First off, I would just like to thank everyone who has showed so much support throughout this process, and this event. I have to give a special shoutout to my wife and parents, who made this event very special for me - thanks for everything guys.
As most of you probably know by now, I had big plans for St. George, and things did not go as well as I would have liked. I showed up to this race with incredible fitness, more so than any other in my career thus far. I focused my goals for this race to finish in the top 5, and to qualify for Kona.
I had a great week leading up to the race. Plenty of sleep, great taper workouts, the Mavs were in the process of sweeping the Lakers, things were really coming together. Emily and I drove up on Tuesday to acclimate, get familiar with the course, and get a few days of relaxation with no distractions from work or home. This was really valuable, as I felt very comfortable with the course and city come race day.
Since starting work with my coaches, Matt Dixon and Gerry Rodrigues, swimming has been a big focus for me - I have upped my yardage tremedously, and really focused on getting my high school fitness back. The swim course is an absolutely gorgeous one-loop swim in a perfectly calm reservoir. The big concern prior to race day was water temp, which was in the mid-50s last year, but we got really lucky and waded into the water at a very comfortable 62. I lined up next to former Navy swimmer John Marinovich, an absolute beast in the water, and purplepatch teammate Jess Smith. We were lane mates at training camp, and she joked that her one goal in the race was to beat me out of the water (she was consistently faster on longer sets.) After the gun went off, I immediately attached myself to John's hip, and drafted off of him for the first 500 m or so. I was struggling a bit to keep up, and thought this pace might be a little aggressive for such a long day. I dropped back slightly and waited for the chase group to catch me. I found 2 or 3 people swimming a good pace, and joined up with them. Once again, I attached myself to the hip of a swimmer, much to their dismay. As we made the turn for the long leg, I realized it was a female, who I initially thought was Jess, but then realized was bigger than her. In true Gerry R fashion, I stuck in this poor woman's bow wave for almost 2 miles of swimming. I was conserving energy and feeling great. At one point, I was cruising so easily that I was worried we were going slower than I would like, but I decided I would just conserve and see where it landed me. A guy caught and passed us just before the turn for the last leg, so I sped up and jumped in his wake. I got out of the water in 54:49, a massive PR, and felt like I had just been out for a sunday stroll.
I set out on the bike with a goal wattage of 225, and got busy trying to set that pace. My plan was to sit up and spin easily up the hills, and then crest and try to hit goal wattage in the descent. The first 20 miles are rolling, and I was feeling great, just cruising slightly below my target, but happy with how I was doing. A couple of guys formed a small group, and I comfortably rode with them (legally) for much of the first miles. The only exception was on the hills, where they would get out of the saddle and hammer, I would let them go and spin, and then almost immediately catch them on the descent after. One of the best parts of my race was my bike setup and position. I consistently caught and passed guys on the downhills who were pedalling and I was just cruising with tucked knees. I rode with this group until about mile 45, when I saw that my wattage was about 205, so I picked it up slightly to 215, and dropped them. They caught me again as I was easily spinning up "The Wall, " but after we started the fast leg back to town, I caught them again and passed them like a rocket while conserving energy. I hit mile 66 feeling awesome, 10 watts below my target, and in the lead of the age group (I found out later via split times.) I was just sitting with the group and enjoying such an awesome day, when all of sudden at mile 85 my whole world dropped out. I couldnt even push 150 watts, and had no clue what was wrong. I looked down at my calorie bottle, and saw that it was full. FULL? For some reason, I was having such a good time, I let my mind drift and didnt stick to the nutrtion plan. Combined with the heat, and my lack of water and calories, I had gone nearly an hour without taking anyting in, and was paying for it big time. For the next 20 miles, bike after bike passed me, as I was frantically trying to get calories down and recover. I think I probably tried to take too much to quickly, and it was no longer absorbing. My stomach would not allow one more drop. I tried to just wait for the downhill section back to town to recover and hit my target watts, but my legs were gone. I was crushed mentally at this point. I had no idea how I had gone from feeling so good to so bad so quickly. I limped into T2, put on the running shoes and thought that I would be ok, and just gut it out for a long day.
I realized how long it would be as I started toward the first aid station. I was doing 10 minute miles, and my heart felt like it was thumping out of my chest. I walked through the first aid station to try and get as many calories as possible, but I felt like I was going to fall over. This started 7 miles of walking/shuffling, but I was done mentally at that first aid station. I was overheating, my heart was racing, and I was barely moving. I started to get more disoriented as I went along, and soon couldnt even figure out how long I had been running. The memory gets a bit fuzzy here, but apparently at mile 8 as I walked through the aid station, I was not responding to questions from the volunteers, and just sat down on the road. They pulled me into a chair, and fed me some water, as medical personnel check my vitals. I regained my composure, and they asked me if I wanted to try to finish. I stood up and almost fell down again. I knew my body was done, so they loaded me in a golf cart and took me to the med tent. The nurse in the tent took my temp, and turns out it was 93.
So that sums up the race. I was absolutely crushed that I had been having such a great day and would not be going to Kona.
So what are the lessons learned from the St. George debacle? Well, after a conversation with Matt, as well as some email exchanges with teammate and friend Meredith Kessler, I realized that I have a lot to learn about endurance racing. My goals and focus for this race were completely in the wrong place. I was focusing on results, such as placing and Kona qualification, not the process of putting together my best consistent race. I was focused on beating other people, not pulling the best out of my own body regardless of what others are doing. I also have learned one of the biggest lessons the hard way: Ironman is a journey, not a destination, and last Saturday was simply one day in my journey. Who I am is not defined by race results, but understanding what a great life that I enjoy. I have a loving supportive wife and family, a great network of friends both in and out of triathlon, and wonderful home and even two cute puppies. These are the things that define me, not whether I can brag about having raced at Kona. There is no doubt that someday I will toe the line there, but it will not be for 2011. And thats ok. I am looking forward to the journey, and discovering my personal limits. I am very grateful to be a part of purplepatch, and get to learn from those who are further along in their journey than I. A great big personal thanks goes to Meredith, who, after passing at mile 22 and being rushed to the hospital, was emailing to check on me at 4 am after coming to. That is the true definition of selflessnes, and the lesson is not unnoticed.
This post would not be complete if I didn't also mention the performance of Jess Smith, who is an incredible athlete and a great person as well. She finished the race in 10:20, which was good enough for 4th. Overall. Wow, Jess, you amaze me. I am as excited for you as if I had done it myself. But maybe we should check those swim splits ;).
I woke up on Sunday thinking that the road to Kona was over, and that my season was a wash. I woke up today realizing that my road is only beginning, and Kona is merely a stop along the way. Mere said it best in her own blog post, a very inspired piece which you can read here:
"This one race is not going to define me but instead I will LEARN from it which ultimately will make me a better athlete, person and coach. Thus, this is a win win situation in the long run."
I am looking forward to learning and growing as an athlete and as a person, with a newly humble outlook. I look forward to continuing my journey on the Train of Pain, with some great friends, riding through some beautiful country. This is what sport is all about, and I plan to enjoy every mile with a new attitude, and rediscovered enjoyment.