Friday, April 25, 2008

Race Report - Ironman Arizona

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 Arizona as I readied for my first race since Kona in 2006. Between 2006 and 2008, I had spent the better part of a year recovering from injuries sustained in a "bike-car" accident - I was "bike". Upon reflection, even when I caught a nasty pre-race sore throat & cold which would have sent the “old” Joe spinning … no nerves … no panic … nothing.

Something missing.

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 Arizona run course and my morning swim had accelerated the separation of "toe nails" from "toes". To "box" my peeling nails into shoes without removing them was not an option, so like all good endurance racers, I got out "the kit" and played doctor. Because of the bleeding I rummaged through my sock drawer for ”black" running socks and the “shoe pile” for "dark" running shoes.

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.