A lot of race blogs have a tag line in the header, “It’s about the journey” for example. When I was considering one for myself I settled on “This is my year” from the total commitment I decided to make toward training in 2013 and the departure from some of my usual antics of the past. I made a conscious choice that I would give everything I had to Ironman Lake Placid, teaming up with QT2, and starting down a regimented training path in June of 2012. To conform completely to the plan I had to make some sacrifices, giving up soccer (for the first time in over 20 years!), snowboarding, late nights with friends, and hopes of a normal social life with a full time job and 20+ hour workout weeks, including up to 14 hours on the weekends. I knew that there would be no promises, but with the countless hours of training came tons of progress, and I grew increasingly excited to see how it would translate on race day.
In 2011 I went 10:46 in my first Ironman. I rode one century ride, rarely ran off the bike, and peaked in the high 18’s before Placid. This past year I averaged 5 bricks a week, running sub 7’s in zone after 7 hour bike rides, and completed 10 century’s leading up to the race. I cut down my swim TT’s from 2:00’s to 1:30’s/100y. I ‘d been eating right (having consulted with a dietician for a specific nutrition plan and ideal BMI), fueling with race day supplements in every workout and recovering better than ever before. I gave up alcohol 2 months prior to the race, and was seldom going out anymore, or leaving early, to be sure I could get the right amount of rest after some LONG workouts. When the offer to move out to the west coast came about I had to make a list to prioritize my time, #1) Work, #2) Training, #3) anything else, but I rarely got past the first two. When things became rough, sometimes barely manageable I thought, ok, I’ll get to this after Placid, just need to make it to Placid! Still, even with overtime and hours in traffic daily, somehow I managed to get my volume in, or very close to it. I bragged on Facebook earlier in the year when I completed my 100th workout in a row, exactly as prescribed, without missing a minute, but that was under some very different circumstances. Survival became the theme these last two months, but I felt despite the adversity, relocating cross country, starting another job, having my car broken into and gear stolen, moving to a city with freakishly trafficked roads (not ideal for driving or riding), and being on my own I was able to get in what I needed for a breakthrough performance on race day.
The thing that I admire about Ironman yet despise at the same time is that in competition, as in life, there are no promises. People get sick, injured, experience major events, races get canceled last minute (NYC Marathon), and on the darkest side of the spectrum you have this past year’s Boston Marathon. Equipment fails, the weather turns, a driver tries to cut around a road closure barrier, all things outside of one’s control. There are a million ways to have a bad day yet only one way to have YOUR perfect race. It’s a lot of pressure, and to add to things for a guy like me it’s generally a single opportunity as in one A race a year. I derive a lot of worth out of my performance. I’m not like some of the big names I learned this past season but I still feel I have it in my potential to be good, even if not great. People have started asking me questions like I know what I’m talking about and it feels good. I put a lot of weight on Lake Placid and there was nothing that I did that was wrong, still in the end it wasn’t to be my day.
Race Recap –
I started the weekend well, getting picked up by my mom in Albany after a 6 hour flight with only a couple hour drive to Placid. She rented a room at the Comfort Inn, right on the Lake for us and the rest of my family to stay (I can’t express how appreciative I am for this, thanks mom!). Unlike 2011 where I walked around touring the area up until very late pre-race night, this year I made it my duty to limit time on my feet as much as possible. The day before the race, after checking my bike, I spent in a chair on the lake listening to music, loading up on carbs and only getting up to pee. As lame as it sounds I even kept my HR monitor on as a game to see how low I could get my heart rate. When dinner came around my family went out to a nice restaurant to eat and despite not seeing them in a long time and it being a beautiful night I opted to stay at the hotel to keep off my feet. I slept like a baby both the night of the race and two nights before, perhaps only waking once in 8 hours, a pre-race first! The morning of I ate the protocol QT2 breakfast, got dropped off at transition and even brought a chair so that I could stay off my feet until the very last minute.
At an Endurance Nation meeting I attended with friends they talked about hitting mile 18 on race day, and depending on how you executed your race plan it being literally at mile 18 of the run, maybe not until the 20’s on a good day, or even in the single digits if the bike was handled poorly, going out way too hard. I knew it would come and was hoping it would be toward the last few miles, since I knew I was experienced enough not to make the rookie mistakes they described. Unfortunately, this race day my mile 18 occurred before the gun even went off on the walk up from transition to Mirror Lake. As I was putting on my wetsuit, my last step before heading to the swim start, I bent down and experienced a sudden jolting pain in my lower back, as if someone had hit my tailbone with a small hammer. I couldn’t believe how painful it was hobbling up toward the water, thinking the whole time THIS ISN’t HAPPENING RIGHT NOW! It’s almost as if someone had a Welby Voodoo doll and was sticking it with needles directly into the lower back. I prayed it would go away after the swim, after all there was nothing else to really do but hope.
The pain diminished slightly, from a 7 to a 2 or 3 before getting in the water. I couldn’t sense it slowing me down but when I got out after my second lap and saw the clock showing a 1:10+ swim I knew it wasn’t going to be my day. The run down to transition was painful so I took it slow. By the time I got on the bike it had migrated down from my lower back into the top of my glutes. My number to hit on the bike was 153bpm, which I averaged consistently through 112, but where I was hitting wattage in the 200’s at 10bpm lower in my training rides with the pain I was now only capable of 180’s at 10bpm higher! A similar thing happened to me at Muskoka 70.3 where I placed 2nd in my AG but in a 140 mile race it was too much to push through. I was targeted to go 5:30, having gone 5:36 in 2011, but was expecting to have much more strength off the bike to run a fast marathon. I got off the bike in 5:41 with pain so intense I questioned whether I would even try or just throw in the towel. Then I saw my coach, pointing to my back and grimacing, he told me to keep going and that it would loosen up.
The rest of the run was bad, but not as bad as I thought, a testament to my durability and training that I was still able to run a 3:30 through the pain (not the 3:09-3:15 I was targeting). The reason that I described this race as a pleasant nightmare is that it was heartbreaking to know it was over with 138 miles to go but the crowd make it impossible to not at least smile, especially coming up Rich Clark Hill and all the way into the oval. Seeing my family and hearing them scream my name brought great momentary happiness and took me out of the pain cave for a short while. It was great to finally meet a friend, Alyssa Godesky, on the course and run with her for a few miles. She had her game face on but she was still super encouraging, I’m glad she did so well! From the pictures I think it’s clear how different the experience was this time versus last. My face shows a far different expression from my first time –
So why did I have a debilitating back issue only in the few minutes leading up to the race?? Was it putting on the wetsuit that did it? I don’t think so. Sitting upright on the plane for 6 hours a couple days before (never volunteer to sit in the emergency evacuation isle! Lesson learned), sleeping on a couch and not a bed for the weeks leading up, driving the clutch for hours in traffic around workouts, overtraining, not doing enough core?? Any one or combination could be to blame. I will surely figure it out moving forward. I’ve already seen a specialist who suggested getting a massage a few days prior and warming up with some prescribed exercises. I’m confident that I will figure it out. The greater question is is this really what I want to be doing to myself? I put so much of my identity into one event and feel no resolution. Now I am left with an additional year and a possible reoccurring outcome at the cost of another 1000 hours and thousands of dollars invested. Is it really worth it?? I feel I have some sole searching to do before I decide but would argue that it would be a terrible waste to not continue after all I have put in. In addition training is who I am. It’s not all about what happens on race day but what you go through and overcome to get there. Anyway, material for another blog post I suppose.
Next up 70.3 Worlds, my shot at some redemption in 2013. Some good words I appreciated from Jessie on race day (paraphrased) – expect the worst, prepare for it, be ready for it. Not just pertaining to my recent back issue but with killer climbs and temps in the 100+ in Vegas I’ll be certain to prepare for the worst to in this next 5 week block. I am excited more than anything else to race with the Hansen’s after qualifying with Dave almost a year ago and to see how well Jennie does coming off her big win.
Dave, you are an incredible athlete and I hope in time and with some perspective you will look back on this and see how tough your were and how it will prepare you for what is coming next. We are all so proud of you.
It’s still amazing that you cut your total time from 2011. Great writeup – I really enjoyed reading it. I am curious how the back has been since the race.
Thanks Gary! Back’s feeling better but I’m easing back into training for Vegas.
Welbs. You are a true champion. Knowing how much you dedicate yourself to this, I was absolutely gutted reading along. Even with the pain you still progressed. I hope you continue on and if not, get back playing soccer man. the game misses a true competitor like yourself.
Thanks man, I envy how you’ve stuck with the sport since college, Soccer will always be my favorite. Keep doing your thing and I will do the same.