more of the same. Same park at sunrise. Same breakfast at the Frenchy crepe table. Same 10:30 AM arrival at the Ron Kirk pedestrian bridge, shown in the picture above. It was a civilized place to stop for a bite and much better than leaning on my bike on the side of some unknown trail in the late morning shadow while the chill of non-exertion hastened me to return. I planned breaks like these to be no more than 5 in quantity, and no more than 5 minutes in length.
Most of the time, it worked, and over the next several days, I found that of all my non-moving time, 45 minutes were consumed by planned food stops and another 1 hour and 30 minutes were taken up at traffic lights. Amazing that we spend more time at traffic lights than we do at lunch!
Coming back there was a bit of a dust-up.
I was riding the Katy Trail, a shared-use path designed for both bikes and runners, with clearly marked lanes for each, when I encountered a young woman running in front of me in the bike lane with earbuds wedged into her ears. A second cyclist riding just ahead of me called loudly “ON YOUR LEFT!”, and pretty much as I expected, the woman turned left, in front of the other cyclist. Noticing she was about to get hit by a cyclist, the woman jerked back to her right and stepped right in front of ME. Despite the fact that I had been maintaining a safe distance, in the chaos my only choice was to direct my bike into a row of bushes to the right side of the trail.
The woman didn’t seem bothered by any of it and continued running.
I was reminded of the scene in Terminator 2 where Sarah Connor and her son John are at a dusty weapons depot somewhere out in the desert, stocking up for the coming robot apocalypse. A young John Connor watches while two toddlers run around, playing with a loaded gun, then John turns to the Terminator and says, “We’re not gonna make it, are we? People, I mean.”
Leslie says I always say that when I see people do something stupid.
Somewhere during that encounter I lost my long-fingered cycling gloves and my gilet. That meant that for the early morning parts of each day’s cycling, I now had to wear thermal running gloves, which have no protective pad at the base of the hand to prevent ulnar nerve damage. It also meant that I had to get creative with layers for a few days until the replacement gilet Leslie ordered arrived. On days 6 and 7 of cycling, the mornings were miserable because I was cold and couldn’t feel my fingers–not from cold, but from the fact that my wrists took every bump and pothole in the road very personally.
I really missed both the gloves and the gilet, and my left index finger is still numb from the cold riding, working the brakes and gears to stay out of everyone’s way.
Bike – Day 5
Most of the bike days were pretty similar. Occasionally something would be different. On the 5th bike day, Thu, October 19th, Leslie met me on her bike near the day’s finish and we rode the last bit together. That was a special treat, without which many of my days during the event would have boiled down to Cold Suffering, Hot Suffering, and Miscellaneous Suffering.
Bike – Day 6
for some reason, on Bike Day 6, Friday, October 20th, was that I was WAY ahead of schedule and the sun didn’t come up until I was well south of Legacy on Premier Drive. It was a testimony to just how much time gets wasted at traffic lights, and just how much time you can save if you hit the lights just right. Friday was one of those days, and I lucked out multiple times, catching green lights as I approached intersections or having trains running parallel to my path, blocking cross traffic. It made for a fast day.
I knew things were too good to be true. Remember I mentioned Miscellaneous Suffering earlier? Well as I was tracing my route back along bike-friendly Ridgeview Road, I came to a spot where Ridgeview crosses Coit Road, a major thoroughfare, at a traffic light. Behind that traffic light, Ridgeview becomes very residential and the road narrows quickly from 2-3 lanes in each direction into just one in each direction. Most of time time, traffic turns right or left at Coit and very few vehicles proceed straight toward the residential section of Ridgeview.
But not today. As the road narrowed and a motorist tried to pass me on the left, he encountered his own problems in the form of oncoming traffic. He shifted right in the single lane, forcing me off the road, and I ended up involuntarily dismounting on the right shoulder–both the right shoulder of the road and my own, personal right shoulder, which didn’t enjoy the experience. I also got some road rash on my right leg and a bit of a sore spot on my right elbow and hip. For the most part, I was okay, and to his credit, the motorist apologized profusely and asked how he could help. I asked for time to get my gear out of the road and pick up my bike but said I was otherwise okay. I shook it off and moved on, but decided that day to find a route that didn’t have me on that part of Ridgeview again.
Bike – Day 7
By Bike Day 7, Saturday, October 21st, I had fallen into a routine and managed to squeak out a few efficiencies in my day, which left room for me to handle whatever surprised came my way. Mostly they were good surprises. Today, they were VERY good surprises: Leslie drove down to resupply me with crepes at the Ron Kirk bridge, and I got to see a hot air balloon in the late afternoon. Without those two things, it would have just been another 112 miles.
Bike – Day 8
Sunday, October 22nd was a nice day. It was cool and breezy, and while it was a bit chilly in the morning, I was getting used to it by then. The day was uneventful and had some nice, pretty fall skies and some fantastic views of downtown Dallas from my early lunch spot at the tables on Ron Kirk Bridge. Another 112 miles in the bucket!
A Weather Day
It turned out the Monday, October 23rd was forecast for heavy rain. Knowing better than to expect less, I took the day as full a weather day. My only hope now was the the paths in the low-lying areas would have time to dry up.
Bike – Day 9 (Partial Day)
On the morning of bike Day 9, Tuesday October 24th, I was watching the weather. It might or might not rain. If it did rain, it might or might not be enough to wet the roads. I got 3.5 miles before the light rain on the bike path intensified to what I knew would mean slick, dangerous roads. Since Leslie was already on her way to the hairdresser I called for pickup and just figured I’d wait out the rain and ride back in the van with her.
But when we got to the hairdresser, it wasn’t raining at all in Dallas. The roads were dry. So I rode back, completing 22.54 miles for the day, and just as I crossed back into Plano, it resume raining. I told myself I’d bank those miles and use them later if needed…and that time came not long after.
Bike – Day 10
On Bike Day 10, Wednesday, October 25, I returned to riding, as the forecast called only for spotty rain and not much of it, and by the time whatever rain did come, I’d be on bike paths and in better control of the situation. And just as predicted, by the time the rain came, I was on paths in Irving and well off the roads. By then, I was grateful that it cut the day’s awful humidity.
Along the way I met Team Type 2 pro cyclist and fellow diabetic Frank Bouchard, who kindly slowed down to ride with me. We talked about CGMs, blood sugars, and cycling. He asked me how far I was riding and I shared the day’s plan and the 10x in general. It felt great to meet one of my heroes and to talk shop.
The day was one of varying “moods.” Part of it would be sunny and dry, and parts of it weren’t. But overall it was a good ride.
Bike – Day 11 (Partial) Indoors
Thursday, October 26 was supposed to be a downpour. At that point I was anxious to get the cycling over with, as I didn’t know how long my sit-bones would take any more of the pounding from uneven road surfaces and broken paths.
I decided to use the banked miles from October 24th and allow myself an indoor cycling day totaling exactly 89.46 miles, making up the rest of the 112 I hadn’t managed to do a few days ago.
Leslie marveled at the fact that I didn’t put Netflix up on the TV or load up Zwift or Rouvy to do my ride virtually. But by this point, I had ridden the full distance in my mind several times, and as the miles clicked off, in my head, I knew when I had reached the Frenchy crepe table, the Ron Kirk Bridge, the portolet at the athletic fields just across the Trinity River from Dallas, the turnaround point, the park bench where I always enjoyed a home-baked brownie, and all the little spots along the way back. I could see them in my head, and focusing on being there, and not in my overheated gym on top of a bike trainer, gave me some peace and helped me slog out the miles.
My wheels began to slip on the trainer about midway through, and by the time I got off the bike, this time for good, both the front and rear tires were flat.
After cycling 1120 miles on them in just under two weeks, I guess they were done with cycling, too.
On Friday, October 27, without taking a rest day following the bike, I began the run. Part of my thinking was that since I felt reasonably good, why not get on with the run? I wasn’t fond of taking a lot of PLANNED rest days if I’d been granted weather days or some other delay that allowed me to recover.
The first day of the run wasn’t too bad. I had added an extra 3 miles to my usual 30-mile training route, one for which I knew the rest stops, the places I’d refill my water, and the locations of portolets.
As daylight was limited, I wanted to avoid the delay of stopping at a convenience store every 6 or 7 miles to visit the restroom, refill drinks, and purchase food. It was just faster if I didn’t. As a result, I typically set out each day with two 20-oz Thermoses of iced Kool-Aid, two 16-oz water bottles in hand, plus a running waistbelt in which I could store food or arm warmers as the day warmed up. I felt energetic, and while I didn’t enjoy the humidity, the conditions were quite pleasant by comparison to running Texas or the US. I kept reminding myself, this is no farther than running across Iowa, and fewer hills. You’ve done this before.
And indeed, as muscle memory started to take over, Don’s mind wandered happily from topic to topic while Don’s body took him for a run. I could not have been in a happier place.
Until that evening.
Hiatus…but for how long?
After lying down late on the afternoon of Friday, October 27th for a nap, as was my custom for multi-day events, I awoke maybe 90 minutes later vaguely hungry and wandered into the kitchen. Without warning, I experienced some of the most excruciating back pain I have ever felt, centered on my right side above the hip but below the ribs. I took some extra-strength Tylenol, thinking that somehow the unbalanced liquids load on my back that day had twisted something or sprained or strained a muscle.
The pain was now severe, and it was still there several hours later.
I went back into the bedroom, turned up the electric blanket, and stuffed a heating pad under my back, thinking I had perhaps spent the day pushing it uphill, too fast, or leaning too far forward.
In 2019 during my run across Texas, running on cambered (slanted) roadsides and always facing traffic, I had developed severe sciatica, which I recognized as a shooting pain starting in the back but going down the leg.
This didn’t feel like that. It felt internal, deep, like something inside an organ. The most similar feeling I can describe is how it felt when I was diagnosed in 1972 with type 1 diabetes and was told that my liver was swollen. Back then, it felt like there was not enough room inside my body for all the organs that were supposed to be there. That was how I felt now.
Since it was late on a Friday evening, Leslie scrambled to find an in-network urgent care clinic who could take a look at things within a day. The first one she found was an outfit that actually came to your house, which sounded pretty good since I was literally on my knees in pain.
After a few questions and very few tests, they diagnosed the problem as a pulled muscle.
We weren’t convinced. Leslie was able to locate a second in-network urgent care clinic and set up an appointment for Monday, October 30. This time, they took more samples, did more tests, and ran a CT scan on my abdomen.
About 15 minutes later they handed me a DVD with the results. There was blood in my urine, my right kidney was swollen, and they found “free fluid” in my abdomen on my right side, though their write-up didn’t say where it was. Even before the scan results were back, Amanda, the NP I talked to, told me that if a Toradol shot made me feel better, it was likely a kidney stone.
I felt better almost instantly.
The scan confirmed that I had a 5 mm kidney stone, just on the border of passable, affecting my right kidney. The bad news was that the urgent care clinic had done about all they could do. They recommended that if the pain continued, I go to a hospital ER and see what they could do.
The hospital ER did a second CT scan, this time with contrast, and clarified that the stone looked more like 3.5 mm than 5 mm. They also confirmed that a number of other biometrics were consistent with a kidney stone. They thought there might be some minor infection as well, so they gave me an Rx for antibiotics, added an anti-nausea Rx, and told me to set up an appointment with a urologist. They stone, they said, would likely pass on its own, and if it didn’t, there were non- or minimally invasive treatment options like lithotripsy.
So now I am waiting, and at the time I write this, the recurrent back pain makes the 10x the farthest thing from my mind.
Which is probably a good thing.
Current Reflections on the Matter
As of November 1st, pain from the stone has been coming and going. I have a urologist appointment set up, by which time presumably things will have gotten better or they will not have. Then we will see what comes next.
When I set out to challenge myself to a 10x Iron event, I anticipated that the bike would be hard, and that the swim and the run would be less difficult, partly because I liked them more. And for the most part, that’s been true. I planned to allow myself to rest when “pushing through it” just seemed like the wrong thing to do.
I NEVER anticipated a kidney stone, and at the moment, I’m wondering when “normal” comes back. I worry at night that despite the actual evidence of a stone, I actually bruised internal organs coming off the bike earlier in the event. I think about that “free fluid” beneath my right lung and wonder if I did that to myself as well. After all, I’m not Superman, and the time will come when I’ve had one too many bike crashes and have to make some serious life decisions, or else stop doing something that throws me onto the road at speed.
Meanwhile, the normal parts of life also need to be lived. I have Zoom calls to do, client work that won’t do itself, and even a speaking engagement.
I am hoping to visit my bio-Dad (that’s him in the pic) for Thanksgiving, since I haven’t done that in 40 years. And if I miss Thanksgiving, then Christmas. The point is that he deserves a visit, and my heart aches to see the man who has quietly and patiently supported and loved me despite finding himself out of the picture following his divorce from my mom when I was six years old. “Pops” has been way more than patient. He’s been like a Buddha to me, rolling with every punch and offering truly compassionate insight into how to deal with the sucky parts of life. And it would make me feel good to see him again.
Those things come first.
One thing I know now is that no matter how long it takes to complete the 10x, it is JUST a challenge. It doesn’t HAVE to be finished. And it is not worth setting the most important parts of life aside.
When I get back to it, I’ll tell you how the rest of the run went. In the mean time, I’m just watching, waiting, and living.