SPOILER ALERT: Though there are some silver linings and lessons learned. There is not a happy ending or dramatic comeback here. I'll do my best to seduce you with details and anecdotes and keep you on the edge of your bike seat but when it's not your day; it's just not your day.
It was the hardest 10hours and 11minutes I've ever fought. But I learned a lot and I really had to calibrate myself and how I took this race on. I wanted a sub-10, I wanted more than a sub-10, I wanted a slot in Kona, and I wanted to have a good race. I got none of that and I am realizing now that it was a good thing. If that race came one second slower with any less of a struggle I wouldn't have learned everything I learned on that Sunday and I wouldn't be as grateful as I am. I know I have the potential to go about a half an hour faster. But if I had done that I would have thought that you have to take these things as seriously as I did if I wanted to be "fast". You don't. You just have to be yourself and your best self and nothing else. That is how anyone can/will race to their own potential; when you do it for yourself.
Fast forward to the race... I don't think I smiled once. I was in pain all day. Mental pain, physical pain, and pain from the actual fatigue of the race. Everything hurt. Starting with my pulled lower back... I woke up Thursday night before the race and got out of bed to pee. I couldn't even stand up straight. My lower back had tightened up for some unknown reason. I literally was gripping my back like the old guy in Family Guy, except less rape-y.
So I arrived in Mont Tremblant, Quebec on Thursday night and checked into our gorgeous condo. It was the North American Championship Ironman 140.6. After unloading everything I rolled out for a bit and went straight to bed. I changed things up a bit for the first time since I started these crazy races. This was the first time I was racing with a pretty big expectation. I wanted to hit a Kona spot this year incredibly. Training was all there and a pretty incredible amount of miles and hours were logged. I had change up the diet and gone dry for most of the season and I was strictly dry for the two months leading up to the race. This seemed like a good idea for some reason... looking back on it now it was definitely a lapse in better judgement on my part.
It didn't go away. I started the swim and couldn't rotate nearly as much as I wanted to. Halfway through the swim I think I drank half of Lac Tremblant. I didn't want to keep going but I kept trying to drafted heels and fought the urge to duck out early. I knew if the negative thoughts were creeping in this early it was going to be a long day. If it were a two loop swim, I surely would not have started the second loop. Luckily, once you get halfway out the feeling of returning is semi-uplifting. I remember seeing the #8 buoy and literally praying to God that the buoy numbers were counting up (to #12) instead of down...
T As I started to get out of the water and peel the wet-suit off I remember being still hunched over and thinking "How the fuck am I going to run a marathon like this??" 1hr and 4mins had passed since I had struggled to hop over the spectator fence to get in my start wave on time. I was shuffling in extremely late because the food in my stomach from the 3:30am breakfast was, in fact, still in my stomach. I felt like shit, even though I couldn't force any out of me. This resulted in no warm up and instead of body-glide slapped on chamois cream to the back of my neck to prevent the chafe. ughhhh....
Anyways, I hobbled thru T1 and though my swim was about a 5min improvement on last year, I wanted to hit a 1:02-ish. Oh well, I know boo-hoo sad story... The back didn't bother me muscle-wise on the bike. And the water I had swallowed by the mouthful in lieu of the expected oxygen for most of the swim helped to ease the full stomach issues. I hopped on the bike and immediately realized I had forgotten to calibrate my power meter. Fucking ditz move... but I grinded it out trying to stay at 72%... It was a struggle. It was cold but that didn't matter. Everyone was cold. I was hurting.
I have my watch set to auto-lap at 11.2miles (it makes for an even ten laps throughout an Ironman and if I was on my pace would alert me about every half an hour or so). I was struggling through the 3rd lap when the big race changer hit me. My chain dropped as I shifted to the small chain ring. "Not a huge deal," I thought as I desperately tried to shift it back over without getting off... No luck. I peeled off to the side to mess with it... DAMNIT!!! People whizzed by and I was left wondering why my pedals wouldn't turn. Eventually I found the problem as I was lucky and the race mechanic was close by... He pointed out that something was stuck in my derailleur. Low and behold it was the power meter magnet... Welp, that sucks... this race just got a lot more interesting. I went by feel for the rest of the race and didn't push it. A few miles later I saw a friend of a friend draped in an MIT tri kit pass by and he thew out a "nice job" and I was immediately pissed he passed me. I thought I'd see him on the run. I didn't want to push it up the first round of hills especially power-meter-less. It was a hard fought 112miles. The 5hours and 25mins passed with more of the onslaught of negative thoughts racing through my head. I stayed in areo position for just about all of it. Mostly because I was scared to test the back muscles out. I was locked in and still fighting. The only positive energy of the bike came when I popped a double dose of caffeine pills. It hit me and rolled with me through the end of the bike.
I had no idea what I was in store for when I tried to unclip and get off my bike. I could barely sit up. I tried to swing my leg around and almost collapsed in the process. Luckily, a quick acting volunteer grabbed me and another grabbed my bike. My back felt like I was doing the worm vertically... I must have been a sorry sight. I don't remember much of waddling my way into the tent to grab my bag but I do remember sitting in T2 Literally thinking that there was no way I was going to be able to finish. I wanted to. I wanted to really badly. But I honestly didn't know if my body would let me. I was on the verge of tears and honestly probably would have cried if my body could have spared the hydration.
"the first aid station is a few miles out." I said. "Just get there." I managed to get my shoes on and get out. I was still in striking distance of a sub-10hour Ironman and given my awkward half waddle half jaunt I rolled out at a 7:45min/mile pace... I guess we could see where this went. It was uplifting to be on my own feet and off the bike. Again, the begining of the run is always the part where I seem to realize I ate too much on the bike. I've had these issues all season and couldn't seem to correct it. Maybe it was still the ball of breakfast in the belly. It was water only at the aid stations for a while.
Mile 6-7ish came by when that feeling seeped into my mouth. Everyone knows "that feeling". "That feeling" when your mouth just starts to fill up with water and you know what comes next is doubling over and taking a second look at what you just ate... Well my back didn't really allow me to double over so I peeled off to the side and did my best at throwing up while still standing semi-upright. Wasn't pretty.
13.1miles somehow passes and I hadn't been looking at my watch for a while now. It was another uplifting experience go through the village again. This was followed by the awful experience of having to turn right for your second loop and the finish line is just a left turn away... Woof. Through sheer habit I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I guess it's true that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. I think that deep down I just knew that it was going to hurt like all hell when I stopped so whether I stopped now or later it didn't matter... (this is me practicing making logical decisions over emotional ones...)
The struggle was real. The big moment came right around mile 19-20ish. I saw MIT pants again... He was struggling too. I scooped him up as I passed him and we stuck with each other. It was good to be running with someone I knew but deep down I was hoping he would just let me go. I stayed at my pace and he latched on hard. I didn't know how much fight he had left in him but if I compared it to a gas tank not only was I empty but there was no secret reserve tank hidden anywhere. I was happy I scooped him up though he was going a lot slower pace than me at the time and if I can be someone elses motivation to pick themselves back up and rally then I am always happy about that... but then again - he was also in my AG so yeeahh- my heart was torn. I kept the pace just outside of my comfort zone. I was hurting - but I was also hurting at mile 1, I was also hurting on the bike, and comparably hurting more on the swim... shiiiiittt, I have been hurting since Thursday night and now it's Sunday afternoon...
There are two hills as you hit mile 25. MIT was still gazing at my calf. I peeled back just a smidge and let him hit the first hill. He took off and a this point had about 50 feet on me. "It's OK," I said. "Give him the first one. Smash the second one." Well that is what I tried to do. And anyone who knows how I was knows that I always have a killer sprint at the end... I thought I had this. I was back on his shoulder now. I dug in. Leaned a little more forward and dipped my hand to push this last kilometer for the sprint. My Back had other plans and quickly kept me in check with a shooting pain that I thought was going to knock me over. It felt like a punch from superman right in the center of my spine. MIT was gone. He dug me out hard and left me 50seconds tenth to his ninth place in the AG... I hate getting out dug. But we hugged it out at the finish line. Man hug style. He is a great dude and nailed an awesome race.
I went all in for this race and began to obsess over it. Toward the begging of the season I was fine - it wasn't a big deal... I did my thing and got all my training in. I felt extremely confident and had no issue telling people I was shooting for the stars and wanted to be booking a flight to a Big Island in October. I knew I had to have a few key things line up and you never know who else is going to show up (I actually knew one of the guys in my AG was racing. It was the winner of the American Zofigen race I first wrote a race report on. So I knew it was not going to be a slow field whatsoever.) But as the race got closer and the stress started to build I had a pretty bad feeling come over me. All the training added in with all the things I missed out on that I usually love doing began to pile up a big mound of stress.
I totally was not myself leading up to the race. I was really high strung and my attitude began to shift. Even my thoughts and words shifted from "I can't wait to dominate this race." to "I think I can hit a solid time." to "I can't wait for this race to pass and to get back to doing the other things I like to do." It was a weird feeling being locking in and so focused for so long but then as the goal crept closer I began to lose interest for reasons unbeknownst to me. I was sad about it. I still really wanted it. Bad. But I had felt that I lost myself a bit.
The drinks after the longs rides with friends, the post training run brunches, the occasional rock-climb or CrossFit competition, the hungover rides/swims/runs and the laughs about how we felt like shit but still got it done. This was all a part of who I am and how I train. Having given up most/all of that stuff was what I thought I had to do to get to the next level of racing. I wanted to be faster at all costs. This taught me the hard way that the secret to getting faster or better that you have to stay true to yourself while also training a bit harder. You can't ever forget that at the end of the day you are supposed to be having fun. All the time. Period.
I will never lose myself in such a race EVER AGAIN. I am inherently faster when I race for myself and nothing else. I am the guy heel clicking at mile 21, giving high fives, corny jokes, and handstand finishes. I am not the guy who expects things at races and I am not the guys who stresses out about anything. I will have my revenge on that course at 70.3 World Championships and you better believe I will be smiling for every 70.3 of it! Cheers to a beer the night before! (and I will definitely have a race report more traditional in my ways afterwards!)