Monday before the race I could feel a bit of a sore throat. No big deal...it was barely noticeable. Tuesday morning I awoke with a tad more soreness so I thought I would play it smart and visit the doctor and stay home from school. I was hoping to get an antibiotic to be preventative but my normal doctor wasn't in and the doctor I saw didn't think my minor symptoms warranted any medicine. I was fine with that because I liked hearing that I was pretty healthy.
Thursday after school Jen and I drove most of the way to Chattanooga. We stayed in Nashville late in the evening and drove the rest of the way Friday morning. Shortly after arriving we met up with friends Dan Ward and Robert White who were also racing. I then attended the pro athlete meeting and drove the race course with fellow Iowa pro and Ironman Wisconsin champion and course record-holder Daniel Bretscher. The bike course had a lot of rolling hills but nothing scary at all. Overall it looked like a pretty fast course even though it was slightly longer than any Ironman event in history with 116 miles to bike rather than the usual 112. I got my bike ready in the hotel and then we met up with Dan and his wife Wendi, Robert and his wife Jana, and local Jeff Kaczinski who had made the trip to support us. It was over the course of 1 hour at dinner when things got weird. All of a sudden within this hour I began to lose my voice and also get really congested. By the time we arrived back at the hotel I didn't sound very good. I started pounding Vitamin C tablets and prayed I was just getting a minor head cold. Saturday morning things were the same. My voice was continuing to go downhill and the congestion wasn't disappearing. I didn't have a temp and didn't feel like I had any lower energy than normal so I tried to put it out of my mind. We did all the bike and gear check in required and I was soundly asleep at a good hour awaiting the big day.
Sunday morning I woke up for the race still without much of a voice and slightly congested. I warmed up with about 2 miles of running. I found out we had missed wetsuits by 1 degree. The water was 77 and Ironman cutoff is 76.1. Either way I knew it would be a fast swim because we were swimming down the Tennessee River with the current. From experience I knew the lack of a wetsuit would leave me many more minutes behind the leaders than normal but my big goal was to break 9 hours and I thought even without a wetsuit the current would make this a fast swim. I was right.
SWIM: We started the swim just before 7:40 AM at the first sign of sunlight. I was off the pack very quickly and settled in behind 1 other swimmer for about 500 yards before I lost contact with him. My goal was to get 1/2 way before the first women passed me. They were starting only 3 minutes behind us. I didn't make that goal. Despite not being in very good position I could tell the swim was going quickly based on how fast I was getting to the next buoy. About 3/4 the way into the swim I started getting passed by a few amateurs not knowing how far behind me they started. 1 that really impressed me was a guy in a wetsuit. At first I wondered why a guy in a wetsuit got to start so early. They allow wetsuits up to 82 degrees but only for people who agree they won't be eligible for any age group awards. They always make them start after all the non-wetsuit swimmers. It was after he was all the way past me when I realized why he was in a wetsuit and so far up in the race. HE HAD 1 LEG!!! This guy with 1 leg just went flying by me in his Xterra Vortex suit! It was super impressive. I exited the water in my best Ironman distance swim time of 51:xx. I have yet to look up official results so that's going on what I saw on the clock when I emerged from the water.
I had a what felt like a pretty quick transition. I was not feeling sick so I didn't even think about that. I was excited to get out on the bike. My goal was to hold 235-240 watts. It was a goal I was sure I could hit. I had done nearly 100 miles in a long training ride 3 weeks prior to the race at that wattage. I planned to hit my lap button every 7 miles to restart my average watts. In the first 7 miles I was right in the zone but it felt like more work than it should have been. Maybe my legs aren't warmed up yet? I teamed up with a guy about 5 miles in and we rode the next 45 miles or so trading the lead. My wattage would drop at the same speed by about 10 watts when I rode legally 10 meters behind him so I knew this was helping me conserve. I was riding really well on the down hill sections and spinning a high cadence going up the hills. I stayed in my zone but it was much more difficult than I expected. Just after the 1/2 way point of the race this guy fell back and I was solo. I passed 2 professional guys just after the 1/2 way point but the power was getting very difficult. I was occasionally coughing up some nastiness but it wasn't anything I was too concerned with. It wasn't long after the 1/2 way point that the power started dropping fast. I was taking in all my calories, salt, and water. I couldn't figure out why the wattage that was so easy in the training rides was this difficult now. I continued on and ended my last couple 7 mile segments at only about 200 watts. I had my watch going and knew the sub-9 goal was probably out of the question. With a 3 hour marathon I could still had a shot at a PR and I thought from my training I was capable of running 2:55 however the way I felt on the bike I realized this was probably not going to be the case.
RUN: Out on the run is when things really started to go downhill. My back ached out of transition. I had ridden 9 times over 100 miles in my 10 week training block. Most of that riding was spent in the aero position and I never once had any back issues. I couldn't figure out why it was tight now. I began the run and saw my pace and it was disheartening. I was working hard and was only running about 8:00 pace. Deep breaths were getting more and more painful. I was starting to cough up garbage more frequently. At about the mile mark I realized I needed to try to get things right. I stopped to stretch out my back. When I resumed running things were not any better. I realized then that this was not going to be a good run...instead it would be a suffer-fest to the finish line. I was having a hard time keeping my breathing calm and my knees were not coming up. I was reminded of this because I kept scuffing my shoes on the pavement and I would tell myself to get my knees up but they just wouldn't respond. The miles went by ever so slowly and the pain began mounting with each mile. I was completely in suffer mode with over 20 miles to run. I knew I could end the pain by just pulling the plug. I realized that this little cold I had was affecting my body far more than I had anticipated. I thought about stopping but deep down I knew this wasn't an option. My kids would want to know how I did when I got done. I didn't have the heart to tell them I didn't finish. In my classroom we emphasize goal setting throughout the year. I teach a 2 day lesson on the topic and we revisit goal setting often. Students fill out goal sheets every quarter for both school goals and out of school goals. I teach about the importance of having steps to achieve those goals and I had gone over my goals for this race and the steps I took to achieve those goals with my class before I left. Having to tell them I didn't finish the race was not an option. I accepted the fact that this was going to be a long and painful run. The only walking I did was at aid stations trying to get something that would make my body feel better. Nothing did the trick and I gave up on the aid station revival at about mile 20. I decided to just try to get my mind off the pain by thanking every volunteer and spectator I could. Around mile 23 my friend Robert White passed me going the other direction and I said, "Thanks for coming out." I didn't even realize it was Robert until he was gone. After the race he said he almost turned around to see if I was okay because he heard what I said and he could tell by the way I looked something was off. I was extremely relieved to cross the finish line and end the suffering. I was somewhere between 10 hrs. 20 minutes and 10 hrs. 30 minutes. It was easily the most difficult Ironman I have finished. The highlight of the day was watching Dan Ward and Robert White both finish looking awesome under 13 hours!! They were first time Ironman finishers!!
In the evening after the race I was still coughing up garbage and noticed that it contained blood. This had me a bit concerned. I was guessing maybe I had bronchitis. I still had barely a voice to talk with. Monday was much of the same...no voice and coughing up blood. It was a long ride home. Tuesday I really wanted to get to school. I had missed 2 days and I am teaching a unit I love. I went in but called for a sub pretty early. I was coughing up blood still and knew I needed to get that checked out. I also could barely talk which made teaching about impossible. At the doctor's office he listened to my lungs and said he thought I had pneumonia. He ordered a chest X-Ray and I had that immediately. It was confirmed. I had bacterial pneumonia in both lungs. I went on some heavy antibiotics and was given an inhaler to use for the first time in my life. Now 5 days into the medicine my voice has come back to near full strength and I'm stating to feel pretty good. At my follow-up the doctor said he was guessing I'd had it for 2 weeks based on the patches of infection in my lungs. The stress of the Ironman made the symptoms much worse. He reminded me that pneumonia kills people every year and I should not take it lightly.
It would be easy to sit around and wonder why. After such a great block of training why did this have to happen to me now? I've never had pneumonia in my life. Feeling sorry for myself would do no good. There are far too many people in the world with things way more serious than a case of pneumonia and a bad race. I got passed by a guy with 1 leg in the swim. I have much to be thankful for. The training that put me in such great shape was a fun journey. The race was not. I set out to control what I could...which was my training...and I did that. Some things in life you cannot control and this was one of those things.
Over the past 5 days I've been reminded how blessed I am. The most important thing for me racing is to raise funds for the iHope Foundation. This week we raised over $5,000.00. We received a matching gift from Toyota of $2,500.00 that matched local dealership Smart Toyota's $2,500.00. My parents made an incredible donation of $2,000.00 this year after matching the $4,000.00 I earned the foundation through racing a year ago. We also received extremely generous donations this week from Chris and Sarah Chamberlin and from Michelle and Jim Russell. Since January 1st the foundation has received over $18,000.00 in contributions which is allowing us to set the foundation up for long-term giving of iPads and scholarship money for low-income students in our community that display outstanding character and work traits. I am so thankful for all the support. It has completely surpassed my wildest dreams for what I thought this foundation would be when it was created. Over the next few weeks we are going to be able to present students with a gift that could have a life-changing impact. If you'd like to help you can donate through either the iPad portion link above or the scholarship portion link above. My goal is to increase the endowment of the foundation to $100,000.00 before I retire. This would have an annual payout that would provide 3 students each with an iPad or other technology device valued around $500.00 along with a $1,000.00 scholarship for eternity. We are over 1/4 the way there. Since the foundation was created in March of 2013 over $33,000.00 has been contributed.
I'd like to give a HUGE thanks to my wife Jen who is always so supportive of my training and racing. I was glad to have her by my side in Chattanooga through my difficult day. Also, huge thanks to Jason Rangel who made the trip to Chattanooga to watch my race. Special thanks to so many individuals who sent me messages through texts, calls, facebook...etc leading up to and after the race. You inspire me so much to DREAM BIG! The video below was taken at the finish line in Chattanooga. I knew many people would be wondering what happened and without a voice and not wanting to tell the story of suffering many times through I decided the best thing was to just tell the story. As the famous line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail goes..."I'm not dead yet!" Next year will be my best ever! ever.