How I crushed my 5th Ironman in 9:34 and learned the greatest lesson of 2013.
This past year has been one of the most extraordinary to reminisce on. Kate and I welcomed our little angel, Indira, into our lives, my book just launched, I turned 40, my coaching and speaking have taken new directions and we’ve began new adventures on the entrepreneurial front… How was I going to fit in one of my favorite endeavors? Was I going to have to take a break? Retire? Find something else???
For me it always came back to being the absolute best for Indira, with no compromises. I always knew that becoming a parent was going to be transformational for me, but I had no idea how much I’d fall in love with this soul. After many conversations with Kate, we’d decided that I’m far better off being that father that “Shows” Indira what is possible in life, as opposed to just telling her. I therefore had to continue to pursue my journey of taking my health and well-being to super human levels by continuing the lifestyle and competing in the most challenging single day endurance event on earth… IRONMAN!
IM is a 3.8km open water swim, 180km bike and finishes with a 42.2km marathon run… Not for the faint of hearts.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lau Tzu
I’d only planned to race 1 IM race this year and it was very close to home in Whistler, BC, Canada… In August I toed the start line in Whistler, only to have one the most disappointing races in my entire life. I’d walked into Whistler in the best shape of my life and 20 minutes into the swim I began to get cramps in my rib cage. This continued on the bike and just kept getting worse. By the time I’d hit the marathon my body was in complete melt down mode. Every cell in my body was screaming at me to stop and quit. I’ve never DNF’d (did not finish), but in Whistler I thought about it for 9 long miles while I was brought down to a snails pace walk. It was a pretty dark journey. I finally stumbled my way to the finish line and was grateful to just have finished, forget about splits, paces and times.
Over the next week I was a complete basket case. What happened in Whistler? Is my body too old? Should I give up this journey of being Super Human? Is this a sign from the universe telling me to move on?
I spent an immense amount of time that week in quiet contemplation and being with myself. Kate knew the fire within me was out so she just loved me up.
“It is difficult to fail in life, but it is even worse never to have tried to succeed”
In my book, Beyond Body, Beyond Mind I spend a great deal of time talking about Values and Emotions. I find that a lot of people are driven by their emotions. The challenge with this is that our emotions are not the most reliable. All you have to do is look around and see what people put in their mouths and minds and it’s crystal clear that an emotionally driven life forces us to fill unconscious voids from within. Things we perceive as missing… feelings of self worth, love, connection, joy… the list goes on and on. As a result, we seek temporary relief (emotionally driven choices) from the shackles that hold us down from within.
This is where I was, “I quit, this sport sucks, I suck, I’m done being an athlete!” A few days after IM in Whistler I knew I was stuck in the emotions of it all, so I went through a value clarification process to see what the next step was. I’d learned that I was in this state simply because I didn’t get an opportunity to execute the fitness that I’d earned. I felt ripped off. The remedy to this was to simply go out and execute. I jumped online and saw that registration for IM Cozumel in Mexico was still open and it was a short 12 weeks away, Dec. 1. Kate being the extraordinary person that she is supported this decision fully…
So here is the journey to my greatest Ironman Adventure….
For 2013 I decided to take everything I know about the human mind and body and take a totally unique and innovative approach to training and racing. I’m convinced, based on science, that the traditional approach to training for IM is not only inefficient and backwards, it’s also unhealthy, and decreases our life expectancy. I love this sport but don’t want to fall into this category, so I coached myself this past year putting in half the training time from previous years. I still worked hard, but far more efficiently, with far more intensity.
I used things like cold thermogenesis, fat adaptation, adaptogenic techniques, advanced biohacking, heart rate variability, pulse oxometry, electromagnetic shielding, ketogenesis, piezoelectric care, DNA testing… the list goes on and on. I was tracking sleep patterns, metabolic rate, body fat, body water, bone mass, muscle mass on a daily basis tracking how my body was responding to my customized training protocols. I became the ultimate bio-hacker attempting to get the most out of this vehicle I was given.
I love being different, out of the box and being on the cutting edge of life. I took everything I’ve learned about the mind, body & spirit from my 11 years of post-secondary study and everything I’ve learned over the past 21 years as a student of life and put it all into action. The end result was that after 12 months I was in the greatest shape and fitness of my entire life come Dec. 1.
“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got”
For the athletes here these were some of numbers coming into Ironman Cozumel:
Age – 40
Resting Heart rate – 31bpm
Weight – 140lbs
Body Fat – 4.5%
Bone Mass – 6.5 lbs
Muscle Mass – 126lbs
Bike Functional Threshold Power: 265 Watts (4.17 W/Kg)
Running VDOT: 60
I’d also spent the past 12 weeks with a focused swim block swimming 15km/week. This was going to be my first race without a wetsuit as the temperatures in Cozumel make wetsuits illegal. I wanted to make sure I’d have a solid swim. It was always a dream of mine to learn how to swim and in 2010 I began to pursue that dream. For the first time I can say in a very short 4 years that “I AM a swimmer”. It has taken a lot of hard work, dedication and patience, but I have arrived as a swimmer.
“Whatever your mind can conceive you can achieve”
My brother and I arrived in Cozumel 3 days before race day. I was shocked at how windy it was there. Apparently a storm was coming through and winds were scorching over 80km/h… not good for IM. Friday morning I was planning on swimming in the ocean to get comfortable with the currents. The port authority didn’t let any athletes in the water because it was too dangerous. This made for a lot of nervous athletes, including myself. Saturday morning I planned to go for a swim again… nope, too dangerous. I’m thinking “WTF” the race is tomorrow, what’s going to happen. At the race meeting they said they may have to cancel the swim and just make the race a duathlon (bike and run) or change the swim route to be safer.
“Only give energy to what you can control, everything else induces the stress response”
12 Hour Countdown
Saturday night, less than 12 hours before race start all the athletes received an email from IM race headquarters. There would be an IM the next day, but the swim route would change. Rather than having a single loop swim that started and ended in the same place (transition 1), we would be driven by bus to a new swim start and it was a point to point swim of 3.1km. I was totally cool with that and just grateful they didn’t cancel the swim, but it made a lot of these triple type “A” personality athletes very nervous… I guess a last minute change to an IM race less than 12 hours before start time is suboptimal.
I ended Saturday night with an inspiring call with Kate and Indira, meditated for 1 hour and was in bed by 8pm. I slept on and off which’s typical for me before race day. I woke up at 1am and had liquid nutrition. I woke up again at 3:30 and had more liquid nutrition. At 5am Raj and I made our way down to the resort lobby and got our ride down to the race start. With my Nano cranked, I did a last check on my bike, inflated my tires and kept telling myself “I feel F***KIN AMAZING!” I find that words that are emotionally charged, like the “F” word are the best to get me into the zone and state I desire.
By 6am I was boarding the bus with 1000’s of other athletes to the new race start.
“Execution Time – The discipline of getting it done.”
IM SWIM START
The Pros started 20 minutes before us age groupers and it was great to be racing with some of the best athletes in the world. I got in the water at 6:45 swam out 100m to the start line and began treading water waiting for the gun to go off. I placed myself dead center, front row, I wanted to be right in the middle of all the action from the get go. There was a nice current coming from our right side and slightly behind us and I knew if I could sight well, swim straight and not let the current push me into the shoreline, this was going to make for a fast swim time. At 6:59 I was looking at my watch and watched it flick to 7am, and bang I got a punch right in the back of my head. When it turned to 7am everyone just started swimming, no national anthem, no gun… : ) This caught me a little off guard, but that was the roughest part of my swim. The first 400m I was in full on sprint mode. I was counting strokes and knew exactly when 400m would be up. I find this the most difficult part of the swim. I’m hammering a pace that cannot be sustained for the full swim and after 3 mins lactate is building up in my arms and lats, yet I know I need to keep going hard.
“If You Want to Grow Exponentially You’ve Got to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Do What Scares You Most”
After 400m I settled into a longer stroke, yet kept my arm turnover high at 77 strokes per minute. I was focused, I was poised, I was executing the best swim of my life. This was the most respectful swim I’ve ever had in an IM. Other than the one punch to the head at race start, there was next to no body contact. I got into a group of 3 swimmers and we pretty much swam the entire swim together. I decided I was not going to look for a draft by locking on to another athlete’s feet, rather I was going to let a draft come to me. That’s exactly what happened. I had an athlete about 2 inches to my right, our arms kept respectfully hitting each other and to my left several inches away. It was perfect as we’d take turns leading and drafting from each other’s hips. This was the fastest swim time I’ve ever had in my life. Looks like putting in 15km/week of swimming paid off big time.
SWIM TIME: 44 minutes (3.1km)
“There are No Secret’s to Success in Life, It’s All Simply the Result of Working Hard and Smart”
After getting out of the water, the bike exit for T2 was a loooooong way away. I’d rehearsed and practiced my T2 exit dozens of times the past week so I was ready. I got out of the water and ran very hard, just below a sprint pace. I was passing people like they were in reverse. While running to my swim-to-bike bag I unzipped my swimskin bringing it to my waist and tucked my goggles and swim cap into my crotch. I studied exactly where my bag was hung, grabbed it in full stride and continued running into the change tent. I pulled out my helmet and put it on as I ran right through the change tent. At the exit, I clipped my chin strap on while I stepped with my legs pulling my swimskin off. I stopped for a second, but never sat down, I grabbed my zip lock bag and shoved my goggles, cap and swimskin in the bag… I was off to my bike. My shoes were clipped on my pedals and I continued with a mean pace through the long T2 to the bike mount line. Without skipping a beat in full stride I mounted my bike and was off for a bike ride through Cozumel.
Training and racing with a power meter I heavily rely on technology to execute optimal pacing and effort. As I toggled my Garmin from swim to Bike mode it froze up… WTF! I’m like, “you gotta be f***in kiddin me”! So I turned it off and restarted my Garmin 910xt… same thing.. froze up….NO! I repeated this 4 times, the fifth time it finally opened to my bike window…. Whew.
For the athletes… my goal was to hold an IF .73 for the entire ride. The course was 3 laps of the island that totaled 183km. I knew that as the day went on the winds would pick up. My goal was to hold the same IF for the entire ride, which would make each lap a little slower due to winds. I ignored everyone else and began my own ride and pacing. It was clear right from the start that there was a lot of drafting (cheating) going on. Holding my watts I was passing trains of drafters. I completed the first 61 km at an average speed of 23.2 mph. This was holding an IF of .73, taking in 300 calories/hr and if I could hold this pace I would have had a 4:50 bike split.
Onto lap 2…. After my first lap I felt great. I was on my nutrition plan, I was holding my target watts, I was staying cool with squirting water at every aid station all over my body and vital organs… life was good. As I began my second lap I was approaching another train of athletes playing the draft game. But this group was riding only a slightly slower pace than I was. It took me several minutes to catch them once they were in my sight. As I approached the last rider I had to make a commitment to either sit back or pass them ALL (that’s the only legal move). I knew I’d have to slightly spike my watts for a few minutes to make that pass. After contemplating for several minutes and seeing my IF go down to .65 with a legal draft I decided to make my move. My IF spiked to .80 for a few minutes and got to the front of the pack. There were several athletes from my age group here, so I knew this was where my race was. I was pretty sure that the top guys in my age group were in here. I was excited to be in the mix now. Different from other packs of cyclists, I couldn’t drop this group… they were riding very strong. They stayed on my wheel, in fact they stayed on my wheel for the entire loop. For over an hour they just sat there. I found it a little frustrating. Especially for the part of the island where we were riding straight into a headwind. The wind had certainly picked up and my average pace had dropped to 22.5mph which was still a sub 5 hour bike split.
At the end of the second lap we passed an official, as we passed he looked at me at the front of this train and I pointed back, thinking… “are you going to do something about this?” He jumped on his scooter and caught up to us after a few minutes. As this was happening, I’m guessing the guy behind me heard the scooter and decided to pass me. When he passed he veered back right and I was 6 inches behind his wheel so I stopped pedaling to drop back and get out of his draft zone. As the official pulled up he looked right at me and gave me a red card for drafting. I was behind this guys wheel for less than 10 seconds???
I totally lost it, I rode over the center yellow line (risked getting disqualified) and started yelling at the official. “Are you f***kin kidding me, these guys were on my draft for the last hour.” I kinda regret doing this now. He was just doing his best to call what he saw, how would he have any idea what’s been going on the last hour. With a surge of adrenalin I took off, spiked my watts (huge mistake) and stopped a few miles down the road at the next penalty tent.
“We learn from mistakes and failure, not from success”
When I arrived I was expecting the official to hand me a stopwatch so I could serve my 4-minute penalty, but he didn’t. So after a few seconds I hit the lap button on my Garmin and timed myself. This was the first penalty I’ve ever gotten, so it was all-new for me. I decided to stretch my legs and get in some extra nutrition. I’d later learn that this was a massive mistake. After a few minutes the penalty tent was full with over 20 athletes. After 4 minutes I told the ref my time was done. He yelled at me and said, “I’ll tell you when you’re time’s done!”. He recorded everyone’s number and after 8 minutes of being in the penalty tent he looked at me and said I could go. I’m like great, thanks for nothing, I just served 8 minutes for a 4 minute penalty, thanks for screwing me over pal.
I hit the road for my final lap like a bat out of hell. I was hammering and trying to make up for lost time… another lesson learned. After 2 miles my legs completely seized up and I had killer cramps. I can remember reading Andre Agassiz biography last year (the great tennis player) and he spoke about never fooling his body into thinking the set, match or game was over until it actually was. Between sets he would NEVER sit down to rest, he would keep moving. Even when I raced 100-mile ultra-marathons, the longest break I’d take was less than 2 minutes. Those 8 minutes in the penalty tent caused the blood to start pooling in my legs and they felt like crap. Speeding out of the penalty tent only made things worse. The cramps stopped me dead in my tracks, just like that sharp muscle spasm that happens on the underside of ones foot, my quads were going into complete spasm. So I stopped pedaling, massaged them and decided to start consuming electrolyte tabs to see if that would help. Another mistake… because I consumed extra calories in the penalty tent, the salt tabs made me feel sick…
“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.”
I’d spent the last 22 miles of the bike stopping for muscle spasms every 3-4 miles and vomiting every 2-3 miles. Not good! My IF dropped down to .59 for the last lap. I was still an hour from T2 and the wheels had completely fallen off my wagon. I did me best to stay present and not think about what any of this meant. I kept telling myself, “This will pass, keep going, you can do this….” I stopped several times, vomited several times and worked as hard as I could to hold pace in between. During the last 3 miles I began to obsessively think about the marathon. I wasn’t going to let the circumstances around me and the sensations of my body affect my resolve to still put my best foot forward. I kept telling myself, “This is your day, you’re a runner, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”
I completely slowed down during that last lap and finished 183km in 5:09 + 8 minute penalty = 5:17 bike split. Not what I was hoping for, but I didn’t know this at the time, because I refused to look at my overall split and time because I knew it was about 20 minutes slower than I’d anticipated. This would have completely deflated me and I didn’t want to give up without a fight. I didn’t want to feel let down, so I never toggled to my overall time nor did I check my bike split time. I stayed present and told myself to just run like I’ve never ran before…
“In Life… It’s not over till it’s over, never lose faith”
I flew off my bike, handed it to a volunteer, and yelled at myself, “GO, GO, GO, GO!” Grabbed my bag, tore off my helmet in stride, put on my socks and shoes standing and ran out with everything in my hands, putting on my shades, visor and stuffing my pockets with nutrition all in stride. I was in and out of T2 in 1:32. I knew I couldn’t rest otherwise the spasms would persist. Awesome Transition!
The Marathon 42.2 km/26.2 miles
“A Journey Deep into the Soul to See what You are Truly Capable of Accomplishing”
The days leading up to race day I’d decided that I was going for it this race, I was going to turn myself inside out and completely bury myself leaving absolutely nothing on the course. Any race that I’ve had a personal best has lead me down a deep journey into my soul.
I started out the marathon running 7:30’ish min/miles. After 6 minutes my inner thighs went into spasm and I fell to the ground, massaged them and then started running again. I figured if I slowed my pace down perhaps the spasms and cramps would go. I backed down to a 7:50 min/mile pace and after a few minutes, the exact same thing happened. So my rational mind said F**K IT! Just run what you know you can based on the training you’ve put in, so I did. After a few miles I dropped down to a 6:55 min/mile pace and yes every several minutes I’d collapse to the ground in muscle spasms, massage… get up and start running again. I didn’t walk, I was either running this sub 7 min/mile pace or stopped in massage mode. Nothing in between. Sometimes I’d stop for 30 seconds, other times a full minute… I knew several people racing and they couldn’t figure out why I’d passed them several times during the marathon. I spent the entire run passing people like they were parked when I was running, I was holding a very strong pace, but then eventually my legs would go into spasm and I’d stop on the side of the road and get passed by many athletes. This continued for the entire 26.2 mile marathon and I just kept burying my body deeper and deeper. Thankfully after having dry heaves during the first several miles of the marathon I knew there was nothing left to puke up and my stomach became a little more tolerable.
“A Person Fails to Reach Their Potential Only When They Fail to Pay the Price”
The weather was extremely hot and humid; temperatures were close to 40 degrees Celsius on the run. I knew that my body and organs were going to overheat. Months leading up I was doing full training sessions in a scorching hot sauna to acclimatize to the heat. If my organs heated up it would change the viscosity of my blood, the oxygen carrying capacity of my hemoglobin would decrease, less oxygen and nutrient delivery, etc… essentially my body would shut down… I had to make sure this didn’t happen. Every aid station I’d take 2 large cups of ice and dump them both into the torso of my trisuit. I’d juggle the ice around all my organs, essentially keeping them frozen for the entire marathon. I knew this was the only way I’d be able to sustain my pace, without organ failure. I was sipping on cups of cola and water too, getting in 175 calories/hour on the run.
This race became difficult at mile 90 of the bike; during the marathon it became completely unbearable. I began suffering immensely by mile 10 of the run, but I kept pushing and never slowed down. By mile 14 I completely “cracked”. This’s the moment in endurance sports when my ego is screaming at me to stop, telling me I’m not worthy or good enough to shine my potential. I’d been preparing for this moment for weeks in meditation to silence the shackles of my ego’s mind chatter. I knew in this race, well before it began, I was going this far. Something quite extraordinary happens to me, it’s as if “I” disconnect from my physical body and begin observing it similar to just watching cars drive down the street. I observe the pain, the discomfort I’m feeling, but I know it’s not me, I know it’s just my vehicle and “I” am far greater than this physical vehicle.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Life is a gift and what one does with their life is a gift back to humanity. I’m on a quest to push the limits of human potential physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. At mile 14 I cracked and tears began flowing down my face like a waterfall. This is why I love being an ultra-endurance athlete, it is for this moment. It’s essentially a layer of my ego being shed and a shift of my perception of what reality is… it’s a quantum leap in consciousness for me. Every stride became rhythmical, my world became silent and with my terminator face everything was moving in slow motion as I became thoughtless. It’s a feeling that once one has experienced it, they are never the same person.
“The More You Dream, the More You Can Achieve. It’s Better to Aspire to Greatness and Fail, than to Not Challenge One’s Self At All & Succeed”
It is the ultimate runners high and I welcomed it. I felt an immense sense of love and gratitude for being able to do this, for being able to connect with that special something within me so intimately. The miles passed, 15…. 18…. 21… My pace continued in total flow and I’d still stop every several minutes being completely detached to the pain my body was experiencing. I’d just sit patiently and wait for the spasms to release and then jump right back into the rhythm of my stride. My feet felt light and my sub 7 minute/mile pace actually felt easier and easier as I got closer to the finish line.
“Dealing With Adversity is the Ultimate Path of Greatness”
At mile 21 a tropical rainstorm came over all the athletes. The roads were completely flooded with small lakes and rivers several inches deep. Without a care in the world I just continued to run right through them all without skipping a beat. I was soaked, my feet had dozens of popped blisters, but my body was on autopilot with purpose and precision. My body was in immense pain, but I was emotionally detached. From mile 21 to 26.2, the finish line, my pace became faster and faster. I ran my last mile in 6:35. I had set a new limit for myself in Ironman racing.
“In Order to Get Things You Never Had, You Must Do Things You Never Did”
I crossed the finish line in 9:34, 9 hours and 34 minutes, and set a new personal record shaving over 20 minutes off my best Ironman time. After I crossed the finish line I wasn’t quite sure where I was. There was no Kate, no Indira, no family, and no friends to greet me. My body collapsed seconds after I crossed the finish line. I fell to the ground and began vomiting profusely. Volunteers came running, picked me up and sat me on a chair. Completely letting myself go, I sat in that chair for over 40 minutes with tears flowing down my face. Every time I cross a finish line I’m a completely different person than when I began that race. This was perhaps the most profound shift I’ve ever experienced as an athlete. I spent these 40 minutes coming back into my physical body and leaving the space that I’d just spent the past hours occupying. I was both happy and sad, full of joy and sorrow and excited with my experience yet depressed it was over. I was experiencing the dualistic nature of life simultaneously as I came back into my body. It was profound and uncomfortable.
“In order to see what’s possible, one must step into the realm of impossible”
There were so many lessons learned about racing, my life and my limits during this race. Yet the greatest lesson began 3 months ago at IM Whistler. I did not have anything close to this experience during that race. It was a very physically limiting experience. After that race I had so many valid reasons to throw in the white towel and stop this obsession of mine. I was a new father, I was turning 40, and we were moving in a few months, my work and speaking schedule was FULL. I contemplated retiring as an endurance athlete telling myself that I no longer had it in me, I couldn’t put in the time and that my experience in Whistler was a sign from the universe to move on…
All my emotions told me to move on. Yet when I went through my value clarification process, the opposite was the case. I’ve never let the circumstances around me dictate my choices, state and decisions from within. 12 weeks ago a part of me thought I was washed up. I was right at my tipping point. So many of us give up the pursuit of our dreams because things don’t pan out the way we’d hoped. If I let the universe push me around I would have quit. The next time something in your life doesn’t unfold the way you intended you’re also likely at your tipping point and the worst thing you could do is give up.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
After having an incredible race with numerous challenges during it I know that I’m only scratching the surface as a long distance triathlete. I’ve only been in this sport for 4 years and after this race I know I can dig even deeper and become a stronger, fitter, smarter and faster athlete.
With this new burst of inspiration I’ll be taking some time off and then jumping back into an intense training schedule, beginning Jan. 1. My goal is to raise my cycling FTP 15% to over 300 W during this offseason. All you drafters at IM Cozumel, THANK YOU!!!! You are my motivation during the next year to bring my cycling threshold up to 4.6W/kg. I will think of you everyday while I bury myself with my innovative model for endurance training.
“The more challenging the attainment of a dream becomes, the more extraordinary the achievement is”
I’m racing IM Arizona November 2014 and I’m making sure nobody will hold my wheel during that race. I’ve created a completely innovative cycling plan that will have me on the bike 6 days/week combined with functional body weight training to get my physical body more powerful than it’s ever been. I’ll continue my time in the pool improving my stroke/technique and bring my VDOT up to 61 so I can hold my pace and run my fastest marathon off the bike.
After this race I feel like a kid in a candy store again mesmerized with the possibilities of the potential in life. To think that I almost gave up a short 12 weeks ago just makes me laugh… I will always be that role model for my daughter that doesn’t just tell her what’s possible in life, but actually shows her….
Thanks for reading!