Ironman Canada was a heck of a day. Physically, it’s obviously not an everyday undertaking. Emotionally, though, it was a surprising outlier for me. I think I’m as emotionally stable as anyone out there, but on race day I went through just about every emotion you can think of. And since then, I’ve been variously and in different magnitudes stoked, pleased, angry, disappointed, apathetic, passionate.
It was definitely a special day, and even though it did not end ‘the way it was supposed to’, I was smiling and having fun pretty much all day - I think, looking back, I’ll say this race was a turning point for me in my triathlon career.
The following is a summary of the race prep, the venue, the swim and the bike. Then a bit more detail on the run. And some real honesty at the end
I won’t say what the numbers are, and I haven’t actually done the math, but lets just say the training numbers were huge. Miles ridden, mountains climbed, passes passed, laps swum, huge rides followed by a run off the bike, followed by long hot runs to exhaustion the next morning. It’s mostly awesome and I love it. Some of it totally sucks and it’s a major effort to run the next mile or keep your mind in the moment. Some of the training I would do no matter what, some of the training is so unpleasant that I only do because I want to race fast.
Way cool. The mountains up there are wicked looking – super steep spires, sheer walls, shining glaciers, pine covered slopes and gray granite cliffs. I was lucky enough to be with my Mom and Dad all week, and that was a great time and their involvement makes it way more meaningful and fun.
Boom, baby!! The starting cannon went off at 6:55 on Sunday, July 24. I swam better than ever before and per the plan. I didn’t try very hard and came out of the water in 58 minutes, my best 2.4 mile swim yet. It was a two lap swim (1.2 miles each), and the first lap I was able to draft almost the whole way. The second lap I found the lead group (50ish people) maybe 100 yards ahead of me, and everyone else (1450ish people) behind me. This was kind of a bummer because I then led the whole second lap and had to do ‘all the work’ (no drafting). Nonetheless, really good swim.
112 miles. The first 50 flew by. The next 50 dragged along. The final 12 happened without even noticing. I did a great job ‘not trying’. I kept my heart rate way low and found lots of ‘easy speed’.
My average heart rate was 129. In Ironman Wisconsin 2015, my average heart rate was 139. That's a huuuge difference in effort expended. At Wisconsin, I raced the whole 112 miles. In Canada, I found 112 miles of easy speed, didn’t race anyone, ate 2000 calories and got off the bike as approximately the 15th of 1500 amateurs.
In my last few races, it had been questionable if I was biking too hard. This race, by going so easy on the bike, it was a chance to see unequivocally whether my previous sub-optimal run times were due to biking too hard.
Oh ya. And I saw a bear run across the highway 50 yards in front of me. Heck yea.
For me, the run is the real game. Everything else is just the precursor to the real game. Even the first 13.1 miles is just a warmup. The real game seems to start the second half of the marathon, miles 13.1 to 26.2. On this day, when I got off the bike, I was extremely confident in my setup, but insanely nervous, because the game was finally about to begin.
I ran 5 miles, zero effort. I was holding my pace between 7:00 and 7:30 per mile, and keeping my heart rate below 155. Every aid station I drank some Gatorade. After 50 minutes, I ate a gel. My plan was to just sally forth in this manner, running pretty quick from one aid station to the next, drinking Gatorade at each aid station, eating a gel every 40 or 50 minutes.
I ran 5 more miles pretty much no problem. So that got me to 10 miles.
Then I started to fall off the pace. It happened imperceptibly, but the pace just got harder and slower after mile 10. Eventually, some time around mile 15 or 16, I found myself walking. ‘The line’ had very much arrived, without me realizing it, around mile 10. ‘The line’ had come at mile 10, nowhere near the mile 22 or 23 or 24 that you might hope for.
After mile 15, I had about 6 horrible miles – walking, shuffling, trying to run. ‘The line’ had arrived, ‘the game’ had begun, it was time to ‘try’. I tried to run. And tried to run. Run down the hill. Run to the aid station. Run to the tree. But it was just shuffling – I was shuffling 11-12 minute miles and walking 17-18 minute miles. “Shit dude, it’s over.”
During this walking/shuffling period, I ate 2-3 gels and drank lots of gatorade, coke and water. I drank gatorade and coke to my heart's content (i.e. a shit load). I thought I would give myself a stomach ache, but that never happened.
By mile 18, I knew "it's over" with regards to my time goals, but I kept trying to run. I would say ‘just try’. ‘Just try’ to run to the end of the hill, or that shade, or whatever. And I would, but it was just a shuffle. I tried to run again and again, and with like 4 or 5 miles to go, I shuffled for a minute, then I found myself actually moving with a little rhythm. I said “Holy cats Luke, look at that, you’re running!”
So I ran to the next aid station, drank lots of gatorade and cola, put ice in my mouth, in my hands, down my jersey. And I repeated this until the end of the race, and each mile I was able to run better and better. The last 2 miles I had my HR back up into a good zone and I was truly running.
So what gives? Why did I run 15 okay miles, 6 horrible miles, then 5 pretty good miles? I don't think it was just being a sally and then knowing that there is only 1 or 2 miles left and ‘Hey I should push harder’. It was 4 or 5 miles, and each one got better and better. I wasn’t trying harder at the end, holding a higher pain threshold for each mile. I was trying the same, holding the same effort when I was running 12 minute miles during the middle of the run as when I was running 8’s and sub 8’s for the last 4 miles.
So, WHY? I don’t know for sure. I wish I knew. Maybe I am a sally. Probably not, though. To me, it was seemingly a caloric deficit, a ‘bonk’. I ran well, then simply couldn’t hold race pace, then drank a bunch of calories, then ran better for the last 5 miles. What’s the solution? Either become more calorically efficient (not easy) or eat more during the race (probably more feasible). So I have to train my guts to handle (not throw up) and digest (get the calories out) food more effectively while I am biking and running. I keep visualizing myself eating tacos while out for a training run :)
I finished in 10 hours 30 minutes. I was the 56th amateur of ~1500. Not bad for walking for an hour during the marathon. Really an astounding accomplishment and every race I finish, especially every iron-distance race, I think I will look back on and cherish as something special for the rest of my life.
Let me be really open and honest here. I try to be really positive in this blog and spread the goodness that is all around us. But if you want to know the whole picture of what I really think, read on:
I wanted to race like a 9:30, not a 10:30. That would have meant running around a 3:10 or 3:20 marathon instead of a 4:15. That would put me at the top of the amateurs and in the bottom ranks of the pros.
Those varying emotions since I crossed the finish line in Whistler - sometimes I say "Dude, your the man. 4 Ironmans. You're chasing your dreams. That was a helluva effort" and other times I say "Dude you train too hard for that. That sucked. F-word, man."
I prepared more for this race than really anything else I’ve ever done. It’s not like everything I do is only for the one race, for the one day – I thoroughly enjoy the training, and the lifestyle, and everything I do that is directed towards triathlon. But, the point is, I’ve put in enormous effort and time in order to race fast. In pretty much every other endeavor I’ve undertaken, the formula is “Luke” + “Effort” + “Mindfulness” = “Results”. Every sport, every educational environment, every job I’ve had and have: “Luke” + “Effort” + “Mindfulness” = “Results”. So, at least temporarily, there is this disconnect here.
I finished, and close to the top of the heap of the fittest and most motivated people around. But not as high and as fast as I wanted to, not where I aimed to. I failed to achieve my own goals regarding time. I’ve put in more effort and commitment to this than anything else, so why am I not at the top of the top, at the pinnacle of the best!?
Am I [insert any adjective you want] or am I a [insert any noun] because I want too much, because I think I’ve put in enough work, because I think I should succeed at everything? Because I am not happy with ‘above average'? Because I'm not satisfied with the time I’ve ran? Maybe. Maybe it is a problem. I think about it all the time. But that is just who I am. To me, winning would be racing the best race I can, given my genetics, my training, my resources – it would be one heck of a performance. Winning would be crossing the finish line, knowing I’ve raced the best race I could, and throwing my hands up and roaring like Usain Bolt. I still haven’t done that. So I don’t think it’s over yet. It might be folly. Maybe I'll change. But right now and for the foreseeable future, it's not over until the goal becomes a reality, it’s not over until I win.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…
So, I started this post by saying this race will prove a turning point for me, and here I'll finally tell you why:
1. Because I've finally realized that, in all likeliness, my sub-optimal IM marathons have been due to acute caloric deficits. It might be (probably is) as simple as eating more gels on the run.
2. Because I don't fear anything about Ironman anymore. I just realized this today. This morning I was riding my bike, and I started thinking about the race, and I got upset, then mad, then straight pissed. And, oddly, at this moment, I realized that I am just no longer afraid of anything Ironman. The muscle pain, the anxiety, the distance, training, results, walking, bonking, throwing up, looking stupid, looking like the man, winning and failing - thinking about any of these does not cause any fear. I just don't care, I'm no longer afraid to experience any of these. I've been there - I've won, I've lost, I've ran until my feet bled, I've met my goals and I've utterly failed. Turns out, the pain is temporary and so is failing. Get up, look up, try harder, try smarter. Here we come Ironman Wisconsin, September 11, 2016.