The last week of August, 2002, I raced IM Canada. I had a personal best performance by 19 minutes and raced well. I missed a slot to Kona by about 3.5 minutes. There were five other athletes in that 3.5 minute window ahead of me. I felt that I could and would go faster -- soon. The night after the race I lay on my bed at Brad Cochrane's home in Penticton and Gordo walked into the doorway. He asked how I was doing. I told him that I could go faster and that I thought the IM Florida course would suit my strengths. I mentioned the four rough water entrances and exits of the two loop swim would play to my strength. I like the heat, rain and wind as obstacles as I feel that I deal with them well. I was close. And finally, it presented steady effort requirements all day long as I would not be doing extended climbing. Gordo put it simply: "if you are truely ready mentally to suffer deeply -- and honestly believe that you can qualify there -- then I would recommend it."
I answered yes on both counts immediately.
Gordo put together a plan for me that had two spearheads:
1) Recovery from Canada
2) Raise my AeT (aerobic threshold)
We planned no true Build over the final weeks (in the sense of ME bricks). Nothing over Z2 at all. I knew that I owned a pretty big Base after two years of training with G, but only Gordo knew how big and how much Base I really had. He knew what I could handle. It goes without saying that I trust him completely.
I recovered from Canada for three weeks and then got busy for Florida. I let Gordo know I was going to be in Kona coaching/watching my athlete - Artie Alvidrez race for a week.
He said, "Great, we can train together." He let me know the score regarding my schedule. He felt that I could go 'steady state' for huge volumes on the bike and raise my AeT. We talked about the physical risks and whether I was on board. I agreed with his assessments.
I normally train 16-19 hours a week at this time of year prior to a Taper for an IM. I did 32 hours of training during the week in Kona. I rode 22 hours. The following week I did near 30 hours and again rode 20 hours.
There is one reason I was able to do this -- it was all done easy to steady. My Base was large enough to recover from 100+ mile rides in 36-48 hours. Gordo had to personally show me what his 'steady' meant. It is not very-hard, not hard, not moderately-hard - it is steady. This would vary from athlete to athlete in the Z1 to Z2 range depending on your fitness.
What I was realizing was that as you raise your AeT enough, steady becomes pretty darned fast without being in Z3. I feel this is the key to racing IM.
I ate very strict paleo following IMC. After riding huge volume in the 14 days that would be considered Peak Week 1 and Peak Week 2 -- I had dropped to 186lbs in weight. This was part of G's plan when he put me on the bike for so long. The challenge was to maintain power. The last 4 long rides I did were from San Diego to Dana Point and back (100 miles). On each ride I averaged 204 watts. This was the 'steady' we were looking for and a sure sign that power had not dropped off and that I was eating very well through the loss of some upper body mass in my chest and shoulders. I had not been this low for over 25 years.
I found the last two weeks prior to race day challenging mentally as more than a few questioned my decisions on preparation for IMFL. I trust Gordo as much as you can trust another man, and I trust myself to be honest about my fitness. We believed in our plan, and neither of us blinked, right up until race day. I had new AeT endurance, I had maintained my power, I had dropped 6-8 pounds of lean body mass in my chest and shoulders and was ready go on 11/9.
On 11/8 a call to my home let me know that my daughter Kelly was suddenly in trouble following her chemotherapy. Fine when I left -- her neutrophils had dropped to zero. She had no immune system - at all. Her platelettes were down to two.
I searched for a flight to come home the day before race. I was frightened for her and felt that I should be at home. I could not find a flight. Kelly asked me to stay and race -- to do what I had been preparing for. I put one of her hospital bracelets around my wrist. I wore a racelet that read 'lil kp' and another that read Kona. I would need them all and more.
Race Morning: Up at 2:30am. Eating by 3:00am. Done by 3:30am . Laid back down.
Pre-race meal: One pound of fresh salmon filet. Five eggs. Three bowls of 12 grain hot cereal with soy sauce. One Met-Rx protein shake. Two cups java (BOLD)
Swim - check ocean bottom for entrance and exit. Check currents in days prior to race. Line up front and center, get dragged along with the hammerheads and find some feet going steady.
Bike - have a bottle of H2O and find steady state pace quickly - stay there for 5 hours while eating and drinking. I carried four bottles on board as climbing weight was not much of a factor and I did not want to stop for special needs. Each bottle had six scoops of Carbo Pro (672 calories) and one scoop of Interphase Protein (12g protein/81 calories). That is 753 calories per bottle x four to last 5 hours. 600 calories an hour. This is how I train in prep for races on long rides and so I do not have stomach issues on race day. I believe we can train our stomachs just as we train our legs.
Run - hydrate and eat for 3 miles, find race pace till mile 20 then do whatever is needed the last 10K.
On race morning it was dark and humid - warm. Storms were brewing. The sea was rough. It was the roughest open water swim I have ever done. The mass beach start was a bit spooky. I checked the bottom carefully out into the ocean for up to fifty yards as I would be running and porposing as far out as possible. I knew that it would be faster than swimming. I lined up front and center and was first into the water, fist out past the surf - and - in first! That lasted about 20 seconds when a pro shot past me. I settled into a difficult swim. I failed to get a good draft. I swam off course as I could not see the buoys through the 3 foot swells. 25 people were pulled from the surf. This all was to my benefit and did not bother me much. I had my second fastest IM swim ever - 1:02.
The bike started on flat terrain as advertised. I was really humming for the first 90 minutes. There was some significant wind. I was riding the new HED D3 disc and felt good. Effort wise, I never left Gordo's 'steady' -- my aerobic threshold -- in solid Z2 (Friel's).
We then hit a stretch that was a slight grade for what seemed to be about 60minutes. This was tough as I did not want my avg mph to drop but I kept efforts steady. I was not seeing anyone in my AG. Then I saw Joe B. go the other direction on the out and back. I was passed by two riders in my AG mid bike split. I re-passed them both about 2 hours later.
The heavy rains hit for the last third of the ride. Gordo would call them 'just rain' in Hong Kong. In SoCal this was torrential. Lots of free standing water. The first ride G and I did in Kona was 116 miles on the course in this exact type rain. Good Preps amigo!
I transitioned to the run only to find that a volunteer had given me the wrong bag - it was another athlete's. I went back and got my own.
Out on the run it was pouring rain. Wet shoes, wet socks and soft wet feet from the bike made for immediate blisters. I looked at Tina Paulson's feet following her 4th place OA w/pro finish at IM Wisc and knew nothing could be as bad as what I saw her run through that day. No more mental energy was given to the feet.
I was passed at mile two by one of the riders I had overtaken in my AG. At mile seven the second of the riders I had passed - overtook me on the run. Both men moved past me rather quickly. I was not passed again that I know of.
I knew that I was close to where I needed to be in my AG to qualify. I guessed I might be anywhere from 5th to 10th. At about mile 20 there was a turn around out in a park. The two other runners had been reeled back in. I re-passed the first guy at mile 20 and prepared to re-passed the second at mile 21. Do I go for it now or wait nearer the end. Waiting has risks. What if a third person passes us both? What if he has a kick at the end? He was moving stronger than the first one. I had to choose a path. I chose to try to attack by cruising past quickly -- increasing my pace as I caught him. It was a gamble that paid off. I never saw him again. At or near mile 23 I started to waver and was in deep suffering. I was out of it -- at mile 24.1 -- I thought there was 1 mile left. I let it all out for what I thought was the last mile only to find there was another one point one miles to go.
Near despair -- CRAP! I almost toppled. People on the side of the road asked if I was okay. I must have looked like sh*t. I answered -- "no, I am not okay" -- and smiled.
I looked at Kelly's hospital bracelet around my wrist. I spoke to her out loud. I questioned myself -- my courage.
I had had a rough day Friday -- I had almost gone home and did not sleep much that night. Both Kelly and my wife Laurie asked me to stay and race. Before I folded up my tent in the last mile I had to answer these tough questions:
Why had I come at all?
Why didn't I stay home to be with my daughter if I was going to cave in?
Who was I if I crumbled?
How badly did I want a berth at IM Hawaii?
Though it may not have been accurate, I felt that all of the days, weeks and years of my training with Gordo were to be summed up in the next 9 minutes. I ran the the last mile as hard as I could. I may still reach a goal. I did and collapsed into volunteers. I had beat the man I had passed at mile 21 to the finish line by four minutes. My gamble had paid off.
If you have goals in this sport -- stay on course!
In '99 I did my first IM -- these are my times:
IMFL (10:30 finsh)
PR by 16 minutes
7th place AG (top 5%)
204th OA (near top 10%)
Gordo -- you showed me the way -- always!
Kelly - you are stronger and braver than I will ever be!