Professional athlete and 3-time Ironman champion

Well That Was Certainly Unexpected.

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One week ago, as I began to focus on the imminence of Ironman New York City, I’d say my expectations were modest. I’d pledged to focus only on myself. Bottom line, I didn’t care where I finished amongst the others, I simply wanted to execute a solid, clean race and see where my fitness stood.

Earlier races had indicated that I was swimming and riding as well or better than I ever had in my career. They also indicated that my run was still a work in progress. There is simply no hiding the fact that I’ve missed over 4 months of running in the last year. Ironman is a sport of consistency. There’s no doubt about that. And as far as my running goes, crashes and injuries have made my run training the opposite of consistent.

Still, Siri and I were convinced; we’d done all we could have with the time we had. I didn’t think NYC would be a run PR, but I thought with the swim and bike I’d demonstrated in recent races and just a solid, steady run….well, I thought I’d have a pretty good day.

Any Ironman race brings with it some pre-race stresses. Even the great days out there are never easy. I was prepared for “not easy”. I was successful in executing race week well; I’d studied the course, the logistics, mapped out my commitments. We were successful in getting everything done race week with minimal stress and maximum efficiency.

Ironman NYC had received a lot of pre-race press. The $1000 price tag for amateurs. The fact that only 5.6% of the race actually took place in NYC. The race logistics. There was a lot of criticism….mostly of “the suckers” and “lemmings” who would even consider signing up for such “a nightmare” of a race.

But here’s the thing…..if you don’t like the race location, the race logistics, or the price tag? Don’t sign up. It’s as simple as that. I am sure there are loads of people who find other courses equally distasteful. 3 loop flat bike rides on uninteresting terrain? Flying halfway around the world to remote places with inadequate access to accommodation? It’s easy to find fault with any race. I was surprised by how vocal people were about this race in particular before the gun had even fired. Realize that the more you complain about these more challenging races, the more you water down the sport. Ironman is meant to be hard and it’d be tragic to see the harder courses; NYC, Mont Tremblant, St. George disappear because people whine about them being “too hard”.

For those who did sign up; for those who made it to the finish line? They earned that finishers medal and t-shirt as much or more than just about any other Ironman race I’ve seen. Ironman is meant to be hard. If you want easy, do a different sport. Please. That’s my $.02.

The swim gave athletes a bit of a gift. I, myself, swam about 10 minutes faster than a more typical Ironman swim. Amateurs with later start times were rewarded with 1) wetsuits which made times faster and 2) stronger currents. Typical 1:10 Ironman swimmers turned in sub 50 minute times.

But what the Ironman Gods give, they also take away. Athletes would be encouraged to put that 10 to 25 minute cushion in their pockets and cherish it because the rest of the course would take it away several times over.

The bike took place on the Palisades Parkway. For the most part; good road quality. Sure you had to keep your head up for the occasional pothole, but generally speaking, good pavement, tree lined, highway. It was hilly, but the hills were “hills” as opposed to “climbs”. The wind picked up on the second loop for sure. Spectators were sparse, but it’s not drastically different from most Ironman bike courses; clumps of spectators here and there. Super aid station volunteers.

The run is the most challenging part of the IM-NYC course. I previewing this Ironman course, DaveyG and I went to run several miles in the “park section” of the course. Every time we went around another bend, all I could do was look straight up at another hill in my face. (And all I could mutter to myself was “those mo&%er fu**ers!). Had to be one of the toughest run courses I have ever seen. Conceived from the mind of Satan himself.

“Don’t worry….it’s all flat once you get over the bridge.” Sure….mostly flat, but also a serpentine, narrow pathway. This run course challenged start to finish.

So getting a little more specific about my day…..

Once the alarm went off on race morning, I felt pretty calm. I’d done all I could do. We enjoyed a really lovely ferry ride over to transition. It was peaceful and downright relaxing. Once thru transition, we were back on a boat up to the start. The men were off, and we followed 5 minutes later. I had a good start; I treated the pontoon as a starting block with a full on track start (I’d studied the world’s best during the Olympics!). About 20 strokes in, I found myself at the front; not ideal in a field full of star swimmers (Wassner, Keat, Biscay, Marsh, Ellis….) but I’ve been swimming well, and had the blinders on. This race was all about me. Not about me relative to everyone else. So I went. I swam strong and felt easy.

I exited the water first. 3 races this year? 3 swim wins. I was bested out of transition by Ellis, Marsh and Wassner. We went straight up a long and pretty steep climb, but I watched my SRM, and kept it in check. No need to get anaerobic right out of the gate there.

Once on the Palisades, I immediately set about the task of focusing on nutrition. On this hot day, nutrition would be key. I was finding my bike legs, and at mile 10, I threw up.

No worries; just settling in. I drank a bit more and kept on my nutrition program. And then threw up again. And so on. And so on. And so on.

My body seemed to feel that if it was good enough to drink once, it was good enough to throw up twice. And so we went.

By the end of the first loop, I was still in range of the leaders; 1:30 down on 3rd. A perfect spot, if I do say so myself. But there was the matter of calorie deficit; some 500+ calories in; some 500+ calories out. I’m pretty good at math, and I’ve been around the block a few times at this Ironman gig and I knew that wasn’t a healthy balance sheet.

I yelled to DaveyG at the turnaround that I was throwing up. He had about 3 seconds to yell, “Triage.”

Right. Triage.

I’d said to a group of “mini campers” (mini campers not because they were small, but because we did a mini-camp at Lake Placid with Infinit Nutrition and some of my other super awesome sponsors; Saucony, Kestrel and Fuel Belt….) that you start every race with a plan, but the race almost never goes according to that plan. From the moment the gun fires, Ironman athletes become problem solvers.

And so I set about to problem solve. I tried a gel; not typically my nutrition of choice. Threw it up. I tried a banana. Threw it up. I switched from Inifint to what was being offered on the course. Yep. I threw that up too.

By 3 hours of riding, my wattage curve was plummeting downward. What is barely a recovery spin became the hardest wattage I could push going up a hill.

Sub optimal indeed.

I got into T2 and wondered what to do. The wonderful volunteers in the change tent helped me get out of bike equipment and into run. Desperately, I looked at them and said, “I’ve been throwing up for 100 miles.” “What can we do to help,” they asked.

“Shoot me in the head?” I muttered as I ran out of the change tent.

I set out on the run course, to some really encouraging words from Eric Wynn. While I knew I was reasonably screwed, I decided, with Eric’s reminder, to stay positive. I got thru aid station 1 and switched to coke. As I drank it down, I waited the requisite ninety seconds for it to return. It didn’t. Score!

Aid station 2. I took 2 cups of coke. Down it went. And down it stayed!

I saw Siri at mile 3 or so and explained what was happening.

At mile 5, I threw up again.

Crap.

And so it goes. I ran as hard as my body would allow. I didn’t walk.

I know. I know. Looking at the run split, you wouldn’t think as much. But I did really and truly run (most of) the marathon. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly.

I had a battle going on in my brain. I knew I was empty. I knew there was little point in even finishing. Why bother? I was literally hours behind the leaders. Hell, by that point, I may well have been hours behind second to last place.

Ultimately? I came in last amongst the pro women. Not exactly thrilled with that one…..I mean….someone’s got to be last. I’d just rather it wasn’t me……Ultimately, I decided that I wasn’t injured. I was still moving forward (sort of). And I hadn’t been at the finish line of an Ironman for a very long time. As such, for as much as my body and my brain begged for otherwise, my spirit couldn’t find a reason to quit. So I didn’t.

How do I feel now?

People were really nice out there on race day. Fellow competitors, spectators…people I didn’t even know, all said the nicest things. “I am so impressed with you for even being here after all you’ve been thru.” “You are an inspiration.” “You’ve got more guts and determination than anyone I know.” “Welcome back. It’s great to see you racing.”

One woman even told me she'd kill to have my abs...but I am pretty sure she was drunk.

I’m not sure I’m that inspiring. If I am, that’s nice, but in all honestly, one day, I’d like to one day be inspiring for racing well and not just for enduring a heap of crappy circumstances.

I’m not sure I have guts and determination. I’ve heard it called “bullheaded and stubborn,” in fact, but maybe that’s just semantics.

And while I do have to appreciate the fact that I am healthy and able to race…..I’m not sure what I did out there even counts as racing. It was survival.

So yeah, I feel totally miserable, heartbroken, and embarrassed for performing so badly.

But I finished. And to me, that beats quitting on any day. It wasn’t the day I expected….but it never really is. I know my fitness is better than I showed on race day. I don’t know why I haven’t been able to put together even a remotely reasonable Ironman since 2009. That is frustrating indeed.

But there is little you can do about ingesting dirty Hudson River water (assuming that’s even what the cause was…..). There was nothing I could do about the revolving door in my stomach that day.

My father once told me that there is a vast difference between a reason and an excuse. I believe some bad luck on race day was the reason for my unfortunate race. I could easily have turned that into an excuse to quit. I guess it’s just not how I’m wired. For 126.2 miles on Saturday, I’d wished that it was….but it’s not.

And so we move forward.

I’m enjoying a week of recovery on Cape Cod with DaveyG (whose birthday it is today! Love you, DaveyG!), Riley the Wonderdog, and a special added bonus, my training pal Michelle “The Bully” Bremer and her husband Clay “I hit the snot out of golf ball” Bremer. We’re doing some cruisey swims, some chatty rides, drinking some wine and chilling out.

Next week, it’s back to Santa Monica, back to Camp Siri and back to work. No excuses.

Persistence. Determination. Love. The Journey!

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