My first Ironman breakthrough

I was thinking about this on the trip I was just on while I was running on the treadmill on a cruise ship. I was thinking about this because I was thinking about all the times I had sacrificed and done work in hotels, or on vacations, cruise ships, etc. this time I was running staring at a treadmill. No music, no TV and when you are staring out the ocean it’s pretty boring. I didn’t have an I pod so I was just left with my thoughts.

I had so many years when I had experienced such subpar performances for my long course racing and despite trying so many things I could never get the results I felt I had always sacrificed for. It was so frustrating. I knew in my heart though that I had another level in me I could achieve. I would have been totally content if my potential was where I was, but I always was left with a feeling of being robbed on race day.

I really don’t really keep trophies or medals. I have very few. I had a chance to go to Hawaii Ironman though on a sponsorship entry someone had gifted me and I was ready and excited as always. I remember sitting at the pre-race ceremony and they were doing all the typical build up, etc. They went into a long explanation of the first Ironman trophy that was ever given and it was literally a few pieces of metal that someone had constructed and was to signify an “Ironman”. I of course had known about this being the big tri “Geek” but it was cool to hear about it again on the island. What I wasn’t prepared for was that if you finished the race that year – YOU GOT ONE! I remember sitting there thinking to myself no matter what, I was going to go home with the trophy.

I bring this up because I wanted to explain to people that this in large part was the changing of A LOT of my race results. Here is why:

All my bad races seemed to come down to bad G.I. Issues. I was never really able to simulate this in training because it would seem to really happen much after the 7 hour mark in racing. Once I would start to throw up it was a massive downward spiral. I have since figure out that problem with the help of a lot of people and combining a lot of different nutritionists and techniques which I can discuss my experiences with this later.

I didn’t have time to figure that out 1-2 days out from Kona but what I did have the ability to do was make the choice that no matter what I was going to do that day I would remain in control of my race. This meant I would plan to do it easier then I had ever done before. I told myself if I always felt good, there should never be any issues.

I hadn’t qualified to be there so I didn’t feel any pressure to perform and I wasn’t sure, just like I am never sure even now on my 9thtrip that I would ever get the chance to be there again, so I wanted to enjoy the day. I told myself (I had no power meter or even HR that day) that if I even had to ask myself if I was going too hard, I would back off. My friend who had got me into the race was there volunteering and said he would be at the finish line until 11:00 (on the race clock) and he hoped to see me then. I told him that would be nice but I had never been baster then 11:50 and I wasn’t going to put the pressure on myself to break the 11 hour mark because that would obviously be counterproductive to the plan.

We started the swim. I stayed back from the front line and slowly got into my own tempo. I made it a point to stay relaxed and smooth. It was pretty uneventful and actually looking back I think I swam right at 1:00 which really isn’t that darn bad. I even came out of the water with triathlon legend Julie Moss, so that was pretty cool.

We got to the bike and I looked forward to one thing, I wanted to see all the professionals coming back from Hawi that I would always have to wait until magazines or NBC coverage would show me something months later. Today, I was going to get to see the race (at least in part) live and I was as much a fan that day as a participant.

I got off my bike 3 times to stretch and rub my feet. I often had foot issues so I decided since I was going to go as easy as Ai felt I needed to, I would take an extra few min throughout the bike and get off take my feet out o the shoes and give them a quick stretch. I rode a road bike with bar extensions, and while it may seem like blasphemy now, no aero helmet. J

I ended up riding 5:45 give or take which again, really isn’t a bad split at all. I felt like I was in a college crash course on how to effectively pace an ironman and I was acing the class. It became fun to see how easy I could go and still hit times I had previously worked so hard to hit. I remember riding back into town the last few miles, I saw people I knew and the only thing I wanted to let them know is I DID’NT FEEL BAD! To me that was more important than feeling good because in previous racing the wheels had already shown signs of falling off, not today. Today I was about to be 26.2 miles away from the first trophy I ever REALLY wanted.

I started the run and was grinning ear to ear. I had just tried to do IM Wisconsin a short 5-6 weeks prior and once again despite trying new stuff, was forced to drop out again from stomach issues. Today seemed like if all went well, I could avoid said issues. I remember I had made a choice to run with a fuel belt so I could carry my version of salt tabs in my drink solution. I had done testing at the Gatorade labs and they had given me “gatorlytes” which at the time were not available to the public and I was trying to use them to add about 1000mg of sodium every 60-90 min to my nutrition. To this point they had made me feel pretty bloated, but all in all I felt pretty good so made the decision to take the belt with me on the run.

Learning from the swim and the bike I quickly made a bet with myself. I wanted to see if I could instead of survive the run, would I actually be able to pull off a negative split??? It didn’t have to be an impressive one, just a negative split. I of course bet on myself and hedged the bet with telling myself to go out as easy as I could to help ensure the goal. I think I went through the half way point in about 2 hours. While it wasn’t the running I had always hoped I would be doing, I was in fact still running and feeling good. The bloat feeling had become quite annoying so I had decided to stop drinking so much sodium which I think actually helped me a lot. At half way I started to pick it up and actually found a good rhythm. I ran all the way to mile 15-16 where you turn into the energy lab and I thought to myself, that as I was going so well at this point I should take in a bunch of the sodium that I had been carrying. So I did and about 30 second later puked it up all over myself!

I remember feeling like I had done it to myself and that if I hadn’t just drank that I would probably had been fine. Considering it was now all over my shoes, I decide, let’s not do that again and I just started to run. I ran, I walked aid stations, always doing the math in my head if I was going to be able to negative split. I remember vividly telling myself that if I could only just keep running miles I had so often used as warm up and cool downs I would actually be able to pull it off.

Once I was within a mile of the finish I knew I had it! The finish line was awesome and I ran a sub 4 hour marathon, yes negative split, for the first time in my life and Was able to see my friend as I had finished in like 10:56! It was almost an hour PR! To make it better, I got that damn trophy and to this day it remains one of my only triathlon or any sport recognitions I keep. Ironically, It is one that everyone got that day. I have won awards that I guess seem harder to achieve but to me, that was the hardest. Nobody would understand the years of hard work and problem solving I had to do in order to get that damn piece of metal on a block of wood, but I did, and I still do.

The reason I bring this up is because I think everyone needs to find the thing that is going to motivate them to take a leap of faith and try something new. While it seems simplistic to look back on and read now it was a lot of pressure to decide I wasn’t going to keep up with my friends, or try to do something crazy that I had never done before time wise, or take any outside pressure in from external influences and trust my own internal voice which told me to: relax, stay controlled, slow down and you’ll actually go faster.

I have since struggled to break 10 hours since then, then finally broke through to low 9:00’s several times and have had other obstacles and struggles come up that I have had to work to overcome. I wouldn’t have been able to do those however if I had never gotten this particular trophy and earned it with reasoning behind it I rarely express to anyone.

I love trying to help athletes now figure out what leaps they can take to get the most out of their next evolution of training. If you had to think of something you could try, what types of things could we help you with?

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