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Iron Moments IV-Chasing the Rabbit

4:30 a.m. July 22, 2012, Wilmington, New York

The sky is beginning to lighten as another Ironman Sunday unfolds.
We have opted to stay in our home in Wilmington and sleep in our own beds.
At 62, I’m back for my fourth race and in many ways my most special because this time
I’m racing with my 18 year-old daughter, Jane. (Though a late birthday will cause her to be listed as a 19 year-old, she is actually the second youngest competitor in the field.)
Following what I believed was my final Ironman in 2010, Jane informed me she wanted to do an Ironman together in two years.
She caught the triathlon bug at age 12 doing shorter races. Last year we raced in her first half-Ironman and began training in earnest for this race five months ago.
Our neighbor, Josiah, is also doing his first Ironman, and I have found myself in the new role of coach.
It has been an amazing experience sharing my knowledge with my two “Ironmaidens.”

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

Jane and I are in the water; wide to the right to avoid the chaos as people fight for the cable that outlines the two-loop course.
A quick hug and an “I love you” and the cannon sounds.
Lake Placid Ironman 2012 is underway and 2,553 people are pulsating through the lake.
Jane is a faster swimmer than I am and I expect her out of the water in around an hour and twenty minutes.
My swim will be slower by design. For almost a year I have been dealing with an Achilles injury. To make matters worse, a month ago I began to have severe leg cramps during the later stages of my long swims. My doctors John Davidson and Marc Cesari have been working to keep me limber as they have in each past Ironman, but there are still concerns. I’ll be able to deal with the Achilles issue but the cramping has become a major problem.
If it knots up in the race like it has in training, my Ironman could be over before it begins.
At the last minute Marc has brought in a colleague, Josh Kollmann, from Charlotte.
Josh is both a doctor and an Ironman and has been a Godsend. He has also dealt with cramping issues in his swims and is able to immediately diagnose the problem as neuromuscular fatigue.
He quickly starts me on a treatment plan to see if we can at least contain the problem during the race.
I have been swimming in the lake for a week leading up to Sunday and have been cramp free, so I am optimistic as I begin the race.

7:10 a.m. Mirror Lake

Something is terribly wrong.
People are screaming, “STOP THE SWIM!”
Someone is in trouble in the water and approximately 50 people are frantically pointing to the lifeguards to come and help. Hundreds of us are treading water not sure what to do.
After two or three minutes we can see help arriving and people begin to break off and head out again.
There is pandemonium as people fight to get to the cable pushing and climbing over one another. I manage to make my way through the melee, get back into a flow and back into the race.

7:42 a.m. Mirror Lake

I’m through the first loop and feeling fine. Jane is approximately three minutes ahead of me.
Josh and I have a plan that will have me stop and stretch for 45 seconds then head back out for the second loop. My calves are tight and as I re-enter the water they start to lock up but I am able to quickly quiet everything down.
The second loop is often faster then the first as over 2,000 people swimming in a circle create a current and a whirlpool. This year the chaos at the beginning has killed that. No current. We are swimming in dead water.
I am maintaining a slow but steady pace.
So far, so good.

8:10 a.m. Mirror Lake

Oh, no.
As I am turning at the buoy to head back to the finish, someone slams into me and my calf violently locks up. I attempt to straighten my leg but the cramp is getting worse and I’m in big trouble.
I am still processing what happens next.
As I am struggling with the worsening pain, a young man appears out of the water. He is clearly an elite athlete and I wonder what he is doing with the slower swimmers. “What do you need?” he asks. I tell him to push my foot and toe up. As he does my calf begins to relax.
I then notice someone is holding me up under my arm. I turn and see a young attractive woman who also appears to be an elite athlete. My sense is they are together. “You have a cramp in your calf,” she says. I nod. “Are you ok?” the young man inquires. I nod “Yes” and with that they are gone.
Clearly I am supposed to be here and clearly it is time to get my head into the race.

8:36 a.m. Mirror Lake

I’m out of the water in one piece. Jane has avoided the melee in the beginning and has had a great swim with a time of 1:22.
I head to the changing tent assuming the toughest part of the race is over.
That’s a dangerous assumption to make so early in the day.

8:48 a.m. Bike Transition Area

The weather seems warmer than I thought it would be as I head out on the bike.
Hope I didn’t over dress.
If I did I will deal with that later.
Ironman involves numbers of instant decisions throughout the day.
Some work out. Some don’t.
Right now I have only one decision to focus on–How do I catch a five-foot tall 100-pound “rabbit” named Jane who has already built a twenty-minute lead on me?
Time to get moving.

9:25 a.m. Route 73

I need to figure out a way to make up time, as I really want to catch my daughter. As we have trained we have often talked about finishing the race together provided we are within twenty minutes of each other at the end of the day.
And I’m already twenty minutes behind.
I don’t particularly like to go that fast downhill and coming up is a seven-mile descent.
But being cautious is not going to get it done.
Down the mountain I go flying over 40 mph. I do not touch the brakes until I reach the bottom.
“That,” I decide should close the gap.” I’m averaging almost 20 mph for the first 30 miles.
Unbeknownst to me Jane has also decided to throw caution to the wind and has gone down the same hill at almost the same speed and is averaging over 18 mph.

10:10 a.m. Outside of AuSable Forks

Finally, I have my first sighting of Jane since the beginning of the race.
She is leaving the turnaround at AuSable Forks as I am approaching the town.
The “rabbit” is still 15 minutes ahead.
There is still time to catch her but it’s starting to get warm.

11:10 a.m. Wilmington Aid Station

I arrive at the aid station feeling energized.
My race is going well.
My older two children, their spouses, Jane’s boyfriend and my daughter-in-law’s father
are working as volunteers.
The first words out of my mouth are, “When did Jane leave?”
I receive the standard response, “Fifteen minutes ago.”
I refuel, dump my extra clothes and head out.
I want to catch my daughter, but I have to be smart and stay inside myself.
I still have a long day ahead.

12:25 p.m. Lake Placid

I’ve had a very good morning.
I’ve survived the swim, my bike has been solid, and I still have something left in the tank.
I say hello to some of the other members of “Team Bryant,” give my wife Nancy a kiss
and head out for the second loop.
Looks like Jane is determined to hold that lead.

3:15 p.m. Wilmington Aid Station

I’ve never raced an Ironman when it is this hot.
I’m concerned about keeping my core cool and staying hydrated.
Some cyclists are beginning to drop out. I assume it’s the heat.
The second loop has been a carbon copy of the first loop complete with Jane’s
fifteen- minute lead.
I still have a fifteen-mile climb into town and then a marathon.
I’ll worry about Jane later.
She is sure having a great race so far.

4:28 p.m. Lake Placid

I’m back in town.
It’s been a good ride and I’m on schedule.
Finishing the bike between 4:20 and 4:30 is my range on a normal Ironman race day.
I’m racing my race and feeling good.
Hope it cools down when the sun sets.

4:36 p.m. Main Street

I stop and give Nancy a quick hug and kiss and I’m off to begin the run.
I’m wearing a fuel belt and immediately begin to regret it.
I’ve made mostly good decisions today but this is not one of them.
I also have arm warmers. I’m racing five pounds lighter than I ever have and hypothermia is a constant concern.
In this heat though getting cold is going to be the least of my problems.

5:30 p.m. The River Road

I see our neighbor, Josiah, for the first time. He is coming back from his first loop and is looking great.
He’s on pace to have a terrific first Ironman.
Jane, he tells me, is less than a mile ahead.
I’ve chucked my fuel belt and arm warmers and am traveling lighter.
If I pick up my pace I might finally catch her.

7:30 p.m. Mirror Lake Drive

I’m back in town and feeling terrible.
The heat has sapped almost all of my energy.
I’m 62 years old and I’m in amazing physical condition.
I normally feel closer to 42 than 62.
Right now I feel 92.
“How am I going to go back out and do another 13 miles?”
At this point my experience kicks in.
I have raced with a torn rotator cuff.
I have raced in driving, freezing rain.
I will figure it out.

8:05 p.m. The River Road

Josiah is still out on the course. He has had a rough second half and has been vomiting violently.
Jane, he tells me, is still ahead by 15 minutes.
So what’s new?

9:10 p.m. The River Road

I see Jane walking back but I have not been able to close the fifteen-minute gap all day.
The rabbit will not be caught, so I turn to my new goal.
As I am going out to the turnaround I shout:
“Put my medal around my neck when I cross the finish line.”
Adapt and adjust.

10:08 p.m. Mill Pond Hill

I’m coming back into town.
The second half of the marathon has turned into a walkathon.
Literally hundreds of people are simply walking the course.
I have passed more than my share and have maintained my pace and my focus.
My ability to take in nutrition broke down hours ago.
I’ve been doing my best to just stay hydrated.
“Just run your race.” I keep telling myself.
Almost home.

10:23:02 p.m. Finish line (15 hours 23 minutes and 2 seconds)

I have a little over a mile to go and I can hear, Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman announcing the finishers.
And then I hear, “Here comes Jane Bryant from Baltimore, Maryland. She’s 19 years old. Jane you are an Ironman!”
“That’s my daughter!” I start shouting to everyone within earshot.

10:37:22 p.m. Finish line (15 hours 37 minutes and 22 seconds)

This never gets old.
For the fourth time I see the finish line.
I hear the crowd and for the first time in hours I begin to run as I hear Mike Reilly:
“Here comes 62 year-old Michael Bryant. He’s a four-time Ironman. Michael you did it again!”
Hands in the air I glide to the finish line into the arms of Jane.
She puts the medal around my neck and gives me the longest best hug ever.
“We did it.” I whisper. “We did it.”

Post Race

I know what’s coming next.
The medical tent and the IV.
In spite of my best efforts I suspect dehydration.
Before I go in, however, I have one stop to make.
Jane and I head to the wall to get our finisher’s picture taken together.
The medical tent can wait.

At 133 pounds I am lighter by almost ten pounds from my previous races.
The IV revives me and I begin to reflect.

It was a rough day for many of the athletes.
Rougher than I suspected.
The swim resulted in at least two broken noses, one set of broken ribs and a broken toe.

It was also hotter than I suspected. In some of the towns on the course the temperature reached 92 degrees.

Of the 2,553 athletes who started, over 11 % (280) did not finish.

Our neighbor, Josiah was not one of them. He persevered and crossed that finish line in a little over 14 hours.

As did 18 year-old Jane Margaret Bryant, “100 pounds of mean” the apple of her father’s eye and now and forevermore-

An Ironman.

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