sunday started like every other race morning has for me this season. sort of. up really early, making pancakes while still half asleep. although this time, it was 3:45am and i was cooking them on a hot plate in a hotel. still, they tasted amazing like they always do, and after double checking my morning race bag a few too many times, my pal Steve and I were off. our hotel was about a ten minute walk from the race venue which made for a nice way to get the legs moving prior to the race. we got to the capital square, dropped off our special needs bags for the bike and run (bags we would have access to halfway through each leg of the race), set up our bikes, wished each other the best, and went our separate ways to finish our preparations for the day. having given ourselves plenty of time, i found myself sitting in a rather quiet part of the terrace around 5:55am, a good hour before race start and 20 or so minutes before i was to meet up with dad and Stoob. and as i sat there watching all the other athletes dashing around with anxious faces, i realized i was completely calm. no nerves, no apprehension. after all, i had done this race the previous two years, so it was nothing new. i rode the course twice in the past month, so that was familiar as well. my family and friends were going to be out on the course all day long, so it wasn’t like i was out there all alone, and i had gotten the exact words of encouragement i needed to hear the day before from an unexpected visitor at the hotel. so really, what was there to be nervous about?
the forecast the few days leading up to the race looked promising, yet questionable for race day. temps were to remain in the 70’s all day, but they were calling for strong winds. as it turned out, the forecasters nailed it – overcast skies, 70° temperatures all day, and fairly strong winds around 15mph. while these conditions were music to my ears, it did make for a difficult swim and a few tough sections on the bike. but i can tell you this: it sure as hell beat sunny and hot.
after a brief chat with my parents, i made my way down to the start where i ran into my teammate David just before i hit the water. we shared a few words, wished each other luck, and were in the water by 6:45. i was able to get in a few 30-45 second hard repeats to warm myself up, and with about three minutes to spare, found my way to a decent spot near the front of the pack. i didn’t plan to go out hard, but i’ve learned not many people towards the front do. and with a steady pace, a decent swimmer can get out of the frenzy a lot faster starting up front than waiting back a few seconds.
what seemed like a minute after i found my position we were off, and for the first three or so minutes, i swam with my head out of the water, constantly sighting for a clean line. and it paid off wonderfully. i didn’t have much contact with other swimmers, didn’t get kicked or hit or swum over, and less than five minutes into the race, i found myself in semi-smooth water with very few swimmers around me. from that point on, i found my comfortable pace (1:40/100 pace), sighted every ten strokes, and set in for the next hour of swimming. and despite some fairly tough chop and waves to contend with, i didn’t find the swim that bad. sure there was a bit of fighting for position around the turn buoys or a random swimmer that would run right into the side of you out of nowhere, and the backstretch seemed to go on f-o-r-e-v-e-r. but for the most part, i never pushed the pace, i managed to swallow only a few mouthfuls of lake water when being thrown around in the waves, and after and hour and seven minutes, my feet found the shore and i was off for T1 feeling great.
the spectator support at this race is unparalleled, and coming out of the water to thousands of screaming people is insane. i quickly spotted my pal Dani who was cheering like crazy, and caught a quick glance of my family before making my way into the transition area to prepare for the bike. about eight minutes or so later, i was off on the bike.
it takes about five or so minutes for your head to stop spinning after swimming for over an hour, running through transition, and hopping on the bike, but i quickly settled in, found my watts, and set my focus on the task at hand. i noticed my stomach was a bit wonky and figured it was from taking in some water during the swim, but it didn’t stop me from eating my nutrition every 15 minutes, and within an hour, it seemed to have passed. the first 16 miles out to the loop flew by, and i felt like i was flying despite riding a bit under wattage. ‘good’ i thought to myself. ‘keep it light on the pedals.’
the first loop went as planned. i nailed my target watts and nutrition, and saw a ton of friends and family along the way. a perfectly timed boost at the start of the second loop from a familiar face had me feeling great through verona, and although my wattage seemed to fall just a bit through the second loop, i still was able to keep to my nutrition until about mile 85 or so. it was then i started to feel a bit sluggish, and the GI upset i felt at the start of the bike returned. i knew it wasn’t the result of pushing the bike too hard, but around mile 100, i decided to ease back and ride easy into town in hopes i’d recover a little by the start of the run.
just before reaching T2, i flipped to screen 2 on my Garmin to see a ride time of just over six hours with an average speed of 18.3mph. it was the first time i had looked at my ride time all day, and i was pleasantly surprised as i hopped off my bike and ran for T2.
i was in to T2 and changed for the run within about three minutes, but not feeling much better than i had at mile 100 on the bike, i decided to stay sitting down for a few extra minutes. a volunteer, noticing i wasn’t getting up, asked if i was ok. “sure,” i said. “just taking a breather.” he replied, “GD right!” i smiled. “you go right ahead! take all the time you need,” he said as he returned a smile. and with that, i got myself up and headed out the door to run a marathon.
that first mile was probably the best, yet hardest of the day. best due to the fact i saw my family, my old probation pals, my buddy Joe, and had amazing support from tons of people around the capital and down state street. worst, because i knew i was in trouble. i fought the urge to puke from about three steps into the run and with 26.19 miles to go, i knew it was going to be a long ass day. still, i dwelled on the positive. i told myself i had a great swim. that i had just biked 112 miles, and finished it nearly 20 minutes faster than i had hoped to, all while keeping my power nearly 30 watts under my goal. and i focused on three thoughts, and three thoughts only:
1. get to the next aid station, eat and drink, and repeat.
2. ‘sometimes you just do things.’
(this i got from Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run. for some reason it just makes sense to me, and it answers the question of ‘why the hell do i do these races’ perfectly when your mind keeps asking you that same question over and over and over.)
3. ‘your legs are not giving out. your head is giving up. keep moving.’
(pre-race, i grabbed a sharpie and wrote this on my left arm. it’s something i borrowed from a friend’s FB page without her knowing, but i’m sure she won’t mind. and after each aid station, i reread it, refocused, and continued running.)
but it wasn’t easy. by mile three, i couldn’t fight back the nausea and had to empty my stomach. immediately, i grabbed my nutrition, took a sip, washed it down with water, and keep running. and so it went, following the same routine for the next 23 miles: run for about three miles, eat and drink, puke, repeat. by mile 16, i was so pissed off i had to keep stopping to puke that i said fuck it and just keep running as i did so. (my sincere apologies to any spectators who had to witness this.) and while i wasn’t able to maintain the 9:00/mi pace i had hoped to throughout, i only needed to back it off a minute or two during the second loop. and through it all, i keep running. i drew support from my family, my friends, my co-worker Rachel and her dad, Erika and her sister, and the 100’s of beard supporters along the way. i found strength from the past three years, thinking of my parents and their medical woes, the kids in Nepal, Elly, and all the other stuff that was loads harder to deal with than running a race.
the thing was, my legs never got tired. it was a mental battle the entire way. we’ve all been sick, and the only thing you want to do is lay down and not move. throwing up is by far my least favorite feeling in the world, and to know that i’d have to keep doing something for 2, 3, 4 hours longer that would inevitably make me continue to do so was a tough battle to fight. but i was able to quiet my mind, focus on the three things i mentioned earlier, and make my way through. five miles became ten, ten became 20. and with 5k to go, i knew i had made it. just before hitting the capital square, i rounded the corner to see my buddy Joe jumping up and down, screaming like crazy. he met me in the middle of the street, gave me a huge hug, and told me how happy he was for me. it was then i think it all hit me. how much work i’ve put into my training this past year, the medical stuff i had to overcome with my metabolism, the 180° switch i made with my diet, and all the things i’ve had to forgo to make this day happen. from there on, the last mile was pure enjoyment. i gave high fives and rockstar horns to everyone that called out, and rounding the corner down MLK, i ran down the shoot to finish what i had started nearly three years ago.
i’m often asked why i kept signing back up for the race these past two years after it didn’t go so well the first two times. sure, i could have called it quits, decided the iron distance wasn’t for me, or that my body wasn’t able to handle it. god knows that would have been the easier thing to do. and not finishing wasn’t without heartache or embarrassment. but the choice was never a hard one for me to make. i started something, and i wanted to finish it. after all, why do anything in life if you don’t see it through, right? and in the end, this journey has continued to help me grow into the best possible version of me i can be: a healthy, mentally strong, confident, and happy person who knows how valuable life is, how far we can push ourselves, and how we have the choice to make life amazing.