It’s a tough pill to swallow when you still have six hours of racing and you need to accept what awaits you at the finish is not what you came to get. But there I was at mile 70 of the bike realizing that it just was not my day. I wish I was injured or sick or else had some good reason to explain the inexplicable lack of life in my legs, but there was nothing I could point to. I had tried to ride my way out of the rut and force myself to ride the power that I had in training, but that turned out to be a mistake because now I was not only moving slow, but I was also beginning to suffer. But this is what Ironman is all about. It doesn’t give you a participant’s trophy or look the other way if you don’t make the cutoff. It’s bare-knuckle fighting and if you don’t keep your hands up it will stick you between the eyes….and I was getting popped!
I was beginning to feel sorry for myself and I thought about a terrific shirt I saw at the expo two days before: “Blame no one. Expect nothing. Do something.” I wish I could say that thinking about that got me going strong and I went on to a personal best time and married the prom queen, but it didn’t. But it did give me a reason to keep going. It’s very disorienting to work towards something….to get closer and closer to it, only to realize that it’s no longer there. My goal of a PR was gone and I was directionless for a while. That quote provided the pathway to find a new focus: ”Stop being mad about where you are at because nobody owes you a PR today….nobody even owes you a good day. YOU need to make YOUR own day with what you have right now.” And then I tried a trick I used a few years ago when I flatted during an Ironman race. I gave myself 5 minutes to feel sorry for myself. I could do whatever I wanted. I could swear or pedal easy. I could even get off my bike and throw things. But after 5 minutes, that was it. Whatever problems I had, they only existed in past. My race started anew at that moment with new goals and new purpose. Time goals were adjusted and I focused more on the joy of seeing my family on the course later in the day.
But how did I get into this mess in the first place? Let’s go back in time in my life. When a mommy and a daddy love each other VERY much they do something VERY special. On second thought, let’s not go back that far.
Louisville has a time trial start where one by one you jump off a dock into the Ohio River. It’s very organized and the line moves quickly, but there is certainly a mad dash to get in line ASAP so you aren’t near the back which creates a lot of artificial stress. Brady and I flew through transition set-up, made the 15 minute walk to the swim start and we were in line by 5:30 a.m. and were probably 300 people back. The people up front had blankets and lawn chairs as if they had been there for days. It reminded me of Brady camping out for Celine Dion tickets a few years ago (I kid, I kid). While I didn’t really care for the TT start, it was still a pretty neat sight as the sun was rising to watch the first few hundred people run up the dock and leap off in chase of glory.
As Brady and I made our way onto the dock the walk became a trot and eventually a full on run as we made the right turn onto the “finger” part of the dock where we were to hop in the water. The lady in front of me stopped to futz with her watch (as I gently yelled “Goooooooo!”) so I just did a swan dive off the side. Note to lady: start your watch a few seconds BEFORE crossing the mat instead of crossing the mat and holding everyone up as the clock ticks while you reset your watch. The water was warm but swimmable (non-wetsuit swim) and I made my way up and then back down the Ohio River. There was a very light oncoming current on the way out, but nothing substantial. Having other swimmers ahead of me made sighting super easy and I felt long and smooth over the uneventful swim. I came out in 54 minutes which is about what I expected. I did the customary stumble up the steps on the way out of the water and made my way into T-1.
The bike started off OK, and I rode conservatively. But even riding easy after an hour I started to feel some fatigue and got a bit worried. The course was harder than I anticipated with the “rollers” a little longer and steeper than is ideal for me. I climb well on moderate grades and can climb long, but short and steep tends to chew me up a bit. At mile 40 Brady came flying by which was awesome and I paced off him for a while to try
to snap out of my “funk”. And then the only other guy I knew in the race, Manuel, showed up and the three of us rode together for an hour or so. I felt good for a while but after about 30 miles, I began to realize that the increased pace was just eating me up. I SHOULD have been able to ride it, but on this day I could not. After accepting my situation I limped back to the transition area. I rode slower than I wanted, but I was also more tired which made the thought of the run daunting. I took an extra few seconds in T-2 to try regroup before starting out on the final leg.
I didn’t worry about time on the run. I just focused on what was sustainable. I was bruised, but I wasn’t broken and I knew I could still put up a respectable time as long as I focused on what I COULD do and not what I WANTED to do. I hoped to avoid any major breakdowns. I ran aid station to aid station, only walking briefly in between on two occasions towards the end. I roughly would progress from gel, Coke, and sports drink at each aid station. It was never pretty, but I never stopped making forward progress. The absolute highlight was seeing Melanie and Maxon on the run at mile 14. He was confused for sure, but did flash a smile of amazement. I’m starting to understand why parents were so hell bent on crossing the finish line with their kids all these years.
I told Melanie I’d probably finish around 11 hours leaving me about 2:10 for the second half of the run, but on goals like that you almost always go slower. The act of articulating it though, accidentally gave me a time goal. It kept me motivated and honest over the last 13 miles and I managed to slip in at 10:57.
I wish I could say I was that guy who could always finish with a smile on his face, that I’m just happy to cross the line, but I’m not. I certainly appreciate the satisfaction of finishing and I earned every bit of the 3/4s of a slice of pizza I managed to peck at post race. But I can’t ignore the fact that I didn’t get what I wanted, but I’m OK with that. I’ve played sports long enough to know that sometimes they pull out the mercy rule on you because your team is getting clobbered or some guy pins your weak attempt on the backboard in front of your girlfriend. You don’t just get it by just showing up. You get it because you earned it. And that’s what I love about this and that’s why I do it. You can’t truly appreciate “getting it” until you truly understand losing it. And by many measures on this day, I lost it. But I will keep trying because the next time I get it, I will appreciate it that much more. I have to keep making the choice if I am strong enough to try again. Blame no one. Expect nothing. Do something.
Full results: http://ironmanlouisville.com/results/
Pictures and video finish: http://www.asiorders.com/view_user_event_video.asp?EVENTID=75726&BIB=1474&VLOC=Finish