Before we get into the race, let me provide a bit more of the background. Some people think all that matters is the result. Did ya win!? More and more, I don’t think that is what matters. Or, at least, that’s not all that matters. Here’s the story:
A hamstring/nerve injury kept me from doing a lot of training in January, February, March. April was better and better each day. By the beginning of May, this injury was largely resolved, and I turned the treadmill up to 10.0 mph for the first time all year. Then, 3 days later, I went to Omaha and ran a 5K, averaging a bit quicker than 11.0 mph. The rehab had worked. 4 more weeks and it’ June 3. I find out about Wisconsin 70.3 and sign up. Another week and it’s suddenly race day, June 10, and I’ve done zero race-specific prep, my sinuses are filled with mucus and I’m hacking up a storm. Nonetheless, I’m quietly confident and stoked to give it a full-send. I’m physically/structurally healthy, I may not have prepared specifically for this race but I’ve got a huge base of fitness from the last 20 weeks of general training, the bike power and leg speed are my best ever, and I have significant experience to lean on.
I stated earlier the the only imperative was effort, and that I had very little race plan. I am not saying, however, that I went in blindly and devoid of mental preparation and planning. I know how to handle myself for a hard 4 hours session – how many calories to consume, what kind of calories, what effort could be sustainable, when to be aero, when to stretch my back, where to position myself for a swim start, what to drink at the aid stations, what gear to wear, how to prep my bike, when to sit-in, when to pass, what heart rate and power and pace could possibly be sustained. These are things I am intimately familiar with and that I did not need to think much about. What I did think about was effort. Try hard. That seems like something that should also be a given. But it is not, it simply is not. Racing fast fast fast requires you to be ready to hurt and to cry. I think it is the most important part of race preparation, if you are going to try to max it out – you must prepare to try, to sally forth, to endure, to feel the pain and to field the questions and just keep going.
Alright, the race.
We got out of the water to fantastic humidity and wet pavement, but no more rain. Water remained on the roads for the whole ride and sprayed up off of the bikes onto their riders, and this kept me sketched-out for the whole ride. I usually ride quite aggressively through turns, but this day I really toned down the lean angles and used the brakes more liberally. The course is very hilly and has 48 listed turns, plus probably a dozen more unlisted turns while on the bike path. On average, that’s 1.1 right-angle turns every mile. On average, that means you ride as hard and aero as you can for 2 minutes 15 seconds, sit-up, brake, turn, stand and crank, sit down, get aero. Repeat 60 more times to complete 56 miles.
The first hour or so was great. Mile 20 to 40 went a little more slowly (as in, my experience of the time-space continuum became frustratingly stretched). Miles 44 to 56 were miserable. The power was gone. For the whole ride, my bike power (measured in watts, a product of how hard I’m pushing on the pedals and how fast I’m spinning the cranks) was at the low-end of my expectations (probably due to the phlegm I was hacking up). And by the end of the ride, power was not just below expectations, but ‘my power’ had completely abandoned me.
Just try. All you have to do is try. C’mon Chief. You've been here before, the miles will inevitably tick by. Just keep trying. Use your glutes. Use your quads. Hell, use your back – do whatever you need to do.
Dismount, rack the bike, slip the dry running shoes out of the plastic bag, get out of transition and onto the run course, promptly soak the running shoes in the mud. Run. Finally, we were running. Kind of like starting the race and getting in the water, running is comfort. There are no surprises, not much danger, reasonable speeds, and a very straightforward activity. This didn’t use to be the case for me – running was a major weakness and a foreign realm, but that has changed over the last couple years. I run tall, strong, shoulders back, chin down, hips and feet and all the body’s wonderful structures working an elastic symphony. Running is simple. And this run was particularly simple – get around Lake Monona as fast as you can, first one to the line wins.
I didn’t know how far up the leader might be, and I didn’t ask, but I could tell I was very much in the pointy-end of the race. I passed maybe 5 guys over the first 6 miles. And it was at about mile 6 that I thought I might be running a ’10 mile pace’, at best. That would leave me 3.1 miles short of the finish line. It had unraveled on the bike, but the magic of triathlon training had allowed me to pull it back together to run with poise and great speed. But it was beginning to unravel, and I knew it was going to come apart again, for a second time in one day.
Mile 10, and my head pounded, my entire torso ached, forearms felt pins-and-needles, hands were numb. I could see the finish across the lake - just around the next bay and I would be finished. 3 miles to go. Remember how quick those first 5K went? Well, just do that again! My experience of space and time expanded, and mile 10 to mile 11 was a heavy experience. Mile 11 on was laughable, and laugh I did. I laughed at my posture, glanced in a passing storefront window. I laughed that I was so lucky (I’m fully serious) to experience such an unraveling twice in one race, that I had accomplished the goal – I was in agony and feeling feverish, but I was laughing with joy that I had tried so hard. Heck yes. Mission accomplished. I had made due and worked with the day and the training and all of the circumstances that led up to and comprised race day, I had prepared as best I could for the circumstances, and then I absolutely sent it and sent it as best as I ever have.
I hauled myself along for the last couple miles, all the dudes I had previously caught and passed now returning the favor. I smiled and laughed with grim humor as I pulled myself up the last hill to the finish line. The spectators and the volunteers at the finish line were amazing. They went absolutely gonzo. They acted like I had done something laudable, worthy of great recognition. Like I was a ball of pure joy coming into their lives just for them at that moment. I try to race with joy and as a celebration, and they certainly made me feel that this purpose had been successful.
2 years ago I ran 1 mile at 6:10 pace. It was a 10 mile run, and I ran one of those miles at 6:10 or 6:00 pace, for the first time in my life. After Kona 2017, there was no fast running for a while. Then 5 weeks ago I ran 2 minutes at 6:10 pace, for the first time all year. Sunday at 70.3 Wisconsin I gave it a real crack - after swimming 1.2 miles and riding the bike to true failure, I ran 10 miles at 6:10 pace. That result and that effort was a huge win for me. If only the run was 10 miles instead of 13.. but if it was, I probably would have tried to run even faster :)
What place did I come in? What was your bike time? What was your overall time? Let’s just say they were great, as great as anything I have ever done. Fantastic. Top of the heap, legit, laudable, worthy. Under the circumstances, doubly great. And that’s all that matters. A race is rarely going to be even close to perfect. I think I could generalize to say that few performances of any type will be perfect. In racing, there will always be missed training or an illness or a flat tire or an undeserved penalty or life events that pull for your attention and energy. And that is okay. You just do what you can every day, you commit to process, and on the day of testing and exhibition, you put on a show, you send it and you finish with no doubt that you did something beautiful.
The day after the race I wrote down some quick thoughts. Here are the raw, unedited thoughts:
What did you take in?
The volunteers, spectators, my parents at the finish. A whole crowd of them. They weren't saying things, just cheering and applauding like mad. Smiling with our shared joy. They were totally there for that moment. So was I.
I was giggling in the morning. Standing barefoot in the muddy grass, wearing swim cap and wetsuit, rain a coming a down. Rinsing the mud and grass off my sandals in the water streaming over the roads and through the gutters. It was ridiculous. We were going to ride our bikes in this? And run around the lake? Who the hell would have visualized it like this!? I reveled in the ridiculousness.
I wheezed. I could feel the rasp in my chest the whole run. Mmmm, sure chief, that's nice, that's your lungs.
Biked to failure. Ran to failure.
The thing I wanted most was to know I had tried. And I know I tried. Full on, all out. Rode hard until I couldn't do it. There were no more just a 1 minute efforts left in me. There were no more just run fast up to that lamppost. I tried until it came completely unwound, twice, and that I will keep forever.
You can try hard and be an idiot. I was not an idiot in this instance. I had systematically prepared and was close to being able to do it. I overshot with my pace and effort just a bit, maybe because I hadn't done all the prep I would have liked to or because I was sick as a dog all week and the day before and hacking it up in the shower at 4 am race morning. The process and the preparation of mind body and gear was there as much as it could be and as much as I could control. And then I took a big ol swing, put it in motion fast and heavy, and held on with all I could. And I'm proud of it.
And superman, for real. You're running how fast? 6:10 pace? Alright, so like you’re not a Kenyan, but that's better than 1/1000 people will ever run a single mile. For 13 of em!? While wheezing and hacking it up? After an all-out ride? And standing in the streaming down rain all morning then diving into the choppy lake for a swim over a mile? Come on man. That's the pinnacle. That'll do.