Sunday, April 28, 2013

An Open Letter to my First Time Ironman Friends at IMTX 2013

I published my first version of this letter in my blog last year and is posted here.

I first received a letter like this from a dear friend. Heather was my guide into triathlon and she sent me a similar version of this letter before my first Ironman. I’ve edited it for Ironman Texas and I wanted to share it with those of you who are about to do your first (or any number) as I prepare for my third.  It still gives me goosebumps when I read it. This event is not about some name brand.  It is about the training: the blood, sweat and tears and everything that goes into the process of preparing to be ready for starting and finishing 140.6 miles.I dedicate this to all my friends heading into Ironman Texas this year, especially those doing their first Ironman race, including Karen, Angie, Amber, Christi, Kelly, Kelley, Eva, Linda and more.

So without further adieu, to those of you heading to Ironman - to the IM-Virgins, the veterans, and everyone in-between...  Right now you've entered the taper. Perhaps you've been at this a few months, perhaps you've been at this a few years. For some of you this is your first IM, for others, a long-overdue welcome back to a race that few can match.  You've been following your schedule to the letter. You've been piling on the mileage, piling up the laundry, and getting a set of tan lines that will take months or more to erase. Long rides were followed by long runs, which both were preceded by long swims, all of which were followed by recovery naps that may have been longer than you slept for any given night during college.  You swam in the cold. You rode in the rain. You ran in the heat. You went out when others stayed home. You rode the trainer when others pulled the covers over their heads.  You have survived the Darwinian progression that is Ironman training, and now the hardest days are behind you. Like a climber in the Tour de France coming over the summit of the penultimate climb on an alpine stage, you've already covered so much ground...there's just one more climb to go. You shift up, you take a drink, you zip up the jersey; the descent lays before you...and it will be a fast one.  Time that used to be filled with never-ending training will now be filling with silent muscles, taking their final, well-earned rest. While this taper is something your body desperately needs, your mind, cast off to the background for so very long, will start to speak to you.  It won't be pretty.  It will bring up thoughts of doubt, pain, hunger, thirst, failure, and loss. It will give you reasons why you aren't ready. It will try and make one last stand to stop you, because your brain doesn't know what the body already does. Your body knows the truth:  you are ready.  Your brain won't believe it. It will use the taper to convince you that this is foolish - that there is too much that can go wrong.  You are ready.  Finishing an Ironman is never an accident. It's the result of dedication, focus, hard work, and belief that all the long runs in January, long rides in April, and long swims every $#%& week will be worth it. It comes from getting on the bike, day in, day out. It comes from long, solo runs. From that first long run where you wondered, "How will I ever be ready?" to the last long run where you smiled to yourself with one mile to go...knowing that you'd found the answer.  It is worth it. Now that you're at the taper, you know it will be worth it. The workload becomes less. The body winds up and prepares, and you just need to quiet your worried mind. It is not easy, but you can do it.  You are ready.  You will walk into the water with 2000+ other wide-open sets of eyes. You will look upon the sea of humanity, and know that you belong. You'll feel the chill of the water crawl against your skin, and shiver like everyone else, but smile because the day for which you have waited, for so VERY long, is finally here.  You will tear up in your goggles. The helicopter will roar overhead. The splashing will surround you.  You'll stop thinking about Ironman, because you're now racing one.  The swim will be long - it's long for everyone, but you'll make it. The last third is in a narrow channel but there's still room for everyone. You'll be surprised at the people on the sides you notice as you swim. You'll watch as the final shoreline grows and grows, and soon you'll reach the ladders at the end. You'll come up to the edge and head for the ladder. You may have to wait for someone to get off that sucker before you, but you will get your turn. You’ll find your transition bag—don’t worry about the sea of bags the same color, someone is there to help you--and run off to prepare for the bike (don’t forget the sunscreen, pick a volunteer near the end!). You may not always realize just what is happening but you won't wipe the smile off your face for anything and you'll settle down to your race. The crowds will spread out on the road. You'll be on the bike, eating your food on your schedule, controlling your Ironman. The site of a seemingly unlimited line of bikes before you and behind you is a site to behold. You'll start to feel that morning sun turn to afternoon sun. It's warmer now. Maybe it's hot—there’s shade in the tree cover at times. Maybe you're not feeling so good now. You'll keep riding. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep moving. After all, this is just a long training day with valet parking and catering, right? Your training got you this far—TRUST IT NOW! You'll put on your game face, fighting the urge to slow down as you ride for what seems like hours, well it is for hours but you’ve practiced this many times in training. You reach Special Needs, maybe you’ll stop a bit to fuel up, and head out again. By now it'll be hot and you'll be tired. Doubts will fight for your focus. Everyone struggles here. You've been on that bike for a few hours, and stopping would be nice, but you won't - not here, not today. You'll grind the false flats to the climbs. You'll know you're almost there. You'll fight for every inch of road. The occasional cheer will come back to you help you here and there. Let their energy push you. Let them see your eyes. Smile when they cheer for you - your body will get just that little bit lighter. Grind. Fight. Suffer. Persevere. You'll plunge down the road, swooping from corner to corner, chaining together the turns, tucking on the straights, letting your legs recover for the run to come - soon! You'll roll back - you'll see people running. You'll think to yourself, "Wasn't I just here?" The noise will grow. The chalk dust will hang in the air - you're almost back, with only the 26.2 mile run to go. You'll relax a little bit, knowing that even if you get a flat tire or something breaks here, you can run the damn bike into T2.  You'll roll into transition and volunteers will fight for your bike. You'll give it up and not look back. You'll have your transition bag handed to you, and into the tent you'll go. You'll change and load up your pockets, and open the door to the last long run of your Ironman season – this is the one that counts.  You'll take that first step of thousands...and you'll smile. You'll know that the bike won't let you down now - the race is down to your own two feet. The same crowd that cheered for you in the shadows of the morning will cheer for you in the brilliant sunshine of a hot Saturday. High-five people on the way out. Smile. Enjoy it. This is what you've worked for all year long.  That first mile will feel great. So will the second. By mile 3, you probably won't feel so good. That's okay. You knew it couldn't all be that easy. You'll settle down just like you did on the bike, and get down to your pace. You may see leaders passing you on their own way through. Some will look great - some won't. You might feel great, you might not. No matter how you feel, don't panic - this is the part of the day where whatever you're feeling, you can be sure it won't last. You'll keep moving. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep eating. Maybe you'll be right on plan - maybe you won't. If you're ahead of schedule, don't worry - believe. If you're behind, don't panic - roll with it. Everyone comes up with a brilliant race plan for Ironman, and then everyone has to deal with the reality that planning for something like Ironman is like "trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet while wearing a blindfold while riding a horse". Expect things to go wrong and then just deal with it. How you react to the changes in your plan will dictate your day. Don't waste energy worrying about things - just do what you have to when you have to, and keep moving. Keep eating. Keep drinking. Just don't stop and don't EVER sit down. You'll make it through the first loop. You can load up on special needs if you want. Some of what you packed will look good, some won't. Eat what looks good, toss the rest, you’ll be back by here again anyway. Keep moving and start looking for people you know and cheer for people you don't. You're headed forward, some of them won’t be. They want to be where you are, just like you wanted to be when you saw all those fast people heading out faster than you earlier. Share some energy - you'll get it right back.  Run if you can. Walk if you have to. Just keep moving.  The miles will drag on. The brilliant sunshine will yawn. You'll be coming up to those aid stations fully alive with people, music, and (later on) chicken soup. Keep moving. You'll soon only have a mere lap to go. You'll start to believe that you're going to make it. You'll start to imagine how good it's going to feel when you get there. Let those feelings drive you on. When your legs just don't want to move anymore, think about what it's going to be like when someone catches you...puts a medal over your head......all you have to do is get there.  You'll start to hear the call of the Waterway. People you can't see in the twilight will cheer for you. They'll call out your name. Smile and thank them, or just wave a bit—they’ll understand what you mean. They were there when you left on the bike, and when you came back, when you left on the run, and now when you've come back. You'll be running along the water for a while for the last time. You'll start to realize that the day is almost over. You'll be exhausted, wiped out, barely able to run a “decent”pace (if you're lucky), but you'll ask yourself, "Where did the whole day go?" You'll be standing on the edge of two feelings - the desire to finally stop, and the desire to take these last moments and make them last as long as possible. You'll hit mile 25. Your Ironman will have 1.2 miles - just 2KM left! You'll run. You'll find your legs. You won't know how, but you will run. You will feel like you’re flying at the end. The lights will grow brighter, brighter, and brighter. Soon you'll be able to hear the music again. This time, it'll be for keeps. Soon they'll see you. Soon, everyone will see you. You'll run towards the lights, between the fences, and into the night sun made just for you. Remember to take a moment to make this the finishing memory of a lifetime. They'll call your name. You'll keep running. You won’t feel the pain. The moment will be yours - for one moment, the entire world will be looking at you and only you. You'll cross the mat. The flash will go off, well actually many flashes were already going off. You'll stop. You'll finally stop. Your legs will wobble their last, and suddenly be capable of nothing more.  Someone will catch you. You'll lean into them. It will suddenly hit you…

You. Are. An. Ironman.

Have a great day out there my friends! 
If you know anyone who might gain value from this, please feel free to share it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Galveston 2013

April 7, 2013 provided a better than average day for the half Ironman race that had me in Galveston. It was a bit warm and sunny by afternoon, but it was also the best weather I could remember in several years of doing this race.

I arrived in Galveston the day before the race. I checked in and met up with a number of friends, including Karen and Mark, with whom I shared lunch. After lunch we walked portions of the course and transition area before leaving my bike in its place for the night. I left to go check in to my hotel and grab dinner, and then head back to the hotel for an early (or not too late) bedtime.

Pre-Race: I arrive early and set up my gear in transition. Then I walked around a bit to verify the paths in and out of transition. After this I walk towards the swim area and wait. Since the first swim wave went off at 7:00 am and my wave went off 75 minutes later, I had plenty of time to wait.

Swim: It is finally time for my wave to enter the water. I try to hop off the pier and into the water--nothing happens. I sit on the edge of the pier and hop off into the water--again, nothing happens. With two minutes until my wave begins, I take a deep breath and hurl myself into the water---splash, I'm in. After a bit I am off with my wave and swimming. I have a good couple hundred yards before doubts start to creep into my head. I make myself stick with it and ignore the thoughts of quitting and not putting myself through this. After a bit I am able to make the turn at the first buoy. Then I settle down into a rhythm and swim the long portion of the course. As I go along I begin to pass a few people from the wave ahead of me, later on I pass some from the wave or two ahead of that one as well. After making the last turn I swim towards shore and exit the swim in 44:10. I'm a bit disappointed in that but don't let it get to me as I know my swim training is the last thing I was able to resume from my injury and know it's behind the other sports in my recovery.

T1: I make it into transition, change over and get out in 5:24. Not exactly fast but I deliberately take the time to get it right.

Bike: The bike begins well with an opening split just under the 20 mph mark. I am doing this whole race on a a heart rate plan and keep a fairly consistent speed. Their is a bit of a tailwind on the first half and a headwind in the second half, during which I average about 19.4 mph for the first half and 18.5 mph for the second half. I finish the bike in 2:57:17. This was in my expected range and I was feeling pretty good at this point. I could have gone harder on the bike but I also know I should get off the bike feeling that way.

This image was captured by my friend Corey as I begin the bike portion of the race.
T2: 2:54. Considering my less than favorable transition heart location, I think this is pretty good time. It is also the only portion of the race faster than last year (by one second!). Again, I take just enough time to be certain I am ready to head out (other than sunscreen).

Run: I am running this on a plan to manage my heart rate in a specific zone. I set off at a comfortable pace and feel a bit quicker than I expect, which I know can't last. I have a pretty good first few miles before I start to feel a bit of fatigue. After the first lap of three, I am definitely feeling this race. I slow a bit into a more deliberate pace, but one which is well managed. I walk through each aid station and that is all that I walk. Lap two is mostly spent just getting through it. Lap three begins with the knowledge that it is my last  objective for the day. In the end I push myself with the same heart rate goals as earlier but go slightly faster than the previous lap, aided partly by the finishing sprint at the end. About 150 yard from the finish I hear a familiar voice calling to her friends from just behind me, then right before the finish I realize that I am stride for stride with my friend Kelly. It was a great moment finishing with a friend, especially as unplanned as this was. My run time was 2:23:19, pretty much in the range of expectation but I had still hoped for faster.

Finishing Time: 6:13:04. Initially, this was a bittersweet finishing time. I am very happy to complete this race but still comparing it ti last year that was over 20 minutes faster. In time the enormity of what I had overcome in returning from my injuries sustained last October get to me and remind me just how special this race is. Just a couple years earlier I doubt I could have imagined finishing this quickly. I can quite truthfully remember a thought from that far back wondering if I could ever break 7 hours; coming back from serious injury and reconstructive surgery after 169 days and doing what I did was probably a near impossibility--especially when viewed from the perspective of a few years earlier.

It was tough to think about my first non-PR race finsih in 4 years, but in the end this was far more important than a PR--this was getting back my life. Now that I've gotten this far, perhaps there can be days in the future that hold PRs again, perhaps even podium finishes, but the real prize was just being here and doing what I love in the company of friends.

I. am. back.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Starting Over

No, I'm not really starting all over. I did that once before over 6 years ago when I sought an active and fit lifestyle, but in a way I feel like I am at a new starting point. Last October I was near the finishing point of a good bike ride that was my pre-race simulation ride for the Oilman half iron distance triathlon when I got hit by a vehicle and seriously injured. At that point I was certain that I was ready to make a serious run at a sub-5:30 finish and possible a sub-5:20 finish if everything went right. I was nearly at the point where I was ready to believe I was in the best physical fitness of my life--which is pretty strong for a (then) 46 year old who had been a Marine in his 20's. In any case, that race was not to happen...

I have worked since then to reclaim my lost fitness and move forward. I'm not fully recovered but continue to progress. At times I feel just on the edge of closing in on where I was 5 1/2 months ago, other times I feel less good, some times I just feel all mixed up and out of sync entirely. Fortunately, the good is increasing and the bad is decreasing, or at least this is generally true.

A year ago I was challenging myself to take on a big PR effort at the Ironman 70.3 Texas race in Galveston. I was successful in this challenge by going under 6 hours for the first time at this distance, beating my 5 month old PR by nearly 30 minutes and by crushing my 2 year old previous effort at this particular race by 2 hours and 2 seconds. It's hard to imagine that I could have had a better race success!

I'd love to talk about how this race was going to be the latest PR in a string of races that goes back to early 2009 but this won't be THAT race. I'm not saying I can't do this race--I  am quite confident I can not only do it, but do it pretty well and still be one of my better half iron times. However, it is still a race in which I am not, and can not, be at my competitive best--something which both angers and saddens me, but there's not much I can do about that beyond picking myself up and continuing...
I will be continuing in the hope that I can once more get back to the precipice of my peak of personal fitness, just as I was the morning of last October 20th. I will be continuing because I need to show those that helped me back up that their efforts were not in vain. I will be continuing because I enjoy doing these things. I will be continuing because I will not let this be taken away from me and, may God help me, because I can not find it in my heart to forgive the person who caused me so much pain and injury and left me injured on the side of the road that day--so I hope that I will find the spirit to do so on the road or race course some day.

Come the morning of Sunday, April 7th, I will jump off the pier and wait for the start gun at 8:15 in the morning and hope it all comes back to me in a day of physical trial and joyous emotion.

I've done about 70 races in the last 6 years, but this will have special meaning of its own. This race has the potential to prove to myself that I can come back the rest of the way. Next Sunday I start over....again.

Monday, April 1, 2013

So.....What Happened to Richard?

As somebody might have noticed, I haven't posted a blog post in a while.

It all started off with an early March trip to New Mexico. My wife and I enjoyed a short trip that included a short visit to a ski resort outside of Santa Fe,

a climb through mountain canyons that housed Pueblo Indians hundreds of years ago,

a visit to the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos,and a lot more scenic views....

After that the combination of work, home and training has kept me overly busy.  My
 last couple weeks of training included weekly hourly training totals of 11:31:27, 9:33:58 for the week of the time off in New Mexico (I did enjoy a 6 mile high altitude run!), 14:14:02, and 14:08:33. During this period I have advanced my long run past 13 miles, my long bike past 90 miles (twice) and my long swim past 3600 yards.

I may be worn out but I'm still hanging in there!    :-)