Going into Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, I decided that my inner mantra would be, "Expect Greatness." This was a step beyond my earlier approach in the season to being "open to the possibility of greatness." As I wind down the pre-baby phase of my endurance racing, there's no more time to be simply open to it. Now, greatness is an edict. It only took 3,000-plus hours of training and mistake-making to grasp that insight. There were no shortcuts, but there never have been for me.
Did I meet my expectations? No. Saturday's race was a solid all-in effort with a very similar result to last year. That equals good, not great. However, it would have been much slower had I not committed to a "great-worthy"performance.
As my race years tick by, I learn that you perform as you will yourself to perform. Excuses clutter the truth. "But I had cramps!" "I lost my nutrition!" "It got so hot!" "I didn't taper in my normal way." These things happen to all of us. It's how we respond that determines the outcome. How bad do you want it? What are you willing to endure to get it? How much will you pay for the glory?
Going into Saturday, all I could think of were the myriad reasons why I was going to suck at the race. I was a mental and physical mess at packet pick-up, having rushed down from LA minutes before the cutoff time (thanks to Alex for putting up with me!). In true "The Californians" fashion, I took TEN freeways to make the nearly three hour trek! I felt equally scatterbrained race morning in the corral. I had to move bikes and gear to make room for my own and a kind-hearted new friend, Jayson, helped me pump my rear disc wheel with about 15 minutes to spare before we were kicked out of transition.
The only thing that helped me focus was remembering my only plan. Be great. Yet, coming out of the water two minutes slower than I expected shook my self-belief. I felt strong in the swim, so the clock shocked me. Further, I put added pressure on myself pre-race to prevent my good friend Jason from beating me. It would be the last time we'd race each other pre-baby and in peak condition. I knew he was gunning for me. Jason's swim has improved significantly, and his run is next-level. The only way I'd be able to hold him off is with a strong swim and bike combo. Instead, Jason matched me stroke for stroke in the final few hundred yards and we left T1 together. It was going to be a dogfight between the two of us! The only thing I would have done different in the swim is not to sight so soon off the jetty after the first turnaround heading back into the sun. I'm sure I veered needlessly off-course, losing precious time.
Out of the water, I didn't lose patience or focus though. I just got angry. "Be great" turned into, "Ride your ass off." I endeavored to ignore my watch data and just go for it. I committed to taking a risk. Being great translated to being bold. As you can see from my Strava data, I pushed harder on the first half of the course than either of the last two times I've raced Oceanside, or any training ride I've participated in on-base at Camp Pendleton. Surprisingly, it felt good. Really good. I was riding in my 50x11 gear and still pedaling 80 rpm. The few times I glanced down at my watch on flats, I was riding 10-20 watts over my intended goal. I didn't know where Jason was on the course, but I knew he'd need to ride hard to keep up.
Very sadly, I learned after the race that Jason got a flat tire early on, thwarting our duel. He's worked harder than at any point in his prior training to improve and I truly feel his frustration. We're both convinced it would have been a much closer finish between us. Of course, I didn't have that knowledge in the moment and mashed onward. My nutrition plan was spot on, allowing me to ride hard without any tinge of cramps. In fact, the ride couldn't have gone better...except for the three times I thought I was belching and instead barfed up some Bonk Breaker. I laughed and smiled to myself. I thought of my friend Gary, who's always begging me to embrace pain and welcome it. Well, Gary, I laughed at barfing thrice so I'm on the right path. I also had to briefly exit my bike to remove some electrical tape peeling away from my disc wheel valve port. The tape was flapping on my derailier.
The ultimate compliment for my bike performance came from a fellow competitor post-race, who limped over to shake my hand and tell me how much he respected my effort. We had yo-yo'd back and forth with each other for the last 30 miles of the ride. He was a prototypical "specimen" triathlete: 6"2, 160 pounds, chiseled. When guys like that tell me I earned their respect, I always think back to that line in the movie "Rudy," "If I could put your heart in the rest of this team's bodies..." I ultimately jumped more than 20 places in my age group from swim to bike, shaving off almost eight minutes from last year's ride.
The last time I rode harder than expected in a triathlon was Ironman 70.3 Boise two years ago. There I was recovering from my cyclist v car accident and wound up with the ever-popular "swim, overbike, walk" race. I thought about that a lot in the six miles of headwinds returning to T2. Would my risk-taking blow up in my face? I didn't care, because last year I paced the Oceanside race so well I felt like I could have run three more miles after the finish. That's not good enough anymore. When I crossed the finish line this year it was going to be after an all-out effort, or in a wheelbarrow because I fainted trying.
The first few miles of the run were twitchy. My right leg cramped up entirely when I exited the bike at T2 so I was working through the discomfort. Still I managed to run near my goal pace. Jason was two miles back and I figured with his potential he'd gain about 30 seconds on me per mile. All I could do was double-down on effort, channel out the new cramp in my left adductor and keep grinding. Miles 6-9 dropped off by about 10-20 seconds and then I was on the north side of 7:40 per mile the rest of the way. My heart heaved, and my legs dragged. I expected Jason to slap me on the ass and pass at any point. I was ready to concede, but I'm proud that I pushed through and never stopped. If he was going to pass, I wanted him to work extremely hard for it and to take it from me. I'd give nothing. The effort paid dividends -- I jumped again in the age-group standings from 41st to 29th, finishing top 7% in class. But I gave back five minutes from last year's run, 1:38 vs 1:33 in 2014. My new micro-goal: Train with harder runs off harder bike efforts.
The longest, most miserable part of a triathlon is the last mile of the run. You know the finish is near but you can't quite see it. Your body is absolutely crushed and yet your race means nothing until you have that finisher's medal hung around your neck. After all, a 70.2-mile race is still a DNF. The end couldn't come soon enough -- visions of Jason sprinting through the finish just ahead of me looking like Bevan Docherty were playing on repeat in my mind's theater. I had no energy to celebrate in the chute. No high-fiving or showboating like last year. It was hot, my feet were squishy from sweat and water and piss, my legs were on the brink of full lockdown and I was flat-out over this race. After shuffling through the finish, I slumped over the barrier to meet Stephanie and our friend Russ and just leaned there with my head down for minutes. Wondering...why I do this to myself. Wondering what I'd do better for Ironman 70.3 St. George in five weeks the next breath.
I wasn't great this weekend, but I committed to being great. No excuses. No mitigating factors. No woulda coulda shoulda.
This is a way to live.