While it’s still fresh in my mind, I better write this all down.
This journey started well over a year ago. Ever since my first Ironman back in 2009 at Lake Placid, I have not felt satisfied in my performances. I took all of 2010 to learn to “race” through the 70.3 distance with a goal of going to 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, which I accomplished. I then trained straight through to 2011 in preparation for Ironman Lake Placid 2011. The broken collarbone in May 2011 was a set back for my performance at Lake Placid, but under the circumstances, I performed well enough to give me the motivation to give Ironman one more try to see if I could qualify for Kona.
I set my sights on Ironman NYC for a few reasons. The first being its’ close proximity to home. I could train there all year round and know the course. I could be ready for the weather as I live near by. I could easily get to the race and back home again if I needed anything. My family was within quick driving distance. Also, this was a new race, no upper hand to those veterans that knew “tricks” to courses. It was also a big qualifying race with more Kona slots than most other races.
I dug deep for training. Really deep. Master swim classes every morning for a year. Intense workouts on the bike through TargeTraining. High run volume all through Fall/Winter and mostly into Spring. I planned all my early Spring races to gear me up for Ironman and performed well enough that I assumed all was on track. My coach planned it all out for me and I performed as it was written for me.
Some where along the line I started to lose focus on having fun. I realized I was spending much more time training alone and looking at it as work. As something I “had to do”. The only times I had fun are when friends like Frank, Mitch, Tara, and John would text me to join them for work outs. I really enjoyed those, but started dreading the longer alone time stuff. 6 hours on a long ride by yourself sucks. Big time! Long runs under the hot sun with traffic trying to take you out is no way to go through life. I started looking forward to the end of this madness. But yet I stayed true to my plans and workouts.
Everything was on track. Great wetsuit (BlueSeventy Helix), great bike from TargeTraining (BMC TM01), my trusty shoes from Saucony. Nutrition was dialed in. Health was good. Body weight was down. I had no reasons why I shouldn’t perform at my best.
Three weeks before Ironman and I changed my tri-suit for comfort reasons. I also was advised to switch my gearing for the bike and move to a slightly tighter group. I was riding a 12-28 cassette and was advised to move to an 11-23. I figured with 3 weeks left, what is the harm in trying it out…
Two weeks before my Ironman was the Lake Placid Ironman and I went to train and cheer on friends (Mitch, Frank, Steve, Tara, Stephen, Kevin). I went up with my buddy Eugene and we went out for a 2 loop swim in Mirror Lake. It went well. We then went out for a 2 loop bike on course. After the first loop, Euge decided to drop back and take it easy. I still had training to do and was suppose to increase watts for the second loop. Unfortunately, Lake Placid has steeper hills than the NYC course. On the second loop I increased my watts as I was suppose to, but I still had on the 11-23 cassette. I spiked my watts on the hills and started feeling a bit uncomfortable. I finished up my training and went back to the hotel to rest and assess any damage. Nothing seemed that bad, just some aches.
The following week my knees really started to bother me. While out for a run I happen to pass by my surgeon that worked on my clavicle from last year. She asked how I was and I told her about the knee discomfort. She told me to stop in to see her. The following day she had me in the office and it was determined I had some pretty bad tendinitis in the knee around the quad attachment point on the inside of the knee. She gave me an anti-inflammatory injection for both knees. This was about the worst pain I had felt in a long time. A 6″ needle passing through muscle and then into inflamed tendons. Lovely.
The week before Ironman and my knees started to feel better. The tendons seemed to not be as inflamed. I went out for one of my last long-ish rides (3 hours). The tail end called for another harder effort. This didn’t go well. My hip felt like it was on fire and my knees ached again, but this time it wasn’t the tendons, it was the quad muscles at the attachment point.
So now with just a week before Ironman, I’m running around looking for miracles. Massage everyday. Kinesio tape, all brands. My surgeon tells me to take Aleve, 2 in the morning and at night. She also tells me it’s ok to take during the race, just to stay hydrated.
Wednesday before Ironman. I go into the city with Chris Kinney from TargeTraining and we get our packets and check out the expo. I check out the Rock Tape both for some Kinesio tape and it seems to work well. My right knee feels ok, my left knee is still a bit sore.
Thursday I rest.
Friday I go into the city with my wife, Jenn, and we rack my bike and go to the hotel to relax. My bags are packed, my food is ready, my tri-suit is laid out. I’m good to go.
Saturday – Race Day!!!
2am, out of bed and eating 1000 calories worth of eggs, potatoes, bananas, and gluten free waffles. 3am I roll down to the shuttles that bring us to the ferry for transition. 4am I’m on a ferry on my way to Ross Dock in NJ for transition. 5am I’m in line for body marking and to check out my bike and inflate my tires.
This is my favorite time in a race. Right before the storm. The looks on peoples faces. They are scared out of their minds. Hardly anyone smiles and hardly anyone is breathing normally. I love this. The anxiety of it all. I of course need to be the jackass that makes jokes to see if I can snap people out of their zombie like approach to pre-race strategy. It doesn’t usually work, I usually just get glares cast in my direction, but it seems to keep me occupied from the tasks at hand, like, “what’s that brown stuff floating in the water we are about to swim in?” and “what’s that smell?”.
6am we board the ferry to travel 2.4 miles upstream to the barge from where we will jump into the toilet, I mean river. It is very odd to see a 2.4 mile swim course in a straight line. It doesn’t seem that far all of a sudden.
6:50, the pro’s dive in and are gone. 7am, the rest of us jump in and take off. The water doesn’t taste nearly as bad as it looks. I don’t feel the current yet. Luckily I breath to my left and the buoy markers are to my left. I feel very strong with my swim and start to wonder where the hell the tide is that is suppose to carry us down stream faster. Oh wait, there it is. t the halfway point I notice the buoys going by a lot faster. I change my swim stroke to more of a glide to take advantage of it. It’s starting to get very warm in my tri suit. I concentrate on my breathing and stroke to make sure everything stays on target. I am doing well. Passing a lot of people and I don’t notice anyone passing me. I do notice I haven’t pee’d yet in my wetsuit. Something I do often. Oh well, no big deal…
7:45, I’m out of the water and sprinting for my bike bag and changing on the fly. I see Chris Budden in the changing tent and tell him to shake a leg, no time to waste. I run to my bike and get out of there. Up the transition hill (the worst climb of the day) and get out on course. The plan is to stick 200 watts for all 112 miles. Right away I notice there are very few of us out here on the bike course, so I must be doing well. I pass a few guys and settle in all by myself. Strange, 2500 racers and I am all by myself. Anyhow, I pass 3 guys speaking what I thought was German. Definitely a set of twins and another guy, same jersey’s and 2 guys had the same bike. This goes on for 4 hours. They were working together badly on the bike. I would pass them on flats and downhills. The lead rider would then catch me and pass me with another guy in tow up a hill. He would then look behind him to see where his twin brother was and sit up to wait for him. This would force me to stand up out of the saddle on the hills to pass the 2 guys so I didn’t get caught for drafting. This BS went on for the entire bike section. No damn marshalls to be seen. My knees were starting to ache.
I performed as I was suppose to on the bike. It was nice seeing Chris Budden on the course as well as Chris Kinney. Kristen Budden was cheering out on the course as well, which was motivating. But these damn drafters were really bothering me and messing up my hill strategy. I just couldn’t shake them. My left knee finally gave out. I popped 2 Aleve and settled back in. My nerves started to get the better of me as I wondered how I was doing physically. My watts were good at 200, my cadence was around 93 rpm’s, my normalized power was around 206. Everything seemed in check, but I noticed, I hadn’t pee’d on the bike yet. I usually pee about every 15 minutes or so when racing. I double checked in my head about my drinking and nutrition and everything seemed right. Salt tabs every 45 minutes, a bottle of Perform every hour, water at every aid station all over my body to keep cool, and Bonk Breakers every hour. Everything was as planned, I’m just not peeing.
At the end of the second loop of the bike I looked down to see my time. I was around 5:15 for the bike, which meant I was doing really well. Hell, a total of 6 hours into the race??? Just a run left to do?? 8 pace will get me to 9:30. 9:30 will get me to Kona!!!!
I grabbed my run bag and popped 2 more Aleve, my knee was throbbing. I took off out of transition and back up the hill again. My plan for the hills was to shuffle, so I stuck to my plan.
The first 14 miles are hell. Up and down hills. The plan was to hold on around 8 pace or a bit more to just survive the 14 miles before the GW bridge. Again, I noticed I was alone out there. Really the only ones ahead of me were the pro’s and a few other age groupers. It is very odd to be in a leading position in a race of this size. It’s also nice as the aid stations are still full and have ice for the first few people that make it there early in the race. I took Perform and Coke at each station, I dumped water over my head and shoved ice in my jersey. It was getting stupid humid out and hot. I noticed I still hadn’t pee’d….
I started slowing down on my second loop of the run after seeing Chris Gio on course. Things were starting to go wrong. I pushed through it and shuffled along. I realized my pace was around 8:30 or worse, but the math in my head said to get across the bridge and then settle into an 8 pace and drop it from there for the final 10 miles when it gets flat…
On my way past the 2nd turn around I made my way up the “last” big hill to get to the bridge. No one was around. I decided I had to force myself to pee. I concentrated and finally let loose. Not much to report there. Hardly anything. My knee really hurt and I popped 2 more Aleve and shuffled up the hill to the bridge.
My race was crumbling before my eyes. I made it to the stairs of the bridge and could barely walk. I climbed the metal stairs to the bridge and started my crossing. The wind smacked me in the face and at first it was a really welcoming gust. No shade, but the wind made me feel better. Now, I’m not afraid of heights and I don’t mind bridges, but I started to get a bit of vertigo going over the bridge. My stomach locked up and I wanted to throw up. The world got a bit dizzy.
I made it to the other side and down the staircase. It was at this point I realized my feet had swollen and my toes were jammed up against the toe box. I also felt blisters on all my toes. This had never happened in training. My toes really hurt going down the stairs and down the ramps. There were a lot of ramps. A lot.
I finally made it to the green-way and started my final approach to the finish line. Every step hurt my toes. Every step my left knee screamed. The world was still dizzy and my stomach cried for mercy. My brain started to give up on me.
Now, here is the really hard part of an Ironman. It has nothing to do with training. It has nothing to do with your equipment. It has nothing to do with health. It has to do with heart and being strong minded. The bitter pill to swallow is the realization that you don’t possess these traits. For all the hard work, all the early mornings, all the sacrifices, all the money spent. All nothing compared to heart and mind. Two things I was weak at. I say “was”, but I mean “am”. I am weak. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. It was good to admit it to myself and I felt a bit of relief, but at the same time it was pretty depressing.
I realized I had about 9 miles to go. I also realized no one had passed me yet, so I had to still be in pretty good standings. Maybe still a shot at top 10? Time to shuffle forward. Shuffle, pick up the pace to jog, then stop to re-assess the damage. Damn, now someone caught me. 8 miles to go. Keep on keeping on. Shuffle, jog, stop. Each aid station was like an oasis with promises of something to fix me, but nothing did. What I really wanted was a shower at each aid station to wash off this feeling of misery. Like dirty skin, I just wanted it to be showered off so I can get going like new.
7 miles to go. Damn this sun is hot. 6 miles to go, WTF????? Where did these hills come from? It’s suppose to be flat?? Why am I going up hill? More stairs? Why am I climbing more stairs? Dear god make it stop. Uh oh, I’m about to pass out. Hold on dude, this is going to get bumpy. More people pass me.
4 miles to go. Here is the zig zag pattern in the run course that was suppose to be flat. They lied. Up and down. Each step my feet and knee are killing me. More people passing me. Spectators cheering me on, lying to me about how great I look. Please, I know I look like an extra from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
1.2 miles left to go. I look at my watch for the first time since the bridge and realize I’m still at sub-10 hours. But barely. Hell dude, move your damn feet!!!! Come on, you have trained so hard for this. You know this is your last one. Kona is out of sight now, too many guys passed you. It’s all over, just move your damn feet. Think of your wife. Think of your kids. Think of your family. Dammit MOVE!! Don’t worry about the disappointment, it’s okay, you won’t go to Kona as an athlete, you can go as a vacationer. It’s ok, you just aren’t that kind of athlete. Maybe it’s time to find fun in swimming and biking and running. Maybe it’s time that you NEVER go out and “train” alone again, only with friends. Maybe it’s time to take a break. But most of all, it’s time to FINISH THIS DAMN RACE. NOW MOVE!!!
And then I heard it. The sound of the finish line. Like angels welcoming you home. A beacon in the darkness that had me locked away. Each step brought me closer. Louder. Cheering. And then my new favorite part of Ironman. The finish line. When you realize you gave all you were going to give on that particular day and you are finishing up a race that by other peoples standards you have done well. Kids and grown ups reach out their hands in the finishing shoot to wait for a high-five. This had never happen to me before. I must be one of the first few finishers? Top 100? I took FULL advantage of this and high-five EVERYONE that stuck their hand out. That was so much fun.
I shuffled through the finish line, got my medal (somehow by-passed the t-shirt and visor), grabbed my gear bag and jumped in a taxi. I didn’t stay for anything. I wanted to see my wife, take a shower, eat, and pass out.
As soon as I got in the cab I wanted to throw up. I threw a $20 at the driver and sprinted (ok, it was more of a glorified hobble) into the hotel. Almost threw up in the elevator. Made it to the hotel, said hi to my wife and found home in the bathroom. What happened next is not fitting for words. But at some point I did pass out. I also came to understand why I didn’t pee during the race.
The Aleve shut down my system. My bladder and liver were in bad shape. My stomach was in knots. My toe nails black and toes blistered. Not clear blistered. Blood blistered.
It’s done. It’s over. My results are my best so far, but I don’t have the heart for Ironman anymore. I hope to find fun and fitness in training with friends at TargeTraining. I hope to help others in their training. I hope to stay competitive in the 70.3 distance. But I’m not going to sacrifice my life with my family and friends to do so. I want to have fun doing this sport. And I hope to do it with all of you, my friends, my family. Thank you all for being there with me.
Swim – 43:18 – 10th Place
Bike – 5:17:12 – 10th Place
Run – 3:59:27 – 20th Place
T1 – 3:37
T2 – 2:54
Overall – 10:06:28 – 20th Place