Nearly 1,000 days ago – 945 to be exact – I was ready to do my first 70.3 IRONMAN in Santa Cruz. And as the story unfolded, I crashed and life took a wild turn.
Saturday, April 7, 2018 I crossed the finish line at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside and completed the goal I set almost 3 years ago.
Race recap: A series of unfortunate events
As before I was hurt, swimming was my biggest hurdle. About every 3-5 minutes of 65 minutes I had this thought process: ‘I may not make the cutoff. They’re going to have to assist me out of the water midway through. I worked this hard to just get pulled in the first hour. That’ll be a shit story to tell.’
But every time I stopped to look around, no one was pulling me out of the water. None of the lifeguards looked concerned about me, so I had to keep going.
THEN, at the last 150 yards, my goggle strap came loose. Then they just straight up came off. And I had to swim ‘blind’. And I probably swam better than the prior 1.1 miles. I finished the swim 5 minutes under the swim cutoff time.
But I knew once I was out of the water, I’d make it the rest of the way – or so I thought…
The first two hours of the bike I averaged just under my goal of 15 mph and I felt fine. Then came 70% of the 2,700 ft of climbing in the next 12 or so miles. Climbing in a TT handcycle is a slow grind. Think 1.2 – 2.5 miles per hour on a ±6% grade. All you can do is find a groove and just not stop. If you stop, you’re all but stuck.
Some people were walking their bikes up the hill and I thought, ‘How nice. If only I had that option…’ It reminded me of riding in the SF Bay Area where climbing is a must and how I had gotten strong in a relative short amount of time before my injury.
After the 3 intense hills I couldn’t find strength to muster my target of 15 mph on the last 10 miles of relative flats.
As a result, I missed the official bike cut-off by 12 minutes and officially I got a DNF on the race. DNF stands for ‘Did Not Finish’. I did however complete the whole course under the full race cutoff time. It’s somewhat of a technical rules thing – I still got to complete the run/push, cross the finish line and all that. No other Open Handcycle Division person made it under the bike cutoff – out of 2 of us.
The run was great because it’s 2 loops of a beachfront course with people cheering the whole way. I was long on the run against my goal because of some short, steep hills and narrow course having to navigate my racing wheelchair around other racers on a beach strand.
Crossing the finish line was amazing. I did it. Holy balls. I did it.
As always, it was amazing to have friends there.
Big shout out to Hugh and Rossi! My coach, Matt Hurley of PurplePatch Fitness, had two childhood friends there to cheer and they were my ‘handlers’ for the event. They killed it helping me in transition as well as before and after the race.
And the Freeman family! My college buddy Justin and his wife and kids hosted me for the weekend and made the journey so easy and enjoyable. It was great to get to know Sarah and the kids in the midst of all this. If you’re ever in North San Diego, I highly recommend the Freeman Bed &Breakfast!!
(Uh, for the record, they’re not really a B&B).
If who you have around you is the highest measure of who you are, then I am a better person than I could possibly humble-brag to be.
Challenged Athlete Foundation is sponsor of this 70.3 IRONMAN because it’s in their backyard, but more importantly because they support injured veterans through their Operation Rebound initiative. The course goes through Camp Pendleton and military is everywhere as Oceanside is a military town.
I was just a civilian racing alongside some vets with incredible stories of comeback and triumph. It was incredible to be surrounded by heros. It was incredible to be side by side with people who had similar injuries and similar mindsets to not only survive by thrive regardless of it all.
As I say when I speak to groups, “You are not alone. Someone has had your problem before.”
we’re not meant to be alone
If there’s one axiom that I can apply to this experience for you to contemplate, it’s the idea that we were not meant to be alone.
Many times in the week or two leading up to the race, and definitely the 48 hours prior to the race, any time I was alone and had the chance to get up in my head I started getting nervous and anxious. It started having physical effects in the rest of my body.
But the very moment Justin brought me coffee in the morning; the moment I could have a chat with my coach; the moment I was surrounded by other challenged athletes, it just all went away. Anxiety turned into excitement. I put in the work and now it was time to go cross the finish line.
I am a fan of surrounding yourself by great people. I highly recommend it.