The end of the circle (in more ways than one)

This video has always motivated me. It may not be an Ironman but the strength and determination are always the same. Don't quit, don't give up

Yep... it's been 16 weeks since I started training, 54 weeks (and a few days) since I broke my leg and now I'm standing (well, laying down) at the hotel where it all began 3 years ago.

This is my 3rd TNT event (PG '09, IM 70.3 Augusta '10 are the two prior ones) and my 6th triathlon overall (the 3 team events, SVMBT '09, Big Kahuna '09 and Rev 3 Knoxville Olympic in 2010). Yet I'm strangely happy and serene... it's as if the past year hadn't happen. I am not the person who did PG olympic in 3:40:42 but I feel that I'm just as new as I was back then. I've proved to myself that I am resilient and that I can work towards the goals I set for myself. What this goals are is still to be determined (more on that later)

When I decided to do PG again I also decided that it was for me. To test the results of the changes that the last year brough for me. To see if the leg had healed well enough for me to go back to Ironteam intensity and volume and to see if the time I had spent on my ass in the couch was too long to get back that fitness base that I had. There is always an element of questioning: What happens when my body says "enough"? Will I continue to be accident prone? Can you stretch a tight hammy in the middle of a race?

The morning was awesome. This is one of the things I love about the TNT PG experience... get to transition early enough that you can see the city lights and relax and remember the twin reasons why you're doing this. You have yet to find where your physical and mental limits are as far as endurance events are concerned. Yet I can forget the people whom I have shared and who are dealing with Cancer (either they are now or are dealing with the consequences of Cancer, are in remission or are no longer with us to share life)

We had hours to setup transition but I'm always an overachiever and was done in 5, maybe 10, minutes. I stretched some, thought about Paul and Amy Gordiejew (my personal honorees), Carol and Jim (both of whom are never really far from my thoughts) and started looking for a place to fill my water bottles so I could make my electrolyte drink. You would think that if they open transition at 5:30 the water station would be ready at the same time but it wasn't. No biggie, just puzzling to me.

BTW, I did get my water bottles filled with plent of time

Wave starts at 8. Better get on the wetsuit and start thinking about jumping in the water. Kelp or no kelp here I go 🙂

The water was balmy compared to the course preview swim. It wasn't as cold and what I could see at that point wasn't as kelpy (If that isn't a word it is now) and I could see past my hand and it felt different, or I felt different, can't really tell. Strangely for someone who had set his mind on a course and distance PR I felt no stress. It is what it is, I kept telling myself. If you hit that target thime that's awesome and if you don't then you can work towards your goals in a more realistic time frame.

While warming up in the water I saw someone who put thngs into perspective. There were atheltes from Operation Rebound participating on the Olympic Distance event. Two of them are double amputees and one of them had started in the wave before ours... When he got to the end of the first lap he refused to follow USAT's disabled athlete rules and went out of the water and around the rock, just like everyone else, and headed back into the water. This is hard for able bodied athletes to do, I can only imagine how hard it is for someone who is missing both legs below the knee. Everyone who was there clapped and celebrated this man as the announcer told his story. Those of us in the water had stopped swimming and were all standing and clapping as this guy went around and back into the water. I don't know if it was the same guy or not but later I heard that another double amputee refused help to climb the steps to go into transition.

That is the spirit I aspire to. To have the resilience and toughness to work through pain and work through difficulties not just in endurance sports but also the rest of life.

We got called for our wave start. Strangely my mind was clear and ready to go. The horn sounded and it was time to get the show on the road. I won't bore you with too many details. I scratched my hand in an underwater rock and the kelp wasn't as gone as I thought it would. About halfway on the swim, after I felt on my butt coming out of the water, I asked myself what would happen if I don't make my target times. I know I shouldn't be iffing myself to death but it was a valid question because I realized I would never meet my time for the swim. For the first time I told myself that it didn't matter. That you don't measure success by how fast you complete an event but how much you've improved on what you do (and time is not always an indicator of how much you've improved).

And then wham, the water hits you and you realize that you're actually competing in a triathlon again. I was testing and this time there were challenges that one doesn't normally have to deal with or think about. Late August 2011 I broke my fibula in a stupid cycling accident that ended up in having surgery in December to do a bone graft and fixation of my fibula and about 6 weeks ago I pulled a hamstring while training. As much as I tried to put it out of my mind it did come back and play a role later in the event.

The swim was hard, the kelp didn't help much and the underwater rocks almost did a number on my palm. I got the scratch but, thankfully, it didn't get past that. The end of the first loop was funny, the tide kinda pulled me down and I almost, almost, fell on my butt in the sand in front of everyone.

I didn't and it was back to the water for the little wetsuit Carlos.

Around this time I realized two things: I need to be more reasonable in setting goals and I need to think of what will happen when I don't meet them. As I was kelp crawling on my second loop I realized that it was very possible that I was going to miss my target time (between 3 and 3:15) for the race and that I needed to think about just finishing and enjoying the ride for what it was, not what I wanted it to be.

I got out of the water with weak legs even after kicking hard for the last hundred meters or so. I wobbled some as I got out and then walked to transition (no way in hell you're going to make me run up that cement without shoes)

I remembered Larry's advice to hold of on drinking or eating until we were about 5 to 10 minutes out of the water to give stomachs a chance to stabilize. It was a good ride and I remembered to shift to an easier gear and not hammer the uphills on the same gear that I used for flats or downhills. I just didn't know how good it was until I checked the times later.

It was 4 loops and, I swear, that was hell of a lot more than 25 miles. At least it felt that way to my legs... As I pulled into T2 my legs kept reminding me that it was a long ride and that I had to run afterwards. I thought about Carol Presley, as I've often done throughout the season. She's one of our team's honorees. 13 years after being diagnosed with Leukemia she went into treatment earlier this year. She has carried me through our tough and long rides (particularly the 30 mile confidence ride) and has pushed me to keep going when I felt like quitting. Thank you Carol!

I also thought about Jim and Jen Delaney. Jim was a captain, honoree and all around awesome man. I still remember when I was still in the fence about TNT and went to an info meeting and Jim was so welcoming... he was the one who sold me on joining the team. Sadly he is no longer with us. He lost his battle with Leukemia and other cancer complications. Jen was a coach on my first TNT team and she has been a big supporter and friend since then.

I thought I had stretched enough in transition but apparently it wasn't enough. I started cramping as soon as I started jogging so I dialed it back down to a fast walk. I had trained for the possibility of having to walk and I was ok with it. Pulled hammy in one leg and a recovering fracture in the other one didn't make me too hopeful about having a 10k run on them... but you plan the flight and then flight the plan. It was soothing and refreshing to have my own expectations taken away from me.

Lap 1 was OK. It was fun to see coaches and teammates along the way in a gorgeous and surprisingly sunny and breezy Monterrey. It was time to enjoy and just get it done. Lap 2 and 3 were the same. On lap 2 Drew caught up to me and asked for a pain check. He didn't quite believe me but respected my choice to keep going. Drew is one of the few people, coaches of otherwise, who I will listen if they tell me to stop.

I kept a fairly brisk walking pace until we were about 1/2 mile from the end and then I decided screw this I'm running the end. When he saw me again just as I started running he simply said "take it in". Dude, you have no idea how much it meant to me to hear that. The hamstring decided to be a pain and get tight right about now but I was too close to let it bother me much, I went into a fast jog to try and make the pain go away and then went back to running for the finish picture 😀

I can't tell you how happy I was when I hit the finish line and could officially say that #6 is in the books. That yes, I still had it in me to do a triathlon. That yes, I can start thinking big again without being scared about not having the drive to push myself. That whatever endurance events I choose to do are still worth the pain and the effort that they will take.

It took a while for my stomach to actually want to take food so I stood around with friends (which may have helped the sunburn I got) and then went into transition to pick up stuff. When I was done, against my better judgement, I went in ad checked my times.

The swim (45:46) was better than expected with all the kelp out there.

The bike time floored me... I don't think I've ever been able to keep such a consistent speed (14.7 mph) over time. I did 25 miles in 1:40:52!

Once I decided that I wasn't going to run the 10k and take care of my legs the time stopped being as important as it would have been had I been looking for a PR. It was still a fairly decent walk time and thanks to Janna (another one of our coaches) for teaching me how to speed walk. It wasn't the fastest I've done 10k in but I'm happy (1:38:33)

Thank you

Somehow this doesn't feel like I'm doing justice to everything and everyone that has helped me get to the race on Saturday. Parade from MB20 spoke to me very strongly about this. It seems like forever that we were at kick off wondering how long will this last. Now that my part is over I wonder if it really was 16 weeks or it was just a blink of an eye... I'm already missing it.

To all the coaches... Drew, Larry, Mark, Janna, Kevin. Thank you for another awesome season. No matter how much you think you know there are still plenty of things to learn and times to enjoy.

Mark. Thanks for the sprints down Valparaiso... I guess they did help me get faster 🙂

Drew: thanks again for knowing when to push and when to hold back. I don't think I'd be where I'm at right now if it wasn't for that.

What's next?

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
T. S. Elliott

I'm continuing training with the team at least through the end of October and watching the Mermaids have their go at their Triathlon in Capitola as I sit down and plan what's next. this weekend taught me that I'm not fully ready for the intensity and volume of Ironman Training at least not for another year. I want to do Ironteam really badly but I have to wonder if I'm ready for it physically and if I can muster the same level of dedication that I had in Georgia.

Here are the options I'm looking at.

  • Ironteam for Vineman or Canada (if they still have slots available through LLS)
  • Another go at Big Kahuna
  • Asking a friend who coaches runners to put together a program for me (just need to pick up target races and distances)
  • Train for a Bridge to Bridge swim (6 miles in the SF Bay water)
  • Train for the San Diego Rough Water swim
  • Train to attempt at qualifying for the long course 1500 master swim nationals
  • A combination of some or all the above

I'm ok with pushing Ironteam another year. If this past year has taught me somethng is that the "listen to your body" is so much more than just something to say to people to be careful. If I hadn't I wouldn't have been able to bounce back from the hammy as much as I did and to be able to do as well as I did Saturday.

The big question still remains. Have I reached my limit? How hard can I push in terms of endurance and physical activity? I really want to think the answer to both questions is no. Ironman is still the beacon that has me fixated on it and that wants me to keep pushing and reaching for new goals. When will it happens that is also a question I need to work on.

Remember this:

The way I see it, I have nothing to prove, nothing to fear and nothing to lose. I nailed my peak event for 2010 – …. To cross another finish line 9 weeks later is the gravy. Gravy is good but not necessary. I’m out here racing because I want to, because I get to, because I can.

Can you think of any better reasons to race?
. . .

If you ever think you can’t do something, just look to your peers to prove you can – chances are someone is out there doing something that makes the impossible seem possible.

Elizabeth Waterstraat