Run – A Personal Mt. Everest 🏔

I finished the bike leg knowing that I’d pushed harder than ever before, but was left feeling that I didn’t leave it all out there. My legs weren’t as destroyed as I’d planned. This realization left me feeling both powerful and disappointed. #newlevelunlocked

I thought the run into transition was unreasonably long and became envious of those that do flying dismounts, leave their shoes on the bike and run barefoot. I haven’t learned that skill, so I run with my shoes from the dismount line all the way to the bike rack. That shit sucks.

The transition from bike to run is quick and easy. I typically check my hydration and electrolyte status by squatting down and then standing up. When I’m dehydrated or low on sodium, I immediately get very dizzy. Today, not so much. As long as I stayed diligent with my salts and water, I’d finish in good shape. #Progress.

Going into the race, I planned to run on depleted legs. My expectations for a quick run were low, I was more interested in facing the mental struggle and pushing through the fatigue. But now, my legs weren’t hurting. Should I try and push my pace? I wasn’t ready for this and decided to push for a 10:00- 10:15 min pace while walk most aid stations. Quick mental calculations revealed that I would get a sub 6 hr finish (Race goal #3). I set off feeling light and comfortable while enjoying the cheering crowd that lined the beginning of the run course.

Phase 1 – Confidence

The first 3 miles felt good. I wasn’t holding a very consistent pace, but I felt strong and fully capable. Although I wasn’t moving steady, I was averaging 10:30/mile or better and that made me happy. We were running along the coast, so, looking at the nice homes and the waterfront was a nice distraction. Somewhere around mile 3 or 4, I saw a woman that had the same Varlo kit who rode behind me for a large portion of the bike leg. Realizing that she was moving about 10 min/mile, I ran with her for a few minutes. Then, suddenly, I realized that I was struggling to keep up with her.

Phase 2 – Mental Sabotage

Why was I struggling? I felt good, not much fatigue, my heart rate was in the 140s. What’s happening? I began thinking that I was struggling because I wasn’t capable of keeping up. My idea of sustaining the pace to complete a 2h10 – 2h15min half marathon was unrealistic. I should ease up and get into my lane.

I pushed back against those thoughts and picked up my pace again. The doubts and desire to stop had begun, and I hoped for this struggle. I wanted to overcome it, so I welcomed the thoughts and kept going. The course was two 6-mile loops. Using the halfway point turnaround was part of my pre-race preparation. Unfortunately, as I was battling my own mind, I lost my bearings and became very disoriented. Not dizzy, but unaware of where I was on the course. When I hit the 8-mile marker, I didn’t remember passing the turnaround and became very worried. Had I gone the wrong way at some point? Was I going to have to run more than 13 miles to finish? Being too embarrassed to ask anyone, I was kept trying to counter all the negative messages coming from my mind.

Phase 3 – A Lost Battle

I was running in my Altra Escalante zero drop shoes, which in retrospect was not a wise choice. Since Ironman Texas in late April I’d been having a lot of Achilles pain and have been concerned about damaging the tendon. Without realizing it, choosing these shoes was too drastic of a change in heel position and created an overload on the tendon. As a consequence, every day after a run has been filled with pain. Simply standing up and walking hurts. To help, my coach had me ease up on my running for two weeks prior to this race, and my Achilles was feeling much better.

Although my body was feeling fine, the negative self-talk was taking over and wearing me down. Around mile 9, my mind was peppering me with multiple ways to doubt myself…

  • Dude! You should stop running so much, you might hurt your Achilles.
  • Isn’t it beginning to hurt now? – This seemed to repeat every half mile.
  • Why is the back of your right knee hurting? Maybe you’ve pushed too hard.
  • What makes you think you can even do this? You’ve never been a good runner.
  • You can’t finish the race in less than 6 hours now, so why keep trying so hard? Just walk, you’ll still finish before the cutoff.
  • You just aren’t strong enough to go faster than this, accept your limitations.
  • Just walk. I don’t want to run anymore. What’s the point? You hit your swim and bike goals. Isn’t that good enough?

At mile 11 I remember saying “fuck it” I can’t do this anymore and I began walking a lot. I had some brief of mental resolve and would begin running again. After maybe a half-mile I would give up and walk and feel horrible about it. I wasn’t physically depleted, there was no reason to give up, but I didn’t have the mental resilience to keep fighting, so I stopped. I was done for the day.

All done

When I approached the last half mile and the mass of spectators, I summoned some resolve and ran into the finishers chute feeling a mix of emotions. Just before hitting the red carpet, I saw Remy on the sideline cheering for people. He said he DNF’d on the swim but was ok. I was then reminded that finishing these races is an accomplishment. Being able to smash multiple goals in the same event is a gift. Falling flat on other goals is heartbreaking, but not the end of progress. Rather, I know where my major focus will lie for the next year. I will develop as a stronger mental and physical runner.

Happy to earn another medal, I took a finisher’s pic, grabbed a boxed lunch and looked for my son and wife. I knew they were near because my son, as he’s always done since he was a little boy, ran beside me as I moved through the finisher‘s chute and crossed the red carpet. We fist bumped and I convinced Robin to give me a sweaty hug 😷 (her favorite 😂). As we chatted, I saw Reggie Waller (Team Varlo) finish so we waited for him and I made introductions. We discussed the race while eating lunch and He invited us to come chat at the Varlo tent.

After Reggie left, Remy came over and we discussed the best way to get my gear back to the car. The parking lot was about 2 miles from the race venue and I didn’t want to wait for the shuttle with a bike. Robin and Kai agreed to ride the shuttle with my bags and I’d ride my bike back to the car. Meanwhile, my Achilles was now killing me. It hurt to walk.

After giving packing up my stuff and giving it to them, I took my bike and headed to the Varlo tent to say adios to my teammates. Fortunately, the Varlo sponsored pros were still there and I was able to meet Sika Henry, the first female African American professional triathlete. Everyone was in a good mood, and happy to chat for a while. Remy and I discussed his swim in more detail. I think he missed the cutoff, not because he was swimming too slowly, but because his sighting was horrible. According to his Garmin watch, he swam an extra 600 yards! I left the tent and slowly rode back to the parking lot feeling accomplished.

By and large, this race was a victory for me.

Ironman 70.3 Eagleman
Ironman 70.3 Eagleman

Overall, the race was a win. Although I mentally disintegrated during the half marathon and let my 6 hr goal slip away, I hit several important targets. The first being a personal best swim. Just as important as the finish was how I started it. I stayed in the front and started with people who swim my pace instead of falling back to a slower group. The second achievement was more eye-opening for me. I pushed an average of 247 Watts on the bike and didn’t feel worn out when I finished. I’ve probably been capable of doing this for a while, but I didn’t believe that I could, nor was I willing to try.

After some reflection, I think that my development is moving into a new phase. Instead of being concerned about the ability to race, I’m now much more confident physically and am bumping against my mental limits. The evolution from learning to push through what I believed was possible to finding out what’s actually possible is now more important. For now, I’m going to take a few weeks off and rest.