Two words describe how I felt crossing the finish line….. sweet redemption. The road to an Ironman begins a year before when you make the commitment to register for one because they fill up so fast. I had mixed feelings and went back & forth with Amy…. I’ve already done one is this selfish? Do we have the money? Do I have the time to train? It was early on I knew this wasn’t about me, but others that could be inspired. A year ago I didn’t know who, until last Sunday. This report is meant to share the experience of the behind the scene feelings one has, coaching lessons, and lives that can be inspired.
Living in Colorado brings training advantages with beautiful weather, high altitude, tailor-made trail systems, and access to training clubs. However, most will compete in a race later in the season to get more training in outside. I still remember the 5am wake up calls for back-to-back spin classes, long swims in the lap pool, and running in the snow in 0′ degree temps dressed like a ballerina ready for a nutrition science project.
Little Back Drop
So…. I competed in an Ironman in Louisville in 2008. It was a swim in which you jump into a river one at a time, plenty of space to swim, bike had hardly any wind, but it was 94 degrees. Due to that heat, lack of experience, and horrible nutrition planning I couldn’t consume any more calories when I made the final loop of the run with 6 miles to go. I, what many in the sport would call, bonked. I walked those last miles and finished horribly, but….. I finished. Their were so many lessons learned and it was an enormous weight loss journey for me. You can read all about it here if you are interested.
Why do another one? There’s a lot of reasons like wanting to set an example to those I coach, my boys being older they can grasp this one, passion for endurance sports, ministry opportunities, and redemption of the way I finished in 2008. My goals going into this were to run that last loop of the run no matter how bad it hurt and finish strong and come as close to sub 13 hours as possible. For me this meant many more run miles during training and I recently heard that for every pound one is over their race weight it’s an added 20 seconds per mile they can go ahead and add to their time. In 2008 I weighed 165 so this time I focused on 150 and made it.
Fast forward four years later to now… well last Sunday. I woke up four hours before and downed a bagel with peanut butter & a banana. An hour later I gulped two bottles of Boost for straight up liquid calories. My goal was to have 1000-1250 calories on race morning with plenty of time to digest. I maintained my weight leading up, had an awesome 3 week taper, and about four days out starting the carb loading. Although transition opened at 5am, experience says to stay away from the anxiety and stress of all the others, so I arrived a little later on…. borrowed an air pump, put my hydration on my bike, and took off across the park to be alone. It was there that I stayed until 15 minutes before the race. I prayed, did dynamic stretching, put on body glide, and just relaxed. As I headed to the swim start a guy just arrived frantically…. overslept… yikes!
As we went through the swim shoot the faces looked like soldiers going off to war. Over a fourth of the participants were going for their first Ironman finish… you can just feel the fear, stress, and worry radiating off their faces. The spectators of family and friends looked just as concerned! I’ve had experience with open water swims, but nothing was like this. Around 2800 athletes pouring into the lake at the same time, unlike 2008 one at a time into a river. I was already prepared for the low water temps and just did everything I could to position myself in a way that would keep my heart rate down. Their was absolutely no way of getting into a stroke rhythm, as all my strokes were sliding off another wetsuit.
One word describes the swim of an Ironman…. madness. Elbows flying and feet kicking all around…. my only thought was how many might drown today? At one point I stopped swimming and just bobbed and looked around and inwardly said, “This is nuts!”. This one girl kept losing sight of the buoy’s and swam across the lanes. I finally just bear hugged her legs and through them as she did a 180 and screamed at me. Before you judge my violent reaction, you’ve never seen women act in a manner as in a Ironman swim! After getting kicked in the face multiple times, elbowed three times in which every time my goggles came off and filled with water, I was able to settle into a rhythm. I finished my first lap in a 41:13, the second was a little slower at 45:36 as it began to rain and the water got choppy for a swim time of 1:26:49 – my goal was 1:25:00. My least favorite of the 3 is swimming…. I know I need to improve my speed.
My goal for T1 was five minutes, but it soared to 9:05, because of hardly any feeling in my hands. It took me several minutes just to get my shoes strapped and I had to hunt down a volunteer to strap my helmet on. I would venture to say 95% of athletes are physically fit and ready to take on an Ironman, it’s the mental that causes damage. Even exiting the water you’re cold, dizzy, and then trying to remember where your bike bag is, what all needs to be taken off and put on, and exactly where your bike is amongst the others.
My bike is normally stronger than the other two disciplines. I did several rides over 100 miles and the spin classes during the winter gave me a huge base to rely on. Although this might be nasty, I stay on my bike the whole time to save time and just don’t like to get off and back on due to the discomfort. Yes that means I let the fluids go on the bike…… The course was recently changed from last year and I was expecting it to be flatter, but heading out at one point felt like a 5 mile gradual climb into the head wind. I felt strong though and never really hit any walls. I had a very specific plan for hydration and nutrition. I drank a bottle of water and a bottle of Hammer perpetuum every hour, along with a gel or chomp (my new favorite) every 30 minutes to give me around 450 calories an hour.
I opened a piece of Bazooka gum every hour on the hour and just the time spent opening the package and tasting the sweetness was such a pleasant sensation and reward. I encouraged people along the way that looked like they were struggling and was absolutely stoked to see Amy & the boys at the half way mark and gave them a fist pump in the picture above. After seeing multiple people on the side of the road with mechanical problems, all I could do many times over was pray and thank God for safety and no flats! My goal for the bike was 6:20:00 and I nailed it at 6:18:19. I’m looking to upgrade my bike and do more speed workouts.
T2 felt extremely fast at 4:46 as a volunteer grabbed my bike, felt like an old man running to grab my bag, which another volunteer already had ready. I went into the changing tent put on my shoes, compression socks (which I highly recommend loved them!), and glasses.
As I headed out for the marathon run everything felt really good. After the adrenaline of running through main street and all the spectators I was at a 9 minute pace but quickly slowed down and tried to settle in for about a 10:30 pace. I kept getting tempted to speed up, but knew I’d need that reservoir later…. glad I did. The weather in CDA was absolutely perfect for race day! Besides a little rain on the swim, my entire bike was overcast, and my run was in the 70’s. There’s no doubt this played a huge part in feeling really good as far as nutrition. I pretty much had a system of drinking a cup of Ironman Perform every other mile and the other mile coke (for sodium) and water. For the first loop of the run (13 miles) I stuck to gels and chomp to avoid digestive issues.
Be the second loop I was done and a good sign was the desire to eat more solid foods. It was at this point in 2008 I couldn’t get anything to stay down. I grabbed a couple of cookies and tried some pretzels… you just really don’t know what your body will crave and what will keep the stomach settled. I was completely blown away at my craving for Lays Potato Chips. I feasted on handfuls of those that last loop like nothing else and completely surged me. So much of that is due to the salt. As far as the run itself my watch would beep every mile and let me know my pace. I would walk quickly through each aid station, get nutrition and get hydrated, and then run.
The cool part is I was able to talk with one lady, who was having huge feelings of not being able to finish, and motivate her in a huge way. Another guy in his 50’s was telling me he didn’t know if he would finish, didn’t want to disappoint family. I quoted Philippians 4:13 and told him Christ was giving me strength and the same Jesus would give him strength as well…. I prayed that over him quickly out loud. He thanked me so much. I would later tell Amy God knew that specific Ironman across the country those specific people would need encouragement and a seed planted, and I was able to inspire them in Jesus name.
Everything was good to go, as the entire day had been, when I approached mile 13 to go out on the final loop and my right knee intensified with pain. I had an injury 5 years ago and knew this kind of pain. To be honest fear struck pretty quickly…. the thoughts of “You’re going to finish the same way you did in 2008…. walking those last miles” and “If you push through, you’re going to injure yourself and won’t be able to do anything for months after this… is it worth it?”. I popped a couple of Tylenol that took the pain away, but would return a few miles later. I began to pray heavily over my knee and knew others were agreeing with me. It was a mental battle of pain all the way out to the final turn to head back in with 6 miles left. That aid station was volunteered by CDA Assembly of God who partnered with us in huge ways. My friend and Pastor, Dan, ran with me and asked, “How are you doing Ricky, talk to me”.
It was a surge I needed and I knew then this is where my Ironman really starts. It is this point four years ago the wheels came off, I struggled, I battled if I would finish or not, disappointing family and friends… mostly myself. The demons were flying around again, but I fought them off, and decided, “No way! This is redemption.” Amy & the boys are waiting on me. I’ve got a little girl on the way and she needs her Daddy to finish strong. She became an inspiration for me. I started running harder and faster and the miles began to fly by. At mile 24 I don’t even think I stopped again I could feel the energy and could hear the microphone. I made the turn down main street and knew I had about a half mile to go. One spectator yelled, “Enjoy it bro….. soak it in… you deserve it!”. I did every bit of it. The closest thing to crossing the finish line spiritually and entering into the gates of heaven, has got to be an Ironman finish line. I ran as fast as I could leaving the demons behind that said I couldn’t finish strong.
The Finish Line
As I crossed the line with a 5:08:37 run completing my 2nd Ironman…. it was two words… Sweet Redemption. My run pace per mile was 11:46 (3 minutes faster than 2008). Amy & I embraced in a way that was special….. it was a loved shared of 10 years of marriage, going through so much in life, her seeing me hurting at mile 13, and she knew I finished strong…. having a more than 2 minute mile faster pace the last 6 miles than the previous 6. It was a metaphor for life. I want God to do so much more in my life, our ministry, and my family in the next 10 years than the previous 10 years. As I looked down at my boys they were beside themselves… the look of admiration that a Dad longs for from his boys. Camden, my 7-year-old, was crying. I asked him “What’s wrong?”. He said, “These are happy tears Daddy. I know you were hurting”. He went on to serve me by letting me put my hand on his shoulder as I could barely walk from my knee, helped gather all my bags, and helped get my bike to our vehicle. My little boy reminded me… it is about how much you’re willing to hurt. To finish I long endurance event you have to be willing to hurt for a long time. Endurance should be defined as: willing to hurt for a very long time, but fighting through to the end. Regardless of what you’re going through in life….. you might be in pain…. but if you fight through….. sweet redemption is coming your way!
It’s been over a week as I look back and reflect. So many times while training you deal with thoughts of selfishness. You question why do this. You feel like it’s just about yourself, your goals, your fitness, and your ambition. It’s after you cross the line that “you” is only a fraction of what is was all about. As Amy read me the text exchanges, the emails, the phone call conversations, and I read comments on my face book wall…. I realized something significant. I had inspired people. Knowing that my Dad went out and ran that morning during my swim to pray, and then again while wearing my finisher cap from 2008 while on my bike. Knowing my Father-in-Law ran 4 miles because he was inspired. Knowing other friends decided to sign up for an event, make a goal to lose more weight, finally tackle a dream in their life. Knowing my little boys will never forget how hard I trained and all the sacrifice as I avoided meals to lose the weight needed for race day. I’m humbled that this Ironman wasn’t about me…. it was about others.
The why of doing this and why I’ll do another (no way in 2013 – my little girl gets all the attention!) is that whenever we do something significant it causes others to say they can do something. Last Sunday night I laid in bed thinking “Did I really just swim 2.4 miles / bike 112 miles / and run a marathon all back-to-back today? That’s crazy! I finished in 08 with a 14:30:00 time and finished this year with a 13:07:36 time” As I went to sleep I was reminded by Philippians 4:13 again, “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me”…… two words….. Sweet Redemption.