Told by Jeff: "I lye in my hotel room icing my knees and listening to "I Lived" by One Republic, I have so many emotions coursing through me that I want to share with my friends about my experience today running in my first triathlon, the Oceanside half ironman. First, I appreciate everybody who encouraged me to sign up and supported me through my training efforts. Lauren cheerfully carried a bigger burden while I trained and was always very encouraging. I love that she is so supportive. I'll share more about that in a minute. But here's the story of today...
I didn't sleep at all last night. I kept thinking about the swim, the biking, the run--was I really ready for this? I thought about the logistics and the gear...oh the logistics and gear!! Its very overwhelming for a first timer like me. Did I forget something? What exactly did I need to do when I transition from swim to bike, bike to run. I kept playing it over and over again in my mind. I got down to the transition area about 5am and set up all my gear. I then proceeded to nervously pace around for about an hour until my wave was called to gather. We slowly inched forward as waves before us started. I got more and more nervous with each step. Finally we got in the 62 degree water and swam to the start line and treaded water for a couple minutes before the gun sounded. I had never swam long distance in the ocean before. The feel of salt water in my mouth and nose was very uncomfortable to me as first. Plus all the athletes were packed in like sardines and swimming on top of each other, literally. At one point another swimmer and I crossed torsos and formed an X. It was total chaos. Several times when I went to get a breath, I got splashed in the face by the person next to me. The first 5 minutes of the swim gave me my first moment of despair during the race. I started questioning why I was putting myself through all of this. For a brief moment I contemplated quitting. Thankfully things got better quickly. The swimmers spaced out and I could actually get a rhythm to my stroke. The most difficult part was trying to navigate the direction of the next buoy. I generally behaved like a fish in a school- just follow the direction of everybody else. When we got to the end of the 1.2 mile course in Oceanside Harbor, I was still feeling strong. My swim time was 42 minutes. I ran up the ramp and found Lauren cheering for me on the railing at the top. She gave me a hi-five and a huge smile. I kept thinking about that image of her- so supportive and excited to see me compete. When I got onto my bike and left the transition area, I got choked up thinking about Lauren and how awesome she is to me. She got to the dock super early just to cheer for me. I'm so glad she did. I thought about our hi-five and her beautiful smile for the next 3 hours on the bike. I needed that image to get me through it.
I knew the bike would be the most difficult for me, mostly because I hadn't trained properly. I felt great for the first half. Then the seat started getting uncomfortable. It's really hard and takes many hours of riding to get used to it. Since I just went to training for 2 weeks for my new job, I had only biked once in the last 3 weeks and I felt terrible the one time I went. The last 20 miles was a game of trying not to feel excruciating pain on my butt bones. I had to stand to pedal a lot which put extra strain on my legs. I was also the only one I saw who didn't have a triathlon bike with the bar that extends in the front to rest your elbows to take pressure off your legs, back and arms. I had another minor moment of despair on the bike when I passed the 35 mile marker knowing that I had 21 more miles and I was beyond ready to be done. I kept a slow and deliberate pace and pressed forward, finishing the biking portion in 3:05.
I quickly transitioned to running where my legs felt like 300 lbs cement blocks. The course wasn't totally obvious to follow, or maybe I was just too tired to have to think about which direction to run. So I picked a guy running in front of me to follow. His jersey was one that many people were wearing, "California Triathletes." It was about 11:10 when we reached mile marker 1. I had another moment of despair when I realized that I had 12 more miles. That first mile of running was brutal. My legs were adjusting to using different muscles from the bike. I was feeling tired. I tried to stay focused on the guy in front of me and stay with him. By about mile 3 I caught up to him and struck up a conversation. It was a very welcome distraction since music devices are not allowed at ironman events. As we ran together over Oceanside pier, we passed my mom, my sister Katherine and her husband Chase. I could hear them cheering for me from pretty far away. It felt great to see familiar faces and to have them cheer my name so loudly. My new running partner, Randy, and I continued our run together. At mile 7 I saw Lauren again and all 4 of my kids. The brief moment of distraction caused me to get separated from Randy. He pulled about 20 feet in front of me and I didn't have enough strength to catch up with him. This separation prompted my next moment of despair. Randy had set the pace and been a great distraction. I felt a sense of obligation to stay with him. But now we were separated and I didn't know if I could do it on my own. For the first time I thought about walking. I thought about how I had to run 6 more miles by myself. The fatigue I felt was tremendous. I needed nutrition. I started eating some of the snacks I packed in my runners belt. At every aid station I poured a cup of cold water on my head and drank a mouthful of Gatorade. Once I got this nutrition in my blood, my motivation returned. I knew that I could keep the same pace that Randy and I had been keeping. In fact, I even thought I might be able to catch up to him, although he was out of sight at this point. The miles started passing more quickly- 8, 9, 10. At mile 11 there was a turn around point where I saw Randy again and realized that I was only about 100 yards behind him. I think he thought that I had completely fallen off the wagon. When he saw me he said "Great job man!" At the aid station for mile 11 I drank my first cup of Red Bull. Within 30 seconds I felt the effect. I picked up my pace. I asked a bystander the time and he said "12:30." I started my swim at 6:56. I realized that I might be able to break the 6 hour mark. I drank more Red Bull at mile 12. I was feeling great. The last half mile was along the boardwalk on the beach. I was passing people right and left. I felt a little vindication since I was the one that all these people had passed on the bike earlier. I ran hard to the finish. When I crossed the line, the burst of excitement forced me to let out a huge scream and thump my chest. My family ran up to me and gave me huge hugs. It was a moment of intense joy to be done with the race and see them again. I tried to tell Lauren about it and I was surprised to get choked up. I walked away from everyone and actually sobbed for a minute. The emotions of the day were so extreme that my body had to release them. All the self doubt, all the pain, all the worry, was gone in an instant. It came out of me as the tears fell down my cheeks. After I got that over with, I went back to my family to relish in the joy of the moment. It was like I had died and gone to heaven to be reunited with them- that's the intensity of joy that I felt.
The entire experience proved to be such a powerful metaphor for life on earth- there are many moments of despair and pain, but ultimately that's not what we will remember and take with us to eternity. I believe we keep locked in our hearts all the precious moments of pure joy so we can reflect upon them forever. These are the moments when everything makes sense in our lives. When there was no confusion or worry. When we found our purpose and fulfilled our mission. I will always cherish the sense of fulfillment and joy that I felt today. The memories of the despair are already fading in the background.
Oh and by the way, my finish time was 6:00.36, 37 seconds off breaking the 6 hour mark. But who cares about the time anyway? The experience was one of the hardest and best moments of my life. I wouldn't change a thing about it.