Jun 9, 2009

New Orleans 70.3

This winter has been a tough one, mentally and physically. I was sleep deprived, depressed, tired, stressed, and pissed off for the majority of the winter. Besides causing ample amounts of stress, my obligations at CSU and Warrensville high school kept me from training as much as I wanted. I can honestly say that I did not get as much out of this winter as I put in. I really pushed myself to the limit, but because of my other obligations, I was just doing damage. Before New Orleans, I never really recovered from a day of hard training. The whole winter blends into one long, painful, annoyingly boring workout that I could never finish. After getting hit a couple months ago, my training got back to normal. I was trying to train as much as I could, but the race was too close and I didn't have enough time to get my fitness up. Three weeks before New Orleans, I sucked it up and knocked out a huge week. I went from running less than 20 miles a week (for 8 weeks) to running over 40 miles. I also put in over 200 miles on the bike that week. It took my fitness to the level I needed to finish the race in New Orleans, but it really fucked me up. For the last 5 weeks, I have been dealing with horrible pains in my right side as a result of that effort. Regardless, it got me to the starting line in New Orleans, and I was ready to put it all on the line one more time.

New Orleans was a very interesting place for a race. In the days leading up to the race, I was thinking more about drinking on Bourbon Street than racing through the Bayou. Something about the atmosphere down there really got me going. In the weeks leading up to the race, I decided that my main goal would be to finish and finish strong. Because of all of my injuries this winter, I was in no shape to be racing for a win. Even though I made myself set more modest goals, I wanted that Clearwater slot more than anything. I need to get back to that starting line in Clearwater. I need to set right everything that went wrong last year. I need redemption.

That morning I felt better than I had in weeks, maybe even months. I felt alive again. It was that same feeling I had before the world championships, without all the nerves. After packing all my stuff up, Rob Reddy and I walked a few blocks to the buses. Because transition was 11 miles away, we needed to get a ride. All I remember from the early morning was how humid it already was. I knew today was going to be a tough day. I slid back in my chair, cranked up the Bone Thugs, and smiled. I was racing in New Orleans in April. Who wouldn't be happy? When we got to the transition area, it was still dark out. It was dark and hot! I was already sweating. Thanks to my Cleveland "heat" training, I would be fine... yeah right. The transition area was the biggest one I had ever seen. There more than 3000 athletes setting up their gear. Adrenaline was already pumping threw me. As I went out for my warm up jog, I saw Chris McCormick, the IM world champion, running in the other direction. Him and I are still worlds apart. We won't be one day... he's getting older and I'm getting faster.

After walking over a mile to the swim start, it was time for last minute preparations. After I got my wetsuit on, I gathered around all of the other 18-29 year olds. Our wave was next. As I entered Lake Pontratrain, I had this feeling of seniority. As I lined up with 100 of my peers, I felt as if I deserved to be standing in front of all of them, and I did just that. I positioned myself right in front. I gave myself the best line to the first buoy. Before this winter, I would have never thought that I deserved to position myself in the front. But, I became a swimmer this winter. This is where I felt comfortable now. The gun went off and I immediately started dolphin diving, a skill I picked up sometime last season. After 30 seconds of diving, I started swimming. I looked behind for a second and realized that I had already opened up a large gap on almost every other athlete. I laughed to myself as I thought of how ironic it was that I, a guy who just learned to swim a few years ago, was leading 100 other guys in the water. After 1.4 miles of dodging slow swimmers from other waves, I hit the shore. Three other guys in my wave had passed me, but two of them were 10 feet in front of me. I passed them both in transition before heading out on the bike. I was officially 4th out of the water in my wave. It was a personal best. At least I improved something this winter.

The first 30 miles of the bike were pretty uneventful. It was humid and hot, but the sun was still hiding. I felt pretty strong, but I was noticeably uncomfortable on my new bike. This was my first hard or long ride. This was uncharted territory. Around mile 35, we hit a turn around and started heading back towards transition. As soon as I turned around, I was hit with the sun and the wind at the same time. The head wind wasn't the strongest in the world, but it was relentless. We were out in the middle of the Bayou. We were all totally exposed. I started feeling the effects of my effort at mile 40. I had already hit the wall. How the hell was I going to finish this race? The wind wasn't calm anymore. It was wearing me down. I was not trained for this type of race. I was slowly melting under the Louisiana sun, and the wind just added insult to injury. I forget much of the last 5 miles of the bike. I blocked it out of my mind because it was really terrible. Regardless, I made it back to transition in 2:26:00. I hoped off my bike, and realized my legs were not condition for this type of punishment this early in the season. I had no idea what place I was in. I figured it was about 4th still because only a couple guys passed me on the bike. It didn't matter much to me anymore. I was in pain and just wanted the day to be over.

The first 3 miles were extremely painful. We were running alongside the lake, and the sun was HOT. There was no shade, no water, and no excuses. I just needed to get past the first few miles. I would hit my stride slowly, right? I never did. At mile 4, my stomach went south again... too much Gatorade. After a quick stop, I was back on route and my legs were starting to feel a little better. I eventually came into a decent pace. Cruising at 6:40 per mile, my body would not let me go any faster. I had full body fatigue at this point in the race. Because my endurance was not very good, I was starting to shit out very early in the race. All I could think about was the sweet relief I could obtain by walking a few seconds or lying underneath a tree for a minute. I was in my own hell, created by myself in pursuit if some ridiculous athletic dream. What was I trying to prove out here? If I started walking, who would know? I walked in Clearwater, the biggest race of my life. I gave up then, why couldn’t I give up now?

The sun was beating down at this point. I was still 7 miles from the finish, and I couldn’t even fathom holding this pace until the next aid station. But, I knew that I could find temporary relief in a glass of water, a sponge, or ice cubes. That thought of temporary relief kept me moving. My pace slowed in the last 5 miles, but I was still running. I had no strength, but my stride never broke. I was in more pain during those last 5 miles, than I had ever experienced in my entire life. I started to wonder how long I could keep going before my body just shut down. I wondered if I would just eventually pass out and fall over. Well, over the last two years, I have learned that the body is much stronger than the mind thinks it is. When I hit mile 10, I thought about walking a little. When I hit mile 12, I should have been thinking about how easy one more mile would be. I thought about walking. I thought about walking until I hit the finishing chute. It was at that point that I realized I just raced the entire race on minimum fitness. I wanted to give up several hours ago, but I kept pushing until the finish line. I didn’t have the fasted race, but I realized that last season and this winter made me much tougher than I ever imagined. After racing in New Orleans, I can handle any pain that this season brings. Every race this year is mine, and I can’t wait to take them. The pain of giving up is far greater than the pain a person experiences during a race. Pain is truly temporary and needs to be viewed that way. I thought about my race in Clearwater every single day for the entire winter. That race plagued my dreams. I will never give up again, because I refuse to live with the guilt that comes along with it.

I didn’t qualify for the world championships. I missed the spot by a little less than 2 minutes. I was beating by a few guys who also raced in Clearwater last year. All are great athletes with the same goal as me, winning Clearwater. Who knows what the summer will bring. All I know is that in November, I will find myself on the beach in Clearwater starring out into the ocean. I will think about everything I went through to get to this point. I will think about all of the miles, all of the pain, all of the isolation. I will think about the relationships I may have overlooked, and the time I spent away from my friends and family. I will ask myself if it was all worth it. I’ll have the answer in my heart. I know that the important people in my life with stick with me through this. Some of them will even be with me during that day. For that, I am thankful. Because that day will be much different this year, I can guarantee it.

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