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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ironman Wisconsin

I know a lot of time has passed since I updated my blog. I have had some people tell me that I need to update it after my races. I am happy that there are those who want to read it. When I first started the blog, what I wanted to convey was an honest approach to what it was like to race professionally, the struggles that it takes. I had an athlete whom I was helping and he was going through a difficult time. I shared some of my experiences that were very similar to what he was going through. He was very surprised because, as he put it “I just thought it was easier for guys like you.” We all struggle, we all have our ups and downs. I will try to keep this short, but I wanted to briefly share what has been going on over the past 2 years and my journey to my first Ironman. 
                After my first year as a pro, my first coach and I decided to split.  We had a conversation and we both felt that it was time for me to move on. It was a hard decision for me, but was the right decision. He is a man I still call a friend to this day, deeply respect, had the honor of him attending my wedding and I am forever grateful for getting me to the professional ranks. I switched to another coach who turned out to be a mistake. Nothing to be said other then I learned what not to do as a coach. That was the year I got married and actually cut my season short because I was exhausted and broken down, physically and mentally.
I did the Chicago Tri in late August and was married in November of 2012. I had received an email a couple weeks before the Chicago Tri from Dare 2 Tri looking for guides for both the Kids Triathlon the day before the Chicago Tri as well as for wounded war vets for the Chicago Marathon. I signed up for both. For the kids tri I swam, biked, and ran along with a little girl in the kids tri. I carried her from the from the water through the first transition to her hand cycle for the bike portion and then helped in the second transition set her up to do the run in what I can best describe as a modified walker.
She was truly inspiring.
As part of the Chicago Marathon, I ran along a war vet who was wounded when a bomb went off when he and his buddies were playing cards. He lost his arm and vision in one eye. It was a great honor to run with him the entire way and help him to the finish.
                Along came the 2013 season. The season I would race only once. I decided to coach myself. It was a big decision, but I had some great people who said I could call them and bounce training ideas off of. I also knew my schedule could change so quickly that I figured this would be best. It started off great. I had a personal best at the Shamrock Shuffle. I then raced the St. Anthony’s triathlon in late April and had another personal best with my best 10K run off the bike. Things started to unravel from there, because sometimes life just gets in the way. I had planned to race at the Elkhart Lake triathlon in early June of 2013. It was also during this time I found out my wife was pregnant. We were extremely excited and could not wait to tell everyone. Our lives were changing and I had actually made plans to stop racing as a pro to be a husband and father first and also focus on the athletes that I coach. I would make one more big push, race the Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon in July and  retire. About two weeks before Elkhart Lake I was almost home from a ride when a car coming from the opposite direction decided to make a turn in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and flipped my bike. I never hit the car, but when I rolled over I could see the car inches from my face as it passed by. The next day I was sore and stiff and had a minor headache. Probably a mild concussion. I did see two doctors and neither one was helpful as no concussion test or anything of significance was done. Honestly they both seemed more interested in getting me out of their office. I have not gone back to that office since. 
 I took several days off training and was doing fine until a couple days before Elkhart Lake when my back was just not right. I could not get comfortable driving, sitting, and especially not riding. Dana  and I went up to the race and the entire drive up I had to lean forward onto the steering wheel because I could not sit back. It was during this time Dana started to have some really bad cramping and bleeding. We feared the worst. She called her good friend who went through a miscarriage and I had her talk to my Sister-in-Law whom also went through some miscarriages as well as the doctor. Unfortunately there were no definitive answers. She could be having a miscarriage, she may not be. We would have to wait till until she could see the doctor. 
The next morning I tried to race. My mind was not where it needed to be and as I warmed up on the bike a pain kept shooting up and down my right leg. I called it a day and did not race. Dana and I cheered for others as we tried to enjoy the weekend since we stayed the weekend with some friends. When we got back, Dana went to see the doctor and it was confirmed she had a miscarriage. It was very hard on both of us. We were making so many plans, talking about names, how we would tell everyone and then in an instance it was all gone. We did not share the miscarriage with anyone except my sister in law and Dana’s friend. It was personal and there’s not much anyone can say or do. Not to anyone’s fault, but we decided to keep it to ourselves except for those we already spoke with. For us we kept everything  personal. We did not share our plans that we were trying to start a family. It was something we decided to keep private until it was time to tell everyone. 
I took about 2 weeks off of training to let my back heal up and try to get going again. I started to get back into my training when plantar fasciitis flared up in both heels/feet. I did everything I could to take care of it, but eventually I decided to shut it down for the season. I was physically and emotionally drained. I was not sure if I would actually ever race professionally again at this point. I had a lot of doubts about myself and future as an athlete.
The fall came around and I was working out. Nothing to structured, but still exercising. When December rolled around I had a decision to make. The pro license is a calendar year and I needed to make a decision if I would keep it. I signed up, but I was still unsure if I would race. I did not tell anyone but Dana. We had some long discussions about what I would do, what was best for us. At the end of December I received my contract from Champion Systems to resign for the next year. I decided I would race again. 
I started planning my race schedule mostly looking at Olympic distance races and Racine 70.3 with the idea of Ironman Wisconsin in the back of my mind. I knew if Dana became pregnant the time to train for an Ironman, up to the standard I would want to do it, would not be there with a new born and a full time job. I spent a lot of time on the trainer over the winter (I watched almost the entire 7 seasons of The West Wing on Netflix), braved the cold running outside and swam inside of course. During this time I left my job at the Great Lakes Naval Base and started working at Running Away managing the sales floor. Dana and I went to Paris (we were supposed to go to Ireland, but ended up in Paris) on a trip with my parents. While there we lit a candle and prayed at the Notre Dame Cathedral and Sacre-Coeur Catherdarl for a child. It was an amazing trip and about 3 to 4 weeks after we got back, we found out Dana was pregnant. I am not a deeply religious person by any means, but it really does make me think and be thankful. 
I started to take the Ironman idea more seriously and gathering even more info about training while also dealing with many changes to come. It was during this spring and summer so many events happened in my life. Dana changed jobs. We moved closer to the shop. I was recruited and took a new job at Midtown Athletic Club coaching swimming and masters swimming. I received the news that no one wants to hear, a friend from college passed away with no real explanation, creating a deep sorrow in my heart. Her blood pressure dropped, she fainted and they could not revive her. Shared in friends and families joys of starting their own families, marriages, and engagements. We also shared in their sorrows of the hardships they faced. Another friend from college, I found out had been diagnosed with bladder cancer. So much happened in a short period of time from April until Sept 7th when I lined up for Ironman Wisconsin. 
Everything caused ups and downs in my life. I had good days of training, I had bad days. One ride I was to do 100 miles. At 50 miles I suddenly felt terrible. It was the middle of a Friday and I rode from my house. No one to pick me up, no way to create a short cut. About 30 miles from home I was in really bad shape and just sat on the side of the road outside a convenience store sipping a Mountain Dew with my head down, trying to recover enough to get home. I was really happy at times and extremely grumpy as well. Anyone who takes on training goes through these up and down emotions. Bless my wife for putting up with me as some of my lows are really low. She steadied the ship as we went. Reminded me it was better to rest sometimes and get back at it in a day or two then always be broken down. She knows I will push hard and when things are not going well, I push harder, trying to climb out, when in reality I am digging a hole so deep I won’t be able to climb out of it. It takes a special someone to deal with me 24/7. Lucky I tricked her in to marrying me. 
Ironman was arrived quickly. When you take something on, it always feels so far away, whether it is 1 week, or 10 years, but when the day arrives, the time has slipped by. If you do not take every day seriously, then there are wasted days that can never be taken back. The Ironman felt the same way. It seemed so far away, but suddenly it was here, it was time to race. I was not perfect in my preparation, there were small mistakes here and there, but I felt like I used the most of the time that was given to me. It was time to race. 
My goal was to break 9 hours. If I could accomplish my goal, I had a chance for a top 6 finish and to be in the money. After studying and training on the course as well as looking over years past, I set goal splits for each leg. Swim would need to be in the 53 to 55 minutes range. Bike 5 hours and then it would only take a 3 hour marathon (yea, no problem right) as well as a 4 minute transition 1 and a 2 minute transition 2. The run was the area that I was not sure about. Do you really know how your body is going to react after racing for 6 hours before starting the run? 
Race morning I was ready to go. 6:50 the cannon went off and so were we. Two swimmers immediately took off and I just let them go. It’s a long day and no reason to burn it out on the swim. I found a good pack of 5 to 7 swimmers and I tucked myself in. A couple of times I lost their feet and had to pick it up, but I was never digging to deep. We all came out of the water together. I was officially 7th out of the water in 52:20. I quickly moved to the front of the group through transition and lead everyone up the Helix. If you are not familiar with Madison’s first transition the only way I can describe it is amazing as it is just a wall of noise as you run through.
I ran straight through transition, never stopping, I packed my wet suit in my bag as I ran and was quickly on my bike (transition 1- 4:01). On the bike I immediately settled into my pace. 2 miles in Konstantin Bachor would fly by  in the first two miles and go on to set the bike course record of 4:31. Good thing I did not try to match him as he was flying and my day would have ended 20 miles into the bike. I soon found myself riding in 4th overall in a legal distance behind Pedro Gomes (he would finish 3rd on the day). We came around a curve out of a parking lot and hit a huge bump and a water bottle went flying. There was not official around so I thought about leaving it, but I stopped and grabbed it anyway as I would need my nutrition. It was then that Daniel Bretchser (winner of the race in a course record along with a record run) and one other rider came flying by. I was quickly back on my bike and riding a legal distance back. Blake Becker would soon join us and we were a group of 4 with an official following us, keeping us all honest.
Over the next several miles we would start to split up and I found myself riding by myself. I stayed smooth and rode the course how I had planned. It worked out great as I don’t think I could have rode any smarter. Of the 5 bike splits my slowest was 22.57 mph and my fastest was 22.72 mph for an average of 22.67. That is with no power meter or heart rate monitor, just all off of feel. Considering it was a 2 loop bike, I think I did pretty well. One has to remember that it is a long day and not let anything get to you, small or big. I was passed at one point by 2 riders and I later passed both of them back. I dropped part of a nutrition bar. No big deal, I can grab more at aid stations. I dropped a chain on a hill. I hopped off my bike, fixed it and forgot about it. I heard someone had put tacks on the road but did not puncture, so I did not think about it again. We hit a downhill and another pro who was right by me went off the road. I thought his day was done. I found out late spectators would help him up and he would eventually finish 5th on the day. I know he did not let his crash bother him. Only thing anyone can do is continue to keep moving forward. It’s a perfect metaphor for life
I would like to say I was soon on the run, but it does take some time to get there. I hit the second transition just under my goal time (4:56:27). I did a full change of gear before heading out on the run (second transition, 2:17). I felt sorry for the volunteer who was assisting me as I just pulled on my cycling gear and everything was right in his face as he kneeled in front of me sorting out my gear. Those volunteers do a lot and we cannot thank them enough. I was now just under my goal pace for the day and it was now for 3 hours of truth. It was a bit eerie to start the run off around the capatial. Most spectators wre still out cheering on the bike and when I was running it was only myself and the sounds of my feet. The roads were wide open without a car on them. It is something else.
 I started my run off faster than pace, trying to slow down, but even then it felt like I was shuffling my feet. Unfortunately, my HR was too high. It was in the low 160’s and I knew I could not run with it that high for 3 hours. A straight up marathon, maybe, but not after racing for 6 hours. I hit an aid station and walked it taking in nutrition. I had to get my HR under control. I started to run again and it shot up to the 160’s almost right away. Pace did not matter at this point. I needed to get the HR down. I just kept slowing down to get it under control. No reason to blow up in the first 6 miles of the race. I walked observatory hill (worse than any of the hills on the bike, just cruel to put that in there). I finally was able to get my HR under control, but I knew my pace was to slow for my goal time for the run. However I was under my goal time for the race on the swim and bike, so there was time to spare and I also knew a lot could happen, so I tried keep up a slow run and really waited to see if I would get a second wind. It never came. Mile 12 came and I walked the aid station to get nutrition in and I could not find my legs to run again. I knew I was in trouble. Two guys passed me and I was now in 10th place. I knew I would not get my goal, but I could fight for a top 10. I forced myself to move. I got to the next aid station and took in as much nutrition as I could. Then it was the half way point of the race and I saw Blake Becker right behind me. I just kept my feet moving. Whatever I took at the last aid station it seemed to help as I could now keep the feet moving. 
After one of the many turnarounds I realized I had put time on to Blake Becker. I then came up on one of the runners who passed me when I was walking. He was now struggling and walking. I tapped him on the back and told him to run with me, we would do this together. He tried a couple of steps but could not get his feet going and he dropped back. On the out and back on State Street, 19 miles into the race when I saw two more pro’s coming I recognized coming after me and they looked hungry to quickly gobble me up. These two can both run. I tried to pick it up to try and hold them off, but they would catch me within the next 2 miles. I felt deflated. I had fallen out of the top 10. I just kept my feet moving and hit a final out and back and realized I had passed one other pro without knowing it. He was struggling, almost limping. I was back within the top 10. Now it was time to just keep my feet moving. I was out there for almost 9 hours at this time. What is another 30 minutes. I told my legs to shut up and pushed forward. 
I would finally make my last turn on State Street and head up and around the capital. I actually got a little emotional and picked it up one last time. I started to cramp a little with the extra effort, but it did not matter, I was almost finished. I started to high five the crowd with excitement. A word of advice, if you high five someone at the end of any race, give a little. One guy almost knocked me backwards and onto my butt as his hand felt like I high fived a wall. Out of the crowd found Dana right at the finish. I stopped to give her a hug and kiss. Turned to the crowd, gave a fist pump, turned, and walked across the finish line (marathon 3:28:17).

Although I did not end up with my goal time, I accomplished a deeper goal. I boasted to  people I would finish on my hands or knees going after my goal time and I did. In the end I just did not have the run legs. Throughout the race I continued to remind myself that it was a long day and anything could happen, and many things did. Just like life, I had to keep moving forward. There will be ups and downs. Take them in stride. Before the race I read a quote by the great Walter Payton; “No one is promised tomorrow.” I took this quote and raced that way. I may have not broken 9 hours on this very tough course, but in the end, I think I came away with much more about who I am then I would have if I had achieved my goal. (final time 9:23:24). 
What has happened since Ironman? My wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy, James.
 I am learning to be a father and a husband first. I am looking to build my coaching business and provide opportunities for others to achieve their dreams. At this time I do not know if I will race professionally again. My wife, child, family, friends and athletes will always come first. When you race at a high level you have to be selfish in a lot of ways. With so many relying on me and working a full time job, I need to always put them first. I love to race, to train, and to be outside. I always will. I want to be a good example for my son and show him the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. If I never race professionally again, I will be content. Can I say satisfied? I am not sure. I do not live off of yesterday’s accomplishments, but rather look forward to the next goal, the next obstacle to overcome. I can be content because I have accomplished a lot. I have toed the line and rub shoulders with some of the greatest triathletes to ever live, from Olympic Medalist to Ironman Champions. You can only do that by training your butt off and competing at the highest level and as the Montgomery Gentry song goes, “That’s something to be Proud of!”