Aug 25, 2006
The 2003 Ironman was a magical race. It was amazing in every way. I trained the best I knew how. I did everything right. I worked hard, never missed a workout, and loved every moment of the training. It was an adventure of a lifetime.
Just a few weeks before the race, the wall came crashing down. It was during my LAST long workout that I had run into problems. Nothing life threatening at all, but I needed to take a trip to the doctor. After just a few minutes with the doctor, I got the bad news that the only chance I had to start the Ironman was to have surgery. I was lucky enough to get in just a few days later. After coming out of surgery, I felt like a million bucks. WOW. This is great. Little did I know that the drugs were still in place and within a few hours, I would feel the pain. The pain came hard. It stayed with me for almost a week. I was flat on my back in bed for almost a week. How horrible was this. There was nothing I could do. I had a hard time walking from the bed to the bathroom. After a week of constant pain medication, I had enough. My family was gone, and I wanted to see if I could run (jog) without falling over. After being in a dark room for a week, I opened the door and felt the heat of a Summer Wisconsin day. I can remember walking in the field behind my house. As I walked, I thought about the race I had trained so hard for. I was determined. With my father passing away just a few weeks back, I HAD to do the race. I stood in the middle of the dry grass, and started to walk until I was jogging. I was ok. I was feeling ok. I looked up and saw my wife drive by in the car. She looked at me like I was crazy. She looked and just shook her head. As she rounded the corner and pulled into the driveway, I can still hear her saying how "crazy" I was and asking "what the heck are you doing." This was just something I had to do. It was just as much for me as for my father.
After that jog, I was convinced I would be able to make it. As I wrote in the "Silent Coach," I did make the race. I started and I finished. I was not able to go all that fast as the surgery and week in bed took its toll, but it felt great. It was an amazing day. It was an amazing race.
As with most people that finish an Ironman, here is the usual scenario. During mile 20 of the marathon, you will tell yourself that "I will NEVER do another Ironman again." When you finish you may even say the same thing. On the drive home you have already changed your mind to "I will do another, but not for a few years." The next day as you shop for finisher gear you tell your buddies, "I can't wait to do another Ironman." This was the basic idea with me. I wanted to do another race, but wanted to wait until 2007 when I turned 40. In 2004, however, I was talked into doing the race again. My buddies that did it in 2003 convinced me that it was time to do it again. I really wanted to wait as it is a big commitment. I was called on the carpet, and decided to do it. I'm extremely loyal to all my friends and just had to do it. The training went well, and I was in much better shape this time around. It was about February of race year, when one of my training buddies dropped from the race. I was so disappointed from this. i felt like my loyalty had been broken. I felt like I had been left at the alter. For whatever reason, I was so upset about all of this. You can't just drop out of training. You can't leave your friends just hanging. You can't do this. You just can't. For those that know me, they will find that I'm loyal to the end of time. From that time until race day I was hurt by this. Can you imagine your training partner leaving in the middle of the journey?
Like the first time, I had trained hard and felt amazing. I was in much better shape this time around. I was ready. I had my nutrition plan. I had a race plan. I had everything except my training buddy that left mid stream.
Race day started well. I swam as slow and easy as I could. I was able to glance at my watch and was thinking as great as I felt, I would exit about 1:10. As it turned out, I did a 1:03 swim and can tell you that my heart rate was never in the yellow or red zone. The bike was great as well. The out loop and first 40 miles where great. I was nailing everything. It was in the 90s already, but things where ok. i turned the corner to start loop #2 and it was like I was a different person. Things went wrong in a hurry. I was getting so thirsty and was out of water. i made a tactical error and went 10 miles in 90+ heat without water. The damage was done. I was at mile 90 and I knew that if I kept going the race would end in an ambulance. My kids and wife have supported me in Ironman as long as I made them a simple deal. They never wanted to see me in the medical tent or in an ambulance. I made the decision to stop. It was so painful to do, but I knew it was right. I thought the hard part of the day was over. I was wrong.
As I came back into the transition area already having to give my timing chip back, I saw my children and wife. This was the worst thing I've ever had to do. To walk up to your family, after training so hard, only to not finish. I had trained for a year. I was in perfect shape. This was NOT how it was scripted. This was not the outcome I had in mind. I continued to walk and saw three smiling faces as well as some other friends that had come to support my day. The smiles where forced, but sincere. The hardest thing is I knew what was coming next. The obligatory "it's ok," or "You have nothing to be ashamed of." All I can say is there are no words that feel right after a year of training that ends before the finish line.
I had survived the worst. Seeing the family. Having to face the pain of not finishing the race. I had seen the smiles, heard the words. The worst was over. WRONG. I turned to my daughter and she pulled a necklace off her neck. It was a "surfer" type that had a pink piece on the end that had a swimmer, biker and runner on it. She smiled and said that they had bought these at Ironman village while they waited for me. She handed it to me. This would be the only "finisher medal" I would get. This was so painful. Here is a 9 year old girl that had battled so hard in a hospital to beat Leukemia. SHE was handing ME a consolation prize. My heart dropped. I turned to my son and he too had the same necklace in a different color. He took it off and handed it to me. I had held up my part of the deal of not going home in the ambulance, but I almost felt like it would have been better if I had.
Over the past year, I looked at those necklaces every day. They are a reminder to me about what is important in life. They are also a reminder of how things do not always go as planned. I have waited for over a year to get back in the race. Day 1 is approaching fast. Day 1 is the day I have been waiting for since I was handed the necklaces from my children. I will wear these a lot over the next year as a reminder. I will also wear them on race day at Ironman Wisconsin 2007. I will wear them with pride. I will wear them as a reminder of a mission. I will wear them with one goal - to take them off at the finish line and give them back to their owner - My children. When I look back, the pain is not that I did not finish. The pain is that I feel I let my family down. They will argue differently, but I want to make sure there is NO question. I know I have finished once, but I need to do it again for one reason. I want my kids to look at me again and say "DAD - you are an Ironman."