I want to first start off by saying thank you to my awesome Wife. She supported me on all of the training, even when there were other things to do, and I had to get my training in. She sacrificed a lot over the last year for me to hit my goal. I have to say I had a pretty great support system all around. There were a lot of folks that kept in touch with my training and checked in to see how things were going. It all helped me stay on track.
This was a personal goal and challenge. I am not an elite athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a middle aged guy, who is likely considered overweight by the health industry. I’m not ripped or in great shape, I just had a goal, and I made a commitment. Like other areas of my life, I figured that with training, I could figure it out. A good plan and training program will take you pretty much anyplace you want to be, that is of course my opinion. So far, I’ve proven that correct a few times.
12 months ago, I decided to do an Iron Distance race. I had enjoyed the shorter sprint tri’s and a good friend and I tried our hand at a longer one. It was called a 1/3 Iron put on by Zoom. 1.1 Swim; 34 bike, and 8 run if I remember off the top of my head. Well that race proved to be a great learning experience for us both. Without a lot of training, we set to participate. We swam pretty close to the same, I hit the bike first and hard. Crazy what a little competition does to you! What we both found out was, this is not a race with each other. It is a race with yourself and your time. By the time we started the run, Jeff had taken the lead on me. He is much better on the bike than I am, and we started the run. That is where we both saw the errors of our ways. I died at mile 4 and limped to 8 almost falling over when I got there. Jeff also took a hit on the run and was in about the same shape. Without this lesson, my event at Rev3 could have gone terribly wrong.
When I settled on Rev3 Cedar Point, I then started looking at a training plan. Training Peaks was helpful, but expensive. FYI: This sport is NOT CHEAP! I then found a great book by Matt Fitzgerald and chose the #2 out of 10 intensities. My goal was lofty but simple. I wanted to finish a 140.6 race, period. Anything over and above that was gravy. What would it take? The book laid out 24 weeks of a training plan that said would get you to the finish line still running and feeling good. The plan focused on swimming and biking primarily as running is rather hard on your body, and my knees. Having fought knee pain the prior year from running, I took this advice at heart and backed off on the running as well as the speed. I was doing 3 workouts a week in the pool, and mostly was drills, mixed with sprints. I did a long swim every other week to see where I was at, but this approach worked well. The bike and I became well known friends. I felt like I road that thing every day, but it was maybe 4 days a week. I rode at home on a trainer, which is very hard. Hours of just watching TV while you pedal in place. When the temps warmed up I was outside as much as possible. I increased my distance from a little more than 30 miles to 112 at the end. This was with long and tempo rides. I should have done more hills, but I knew Cedar Point was pretty flat, so I just went for the distance. The running was indeed less in the training. I ran 2 maybe 3 times a week, and mostly slow. Some sprints, but that is what got me into trouble last year, so I was easy. Finishing the 140.6 meant I had to be healthy first and foremost. My run distance did increase to 16 miles just before the event. That was the longest I had ever run in my life. Prior to this training, the longest single run I did was the 8 miles I tanked on earlier.
Toward the end of the training I did a 1/2 Distance Tri. This was a bit hard as I didn’t enter an event, I did it on my own. Open water swim, bike, and run completely unsupported, except for my fabulous Wife to make sure I didn’t sink in the swim. That was also a great learning as I found my run, only the 2nd time I’d ever run 13.1 miles, was hurting me more than I had hoped. The other two sports felt very good, so I had to make a change if I was going to reach 26.2. I did some research and chose to do a run/walk combo. I ran 4 minutes and walked 1. This worked out well on my last training run of 16 miles and I was happy. All I had to do now was taper, stay healthy and mentally prep for the race.
I found this last part to be true, truer than one might expect. I don’t think I’ll forget the moment that light went on for me. My Wife and I were spending a rare moment on the couch and “The Biggest Looser” was on. During this show there was a Women who was spending 12 months to loose almost 200lbs or some unbelievable number. She had a 6 or 9 month goal of running a marathon, and she did! I was in awe. She was way more over weight and out of shape than I, yet she had done something I thought was out of my reach, which also took me back to the thought of, with training, you can do anything! Everyone hurts after running 26 miles, you just have to decide for yourself that you CAN do it, and nothing else will matter.
Lets talk about this race now that I’ve given you way more than you expected with this blog post. The weekend started on Friday for me. I drove up to Cedar Point solo as Jeff, yeah I suckered him into the 1/2, and his Wife Cathy were meeting me up there. My Wife, Daughter, and great friends Mark and Mel would be joining us later on Saturday. Friday was 90 degrees at 6PM, but the water was as calm as it could be. A storm Friday night would change that. The temps fell on Saturday, but the waves increased a TON. We did pre-race pickup, bike check, bag check and just took in the event. Neither Jeff nor I chose to swim in the lake for practice as we were expecting the water to settle down by Sunday. We also didn’t drive the bike course, although we had wanted too, just ran out of time between meeting people, meetings, and the other things we had to get done. I woke up Sunday morning early, I did get some sleep, which was a shock. I had to run to T1, which is on the other side of the park, to drop off my special needs bags, then head back to the hotel where we were starting the race. I had already had my tattoos on and got dressed in my wetsuit. Once on the beach more emotions than you could imagine started to hit me. I was at the start line of something I couldn’t have even comprehended just a few years prior. Hell I didn’t even know this existed a few years ago. I kissed and hugged my Wife and Daughter, and headed to the start line.
With the announcement to get in the water, all of us jumped in and walked to the first buoy. The course was .4 mile legs in a triangle. We had to do 2 laps, then head down the lake to get out about 1/2 mile from the start where the transition area was. The waves were crashing on us hard. The water was cool, but that was ignored for the white caps we all stared at. With the air horn we all started out. It wasn’t more than a few minutes when my swim went to complete hell. I was panicking, swallowing water, and could not control my breathing or heart rate. My wetsuit felt like it was going to strangle me. I was passed by much of the crowd, but those around me were in the same shape. Back stroke, doggie paddle, and breast stroke were much of the field. I made if about .2 when I had to stop to regain myself or I was going to sink and my 12 months would have been shot in about 10 minutes. I sat there hanging on to a paddle board and catching my breath. I looked back at the beach, but it was no closer than the first turn, so I said to myself, you are going to fucking try. With that, I did, and struggled to the turn. Once I made that turn though, I was out of the head on crashing waves. This sideways wave was much like the training I had done in open water and I calmed down. I even started to count strokes and swim like all of my training had taught me to do. By the time the 2nd turn happened I was feeling confident again, but only had to worry about how much time I wasted getting the 1st lap done. As I turned the 3rd time and headed out for lap 2 I glanced at my watch and saw 50 minutes, I had beat the cut off time and had to get my ass in gear if I was going to be able to finish the bike course before its cut off. This however was the worst part of the swim again, this time, I buckled down and swam like normal. It was hard, but this time it was doable. My mind games were over, I was going to finish this event and I had finally started to believe it. The rest of the swim was just breathing and watching for the turns. The waves were high and sighting was hard, but my mind was focused on the task at hand. At the end of the swim, I thought I could stand so I tried, damn, too deep still, but the damage was done. My leg cramped hard as I reached for the sand that would not be found. I laid down and started swimming again and tried to kick easy to work out the cramp. It did work, but I felt the pain and thought I might have damaged my race. Finally out of the water, I saw the time. 1:45 or something close to that. My goal had been 1:20 and my entire day was planned on that time. For a brief moment I felt down. I was going to have to bike hard to beat the 5:30 cut off, and that would hurt my run, but then I saw my family and everything changed. Complete 180° turn. Instantly I was pumped up again and had no pain! I had my wetsuit stripped off and headed to T1.
When I launched on my bike, I had one goal in mind. Get back here before 5:30 PM. Nothing else mattered. I needed to bike around 14.5 MPH to get that done. Again, I saw my family cheering me on and I set out on my 8 hour ride. The wind was pushing a bit and I was going a little hard. My heart rate was creeping into the 140’s and I knew I needed to pull back, but what felt like the entire race field was passing me. The problem was, by this time the folks doing the 1/2 distance were also getting on their bikes, or at least those of them that were fast, and let me tell you, there were a lot of them! Having made that mistake in the prior events, I knew, this was my race, not theirs. I kept true to my pace and made it to the first water break, grabbed a bottle and headed on. #2 station was around 34 miles and just after the only major climb of the course, or at least that was what I thought. During that break, I also took water, but around the corner was a great little town and they were all out to cheer us on. Man I can’t tell you how much that changes your mind and body. As I left that town, I again had a smile on my face and was pumping hard. The next part of the course was the most challenging to me. It was a long slow steady climb. It felt like forever, my pace slowed drastically as my AVG pace fell from 16.8 to the low 16’s. This was going to kill my race, but I had to keep my plan in check. This happen to also be the most distance between water, which was 20+ miles. I needed both a bathroom and water, but had neither, and as mentioned previously, I could not just go on my bike. I guess it wasn’t that bad, and I wasn’t in bad enough time shape to try. Finally the water station came and I was able to take the break. The climb was over and it was all downhill to start the 2nd loop. Although it wasn’t. The road turned into chip and seal which was hard to ride on, and felt just like riding up hill. I road through the roads and turns with less and less folks to see, they had already passed me! When I did get to the 49.7 spot, there were our special needs bags. I had done great on my food and water. I was hydrated and felt fueled. I did take my ibuprofen as a pre-caution for the run, then headed off. Once we joined back up with the folks doing the 1/2 it was a welcome break to see other riders. That lasted only a few miles, then the full people had to turn out and do that all over again. This time after the climb, which my legs were starting to cramp on, I saw my family again. I looked at my time and knew at that moment, that finishing this race was a very real possibility. I was indeed going to be an Ironman today and emotions started to take over. All the work, all the time away, all of the sacrifice was in fact going to pay off. I had to ride just 12.5 MPH to finish the bike at 5:30 and start my expected 6 hour marathon. Again, my planning and training had paid off. The rest of the bike was just that. Watching the time, watching the road and putting down the miles. I made sure to avoid as many cracks and holes as I could, as a flat tire would have just hurt my mental game. That was all pretty uneventful, I made my last stop at 100 miles and headed for Cedar Point again. This time, the wind was not on our side and it was a painful slow ride to the finish, but I had made it. I rode 112 miles in just about 7Hr 30Min. I was ahead of time, what an absolute miracle. Again I saw Amy, Jessie, and along with them I saw Mark, Mel, Cathy and Yes Jeff. He had finished the 1/2, I was thrilled and once again, completely pumped.
Once changed I hit the run, this is a very flat 13.1 mile loop. As I started my first marathon EVER, I was 100% for sure I was going to finish this race. I even started to think about the 16 hour goal I had as a #2. I was pumped and ready to again work my plan. 4 min run, 1 walk, that was the plan. Don’t stop until 26.2 was done. At Mile 1 I took some coke, water, and headed on. 1/2 mile later, I got the dreaded stomach cramps that long distance runners talk about. I had never had this problem on any of my other runs or training. For the next 7 or 8 miles I stopped in every port-o-let I could find. I felt my race slipping out of my hands. I was going to let down everyone, that was hard to get over, but I did stick to the plan of run/walk. I also started to take in some salt as I thought that could have been some of my problem. My diet consisted of Coke, Water, Power Bars, and salt. This continued till around mile 10, then as quick as it started, it was gone. Quick math said I could even get this first loop done in 3 hours if I picked up just a bit. I figured I would need it as the runners on their 2nd lap, were looking pretty bad. I expected I would feel the same way. As I made my way back to cedar point, Jessie came out early and ran with me to the turn. I handed off my glasses as the night was starting and again saw the entire support crew. Everyone including all of the other folks watching were cheering and yelling. The DJ was going strong and the MC was announcing finishers. Man, I was 13 miles away from this crazy goal of mine. I had 4 hours to finish by midnight and I remember telling my wife “It will be Midnight”. I was waiting for the wall, the evil terrible wall that hits you around mile 20. Back away from Cedar Point, I grabbed more ibuprofen and continued my 4/1 plan. Just as I crossed the bridge the Rev3 Vehicle pulled up with 4 folks in it. They were yelling for me, my name, and I became Mojo to them. Mojo is the Tri Club I was wearing at the time and representing at the race. Again I was as high as the moment I started. No way was I 13 hours into a physically and mentally grueling day. I felt awesome! I can’t explain it. Sure my legs were tired, but my head was completely there. I just had to keep counting down the miles. At each turn, each water station, there were more cheers and motivation. As the night set, the already cool temps dropped a bit further and so did my heart rate. On my walks I was seeing 125 or so and was a solid as I had ever been mentally. I remember crossing mile 16 as I have never run longer than that, and mile 20 as I waited for the wall, which by the way, never came. The last 6 miles where good. I passed many folks that passed me earlier in the day. Maybe they had not stuck to their plan, I have no idea, but I knew that my plan had been executed as good as I could have done it, and it was working. At this point, I could have walked and made the 12AM cut, but this was not about finishing any more, it was about running the marathon in 6 hours and finishing under 16. As the miles got less, the time got closer, when I made the turn back toward Cedar Point I started to see the 6 hour goal slip. I would have to run the best 5k I had to make the time. I also didn’t know exactly what time it was. As I crossed the last water station, there was 1 mile to go. Then as I started to run again, two folks from Rev3 asked if they could join me. These were athletes that were sponsored by Rev3 just out there supporting folks after they got done with their race that day. I accepted and had two of the greatest folks to run the last mile with me. During that conversation I told them my goal was 16 hours and I just saw that slip. I was a little down on myself, but kept running nonetheless. Eric, which was his name, said, “What do you mean, it is 10:38 or something. You’ve got it!” Again with the up’s and down’s. I was again on a high and it was about to get higher. As we crossed the parking lot, Jessie came to join us. I introduced her and then we all high fived and they split off. Waiting for me at the tunnel to the finish was my Wife Amy, Mark and Mel. Jeff and Cathy were at the finish line with cameras, and Margie was also there. She was another Mojo athlete doing the full. With that, Amy, Mark, Jessie, and I crossed the finish line together. 15 hours 45minutes. I had completed my goal, I had done what I set out to do 12 months ago. I had completed an Iron Distance Triathlon!
That night was a little rough, I had a slight reaction to the salt pills, and was tired and hungry. Basically, no sleep happened as I was too tired and amped at the same time. The next day brought some crazy sore legs, but no injuries. Not even blisters on my feet, which I had been fighting on my other long runs. The most asked question I have is “What is next?” Only shortly followed by what did you do to mentally prepare and stay strong? Well I think I answered the latter above, the former, I told my wife a joke at dinner the night after. I asked her “What does one do after an Ironman”? The answer is “Whatever the fuck his Wife wants” Or husband if that was the case. Amy has completely supported my goal even when she was not happy with it or me. For that I am eternally grateful. She is, has, and will continue to be the best thing that ever happened to me. As for the answer that everyone is looking for, I have no goals on the horizon. I have toyed with the idea of trying to walk onto America Ninja Warrior, but have LODES of work to get into that kind of shape. Only time will tell, and come winter I’ll come up with something to challenge myself. For now, I’m going to get back to spending time with my family, flying airplanes as much and often as I can, and enjoying life a bit.
My intent was never to write this much, but once I started, it just came out. I have to say, I wrote this for me, for my memories. If you are still reading, I hope you did enjoy the journey with me. It was a blast!
Until next time,
P.S. As a side note. I have also been asked how much working out I did over the last year. Well, here are the results from Garmin. In 9 months and 7 days I did a total of 1,907 miles over 236 hours and burned 102,112 calories. I guess I ate about 102,112 calories because I didn’t lose a damn pound. To break that down a bit further. I swam 50.6 miles over 66 hours, Ran 253.8 miles over 51 hours, and biked 1,596.92 miles over 107 hours.