June 29, 2003 – After I did the Florida Ironman (IM) in November of 2002, I quickly signed up for the Coeur d’Alene IM which was to be held in June of 2003. I was feeling high from the experience of training and actually completing the Florida race. This is actually a common problem with people who have just completed an IM. You get this sense of invisibility and you think you can do more than you are actually capable. I was soon proven not to be so invincible.
To help you understand better, I need to give you a bit of background. In training for the Florida IM, I was referred to Paul Huddle who had a training program specifically designed for the Florida race. Previously, I had done a Half Ironman race in San Diego, CA and trained by just listening to triathlon friends. They told me to run, so I ran. They told me to bike, so I biked. You get the picture.
Paul Huddle is a world class triathlete and has trained some of the world champions. Paul did some endurance testing on me. He gave me a schedule to train against based on this endurance testing. He guaranteed that if I followed the schedule, I would finish the race.
After reading the schedule and spending some private coaching time with him, I realized that I had spent way to much time training for my first Half Ironman. I was just beating by body up and not preparing my body for the race. His schedule made a ton of sense from a physiology point of view. He did a good job explaining how the body can change to prepare for an Ironman. Paul broke the workouts into two sections: Mandatory and Optional. In training for Florida, I did most all of the mandatory workouts and did about half of the optional workouts. I was pleased with my performance in Florida. I followed the schedule. I finished the race.
What does this all have to do with my problems in Coeur d’Alene? I figured for Coeur d’Alene, I could just skip the coaching part and train myself. Also now since I was a “seasoned” Ironman, I could probably just mentally gut my way through the race. So I cut back on the training. I became complacent. I did not do all of the mandatory workouts from Paul’s schedule. I did most of them. I did not do half of the optional workouts. I did a few of them. Again, I was a “seasoned” Ironman…
On race day, I found out how “unseasoned” I really was. It was a beautiful day in Coeur d’Alene Idaho. My wife and two boys were at the start line for the swim. Since I am sort of a slow swimmer compared to most triathletes, I hung out in the back of the 1574 entrants and let the mass of people fight their way to save a few minutes on the swim. My swim time was an hour and twenty minutes, a bit slower than Florida. No big surprise to me that my time was slightly slower.
The bike portion is where the problem began with my lack of training and my complacent attitude. The first thirty miles or so were no problem. Conditions were good still and the course was relatively flat. Things started getting worse when the temperature started to rise and the wind started to pick up. I started to get angry at the wind which is not a good sign. I started to feel sorry for myself which is a really bad sign. Every time someone passed me I got angrier. I was in this endless self pity cycle digging a deep hole. Some seven and half hours later, I finished the bike ride.
I was totally finished mentally and physically and I still had the marathon portion to run. The changing tent was unbelievable hot, like a sauna. Though I wanted to quit, something in my personality prevented it. I am sort of a persistent kind of guy. I was not trying to beat the system anymore by not training properly; I was just trying to survive the day. My family had told me to call them (yes I carried my cell phone in the race) when I was about a half hour from the finish line. I could not call them from the changing tent and tell them I had quit. That would be too embarrassing. There is nothing embarrassing about not finishing an Ironman, but in this case, it is embarrassing to have tried to beat the system and have the system crush you on race day.
So I started the run. Amazingly the first five miles felt pretty good. Getting off the bike and using a different set of muscles was working for me. Maybe I still had a chance? Not likely…
So many things can beat you down in an Ironman especially when you have a bad attitude. The next surprise on this day was a sudden thunderstorm. The first few minutes of the thunderstorm were actually refreshing. Once I cooled down though the rain got a bit annoying. How was I going to run the next twenty miles with soaking wet clothes and shoes? Miracles of all miracles, the rain stopped and the sun came out so I could dry off a bit. Of course, now the entire course was like a sauna. If I had only trained better…
For the next twenty miles I ran a bit and walked a lot. I worked hard at trying to change my perspective. You have a lot of time to think in a race like this. I knew deep down that I had cheated myself. I knew that the problems I was having were not the conditions of the day, but the condition of my mind and body. There was nobody to blame, but myself. However, there was no outcome I would allow but finishing the race. At mile twenty four I called my family to have them come down to the finish. I saw my two boys a hundred yards before the finish line. I grabbed their hands and the three of ran the last bit some fifteen hours after I had started.
There is a lot of evidence that what you believe is what happens. If you believe you will do poorly at a task, you are more likely to do poorly. If you believe you will do well in a task, you are more likely to do well. The problem came for me when I lied to myself. I was not invincible. I am not an Ironman. This is not a permanent state of being. Ironman is temporary. I will never forget this lesson.