Ten years of Endurance Living
This week marks the 10th anniversary of my adult journey in endurance sports participation, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on what’s passed and think about the future since 2020 is such a fail.
In my memory, I’m standing on edge of Tempe Town Lake in the pre-dawn darkness of a late November day. This isn’t a beach, think of a concrete wall that sides a canal. People all around me are jumping in to make their way over to the start line of the 2010 Ironman Arizona. (An Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike & 26.2 mile run) I am hesitant, feeling like I don’t belong here and frankly scared of what I may have gotten myself into. Since separating from my wife a little more than a year earlier, a friend had suggested I do an Ironman Triathlon.
In training for this, I found a coach and a training team, Endurance Nation, along the way and I had all of those messages like “trust your training,” going through my head. I finally took the literal plunge, swam to the start area and shortly began my fourteen-hour race.
I felt that Ironman for me was a check the box item, one and done. Perhaps it was the infectious nature of an acquaintance from home who did the race and sucked me into the endurance community or the friend from California that I made during Ironman week, but I quickly found myself signing up not for one, but two Ironmans in 2011. Louisville & Arizona again.
While it may seem extreme to dive right into this, I am a bit OCD and I did have a background around age 30 of having run a few marathons as well as having been a HS cross-country runner.
During the year, an EN teammate I had met in Arizona, Al Truscott, extended an invite to do a training camp at his house in Snowmass CO that September. Who was I to pass up this opportunity? Great cycling in the CO mountains and new endurance friends to be made.
I think, for me, Triathlon represented somewhat of what I enjoyed about competitive sailboat racing, a sport that required a physical preparation as well as a mental game to execute well.
The team dynamic of a crew was fulfilled by training partners and teammates of EN.
At the start of this process in 2008 I weighed in at a portly 205lbs at one point on my smallish 5’8” frame. By the time of my 1st ironman in 2010, I had that down into the 185. I continued to train, and signed up for two races in 2012 and got down to 175. Due to the recent death of a cousin, as well as an EN teammate in the Philadelphia Marathon & a neighbor during a pool swim, all of cardiac issues, I decided to check the box and see a cardiologist in early July 2012.
Unfortunately, this led to another arduous journey for a year. The cardiologist misdiagnosed me with a pretty serious condition that temporarily halted my life. I was 5 weeks away from doing Ironman Mt Tremblant at 162 lbs, but had to put it all on hold and figure this out. It took a long process, a number of docs and not just an all clear, but a doc who I will forever be grateful for finding who taught me why I was in the clear.
Given that Ironmans at this time were selling out a year in advance, 2012 & 2013 were shot. I decided to get a charity entry to the NYC Marathon, truly one of life’s great experiences and had a great race, completing the race at age 48 fifteen minutes faster than I did at age 30. I also had gotten my weight down to 153. One of the memorable training runs for this event was running 22 miles mostly on the Ironman World Championship course in Kona HI where I was supporting a friend who was doing the Ironman World Championships.
I completed two more Ironmans in 2014, Mont Tremblant & Arizona for the third time. I did mention I was OCD! In 2015 bad luck struck again and I herniated a disc 3 days before Ironman Lake Placid. Jill who I was only dating for a few months at this point, came up to LP, but declared me a poser since she had yet to see me accomplish this feat. In 2016, I recovered, trained hard, slimmed down to my lowest adult weight at 148 and ran my fasted Ironman in Lake Placid at slightly over eleven hours and good enough for a 10th place finish out of 230 in my age group. This awakened something in me.
To get a slot in the IM World Championships in Kona, you need to finish in the top 2-4 places of your age group, depending on it’s size at one of the many Ironman’s worldwide to go to Kona. You can also be a glutton for long term punishment, doing twelve full distance Ironmans and gaining a legacy slot. I’ve always felt, that if I were to go, it would be via the hard way or not at all. I now felt this could be possible. That said, the difference in my time and a Kona slot was forty-three minutes.
Three weeks after this, I completed the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. This is a high-altitude event that the elite amateurs will complete in under nine hours with the goal for most to complete in under twelve hours to be counted as an official finisher. I managed to get it done with time to spare. Four weeks later I did Ironman Wisconsin! See that OCD think at work?!
In 2017, after a great training build, I completed Ironman Lake Placid 22 minutes faster than in 2016; despite this; due to a lot of fast people showing up I actually slid backwards in age group finish, yet higher in overall standings. I went back to Louisville in October, had a fantastic swim, a great bike and while in 8th place at mile 7 of the run, I felt a pain in my hip that turned into me walk/running the remaining 19 miles. Somehow, I still managed to finish in the top 10% of my age group.
2018 was going great, I was well trained, had done a ton of work on my hip issue, went to Colorado for “Al Camp,” for the 6th time, I think and was entering the home stretch of training the last 7 or so weeks to Lake Placid. After hitting an unseen bump during a 100 mile training ride, I crashed on the bike ending up in the trauma center with 7 broken ribs, 2 broken vertebrae & a broken scapula. That hurt!
In 2019, I was hoping for a great training year and I had one, only to redevelop a hip issue, again. I went to Lake Placid a couple of weeks before the event and with the help of my Coach, Patrick McCrann, I executed a strong long weekend of riding the course 2x and a solid long run of 18 miles on the course. I felt ready and excited to race this event in a way I never had before. As luck would have it, I got a drafting penalty on the first lap of the bike course (5 minutes in the penalty tent). The real problem turned up around mile 100 when my bike chain dropped between my crank and frame and I had to wait for bike support who thankfully had a chain. I also imploded on the run with a hip issue and was thankful to finish before dark.
2020 is the year that wasn’t in so many ways. I’ve been using the time to heal up, get stronger and put sights on the future. I am likely suffering from Ironman burnout. I wanted to give 2019 the full shot it deserved to try and qualify for Kona. 2020 was to be the year since I “aged up” to the next age group and at 55 yrs old have a definitive advantage over the “wiser” end of my age group (55-59). That will have to wait until next year. That’s ok by me as I am using the time to explore doing more fun things with my fitness from gravel riding in Vermont to trail running in Harriman and the Catskills near my home. I recently completed a “run” of the Devil’s Path in the Catskill’s, a 23 mile trail w ~8500’ of climbing, considered one of the toughest in America. Many people take a weekend to hike this trail camping in the middle. Endurance athletes have discovered it as a great fitness test for their own “event.”
While I’ve said I only wanted to go to Kona the hard way, Al Truscott who has KQd more times than I can count has convinced me that MY ironman history is deserving of the trip and it would give him an excuse to hang out in Kona for a week. I’m trying Al!
This journey would never have been possible alone. Finding Jill along the way and having her support on an almost daily basis to allow me to train is paramount to this. The support of a great coach who probably knows my body better than I do in Patrick McCrann and the many accomplished friends and teammates at all levels at Endurance Nation keep me motivated and on my game!