Monday, May 1, 2017

A DAY UNLIKE ANY OTHER DAY - The Rest of the Story

My bum left knee and other personal issues have stopped me several times from getting to the Ironman Texas starting line several times. This time, this year, things seemed to be different. My hopeful spirit was enriched by all the interest and support shown by my family and friends. I was humbled almost to tears by the outpouring of all their love and concern.

The night before the event was awful. Did I sleep at all? Not sure. However, the prospect of the biggest athletic event of my 73 year old life lay before me, and morning found me purposeful, intent, mentally alert; ready for one of the greatest experiences of my life. It would be all of that and more.

Can you believe that my nephew and niece would fly down for Spokane, Washington to be there for this event? My goodness! And my wife can’t be thanked enough for the way she always made a way for me through this journey of many years. So many times she has been my go-to girl; the selfless, “wind beneath my wings.” If I needed a reason to do this it would be to reward her for all the love and support she has shown me through it all. However, she has back and hip problems and can’t walk very far without undue pain. She would have wanted so much to be at the start but it wasn’t to be. However, my sister volunteered to be my ironsherpa for race day. God bless her, she had already traveled over two hundred miles to get to the event,and then got up at 3:00 AM to meet me to help with race morning.

We walked to transition and I left her to go inside to put nutrition on my bike and inflate my tires. The front of the entrance to the transition area was very crowded. Trying to work my way through the crowd, I could not see my feet. One foot caught an unseen curb and in a moment, I was landing hard on my bad knee on the pavement. Bike bottles scattered all around, but nice folks helped me up and gather my bottles. Was I hurt? Not sure. Yeah, it seemed to have made the knee hurt somewhat when I planted it. What was that sticky stuff I was smearing on my bike pump? Was that blood? Were my hands bleeding?

Quickly into transition, I took care of business, went out, found my sister, and we briskly walked to the swim start – about a mile. There we dropped off the special needs bags and I got bodymarked, then stood in a long line for a potty stop. Swim start was crowded, noisy, and, for me, it was hard to tell what the announcer was saying. It was all going by so fast. On the way to line up, we stopped and talked to a long time volunteer and thanked her. Then, I came upon one of my Facebook friends I had wanted to meet – a very nice gentleman facing his own ironman challenge that day. We talked to him a bit.

When I look around it seemed there were only people in wetsuits waiting to swim. I did hear the announcer say something about nonwetsuit swimmers better get in the water. Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, I made my way through the large wetsuit crowd. Finally at the front, I found that I was one of only two nonwetsuit people left to go. Quickly, in the water, adjust the goggles, and I am swimming.

The whole morning had been sort of a blur with no time to think through the situation or even to be nervous. Now, about 500 yards into the swim, it came to me: I am in an ironman swim. My dream: I had imagined this many times over the last years. And for years and months, day after day, I had done the training, the race preparation, and this time, yes, this time, Praise God, I had made the start. I was really doing an ironman swim. I got all warm and fuzzy about that. Although, at the time, I was getting pummeled by the wetsuits swimmers who had caught me, and crowded me in. It was Ok. It seemed where I was and what I was doing trumped almost everything else.
On the swim, I got a good line - I thought – and got into a good rhythm - I thought. There were no serious incidents, and like I had heard, the ironman swim is probably the best part of the day. The swim course was monitored by kayaks better than any open water swim I had ever been in. Way to go, guys.

The swim seemed to take longer than I thought it should – not sure why. I had heard that the canal portion was choppy and crowded and nasty and all that. I found none of that. With the spectators on the bank and knowing I was almost done, the canal was the best section of the swim for me. When I got on the steps to get out of the water, a volunteer grabbed both arms and pulled. I can’t say enough good about the competence, energy, and willingness to help of all the volunteers I experienced at this event.

For some reason, I was sort of dizzy, and had to be careful making my way to the transition tent. Volunteers were great there too, as I turned on my Beacon tracker, put Vaseline on my feet, got ready and left the tent where I was covered up with volunteers putting sunscreen on me. How great. I got to my bike and there to the side of the transition was my family. I didn’t recognize them in the distance without my glasses, but I could hear them calling my name. That was some kind of great. Then as I lead my bike out of the transition area, I was cheered on by the volunteer after volunteer Thanks all of you. What a great day. I wasn’t dizzy anymore.

My bike moved nicely on the smooth roads. I am accustomed to fresh chipseal, so this road surface was a real treat. I felt strong and had to hold myself back. Then it came to me again: I am on an ironman bike ride; can you believe this? Another dream. Blessing upon blessing. The wind wasn't bad, but it was in my face going out on the two loop bike course. And the day was made more special when the bike course went through my old neighborhood where I was raised. It passed right by the high school I graduated from many, many, many years ago. Arriving again at the beginning, and it was good.

Somewhere near the turnaround, a cool front came in; the wind switched directions and I found myself still pedaling into a head wind. The wind seemed to get stronger by the moment. I switched to the small front chain ring on my bike - easier to pedal but much higher cadence. Shortly after that both legs cramped: hamstrings and quads. As best I could, I tried to shake the legs out one at a time. It helped a little. I guess my legs were just not accustomed to a high spin. At the next aid station I got off the bike to settle my legs down and use the porta-potty. Not good; it was quite painful to urinate. I had had this problem in training for a while and had switched to a special saddle. Today the special saddle wasn’t so special. The worst part was that the painful urination experience had made my entire bottom quite tender. Sitting on my saddle was painful now. I stood up and pedaled as much as I could. But, I knew I was using up a lots of energy doing that, especially into that strong headwind.

I took a couple of Advils for that pain, and after a while I could sit for longer periods, but I was not sure if that dehydrated me more or not. Although I knew I was making some progress into that awful wind, the overpasses never seemed to stop coming. To make it worse, the rubber on the sole of my right shoe was starting to come loose. I ride in flat pedals for several reasons - mainly because my lower right leg is crooked. My right foot always points to the right. The shoe bottom was flapping around making it hard to keep my right foot from slipping off the pedal. How am I going to run in these shoes: barefoot maybe? Overpass after overpass, and my legs began to quiver at times like they were jello. I had to stop at the next aid station. Thank God, the volunteer held my bike as I had a hard time getting off of it without falling down. But, worse news was yet to come: I couldn’t urinate.

Back on the bike, into the wind, thinking maybe I should call this off at the turnaround. Could this be something really serious? Then after some determined pedaling, I saw the last overpass and the turnaround ahead. Decision time: Do I call it in from here? No, the wind will be at my back now. And the strong headwind coming back? I didn’t want to think about that. This was an ironman after all, wasn’t it?

With the wind at my back, I began to soar. What a great feeling! Moving so fast and enjoying it so much, I probably didn’t drink or eat enough. Almost in a moment it seemed I had made the turnaround. And coming back? Whoa, the wind was much stronger than before. The cramping in my legs returned with a vengeance. Not too many miles past the turnaround, I had to stop and massage my quivering legs. Is this quivering related to my urinary problems? All kinds of thoughts like that ran through my head. I was sort of afraid to get off my bike so I just stood over it when I stopped, rubbing my legs, then bending over the handlebars and prayed. That was ritual coming back into that fierce wind. Each time I stopped it got harder to get going again. Should I quit? No. You need to make the bike leg of this. Just make the bike.
The cramping and quivering legs continued. Finally, I came to the end of that section and the course went into a residential section: about 12 miles to go. By then I was pedaling more with my left leg – my bad knee – because of the right shoe coming apart. It was getting almost impossible to keep my foot on the pedal. The rest of course seemed a long and endless maze of pain and discomfort. I stopped a couple more times and just mostly prayed to get through the bike course. The legs felt so weak and they continued to quiver and cramp. The course seemed to go on and on. Was I ever going to make this?

Finally, I turned a corner and there it was: the bike course finish. People were on the sides of the street cheering. I was getting close and probably too anxious. Then from my left I heard, “Pop-Pop!” It was my two grandchildren, smiling and waving at their grandpa. I was over the top with emotion. Then I had to stop to dismount.

In the excitement of it all, I guess I lost my focus. Instead of waiting for someone to hold my bike while I got off, instead of planting that bad leg firmly before putting my weight on it, I tried it on my own. Mistake. The left leg and knee wouldn’t hold the weight. My knee buckled backwards then buckled beneath. I went down hard on my bad knee. I couldn’t get up on my own. Two wonderful volunteers pulled me up; another took my bike. My knee was bloody looking and it really hurt. Walking was labored and painful. I could feel the flopping sole of my shoe. My whole body felt shaky, and I wondered if my legs were going to buckle under me again. I had not been able to urinate in quite some time – that alone scared me enough. I knew, I was done.

My team was there with all the love, respect, and support, and enthusiasm one could possibly hope for. I am so truly blessed. They got me back to the hotel and had nothing but praise and admiration for me even though I had not done the run. I have done 50 triathlons and 32 marathons, but never have I had to dig so deep as I did this day to complete this bike course. Even though I didn’t get it finished, I feel at peace about this day – no regrets. I had done my best. The whole experience was humbling yet inspiring and much more than I thought it would be in so many ways. And I found that I was more than I thought I was. Deep inside I knew I would never be quite the same. And the love and support of my family was much more than I would have ever imagined it could be. This was a day of exceeded limits for good. Let me say this again: I am truly, truly blessed; blessed by the experience of living out a dream, blessed by the strength gained from an arduous experience, and blessed the love that was shown me. But more importantly: to be so richly blessed by God.

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