I had never done two Ironmans with less than a month in between. For that matter, I had never done two Ironmans with less than six months in between. Going into Ironman Wisconsin, just three weeks after Mt Tremblant, I didn't know how my body would react.
Up to that point, I had always gone into races with a "finish at all cost" mentality. It's in my nature. I'm very stubborn, and in many aspects of life, that's a negative. My extreme stubbornness is something I've tried to tone down over the years. But when you're doing something as unreasonable as an Ironman, sometimes the more unreasonable parts of your personality are better equipped to deal.
On the way to Wisconsin, I fought mental battles with myself about what I would do if push came to shove. I was hoping to finish, but this was uncharted territory for me, and I also had several other races to take into account. With great mental effort, I convinced myself that if the situation called for it, I would be okay with a DNF.
Race day, the swim and the beginning of the bike went okay, and my legs seemed to be in decent shape despite their recent beating at Mt Tremblant. But about a third of the way along the bike course, there was a particularly bumpy set of railroad tracks, and I didn't realize how much they were sticking up until too late. WHAM!
Uh-oh... a few hundred yards later, I started feeling a bump-bump-bump. Pulling over to see which tire was flat, I discovered to my dismay that it was both of them! I only had one spare with me, but knew there were bike tech vehicles on the course somewhere. I figured I would go ahead and change one flat, and with any luck, bike tech would show up to help with the second one. I changed the first flat. I waited. I took the old tube off the second wheel, to expediate the process if bike tech showed up. I waited some more.
I started having flashbacks to those mental battles I'd had with myself in the car. I had told myself that if there came a point in the race where I had more to lose than to gain, I would drop out. Clearly that was the case here! I'd been sitting at the side of the road for more than fifteen minutes. I had zero chance of being on the podium. Therefore, I would be better off pulling the plug and focusing on my next few races.
I put the tube with the hole in it back on my wheel, put the wheel back on the bike, and started walking back towards the tracks, where there had been a group of volunteers and spectators. At this point, I was no longer looking for bike tech. I was looking for a ride back to transition.
I rounded the corner and - low and behold - there was the bike tech vehicle I'd been waiting for! The were helping another rider who'd gotten a flat on the same set of tracks. They had spare tubes. I could have changed my flat and continued the race, but I had already made up my mind, and it is really hard to un-make a decision like that.
I got a ride back to transition, with several other people who were dropping out. The first few hours, I was fine with the decision I'd made. My legs would be fresher for my next few races. Running a marathon would have worsened my plantar fasciatis. And even if I'd finished, I would never have been on the podium.
I had a seventeen hour drive back to Boston, which was plenty of time to do some soul searching. I realized I'd set myself up for failure before I'd even started. In any Ironman, there are going to be tough moments. Times when you want to quit. Giving yourself permission to quit, under any circumstances, is a slippery slope that is dangerous to go down.
I realized my decision had been largely motivated by fear. Fear of embarressing myself, and coming in last. That had happened in Boulder, after all. I had thought there were two people behind me, but they both dropped out of the race. In Mt Tremblant, I had thought there were five people behind me, but four of them dropped out.
I believe there are times when abandoning the race is the right thing to do. If you sustain an injury, or you are going to sustain an injury by continuing, it might be smart to pull the plug. This was not one of those times.
It took a while to process the fact that I had actually chosen to quit. Placing last in Boulder had been a sharp sting, but I'd gotten over it. This was like eating a bite of really spicy food - it didn't seem too bad at first, but once it set in, the burn lasted a lot longer.
Now that I'd learned the hard way, I made up my mind that I was never going to quit again, ever.
A few weeks later, I did the Cozumel 70.3 - that race that I'd been saving my legs for when I chose to drop out. The swim and bike went okay, but I really bonked on the run. It was not the race I hoped for, but I was proud of myself for the fact that not once did I consider dropping out.
After that came Waco. My swim split was not what I hoped for. My bike split was not what I hoped for. Everything was going wrong. There was a fire ants nest at my spot in transition, I lost one of my water bottles, and I crashed at the dismount line. During the second transition, I felt about as motivated as I'd felt sitting at the side of the road in Wisconsin, with my two flats. Somehow, about 3-4 miles into the run, I pulled myself together.
During the last ten miles, I ran from 11th place to 7th place, finishing in the top half for the first time since turning pro. Those ten miles are one of the highlights of my season. It is much, much harder to turn a bad day into a good day than to stay positive when everything is going right to begin with. In some ways, it felt like a do-over of Wisconsin. No matter how much your day sucks, keep going, because it ain't over til it's over.
In Part 4 of this blog, I'll talk about my last couple of races in 2019, and plans for 2020!