There are things in life that we all wish we had not quit. Piano lessons. Learning a second language. A hobby. Eating healthy. A job. Gym membership. College. A relationship. We have learned a lot about being anti-quit in our house this year. The memories, mistakes and milestones from the Ironman race I competed in this past weekend, is directly tied to the journey of the past fifteen months of recovery with Whitney…for which I am so thankful.
“Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path
to the best things that will ever happen to us.”
In August 2016, I received that phone call you never want to get. The pause button on life was activated and everything that has transpired up until that moment becomes suspended in time like a family photo that hangs in the hallway. Everything had changed. The future, our plans, our family, our path, our very inner being will never be the same as before the accident. At the outset, that was a difficult concept to grasp mentally. However, it was easier to yield to with my heart each moment we attended to her.
Navigation of the considerable challenges when a loved one is on death’s doorstep includes the countless decisions that arise and the uncertainty that corresponds. Almost every healthcare professional we encountered in three facilities had the same message for those of us hopeful of Whitney’s meticulous progress – “take care of yourself so you can take care of her”.
Embracing the intensity of time and care that she required, I realized I was not going to sustain my athletic routine for a long time, if ever. Weeks into the process, during the height of a most difficult stage of Whitney’s road to recovery, I found myself mediating a decision. My emotional meter was running in battle mode 24/7 and drawing from much of my physical resources. Even as a seasoned endurance athlete, I struggled to keep my battery charged. It was so hard on the whole family. I told others during this difficult chapter that, in comparison, I would look forward to doing an Ironman again. I so wished I could have transferred some of my health directly to Whitney.
We knew it was going to be a long road ahead for rehabilitation, but we were thankful just have a road to be on. Since Whitney’s situation presented itself as long-term, I needed a goal to prompt self-accountability in maintaining some level of fitness. That fall & winter in Denver was not the typical surroundings to train, as I was accustomed to at home. That turned out to mean no swim or bike for over six months. The few opportunities when I could exercise, was limited to an occasional run. Not my regular groove. I needed the metaphorical ‘carrot and stick’ so to speak, to keep my health objectives enticing and within view. There was a need to compose at least a flexible plan as opposed to no plan at all. The future seems an elusive target in life anyway, so in this case I definitely had no clear concept what our reality would be in the following months and years. It was a tug-o-war in my heart to not feel selfish about planning time to keep myself healthy while at the same time investing 100% to her needs.
My primary role & resolve is to assist, invest and inspire Whitney to ‘try’ in her recovery process. Whether the task was easy, difficult, obscure or exhausting for her, Whitney always gave it her all, did her best, tried what was asked of her, and never quit. So proud of her!
"You can't always change your circumstances, but you can change your concentration."
After a time of self-evaluation, I determined that “carrot” would be Ironman Arizona in November 2017. Go big or go home, right? I optimistically registered a year ago not knowing how much training I could possibly invest. It would be my sixth time to tackle this course. This was going to be more of an experiment than a race for me now at 60 years old. How well could I do under the circumstances of minimal investment in training? I would need to put my 20+ years of racing and coaching experience to good use. I highly respect the sport of triathlon, particularly Ironman, and the discipline it takes to get to the start line. So this one might just hurt a little more.
Here is how my training volume shakes out over the past fifteen months in the new normal compared to what I typically did in the past to prepare.
WARNING: Do Not Try This At Home!
First nine Ironman races – for each race, “typical” training for me over nine months:
swim about 100 miles; cycle around 7500 miles; run about 800 miles.
For this event – all I could accumulate over the last 15 months since Whitney’s accident:
swim only 11 miles (about 10% of typical); cycle only 1030 miles (about 13% of typical); run only 248 miles (about 30% of typical).
Leading up to long distance events, especially once you start your taper, I share with my athletes to be extra cautious. With such intense focus on the event ahead, carelessness with activities of daily living might cause harm, such as: slicing your hand with a kitchen knife; wearing open toed shoes or flip flops; give fist bumps instead of handshakes & hugs; use lots hand sanitizer, etc. Also, unless it is an emergency, don’t do anything on race day that you did not train for specifically already. In the excitement of my son visiting for the weekend prior to the race, I miscalculated and violated one of my own rules. It should have waited until later, but I asked him to assist with getting Christmas decorations down out of the attic while he was in town. Small task turned big mistake. While bending over, handing things down securely, I apparently strained my QL (Quadratus Lumborum) on the left side of my back & the right leg Biceps Femoris (short head). Did not feel any discomfort until the following day. So, in addition to the low training volume, I also had to deal with this muscular dilemma. Not sure how this might effect my race plan.
Based on that low volume of training and strained muscles, should I even show up for the race? In most situations, I would say no way. However, in this case, the answer is yes.
And here is why…when she was nine years old, she wrote a book, complete with original illustrations, for a school project. I had just finished my first Ironman race. It is my second most favorite book in the world. The title: IRONMAN - My Hero. “My dad is my hero. I want to grow up to be like my dad.” I am still an imperfect work in progress, but continue to strive to be a model of hope, faith & unconditional love for her. I had some doubts, but you know I had to start that race.
I made a promise to Whitney & Julie that I would give it a go, do my best, not quit & let the result be whatever it is. I really want to be an example to Whitney in this legacy endeavor. In my call to her before the race, I told her that when it got tough on the course, I would think of her journey and draw from that inspiration. This was because she had endured much more pain than I would be experiencing in the race. I now face executing the same resolve that I have been giving her these past months. Easy, difficult, obscure or exhausting…I have to ‘try’ & give it my all, do my best and not quit.
There were some axioms that I kept in mind:
“You usually race down to your level of training, not up to your level of expectations.”
“Your lungs will always outlast your legs.”
“You can go farther than you think you can.”
“I can either keep my focus on the storm or on my anchor.”
This years’ race had some milestones in several ways:
First, the lack of training volume set the bar low for expectations. It did not faze me one bit about finish time or placement among competitors. Just happy to be here to start and finish the thing! This was a first for me in mindset about the 140.6 mile distance race. This would be about what I could grind out on my current fitness level and race smarts. I went ‘old school’ riding my road bike rather than my time trial rig. I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to consume on the course along with modern compact nutrition. Insight: I had a plan and stuck with it.
Second, I am still working through the impact of what has happened in me as a consequence of Whitney’s accident. Again, this was a first for me having respect for the challenge, but knowing my real priority in life is back home in New Mexico. Insight: As fully as I could converge my wits and passion, I raced in the present.
Third, this same course was the exact distance as in previous times, but it did not feel as overwhelming as in the past. This too was the first time experiencing this. It reminds me of the experience of returning to my hometown and driving by the school I attended, the house where I lived, etc. They are all in the same place & distance from each other, but it seems that things are a bit compact. Did everything collectively shrink? Is it an optical illusion? What changed? Insight: Turns out the change was in me.
Fourth, The night before the race I had everything packed, lined up & got very good sleep. Race day had a good start in that I felt wonderfully calm and did not have an excessive nervous stomach. The 68-degree water did not seem that cold. I swam buoy to buoy just as I had practiced that distance in the local pool via interval sets. Insight: Starting an Ironman that clam felt amazing.
Fifth, There were a couple of times I felt weak in the water. I thought of when Whitney moved her limbs on her own for the first time on command…and I pressed on. On the bike, the winds were equally strong against everyone & demoralizing for many of us. I struggled early on, but fought back to be in the mix. There were several times my body was screaming to stop. Thoughts of Whitney struggling to walk during therapy prompted me to tell my legs to shut up. Insight: Inspiration can ignite more inspiration.
Sixth, I was staying within the parameters of my race strategy. Unfortunately, I had calculated some incorrect information in my strategy and missed a time cut off for mile 76 by two minutes. I was pulled from the course along with a host of others. Next time triple check race course information in writing and record mandatory pre-race athlete meetings on my phone to best insure no miscalculations. Insight: Trust, but verify.
After being removed from course, I borrowed a phone to call Julie and Whitney to update them on my race situation.
“Adversity introduces a man to himself”. Albert Einstein
As disappointed as I was in the outcome, I was content that I kept my promise to my family. I did my best and did not quit. Some of the milestones in this race are connected with the fact that I am not the same as I was fifteen months ago. Here is how I count my blessings this time:
One, I have a much, much deeper sense of gratitude about life…all of it.
Two, some of the flashy peripheral things surrounding the race used to be very important to me. Now they are no longer such a big deal.
Three, relationships are premiere with fellow athletes and friends, both old and new.
Four, a sixty year-old average Joe can step up to big challenges even when under prepared and still perform.
Five, sacrificial love is an investment that is unconditional. It can be very demanding, but it is not a burden. The rewards are tangible, here and now as well as hereafter. Never underestimate the heart of a dad.
Six, I tried to go the distance, gave it my best & did not quit.
Seven, Sometimes, in looking toward the ‘big finish’ line that is so apparent to everyone, it is easy to overlook the ‘small victories’ along the way. It is as much about the journey as it is the destination.
Special thanks to the anti-quit village who were instrumental in many ways for me getting to the starting line and beyond in 2017: Whitney, Stephen, Julie; Joe Marino; Jerry Husted; Jose Vasquez; Glenn Jackson; Patrick Morrissey; Theresa Allison; my athletes and fellow coaches; so many encouraging friends near and far.
“A setback is a setup for a comeback.”
Earlier this evening, I registered for Ironman Arizona next November 19, 2018… and I hope Whitney will be there, possibly volunteering, and see me finish.