Inspiration comes from the strangest places. For Ironman 70.3 Silverman, mine came during an Asian press tour last month, at the training low-point of my summer. It just goes to show that there is generally something positive to take from any seemingly negative situation.
Several other game developers joined me on the press tour. One in particular stood out, the creators of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, the mega-hit music-based rhythm games from a few years back. This time, the studio representatives were showing off Dance Central to eager fans and media in three countries. Which meant I heard the same demo song multiple times a day for about a week. Which also means my sanity hinged on that song being catchy. Not only was it, but the lyrics became my unintentional training anthem -- echoing throughout a challenging day at Ironman 70.3 Silverman.
The song: Titanium, the David Guetta/Sia collaboration.
I don't particularly like admitting how much I like that song. I may play it on repeat a few times a week. Don't tell. But the lyrics appealed to me when I was going through a confidence and motivational crisis.
"I'm bulletproof...nothing to lose. Fire away! Fire away!"
"Shoot me down...I won't fall! I am Titanium!"
I promised to myself well before this weekend that, no matter what happened on that course, no matter how painful it might get, no matter how unprepared I may have felt, I would be indestructible. Titanium. Bulletproof.
And I was. I've done a lot of racing since I became serious about triathlon in 2010. This is the race I'm proudest of. Physically, it wasn't my best performance. But mentally, I broke new ground. I dealt with a wicked whack-a-mole game of cramps in both legs for the entire half-marathon. Literally from the first mile onward. I seized up completely at least five times, twice in front of teammates as they ran by on the other side of the cones, prompting one of them to tell me how terrible I looked! I couldn't breathe fully on the run either, my asthma acted up for the first time in a triathlon and causing me to spew some nasty neon-colored phlegm.
Which brings me to another unlikely inspirational source. During my Asian odyssey, I watched a lot of Game of Thrones during flights. One particular character decided to pay a mental visit to me during the run. His name was Syrio, macho sword-fighting teacher to Arya Stark in the first season. I loved when he'd tell her, "What do we tell the God of Death?
"Not today. Not today. ..."
I repeated that in my head as both adductors strained during the first mile of the run...and then I smiled. For the first time in five years of racing, I finally, truly, wholly and completely understood, smiling when faced with a situation that normally might have knocked me off my game. I always nodded politely when my triathlon mentors such as Gary Michelson and Jason McFaul would tell me that's the key to breakthrough performances -- literally looking forward to the pain. I always thought I knew what that meant and was ready to accept the challenge, but then when the moment arrived for real in a race, I'd wilt. Last year, at Ironman 70.3 Boise, I was 15th in my age group coming off the bike and started the run strong. A mile in, my legs twitched, I winced, my legs locked, I buckled...and quit. I walked 9 miles and walk-jogged four, drinking a beer at one point. The pain won. I went to the edge in Boise, but turned back at the critical moment. At Ironman Lake Tahoe last year, my sense of fight vanished completely during the marathon and I actually had a conversation with an aid station captain at mile 15 about DNF protocol before rallying to finish.
And that is why I had a good race at Silverman, even though I was 11 minutes slower on nearly the same course as when I raced the world championships there last year.
<Pause> Now, a brief word about the Ironman 70.3 Silverman course. There is a lot of talk going 'round about how hard a day it was. To be clear, Silverman is a tough course -- or as my Wattie Ink teammate Dusty likes to say, a slow course. But everyone who signs up for the race should know it's a tough course (except my dear friend Kevin, who signed up, didn't train at all and still almost finished within the final cut-off). If you were mentally prepared to suffer, to welcome the pain and smile at the true crossroads between a good race and a bad one, then chances are you were proud of your performance. For the record, here's what I think contributed to at least my slower year-to-year finish time (not speaking for everyone else here):
1) Lack of heat acclimation and training (my fault, and controllable)
2) Wind kicking up dust and triggering an asthma attack (out of my control)
3) Long, steady headwind from the bike turnaround back out of Lake Mead (out of my control)
That's not the full race day picture though. What enabled me to smile at Pain in the first place, I think, was recognizing early in the race that I needed to adjust my expectations (a controllable outcome). My first indication that my race plan needed to change was when I drank an entire 16oz bottle of honey water within the first 40 minutes on the bike. I usually only drink a 16oz bottle over 1.5 hours. Yet I still wasn't sweating. Instead of panicking, I readjusted my intake strategy, making sure to hit each aid station for extra bottles of water and Perform, and a banana or gel. I'd toss my old bottles first after emptying any extra water onto my body to stay cool. Even with all that, I still wasn't sweating normally, but I knew I was hydrated because I was able to pee on the bike twice. (Yes, while moving, I know...gross!) In hindsight, the only thing I'd change about my ride is switching to a road aero helmet from my Kask Bambino and removing the wind visor. I may have overcooked my noggin a bit in the heat and wind. I actually had to remove the wind visor a few times to let the breeze cool my face.
So there you have it. Ironman 70.3 Silverman wasn't really about my finish time, or my placement. (Though I'm pleased with the 5:26 and 22nd in my age group out of 251.) It's my third-best overall half-Ironman placement, percentage-wise. No, this race signified that I turned the tassel on something much more important and valuable. I finally graduated from Puss School. Annual enrollment: one. Graduation rate: 100 percent. My thesis was about proving that Pain is a suggestion, but not a mandate. It can be overcome through willpower, a smile...and knocking the God of Death on his bony ass.
I would like to thank my Coach, Gerardo Barrios, my Fortius Coaching teammates, my Wattie Ink teammates, and the unsung heroic supporters of both teams all over the course. Staying positive was a LOT easier with all that energy and encouragement. I almost forgot to mention Gerry Rodrigues and Tower26, which has recently played a big role in my swimming lately. Gerry has made getting up at 5 a.m. FUN. That's hard to do. I'd also like to thank the Wattie Ink team sponsors that helped fuel my day: ISM saddles, Herbalife 24, Powerbar, and Reynolds Wheels. I'd also like to thank Sarah at CycleHouse in LA. I never thought spin classes might benefit my training, but I'm confident they played a role. Above all else, I'd like to thank my wife Stephanie, for understanding how I'm a better ME because of all the lessons I've learned from this crazy sport. And how one day, I promise I'll be passing those lessons on to our children.
A few days of celebration and reflection have passed. Now, we train for Ironman Arizona. Less than 40 days away.