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Secrets of Success

Iron Moments III

5:00 a.m. July 25, 2010, Lake Placid, New York

It’s Ironman Sunday and I’m back to settle some unfinished business. My first Ironman
in 2006 was a celebration of attempting something that appeared impossible and overcoming tremendous odds to finish. I returned in 2008 expecting another good showing only to have my attempt complicated by late season injuries and horrific rain. I finished but had a miserable day crossing the finish line with just 15 minutes to spare.

For two years I’ve wanted another crack at this course and today is my chance. I avoided the town most of the week as I find the frenetic energy draining but came in last evening to spend the night. I look out our window at Mirror Lake and see the blue skies. The forecast calls for a beautiful day, but I’ve learned to pay no attention to the forecast. The weather will be what the weather will be.

7:00 a.m. Mirror Lake

The swim should be interesting. The organizers have increased the number of slots available–2,640 competitors are in the water. That’s a lot of people on a 1.2-mile course. And we have to do it twice. As always, I’ll swim wide and pick up the course cable farther up. I’ve trained injury free for the first time and am as ready as I’ve ever been. Though I am 60 years old, I am making no concession to age. I expect my performance to improve.

We’ll find out soon what this day will bring. The cannon sounds and the water begins churning.

Ironman 2010 is under way.

7:49 a.m. Mirror Lake

What a mess. It has taken forever to get to the cable, and when I arrive it’s chaos. Arms flailing, people pushing and kicking. I have just emerged from the first loop. My time of 49 minutes is terrible. At this rate I’ll have my slowest time ever and have to start the day playing catch up. At least the crowds should begin to thin as more and more swimmers exit the water and I can go right to the cable to begin the second loop.

8:23 a.m. Mirror Lake

There must be a mistake. The clock reads 1:23:40 but that can’t be right. That would mean I swam the second loop in 33 minutes. But it is right. I’ve bettered my best time by seven minutes. I am giddy as I run to the changing tent.

8:36 a.m. Bike Transition Area

I’ve never started the bike this fast. I am pumped as I enter the course.
Game on.

9:15 a.m. Route 73 outside Lake Placid

I’ve been on the bike less than an hour and it has begun to rain. Now it’s pouring. How is that possible? We’ve been promised a beautiful day and now it’s raining just like it was in 2008. Once again we have a seven-mile descent on wet roads.
I’ve had the presence of mind to bring a raincoat but that is little consolation.

12:22 p.m. Lake Placid

It turns out that rain was nothing but a shower lasting less than an hour. It’s partly sunny and cool as I enter Lake Placid to start the second loop. I have seen my three children at the Wilmington aid station before beginning the climb into Lake Placid.

I arrive and my wife, Nancy, is waiting for me. I stop and give her a quick kiss. Having my family here is so important. Each time I see a loved one I feel a surge of energy. I have attacked the course on the first loop and feel terrific. I know, however, that it is dangerous to hit the course too hard. It can hit back.

4:24 p.m. Bike Transition Area

I’m back from the second loop and all is going as planned. I have had periods of physical, mental and emotional fatigue, but that is to be expected in a race of this magnitude. I know from experience I simply have to weather those storms and they pass. But I also know I am not alone. My doctor, Marc Cesari, is staying with us in our home outside of Lake Placid. He has been with me every step of the way through five months of training, and I have continually looked to him for advice and encouragement. I have thought often during the day about his message to me last night, “Get a good sleep. The machine will take care of the journey. This is why you trained so hard and well. Now just have fun.”
So far the machine is firing on all cylinders and I’m having a great day.

4:31 p.m. Lake Placid

I feel energized and focused as I begin the marathon. My strategy is to go out strong but hold back enough to have something left for the second half of the race. Finally getting off the bike and seeing Nancy again has given me a boost. Knowing the children are coming into town and will be there when I return for the second loop is encouraging. The one concern I have is my nutrition and hydration. I have to consume between 250 and 300 calories an hour and I have to drink constantly. I’m getting sick of eating.

6:21 p.m. Mill Pond Drive

I’m at mile 11 when I see my youngest daughter, Jane. Jane is my triathlon buddy.
We race the shorter triathlons together. She offers to walk up the hill into town. I’ve made a tactical decision and have decided to stop running and begin power walking to conserve energy. I am hoping I can walk fast enough to maintain a 12-minute pace.

7:16 p.m. Mirror Lake Drive

I’m off for the second and final loop. I’ve seen Nancy and my older two children, Rachel and Zack. Zack informed me that in 2008 he looked into my empty eyes as I began the second loop of the run and “there was nobody home.” As I leave town I lift my sunglasses and shout, “Someone’s home!” Jane has offered to walk with me to mile 15. Our plan is to rendezvous at 9:15 p.m. at mile 23 and walk or run the rest of the way.

8:41 p.m. River Road

I’ve just passed the 20-mile mark and have maintained my 12-minute pace. Only 6.2 miles and I’m finished. The power walk strategy has worked. I have my head up and a smile on my face.

9:15 p.m. Sentinel Road

No more smiles. Jane and I are walking together again. We have less than four miles to go but I’m finally beginning to lose ground. The course has hit back hard as fatigue has set in. I can no longer stomach food and have to force myself to take sips of water.

9:45 p.m. Mirror Lake Drive

I have less than two miles to go but it feels like I’ve been hit by a sledgehammer. My legs are beginning to buckle, and I have to sit down for a few seconds before I can resume walking. Out of nowhere my Ironman buddy, Lock, comes to the rescue. He was all over the course in 2008 and is back again like a guardian angel. He’s making wise cracks and he’s got me smiling just long enough to see the chute to the finish line.

I’m almost home.

10:05:59 p.m. Finish line (15 hours 5 minutes and 59 seconds)

After walking for hours, I’ve decided to run to the finish line. Big mistake. My left leg knots in a cramp. Looks like I’ll walk. I turn the corner and see the crowd. My family and friends are there but I am focused on the finish line.
Let the magic begin.
Mike Riley – The Voice of Ironman- shakes my hand. As I walk by, arms raised, he shouts, “HEY MICHAEL-YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!”

Yes I am.

Times three.

Post race

Off to the medical tent I go. I can now turn my attention to the cramping. All my vital signs are good so there will be no IV necessary this year.

Dry clothes and some warm chicken broth do the trick. I feel better and begin to reflect
on what I have just accomplished.

I have finally run my race. I have bested my 2006 time by eight minutes and improved my 2008 time by almost an hour and forty minutes.

Everything worked. I left it all on the course. I have no regrets.

I have nothing left to prove. It’s the perfect time to end my Ironman journey.

But I have made a promise.

To Jane- my daughter and triathlete buddy.

She’ll be almost 19 in 2012 and I have promised to return to Ironman one more time and race with her.

And so, the journey continues.

Stay tuned…

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