Thursday, July 26, 2012

Have fun. Look cool.

Those were the goals for Ironman Lake Placid. I had to actually remind myself of that fact this week. You see for the first time in my Ironman racing career I did not finish the race. Long and short, I pulled out at 13.2 miles into the run with a calf injury, more on that later.

It was not easy to drop out. After stopping for a minute I contemplated hobbling the final 1/2. Tim Snow talked me off that ledge. My day was done. But here's the thing I didn't realize until yesterday really: I hit my targets. I met my goals. Swim aside, I was having a really good time. When planning a strategy I always do it days in advance and absolutely forbid myself to deviate from the plan on race day. The race day brain is a crazy, sometimes stupid, one. Never let it call the shots for your athletic performance or bad things will happen. As I had actually injured the calf 2 wks earlier and it was still a bit sore and tender, the plan was to make this an extended training day, and when I say training day I mean easy enough that I could continue training at a reasonable rate within a few days. I know what you're thinking, "If you were injured why did you race at all?" Well 1) it was paid for anyway, and 2) have you ever been up there? A beautiful place to train. And there is still a lot of value for someone like me who doesn't race much anymore to be in the middle of a field of athletes as opposed to alone on an island. Oh, and prior to the start the calf was feeling okay. A bit sore but no pain and loosened up when walking. But this post is not about the injury, so moving on...

So back to the race strategy planning process. Based on how I was executing workouts at home I figured absolute best case if I was going at racing intensity was 1:10 swim, 5:40 bike, 3:30 run. Add in transition times you're looking at 10:30. I had real doubts about my durability to maintain a true race intensity unless we got a nice overcast 60 degree day, with perhaps a light rain on the run (much like 2008). As I feel the run is not only my strength, but also the leg that sucks the most if you are toasted, I planned to back way off on the swim and bike and shoot for that goal time on the run. In other words, enter T2 with as full a tank as one could have. That meant no cramping at all on the bike, and that meant expending almost no energy swimming. And guess what, if you do back off intensity on a bright sunny day, you get to sight see and so realize just how beautiful some of these race courses really are. This one athlete said to me on lap 1 of the bike, "Yeah, enjoy it (Ausable River near Jay, NY) now because you won't think it's beautiful on lap 2." It was just as beautiful on lap 2. After a 1:15 swim and a 6:02 on the bike I entered T2 feeling more or less like I do entering the run of a 1/2 Ironman. Yes, the results page would never show it, but I just executed the crap out of a plan. As close to flawless (other than a slight case of the food dropsies) as I've done. (Side note: swimming easy at an Ironman is a catch 22. I got the crap knocked out of me during lap one because I wasn't going fast enough, so lap 2 was more like 2200m as I swung waaay out in order to not get abused by my fellow man!)

The run was, can I say easy? Energy levels were great. No cramping. Smooth gait. No over striding. Food sitting well. Just sit back and cruise a 3:30. And so it went, even going up the hill to Main Street, right up until the moment someone stabbed me in the back of my calf. Nothing gradual about it. I was going, and then not.

We get caught up in the results pages way too much. I'm no exception there. Finish rank and splits seem to be how we evaluate our own worth as athletes. Who did we beat. But there is soooo much more than that. There are friends. There is fun (tall boys in a paper bag anyone?). There is accomplishment, and sometimes that accomplishment is not "how fast" but rather "how well" you did something. Finishing what you start is important, but sometimes you really can't, at least not in any logical fashion. I could have finished. I risked a full rupture in doing so. I'm not just an athlete, I'm a Dad and husband and that sort of injury is not just happening to the athlete, it is happening to the Dad and husband. It would have been overly stupid and selfish to take that chance.

So my "wise brain", as it is called, has realized I had one hell of a day and one hell of a trip. Oh, and getting to spectate and watch my QT2 team just wipe the place out...awesome. A very special day indeed. And with all this there is more to this story, because there is more than just the "wise brain" at work here, but for that you'll need to wait for the next post...