I first wondered about attempting an Ironman when I was around 10 years old and I saw the footage of the world championship on Kona, like these.
Fast forward to 2010, Jess and I flew to Kona, HI for my first 1/2 Ironman. I shared that experience here. That was a big deal for me, athletically and psychologically. After that race, completing a full Ironman seemed more possible and impossible at the same time. At the end of the 1/2 I was completely spent physically and emotionally. I just could not imagine doing double that distance.
Jess made a lot of sacrifices to enable me to commit to the training needed to do the 1/2. About 12 months ago, she knew what she was getting into when I asked her how she felt about me doing an Ironman in 2015. She knew how important it was for me and she knew it meant I would be gone every morning before she woke up; that she would be getting the kids ready for school on her own; and, that Saturdays would be more difficult for her and the kids as I put in my longer training days then. In spite of all that, she was positive throughout. I really don’t remember one time when she expressed any resentment or frustration over the following 12 months.
Because I was so intimidated by the distance, I hired a coach based in Boulder, CO to get me ready. She told me what to do every day and how hard to go. I was surprised how much low intensity work she gave me. She emphasized low intensity to train the body to burn fat for fuel and to create a cardio engine that could go all day. She made sure I didn’t overtrain which is probably the biggest risk for first timers like myself — scared of not being fit enough.
I spent the long winter and spring of 2014/2015 in the basement on my bike trainer and treadmill and at the YMCA pool. The progress was slow and steady. The key was consistency. Every day, putting in the work. Every morning, I would drop Madi off at Seminary and then train for 2-3 hours.
My work requires a lot of travel. I have my pools and gyms in New York and Chicago and would always look for hotels near gyms during the cold winter months.
About 4 weeks before the race, I crashed on my bike. I was at hour 6 of a 6 hour training ride. I was coming down a sharp corner too fast and struck something that caused the bike to slip under me and me to hit the pavement going about 20mph. Road rash on my ankle, knee, hoop, elbow and and cracked my helmet. Whiplash followed for a week. Then, a soreness in my back rib joint became more and more severe. It was painful to breathe hard, cough, and sneeze. Breathing became difficult during runs. I went to PT and to the chiropractor a few times. The chiropractor thought I might have a cracked rib but that I definitely had injured the soft tissue and cartilage in the joint. A week before the race, I was feeling worried that the injury may inhibit my ability to complete the race. Not only did I have the injury but I also was sick. I attended the Spanish Branch and asked the Branch president, Chris Trimble, a friend of mine, to give me a blessing. I felt hopeful.
A hurricane warning caused the race to be cancelled and postponed by two weeks. This turned out to be a blessing as it allowed me more time to recover and be ready for race day.
The day before the race, Caleb drove out to Cambridge with me to help me check-in and get ready. I loved being with him, talking about the many facets of the race. We had our big pasta dinner together that evening before the rest of the family joined us at the hotel. I got to bed at about 10:30pm and, predictably, had a restless night, waking up every couple hours. I woke up at 4:30am, ate my peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwich and got dressed. Jess took me to the race and kept me relaxed up until the swim start.
Why did I commit to doing an Ironman?
- I wanted to give my children an example of becoming the best you can be; of doing hard, positive, stretching things.
- I wanted to test/push my own limits. Being a competitive athlete has been an important part of my self-identity since I was a child.
- During my mission I decided to not continue with basketball at BYU because my perspective on life had changed significantly during my mission: I realized I wasn’t going to play professionally and that I needed to take the massive amount of time that basketball demands and allocate that to preparing for the rest of my life. Also, I saw, during my mission, more forcefully, my own pride and how playing basketball was a pride-fueling endeavor.
- After several years of marriage and beginning a career in healthcare management, I filled the basketball void with triathlon. I felt like replacing the competition with others inherent in basketball with competition with myself inherent in triathlon was positive and I found that I enjoyed the sport — even if I was very slow.
- Turning 40 in 2015 was a motivation as well. Since making major diet changes about 8 years ago to predominantly whole food plant based, I became more serious about my health and fitness. I was motivated by the idea of being able to honestly say that the year I turned 40 I was in the best shape of my life.
Windy and cold. Wind chill air temperature of 32 degrees at 6:30am. Water temp was 63 degrees.
The wind was strong and constant and caused a small watercraft advisory which forced them to modify the swim to 3,000 meters. Because of my ribs issue I didn’t do a lot of stretching or warming up. I tried to relax. Jess was there with me which was awesome. The start got pushed back to 7:30am and then it started. I put myself in the 1:30hr swim speed group. The water was cold but not bad. After about 2 minutes I was surprised that I hadn’t lost my breath, which I normally do at the start of the swim before I can settle in to a rhythm. This time, I took it easy and found my rhythm right away. The water was very choppy at times. Other times there felt like small sets rolling in. But, I think what was most notable was the collisions. There was the normal feet and hands bumping into each other, but I also got struck in the face a couple times. It didn’t bother me, but I had to adjust the goggles a couple times.
The water was actually pretty clear, though visibility was limited by the early morning light and churn of athletes. I found myself passing people pretty regularly. Spotting was good. I sort of wandered off the line during one stretch where my mind starting wandering too. I swam aggressively around the buoys and to pass people who were slowing me down. But, I kept my breathing easy the entire time, never really pushing my pace. I really enjoyed those few stretches where I could really use my best form and just motor along. About half way through the swim I realized that my back/ribs were not sore at all. I could stretch and pull without limits. We have a saying in my family, “The Lord is the best,” and that’s exactly what thought as I realized He had answered so many prayers (and the blessing I received) that I would be able to complete the race (the day before, my back/ribs, were as sore as ever but I barely felt them throughout the entire race). I finished the swim feeling fresh and ready to get out of that wetsuit.
T1 took forever b/c of my frozen fingers. Due to the cold weather, I decided to wear my compression socks for the ride and run. They’re hard to put on in normal conditions, but with frozen fingers, it took me a long time. I just stared at my fingers trying to get them to move. I wore an extra pair of wool cycling socks on top of my compression socks (it took the entire ride before I could move all my frozen toes again). I also put on arm warmers, gloves, and a sleeveless windbreaker. Under my helmet I had a gortex cap.
I got a Retul bike fit done the Monday before the race. I know it’s not the smartest to tinker with bike fit that close, but the vast majority of my training was done on my road bike and I’ve always felt that my tri bike didn’t fit as well as it should. Plus, I was worried about being in the aero position so long with my back injured. So, I got it done, and they actually adjusted quite a bit. They brought my seat up and forward and raised my handlebars and pulled my aero sticks way forward so my arms rested on my elbows instead of my forearms. I did one 6mi ride on Wednesday around my house to feel it out and it felt fine so I went with it. I’m glad I did as I felt more comfortable in the aero position than I normally do.
The wind was murder. There were a couple times I just sort of laughed at how crazy it felt to grind into a 30mph headwind. It felt like we had a tailwind for about 1/3 of the race and the rest was cross wind or head wind. During the run, an 8x ironman told me this was the hardest bike he’s ever had. I focused on my heart rate, keeping it as low as possible while maintaining a 20mph pace. Most of the time I think I was at about 130-135 hr and 20mph. The special needs bag at the half way point was huge for me. Jess surprised me by putting in a bracelet with a scripture that has been a theme of ours for years: Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not. I put it on felt a surge of emotion and shed a few tears. She also put in a bag of salt & vinegar potato chips and fresh fruit. I downed about a cup of pineapple, watermelon, honey dew, stuffed the chips in my shirt pocket and headed off for the second half of the ride. I immediately tore into the chips and was in heaven. The salt and flavor of those chips were exactly what my mouth/body needed. I spent the next 5 minutes in the aero position, just taking small bites of those chips. Then, I remembered my coach’s advice to stop at the special needs bag even if you don’t need it at the time b/c you might need it at mile 90. I thanked her for the advice and stuffed the bag away for mile 90. I brought them back out at mile 90 and savored every bite.
I said I didn’t feel any pain but that’s not right. My neck, as usual, was in severe pain from keeping it up in the aero position so long. I finally found a way to alleviate the pain while staying aero and that was to prop my chin in my hand (sort of like a thinker’s pose) with one hand while keeping the other hand on the aero handlebar. I’m sure I got some funny looks as I passed people propping up my head, looking like I didn’t have a care in the world. Today was definitely a day where not being allowed headphones or drafting off others was relevant. I saw a lot of guys get penalties for drafting. Mentally, I mostly zoned out. I wasn’t in pain and wasn’t pushing very hard so I just sort of went on cruise control mentally. The wind is what had my attention most of the time and trying to balance my effort with conditions with the need to save up for the run. My only worry on the bike was getting a flat tire and fortunately, that never happened.
My whole family was there for T2 and that was a big lift and exactly what I needed before the marathon. I took some time with them at the start and end of T2. I changed from my bike bibs to my normal tri shorts and headed out.
I was surprised by how fresh my legs felt right away. I was expecting a few miles of really heavy legs but they actually felt fine and ready to go right away. I kept in mind my coach’s advice to start out really slow/easy and so I did. Instead of looking at my heart rate, I focused on my splits and just tried to keep them around 10mi/min pace as long as it felt easy. The first 5 miles went by quickly and I felt good and thought about going faster. Instead, my legs started to really tighten up (my left IT band/quad/knee) and I started to “feel” different parts of my legs from time to time, which caused me to slow down and be more conservative. My only fear on the run was that I would pull, strain, or cramp and then have to walk/shuffle for a long time.
As far as fuel goes, the aid stations had two things that I hadn’t thought of before but found my body craved: ruffles chips and chocolate chip cookies. I only drank water and had either chips (mostly) or cookies practically every aid station. When I had 8 miles to go, I had my lowest point. 8 miles isn’t a lot, but by that point, I did not feel like running another 8 miles. I started chanting “Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not” in my head to bring positive thoughts back and, of course it helped.
As the sun was beginning to set I saw Jess and my kids. She asked me how I was doing, and I said, I’m dead. She said, “don’t quit! you’re so close!” and that actually helped a lot. I was so close. When I got to mile 21, I got new life. 5 miles is just 2.5 out and back! My legs were tight and sore. I finally pulled over and stretched on a bench and it was like a miracle. I felt great. I kicked myself for not doing that hours earlier. The tightness and pain was gone and I started to speed up.
With one mile left, I let it go and ran about a 8:30ish min/mile. Adrenalin/emotion had taken over. It was an emotional last mile as the crowd was big and loud and I realized I would finally achieve a goal I wondered about since I was a kid. With about 100 yards to go, I spotted my son Caleb running towards me. I said, “I think it’s time, buddy,” and he agreed. He ran with me, weaving in and out of spectators to the side of the course as I sped up and held back the tears, crossing the finish line.
I felt so relieved, happy, proud, and grateful. My whole family was there in the cold cheering for me and proud of me (with shirts that have a quote of ours that says, “the pain of discipline is far less than the pain of regret.” I hoped to set an example for my kids to do hard things and stretch in life and I’m sure they’ll never forget that day. Neither will I. I still have some reflecting to do to learn everything the last 12 months have to teach me.
I told a few people before the race that I would be absolutely stoked if I finished under 13 hours and content if it was under 14. I finished 11:47* Needless to say, I was stoked.
- Times: http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/coverage/athlete-tracker.aspx?race=maryland&y=2015#axzz3pmZXvhw8 enter bib: 1915 for my times.
- Endure to the end doesn’t mean to stand still and hold on. It means to keep moving forward, regardless of the conditions.
- Momentum is a very real force in my life. Just like in a basketball game, the same is true about our health/fitness/discipleship/spirituality/marriage/etc… the wind can feel like its at our back or in our face and the momentum can change in a moment. The word moment starts the word momentum because momentum can change in a moment. In a moment of choice, we can turn momentum in our favor.
- Life is short. You lose a father and best friend early in their lives and mortality and the sense of time we have on earth changes. Early in my training, I was riding by one of the many historic churches and cemeteries here in Maryland. The carpe diem scene from Dead Poets Society flashed and I envisioned the souls buried there were yelling at me, “Go!, Run while you still can! Don’t stop! Life is short!” Those thoughts powered me through much of my training and race.
- Endurance is achieved through a steady, sustainable heart rate with sufficient fuel. If you go too hard, too fast, you flame out/bonk. If you fail to eat and drink enough, you stop.
- After my half ironman in Provo this summer, I had a flash of thought and emotion as Jess and I drove up to SLC to catch our flight home. It was a hot day. Every aid station had ice cold water and the effect of the water on my thirst and my overheated body was powerful. I thought of this, in John 4:13-14
- 13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: 14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
- Build up endurance through daily, consistent work
- Negativity is your enemy. Pres. Packer’s “your mind is a stage” … chanting Look unto me in every thought, doubt not fear not replaced the negative, complaining, quitting thoughts that inevitably creep in.
- God answers prayers.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson was right when he said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”