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Iron Moments The Lake Placid Ironman

5:00 am July 23, 2006, Lake Placid New York

It is Ironman Sunday. I have spent the night at a friend’s house to be closer to the starting location for the swim at Mirror Lake. I look outside and see the rain. My mood is as somber as the emerging day. Throughout the week, the weather has called for sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s.

Perfect weather.

And now this.

Yesterday in the Athlete’s Village we were soaked as we brought our transition bags and our bikes. The most optimistic forecast is for intermittent showers.

I have trained for a year. I am swimming with three torn muscles in my right rotator cuff. This goal has dominated my life in ways I could not have anticipated. Now it looks as if the day is going to be both long and miserable.

I think back to three weeks earlier-to the email I had written my coach and triathlon pro Hollie Kenney following a 9 1/2 hour, 100 mile plus bike ride in 90 degree weather.


I want that Ironman finish SO BAD. I think about it every time I run, every time I ride and every time I swim. I dream about it. It’s my magnificent obsession. My admiration for all who even attempt IM has increased so far beyond what it already was because I now know the sacrifice and work that goes into this.

As my training increased, particularly as I got to the super long distances, I was not sure if my body could handle the load. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it can and it will handle what I demand of it particularly on IM Sunday. While I can’t plan for every contingency, I will definitely not second guess my conditioning. I put in 60 hours in June and over 100 hours in May and June combined. I hear stories of IM participants panicking the last week that they have not trained enough.

I won’t be one of them.

I told you I had my reasons for doing this. Here are some of them:

I decided years ago that I wanted to have not a successful life (I don’t even know what “successful” means) but an effective life. I wanted to spend time on the parts of life that really mattered. I created a consulting business that helps individuals determine what they really want to do with their lives and helps people in businesses work together effectively.

Since I’m in the business of helping people face their fears and make their dreams come true, it’s important that I keep myself “honest” by challenging myself. At least once a year I try to find something to do that both excites me and scares the crap out of me–IM definitely fit the bill.

In addition, I find as people get older they tend to become more risk aversive. They like to do the same thing in the same way with the same people. They don’t like leaving their continually shrinking comfort zone. They begin to watch their own lives as if they were sitting on a curb watching some parade go by. They stop risking. The problem with that is if you don’t risk you don’t grow. And if you don’t grow parts of you start to whither and die.

While I don’t mind getting older, I don’t particularly want to feel and think old.

There just aren’t many 56 year olds who are as excited about what’s going on in their lives as I am and I like that I can still have that feeling.

And for that I’m grateful regardless of the IM outcome. 80% of life is showing up.

And I keep showing up,


How desperately I want to believe again everything I have written.

7:00 a.m. Mirror Lake

It is drizzling. There are 2,180 swimmers in the water waiting for the cannon to signal the beginning of the race. The swim will cover two laps around a 1.2-mile rectangular course. The cut off time for the 2.4 miles is 9:20 am. If you’re not out of the water by 9:20 you’re out of the race. My strategy is to swim wide to the right of the crowd to avoid injury.

My times have not been good. In addition to my wretched shoulder, my legs have begun cramping severely during the swim. My doctor, John Davidson, has done wonders to help keep my body flexible and injury free. He has come to Lake Placid to work the race. He is staying with us and has done a great job of keeping me limber. Still…

The energy in the air is palpable. The cannon sounds. Over four thousand arms begin flailing. Ironman Lake Placid has begun.

8:35 Mirror Lake

It is said that magic can happen during Ironman; that the race itself begins to function like an organism. It appears I have already experienced some of this organism’s charm. My first loop has taken only 47 minutes. One hour and thirty-five minutes into the race and I am exiting the lake. I’m 25 minutes ahead of my best-case scenario. But that is not the best news. During the swim the weather has begun to break. As I run to the transition area to change into my biking clothes, both the weather and my mood have taken a dramatic turn for the better.

8:52 Bike Transition Area

I am on the bike and still ahead of schedule. I have 4 hours and 38 minutes to complete the first 56-mile loop by 1:30.

I don’t know if that is enough time.

I have trained on this course but have not been very fast. As recently as 10 weeks ago I had never ridden a bike farther than 35 miles. I have to ride downhill for almost 7 miles. I am terrified of the thought and have been extraordinarily cautious during my training runs.

I also have an 11-mile climb into Lake Placid. The times from points A to B to C, etc. simply don’t add up. I have no idea how I can do this.

12:28 pm Lake Placid

If that was a dusting of magic coming out of the lake this must have been a shower. I have been fearless on the down hills and possessed on the climbs. I leave Lake Placid to begin my second loop. The first loop has taken 3 hours: 36 minutes. I have 5 hours to beat the 5:30 pm cut off, but I am not home free just yet.

So much can go wrong on the bike.

I can change a tire and put a chain back on.

That’s about it.

Any other problems with the bike and that will be the end of my Ironman. In spite of this I am very, very hopeful.

I have family and friends throughout the course. Buoyed by their support and the screams of thousands of volunteers and spectators, I am beginning to feel invincible.

4:20 pm Lake Placid Transition Area

The second half of the bike has been a carbon copy of the first. I am coming off the bike and moving into the transition for the run.

I have also had a major revelation.

Coming into the race I viewed Ironman finishers as members of a fraternity I could aspire to join but probably never belong. Eight or so hours into the race it has begun to occur to me that I do belong. My doubts are beginning to shrink. My confidence continues to grow.

4:31 pm Lake Placid

I am all smiles as I run from the transition area to begin the run. I am full of energy. I stop and kiss Nancy, my wife, and joke that I’ll be home late for dinner tonight.

The crowd laughs.

So do I.

7:03 pm Lake Placid

I’m not laughing anymore.

The joy that was so apparent when I began the run has been wiped away by fatigue. I have run 13.1 miles but have the same distance to go. People around me are finishing their second lap as I begin my final loop. They are ending their Ironman and mine still has hours to go. Each mile seems farther away. I pass my new friend Murray, a 64-year-old dynamo and multiple Ironman finisher. His tips and words of wisdom two nights ago have proven invaluable during the day. His words of encouragement help… a little.

I pass Lisa who is walking the entire marathon using a cane.

I cheer her on.

Ironman is such a selfish sport while one is training but people are transformed into such selfless souls during the race.

It must be part of the magic.

10:00 pm Mirror Lake Drive

My body is in revolt. It wants to stop. But I have only one and a half miles to go so that is not an option. The second half of the marathon has been endured more than run.

I feel wonderful and miserable all at the same time.

After a beautiful day the skies have opened up and it has begun to pour again.

I don’t care if it snows.

10:14:32 Finish line (15 hours 14 minutes and 32 seconds)

My family has now joined me for the final few hundred yards. We run together smiling through the rain. I am a pile of elation and exhaustion.

As I approach the finish line I hear Mike Riley – The Voice of Ironman- announce:

“Michael Bryant of Baltimore Maryland YOU ARE A FIRST-TIME IRONMAN!”

Post Race

My friend Murray will finish.

So will Lisa who will walk all 26.2 miles with a cane.

My race has ended but Ironman is not quite finished with me. I quickly learn that skinny 56 year olds with no body fat to speak of should not wear skimpy running clothes in the rain because their bodies don’t retain heat very well. My body temperature has dropped to a chilly 93 degrees and I’m suffering from hypothermia.

Blankets, a warm IV and some time take care of that.

I have been told by many people that Ironman changes you.

I didn’t believe them.

I do now.

Something very strange and very special happened to me Sunday,

I’m fascinated to find out what it is.

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