Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Road to Ironman

No, I myself have not done an Ironman.  I have thought it about tho and if it wasn't for an open water swim with hundreds of flailing body limbs around me, I might actually be crazy enough to attempt at least a sprint Ironman.

But I am proud to say I know one.  He just completed it this year.  I had him in my youth group in Georgia when he was just a young man and he has turned out to be a very inspirational soul - as many of my former students have gone on to be.  So this is his story.

I'd like you to meet Ben Fitzpatrick.  Husband, son, dad.  Owner of Fitness at Five in Athens, GA.


This is where he plays works. 

And this is his Ironman story...

“17 hours…17 hours…you have 17 hours…” were the only words I could hear in my head on August 24th during the near 500 mile drive it took to get from the foothills of North Georgia to Louisville Kentucky, the site of the 2012 Ironman Louisville. It would be my first attempt at the distance. I had raced triathlon for years, exclusively Sprint distance races, but always like a new challenge. Call me athletically A.D.D., but I needed the motivation. I have been enamored with the idea of Ironman from the first time I witnessed the NBC broadcast of the event. In that broadcast the narrator detailed the first running of the race, less a competition than to settle an argument: Who is the fittest person on Earth? Some said it was the winner of the annual Waikiki Roughwater swim. Others proposed great Marathon champions. And one present noted that World Class cyclists like those in the Tour de France would have viable stake to the claim.

As those present were familiar with the new format of races being done in San Diego, triathlons, they decided to combine these ultimate distances for what would soon be known as “the most difficult single day event on the planet.” They set a date, and with a hand printed flyer invited the best athletes they could find (or coerce). The final line of this publication now stands as the official tagline for Ironman:  “Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles…brag for the rest of your life!”

So on Saturday, May 12th I sat at my computer and pulled up the website I visited frequently,  Admittedly, I should have been out on a training run or a group ride, but the motivation just wasn’t there. So I again lived vicariously through the inspiring clips of others like the ALS Warrior Poet Jon “Blazeman” Blais and “Team Hoyt”. Those who had trained, sacrificed, and paid the price to call themselves “Ironman”. On that day I decided I could no longer stand back and look longingly through the window at others achieving their dreams. I started racing triathlon because I wanted to do Ironman! So like tearing off a band-aid, I clicked register, threw down my credit card (to an amount I will not disclose), and suddenly had a glowing screen reading, “congratulations, your are successfully registered for the 2012 Ironman Louisville.” And so it began.

I won’t bore you with the details of the training, but I will give you the schedule of my 16 weeks of preparation for Ironman Louisville.

Monday: Total body strength training/core
Tuesday a.m.: Swim
Tuesday p.m.: Run
Wednesday a.m.: Run (easy)
Wednesday p.m.: Bike
Thursday a.m.: Swim
Thursday p.m.: Run
Friday a.m.: Run (easy)
Friday p.m.: Bike
Saturday: Bike long/Run long/or long brick
Sunday: Rest

I did this in increasing distances for 12 weeks. I didn’t give myself a chance to skip workouts, despite how much I wanted to. Every time I didn’t want to get out of bed, all I could think was “don’t give yourself an excuse. If you don’t finish this, don’t open yourself to ‘what if I had not been so lax on training?’” At the end of the 12 weeks, I felt that I was in the best shape of my life. That being said, I feared that even my best shape, even my best effort, would not be enough to get me to that finish line, and that was the most frightening prospect of all: what if your best just isn’t good enough?

So filled with fear and excitement, my wife Katie and I head off on our 500-mile journey. We arrived at The Galt House, the host hotel for IM Louisville. Along with 3000 of the tannest, fittest athletes I’ve ever seen, we headed directly to sign in. Just the sight of them made me feel that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was ushered to an athlete only area where no less than a dozen individuals checking and rechecking my identity barraged me and had me sign release waiver after release waiver. I can’t tell you how many times someone mentioned “death due to drowning” or “death by heat stroke” or “sudden cardiac arrest”.  If I wasn’t nervous before, I was now. I emerge from the athlete only area looking ghostly and macabre. 

K: “You okay?”
Me: “Just trying to stay alive”.

We get settled in our room and I go to unpacking everything I’ll need for race day. Transition 1 bag, Transition 2 bag, bike special needs bag, run special needs bag, race morning bag, bike number, helmet number, run number. If I can say anything for World Triathlon Corporation, they are nothing if not efficient and well run. I spent the remainder of Friday night organizing and reorganizing everything that will have to be checked in Saturday, the day before the race.

Saturday morning I partake in the optional practice swim, where part of the course is opened to get in the open water and become acclimated to the temperature and sighting in the Ohio River. After that I spend the remainder of the day taking in downtown Louisville, tour the Louisville Slugger museum, and then head back to the room to have a 4:30p.m. dinner as my alarm is set to go off at 3:30a.m. the next morning. A quick dinner, my traditional lemon caper pasta with garlic, and I’m off to bed. Surprisingly, I experienced no nervousness to this point. I suppose I had given in to the idea of at this point, whatever happens, happens, and my job is just to respond as well as possible.

For the rest of the story, check back in a couple of days.  I'll also be putting my Route 66 Half Marathon post as well.  
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