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It’s only a mistake if you make it again. – My dear bride, Meghan

I’m already impressed. – Also my dear bride, Meghan, after T2

I did not finish Eagleman.

I have no excuses, no reasons, other than one: I was undertrained. I can, and will, point out that I was hardly alone in my DNF status, and that better trained athletes than I, also succumbed to 93 degree heat, including last year’s women’s champion Miranda Carfrae. From my reading of the results, it looks like 20 dropped out on the bike, 80 on the run. No idea how many DNF’ed the swim (if any), and a huge number of registered athletes did not even start.

But the bottom line is, this didn’t have to be a DNF, and I need to simultaneously deal with that truth and what it means, and forgive myself so I can move on. (For you Lutherans checking in, this is a premium LAW and GOSPEL moment.)

So now what?

Well, now I commit to more consistent training. Inconsistency has been the thorn in my side through my entire life. This is hard. I chose it for that reason. Too many pursuits in my life have been frankly, too easy for me. But I can’t fake this. I’m going to have to actually work hard for it. A lot harder than I am now.

OK, so the Good the Bad, the Ugly, and the Next Step

THE GOOD

1. My wife was absolutely my rock and support that day. She watched the swim start and exit, and was there when I got off the bike.

2. My kids were at the finish and were happy to see me.

3. I went 66 miles in one day under my own power. I had a swim time under 51 minutes, when I predicted 55 minutes.

4. I saw people out there rooting for me, some I knew, some not. Eric Grimes seems to always be stalking me, Tor Christensen was there to cheer on the Annapolis Tri Club and spotted me at T1, and a few people saw the shirt and mentioned BT or this blog. One person on the run read the doughboy shirt and said “you most certainly are NOT.”

But the craziest moment came in the swim. I had rounded the second turn buoy, and was maybe 1/3 of that leg back to the finish, when I caught my first mouthful of water. I paused to compose myself, preferring to wait, rather than to try to press on and vomit in the process. I popped my head up and looked at the many white capped swimmers from the wave behind me who had passed me, and out of the blue, one of them in front of me looks back and says “hey man are you TheClaaaw?” It was Grnfsh from BT. Unreal. That really pepped me up.

3. I got my picture with TJ and Crowie.

A very shy Jack finally posed with Crowie.

And I have this magnet signed by all four pros from the forum, which means both 2011 winners and both 2012 winners.

4. I have a sweet tan.

5. They let me get a post-race massage, even without a finisher’s medal.

6. A bad day racing is always better than any day in the ground.

7. An angel with an exotic accent and a name I couldn’t make out, so she said “just call me PJ” stopped on the road to check on me around mile 8. She walked with me a bit and after the race, found me in the park to see if I was surviving.

THE BAD

1. I launched two polar water bottles. At $10 each, that was unfortunate.

2. I had to stop a number of times during the bike leg, with severe foot pain.

3. I now have a beautiful bag I can’t use, in addition to another race shirt I can’t wear.

4. I discovered that “I don’t mind the heat” was complete and utter nonsense.

5. I experienced GI distress for possibly the first time ever.

6. Once the run started, I don’t believe I was ever able to take a full breath.

THE UGLY

1. I knew by mile 5 that I was in serious trouble. From there to the turn-around I started to go through the worst emotions. I sat down at an aid station just before the turn-around, and thought about how I would hate myself for dropping out now. It just wasn’t an option. I thought if I could get to the turnaround, I would get a second wind.

2. I may have pysched myself out with self-doubt. I was determined to finish, just under the cutoff. My illusions of an official cutoff of 8:30 were long gone, but with my extra 1:04 from an early swim wave, 9:34 would still have counted. It still wasn’t going to be enough. When I realized that, I lost what little energy I had left.

3. I spent some time really considering not just giving up for the day, but for good. Delete the BT account, delete/abandon this blog, sneak away into the corner to sulk and hope no one asks me how I did. Virtually disappear in a cloud of shame.

4. Looking at the video that Meg shot, I still have trouble seeing myself as someone who has been losing weight and making progress. All I can see is how insanely fat I still am. Wetsuits and lycra will do that, especially if you’re in a sea of fit people. I thought I got used to standing out in an obvious way, but the truth is, I still can’t believe how far I have to go yet. (I know: patience, grasshopper. And this is not me saying I’m giving up, that is old pre-12step all-or-nothing addict behavior. But I have to be honest about what I’ve been going through with this if I want to move on.)

5. At mile 9, it happened. I shut down. More than physically, I broke down emotionally. I sat in a chair and wept. I knew it wasn’t happening. I was not dehydrated, I did not need salt. I was done. For whatever reason, I was done. I cried like someone died.

I had to make a decision. Continue to walk/limp at a 23 minute/mile pace, which would possibly take me across the finish around 5:20-5:30 which would be a DNF anyway, or drop out now. Neither was appealing. I thought about what message I would send my kids if I quit. There’s part of me that says it doesn’t matter if you’re not official, you finish. That’s the lesson – finish what you started. I didn’t come out here today to do 66, I came out here to do 70.3. Part of me wants to be that total bad-ass who doesn’t know how to quit.

But another part of me had enough sense to know that this was not my last chance, and the lesson to teach them could be that you may not succeed the first time, but there can be a next time. Do not put your health in jeopardy over a race. At that point I didn’t know if I would have been. Truthfully, later I felt like I still had the miles in me, and I felt way too good on Monday for someone DNFing a race. That hasn’t helped the feelings of guilt shame and failure.

My justification/rationalization/excuse came down to this: I’m not leaving Maryland as a finisher of this race. I could drag myself in and make them wait another 2 hours to see me completely broken, and they will worry. Or, I can call them now and get the ride from the policeman, and we’ll get home at a reasonable hour tonight. At that point, the desire to continue seemed somewhat selfish.

I got in the police car a somewhat broken man. At least he let me ride up front.

THE NEXT STEP

By the time I was done with my post-race massage, I had made a decision. While I will be back for the same course in 2013, I am not waiting a year for redemption. I will be competing in the Skipjack this September. It’s a bit longer than the HIM, with a longer bike, but shorter run. It’s 75 miles total.

To get from here to there, I need to bike bike bike and bike. Then bike some more. I can’t ignore the running, or consistent swim training either. In other words, solid triathlon training. I have three and a half months to get this right. I have some smaller races along the way, including attempts at 5k and 1/2 marathon PRs.

So two final thoughts from others more poetic than myself. The first is a quote I see often from Teddy Roosevelt.  Now I am sure he was referring to struggles of much greater importance and consequence than a middle-class middle-aged crisis hobby, but I will take it anyway.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

The second is from a more modern source.

The first band I really got into on a personal level was Blues Traveler. I had seen them 20 times before the breakthrough album “Four” came out in 1994, that everyone has. There is a song on the album that I knew from John Popper’s solo shows, and loved so much I learned it on 12-string and played at my wedding reception for some friends I wouldn’t see for a long time.

The lyrics to that song have been running through my head for about a day now. I found this youtube version with a few misspellings, but it will do.

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13 thoughts on “Eagleman DNF – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Next Step

  1. DB, you are a winner for having tried a 70.3 race! For getting on the course and giving it your all while you were out there and you could. You have come so, so far and have inspired so many, most importantly your children. And you are right, consistency is key, I am fighting the same battle right now in terms of getting in my workouts (and I’m just gearing up for a 14.0 with hopes of a 70.3 in the distant future). You have a game plan now and you will achieve it, because you are, wait for it…..FIERCE! And I predict that come this September, if you use that as your rallying cry while out on that course (I have done so in the past and will do so in my July and August races) you will succeed!!! Thx for the race report.

  2. Dude. You are not alone. As you point out, there were other DNFs that day, and I have seen others in my clubs struggle with them as well. But we do this *because* it is hard. You cannot be brave, without being afraid. You cannot succeed, if victory was already assured. The danger of a DNF, or a DNS is what makes our sport great.

    None of that may help right now, I recognize that.

    I do think, however, that it may be worth thinking about what ‘winning’ to you means. Everyone has a breaking point. Everyone has a limit. Anyone who tells you different, is lying or trying to sell you something. You point came at mile 9 of Eagleman, on one day, at one race.

    But the fact that you tried, all by itself, is heroic.

    Triathletes are so welcoming to our sport, in part, because it is an insane sport. The very nature of it is intimidating, and forces you to recognize your limits. “I suck at swimming.” “I don’t run well.” To even try it, requires a degree is testicular/ovarian fortitude that most do not possess. And that’s to sign up for the race – forget about those who give up way before race day.

    Three things will happen someday, I promise:

    You will realize, truly, how amazing you have done so far.

    You will be an ironman.

    You will tell this story of your first Eagleman, to comfort someone who is struggling with their own DNF.

    Stay strong.

    Tor

  3. Wow. This is a moving post. I think you are exactly right to say that the lesson for the kids is in how you bounce back from disappointment.

    I was driving across the Bay Bridge on Saturday, returning from the Eastern Shore, and watching all the cars with tri bikes on the back headed in the other direction. It was already getting quite hot and I was thinking, “it’s going to be pretty ugly for some people out there tomorrow.”

  4. DB (or do your prefer BT TheClaaaw?)… glad to see you’re not going to give up here and quite honestly, it took a lot to toe the line in those conditions. Faced them myself at Eagleman in 08. And as others have said, you weren’t alone. A friend and fellow triathlete of mine was doing well up until the run. He DNF’d and had to go to medical, receiving two IV bags of fluids to get him back to feeling okay. Eagleman can be a brutal course when it gets hot and even when it’s not, it’s deceptive on what it does to you because it’s flat. So you never get a break and are always moving. DNFs are tough to handle but they also help to learn for next time and hopefully come back stronger than before. I’m sbrdave on BT, BTW. If you take some time to read my 3 Eagleman race reports, you’ll see that I faced the heat in 08 as folks did on Sunday, forgot in 09 that this was a triathlon (mashed on the bike) leading to a very painful 13.1, learned from that race, and came back to crush the course in 2011 having the best HIM time ever and a run where everything just went well. So, I have a few suggestions which you can choose to follow or not:
    – I credit my weekly brick sessions at least a couple months out and the longer ones (40-50 mile bike/6-9 mile run) at least a month out for the reason I did so well in 2011. There’s some debate about the benefit of longer bricks so this is just my personal training methodology now. But, I think a brick of some sort of distance a week does some good a few months leading up to the race.
    – I also realized to not underestimate hydration during the race. It wasn’t hot in 2009, but I realized later on the run I was very dehydrated though I was following my fluid/nutrition plan from training. So, I took more water on the bike course in 2011 and also a bit more on the run too.
    – If it’s hot, I have other clothing I wear (learned this from 08), articles I take – DeSoto cooling top, wetted towel around my neck (use it to wipe sweat), a cooling pad under my helmet (and might possibly take on the run in my next race if it’s hot), plus arm coolers on the bike (also from DeSoto).
    – I hear ya wrt weight. Still struggling myself due to bad eating habits, not handling sports nutrition correctly, and what those have done to my body composition over the years. However, I would recommend getting one of Bob Seebohar’s books that talks about training your body to use fat instead of carbs. I try to follow a good bit of that advice, but TV and boredom are still my enemies causing me to mindlessly munch on foods. Still, after I followed Bob’s advice in one of his books, I actually weighed less during that season than when I did in college. Definitely helps on the bike and run. Back down again this season but attempting to change some of my composition too.

    Yeah, long reply….I do hope you keep at it. Triathlon is a wondrous sport that tests one mentally as well as physically. And BTW, wish I could’ve met Craig Alexander…he was supposed to be there last year but had to drop out. Still got to meet a few other pros though. Hey, feel free to message/friend me in BT! Good luck at Skipjack!

  5. As always, I look forward to your posts and am never dissapointed. You clearly explain the emotional roller coaster of weightloss and triathlon. Please don’t give up. Please continue. You have made amazing strides in the past year plus…
    It is really tricky balancing all of this for me (work, family, triathlon), and as I approach my first HIM on Saturday I know I have missed scheduled workouts but I know I missed them for the right reasons (primarily to spend time with my family). I am hoping the missed workouts won’t come back to bite me, but I also know that if I had to make the choice again, I wouldn’t choose differently. That one of the lessons I want to teach my kids.
    Please know – you are an inspiration and a great source of information for me. Train hard. You will achieve your goal when its right for you to achieve it.
    itsallrelative_Maine (from BT)

  6. Thanks for the reminder that consistency in training is a key building block. And thanks for the ‘guy in my corner’ feeling I can get reading about a heavier-than-the-lightweights triathlete who is still out there working hard and doing his best. You just inspired me to give tonight’s training a good, solid effort, for that is the only way we improve. Thanks, Andrew (TheClaaaw)!

  7. Your recap brought tears to my eyes. I can imagine how disappointed you are, but I believe you made the right decision. You live to race another day. And you’re right about the lessons you teach your kids — “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

    You started and raced most of a half Ironman — how many people can say they’ve done that? You might have a long way to go, but you’ve already come so far. Please don’t give up your dream. You know what you need to do, so do it.

  8. Hi,
    Can’t comment on training and facing challenges for triathlons, will be doing my first Sprint in 3 weeks and I’m scared out of my mind. I can only try to give you hope towards weight loss. I’m Outlandluc on BT, the guy who lost 130 lbs.

    Don’t give up, the finishing line is even greater than anything you can imagine. Don’t ever look at what’s left to do, but always at what you have lost. I spent 20 years trying to loose the weight, only to face failure after failure. It is only last November that I finally passed that point where success became a reality. I am a father of 4, and 48 years old, and i can say that keeping motivated to loose the weight when there was still so much to loose was the most difficult experience in my life.

    When I was still overweight, I would never have had the strength to attempt the physical challenges you give yourself time after time. You certainly have the strength to finish the most important part of your challenge.

  9. I just followed your blog from BT and found this post incredibly inspiring. I am so impressed by anyone who attempts such a long race, finishing it or not isn’t really the point. And I’m very glad to read that you’re going to continue~good for you! Thanks for sharing the great Roosevelt quote, too. I’m doing my first sprint tri next month and am starting to question/doubt myself. This quote will be a great motivator.

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