Sunday, August 29, 2010

I am an Ironman 70.3

It’s official. My seven-month relationship has ended.

As difficult as it was to part ways, I severed my commitment to my bike, to my swim, to my run. OK, sever isn't wholly accurate; we're on a break. That’s because I finally conquered my goal of becoming an Ironman. OK, an Ironman 70.3, but an Ironman, nonetheless.

Deciding to tackle this mighty monster came last year when I realized that running alone was not satisfying my desire to push myself further. And so I signed up for the Timberman Half Ironman in New Hampshire that takes place in late August. It came with trepidation for sure, especially since I knew that a serious injury seemed to be looming. And with full force it arrived in March, threatening my ability to finish this race, let alone start it.

As the official training plan began, the plantar fasciitis in my right foot worsened. I cut back on running—even stopped for several weeks—to curb it. That didn’t work. I endured cortisone, a night boot, ice, heat, a Strassburg Sock [insert trademark], over-the-counter orthotics, custom orthotics, and crying sessions in front of my podiatrist. Eventually, as a last resort before “procedural intervention,” as the doctor called it, he ordered physical therapy three times a week.

PT was my godsend.

Granted, Nick, my therapist, pushed—and continues to push—me to sweat-inducing limits during rehabilitation. I shed a few tears, sometimes wondering if I would ever be able to run 13.1 miles after biking 56. On the Wednesday before my race, Nick seemed to have me run through a gamut of exercises. The result? I had so much pain that I walked out in bitter tears. My damn race was 100 hours away, and I couldn’t walk on my heel.

And so I truly tapered. I did practically nothing for four days—not even bike, nor swim. I kept my feet up, watched TV, rode shotgun for nearly 9 hours to the race, hardly walked at all besides at the expo where I saw Dick Hoyt, an incredible man with an incredible story of pushing his paraplegic son through marathons and triathlons.

Knowing what he has accomplished made me realize how lucky I am.

Still, come race day, I felt like bagging it, for I dreaded the pain that might return, as it did in Philly.

I awoke at 3:30 and headed to transition. In the parking lot, I met a couple parked next to us who also drove up from Bear Swamp, which settled my nerves. But I then met up with Victoria, a woman from New York in my age group who had paid a trainer to coach her through preparation. I felt intimidated by her confidence, her “let’s go” attitude, her knowledge of what to expect. Still, she offered to swim with me, bike with me, even run with me to get me through the race. I declined. I didn’t want to hold her up.

Later, we stood in the water of Lake Winnipesukee and watched the pros make it look easy. I feared the water would be choppy as it had been two days before when I stood on the edge of the finish area in steady 25-mph winds. On race day, the first 600 meters out were smooth; however, that all changed as we swam parallel to the shore. The waves crashed onto our left, the side on which I breathe. I swallowed a lot of water, but forged on as best I could. I need to rely on breaststroke in some portions when I gagged on a wave.

On at least four to five stretches, I ended up swimming too far to the left because the crests in the water prevented me from seeing the buoys. In all, due to my poor sighting, I figure that I swam an extra 50 yards beyond the 1.2 miles. That’s not a great distance, but it’s enough when you’re battling waves, anxiety, and deep water.

But eventually I made it back to the beach where I unzipped my wetsuit and left the “strippers” pull it off the rest of the way.

The next round, 56 miles on a very hilly course, tested my mental and physical limits. I make no secret about it: the bike is my weakest sport. Blame arthritis, blame bad knees that go back to childhood, blame my fear of crashing and losing my front teeth. Blame everything. But I fear the bike.

There were portions of bike course during which I felt like quitting. I wept silently at least twice, when the pain in my knee greatly outweighed my desire to finish, when it rained hard and consistently, leaving me somewhat blinded and nearly defeated.

But in my heart, I knew that I could not quit. I had prepared for this, and so in the dark moments, I repeated my mantra continuously: “Today is not the day to quit.”

When I headed back into transition—after getting passed by nearly everyone behind me, or so it felt—I knew that I could just walk the half marathon and still be done with it. But I’m not a TNTer. I don’t walk races. I run them until I can no longer stand the pain.

And so I laced up my Asics, outfitted with my new orthotics, and headed out along a double-loop course. The first few miles felt great. I remember coming in to finish the first 6.5 miles and thinking: “Great, I’m halfway done…great, I have to do this again and it’s going to hurt.” By mile 8, I was correct. My plantar was calling the shots, but I didn’t let it win. I ran-walked those last five miles as best as I could. My goal was to not have an 8 on the clock, and my stretch goal was to see 7:3X on the clock.

As I looked at my watch, I knew that I would not only meet my stretch goal, but I would beat it. Just knowing that I had time in the bank eased my mind. In the end, with about 100 yards to go, out of nowhere I spotted my family. Keni jumped up and down, yelling for me. She rushed out onto the course, and I began to cry.

Despite my exhaustion, the pain, the doubts, I sprinted as best as I could toward the finish to the sound of Coldplay's "Clocks". They announced my full name, my hometown. And I continued to cry. I had done it, reached a goal that some people thought might be beyond my ability.

My watch read 7:26. I had beaten my stretch goal with 3 minutes to spare. Immediately, I knew I had a new goal: to beat 6:59.

In hindsight, I was far from speedy. I was far from top form. I was injured, and I still am. However, I was there. Unfortunately, Victoria, the confident woman who had hired the professional trainer, was not. She didn’t finish. Somewhere along the race, she dropped out, didn't get to run across the last timing mat.

But I did. I am an Ironman, and I have the medal to prove it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dancing Baby Moment.

Sometimes, it's the little things that matter.

On my run today, I felt a little sluggish, largely due to the resistant right heel that simply prefers to stay home than take it to the streets. But I pushed on in my attempt to run 10 miles, which was eventually successful. Still, along the way, i was feeling the humidity, feeling the pain when I saw a man pulling a sprinkler into the middle of his lawn. He looked over at me, called out: "Hey, how ya doing?" I looked up, managed to say that I was fine, asked about him. "I'm doing great."

But he didn't stop there.

He added: "Hey, you look great! Keep on going, keep on pushing..."

Suddenly, with those small words, I felt like dancing, even if I couldn't run much faster than I already was. I felt like the Dancing Baby.

All too often we try to impress people with hollow promises, opulent materials. None of that matters. What does matter is sincerity, humility, dancing babies.