We choose to do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win
John F. Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech Sept 12, 1962
I tried not to be upset. Dealing with negative energy is no way to start a race. But when I heard the announcement just 30 minutes before the race that the swim would be shorten because of wind, I felt an anger swell inside me. The weather was uh….pretty regular (see the photo). And we are swimming in the “Choptank” River, not the SmoothAsGlass River, so I’m not sure what the race organizers were expecting. It’s never very calm. Worse, just 2 weeks earlier I had flown to Baltimore and upon landing found out the race had been delayed for 2 weeks because of a hurricane (no complaints about that decision), so I flew home and then flew back again for this race. And now just minutes before the race I found out we would not be doing a full Ironman after all. I felt like I had stuck with this race and the organizes made a rash decision when the eyeball test clearly showed they didn’t need to. Whatever squall sprang up disappeared quickly. You can’t mess with the distances because everyone is left of wonder if they actually did an Ironman. I couldn’t help but think “I flew out here twice to NOT do an Ironman?” And now I was thinking “how do I stopped feeling negative?!”
” I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be.”
~ Groucho Marxv
Eventually after about a 30 minute delay, the race got underway on an altered course that stayed in the more protected areas of the river and the conditions were very pleasant. I swam hard for the first 50 meters to avoid any traffic clearing the starting “chute” which consisted of wooden piers on either side of the boat ramp which is probably about 50 feet wide and made getting shoved into a piling at a full sprint 10 yards into the race a real possibility. It also makes a run on sentence a real possibility when describing it. I made it out with my pride and my head intact. I chilled for a 100 meters or so sizing things up once we were out in open water. A guy had already distanced himself from everyone else and I gave chase but pretty quickly gave it up. A little too much heat on that fastball for me. Still, I was sitting there in second which isn’t bad. I hung there with guy on my feet for about 500 meters. I really don’t like breaking my own water so I eventually slowed up a bit and he went by and I caught a ride on his feet for the duration on the first lap. I feel like if I spend more than about 25% of my swim breaking my own water, I’m screwing myself. The pace was very very relaxed, but there was little to be gained by giving up my draft, so I enjoyed the leisurely start to the race. Despite the delayed start and rough water warnings, the water was calm. I was now calm. Post-race I heard other people say the water was rough, but that was not my experience. While swimming, I began losing myself for a bit watching the sunrise over the rippling waves. I could hear the sounds of water through my swim cap covered ears. I could feel the breath in my chest. I could see an orange sky. I was a small person in a big place. You can find some powerful moments out there in an Ironman and the negative energy and anxiety began to fade.
Very quickly into the second loop me and my swim buddy split up and things turned chaotic. There were lots of quick accelerations and decelerations trying to avoid the slower swimmers still on their first loop. The performance was respectable not just in terms of pace, but in terms of NOT swimming over anyone which always makes me feel bad (except when I did that to Billy at Tri the Boat earlier this year :). I exited the water in probably my best swim ever. I’ve never felt so good, placed so well and swam so fast. Whatever anger and frustration I had at the start of the race was thankfully left behind somewhere in the Choptank River.
“I learned there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead, others come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going to have trouble with me.”
– Dr. Seuss
Unlike a few of my last races, the first pedal strokes on the bike were effortless. My perceived IM effort yielded well above IM watts on the bike. It’s exactly what one wants, so I had positive feedback early on. There’s not much to say about the bike. It’s completely flat, but there was some wind though. For the first loop it was about “average” I’d say having done about 10 races on this course. I went through the halfway point in 2:28 just barely in the top 10 overall. I felt as good as I’ve ever felt at this point in an IM and was already thinking about how nice it would feel to have a sub 5 hour bike split under my belt so I could try to impress my friends. I guess 17 Ironmans have taught me NOTHING, because fatigue made the watts a bit harder to hold on the second loop, but the wind is what really did things in. Wind is part of the race just like heat, rain, cold and even the miles themselves. No complaints about the wind, it’s just that I kept thinking it would be gone after the next turn and it never was gone. It was always there, nagging, bothering and generally just trying to piss people off and judging by the people I passed, it was succeeding!
“Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then, by God, do something. Don’t just stand there, make something happen.”
The last miles of the bike were a total grind. Up until about mile 100 I was really just cruising and in complete control, but towards the end the miles and wind caused me to lose some focus. I relied on thoughts of all the crazy training adventures I had endured to give me strength. And as always, thoughts of family surfaced and created a few emotional moments as the loneliness of an Ironman bike ride can turn you into an emotion sponge…..sucking up emotions and sending them full strength straight to the brain. It MAY have gotten dusty out there once or twice. I finished with a 5:06 bike and just inside the top 20 overall. Even with the wind, by nearly every measure I was having one of my best IMs off the bike.
T2 was a little trickier than normal. This was a late season race made even later because of the hurricane. The sun was setting pretty early and would be close to setting or possibly setting during my run at which time temps would fall quickly. Mix in the wind and I wasn’t sure if I needed more sunscreen or an extra sweatshirt. I kept on my arm warmers and ran out of the tent carrying the shirt I had biked in. “Why am carrying a shirt?” I wondered. I gave it to a young girl at the aid station leaving the transition area and asked her to hold it for me in case I needed it later. She yelled “OK!!” as I ran off. I never saw her or my shirt again. I owned that Walmart shirt less than 24 hours before we parted forever. I need a moment.
I guess I’ll see that shirt again at the Crossroads.
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
I have hard time running, but running is part of this race, so I have to do it and by God, I’ll do the best I can no matter how ugly. The goal for the race was to break 10 hours, but the real goal of the day was to break 4 hours on the run. I reset the watch completely when I started the run. I had a vague idea of what the race clock was, but keep in mind the race started late and then had a slightly shortened swim, so deducing the race clock or a “good time” wasn’t so simple. But I knew if I went under 4, the race clock would take care of itself.
At this point there were no signs of anything physically wrong so I had every reason to believe I could do this. So I took a big swig of harden up and then headed towards victory. I set out at a 6 min per mile pace feeling tall and strong….at least that’s how I saw it in my head. The reality was just a liiiittle bit different.
“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.”
– Mohandas Gandhi
You know when someone wearing slippers and a robe let’s a dog out of the house on a cold morning and the dog sniffs around the yard for a while looking and looking and then it finds a suitable spot and gets situated with more sniffing and then squats and leaves a stinky little pile of crap? Well, in the first mile or so I felt like that stinky little pile. Something was off on the right side of my body. I’m not entirely sure what, but I ran with a bit of a limp that somehow had both a hitch and a hop in it. There might have been an audible sound that went with it, but I couldn’t be sure because of all the grunting and whimpering. My legs were slow to come around. I told myself it was 4 hours or bust, so I forced myself to run through it and hold around an 8:30 pace (insert the obligatory “don’t laugh” to all my fast running friends that accompanies any descriptions of my runs….I mean [air quotes] “runs”). If I was going to miss 4 hours, I was not going to do it in the first few miles walking and stretching and generally being a big baby about it. You see those people. You can see their race essentially ending in the few seconds it takes to pass them. The shuffle, the grimace, the stretch. Sometimes it ends with a seat at an aid station. You might not be witnessing the start of a DNF, but you know you are witnessing the beginning of the end of the aspirations on the day. That might be the end game that awaited me, but it wasn’t going to be now, so I just kept on pushing. 2 miles became 4 and then 6. I eased out of the stinky pile thing and briefly felt good. Then I eased into the IM malaise. 8 miles, 10 miles. I was banking time each mile. Not much time, but still banking time. 12 miles, halfway. I crossed halfway in something like 1:55. I was feeling extremely vulnerable, but still banking a few seconds per mile and so I had hope and the hope gave me fight. By this point many other folks were on the multi-looped course and some starting their first loop were passing me while I ran my second which took some nibbles out of the few morsels of confidence I had taken with me out on the run. I kept chipping away. Like woodchipper….but without any wood.
“We have to do the best we can. This is our sacred human responsibility.”
Somewhere around miles 16-17 I stopped banking time. And just held the line. By mile 20 I started losing time and pretty quickly. I was breaking down. Everything hurt, but my quads were making a point to remind me of the effort they had put in so far today. I remember checking with myself around this time: “Self, is this the best you can do?”. I know from previous Ironmans it’s easy to look back after the pain of the effort is gone and think “oh, I could have gone faster.” It can be a way to convince yourself you have easy gains for next time or worse, be a major source of regret, even if untrue. I didn’t want to have any regrets, so I asked myself “is this the VERY best you can do right now.” And it was. It was disappointing, no doubt about that because my 10 hour race goal was likely gone, but what more can you do besides the best you can do at the very moment? Dissecting the race or aspects of training are topics for discussion later, but not now. I carried that question in my mind and repeated it over and over to make sure no part of me tossed in the towel once my primary goal was gone. I still had one of my best races in the crosshairs as long as I didn’t go all mental fetal position on myself. There are a million good reasons to quit or slow down and really just one good reason to keep going, but it’s a damn good reason – the finish line.
“Adversity introduces a man to himself.”
The end wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn good. A long straight away delivered me to the finishing chute. It never gets old. The journey of the day, the season and a two year return to triathlon was coming to a glorious end. Until you hit that chute, the finish time, the finish place, the finish itself is all an uncertainty. You fight mini battles all day long. One swim stroke, one pedal strode, one running stride at a time. You hope each one of those mini victories brings you to this spot and that when you arrive, it’s what you wanted. I passed through the chute and across the finish line in 10:15, 84th overall. I’m happy. I’ve only gone faster once in 18 tries at an Ironman. I had a great swim and great bike. I felt like I did best I possibly could have on the run and still managed a pretty good time for me. I was close, but still didn’t quite get the run and race I was truly was after. The run is hard. Getting what I want from it is hard, but JFK summed up my thoughts on it better that I me….
“We choose to do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”