If I was to script the picture perfect IM training program with impeccable results, it would have looked exactly like what I just executed from April 1 to August 30. Also, in the 14 years I've lived in Seattle, we have never had better spring and summer weather for training.
IMC was my 10th IM. I have qualified for the Ironman World Championship in Kona the last 4 years in a row and in not one of those years did the results of my training compare to what I managed to produce this year. Point being, I couldn't have been more confident in my ability to execute an awesome race with the best results of my (so-called) career. It was truly the perfect training season.
However, this is Ironman and she can be a cruel mistress, indeed. If you allow her cruelty to get the best of you, you will live in regret for a long time.
My #1 rule in Ironman: What you execute or do in an Ironman is a reflection of what you'll do in life. Therefore, never EVER quit! Period.
I chose to fight back and not accept defeat on this day. Here's my story:
(No race is really complete without an understanding of the athlete's race plan. It describes things like morning breakfast, bike & run nutrition and bike & run pacing guidelines. You can read my race plan here:
At IMC I typically place myself somewhere around the middle right on the front row. I find a big guy who looks like a swimmer and ask him what time he expects to do the swim. If he answers sub 1hr then I line up right behind him. :-) That's what I did on Sunday. This guy was at least 6'2" and said he would come out in probably 58 minutes. Perfect!!
Cannon went off and the melee began. Fortunately the amount of contact in those first few minutes was about as good as it gets. I like to swim along or just inside the buoy line so I headed straight for the first one. Things opened up pretty quickly for me and I managed to grab a nice draft between 2 or 3 swimmers all of the way to the first turn boat. I had a little free water to the next buoy but managed to work between two different drafts the remainder of the swim.
This had to be the best swim I have ever had in an IM. I probably drafted 80 - 90% of the entire swim with zero contact after the first 10 minutes. Running out of the water I looked at my watch and it said 59:4x.
Time: 1:00:05 (Not sure why it takes so long to cross the timing mat ;-))
Bike was very uneventful all of the way up until about 2 miles short of Osoyoos when a group of about 10 guys caught me. There was a bit of jostling back and forth until we hit the turn for Richter. This was actually a good sign though since I've never got this far on the bike course before getting hit by some large pack of riders (usually all drafting off of each other). This is also at the point where my friend, Keish Doi, caught me on the bike. He was actually the first person I knew who I saw on the bike up to this point. Again, another first. Usually I'll see guys I know within the first 20 or so minutes.
Richter was a bit more packed than previous years but everything cleared out by the time I hit the descent. Saw teammate, Gerry Marvin, on Richter. We traded spots a few times before I lost him on the rollers. I was mostly alone through this section until I caught female Pro, Sylvie Dansereau, and rode with her until the out-and-back turnaround.
This is right at the point where something just started going wrong as I headed back toward Yellow Lake. My body starting aching all over and I couldn't even hold my position in the aerobars. I started pounding some extra calories but I just wasn't coming around. Actually, things were rapidly declining. I kept telling myself to just get to the top of Yellow Lake and then I can take it easy on the downhill and continue to get more calories down. Mind you, I wasn't behind on calories (in theory) as it was but it was the only solution that made any sense to me at the time. Well, after the climb up YL I was completely toast. I truly felt like I had absolutely nothing left in me so I just got off my bike at the aid station and sat down. I thought my day was done. I saw no realistic way of continuing and then I had that conversation with myself while I drank a bottle of water that an aid station person gave me. There was just no way I was going to quit. At least not yet...
I got back on the bike and the downward spiral continued. I had to get off again about 10 miles later. I could actually see the town of Penticton at this point but just didn't have the energy to move forward. This time it took a little longer but eventually I got back on the bike again. After pushing 190 - 200w all the way to the bottom of YL, I'm now pushing about 120w just trying to get myself back to transition (T2). Those last few miles were spent between wallowing in my own self pity vs trying to think of a way where I could continue and just focus my energy on helping others.
Time: 5:39 (5:32 ride time -- funny how I was only off the bike for about 7 minutes but it felt like 30 minutes)
Power to Richter: 191w/197w
Power to Yellow Lake (where I got off the bike): 189w/198w
Power from that point back to Penticton was a measly 115w/136w. And the worst part was that the last 4 miles, which is flat, I was pushing an impressive 112w!! How sad is that?
I crawled into transition. Ripped my bag open and took 4 Aleve tablets and downed my 20oz bottle of Pepsi immediately. I just sat there trying to figure out what I'm going to do. The people in the tent were asking me all sorts of questions but I just told them I don't think I can go on. That's when this guy who was changing next to me decided to give me a lecture about quitting. I listened because I knew he was right. I got up and just said there's no way I'm going to quit this race.
As I exited the tent I heard my good buddy, Tom Gruver, call my name. He seemed a bit freaked out as to why I wasn't well into the run course so I explained my dilemma. We decided to run together. Transition time ended up being a whopping 10 minutes. Normally it would be about 2 minutes but I felt like I was in there for another 30 minutes.
I saw my Dad about .5 miles into the run and told him what happened and said that it will probably be a long day. I also saw Scott Jones moments later and he ran with me for a moment and gave me some good advice.
Now, strangely enough, somewhere toward the end of mile 1 my body just snapped back. I started feeling great again -- no more body aches. I told Tom that I would help get him through this run. That our goal is to get him a sub-4hr marathon and a PR. He asked me if I felt I could run fast. I told him yes and he responded with, "Well, then you're either an idiot or a REALLY good friend." I responded, "I'd like to think it's the latter." :-)
Either way, I wasn't going to leave him. Honestly, running fast at this point really didn't serve a purpose, imho. I really had no reasonable chance of achieving my goal to qualify for Kona so I just felt like I should focus my attention away from my own race and see what I could do to help others.
Now imagine having to listen to me for 26.2 miles of running because that's what Tom had to put up with. Anyone who knows me also knows how "preachy" I can be at times. I talked and he listened but along the way I met some really great people too. I spent most of my time trying to help others focusing most of my energy on Tom, of course.
About mile 4 of the run a Seattle local, Laura O'meara, caught up with us. I didn't know Laura at the time but we ended running off and on together for most of the next 18 or so miles. Not sure how we got to talking but shortly after Laura caught us she said, "Do you see that lady jumping up and down up there on the side of the road? That's my Mom." Laura's Mom was a total crack up. I've never seen someone so excited to see her daughter race IM. She was like a kid in a candy store and it was the coolest thing to witness. Every time I passed Laura she had to put up with me yelling, "Come on Laura -- let's go!! Pain is temporary! You're a machine!!" At one point late in the race she yelled at me, "You have WAY too much energy!!" and I just laughed.
I must admit that I got the strangest looks from people throughout the run. People thought I was just wacky. For most of the marathon I'd run in front of Tom. Sometimes I was only a couple of feet and other times, when I was really trying to push him, I'd run 20 or yards ahead of him. Occasionally I'd run backwards yelling at him. At other times I would hang out at the aid station and try to flirt with the cute women before sprinting to catch up with Tom again. I tell ya... I had a total blast!!
I met another guy (Dave) from Simi Valley, CA. He ended up cramping later in the run so I tried to motivate him and give him some tips on how to overcome the challenge. He came up to me after the race and threw me some really encouraging words.
Every time I'd see someone I know I'd try to run with them a bit and throw them some encouraging words. Often they were running in the opposite direction but I'd just turn around and run with them for a bit. Not sure how far I ran that day but it was definitely more than 26.2 miles.
I remember that somewhere around mile 17 my right hip flexor started hurting which has been a bit problematic for me the last 3 years. Now I'm pretty good at just shutting out that kind of pain so I did. I just ignored it. Funny enough, by mile 22 or so it was gone.
For the first 20 miles I encouraged Tom and tried to give him some worthy advice about pacing and getting enough calories. However, the last 6 miles I was pretty rough on him. I told him he had to dig deep and take less time at the aid stations. No more Mr Nice Guy. Tom did awesome though. I could tell that he was really suffering those last 6 - 8 miles but the dude ran the entire way. The only time he walked was at the aid stations.
The best part of the entire run came when we started down Main Street which is only about 2 miles to the finish. People were packed along the street so I decided to get them motivated for Tom. I pointed back toward Tom and then raised my arms in the air and the crowd went absolutely crazy. It was so COOL!! And for the first time in the last 8 miles, Tom had the biggest smile on his face. Even I got the chills because the crowd was so freakin' loud!!
Now earlier during the run I agreed to go across the finish line with Tom. It was my original intention to let him go first but he insisted that we go across together. So... just so you know, the whole holding hands across the finish line thing... well, that was Tom's idea, not mine. Ok!!?? Got it? ;-)
Interesting how I could be so toasted and so so close to quitting at one point in the race and then so fresh through most of the run and the end of the race. Honestly, I felt like I could have run another 6 miles easily. Go figure...
Tom ended up getting a 14 minute run PR and a 15 minute overall PR!!
Overall Time: 11:13:01
Now I won't lie and say that I wasn't beating myself up pretty bad about what happened to me on the bike. If you had told me before the race that I would fall apart on the bike, I would have laughed in your face. I have never even come close to falling apart on the bike. That's a result I would NEVER have thought possible. But it happened and as much as I've tried to figure out what went wrong, I have no good answer.
What I experienced was certainly symptomatic of a bonk but I just don't see how that's possible given the amount of calories I had in my system at the time things went south. I've certainly bonked before and yet I have never had my body ache like that either. I've also done the IM bike on less than 1000 calories in some previous IMs so I'm just not buying the whole bonk thing. Also, my power up to the point where things went bad was about 15 watts below what I typically do on a long ride at the end of a 20hr training week and as much as 25 - 30 watts below what I've done on my best long ride of the year. I even thought maybe I was just too over-confident and cocky but then I've always been well aware that many things can go wrong in an IM and have never taken qualifying for Kona for granted. The only thing I can come up with is that I just put too much pressure on myself (internally).
Now something happened to me in the days after the race. All sorts of people came up to me, wrote comments on my Facebook page and sent e-mails to me. They said what I did on the run course was super cool and inspirational. Honestly, I never thought what I did was really that special. I always figured I'm the type of guy who would jump into a burning building to save my friend. To me, that would be incredible and inspirational. I just tried to help people survive what is likely considered to be one of the most challenging sport events in the world anyway. All sorts of people out there are trying to help each other. Either way, I was totally overwhelmed and it really changed my perspective on the race. So, those of you who said those really really nice things to me... well, it made a HUGE difference to me and I thank you dearly from the bottom of my heart.
I guess the best analogy I can come up with is that I felt like a prize fighter who got nailed by a right cross and I went down for the count. However, it's not important that I allowed myself to get hit. What's most important is that I didn't feel that laying on the canvas floor feeling sorry for myself was going to solve my specific problem. So... I got back up again and finished the damn fight.
Somehow when things just don't go your way you have to dig deep and really figure out how to make the best of your situation. I believe I did that on this day so I'm proud of myself. And even though I had very different ideas on how my day would go before the race, it's still an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.