The past twelve months has been a year full of new experiences. The most important events – good and bad -- took place at my home and involved the health of my daughter. We continue to perch on the good side of those events and that is the greatest story I have to tell.

I also managed a good chunk of training and some racing. The most fun and significant training was done with my buddies Gordo Byrn and Scott Molina at their Epic Camps. In addition, there was a pile of solo time on the road.

2003 combined the ups and downs at home that come with a daughter’s two year struggle with a serious cancer. Mix that with the results of four years of concerted training toward the goal of reaching Kona. What we ended up with was a healthy daughter and the chance for some family fun in Hawaii via qualification for the Ironman Triathlon World Championships. The Purcells found out we could attend Kona only four weeks prior to race. That is when Kelly’s test results came back negative.

I was sitting on a ton of happiness and fitness two weeks from racing Kona ’03.

Over the years, Ironman has reinforced certain tools that I can apply in my daily life. I react differently to set backs now than I did five years ago when I entered the sport. My association with others in IM reminds me that I can learn a great deal by simply listening or from personal experience. There is always room to grow. Through IM I have come in contact with people like Gordo who remind me that giving back to the sport is healthy and rewarding. I am reminded that there is enjoyment in the process of striving. That attitude makes training and racing fun – even at the most competitive levels.

Perhaps the greatest tool that I am often reminded of is the importance of keeping an even keel. It is a conscious choice. This sport is full of ebbs and flows. I have learned not to get too high in good times nor too low in tougher times. Invariably, life tacks and we return close to center. It helps me if I stay centered emotionally during the ride.

Do the work, man the oars and the boat meant to ferry you will materialize around you. The tide will lift all boats.

My family applied the same tools in our united fight against my daughter’s cancer. I was surprised by her and her younger sister’s tenacity and strength. My experiences have not gone unnoticed by them.

So, with the backdrop of Kelly’s good news, my PB race times in 2003, qualifying for IM Hawaii at IM Florida, and again at IM Brazil, a good race at IM Canada and working my fitness to new personal heights – I should go into the last two weeks before Kona flying high – right?

Well, I had a twist of fate. I was handed the opportunity to walk the talk of staying positive. Got my chance to share a smile and a positive attitude in the face of some disappointment. After four years of pursuing a slot it suddenly looked like a no go.

I suffered a cycling accident 13 days out from race. Over my handlebars at about 30mph after a rider went down in front of me. My injuries were minor compared to some of the real tragedies that we hear and read about. But I had cracked several ribs and torn cartilage (ribs and wrist). Just participating seemed impossible at the time. My family watched to see how I would react. I am sure some of my athletes wondered as well.

The answer, after the dust settled, was that I was glad to have a healthy daughter. Glad to have qualified. Glad to have a friend and coach like gordo who understands me and who knew our real goal had already been accomplished.

I did end up participating. It was difficult, but my goal was to enjoy the experience and gather knowledge for future races.

My race was planned and executed as if I were shooting for my personal best time in Kona -- because I was. Any result was going to be my PB. I wanted to end the day knowing I had gone as fast as I could with whatever I had.

Day before race nutrition:
3 plums -- 100cal
1 peach (large) -- 100cal
2 qts soy/rice milk -- 800cal
3 qts orange juice -- 1300cal
6 eggs -- 400cal
4 bananas -- 400cal
3 more plums -- 100cal
1lb tub of NF cottage Cheese -- 320cal
1lb tub of NF yogurt -- 340cal
2lbs fresh Ahi seared -- 800cal

Race strategy

I hadn’t really done any swimming out of necessity for almost two weeks due to my accident and injuries. The day before the race I swam about 300m and guessed that I could make it through 2.4 miles at a pace that was 10-15sec slower per 100m than normal. At issue was staying clear of roughhousing and to keep my efforts low enough to control my breathing. The whole idea of swimming was rather spooky. I surmised that any hard breathing would be more painful than the catch and pull of my stroke. Turns out they were both uncomfortable. I thought I could do 1:05 to 1:10, with a normal being 59 to 60min.

I had ridden 2hrs at easy effort twice before leaving for Kona. It was not comfortable but tolerable if I stayed at or below AeT or the first deepening of breath. I assumed the same would hold true for the entire ride on race day. I was aiming for a 5:45 bike split. I normally would ride an IM bike at AeT+10 – maybe a few beats higher -- resulting in a 5:15 –5:20 split.

Running had been tough to do pre-race. The jarring and demands of breathing were difficult to take. I knew that I would run at less than steady but anticipated that giving a lesser HR effort on the bike would leave me with fresher legs to begin the run. I forgot to factor in what pain does to our energy stores over two weeks -- and over the course of an IM.

My plan was to treat race day preps and race execution with the care I would if I were in Kona at 100%. There was a lot to be learned – both for me and for my athletes -- from racing that course at that time in those conditions.

I was up at 2:30am and eating breakfast by 3:00am. Two cups of BOLD coffee, six eggs, very large bowl of 10 grain hot cereal with chicken breast and soy sauce.

I left my condo toward body marking and transition areas at 4:45am. Arrived for the 5:00am transition opening feeling calm and having fun.

My swim was just as I pictured. I started way left by the boat and avoided getting hit where possible. I was nailed twice on my wrist. That would really become a problem later on the bike as shifting became very difficult. My ribs took minor hits 2-3 times. I stayed below AeT and came out of the water slowed by about 15% (1:09).

The bike began like any other. Kept the HR down and drank water the first 20min. Over the course of the ride I took on 20-24ozs of water over every 30min in addition to about 500cal/hr on the bike. I supplemented 1000mg of sodium every hour post swim.

When it came time to increase my efforts on the bike I could not. . Normally I ride at 145–150HR. This day I rode 130-135HR. About a 10% lower HR to avoid deep breathing. I maintained this effort the whole day. I thought that this would produce a tolerable level of pain. I miscalculated what being hunched in aero with a constricted diaphragm and rib cage for 5hrs would do to me. The bike, what I considered to be my easiest part of the IM became my most difficult and painful. Like the swim, the 10% reduction in HR translated to a 10% slower time, about an extra 40min. Time was 6hrs.

Hit the run and was again confronted with having to keep my HR near 125-130 by my built in governor – pain. Although I was getting mighty tired at this point as well. Hydrating, calories, sodium – all were executed flawlessly. I just could not increase efforts. The discomfort of the day coupled with the two weeks prior to race left me unable to respond.

Tom Hampton referred to something similar in a post on Gordo’s Tri Forum: a more central fatigue where the nervous system is no longer sending a maximum stimulation to the muscles. This, over muscular fatigue is the closest description of what I was experiencing. The result was about a 15% slowing of my run time (4:34).

Highlight of the race:
Seeing Gordo at the entrance and exit of the energy lab and having him encourage me to hold it together as I trudged forward.

Most people don’t laugh at this point in the race but most don’t get the kind of encouragement Gordo provides me. Here I was, trashed ribs, aching wrist, last 10k of an IM marathon, in the middle of the lava fields, not sure if I am happy with my performance and G rides by with a huge grin and tells me "it’s okay to stop holding back now". I laughed hard enough to hurt my ribs but did pick up the pace a bit.

It’s good to keep perspective!

1:09 swim, 6:04 bike, 4:34 run for an 11:48 finish. About 90min slower than my best, but I had a good race. Did all I could out there. Smiled most of the day. Had my family and my buddy G there with me and had a great experience. Learned a lot that I can pass on to others or use myself on another day.

It was all good.

See Yaaa,

Coach KP