Sunday, September 11, 2016. Ironman Wisconsin. Dreams come true day :)
I had a dream two days before the race, the night of Friday, September 9.
I think it was influenced by check-in earlier that day. Check in is where 2500 athletes go to wait in line, exchange nervous energy, complain about injuries, lie about their goal time, and to check each other out, see who looks fit, who looks healthy. There isn’t a single person that goes to check-in and doesn’t compare themselves to other athletes, or to pass at least some judgment on the weekend’s participants.
I always come away surprised how average everyone looks. All the athletes just look like regular people, and they are regular people, especially when they are attired sans-spandex, sans-lycra. Lines were a little long at this particular Ironman check-in, so I had way too much time to play games. The primary game was “Who is really good?”. Obviously everyone is in the top couple percent of the fittest (endurance-wise) people in the country, but which ones are going to be the top 20 on Sunday? Who is the top 1% of the already 1% Ironman crowd? It turned out to be a difficult game – I deemed hundreds of the people to “look like” they might be in the top 20 of the 2500 athletes racing on Sunday.
Then that night I had the dream. It’s sometimes boring to hear about another person’s dreams, but I’m going to share this one because there is a pretty special and important theme to it.
The gist of the dream: There was tiny (cartoon small) young girl that was just a regular, smiley, fun-loving girl. Looked totally regular (besides being cartoon small) and quite innocent. Then shit hit the fan in the dream, and there were bad dudes all over the place. Little innocent girl was suddenly an 8ft sword wielding wizard, smashin and overwhelming the multitude of bad guys through a combination of mad-skills and raw power. Then, after saving the day like a boss, she was back to being innocent smiley girl.
I woke up and thought, “Wow. Total badass. Super hero in everyday clothes.”
Talk about foreshadowing. If I was a Greek general, I would have been mighty confident about the outcome of the coming battle.
Come Sunday morning, I donned the most unassuming clothes – Bucky crewneck sweatshirt, Bucky t-shirt, real person pants. Underneath I wore my bike shorts, race top and heart rate monitor. Nobody knew it yet, but I was going to get to play Superman for a day and this would be my superhero’s outfit.
I was actually terrified Sunday morning. I was so relaxed all race weekend, and even eating breakfast at 4am on Sunday, I was completely fine. Then, at 530am and with 90 minutes to game time, I started to experience some of the strongest pre-race anxiety to date. It was mostly a physical manifestation. My stomach was in a knot, eating another bite of food or drinking a sip was out of the question, and the wrong comment or question may have sent me over the edge. My hands were shaking. I was ready for the race to start, right now. Right now. Ready, go. Riding my bike over to the race start was the only thing that brought some relief – I found comfort, familiarity, relief in the movement. I knew all the nerves would be gone with the cannon blast at 7am. I was so ready to just get on with it.
Time passed, I donned the wetsuit, made my way into the water, and the cannon went off on schedule at 7am. I was finally comfortable for the first time that morning – I was in the moment, doing something I loved and that I had done hundreds of times in training. Just swimming. Simple. Sometimes I found myself out in front of a group, dragging everyone along, and other times I was able to get on someone’s hip or behind their feet and ride along in their draft. There was no melee this swim start, or during any part of the 2.4 mile swim – everyone around me went about their business and we were able to outswim most of the craziness that takes place further back and towards the middle of the group.
I was the 39th person out of the water in about 58 minutes.
Helmet, glasses, shoes, let’s ride baby. Just ride, no need to crank hard – I was so jacked up that I knew “just riding” would be plenty hard and fast. I probably passed 20 people in the first 15 minutes, then settled in with a loosely assembled group of 5 or 6 riders spread out over maybe 150 yards. I rode at the front of this group for the first 60 minutes, or 20ish miles. Then we hit the hills and I found my groove. About 5 miles into crazy rolling hills, a spectator shouted to me, “Is it it hilly enough for you!?” That was an attitude check for me, and I shouted back, “Dude. I love this shit!” I do, and I sure did on that day. That attitude lasted the entire ride. I dropped the group that had been loosely drafting me and proceeded to cruisey cruise my way to 9th place overall by 100 miles.
Everything just felt right and I was as confident as I could be when rolling the “Ironman Dice”. You never know what is going to happen to your body, guts or equipment during the race, but things sure seemed good. My back was tight, but I felt like I could have rode that pace for 200 miles. I had taken in 2500 calories over 5 hours. My stomach felt good. My head was still in the game.
I dismounted after 112 miles, ran into the men’s change room with my run gear bag and the volunteers told me I was in the top 10 athletes off the bike. Whooooo baby! Don’t look now, keep your fingers crossed, knock on wood, don’t say it yet and keep your wits about you, but this dream day just might come together…!!!
Out of T2, as it always is after 5 hours of riding, it felt great to be upright and on my feet again. This euphoria and feeling of physical well-being usually lasts a finite period before reality sets in, so I knew it would get tough eventually. But I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear as I ran down State Street, past my old house on Mifflin St, through Camp Randall. I was as all alone as far as athletes go, but there were hundreds of awesome cheering volunteers and thousands of stoked spectators. I was smiling, people were smiling because I was smiling and because of what I was doing, and I knew that I was getting to ‘play Superman’ in my own eyes and for countless spectators and volunteers.
Before I left Boulder, one of my training mates said to me “Don’t f*** it up.” A bit impolite, yes, but it was actually spot on. The training miles were in the legs and I had plenty of knowledge and advice to pull off a great Ironman. I just had to go out and do it. You make decisions all day during an Ironman – how much to eat for breakfast, whether to stand and crank up this hill or sit and spin, eat a clif bar now or some gels, drink nothing or drink coke at this aid station, on and on, all day – and “Don’t f*** it up” was actually effective guidance. I knew what was the right thing to do, and I just had to use the brain and do it all day long.
On the run, this meant getting in calories when I felt good, and doing my best to get in calories when I didn’t feel good. Every mile there was an aid station, and at every one I would either eat part of a gel packet, drink Gatorade, drink coke or drink redbull. Simple.
Below is a look inside my head during the last 26.2 miles of this race. But for perspective, let me preface it with the results of the last 2 full Ironmans that I raced in. IMWI ’15: Off the bike in 11th place. Ran well for about 8 miles. Then went backwards through the rankings, finishing in 55th after a 4:01 marathon (9:06 miles). IMCanada ’16: Off the bike in 12th place. Ran well for 12 miles. Then totally lost it and ran a 4:15 marathon (9:43 miles), falling back at least 50 places.
Here’s how the run went down on this day at IMWI ‘16:
Mile 10 – scared. Things were getting tougher. The heart rate was sinking a bit. I had so far to go. Around mile 10 is where several races have gone downhill quickly, and I was scared. It was like “Yuup, this is where everything goes to hell! Yuuup, tradition – it’s time to fall apart!”
Mile 12 – found some pep in the step, got the heart rate back up above 150, maybe as high as 160. Phew. Made it though the first low point and didn’t fall apart. Ride the roller coaster baby, there are going to be ups and downs. Ride it out.
Mile 13 – back down State Street to start lap 2. Spectators are going nuts. The family and friends are everywhere, and I’m riding high.
Mile 15 – spectators thin out. I’m rippin stoked, and I’m having a hard time staying calm because now I’m in 6th place and it seems like I have a chance of holding it together.
Mile 16 – put on the game face. The stage is set, it’s time to put on the f’in cape. You’ve swam, biked and ran your way to the front of this race. Put on the cape and do whatever the hell it is that you do to make it through.
Mile 18 – bathroom break. 40 seconds.
Mile 20 – shit son, come on baby. 10K to go. Still in 6th place. Only 10K more. Come on. Come on. Doesn’t seem like much of a mantra, but that’s what it was. Come on. Come on now.
Mile 22 – eventually, the brain is going to figure out that the body is going to make it. Then I’ll be able to run a little quicker. I sure hope that happens soon.
Mile 23 – walked like 40 feet. Only walking I did all day. I saw a dude in front of me, and that got me shuffling again. Beating that dude was the only thing on my mind for the next couple miles.
Mile 24 – passed dude. Then he passed me back. Then I passed him and I started sending it. I finally had the confidence or the ‘brain pacing mechanism’ decided that, no matter how hard I go, I’ll be able to make it to the end. So I went. I scarcely could have run a 100 ft portion of that final 2 miles any quicker than I did. I was “all in” with every step.
I crossed the line in 9 hours, 40 minutes and 8 seconds. Dreams. Come. True. 6th place. Are you kidding me!? Who am I to run like that, to put together a race that puts me into the 1% of the 1%. I biked a pace that few can match, pretty much without straining myself, and then ran a 3:21 marathon off of the bike, 7:40 per mile. This was the race I had dreamed of, the race I had visualized so often and so intensely.
I’m going to want to race faster. And I will race faster. I’ll have new goals, new dreams. But, ya know, that was just absolutely awesome - IMWI 2016 was a smashing success and one of the most fun days of my life. I'm going to be riding high for a while after that one
In my post-IM Canada blog, I explained what a bummer the IM Canada results felt like. I am not good at losing, and that felt like losing for sure. I said that I would get up, look up. That it’s not over until I win. I said that and I embodied that, but there are no guarantees and I had no idea if I could actually make it happen. Well, last Sunday, it certainly all came together and I won. Huuuuge win for Team Luke. I got to wear the cape on Sunday, but I hope that a lot of other people know and feel great about how much they did to set me up for success (everyone reading this blog, that’s you). Family, friends, triathlon coach, teammates, previous teammates and previous coaches. A huge network of people and a lot of luck came together to give me an opportunity, and I’m so fortunate to have have brought a dream to fulfillment.
Last Sunday, 9/11/16, was the 15 year memorial of so many true heroes. It was a special day and an emotional day for a lot of people that were racing for their various reasons. And it was a day that I got to step up, to put on the cape, and I got to show one of the ways that I am a superhero in everyday clothes.
Superheroes are all around us. Most of the time they wear plain clothes. Moms are superheroes, no doubt about that one. So many people had a teacher in school or a coach in sport that changed their life, and that teacher or coach was a superhero. Some people are really good at their job. Maybe they send their kids to college, or maybe they provide employees a wage to raise a happy family. That’s a hero. People who are great at a craft or a trade. They are inspirational, they show that anybody, you too, can be great at a craft, that you can have a dream and go out and achieve it. Hero. Some people are ridiculously nice, and they go through their lives making people smile, everyday helping someone to have a better day. Some people are so strong and steady that they become a source of strength, a lighthouse for the rest of us. When you need that person, they sure are a hero.
Keep your eyes open everyone. People are awesome, so much is good in the world and in our lives. Most the time everyday superheroes don't look like anything special, but if you keep looking, on occasion you'll watch in awe as they put on the cape and do something truly special. Heroes are everywhere, hiding in plain sight – superheroes in everyday clothes.