Most stories of success end with a paragraph of thank yous and acknowledgements to family and friends that helped to make a dream possible. I am going to change it up and lead my story with that paragraph.
First of all I could not have accomplished my dream of completing the Ironman without a tremendous support team. Training for the Ironman is the hardest thing I have ever done and has consumed my life for 18 months. I would like to thank my wife Sarah for supporting me while I made my dream a reality. Thanks to my daughter Alyssa for all her support and grace as she listened to me talking about my Ironman training for the millionth time. Thanks to my parents, for supporting me since I was a 17 year old boy who wanted to start competing in some crazy sport called triathlon. A huge thanks to Mike for cycling with me every Sunday since April without fail and for traveling with me all over the country to compete in different events. Thank you to Mike's family for giving him up for the past 6 months. I know it wasn't easy every week. I want to thank all of my friends who joined me at Lake Mascuppic at various times (Pam, Mike, Rodney) and especially Claire, who I have been swimming with at least twice a week since last year. I once cancelled on Claire, and she made me feel like I was calling in sick to work....never missed another swim. I would like to thank Josh for letting me use his bike for 2 months with no questions asked. Many other people supported me with words of encouragement and advice over the last year and I would like to say how truly thankful I am to have incredible family and friends.
In 1989 I watched the Hawaii Ironman on the show Wild World of Sports and became immediately inspired by the incredible determination portrayed by the athletes as they struggled to complete the event. It was on that day 23 years ago that I vowed to one day complete the Ironman. At the time I had only swam in back yard pools and ridden my bike as a means of transportation. So at the age of 17 I started the process of entering the sport of triathlon. In 1989 triathlons were not very popular. I did not know anyone who had completed one. I had to explain to most people that it was a race with a swim, bike, and then a run. Anyway...I bought the book Dave Scott's Triathlon Training and read it over and over. I read it so much the binding ripped in three places. I joined a gym and taught myself how to swim using several books and videotapes. I bought a bike and started riding. I had already done a lot of running because I played soccer in high school so starting a run program was easy. I entered my first triathlon about a year later. Fast forward to this year, I had completed 72 triathlons covering all distances with the exception of the Ironman.
For several years I have been talking about fulfilling my Ironman dreams as close to my 40th birthday as possible. Kind of a "screw you" to the aging process. For this reason I chose to enter the Vineman Triathlon on July 28th which was 4 days before my birthday. My Ironman dreams did not come true that day. (read the depressing story here) Despite the devastating DNF at Vineman I was determined to finish the Ironman, and I wasn't waiting around. A couple of days after Vineman I signed up for the Montreal Esprit Triathlon which is another Ironman distance race......
The Montreal Esprit Triathlon is held entirely on ILE Notre Dame which is a man made island in the St Lawrence River. The swim is in the Olympic Basin which was built for the rowing events for the 1976 Olympics. The bike is a circuit course on the Formula 1 Grand Prix race track. The Montreal Casino is in the middle of the track. The run course does multiple loops around the Olympic Basin area.
Weather was 73 degrees and water was 75. Montreal has a small Ironman field so all athletes start in one wave at 7 AM. The swim should have been my easiest of the season, but my time didn't show that. I purposely swam slow to conserve strength. Unfortunately, I took it too easy. I ended up 11 minutes slower than I was at Vineman. Effort level was right on but for some reason I must have "fell asleep" in the water because my time was way off. I did not waste too much time worrying about it because this is the Ironman. No one at my level cares about 11 minutes. The whole point of the swim was to finish and feel fresh for the bike. Mission accomplished.
The bike course was on the Formula 1 race track. Each loop is about 2.7 miles, and I had to complete 41 loops. The course is flat with the exception of one short hill that you have to do 41 times. Now about the time I finished the swim the wind started to pick up significantly. By the time I got on the bike course the wind was very strong. Since the course is a circle you face north for half the loop and south for the other half. About 30 minutes into the bike the wind was howling. Riding into the wind was very difficult, forcing me to downshift. At times it felt like I was going to be blown over. Making the turn to change directions on each loop put the wind at your back, and I would shift up 3 gears. As tough as the wind was on the first half of the loop, for the second half I was pedaling nice and steady and was comfortably riding 25 MPH. Many people were passing me like I was standing still. I really wish I could have seen how fast I could have gone on that stretch if I went all out. The wind made this course more difficult, but it really was a flat course.
My nutrition plan on the bike was radically different from Vineman. After receiving advice from many sources I decided to have a large variety of options in my special needs bags. During the bike I had the following....peanut butter and fluff sandwiches, bag of chips, mountain dew, electrolyte tabs , salt tabs , Gatorade, snickers bars, and water. Mike called this my "teenage diet" nutrition plan. It may have been unorthodox but there is one thing I had drilled into my mind for this race...I was going to eat and drink as much as possible on the bike. Sugar, caffeine, electolytes, salt tablets.....I wasn't trying to win any nutrition awards....I just needed to eat anything that would get me to that damn finish line. I finished the bike 50 minutes faster than Vineman and felt good. Mission accomplished.
Bacause of my Vineman experience I was very nervous about how I would feel at the start of the run. The Montreal Esprit Triathlon run course has a short 2k section on a dirt road on the first lap and then all of the remaining laps circle the Olympic Basin where the swim took place. I had to complete 9 laps for the marathon course. I started the run feeling decent. I actually started running!! In Vineman I was dead at the start of the run and barely ran at all. My running was short lived as I needed a walking break at the 2k mark but when I had to walk I was walking fast and steady. Once I got to the basin I faced the same issues on the bike. Half of the course was directly into the wind and the other half the wind was at your back. I saw Sarah and she told me to treat the wind like a hill. Walk fast and steady into the strong headwind and then run as much as possible with the wind at my back. This method would conserve my energy and maximize my efforts when I could run. I stayed focused and continued this strategy for the entire race. At one point there was a torrential downpour for about 15 minutes and the wind must have been blowing 40-50 MPH. The rain stopped but the wind never let up all day. I didn't care if it started snowing..nothing was going to stop me. I ran when I could and when I couldn't run I walked. This race actually allows non-racers to run/walk alongside racers at the 12 hour mark. This was a big boost. Sarah was with me for the last few hours. I finally finished at 9 PM with a race time of just over 14 hours.
I have dreamed about completing the Ironman for over 20 years. Finally finishing this race is an incredible feeling. Training and finishing this race is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I have incredible respect for anyone who completes an Ironman. The dedication, perseverance, and commitment is all consuming. The inner strength and focus required to keep pushing your body for 14 hours really can't be described. Even if you never have the desire to compete in a race like this I would encourage anyone to be a spectator at one of these events. Watching athletes of all ages, sizes, and abilities give everything they have to finish this race by the 17 hour cut-off is awe-inspiring. I am truly humbled and honored to be an Ironman Finisher!
I have been completely focused on Ironman for so long I forget what it is like to have other goals. I am going to take some time off and figure out what the next challenge will be. I will definitely be competing in a lot more events in 2013. Training for Ironman has prevented me from competing in a lot of the shorter triathlon events and road races I have enjoyed competing in over the years. Entering a marathon soon has crossed my mind. Can't rest too long!!