"Real successes are made,
Not dropped aside your door.
They aren't a thought you made one night,
While wishing upon a star."
"Real successes are thought,
To be given to only the great.
They think that they work just as hard,
And they should have that fate."
"Real successes are because,
Of someone making it so.
They fight for it and work real hard,
To make their successes grow."
"Real successes are envied,
And rumored on how they were made.
People can be so jealous,
And even want to betray."
"But you know how real successes,
Are built with hard work and care.
You've made your way to the top,
I'm so proud to see you are there."
Julie Herbert 2012
We all define success differently. For some of us, its finishing your first 5k, completing your first triathlon, or receiving a job promotion. However you define it, there is a common element that each of us can attribute our success to. HARD WORK! In the poem above, entitled “The Real Successes” by Julie Herbert, the author makes it clear in her first paragraph that success is realized only by doing the work. Success is achieved because we fight for it and relentlessly pursue our goals. This approach closely parallels and defines my entire 2014 race season. I just did the work! With great depth of thought during last year’s off season, I set important goals for myself in 2014, and with the assistance of my Coach Adam Zucco, I achieved each and every one of them.
Preparation for Ironman Arizona actually began in November of 2013, just after registering. Training Bible Coaching the “Official Coach of Ironman Arizona” was offering entries to athletes using their coaching services. I recall jumping at the opportunity when I learned of it. Because I had signed up through Training Bible, I was able to register before the general public. This saved time and money. No need to travel to Phoenix to volunteer. Immediately after securing my spot, I reserved a hotel room at the new Residence Inn Marriott just blocks from the race start and Tempe Beach Park. As I knew the race would quickly sell out, securing the room well in advance eliminated the potential stress associated with trying to find a room nearby. Turns out this was a great move as the hotel sold out completely within 48 hours after the race. Logistics for Race Week…Check!
When Adam and I began working together last fall, I had just had a bad bicycle accident which had left my right clavicle badly broken, my right eyebrow lacerated, and my right eyelid peeled back. The 2013 season ended early and resultantly I used my extra time to plan for 2014. During my planning process, Adam asked that I write down each of the goals I wanted to achieve in 2014. Reflecting on this exercise, we focused on 3 major items. By focusing on these 3 items, I simultaneously improved other areas of opportunity.
· Finish a race without walking.
· Swimming Sub 1:10 (2.4 Mile Swim)
· Understand, Implement and adhere to pacing plans.
My goal of finishing a race without walking was first achieved at Ironman 70.3 Syracuse where I ran my first sub 2 hour half marathon as part of a triathlon. This goal was achieved because, we improved my bike strength. Yes, you did read that correctly. “In order to run faster, ride your bike more often”, is a popular Zucco quote.
Swimming has always been difficult for me. I first learned to swim as an adult in 2012. My swim coach Courtney Wall at “Galter Life Center” took me under her wing and began teaching me about proper form. She immersed me within the Galter Life Center “Swedish Fish” Masters Swimming group. I owe my improved swim strength to these athletes and coaches. This group of like-minded athletes are relentlessly positive and just a great group of athletes. I am grateful to them. Although much improvement is still to be made, I achieved my goal of sub 1:10 at Ironman Lake Placid by swimming a 1:08 earlier this season.
Proper pacing had eluded me until this year. Candidly, I just didn’t get it. I have always just been the guy that went hard. Pacing teaches you how to go hard, controllably. I first realized the benefits of pacing while running the Buffalo Half Marathon on Memorial Day this past May. On that morning, I rode my TT bike 25 miles to the race start. A few hard intervals warmed the legs and readied the body. My coach had written a detailed pacing plan for the run which looked like this. Warm up during the first 3, run the next 3 miles at 8:30-8:45, then run miles 7 through 9 at 8:15-8:30 pace. The remainder of the race, I was told to descend each mile. I finished the half marathon nailing the pacing plan and running the last 2 miles at 7:45 & 7:30 pace. I was becoming very in-tune with my body and able to very accurately predict my race times.
When the build for Ironman Arizona began in August, I knew that I was ready to take on whatever Adam threw at me. Both my training & diet plans were rapidly changing and reshaping my body. The photos above were taken on February 15, May 15, June 15 & November 10th. Between February 2014 & November 2014 in prep for Arizona, I lost a total of 24 pounds. I was committed to the plan, the diet and I was motivated by the results. I was getting stronger. I recall one day feeling like a complete animal after a 27 hour week. I had ridden nearly 300 miles that week and noticed that my legs were carrying me on my runs at a pace I had never seen before. It was then that I realized how riding my bike more often, allowed me to run faster.
When race week arrived, like many of us, I was all butterflies. I departed Chicago on Thursday morning and was happy to be skipping as it was cold and snowing. I couldn’t wait to get to the warm desert. After arriving in Arizona, I headed straight to the park to pick up my bike from TriBike Transport (TBT). For those of you that are unfamiliar, TBT provides a service that includes shipping your bike from your local bike shop, to the race site for a reasonable fee. As many of you know it can cost as much as $175 or more each way to take your bike on a plane. TBT eliminates this stress by providing you the ability to pick up and drop off your bike directly at the race site. When your race is over, simply walk it over from transition and drop it off stress free then pick it back up at your shop after you return home. Brilliant! Lastly, I checked in grabbed my race packet and headed off to the hotel.
On Friday, I took the opportunity to ride and shake out the legs. It was at this time that I realized, I was having a great deal of pain from my broken rib. Yes, unfortunately on the Tuesday before the race, I was getting a massage and my masseuse mistakenly fractured my rib. We were both shocked and to say I was pissed off about it does not really begin to articulate my feelings. As my masseuse and I have worked together for years, it was just bad luck. The following day my Dr. confirmed my suspicion. I would begin a pain management plan mapped out by my wife who was also a physician. Her plan included taking a combination of Motrin 600mg and Tylenol 500mg. I would take Motrin then follow with Tylenol 3 hours later and repeat this process every 3 hours. This proved successful and would also be considered “legal” use of medication on race day. Because of my injury, I opted to keep my rides and runs just before the race shorter than planned. This was done in order to let the body heal as much as possible. I also decided not to swim at all those last few days before the race as the movement proved painful. I would manage the pain on race day via the pain plan provided by my wife and count on that being enough to get through the day. Lucky for me, outside of some pain during the swim, my rib never bothered me.
On race morning we woke at 4 AM and began breakfast. I ate my typical race day breakfast which amounts to about 1000 calories and includes yogurt, granola and fresh berries. I also enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal and two 160 calorie protein shakes. We walked down to transition around 5:30 to setup. Upon arrival, I quickly setup the bike and headed off to the swim start.
The Ironman Arizona Swim start is done in old school fashion where all athletes start fully submerged in water to a mass start. I was able to seed myself near the front of the corral which allowed me to get into the water early and swim the 400 yards to the start line. I lined up to the far left near the buoy line with hopes of avoiding the beating that usually takes place off the line. Although I was hammered and pounded by fists and feet for the first 200 yards, this proved relatively successful. I had decided to just go hard as I could for the first 400-500 yards and then settle into a rhythm and my plan worked well after the first 200 yards. I was able to grab some feet and could tell that I was swimming well up to the first turn. As we closed in on the buoy, I realized that I was too far inside. This cost me time and I had to push hard into and out of the buoy. I made a quick turn around the buoy by flipping onto my back and then rolling back over into freestyle. There was a lot of congestion between turn 1 and turn 2 and I was determined to hold my line. Some guy wanted my line pretty bad and he ended up rolling up and over my back pushing my hips down and slowing my progress. This just pissed me off and then I jumped on his feet right into the turn. We both made quick turns around the buoy by rolling up on our backs then rolling back over to freestyle. I stayed on his feet for another 300-400 yards and then he began to fatigue. He was on my right now and I was getting pushed back away from the buoy line, which was not where I wanted to be. It was time for him to move out of the way, so I returned him the favor he had paid me prior to turn 2. I rolled up and over his back and found myself all alone along the buoy line headed into the final turn. I had been swimming hard and I could tell I was fatiguing. Couple that with the pain creeping up on my broken rib and I just decided to back off. I am sure I lost a little time as a result, however by doing so, I was more comfortable and I was able to settle into a smooth stroke. I rounded the final turn buoy and pushed hard again into the finish. I swam a 1:12 which was 2 minutes slower than my goal but was not concerning. I exited in 96th position in my age group (40-44) and 548th overall.
Into and out of T1 in just over 5 minutes. This was a little longer than I had planned and occurred as a result of having to physically go back and get my transition bag myself as a volunteer mistakenly handed me the wrong one. There was no need to change in T1 as I had decided to race in a one piece Wattie Ink Contender Speed Suit. I quickly grabbed my helmet, shoes and nutrition and headed out onto the bike course.
Upon arriving out on the bike course, the first thing I noticed was the wind. Later we learned that there were sustained winds of 17-20 MPH with gusts exceeding 25 MPH. My coach Adam, had just raced at the Ironman World Championships in Kona and he later described the winds as eerily similar. While out on the course, I kept telling myself to relax and just keep my head down. The bike course consisted of 3 loops each consisting of 37+ miles totaling 112. My goal for the bike was to average a normalized power of 205-210 Watts.
As we climbed the first loop up toward the turnaround at Shea Boulevard, I kept telling myself this was just a 45-50 minute interval. My bike speed fluctuated between 12-16 MPH going uphill into the wind. Upon turning around at Shea, I welcomed the push of the wind downhill. I averaged speeds in excess of 25 MPH throughout the decent and topped out around 36-38 MPH. At times, I was spinning completely out of gear. During this time, I focused on soft pedaling and turning over the legs gently, while resting, and taking in fuel and fluids. Lap one was completed with a normalized power of 212 Watts. A little high but I was not concerned as I realized that there would be more congestion on laps 2 and 3.
Ultimately the congestion, naturally slowed my pace on the bike, however the winds seemed more a factor in laps 2 & 3 as well. It was brutal. The wind gusts at one point actually blew me sideways at times. So much so, at one point a gust blew me way to close to the rider I was passing. The rest of the day I passed with greater distance between riders. After reviewing my power file, I averaged 205 Watts on Lap 2 and 194 Watts on Lap 3. In support of my premise that the wind was blowing harder in the latter part of the race, my average MPH through a 10 miles section of the course on Lap 1 was; 28.24 MPH, on lap 2 it was 26.79 MPH, on the final lap it was 30.09 MPH on fewer Watts. Perhaps I was just pedaling harder through that section, but I’m pretty sure the wind played a factor.
My total bike time ended up at 5:20 exceeding my goal by 5 minutes and averaging 21 MPH for 112 miles. My position within my age group improved from 96th to 36th and my overall position increased from 548th to 197th. As I entered T2, I quickly handed off the bike and grabbed my gear bag personally this time and made a quick transition of 2:55. I purposely sat down to gather myself for a moment, changed socks, tied up my Hoka’s and took in more fluids. As I exited the tent, I kept telling myself to just go out for a jog. After consulting Adam, I chose not to wear my heart rate monitor in this race. I was feeling very in tune with my body and had found it uncomfortable while racing Lake Placid earlier this season.
My goal for the run was simple, keep my stride short and quick with an 88 average cadence with plans to run a sub 4 hour marathon. My training had focused on this, and I was sure I had it in me. As I passed the first mile marker, I was feeling great. I was actually talking to myself out loud and thanking god for this body. I kept it positive by smiling and candidly I was glowing from head to toe. Other runners I passed took note and we exchanged simple conversations, mostly about the HELL WINDS out on the bike course. I couldn’t stop smiling and the miles were just floating past, I was feeling incredible. At one point I was growling out loud like a goofball. I felt possessed at this point. My feet were just falling to an 8:15-8:30 pace without struggle.
I was being very careful and watching my fluid and fuel intake now as in each of my successive attempts at Ironman, I would get sick about half way through the marathon. I was determined not to let this happen. When I took my final gel at mile 15, my stomach got angry and I could tell things were getting rocky. Opting at this point to run the remainder of the race on water and small sips of Coke only, proved a good move and my stomach fell back in line. Just as my stomach issues subsided, my left hamstring started cramping and I began to walk a bit. Just then a tap on my back by my coach’s fiancée Tanya Marvin coupled with a “I need you with me” put fire back under my feet and that move by her was exactly what I needed to get moving again.
Tanya and I, basically exchanged places throughout the back half of the marathon until the last mile when we decided to run together to the finish. The last 5-6 miles were all about mind over matter and she and I encouraged one another right until the finish line. As we rounded the last curve, the bright lights of the finish chute washed the pain away. My smile muscles were as sore as my legs. I was literally giddy! The last thing I saw before I crossed the line with Tanya, was my amazing wife Lisa, standing right there shooting video of our finish. I blew a kiss, gave her a high 5, and crossed the finish in 10:33:54. Ultimately, I moved up 3 positions in my Age Group to 33rd out of 502 and finished 178th Overall out of 3202 total athletes.
Remember that we all define success differently. For me, success is about setting and achieving goals. In this race, even exceeding them. From my first race this season to my last, I set and achieved each of my goals. Therefore, I close this SUCCESSFUL season on the highest of notes because, I did the work! Sometimes it can be that simple. Do the Work, Get the Results!
One cannot become an Ironman alone. It is an impossible endeavor. You must have a network of support if you expect to cross that line. For that support, I would like to thank my friends and family for encouraging me on this path every day. From my sister & brother-in law who watched the girls while I raced, to my Mom babysitting while I went for a long ride. To my wife… for putting up with me while I was gone on weekends for what seemed like all day. To my girls who missed me terribly while I was away. THANK YOU!
To my Wattie Ink FAMILY….YOU GUYS ROCK! I am inspired by each and every one of you! When I am tired and worn to a nub, your support motivates me to get up and get back out there. I am honored and humbled to race with you. Our team makes me a better athlete. To Sean Watkins & Heather Jackson, your passion for this sport, our team and your business is infectious and each and every one of us are lucky to be a part of this unique group. THANK YOU!
To my coach Adam Zucco of Training Bible Coaching, Wow!!! This was a breakthrough season for me. I could not have gotten here without you and I am very grateful. THANK YOU!
Lastly to our sponsors, Wattie Ink, ISM Saddles, Speedfil, Herbalife 24, Powerbar, Reynolds Wheels, Blueseventy, SpiderTech Tape, TriBike Transport, Rudy Project & 454 Tattoo. Thank you for letting me use and abuse your products. They are truly among the finest in the industry. THANK YOU!