I’ve conveniently used my attorney as an excuse why I haven’t been writing since my accident this past December. Basically, I’m not supposed to comment on “that” until all the paperwork is complete. And there’s a lot of “that” to talk about, let me assure you!
Finally though, I’ve found something worth writing about that doesn’t directly involve “that.”
So instead, I’m going to write about this.
I was with my coach this morning for only my second trail run since “that” occurred. We were talking about my comeback race, the first race of 2013 for me, Boise 70.3. Up until our conversation, I had every intention of unleashing THIS on the race course.
As you can imagine, following “that,” I have stored up a fair amount of adrenaline, frustration and angst. I was planning to bottle it until June 8 — my birthday conveniently enough — and unleash holy hell on that race course. But my coach convinced me otherwise. Now, I’m going to try a more measured approach. He counseled that I have a long season in front of me still — June Lake, Boulder 70.3, Ironman Lake Tahoe AND Ironman Arizona loom. It would be wiser to show some restraint at Boise, make sure my knee can handle the pounding that will result from running on concrete (which I haven’t tried since “that” happened!).
With some reluctance, I’m now planning to truly emphasize the comeback part of comeback race. That means holding back on the run somewhat, at least for the first half of the course. The risk we’re trying to avoid, of course, is re-injuring the knee and undoing all the progress I’ve made since March. It was at that time I attended a Wildflower Training Camp with my teammates and officially began rounding back into shape after a rather melancholy 2.5 month hiatus from significant training.
The last thing I want to do is start over in my rehab. So, I’m now looking at Boise this way:
Go Fast at Ironman Lake Tahoe > Go Fast at Ironman Boise 70.3.
This is going to be extremely difficult for someone as competitive as me. I’m simply not wired to leave speed out on the course. I want to finish every race knowing there’s NOTHING left in my body that I could have given to improve my performance. But that day will have to wait.
In other words, I need to save my anger for another day. And that day will have to be September 22.
I’ll need to remind myself of this repeatedly as I’m being passed on the run. I can’t promise I won’t resemble Jerry Stiller’s “Seinfeld” character by mile 10:
Doing the smart thing sucks sometimes. Oh well, more anger to channel into “that” bottle for another day.
A little less than a week ago, I received the results of my MRI report. And I began a new kind of race countdown.
Previously, I was gearing up for the Lake Piru TT on January 6. Followed by the Bandit 30k trail run on February 17. Then, in March I’d have the Cheseboro Half Marathon. April would bring the ITU Club Championship, all building for a shot to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships at Ironman St. George 70.3 on May 4.
Those countdowns all ended with one phrase from my orthopedist: “You’ve got the Blake Griffin injury.”
Translation: Fractured patella. Prognosis: Crutches for 2-4 weeks, no running for three months, no racing until at least May.
And there went half my season.
Fortunately, I’m alive. I just read a story about a cyclist killed in Texas. Hit by a car and boom that’s it. I’m beginning to think that riding on a trainer is not only the best way to ride, but perhaps the only way to ride.
I’m getting used to a new kind of countdown. The one where we don’t think ahead to the next race, but instead just hope to get through one day at a time — because that’s one day closer to getting back on the bike or being able to run. It’s a humbling new perspective to face, but something I’m getting used to. I’ve had more time to spend with friends and family, and catching up on sleep has become my new hobby.
Finding the motivation to stay in shape is the hardest part. I can swim lightly without pushing off the wall, and that seems to be pretty much it. Still I’m trying to stay positive. I’ve organized a game drive for our office cleaning lady whose own 14-year-old son was struck while crossing the street on his way to school in a hit-and-run. He’s been bed-ridden essentially since September. He has a PlayStation 3 though, so my studio is rounding up a bunch of games to help him out.
Channeling my own anxiety about my crash to help others has been a welcome distraction and feels good. It’s also made me realize once again how lucky I was. But still, in the back of my head and in my heart, I wonder, “Why keep doing this?” This is a dangerous sport. What if there’s a darker countdown to something worse?
I don’t want to live like that. I can’t remember the movie, but the quote from it stands out crystal clear: “Everyone dies. But not everyone truly lives.” That is my philosophy.
So…the countdown to get back on the bike is on. The countdown to run again comes after that. And the countdown to resume the sport I love is just around the corner.
Besides, you know the old saying, “Those who can’t do, blog.”
It’s Saturday night. Steph and I are home, blissfully crossing off longstanding to-do list items. Primarily the fun kind. Well, at least mine are. Write more. Read more — just finished Tyler Hamilton’s Secret War about the rampant corruption in cycling during the height of the Lance Armstrong Years. Visit more — hung out with my buddy TJ and new neighbor Ruben at my favorite local bar.
I grudgingly admit it, but maybe this bike crash has jarred my priorities back into order. Make no mistake, I will tackle training with a new level of anger and vengeance once I’m cleared to do so. I hate that an opportunity to improve during a vacation period was taken from me. But, this brief period “off” has made me realize some of the lazy fun I’ve been missing in pursuit of my more ambitious (and riskier) fun. For example, I slept in until 11 a.m. this morning. 11 A.M. IN THE MORNING!!! On a Saturday!!! Usually I’m 2.5 hours deep into a ride by then. Today, Steph and I lounged around, took in a movie (Life of Pi, excellent!!!), visited with friends for an early dinner, and I hung out afterwards grabbing a beer. After that I finished the Hamilton book and here we are, nearing midnight, writing while the knee is propped up on the couch. I have no concerns about getting to bed early because of a training session tomorrow. I must admit, this feeling is nice. Very nice.
Still, I hunger for the competition. I hunger to play with and yes, beat or be beaten by my teammates. I miss trying to get just a bit better each day. Getting out of bed wondering if I can push a bit farther today than I did yesterday. But at least I’ve been reminded that training at all is a gift. So is life, for that matter. Everyone who hears my story about what happened cannot believe that I essentially walked away from the crash without any broken bones. I appreciate that more and more, especially now that I have more time to reflect on such things.
Slowing down, just like in training, can sometimes cause the greatest gains. In this case that doesn’t mean wattage. It means some (probably needed) perspective.
The center of the imploded windshield is where my helmet must have hit. It's cracked through the left temple.
If you’re an avid triathlete or cyclist, I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase at least once on a group ride: “There are two kinds of cyclists; those who have crashed…and those who haven’t crashed yet.”
I remember the first time I heard that phrase. It was a group ride with the San Fernando Valley Bike Club, a crusty group of veteran cyclists who didn’t have much interest in teaching a new kid like myself how to ride properly. I was mostly ignored…and dropped.
But, they were right about that phrase. I’ve crashed twice now, the most recent being the result of a motorist either not paying attention to the road or on her cell phone. We are still trying to sort out the details, but the short version is that my tri bike lost a fight with a Fiat, while I somehow managed to walk away — albeit with a bum knee and tight neck. (I won’t know the extent of damage done to my right knee until mid-next week, when the MRI results come in.)
I’m finding that the hardest part of a bike crash can often be the healing process. I should have known this considering my lengthy mental recovery from my tumble over Santa Susana Pass a couple years ago. And it’s not even the physical part that sucks the most. It’s knowing that your fitness is leaking from your pores like a slow tire leak — only there’s nothing that can stop it except time itself.
What kind of sport is this where the majority of my cycling friends have been upended by vehicles, or stray pets? Football players only have to deal with other people. We have people, terrain, weather, vehicles and animals!!! Oh my!!
It’s been just longer than a week since my accident. I’m going stir crazy. I tried to hop back in the pool (moderate success) and on the bike trainer once (moderate failure). I’m nowhere near ready to run yet — my body has flat-out said “NO!” to that in big capital letters after jogging a few steps. I can now better imagine what my friend Caleb is going through after shattering a clavicle. He’s out for three months. I expect I’ll be out six weeks with no activity based on the initial estimate given by the orthopedist at Southern California Orthopedic Institute this past Friday.
For now, I can only take the same advice I gave Caleb just a week ago. RELAX. It’s the off-season. There are no upcoming races. Enjoy sleeping in, staying up late, and drinking a bit more beer. Maybe I’ll go back to being “Two Beer” (my college nickname) instead of “One Beer” (my This is 40 nickname!). This is the perfect time to get hit by a car, in other words — yep that’s gallows humor. It’s probably good for me to have some time off to rest up in general. I’ve got 12 races next year and my triathlon season won’t start until May. Though knowing me, I’ll probably wind up in LaQuinta for the Desert Triathlon in March.
For any of you out there enjoying a nice holiday break and thinking of a bike ride, please be careful. Now is probably the worst time for motorists to spot us, as they’re minds are racing about New Year’s plans and getting to the mall before everyone else. And if you have any suggestions for how to cure the Winter Blues from sitting at home not being able to work out…I’m all ears.
Last week, more than six months after I completed Ironman St. George, I crossed the finish line a second time.
My family and I visited Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks to dedicate one of the two Nintendo Fun Centers we fundraised leading up to my third Ironman. We chose Los Robles (along with Simi Valley Adventist Hospital) because my grandfather, grandmother and mom have all stayed there over the years. Unfortunately, my grandfather contracted the deadly MRSA virus following his heart surgery and was never able to shake it. We spent many days and nights at Los Robles and became friendly with several nurses and doctors in various parts of the hospital. Dedicating the Fun Center at Los Robles marked some closure for my parents, sister and I from grieving for my grandpa and some resentment we — OK, I — may have felt for having him taken from us unnecessarily.
I enjoyed meeting the nursing staff in the pediatric care unit and was especially relieved there were no kids having to spend their Thanksgiving holiday in the hospital. Seeing the nurses talk about how the kids literally fight over who gets to play the Nintendo while temporarily forgetting about their illness put a huge smile on my face. In that moment, I felt like all the miles of training didn’t melt away or reside on an event website with a finish time and a medal. They formed into something far greater, through the help of so many folks who donated nearly a combined $12,000.
I’ll remember the Nintendo Fun Center dedication ceremony as fondly as any Ironman finish. Finishing a race is fun and exhilarating. But the memory is just that. Powerful, but fleeting. Impossible to relive, though I try mightily. Rolling a Fun Center into a hospital ward lives on. That unit keeps giving and helping long after the race podium and stands are back on the moving van.
Thank you to those who have helped make kids lives better during their difficult moments.
This past weekend, I volunteered at Ironman Arizona again. And somehow I signed up to try my luck there again.
Two months after competing at Ironman Lake Tahoe in all its 6,200-foot glory, I’ll be toeing the line in Tempe as my friends Kevin and Melissa experience the joy of their own first-time Ironman journey. I couldn’t let them do it without me.
My favorite part of the weekend was watching them take in the swim start, atop the 12th floor of the Microsoft building overlooking Tempe Town Lake. You can get a glimpse of it here, though warnings that some of the language is NFSW
I remember having those wide eyes. I remember thinking, “How in the world could I possibly have what it takes to be an Ironman? And how will I possibly get out of the water alive!?”
Now, signing up for another Ironman has started to feel as casual as renewing my annual physical appointment. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? This morning, when we arose at 4:30 a.m. to be in the volunteer line by 5, it felt like just another morning…right until it was my turn at the sign-in kiosk. Then, the expected second-guessing and nerves set in. ”Are you sure you want to do this again?” (No.) “Is this is a good idea two months after Ironman Lake Tahoe?” (Nope.)
So why do it?
I’ve thought a lot about that today as I drove back from Tempe. Every Ironman has its own story. My first was obviously about proving something to myself. Coeur d’Alene was about improvement and validation. St. George was a test of perseverance. Lake Tahoe doesn’t have a narrative yet — should I be worried about that? And Arizona 2013? In one word: Revenge.
I want to see what I can do on this same course, hopefully with the same great weather from the last two races. I want to see if I’ve progressed, and if I can run the kind of race I’m truly capable of here.
Right now, my biggest concern isn’t even doing two Ironmans within two months, but rather of making sure I don’t overlook Tahoe to get to Arizona. How in the world do you look past one Ironman to do another eight weeks later? How did this happen? Have I lost all perspective?
Maybe. I don’t know.
I do know that a year from now I’ll be exhausted and a five-time Ironman. I never thought that would be possible when I started blogging.
Here’s to another journey, and to sharing it with some special first-timers.
I’ve written blog posts for three months, except the only problem was that I my brain doesn’t have a “tele-publish” button that sends my thoughts straight to this site.
In some ways, it’s like training. You stop working out for a couple days, and next thing you know it’s been a weekend. Then, it’s a week without packing a swim bag, and from there…who knows. The hardest workout is the first one.
So here I am, back in front of the keyboard at home. Finally. As I told a friend recently, just because we didn’t talk much doesn’t mean I didn’t have anything to say.
And let me tell you, I have a lot to say. I just returned from a weekend scouting the Ironman Lake Tahoe course, since I signed up for Ironman No. 4 next September. It also looks like Ironman No 5 lurks two months after that — a return visit to Tempe Town Lake and a bit of revenge on my mind.
It has been the most productive and successful triathlon season yet. I’ve learned so much about myself as a racer and as a person. Things that I hope to pour back into this blog, day by day, a little bit at a time once again. I’m going to try and blog as often as I can in anticipation of IM Lake Tahoe. The countdown is back. I figure that there are people whom I can help that are training for their first Ironman, and that gives me great joy.
Training to get faster is no longer enough. I want more.
I have no right to ask anyone to follow me on Twitter or join me in another journey. It’s hard to do that knowing I was such a flake this year with the blog. But, maybe word will spread from the Lava Magazine writing and slowly but surely people will return.
I will do my best not to disappoint.
I don’t know why I stared blankly in the shower, afraid to write, riddled with guilt.
The first blog, or the first workout, is only the hardest because it holds our brains captive.
Typing on the keyboard here…it feels good.
Next up: A season recap and a sprucing up of the blog site. More to come.
In LA sports broadcasting, there’s a laughable legend named Vic “The Brick” Jacobs. Thick Noo Yawk accent. Dresses in bizarre fashion. Jewish Buddhist. Laker fan for Life.
I love the guy. I’ll admit it.
His catch phrase is “Feelin’ You!” It’s what he practically yells into the radio mic when fans call in to his shows. It’s his way of acknowledging his fans’ presence, energy, and support.
That phrase has been stuck in my head the past several nights. Not because I’m feelin’ Vic or because he’s feelin’ me. More to the point, it’s because I’m not feelin’ me. Where did I go? I’ve had post Ironman depression in the past, but this is something different. I’m more tired than I recall. Lethargic. Unmotivated. And worst of all, that’s left my temper short. I’ve had a shockingly short fuse the past few days, almost embarrassingly so.
What’s my deal? I am most certainly NOT feelin’ me.
Part of the problem is that my next race is probably not for another three months. Part of my problem is that I’ve gone from Ironman training to weekend spin class with Steph where I’m the only guy in the room, certainly the only avid cyclist, and certainly among the youngest. ”Sweatin’ to the oldies” is a more appropriate phrase right now than I’d like. Paging Richard Simmons.
I’m having a hard time adjusting back to “normal” life. My dad has given me some really good advice though. I need to watch out for “Adrenaline Junkie Complex,” that feeling where you go immediately from one giant goal to the next without taking adequate time to celebrate what just took place. Yep, that’s definitely me right now. I’m working on it. For that reason, I purposely haven’t scheduled another race in the next few days. I need to get better at managing the void. Filling that void with more races isn’t the answer. Being mature, reflecting, acknowledging, and evolving is the answer.
So, for the next few days and perhaps weeks, let’s just call this period “growing pains.” Apologies in advance if you’re not feelin’ me.
I'm wearing a soaked rag on my head...and it felt great.
The good news with an Ironman marathon, when the race is going well, is knowing you can walk the damn thing and still finish before midnight.
That’s what I thought as I walked toward the T2 changing tent from the bike dismount after my 112-mile ride. I couldn’t pick my legs up enough to run, still trying to process the day’s events to that point. The idea of running 26.2 miles in that moment seemed not just ridiculous, but cruel. It was 82 degrees with no cloud cover, which meant with the asphalt heat rising it would feel closer to 87.
I entered the dark changing area with my running gear bag, which a helpful volunteer held out for me as I rummaged through it to put body glide on my feet to avoid blisters, then socks, then my shoes. I took two Salt Stick canisters and a full packet of Pepto Bismal. Just as I reached to put it in my back jersey pocket, I was greeted with a loud wretching noise nearby. Another Ironman tribute was puking. “It’s been happening all day,” the volunteer said grimly.
I thanked the volunteer for his calm help and stepped outside the tent. I didn’t realize how shady and cool the changing area was. An oasis. Then the best part of the oasis, a team of volunteers armed with nothing more than sunblock surrounded me, slathering me all at once. I sighed with delight and relief, not knowing I was sporting a wicked sunburn on my shoulders and lat muscles where my tri suit didn’t cover. Pouring bottles of water all over me on the bike to stay cool showered away any semblance of sun protection. But in that moment, the topical felt just as soothing as massage oil applied during a spa visit.
Time to test the legs out. Would I be running or walking today? Surprisingly, my legs responded well. Not even a “This again?” squeal from my quads. All systems go. My body was getting used to this unique form of torture, even without solid food for nearly three hours. I saw Steph as I begain the first loop of the three-loop course — the first of 10 times I’d have the privilege — gave her a kiss, and it was on.
I had to employ various tricks during the first 13 miles to keep my body moving at a consistent sub-10-minute mile pace. The first trick is to break up the 13 miles into two 10k runs. I run six miles all the time, this would be no different. My brain knows it can handle this so my body follows. Then, I reward my body at every aid station by throwing a cup of ice cold water into my face. I’m getting very tired with each passing mile, so the water wakes me up and literally forces the breath out of me with the shocking chill. I also stuff soaked sponges down my jersey, front and back. After that, my ritual includes pouring ice into the jersey opening down my chest. My heart-rate strap acts as a sort of dam, so the ice centers and stops right over my heart and lungs. As a result, my heart-rate hardly ever rises above zone 2 (roughly 146 beats per minute) through the entire run.
That keeps me cool, but what would keep me nourished? Fool your mind, the body will follow. But without fuel, both body and mind are toast. Fortunately, I remembered the advice my Fortius teammate and friend Christina posted on my Facebook the night before the race. I’m convinced this single piece of advice saved my run, and enabled me to PR the marathon.
Christina told me that if I couldn’t eat anything during the marathon, try grapes. ”Lifesavers,” she wrote.
They were. I ate at least five full bunches of grapes during my nearly 4.5 hour trek. The grapes gave me enough sugar to persist, and I found entertainment rolling them around in my fingers, squishing them apart in my mouth. Lifesavers they were.
There were other lifesavers on the course though. First and foremost was my new friend Colleen, whom I shall refer to as the Mayor of St. George because of the constant cheering for her I heard on every street of the course. Colleen lives in St. George, and was kind enough to reply to my St. George preview post from six weeks ago — warning me that the first 20 miles of the bike course were not to be taken for granted.
Oh, how right she turned out to be. If it wasn’t for her, I’m convinced I might not have been as mentally prepared.
Colleen and I seemed to be running the same marathon for the most part. For most of the afternoon, we leap-frogged each other, always encouraging the other to keep running, keep pushing, keep pacing. Unfortunately, Colleen was having some digestive issues that caused her to run at what probably was a slower pace for her — and I think it was hurting her outlook. But since she is the Mayor of St. George, she had plenty of support to keep her on track. One nice guy literally ran alongside the two of us for around a half-mile, giving her a pep talk during the second loop that probably helped me just as much.
When you’re sucking wind, you’ll take anybody’s encouraging words even if they’re not meant for you.
At the half-marathon point, I looked to the tall tower in the town square where the finisher’s chute was stationed. If I could maintain my current pace, I’d definitely break 13 hours — which was my secondary personal goal. My first goal was a 12:30:00 finish, weather permitting. Well, the weather certainly did not permit. The next-best thing was to break 13 hours.
It would be hard, but doable.
(The video below is the official Ironman St. George 2012 highlights video. It summarizes the entire day in case you’re sick of reading all this. Look for me at the 5:17 mark!)
My body wasn’t cooperating though. The mile pace times started to creep into the 10:20 per mile range, then slower. Soon, I was consistently running in the 10:10s and getting worried. My heart rate was low, but so was my output. I became scared that I was bonking with a whole lot more running to do. Maybe I would have to walk?
The trick to finishing the second half of an Ironman marathon is to count backwards from 13 miles. Twelve more miles to go. Eleven. Ten, and so on. My goal is to get to that six-mile mark, knowing it’s “just” one last 10k. Only by the time this 10k began, I was in danger of missing the 13-hour window. I needed to pick up the pace.
Too bad though. I had hit the wall. Miles 20 and 21 were almost at the 11-minute per mile pace. Miles 23 and 24 were slower. My body was breaking down. The lack of food was catching up to me. Things got so bad that when spectators were high-fiving me, they were actually slowing down my pace. Instead of giving me energy, fans were taking it with each slap of my hand. But then I realized, this is it. I was running the final two miles of my Ironman. An Ironman that I originally worried would only have an asterisk next to it because it wasn’t on the same course as the first two brutally tough St. George events. There would be no asterisk. This course was giving me everything I could handle. I had already made peace with my Tri-asshole nemesis from 2010. Was he here racing? Who knew? Who cared? I was. Nobody could accuse me of taking the “easy” way out at an Ironman course.
All these thoughts invigorated me. I wanted to give this remaining run everything I had left. To find strength I didn’t know existed. So I made a promise to myself. No. More. Stopping. From mile 24 until the end of the race, I was going all-out. Even through the toughest part of the course, a mile-long steady climb on Diagonal Street, I would not stop. The faster I ran, the faster this torture would be over. Plus, maybe I could salvage a sub-13-hour finish. It was possible, if I just kept on pushing.
My final two miles were 9:45 climbing and 8:40 descending. Not record-breaking times but among my fastest miles of the day. Heading down towards the final turnaround, I found Steph, told her to get ready, it was time for a victory celebration in the finisher’s chute. Thinking of Chris McCormack and his awkward Ironman victory photos with sponges shoved in his chest, I got ready for my close up. I flung out four sponges, and opened my jersey all the way to drain water and ice.
This was almost it. Still, there was a quarter-mile to go. The clock tower was out of sight and the last time I saw it, it read 7:55 p.m. C’mon Ryan! I implored…finish strong! The turnaround came, the clock tower came back into view…12:56. Four minutes to run make the right turn on Main Street and hear Mike Reilly call me an Ironman for the third time.
I liked my chances!
And so the celebration began. My arms instinctively became airplane wings, and I flew from one side of the crowd to the other, accepting all the high-hives I could touch. I never wanted this moment to end, and yet that’s all I wanted.
“Ryan Schneider, Sherman Oaks, California…You’re an Ironman!”
At the finish line, I looked at my watch: 4:26:11. A marathon PR. 12:57:32. Mission. Accomplished.
I found Steph in the chute shortly thereafter. She missed the finish because the course was blocked off and made it hard for her to cross the street from her personal cheering perch to get into the stands. Steph accepted a long embrace, and my apologies for telling her she’d be able to see me no problem at the finish. We had a good laugh.
Once the euphoria of the race wore off, the chills set in. I couldn’t stay warm. My body was cold and required medical attention to warm up with several blankets, chicken broth and massage work. After nearly an hour of recovery in the massage and medical area, it was time to go home.
The Ironman Games had concluded. I survived. I took everything the Gamesmakers threw at me and never panicked. In some ways, I got to know myself better as a result. And I appreciate myself a little more. Tri-asshole is dead. And the only asterisk next to this race is to signify that it was statistically the hardest Ironman in the history of the sport.
In Arizona, I left a piece of my heart and soul on that course. Coeur d’Alene has my gratitude, but no scars to speak of. St. George…that’s the place I’ll remember where I confirmed who I really am. A fighter. And a finisher.
Beautiful but brutal ride. I was battling a headwind here but staying positive.
Wind is nature’s snake. It’s unpredictable, can lash out and strike at any moment, wreak incredible damage, poison body and mind, then meekly slither away like a faint breeze.
If that’s the case, the wind on the first loop of the Ironman St. George bike course from Sandy Hollow Reservoir to and through Gunlock was a black mamba. Merciless. Sinister. Overwhelming. It was only something a Gamesmaker could have devised with a cackle from a remote location. I’ve experienced black mamba wind before, mainly at Ironman Arizona in 2010, but only in roughly 20-minute bursts. The constant 30-40 mph pounding we took on the bike after passing through the towns of Santa Clara and Ivins lasted more than an hour at a time before we received a brief respite — climbing the daunting Veyo Wall.
I’ve never looked more forward to climbing a nearly mile long, category 4, 6% steady grade.
The windy conditions never broke me physically, but there were more than a few times battling the elements when I wanted to park my bike, find a hole in the red rocks on the side of the road and just curl up. Quitting wasn’t an option, but it became far more of a fantasy than finishing the race. Later in the days following the race, I’ve heard that 170 Ironman tributes didn’t make it to the run.
With that in mind, my seven-hour, 112-mile, 6,000-foot suffer-fest once again taught me that good things come to those who persevere. There were many times during the ride’s first 66 miles when I wanted to stop. But then I wouldn’t have been rewarded with a blast-furnace tailwind for the return trip into St. George. If the wind heading out of town was the snake, then during the loop back I became the charmer. As you’ll see in my Strava data, I reached speeds approaching 50 mph! There was one point where I was keeping pace with a convertible BMW on the trafficked highway lane next to me. I was hunched in my aero position, staring back at three people sunning themselves in their luxury car. They waved. I sheepishly waved back quickly so as not to be blown completely off the road, unsure what else to do but laugh at the absurdity of this whole experience.
All I could think was, “The Gamesmaker Giveth, and the Gamesmaker Taketh Away.”
NOT a happy camper at this point on the ride. Starting Loop 2.
Before that hissing tailwind, I was on pace for an eight-hour Ironman bike ride. My worst by nearly 1.5 hours. But thanks to becoming the charmer and not suffering from the snake bites, I soared into town on pace for my target goal of seven hours. Everything was back on track.
And then, I stopped being able to eat food.
I knew I swallowed a lot of water in the swim. But why had it taken 4.5 hours for that to become a potential problem? At the time, I figured it was the sweet and sticky Ironman Perform bottled drinks I was downing one after the other at each 15-mile aid station. I correctly anticipated that I may have stomach issues based on past Ironmans so I packed Pepto Bismal in my Bento Box on the bike. Consuming four tablets over the next three hours helped calm my gut, but it did nothing to spark my appetite. All I could manage were a steady stream of Salt Stick capsules, water, and the occasional Gu Roctane. At least I was hydrated, evidenced by twice being able to pee while remaining on the bike (sorry Santa Monica Mountain Cycles!). My stomach issues almost became a blessing because they distracted me from the nasty headwinds picking up again on the Gunlock portion of the second loop. Fortunately, I had company in the form of a 46-year-old triathlon coach from Boston, Richard. We talked for around 20 minutes. He said that he’s been to Kona for five world championships, yet this Ironman was the hardest by far he’s ever experienced. We encouraged each other, talked about triathlon, race strategy for the rest of the day, and leap frogged back and forth. Just knowing someone else — someone very fast — was suffering actually made me feel a little better in that I wasn’t the only one. (That sounds terrible, I know.) My conditioning didn’t suck. The snake was biting everyone equally. Of course, I didn’t have the benefit of knowing just how many people were snake-bitten at that moment.
By the six-hour mark, my pace steeply dropped heading up the three main Gunlock-Veyo climbs, and my willpower drained. How could I possibly run a marathon still? The crosswinds following the Veyo Wall are the worst part of the bike loop. You can see the turn into town that will free you from the snake’s grip, yet getting there seems almost impossible. The wind’s grip was too constricting. Everything around me became a mirage. Shade. The smell of the Veyo Pies shop. The next rest stop. Meanwhile, the winds are whipping me to the point that I’m riding across the road’s double yellow lines. If I was walking, I would have looked like Rocky Balboa in the 15th round of a fight. It wasn’t walking. It wasn’t pedaling. It was dragging and mashing. Willpower, not pedal power. Just. Pedal. A. Bit. More.
Finally, the snake loosened its choke hold. The shade briefly revealed itself, and so did the tailwind — albeit much more mild than before. I’d actually have to work a bit climbing the two miles before the steep descent to St. George, but who cares? If I could rally and the winds cooperated, I knew I could reach the seven-hour mark. I was still on track. The day was not lost. I pounded forward, pedaling when many were coasting besides me. Seeing others crumble behind me — people who had stormed ahead of me earlier — fed my depleted confidence. Pacing was my power. Eventually I saw my Fortius buddy Matt about five to 10 minutes ahead of me going into the final two mile turnaround. We hadn’t seen each other since connecting for about 15 minutes during the ferocious first loop. I thought if Matt, who is a dramatically faster cyclist than me, is only several minutes ahead then today was way worse for everyone than I imagined. Despair turned to pride and something else…hope.
My ride came to a gentle end, like a faint breeze after a tempest. The wind slowed down, and after a short but steep climb to Bluff Street I was giving my bike to a volunteer at T2. I didn’t know it then, but my finishing time was 7:00:18. Seven hours flat. After all that worrying. After the battling. After the snake charming. I hit the lower end of what I expected to accomplish on the bike.
How I arrived to that time though…I never expected any of that.
I survived the water and the wind. I survived the heat and my own intestinal mutiny.
What would the Ironman Gamesmakers think of for the run?