2007: Out for the 2007 Season To Recover From a Training Accident
Ironman Triathlon World Championships Result:
A veteran of 16 Ironmans with a 9:35 PR achieved just 4-months after finishing the grueling Western States 100-mile Endurance Run
Beneath it, the audible thud of tribal drums. Pele. Beneath the average persons view . . . order . . . beauty . . . purpose . . . life.
Flash of lights.
It all spins together like a pinwheel in the minds eye: Souls moving forward. Imua. Islands moving forward. Life forward. Forward motion. 140.6 miles ending where it started. Somewhere beyond the hype, the logos, the TV crews . . . the essence of life.
E ho'a'o no i pau kuhihewa.
I find silence. To Pele, I whisper a simple pule. Waist deep in her waters, arms spread wide to the east, to catch the sun’s rays as they spill over the volcano and chase their way down the slopes to ignite
A familiar scene: helicopters that rip diagonal lines across the sky. I open my eyes to the chaotic world of Kona on race day. My joy is centered on a simple fact: to be here in these waters is perfection.
I am at peace and I am happy.
Kahu Billy Mitchell's voice booms, albeit as a memory from races past, to the beat of actual tribal drums. He shared ancient words of courage: “Imua” he had shouted. I float and watch the flags that will signal the race start.
This year the swim start was cramped, dangerous. A sense of panic swept through the “left starters” as racers who wanted to be at the front pushed against those that were in the front and wanted to stay behind the paddle-boarders that prowled the start line to hold everyone back. With no room to tread, some went under and panicked, shoving to get back up . . . for air . . . to find room to tread . . . to float.
This “panic” seemed to trigger aggressiveness, such that when the cannon did go off, there was a willingness to be hostile, overly assertive . . . behavior that lacked honor and left me disappointed.
Less than 1000 meters into the swim, a racer grabbed my ankle in an attempt to “pull over me,” and succeeded only in robbing me of my timing chip. I swam, buoy-to-buoy, stuck in an enormous, slow moving, pack with no path out or around. I parked concern over finding a replacement chip and the annoyance of “the pack” and enjoyed the most beautiful swim in sport.
My love for Ironman has been kept fresh by leaving the sport every few years to explore other challenges. I raced Kona in 1998, 2000 and 2001. In 2002 I shifted goals to ultra-distance running and qualifying for, and racing, the Western States 100 mile trail run.
What is important to share about Western States is that my “fabric” changed during my 27 hours to simply finish. And as an athlete, I am different from what I was before I entered. Even today my mind tries to gain a grip on that experience . . . the volume of broken thoughts that choked me during Western States, haunt me, and loose thoughts from that race still rattle in my head and at odd times one will lodge in my psyche like a burr.
Beyond new perspectives on the potential for pain in endurance racing, and the cementing of views on family, self, limits, broken limits, broken self ... I came to see myself, during a particularly “imaginative” section, in the dead night, as a life moving forward, part of the kaleidoscope of life. And in those many hours of suffering, I came to adopt as mine the words that Pat McCrary had shared, in his book, The Road to Kona Never Ends:
“No one is without weaknesses and limitations. We must come to be patient with the weakest parts of ourselves, before we can be tolerant of the weakest parts of others. Nobody is whole.”
Physical recovery from Western took time and a 2003 return to Kona was out of reach, but qualifying in 2003, for Kona in 2004, was not. I abandoned my previous Ironman training methods and plied my broken body with gentle, positive, self-coaching and unquestioning trust to intuit training volumes and levels of intensity. And while the training was hard, the positive nature of the approach, an understanding of my “self,” my “body”, my “motion,” my “hard work,” brought me across the 2003 Ironman Florida finish-line in nine hours and thirty-five minutes, a PR, and slot back to Kona.
I raced Kona in 2004, 2005 and in 2006.
In February of 2007, I was hit by a car while biking and was sidelined for the year ... and during the months of recovery, between surgeries, I was oddly … at peace.
In an Ironman, if one looks, you see “a life-time” compressed . . . and 140.6 miles from where it starts … it ends. I suspect that birth and death are similar. What happens between those two points is “choice”. . . “choice” of how to adapt to “adversity” and how you accept “opportunity.” Choice to “quit” or “continue.” “Choice” to race with “respect,” “appreciation” and “grace,” choice to commit to investing in “personal best” . . . or not.
We have, in those hours, the opportunity to “practice” . . . to practice the art of “sport”... imitate life. And because it is small, contrived . . . a game . . . it is “simple,” “easily evaluated,” “digestible.” It puts one in a position to “practice” in an attempt to drive towards . . . perfection . . . the “perfect race” ... the "perfect life."
Kulia i ka nu'u
The truth is that “perfect” is only found in the quality of execution and not in how quickly one finds its end point. And what is, fundamentally “beautiful” in endurance sport is “struggle” and “choice,” with the opportunity to apply your sports experience to the canvass of life - real life.
In practical speak; my philosophy for dealing with the accident and recovery was no different than for dealing with a flat: You acknowledge, address, and get back to the business of enjoying your ride.
And so I exited the swim course and sought a replacement for my timing chip. The volunteers were terrific - I signed in for a replacement, had a new chip around my ankle, in a matter of minutes, and was across the swim finish mat. Clock time - 1:09.
I was on the bike in quick fashion and elated to see friends from the mainland and Kona cheering. The only drama occurred just out of T1, I cinched my helmet tight and the plastic webbing came loose from the helmet. I pulled over, repaired it, and was underway - maybe a minute lost.
My goal for the race, after "top-10" age group finishes in 2005 and 2006, was to race for a “top-5” finish.
I felt great on the bike, road hard and 100% clean.
I have been asked: How many watts I pushed? What my heart rate was? I don’t know. I do not use a HRM, bike computer, watt-o-meter, GPS . . . I race. If I feel good I go hard and when I don’t, I back off a little bit . . . until I feel good and then I go hard again.
The winds were Kona-typical and the heat was up: 108 degrees measured in the Natural Energy Lab (NEL) – and I like heat.
My training indicated that I should be able to bike as fast, or faster, than I had in previous years and run 3:25. I define “as fast” in relation to “overall position.” Kona bike conditions are highly variable so a 5:00 bike one year may be a 5:25 the next. This year the “conditions variation,” over 2006, was 9 – 9.5 minutes. Meaning a 5:00 split in 2006 would equal a 5:09:00 – 5:09:30 in 2008.
I entered T2 having biked into the AG "top-10" and was within solid striking distance of a "top-5" finish. Bike Split - 5:08.
I have a fifty-fifty relationship with the run course in Kona. Half of the time I get off the bike, in T2, feel great, and run the “26.2” miles to the finish “swiftly” and “softly.” The other times, I get off the bike, in T2, feel awful, and run a marathon managed around either a bad stomach, asthma, or both.
My “run partners,” this year were, “stomach cramps”, “nausea” and “vomiting”. I much prefer “swiftly” and “softly.” I ran past my wife and friends, and forced myself to smile, to be positive, and thanked them for being out there for me. I worked 7:30 minute/mile run splits. 8-9 miles in, I had to go “off the side” to retch . . . a pattern that continued through the day.
I will share these things from the run course as they are what I will carry forward: The first was a solid “check” to my “racing ego” . . . perhaps needed . . . as I was humbled by an inability to run remotely close to “3:25.” I watched a "top-5" goal, erode to "top-10" . . . erode to “Joe Foster” . . . “Finisher.”
The second moment occurred in the NEL, I had been walking, and was again “off the side,” retching in the heat . . . a fellow racer, a stranger, left her race to come to me . . . she shared her salt-tabs and words to ease my suffering before returning to her event.
Leo Buscaglia said: “We can only give others what we have. If we have a joyless, deprecating, stingy attitude with ourselves, and are unwilling to extend ourselves for our own personal and spiritual growth, we will bring these attitudes into our relationships with others. We must examine and understand what love (and giving) really means. If we live a life of striving and competition and never understand how love works, we will have missed almost all of what life has to offer. But love is best understood in the daily arena of life, where striving, competition and love are blended.”
On the wings of kindness, from a nameless racer.
Imua, Joe Foster, Imua.
In those final miles it occurred to me that I might never be back . . . by design, by ability, by outside event . . . I needed to be very present to see the final kilometer, appreciate my journey, my fortune to be racing Kona again. I needed to see my friend’s faces, to see the volunteers and the families of those on the course, to see my wife, to let her know that I saw her, and how happy I was to be here and with her.
I needed to abandon “cool” and be in the moment – act upon it.
I needed to run those final steps with the presence of a man who is damned lucky to live this life . . . my life . . . moving forward . . . and with a simple step across the finish line . . . my day ended . . . where it began 140.6 miles earlier and as the sun’s rays retreated from Kailua Bay, I whispered a simple pule of thanks to the island for all it has given me these last 10 years.
Every year a unique brand of Triathlete makes their way to the West Texas town of
Often hot, blazing hot, the big skies do open up and when they do, the course is transformed from a hilly blast furnace to one of humidity and “pleasant” warmth, but handicaps the racers by turning the chip-seal road surface from one of “grip” to that of an "ice rink".
The athletes that race at Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon (BSLT) are much like the weather … they are at opposite ends … extremes. Locals participating for fun, once a year, proud of their namesake event, mix with “slot hungry” racers from around the country and reining age-group world champions and pro’s who choose to race BSLT because the course is hard, the conditions are hard, tests their mettle, and because the locals are as friendly as the skies are big. In
Race day weather was wet, windy (10-30 mph), it even hailed at one point in the day. Temps were great, low 70's on the run ... humidity was high 85-90%. Lightning danced around the course.
I had a good swim, but lost 30+ second, as I swam "hand slap" left, due to a clog of "strugglers", on a straight line/right buoy and had to retrace, by request of a “paddler”, to capture it on the right. (Note: Don't believe this was necessary, no gain, and my heart was right, but why argue when 30-some seconds can heal)
I noted in my Wildflower report that my transitions were slow - rusty. I remedied that between May and June and “T1” was very fast.
The bike was a blast. I rode without a heart rate monitor or watt meter. I do not have computers on my bikes anymore, but added one with 2-sided tape, race morning, to function as a max speed gauge due to the wet (slick!) windy descents and an unwanted leftover from my 2007 accident: fear of crashing which sadly affects me at speed. I really need to find a way to overcome this.
I rode my Cervelo P3C and a Blackwell Research Disk with a crazy deep (fast!) Blackwell Research front wheel, which is winning people over, when I loan it out, for reason of speed and stiffness - my teammate Jason Cruiser is the latest convert. While a little “dicey” in the 10-30 mph gusty crosswinds when speeding down into the canyons, it was a "kick ass" combo in the flat and rolling sections; you could really hang it out there in the wind and just sail along!
I took in 1 and 1/2 bottles of my Cytomax “race mix” for nutrition thanks to Elite Team, BSLT - race pal & companion “Kim Bruce” who brought what I had forgotten (Duoh!). Luckily she was “over-prepared” as I would have been completely uncomfortable with anything other than my proven mix from my proven supplier! I should note that Kim was one of those “slot hungry” racers who took on some of the best age-groupers in the nation to punch her Kona ticket! Aloha, Kim, Ho'omaika'i Ana!
I was off the bike in 1st AG position – posting the 30th fastest O/A bike split of the day, including the Pro field. I felt I road the course well ... felt happy the entire ride, enjoyed the bonus of “epic” weather, the rain in my face, never went too deep or into debt and therefore came off thing feeling rather smart for the run. Nice to know, with Kona in my sights, that I could have held the same pace for the full distance with little concern.
T2 was also very fast – ran with no socks which is only possible because of Nike’s wonderful Zoom Elite shoes that Marty Breen at Forward Motion Sports had recommended. I pulled my visor down low and ran "out" for a focused effort.
I ran “swiftly/softly” (a mantra from my old mentor Tom Price) at max’ sustainable pace (for this day) the entire run. I took *zero* aid as my Cytomax bike “cocktails” had given me the calories and “oomph” I needed to find the finish. I simply ran from start to finish non-stop.
There is a lonely out and back section in
My lungs & heart were slightly labored and throttled my pace ... as has been the case in the past BSLT races. The result made my run pace a reflection of my cardio-vascular system vs. my legs. I think this is due to the altitude in
My thought is that I have a lot work to do on my run; and although I still have arm pain, my run has been the slowest discipline to reacquire “pre-wreck” speed/pace/endurance.
I will stay focused and keep on top of my commitment to get back to 100% by time I get to Hawaii in October.
I was happy with an AG 3 finish result as it represented the best I could give to the course, to my family who have given me the gift of "freedom" and "support" to pursue my passion for this sport, and to my sponsors who stayed with me when I was out and doing them little good.
I also want to thank Doc and the TBB crew who have allowed me to "listen in" and take from them a renewed love of racing.
Also gratifying to enjoy a podium finish connected to such a difficult course, contested by such worthy competitors, hosted by this wonderful community, under the wide open skies of
Leading into Ironman Arizona, I had a vague sense something had gone missing ... a basic element of the lifestyle I had enjoyed for so many years as a “Cyclist”, “Triathlete” and “Runner” ... an aspect ... perhaps essence ... something special ... peculiar to ... us.
I never focused on it, but the sense did not go away.
And the sense of something missing was present in
Race day … an eerie personal calm … if I had admitted it, then, I would have said “disconnected” … the line-up for the swim-start … “BOOM” and a relaxed 64 minute swim back to land being careful to work form and "manage" my right "paddle", which my doctor assures me is fine, structurally, but gets quite painful when I swim over 3K or train "back-to-back" days. My new QR "Superfull" wetsuit did the job of getting me home faster than my vintage 1996 QR “silver belly” ever did. It really is amazing what “good rubber” will do for a middle-aged “sinker” ... let alone one with a "Erector Set" lurking below an 7" incision in his arm.
The bike ride felt no different than any of my training rides, with one important difference: my heart was beating 15 beats per minute off max. And while some have ventured: “…perhaps you were riding outside your zone”, I have to say that after a “bazillion” bike miles, I really do know “my zone” and I was “in it” and having a rather good time. My bike legs were fine, light, loose… experience suggested that the problem was the “sore throat/cold” and since “it” was not going to go away, I decided it was best to ignore the anomaly, turn-off the sound function of my heart rate monitor and get on with the business of riding.
Off the bike in 5:05 … 26.2 miles to go with a milkshake and 2 pretty girls on the other end (my Wife and Daughter).
It is hard to tell where you are during a multiple loop event like IMAZ, but an empty transition tent is a good sign that your “bike day” has gone well. For me, only 35 people (including the pro's) biked faster which requires I lavish huge praise on CytoSport for helping me make changes in nutrition, while I was laid-up.
Few realize what a big part "nutrition" played in going from a top-10 AG finish in Kona 2005 and 2006 ... to suffering nearly a year off and complete loss of "fitness" ... to "recovery" from the accident and the follow-on surgeries ... to then qualify for "Kona 2008" ... on 5 short months of training.
With out a base to work from, each workout had to be balanced with recovery, that would let me get back on the bike, in the pool or for another run with a minimal amount of down time. I can not tell you how much the input from CytoSport and the effectiveness of their products helped ... I literally started at zero in November - a year off running, a year off swimming and 7 months off cycling.
Also contributing to a good ride was the advice of Dave Bunce and John Cobb at Blackwell Research who talked me into riding their 100mm front wheel … which scared the hell out of me (SO DEEP) … but they were right: it road beautifully, even when the winds bumped us.
I also have to acknowledge the gang at Cervelo, who have been friends for over 12 years now. Chris, Thorben, Dave, Fletch, Phil ... who helped me in Kona 2006 and made sure I had a lovely P3C to dream about when I was convalescing.
There were also some “break your legs off” training days on Mines Road in the muck and cold of winter where my only comfort was the warm winter cycling gear that I picked up at Forward Motion Sports.
I jumped on the run course in AG 2nd position – and in the first mile realized I was in real trouble. While I could pedal through my high heart rate, I could not run through it and the effort quickly turned into a shambles. To fall completely apart was a shock ... heart breaking. Then to have to push ... !!!PUSH!!! ... to a achieve “what” ... a "PW" … crushing.
I suffered each step ... and I did so knowing that each step was taking me further away from my dream of a "podium return" to racing and a “slot” to Kona ... until I recognized, with 14 miles to go, that it was all simply gone ... that I completely and utterly failed.
Tough moment ... but in the end an interesting one, because I stepped upon a humble path named "finish" … at a point where I thought "don’t push save yourself for Lubbock” … I committed to foreword progress as best/fast as I could muster, be it “run”, “walk” or “shuffle”. … mile-after-mile ... the best I could deliver how ever small and tragic.
I wrote my close friends the next day:
I am heading back to Kona. I share this with no "bravado", or podium. Sunday's race was so difficult …and today, I am still suffering the cramping and illness that followed my finish. The World Championship slot came despite a personal worst 4:08 marathon and I confess that there were tears .. as the run took everything I had … it took all my experience, and challenged my commitment to maintain forward motion ... however slow. Miles filled with suffering, a sense of loss, hopelessness in the face of my goals … and today, I think I am coming to see that the run mirrored my journey back from my accident of 14 months ago… from the first mile to the finish ... and I am humbled.
In the days that have followed I have given quite a lot of thought to it ...this race …“that run” ... the lack of connection to the event, the day. And while it may be self-absorbed to invest so much time dissecting “it” ... not the numbers ... but “it” the influences and the experiences ... I was puzzled.
I was puzzled by a half wake dream, the sort that is highly visual, but where you have some element of control over the content. The focus was "the race" and trying to rationalize it. The dream was very simple: it was of the fog that drifts on the mountain (Diablo) near the South Pay Gate in summer. The summer fog playing at odds with the blue sky and the sun as its mists peel up into the blue and dissipate in the coming heat.
Beautiful to watch, the play between blue and sun and fog, as one runs up the hill. Odd that this was the dream ... simply the fog and the interplay.
I found myself in my office last night around 6:00 wanting to go for an hour run before dinner. My toes had taken a beating on the
The run was lovely. Not for any other reason than I had "pace" ... felt "connected"...I was "happy" ... in "harmony" ... a “runner”. I sensed it and others did to as evidenced by waves, nods and smiles from nearly all I came into contact with along the 8-mile route.
It occurred to me in the middle of the run ... how comically absurd ... the desire to run, the bleeding toes, and the solution: black socks and dark shoes. The pure joys of an evening run eliminating any sense of discomfort.
I felt like a.... “Triathlete”. I had made "Triathlete" choices. For the first time since I road Mines road in February of last year and the accident that ended the ride ... I felt like I used to ... “connected”.
And this morning, as I woke, the meaning of the interplay between fog and sun and sky became clear. There is an "essence" that comes from what we do, an interplay between our geography, our bodies, our spirit. At its best, our sport, and we participants, explore this. It is a higher value of "endurance athletics", and in the dream the sun the sky are metaphors for natural beauty, self, and the fog that plays in the morning light is the "essence" of what we do.
The Swahili term "moyo" has been "mis" and "over" used as of late, but my vague sense of loss was my endurance "moyo" and to reconnect last night ... wonderful.