Dam to Dam Swim- 28+ Miles Crossing Lake Wiley


Watching the sun set in between strokes at mile 24.

If I had known how hard it was going to be, I’m not sure I ever would have started.   But as Mark Twain said: “To succeed in life you need two things: ignorance and confidence.” I possessed them both in possibly unhealthy levels as the idea for this swim percolated in my brain.   It really only became an idea at the moment the words describing it tumbled out of my mouth while talking with Doug over beers on my back porch.  But before I could even inhale after saying the words, Doug had agreed to do it.  We were doing it.  We were going to be the first people to try to swim the 28 miles from the Mountain Island Dam to the Lake Wiley Dam on the Catawba River.

Our primary concern initially wasn’t even the training. We knew nothing about river at the outset, including how long it actually was.  Not many people have ever swam that far.  Fewer have organized a swim that far and now we had to do both. We had lots of basic questions like: How far is it?  Is the water safe? Is there a current? Is it legal to swim?  Where are the access points? Are there dangerous animals to be concerned about (they recently found an alligator in the Catawba, although they aren’t native and a bear was seen swimming in it earlier this year). What is the water temperature at various times of the year?  When is sunrise and sunset? Do they release from the dams all the time or sometimes?  What is the release schedule? How much boat traffic is there? And on and on.  We knew pretty much nothing.


The Mountain Island Dam a few hours after our start on race day.  Mile 0.

I came up with the first official map showing the distance at 27.58 miles.  To answer our questions, we explored every possible avenue to find information which included reaching out to various lake organizations and Duke Power who runs the dams. We scoured websites, charts and tables with information about the river. We stopped to talk to fishmen on the water. Doug and I did two practice swims of about 7 miles each in the river in preparation, one simulating a pre-dawn race start from the first dam.  I kayaked another 7-mile stretch.   We had seen most of the river by race day.  Despite all our efforts though, for some questions we just had to accept we weren’t going to get a complete answer.  We just had to piece our answers together as best we could through the bits of information we could find and anecdotal evidence, but we felt like we knew enough and at a certain point enough was going to have to do.

We picked Sept 29th as our race date, trying to balance wanting the cooler water temperatures of late September with the shrinking hours of daylight as Fall approached.  We’d have exactly 12 hours of sunlight on the date we picked.  We had a brief scare as Hurricane Florence rolled through 2 weeks earlier, but by race day any remnants as it related to our swim were gone.

swim start

Moments before the start.

On race day, at 6:15AM, an hour before sunrise, Doug and I slipped into the water with 3 lighted kayaks and began our swim under the Mountain Island dam.  The practice swim we had done here a month earlier simulating a race start in the dark proved invaluable as there were hardly any unknowns at that moment and I felt calm and comfortable in a familiar setting which a month earlier had been completely foreign and honestly a little freaky.

Longtime friend and first-time distance kayaker Dave was piloting my kayak for the first 13.5 miles which was dressed in Halloween lights and loaded with lots of fuel, maps and a tracking device.  I aimed to take in around 400 calories an hour, roughly rotating between a sports drink, Ensure and gels. I also had a few baked potatoes which never even made it out of the cooler.


Dave early in the swim.  I think I’m yelling at him to put his phone down and keep a good line 🙂

After about 3 hours, the sun was up and we passed under the I85 bridge in Belmont, just short of 7 miles in.  During one of our practice swims we had taken a break under this bridge and found a bowling pin resting at the bottom.  How did it get there?  We’ll never know, but that is of no concern right now. The weather was good. I felt good.  We were on schedule.

At mile 13.5, nearly halfway and exactly 6 hours in, Ben replaced Dave in the kayak.  The lake was getting wider and boat traffic was picking up. Underwater you could hear the high pitched “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” of boats anywhere in your area which kept me on edge because it felt like they were right on top of me.   They also generated a good deal of wake which made for some disorienting swimming.  At mile 15 the first and thankfully only significant negative event happened when we took a wrong turn that added about hour of swimming.  I didn’t love it, but my options were to keep swimming or quit and I didn’t want to quit, so I kept swimming.

As I approach the Buster Boyd Bridge around 4PM at 18.5 miles on the course (closer to 20 with the wrong turn) and the last kayaker handoff, I saw Melanie as well as my sister and her kids holding a “Go Mike!” sign on the boat ramp.  Fans!! I felt briefly energized.

Cam hopped into the kayak and we took off.  Almost immediately I felt the accumulated fatigue of 10 hours of swimming.  Mentally this had been the spot I wanted to get to.  It’s 2/3rds of the way.  You can’t turn back when you’ve come this far.   I was probably too focused on getting to this spot though and part of my brain checked out as if I was done when I got there.  I was getting tired and still had 5 hours of swimming left.  How do you get your head around that after already swimming 10?

I recalled a quote I had heard a few months ago.  I actually misremembered it though as “Courage is holding off defeat one minute longer.” by George Patton.   I knew I had a long way to go.  I knew I would finish in the dark, and it all seemed like too much at some points.  But why am I worried about something 5 hours from now?  Or 2 hours from now? Or 1 hour from now?  I’m here in this moment and this moment is the only thing I can control right now and I just need to get to the next fueling break.   If I can’t do that, I can at least have the courage to make it just 25 more strokes.  I don’t need the courage to fight off defeat for 5 more hours, I just need the courage to fight off defeat for 25 more strokes and then try it again, then try it again, then try it again.   As we got deeper into the race it was really hard to swim continuously between fueling breaks. I’d zone out and swim as long as I could and eventually just tell myself to swim 25 more strokes before stopping.  And as I got close to 25 I’d tell myself to just try 25 more and I’d keep doing that until it was time for the scheduled break. Can you hold off defeat one minute longer? Can you hold it off for 25 more strokes?


Around mile 22 shortly after passing the Buster Boyd Bridge.

The sun started to set at the 13 hour mark and we turned the kayak lights on.  As we got to full darkness around 8PM the boat traffic was down to nothing and it was just Cam and I in the middle of the pitch-black night.  Cam earned his paycheck here with near perfect navigation in the dark.  If there were any moments of doubt it was right after the transition to darkness.  I swim a lot, but not like this. Was this safe?  Was it sensible? I wasn’t sure and doubt crept in, but I never considered any outcome other than finishing though, so the doubt meant nothing because I knew I was going to finish.

After a while much of the nervousness I had as we transitioned into the darkness had faded away.  We passed by the Lake Wiley dam which was the official second “dam” in the “Dam to Dam” at about the 14 hour mark, but there were still a couple miles left to reach the final boat launch and exit point.  I had envisioned doing this in day light and snapping a picture, but at 8:30PM while cold, tired and hungry I just gave it a glance and pushed on.    One of our final stops was beside a completely random dock.  We could see the house up on the hill with the lights on inside and wondered if they had any idea that this swimmer guy was floating right beside their boat, shivering and drinking an Ensure after having been swimming for 14 hours.


The “dock stop” about 14.5 hours in and one of the last stops before the finish.

I could tell where the finish was because Melanie had parked the car with the headlights shining at us like a beacon.  After swimming in the dark with no real landmarks, this was a mental oasis.   Finally now, after months and months of training and planning I could finally see the end.    I knew the finish would be nothing but Melanie holding a towel for me, but it was going to be one of the best finishes ever.   At about 9:15PM after 15+ hours of swimming, I finally reached the finish line after almost 30 miles of swimming.

We shared a beer as we loaded the gear back into the car.  Cam drove Melanie back to the race start to pick up the car I left there in the morning and I had to drive myself home with the kayak hanging out of the back window. Doug had finished ahead of me and we swapped congratulatory texts but we couldn’t find the strength for much more conversation than that.   My skin was weird from being in water so long.  I had inhaled so much water and debris that there was sorts of weirdness in my sinuses.  My equilibrium was off from floating for so long. I was wrecked.  I’ve done a whole bunch of endurance racing and that night of “sleep” ranks right up there with the most miserable.  That was a tough little swim.

There were no medals or finisher’s T-shirts at the end but that was never the point.  This started off with us wondering for whatever reason if it was possible to swim from one dam to the other.  And on that day for Doug and I, it was and that’s good enough for us.


Moments after reaching land.  Cam is in the kayak.  Melanie took the picture from the boat launch.  I am wobbly and I think still arguing with Cam about whether or not he navigated the last quarter mile correctly because I was tired and prickly. GPS says he nailed it perfectly.  MY BAD, CAM!

*Thanks for the Dave, Ben and Cam for the kayaking and Melanie for running land support all day long getting people where they needed to be.

**Oh, the correct quote is “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer”  not “Courage is holding off defeat a minute longer” like I thought.   I actually like mine better.

**We still have some slots open for next years Dam to Dam so get your applications in soon! 😊

**Below are a few more pictures with captions that offer a little more “behind the scenes” commentary.

*************  Some additional pictures  ****************


End-Wet 36 Mile Swim Race Report – Inspired by Dennis Rodman


“I love pain, it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something”.  At mile 20 when the easy long strokes faded away and painful shoulders and rickety elbows took over, I thought about that quote a lot.  It’s one of my favorite quotes.  When the pain comes, you’re doing work.  You’re doing something that makes you want to quit. It starts now.  This is the opportunity. 

Many hours earlier I stood at the banks of the Red River in North Dakota at 5:30AM with one of the most low key starts I’ve been a part of.  We stood there 90% naked, in an array of colored suits made worse by smears of sunscreen and Desiten.  Then, (In a North Dakota/Canadian accent over a muted bullhorn) “well, eh, uh….I guess we have everyone here.  Uh, ay, I guess um, we’ll get started…..Oh-kay, uh, well then, here we goh…..3, 2, 1…uh, have a good race. “  And one by we slid down the boat ramp into the water.  The group was an eclectic mix of complete strangers to me 24 hours earlier, but in the small ultra-open water swimming community, of which I am a newbie, we quickly became fast friends.  I knew most people’s names now and genuinely hoped each one of them had a good race.


Frightened by cold water and wanting to preserve the last few seconds of normalcy I would have on the day, I was one of the last to make it into the water. As my face hit the water the switch flipped. I was racing.  Yikes!!  However, everything was near perfect.  We had warm overcast skies for the day (less concern about sunburn and glare) and the river was flowing at least at average flows if not a little above.   The water was around 73 degrees which felt perfect.  I was good mentally and physically and felt confident with a healthy dose of reverence for the river and swimmers I was with.  I had no excuses. I just wanted a fair shot and I got it. Perfect.

The river was red (hence the name Red River) and cloudy, but the water felt fresh and tasteless to me.  I should know about taste because I swallowed most of the river over the course of the day.  I swam for nearly an hour before taking my first break to fuel.  I was clumsy and slow and decided to alter my plan to eat every 20 mins to instead eat twice as much every 40 minutes to incur less of a penalty for my siestas.  I alternated between Infinit sports drink, gels (2 at a time) and Ensure. I had packed some baked potatoes for solid food but never ate them. I took on close to 400 cals per hour which was based on my Ironman racing and training which seemed more than enough.

My kayaker, Joe, who I had met only 12 hours earlier had just graduated from NDU and was about as confident in his ability to kayak this race as I was to swim it.  We didn’t know!  But he proved to be a steady hand and what I call a “foxhole guy”….when stuff goes sideways and I have to dive in a foxhole, I’d be happy to see him in there with me.  7 of the 20 racers had distanced themselves from everyone else.  I was barely at the front of the “middle group” of about 6 people.  I had no intentions to race anyone, but you can’t help but notice that a good effort moves you 5 spots up the placing and a collapse moves 5 the other way.  Crap.  Now I felt some urgency.  I honestly wished Joe had never told me about the placings even though I’m pretty sure I asked him 😊

It’s Dennis Rodman who said “I love pain, it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.” back when he played for the Detroit Pistons in the early 90s.  The Piston’s were good and Sports Illustrated did a feature on their off-season training camp.  The quote was overlaid on a full-page picture of Rodman running up the steepest ramp I have ever seen.   It was sunny and hot. He was jacked.  He was sweating and judging by the mask of pain he wore on his face, he was accomplishing a lot.  I loved it.  I’ve always remembered it. That picture was my definition of hard work.

Mile 24 came with mixed feelings. I was 2/3rds of the way done.  “home stretch” territory.  But 12 miles of swimming, even at a peppy 3 mph represented 4 more hours!!  I couldn’t think of the race like that.  It was mentally demoralizing, so instead I just focused on the next mile marker. 12 becomes 11 which becomes 10 which becomes 9, etc.   I didn’t know if I could swim 12 more miles but I knew I could swim 1.  After that, I didn’t know if I could swim 11 more miles, but I knew I could swim 1.  And so it went down the line, one mile at a time.  One manageable chunk at a time.  The problem gets smaller as we go.


As we approached the 6 mile marker there was a full on 5 alarm fire in my upper body. If I wasn’t explicitly paying attention, my left arm would drag across the water on my recovery because my deltoid was failing.   And my elbows…..I had no more elbows.  Those joints died and went to heaven hours ago.   I had an odd and debilitating pain on the top of my right forearm which I just learned from a doctor’s visit was tendinopathy.   I was fading. I started doing a little breaststroke here and there to ease the suffering.  There was a swimmer right beside me (we had been this way for about 6 hours) and 3-4 more a few hundred yards behind me.  I wasn’t here to race anyone. I just wanted to finish.  They were going to overtake me. I was hurting too bad to do anything about it.

You need to find motivation in these moments anywhere you can and while I didn’t want to race anyone, I felt I should at least try.  I hurt and  I’ve been swimming a long time, but so have they, and I thought, “if my arms hurt, their arms must hurt. If my shoulders hurt, their shoulders must hurt.   If I’m in pain, they must be in pain. Why should they catch me? Who can take the most pain?”  My outlook changed.

The picture of Rodman running up that ramp in absolute pain but with total focus hung over my bed for several summers back in the 90s.  I loved it.  I cut it out and taped it on the wall with other motivational quotes.  I can’t even recall the others, but I’ve never forgotten that one.  I saw it every night before I went to bed. When the pain comes you know you are accomplishing something. I knew this moment in the race would come.  This is what I wanted. This is why I was here.

I was a mess, but I told myself I was going to take all the pain I could.  I shifted my mindset to swim with a mindset of strength rather than weakness. Confidence, not doubt. The ending, not the beginning. This was hard.  The 10 hour malaise had ground me to a nub, but I wasn’t going to drift with the mental current.  I was going to throw an oar into the mental waters.  This really had nothing to do with any particular placing or actually beating anyone, but everything to do with finding out how to get the most out of myself.  And I did.  I was strong…….until I wasn’t :0  I pulled away from everyone by several minutes, but In the last half mile cracks formed.  I actually apologized to Joe for moaning so much the last 15 minutes. I pushed. I gave what I had.  I died trying. I saw the first of several bridges that marked the gateway to the finish.  I wrote 8 months ago that I didn’t believe yet (https://mikeguzek.com/2018/02/15/why-am-i-swimming-36-miles-down-the-red-river-its-just-time/)…..finally now, I believed I was going to do this.   And I as I touched the dock after 11 hours and 57 minutes of swimming with Melanie there cheering me on, I did!

I’ve done hundreds of races.  I’d put my lifetime of suffering while competing beside anyone elses.  I’ve experienced more lows than highs, but this race was a true high. This was a no regrets, no excuses, all in sort of thing. This race and that result is exactly what I am.

I was in a bit of pain that night trying to sleep.  My right forearm was swollen and in enough pain that I was concerned I had broken a bone.  Every time I moved I would wake up because of some sort of pain, but it didn’t bother me because each jolt of pain was just a whisper from Dennis Rodman that yes, I had accomplished something.



Swimming for 12 hours makes you look a little weird.


Perhaps the hardest thing I did all day was to lift that sign!


Why am I Swimming 36 Miles Down the Red River? It’s Just Time

Time to think.

I was curious to know how my bike was, but I couldn’t see it the way I was facing and I wasn’t able to move. All I could really do was moan softly to no one in particular. I knew I was alive and I knew I wasn’t going to die, but in the first minute or so I wasn’t sure how bad things were. I was lying in the road and I had just been hit by a pickup truck while riding my bike. The truck had pulled out from a side road in front of me and hit me head on.  Thank goodness he was coming off a stop, but he was looking backwards when he hit me while still accelerating. I hit the left front of his car and my entire left side went into his grill. My head hit the hood and then luckily slid down the side of the truck before hitting his rear view mirror (as opposed to supermaning into the windshield). Even at that moment I remembered the entire thing very clearly.  It was extremely quick, but at the same time it all seemed to happened in slow motion.

“Why is he pulling out.”
“Why is he still accelerating?”
“The driver is looking behind him!”
“He is going to hit me.”
“He is still accelerating!”
“Ouch, this collision really hurts.”

My bike

Wheels tacoed, fork snapped and cockpit got jacked.

I was 3 weeks out from what would have been my 20th Ironman. I was 95 miles into a 110 mile ride which was my last big ride before the race. 3 minutes earlier I made the decision to go straight instead of turning right towards home like I had planned because I needed extra miles and that decision led me to this spot. I lay on the pavement unable or at least unwilling to move waiting for the ambulance as several people kept an eye on me. I was still staring at the same patch of grass I saw when I first landed on the ground. I began to think.
Is riding a bike worth this? I wasn’t scared and by this point I felt I’d be no worse than a few broken bones, but I knew acquaintances who had been killed and friends who had been seriously injured. Some had sworn off riding. Is my 20th Ironman worth this? Would I ride a bike again? Did I even want to ride a bike again?  I couldn’t shake those thoughts and they rattled around in my head all the way to the hospital.

The ER was wild. I tried to tell them I wasn’t feeling too bad, but they were cutting my clothes off and probing me in all sorts of uncomfortable ways. People were shouting over me using words I had no clue of understanding. I spent the day at the hospital and one by one things began to check out.  Eventually I limped out of there a little bloodied and bruised IMG_20170902_160926504 but with no major injuries. Mike 1, Car 0. But I knew that my Ironman plans had likely gone up in smoke.

After about 3 weeks I began something that resembled swimming, biking and running. My riding was all indoors, not yet ready to get back into traffic. I decided I would try to do the Great Floridian Triathlon Ironman distance race in 3 weeks. It would be a “just finish” sort of effort, but I still wanted Ironman #20. Training was OK enough that we booked the hotel and plane tickets. Then, 8 days before the race I developed an ear infection. The doctor said I couldn’t swim for 10 days. Ouch. My ear hurt really bad and was swollen shut and I developed a fever. I tried to go out for a 3 hour ride the weekend before the race and I made it about 10 minutes before turning back. I couldn’t hear out of the ear, had a low fever and my equilibrium was off making me unsteady on the bike. The next day I tried to run for 1:15. No. It didn’t happen and my GFT dreams as well as Ironman #20 joined my triathlon bike up in heaven. There would be no Ironman #20 this year. Would there ever be an Ironman #20?  I was having doubts.

Time to let go.

I’ve actually been hit once before on my bike. It was more scary in some ways, but the injuries were less serious, but it did send another triathon bike into heaven. I wasn’t necessarily scared to ride anymore but at some point (especially with a family) it felt irresponsible, especially if there is no burning passion to justify it.

My bike after a car hit me in 2014

And after 17 years of riding bikes a lot and chasing Ironman dreams, I don’t think the passion was there to justify it. The sport wasn’t teaching me that much about myself anymore and what was left to learn I was realized I wasn’t that interested anymore in putting in all the work it took to figure it out. It was time to let go. The newness was gone and this accident reminded me there is a potential price to pay to play this game and I asked myself if the reward was still worth the risk. The answer was no. Those accidents weren’t the only reason I decided to give up Ironman and all the riding, but they ultimately extinguished the flame.  I do sill ride outside sometimes, but much less often and if I don’t feel like riding I just don’t ride without giving it a second thought.

Time to get high.

I was a bit adrift for a few weeks as I tried to figure out what was next. Taking away triathlon was like taking the drugs away from a druggie. I had been hooked on it for so long that I went through withdrawal. 10-20 hours a week of training for 17 years created, or at least enabled, my endurance addition and now I was looking for my next fix. But what? I had always enjoyed swimming and was pretty good at, but it was always the last priority – an afterthought to things I needed to work on that did not come so easy. Despite not growing up a swimmer or putting in serious work in the pool, being fairly good at it was actually pretty easy (unlike biking and especially running).  The answer was right there. An epic swim race was going to be my next high.

When I first came across this 36 mile Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test (END-WET) race down the Red River in North Dakota this June (the longest in North America) I immediately dismissed it.  That swim is way too long.  Way too crazy.  But it kept creeping back into my head. Initial thoughts of

“why would I do that?”

were slowly replaced with

“why wouldn’t I do that?”
“why CAN’T I do that?”

I began to swim more just see how my brain responded. Was this miserable or enjoyable? My swim friends saw my swimming extra after practice, but I didn’t dare tell them what I was thinking for fear of looking like a fraud….one of those people who always talks about what they are going to do but rarely ever does it. I didn’t believe yet. I know Crazy Town, USA exists and I feared I was its sole resident. I’d say I was just making up time for a missed workout or trying to work on my stroke. 12,000 yards per week became 20,000 became 30,000. The more I swam the more I wanted to swim. A month earlier a flame went out, but now a new one was raging. I wanted to do this.  I decided I wouldn’t commit to the race until I was consistently hitting 40,000+ yards (25 mile) per week with a weekly 15,000+ yard straight swim. The totals would go up from there, but that would be my launching pad to the really big weeks and give me the confidence I needed commit.  I pushed onward and started hitting those targets weekly.  Some say I’m still living in Crazy Town and if I am, I’m loving the place.

Time to freaking get after it!

I’m a big believer that even the seemingly worst things that happen when given the benefit of time are the basis for something beneficial. I’ve written about that experience several times while racing and experienced in life. No one in their right mind would ask to be hit by a car. I still have pain in my left ribs and foot and some scars on my knee, but that mishap did more than knock me off my bike, it knocked me off my hamster wheel and I’m thankful for that. I re-found my passion for the pursuit of what’s possible. People have asked me if it’s boring to swim so much and for so long. It’s not to me and it’s because I’m passionate about it and if you have a passion for something you will love to do it. I look forward to my weekly 15,000+ yard swims. I can’t wait for 60,000 yard weeks and 25K training swims. I see myself in the race when I close my eyes go to bed and again when I wake up. I’m anxious to get to the painful parts of the race and feel the hurt. Is that crazy? Yes, it probably is, but what can I say, I’m high again.

The Great Floridian Ironman Distance Tri – Feeling Grateful


I wasn’t entirely sure what to think when I finished this race.  Some things went well.  Some things could have been a bit better.  I was by myself, just a minute or two after finishing with my head in my hands, waiting for my brain to unscramble.  I’m sure I had written parts of my race report in my head during the race, but I couldn’t remember how it went.  Will I be happy when I tell someone how my race went or go right into sharing regrets?  When my brain cleared enough to lift my head up, I knew exactly how I felt.  Grateful.

*I felt Grateful to be in Florida having just raced an Ironman distance race.

*Grateful to have the physical ability to complete one of these.

*Grateful to have a family that supports me and allows me to do this.

*Grateful to have friends who share in this sort of lifestyle and push and support each other.

*Grateful to experience the comradery of strangers who share a single common goal on race day.

*Grateful that my hobby is healthy, social, inspiring and challenging.

*Grateful that despite moving my family cross country from Boulder to Charlotte 10 weeks earlier, I was able to scramble and find new swim, bike and run options and patch together enough work to show up prepared.

*Grateful that I chose to sign up for this race on Wednesday and set out on the 8.5 hour drive the next day to come down solo and do this race after my Ironman North Carolina race fell through.

*Grateful that when I get I got a flat tire, I’ve grown enough to know that being angry, complaining or posting on Facebook doesn’t solve problems, actions do and I was able to fix it and get on with my life with hardly a complaint.

*And perhaps most of all, grateful that in the little gray thing between my ears there is something that makes me want to challenge myself by doing hard things, just to see how I will respond.

And at that moment I wasn’t worried about how I did.  I just felt grateful to have had the opportunity to once again challenge myself just to see how’d I respond.


In pictures where I have them (and drawings where I don’t) this is how it went.


I had a great swim! Other than burping up the big time array of things I decided to eat race morning (from memory – water, orange juice, beet juice, coffee, Ensure, Perform, sports gel, bagel, banana, peanut butter, coconut water, Power Bar, pretzels). I was long and strong and lead the entirety of the 3 loop swim and was first out of the water.


The bike course was 3 loops, each of which contained 4-5 nasty little buggers of a climb. My plan was to go easy on the first loop and then even or negative split the remaining loops, which I did. The is the biggest climb of all, Sugerloaf tops out at about a 14% grade. The young lady behind me was having a bit more of a struggle with the grade. Other than having the wrong gearing (I brought the setup configured for a pancake flat Ironman in North Carolina) and the flat, it all went well and by feel was as good as any ironman distance ride I’ve had.


At mile 100 I had a scare when descending at about 30 miles an hour I hit a pothole. My front aero bottle spray my glasses with water so I briefly couldn’t see. Both of my water bottles flew out and my front carbon fire wheel made a loud CRACK as it hit the hole. It was a brief scary moment. I didn’t die, but I did get a flat tire for my trouble.


I got in from the bike in 6th place. I felt very good at the start and ran between 8:xx and 9:xx miles through mile 20, then some miles began to tip over 10 mins. I never walked except for the aid stations and avoided crashing and burning at any point which is a an improvement over recent IM runs. This is the only run I can recall where I felt like I actually could have run faster when I was done, which for someone who doesn’t have a ton of a confidence on the run, was a big win.


I finished with a 4:08 run and an 11:17 finishing time and 11th place overall (first AG). It was a little slower than I expected, but it was a complete race and the first one in a while where I felt strong enough to compete over the entire day. People have overcome more, but I was happy that I managed the cross country move and the very last minute switch of race venues to arrive at that very spot.



Ironman Maryland 2015

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.


The swim course when they announced the course adjustment. Threatening?

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



Mostly sunny but chilly temps called for long sleeves and arm warmers.

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.” 
-Lee Iacocca 



Winds picking up late in the ride.

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.”
-John Wooden



Lap 1 – The body is still in one piece.

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



Lap 2 – Nearing  the halfway point. Pain is making itself known now.

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.”
-Albert Einstein



Late in the run.

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.”



“Well, that hurt!”

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.”




Moments before crumpling into a 6’5″ sweaty pile of tired.