Friday, December 01, 2006

A successful season comes to end. Way to go Ben!!!

Close the books on 2006, Ironman Florida has come and gone and I am still wondering why anyone would ever do a race of this distance in November, I have now done it twice. Crazier is that the 2007 event sold out in less than an hour. Not me, never again especially if the tempurture in Florida is only going to be a record low 40 degrees and have Hawaii like winds. A big shout to all the Kansas Citians who had a great day. Barry Ogden came in well under 11 hours for a new personal best and Ironman Newbies Bill Biehl, Scott Kinner, Gretchen Duncan, and Leslie Ratterman all came to Panama City with solid performances. Chris Fugate put down an impressive race as well, great job to all the Kansas Citians who laid who toed the line. Tough conditions made for an interesting race though, the national weather service issued a “small boats” warning for the morning advising of dangerous conditions in the gulf. Being slightly smaller than a boat I decided this would not apply to me, the four foot breakers certainly made for a brutal swim. Getting off of the beach through the first 200 yards of surf was gnarly. The bike was a test of determination and fortitude a steady 20 mile wind with gust up to 30 greeted you head on for the first 55 miles of the long, straight rolling bike coming up on the turnaround was quite possibly one of the greatest feelings of my life. Truly a difficult bike, staying focused and aero that long Is tough and demanding on your body. For me I am starting this report on the run, this is where my day really began.

I am having a hard time taking this all in, I’m in an empty lot of sand standing underneath some palm trees about 100 yards beyond the second aide station. I keep trying to raise my hands above my head but I can’t, every time I do I get what feels like some surge of electrical energy running from my hips down to my heels. My back started this aching at mile 80 or so on the bike, about fifteen miles after catching a flat tire. As my mind runs through the pain and the process of where I’m at, and how I got there; tears are welling up in my eyes. It’s not the pain in my lumbar spine or my hips, I can stomach that and understand the action/re-action relationship of the body and injury. What I can’t understand and what really hurts is how I ended up in this stupid fricking sandlot, apparently unable to put together a solid race all year long. I know it isn’t from lack of effort or training.
I executed the plan and the process, I put in a crazy base this last January, February and March. I signed up for all the big races and showed up ready and willing to lay it on the line, prepared with my own arsenal of a descent swim, killer bike and downright mean run. Powerless though is where I ended up. No amount of training, speed workouts, base or even natural talent can overcome fate and a cruel reality. It is at that point I decide to walk back in and call it a day and a season. I am doing what I can to stop the surge of emotion from taking over again, who breaks down on the course?
“Hang in there Ben” some athlete yells as he runs by. First thing I want to say is “shut up”, and then rant on about how I can’t hardly stand up straight right now. The thought is fleeting and soon common sense prevails and I remember they are only trying to help, besides he doesn’t have the time or desire to hear about my sob story and I am an idiot for thinking it matters. I chose to do this race, I chose to train like I do and I alone am responsible for dealing with the “highs” and “lows” like an adult. Nothing gets me more than the guy or gal that always makes up an excuse or can not seem to deal with failure and success.
Just then this kid pokes my arm and hands me a paper Gatorade cup filled with grapes. It is almost comical I think, he doesn’t have a clue how bad this hurts, that my day and season is falling apart around me, and he could care less. He’s just out there volunteering and helping out and must of thought; “that guy looks like some grapes would do him some good“.
I know at this point that I am done for the day but I just can’t start my walk back in yet. It is so odd a place to be, in the race but stopped cold in your tracks and broken while the event carries on. The course having chewed you up and spit you out along the side of the roadway. Merely a casualty of the worlds hardest single day event, a 140.6 mile stretch of vulnerability, variables and question marks. I have had great days where that entire distance was executed flawlessly to the best of my current ability, but this year has been one of the “V’s”; vulnerability and variables. Today it is my Back, GI tract and rear wheel that have fallen victim to injury, bug or glass shard and the variables that come with tempurature and pure luck. It has now been an eternity it seems like, I have watched my competition role by and my season move along with them. It really is so quite.
I can’t quit it isn’t in my nature and I think that unless we are broken we never should. I have now turned back around and am facing back down the 24 miles of road I have left. I begin to jog and my back flares and spasms, I am trying to run, having spotted the athletes ahead. My back, legs and heels surge with pain and I grit my teeth. As I look ahead, there is a group of four a football field ahead of me, and I am not making up any ground on them, they are in fact pulling away from me at this point. I feel myself beginning to justify quitting again, but the reasons are hallow. I am in pain, but its nerve and cramp pain, nothing that will be my end. I know this pain and know that it will subside by tomorrow. Now I am quitting because of pride and ego, “Tough” I tell myself, that doesn’t justify failure.
“No way” I am saying to myself, maybe one person could pull ahead but not four, I can feel it in my legs though. I have no power, no extension and I am fading. I keep moving and it hurts so bad as they continue to move further away from me. My lower back is pulling my head straight up to the sky, and I start grinding my teeth, if I stop again I will never get it going I know this for fact. I stick with it and tell myself I will catch them if it kills me, I am barely hanging on to the gap now, covering my losses. I don’t take anything at the next aid station, I don’t want to twist my back, slow down or suddenly dodge a spectator or other competetior. I won’t slow at the next three stations I will just grind my teeth and make sure not to stop or slow, I am beginning to build speed now and before long I will catch those four and many more.

I cross the finish line, empty and broken. I have cracked off a crown on my tooth probably from the gritting and grinding, it doesn’t hurt but does feel weird having this partial tooth in my mouth. My wife is going to love this (she is a dentist). I go to the medical tent, I am not dehydrated and I don’t need Saline bags I tell them as they pop IV’s in both arms. I need to lay down and I need my back, my hips and my quads to release I need for this compression to go away. I lay down for an hour shivering my ass off as my body begins to relax itself enough for me to get up and walk out and shut the door on 2006. A season I won’t soon be able to forget and probably should not, the tide will turn again and things will look up but this is going to require a few weeks to wear off.
I have heard lots of reason why people race, one fella here was racing on a set of donated lungs (and yes he finished), 80 people raced to get their tickets punched for Hawaii , sixteen others got paid to race here, still others raced for the experience of this event. A guy by the name of Frank in his seventies chased down and beat father time on Saturday, others raced to inspire friends and family. I don’t know what this day meant to me, or what I was doing out there. I think that in time this past year will reveal itself to me much like any other investment we make in ourselves and future. I am beginning to wonder if this year I was supposed to not figure out how fast I can go, but rather how deep I can dig and build on that.

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