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Secrets of Success

Iron Moments II- Return to Lake Placid

5:00 a.m. July 20, 2008, Saranac Lake, New York

Another Ironman Sunday has dawned.
It is the tenth anniversary of the Lake Placid race and my second appearance.
Once again, we are staying with friends rather than in our vacation home in nearby.
Wilmington so I can have easy access to town.
The swim starts at 7:00 a.m., but that is not on my mind at the moment.
The weather is.
Two years ago I wasted an enormous amount of energy worrying about the potentially rainy conditions, and the day turned out to be beautiful.
Today’s forecast calls for sun in the morning and scattered showers in the afternoon
—a typical Adirondack summer day.
However, because we are in the Adirondacks, all forecasts are subject to change.

7:00 a.m. Mirror Lake, Lake Placid

The sun that was promised is nowhere to be found, but the race is about to start so my focus has moved to the swim.
I am employing the strategy I used two years ago; I’m starting wide to the right to avoid the 2,300 plus swimmers moving to follow the rectangular cable that outlines the two-lap 2.4 mile course.
After a terrific training and racing season, my body has begun to betray me. During the last six weeks, I have endured one overuse injury after another forcing me to cut back on my preparation.
My shoulder with the torn rotator cuff is sore. Both my knees are taped to provide support as I have developed tendonitis.
But I am no longer an “Iron Maiden” (the name affectionately given to first-time competitors), so I’ve taken it all in stride.
I am anxious but ready.
The cannon sounds.
Another Ironman begins.

8:30 a.m. Mirror Lake

I’m out of the water six minutes ahead of my 2006 time.
That’s the good news.
One half hours into the swim it has begun raining.
That’s the bad news.
Looks like that sun may not be appearing for a while.

8:49 a.m. Bike Transition Area

Any time advantage I might have picked up in the swim has vanished.
Attempting to walk in the changing tent means sinking into mud nine inches deep.
I have had to wait my turn to stand on one of the few slabs of concrete so I can change my clothes.
It’s pouring as I mount my bike and put on my rain jacket.
This is the kind of rain farmers love as it’s great for the crops.
Too bad I’m not a tomato plant.

9:30 a.m. Route 73 outside Lake Placid

I really don’t like riding in the rain.
I especially don’t like riding in a torrential downpour when I have to go seven miles down the side of a mountain. The only thing I’m worried about is having to ride downhill on wet slippery pavement.
As I begin the descent, I have visions of hydroplaning off the road at thirty miles plus an hour.
I can see for miles in all directions and everywhere the weather looks bad.

12:50 p.m. Lake Placid

I am heading out of town for the second time having just completed the first 56-mile loop.
This is ridiculous.
The rain is simply not going to stop.
I have survived the downhill and the 11-mile climb into town.
Now I have to do it all over again.
Though my physical condition is very good, this is already beginning to wear on me mentally.
Not a good sign.
It is turning into a long, lonely day.
In good weather, cyclists will visit with one another sharing encouragement and commenting on the beautiful scenery as they ride the course.
Not today.
Each biker seems to ride head down, eyes on the road—alone in their thoughts.

2:51 p.m. Wilmington aid station

I am half way back to Lake Placid and can once again see my three children for a few seconds.
They are working at the aid station with other family friends who have come to see me race.
I really need a lift right now.
The thought of twenty-five more miles of biking and a marathon are starting to overwhelm me.
I have considered ending the race right here surrounded by loved ones.
I quickly dismiss that thought.

5:00 p.m. Bike Transition Area

The pounding from the sky has not let up, but at least the bike is over.
The cutoff for the second loop is 5:30 p.m. so I’m still in the race.
Survive and advance.
Back to the tent and the mud I go to change into dry clothes and dry shoes.

5:14 p.m. Main Street

My dry clothes stay dry for 30 seconds.
No need focusing on that.
There is still much more racing to do.
As I begin the marathon, I think back to last night.
My wife, Nancy, and I attended a church service in town.
The young man who spoke was an Episcopalian priest and an Ironman.
His words begin to resonate:
“During the day you will have good moments.
They won’t last.
You will also have bad moments.
But they won’t last either.”
I cling to those words now as I begin the run.
At this point my goal is not to finish the marathon.
It is to finish the first mile.
Then the second mile.
Then the third….

6:19 p.m. The River Road

Five miles completed and I’m feeling better.
I have experience running in the rain, so it’s not that bad.
At this pace, I’m going to finish with time to spare.

For the first time since the swim, I’m feeling confident.

8:15 p.m. Mirror Lake Drive

Despair has replaced my confidence as fatigue begins to set in.
I’m 58 years old, and I’ve been exercising nonstop for over thirteen hours.
I have only managed seven more miles the last two hours.
Even in with my physical conditioning, I don’t know how much longer I can keep moving.
I’m cold and miserable and beginning to give up.
My children are back in town.
Their smiles give me a boost.
Nancy offers to run with me.
We stop at the Special Needs Running section.
I put on a dry shirt and dry socks and head out to attempt the final 13.1 miles.
At least it has finally stopped raining.

10:30 p.m. The River Road

So much has happened in the last two hours.
I have started the second half of the run so dejected.
Out of nowhere my good friend and fellow Ironman, Jeff, has appeared with words of encouragement.
He and my other Ironman buddy, Lock, have seemingly been everywhere during the day cheering and supporting me.
Though all the support I have received during the day has helped, there is something special when the words come from a fellow Ironman.
They have been where I have been and they understand.
Unfortunately, the hour is getting late and I need more than kind words.
As the evening has progressed, the crowds have disappeared.
Ironman 2008 is near its end and so it seems is my attempt to complete a second Ironman.
I am running alone in the dark and am just about resigned that this year is not my year.
And then I see a sign on the side of the road:
“Don’t make a decision today you will regret Monday.”
I also remember the words of my coach, Hollie Kenney:
“If you want to finish you will.”
I look to my left and see the trailing car that is picking up the stragglers to take them off the course.
I have always wondered what it took to stay out on the course to the very end.
I am about to find out.

11:28 p.m. Mirror Lake Drive

I don’t know where it came from.
But somehow with six miles to go I find it.
Maybe it was the sign I saw.
Maybe it was seeing the trailing car and knowing the race was about to end and realizing my dream was about to end, too.
All I know is I feel a sudden surge of energy, toss my rain jacket, and begin to run.
And as I run, my confidence, my resolve and my determination all come together increasing with every mile.
And now I am at mile 25 and for the first time I know I will finish.

11:44:26 p.m. Finish line (16 hours 44 minutes and 26 seconds)

In 2006, I ran to the finish line.
I’m walking to the finish this time.
I take the hand of Jane, my youngest daughter, and soak in the roar of the crowd.
I take in every magical moment and listen as Mike Riley, the voice of Ironman, announces:
“Here comes Michael Bryant, a two-time Ironman!!”
And again I hear those words: “YOU are an Ironman!!”

Post Race

Low blood sugar; dehydration and exhaustion have taken me to the medical tent.
An IV, some sugar, warm blankets and rest have me back on my feet in short order.

Each race has its own special meaning and though there can be only one first Ironman, in many ways this race is even more special.

For one day, I looked deep within myself and found a special resolve.

I will hold this moment close to my heart for a very long time.

Once again … I am an Ironman.

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