Since 2008, I have stood on the sidelines of Ironman. I have been a proud spectator and watched many friends complete amazing journey's to complete 140.6 miles. I was lucky
enough to be in Kona in 2009 to watch my friend, Kyle Garlett (2nd from the left in the photo at right), attempt to complete an Ironman after fending off cancer 4 times and dealing with all the scars those battles left behind.....one of them a weakened heart that ultimately led to a heart transplant. Kyle was unsuccessful in 2009 but is back for 2010 and I am so excited to head back to Kona (with Crea) and be witness to what I am certain will be a successful 2nd attempt.
I was proud to be at IM CDA 2010 where my good friend Emily Conlon (@goingforgoofy) was completing her first IM journey. I had many other friends also competing in this race and was also able to meet some amazing new friends that prior to CDA I had only known in the virtual world (@NYCE, @punkrockrunner and @goSonja). At this event, I witnessed some incredible performances. Emily had an amazing race which saw her carry a huge smile start to finish. I saw Eissa have a rough start due to the very cold water but go on to finish strong. I saw Ron Harvey take full advantage of the Ironman finisher's chute and I saw Sonja qualify for Kona. I saw many friends on the course......most crossing the finish line........a few did not but, in time, another day will come that will see them successfully finish the journey.
While being a spectator was certainly rewarding, deep down I was longing to be in the race. The true intensity of this desire has struck me at times over the past year and a half but never as much as on Monday, September 13th. This was the day the star
s aligned to allow me to sign up for my third Ironman journey......the day after Ironman Wisconsin 2010 wascompleted....12:00pm local race site time which would be 10:00 am here in Los Angeles. I was at home. I had just spent time dropping off my son Jaden for his first day of First Grade. I knew time was of the essence when the clock struck 10am so I didn't even want to risk losing my wireless connection. I set up my computer in the kids room at the kids desk so I could connect with a LAN line. Crea was actually in the other room on her computer and we both kept refreshing the registration screen for the race. In the past the registration page has loaded early so I started this process about 15 minutes before the site was supposed to go live. This time registration would not begin early. It went live at exactly 10am. I immediately started entering my information. Things were going smoothly....albeit slowly.....until I got to the page to make my payment. The page flashed a 'gateway timeout' error and I could not get back in. Instead of being an officially registered athlete, I found myself back at the beginning of the process. I was never able to get in over the next 45 minutes. I cannot believe I kept trying but I was exchanging texts with my friend and fellow TNT coach, Pete Brzycki, and it seemed like everyone was still trying. After seeing messages that Registration Was Closed, I gave up. It is in this hour of trying to get into IM Wisconsin that I learned how much I needed to do another Ironman. The sadness I felt each time my attempt to get to the registration page failed was overwhelming. By the time I gave up, I was deflated. I felt like something was missing. I tried to focus on the fact that Pete told me only 4 of the 30 of us trying to get in was successful. I had to have hope that something went wrong here and, as it turns out, that was the case. Around the time I pulled into the office at work, Pete called me to tell me the Ironman.com site had posted a message that due to technical difficulties, the registration process was shut down. I literally wanted to scream. Hope was alive which seems appropriate as I write this statement here at the HOPE NEXT EXIT blog. My chance to register would come again. It came two days later. My first attempt failed at the exact same place......at the payment page. Instead of getting a technical error, the page just loaded blank. My coworker was there shielding my office from disturbances. He told me to calm down and hit refresh. GENIUS. That is what I did and the page came back. My next attempt was successful and soon thereafter I was printing my waivers and receipt. I was 12 months away from competing in another Ironman.
It is now Saturday. I have been excited all week. I reached out to my coach, Coach Gareth. I pulled out all of my training books....some from the past....some newly purchased.....Going Long, Training Plans for Multisport Athletes, Start to Finish, Strength Training for Triathletes. The funny thing is I do not have any time to read any of them. What I did make some time for was to open the book Running on Faith by Jason Lester. I had just met Jason at Triathlon Lab in Redondo Beach this past Monday. He has won the ESPY for Best Male Athlete with a Disability. He was hit by car when he was twelve which rendered his right arm paralyzed. He has an amazing story.....went on to compete in High School Sports, complete an Ironman, and even an Ultraman which entails a 6.2 mile swim, 261.4 mile bike and 52.4 mile run. Completing any of these races would be amazing for any person. Completing them without the use of your right arm is inspiring. Hell, toeing the start line of an Ultraman is inspiring to me.......doing it knowing you are jumping in the ocean for a 6 mile swim without the use of your right arm is unfathomable. Sitting beside my bed was his book...the one he signed to me inscribed with the phrase 'Never Stop'. I picked up the book to take a look and began to read the Foreward written by Dean Karnazes. It was a tribute to the inspiration Jason Lester is but a few pages in I found the words that I think were buried in me for the past 1.5 years....the reason I needed to be in this race. The following is an excerpt from Dean Karnazes' foreward:
In this book, Jason talks a lot about something else that I understand very well: the shared warrior connection that extreme endurance athletes have with one another. Jason has said that Ironman and Ultraman have become his family, which might not make sense to someone who sees us trying to bury one another on the course in each race. It's true that there's competition, but there's also tremendous camaraderie between the athletes. When we're all together for an event, we're among like-minded people who share the same core values. Most important, each of us knows what the others have sacrificed and how hard they've worked. Passion, in these circles, is universal.
This shared disregard for limitations and stubborn unwillingness to allow anything to stand in the way of dreams creates a unique bond and special kinship among all athletes, able-bodied and challenged. It doesn't matter if you see one another only once a year at an event, or only read about your comrades' exploits in the magazines. They become your family, because you can relate firsthand to the toils they face and the struggles they must endure to cross the finish line. Respect is earned and deep mutual admiration garnered, no matter how fiercely you might compete out on the race course. They are your fellow warriors, your blood (and sweat and tears) brothers and sisters.
These words struck me hard. I not only read them. I felt them. This passage explains why I love Ironman. At my first Ironman when the 100 degree heat saw me finish hours after my training would have predicted, I was with the group of people struggling. Cramps set in. I kept falling down as a result. Dehydration was so bad that I was having trouble hearing. I lost 16 pounds at this race.....I do not have 16 pounds to lose. Everyone around me was having a bad day too and we all bonded together to try and push each other to the finish line. If I mustered a little run, I yelled at everyone to come with me. If I passed someone, I told them to stare at my back and join me for the ride (I still do this in every race today). This passage to me also describes why the Ironman finish line is one of the most spectacular finish lines in the world.....one that everyone must experience......not necessarily at 8 hours and 30 minutes of the race when the
pro's cross (although that is amazing). I am talking 11pm with one hour to go before the official finisher cutoff. Do you think the pro's are off in bed? Do you think the crowds have disappeared? Absolutely not. The pro's are at the finish line cheering for everyone coming in, the music is blaring and the crowds are cheering louder than ever trying to bring every athlete home (there is a short video of the finish line in Kona in 2009 at the bottom of this post). It is amazing. There is such respect for the journey. There is such respect for everyone that completes the 140.6 miles regardless of the finishing time. I would also add that there is a tremendous amount of respect for those that fall short of the 17 hour time limit. The Ironman is a tough race and every day will not prove successful for even the most amazing of athletes.
It is all of this that has me wanting to compete again. It has nothing to so with completing 140.6 miles with a new PR. I really could care less. For me, with working 55-80 hours a week, with all the charity work I do for the amazing organization Team in Training and most importantly with an amazing wife and some amazing kids, my training is squeezed in where it will fit. Don't get me wrong, I train....what i do NOT do is sleep. My midweek trainer rides take place at 4:30am. My midweek runs take place at 11:30pm. My swims take place as the gym is closing (for my first IM, my swims took place at 2:00am at 24 Hour Fitness with drunk dudes racing on noodles. I eventually got tired of the large wafts of hair floating in the pool so I upgraded gyms). For my long rides, I sit at my garage waiting for the sun to rise just enough so that I can enter the streets of LA safely (well, more safely) and I am generally done while most are just getting underway. My long runs take place in the early Sunday hours before I head to coach TNT practice. I am not complaining. It is my journey and that is how it must be completed so that that the rest of the important parts of my life are disturbed as little as possible. If I trained during normal hours and was able to get more rest, I am sure my time would be much improved but, for me, I would lose too much elsewhere. For me, the journey has been and will be the experience. Crossing the finish line......which certainly will happen in Wisconsin on September 11, 2011......for me it is just the icing on one amazing cake.
A big thanks to my wife Crea for understanding my need to compete and for all the sacrifices she will make over the next 12 months leading up to the Ironman. Without her, IM Wisconsin would not be possible. Without her, I am sure it would not even mean as much.