Monday, May 3, 2010

DNF Revisited....

True to form, I have been battling a chest cold for the past week while my first race of the season inches closer. I have rationalized that it isn't a big race, it's the first one of the year, it's only a "DU", bla, bla, bla. But the fact is I won this race a year ago and I consider it my duty to show up and put myself out there. So, as I've begun to "come around" in the last day or so I am now rationalizing again, but this time it's more like, "well, maybe the break was a good thing", "well, I needed to taper (for a sprint DU?)", and my favorite, "I'll just train really hard for the next few days and make up for last week". And so it goes. Bottom line? There's a race Saturday, I'll be there and I'll give it everything I've got and not make any excuses. I can't stand it when people race and then stand around and talk about how they should've done this or that....SO DO IT! Don't tell me about it...DO IT! Give me your best and that's it. End of story. Anyway, I'm starting to rant so I'll switch gears to the real reason I am blogging tonight, my 2008 experience in Lake Placid.

There are a couple of reasons I have decided to reduce this episode to writing, the biggest one being I have a poor memory and it's getting out there aways. Another reason is that I have several friends Racing the Lake Placid Ironman this year and several other friends racing other Ironman races and I want to give them a little motivation for their training ahead and their big day coming up this summer.

We headed to Lake Placid on Thursday before the (Sunday) race. This was to be my second Ironman and I was planning on RACING this time. The first time my goal was to FINISH and I did so in 2006 in fine fashion for a first timer clocking 11:39:39. SO, in '08 I was coming to race, to tear it up, to leave it all out on the course as they say. I had an excellent winter of training and everything was on track until May 16th. We were stripping shingles off a house in Portland that day and I stepped on a nail. I drove a rusty old roofing nail dead center into the ball of my left foot. This injury lasted ten months. I had x-rays, bone scans, you name it. There was nothing wrong structurally with my foot BUT it continued to hurt and hamper my running right up to race day. In the last few weeks leading up to "Placid" I revised my race plan to "swim hard, hammer the bike, try to hang on on the run depending on the foot". Not the best way to go into an Ironman but hey, it was what I had to work with, had to go with it. When we arrived in Lake Placid and checked in to "The Pines" we discovered we were on the fourth floor. No biggie in most places but this is an OLD hotel/inn and there was no elevator. We hit the stairs and (at the time) I didn't really suspect anything was wrong. But looking back I remember how tired I felt climbing those stairs. I should have known something was up. I did all my race prep in the next two days and hit the sack early after a chicken dinner at the hotel. I awoke on race morning a little before the alarm, not because I was ready to go but because I was SICK. I staggered to the bathroom in the dark and then layed down on the nice cool floor. I knew I was in trouble and felt like I was going to pass out so I crawled to the foot of the bed and tugged on my wife's foot to wake her. I then crawled back into the bathroom in time to empty the contents of my body several times (both ends, eeewwwww). This went on for about twenty minutes before I could get back to bed and lay down and assess the situation. Jodi was smart enough to just let me figure out on my own that I would not be racing today. This was not an easy pill to swallow given I had just put my family through eight months of committed training and was watching it go up in smoke at 4am in a hotel room. I sat up on the bed after a few minutes and tried to eat a bagel. It seemed to hold so I layed back down and eyed my wetsuit and special needs bags hanging on the door while I sipped some water. It was about that time that I decided the game wasn't over just yet. I sat up, slid my crocs on, grabbed my wetsuit and kissed my wife goodbye. I told her I was going down to the race in the event I felt better. Sounded like a good idea at the time. I hopped the shuttle and headed for the "Peak" tent when I got intown. The first person I saw was my coach Rob Smith and he took one look at me and said "Dude, you do NOT look good at all". I told him what was up and took a seat to try to figure through things. I was glad to be there even if I WAS sick because I was around people who understood how badly I wanted to race that day. Tim Keene was there and offered his support, that was great.

I'm not sure when I decided that "I'd just do the swim" but by the time my family got to the Peak tent I was in the water at the starting line refusing to take part in my own little nightmare. I figured I would do one loop and see how I felt. Couldn't hurt right? Looking back I'm pretty sure I was running a solid fever at the starting line. The gun went off and I was swimming up front getting pounded into submission when it occurred to me I may have made a mistake. "So what, keep it goin' , see what happens, keep your options open", and so on. I was just taking it easy and was able to swim the first loop without too much trouble but I knew when I got out of the water to start the second loop that it was over. I was feeling worse and there was only one thing left to I SLAMMED MY GOGGLES ON AND DOVE BACK IN THE WATER!!!! THAT'S WHAT I DID!! BECAUSE I WAS PISSED AND I WASN'T GOING TO LET ANYBODY TELL ME I WAS DONE - NOT EVEN ME!!!!! (I would have loaded that up with the f-bomb for you but my mother reads this and I try to keep it clean)

So, it was only about 100 yards before I REALLY knew I was DONE so I decided I would just swim easy, staying to the outside. About half-way down I couldn't see because my goggles were leaking (I thought), nope, the water was coming from the inside. I hit the beach and stayed to the right. A volunteer immediately identified that something wasn't right with me and asked if I was OK. I told her no, well yes, but NO..."I'm sick , I need to drop out or I'm going to hurt myself".....she told me to step over to the side and asked for my timing chip. It was tough to do I but reached down and tore the velcro strip off, hesitated a minute and then handed it over. DONE, day over, Ironman hopes dashed. I stepped around the competitors and had to work my way through the wetsuit stripping area. As I walked, wondering how things could be worse, I was whacked in the head by a stripped wetsuit. The thing wrapped right around my head and slapped me like a wet towell. When they unwound it I just broke out laughing and kept walking. As I walked trought the chute I could see the Peak tent up on the hill and my wife and daughter scanning the crowd for me. They spotted me and I continued to make my way out of the chute. Not fun.

As I walked up the road toward the tent, wetsuit peeled halfway, I spotted Bailey running toward me. She gave me a big hug and I said "ya' know how I always tell you "don't expect life to be fair?"....."this is what I mean". I carried her up to the tent and I sat down to begin accepting what had just happened. I saw Tim Keene again and I remember him being close enough to let me know he was there but far enough away to respect the fact that I was in the middle of swallowing a big pill and needed a little space. Everyone at the tent was great and I am fortunate to have them as friends. I'm glad I started this race. It wasn't the smartest thing to do but I learned a lot during those two swim loops. I learned that in the end, it's just a race. I learned that I never give up. I learned that it's possible to do the dumbest thing ever and the smartest thing ever in the same day. I learned that I care less about a DNF than I care about a "did not start". I learned that life isn't always about who gets there first (or even at all), it has a lot more to do with how you conduct yourself along the way.

So I settled into my big fat "Did Not Finish" and I accepted it with pride. Proud that I tried, proud that I trained hard and proud that toed the line with some world class athletes. I headed back to the room for most of the day (101 temp) and followed the race online checking in on my friends every 5 minutes. Around 4:30 my fever broke and I was able to go back down to the tent and cheer on my friends and was fortunate enough to see Dave Brackett complete his first IM. I was thrilled for him. He is one of the people that will be doing Placid this year and I wish him the best. I hope all my friends have a great day, and if for some reason, things don't go as planned, or you hit a bump in the road, give this story a thought or two. Pull it from the back of your mind and ask yourself if YOU are ready to give up yet. I know your answer will be NO and that you will press on. I'll be pulling for you. As I always say - Lace 'em up tight, take no prisoners.



  1. Bob- Great post. I had a similar story in IMWI '04. Yes, I finished, but I didn't want to. My stomach was killing me. My family wasn't @ mi. 17 to take me back. The medic wouldn't say I needed to be done. So I sat on the park bench for 30 minutes, then slowly walked the next 5. I was in shape for 11 hours even, but came in at 13:50. The BEST comment I got after was from a friend who said, "'anyone' can go 11 hours, but it's really hard to go 14 hours." It's funny (poor word choice) how the "failures" can be the biggest successes.
    See you Saturday. Kick it.

  2. Oh....days like that are TOUGH! I met you guys for the first time that day... I had heard your story earlier and then saw you in the tent. My heart went out to you.
    You'll get your revenge...don't worry.
    great post and good lessons

  3. Thank you for being such a genuine guy, Bob. You're a special breed.
    Good luck tomorrow!