Monday, May 14, 2012

Ironman St. George, Part III

I pulled into the next aid station, having gone a while without seeing any spectators or support staff since we were now somewhere on the back side of a very windy canyon. The small crowd was a welcome sight. I got off my bike and tried laying on my back in the gravel and dirt. As if the ongoing terrible stomach ache wasn't enough to worry about, I was now feeling quite a bit of lower back pain, probably mostly from sitting/standing on the bike in awkward positions to try to ease the discomfort from the stomach pains. I also felt pretty drained of energy and a little dehydrated at this point, having been unable to eat or drink much now for about 7 hours of intense racing.

This was not the highlight of my life.

Or day, even.

Someone came by and asked if I was ok.

Ok? Nope. 

Whatever I was feeling at that moment, ok was absolutely not it. But, recognizing that "ok" in this context really just meant "capable of survival without an emergency team," I saved this volunteer from the role of therapist.

"Yes. I'm ok."

I overheard two men talking about the bike cutoff times. We were biking on a large loop that we had to go around twice, and they mentioned that we had to be back at that aid station again by 4:00 to make the 4:00 cutoff. I quickly did the math in my head and realized that I was going to have to average about 19 miles per hour for the next couple of hours to make it.

Not impossible, on a typical day. But so far I had averaged somewhere around a very pitiful 12 miles per hour. Yes, your grandma goes faster than that with a walker. I had gone quite slow up to that point. And unless the wind stopped and my stomach settled immediately, it wasn't realistic to imagine this changing any time soon.

But, I wasn't ready to admit that. Not quite yet anyway.

So I jumped back onto Paul Cyclemon and whispered mine and Daniel's geeky catchphrase, "Ride, Paul Cyclemon. Show me the meaning of haste!" as I galloped onward, albeit slowly.

It's a little bit ironic for me to be quoting Lord of the Rings since I utterly failed to understand a single thing that was going on in those films despite my having watched all 297 hours with a lifetime of experiences and a doctorate degree under my belt. But I hung onto humor as much as I could, in this case repeating the one line I remembered from the mystical trilogy in the context of a not so mystical race. It didn't improve my spirits, but the superstitious part of me hoped it would bring good luck.

Before long we turned a corner and began our longest ascent, up a gigantic hill to the top of a peak. This hill is referred to as "the wall." I would have given up any of the following items, and possibly a combination of two or three of them, for a truck to have pulled me to the top:

1. My future
2. All of my clothing back at home
3. Happiness
4. Any cheesecake offered to me until July of this year
5. My ability to read

For that reason, it was probably good that a truck didn't come by at that moment to offer a trade.

And so I rode on. I convinced myself to look down at the ground and count out 100 pedals with my right foot before I would allow myself to look up and see how far I had made it up the hill. I did this many times before finally making it to the top where there was a sign reminding us to "stay possitive" (misspelling on the sign). I was surprised someone's foot hadn't gone through it yet.

Not long after, I descended upon the special needs station, which had a bag I had packed with goodies I thought I might need at that time. I did not have the foresight to pack a handgun. Or meth.

I did, however, pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which was handed to me as I sat in a chair, slowly munching on it until I felt the warm upchuck tickling the back of my throat. No sandwich for Eli. Shouldn't have wasted the good jam.

Back to Paul Cyclemon. The wind eased up a bit and I hit 42 miles per hour on one bumpy downhill, standing in a crouched position with my body leaning against the front of Paul Cyclemon, screaming the entire way. But the burst of speed was far too temporary. And eventually I hit the next aid station, staffed by my good friends Anna, Emma, and Isabel (collectively, "the annas"), who gave me a pep talk through my sunglass-hidden-tears about what I actually accomplished that day, if not a completed Ironman.

It was clear now that I wasn't going to make the next cuttoff time, several miles down the road. Check. Mate.

I talked to the Annas for a bit, and then to my family who was also nearby.

I guess I could have had someone call in support staff to come get me. But it just seemed like an even more devastating defeat to drop out before being officially told to go home. And so I rode on, pushing with everything I had in me, to make a cutoff time that had already passed.

Spoiler alert: I didn't make it.

Somewhere around mile 60-something, a man held out his arms to stop me, told me that I was a failure (in so many words), took my tracking chip from me, and pointed me the direction of the next transition, which was a few miles from that spot.

I rode along the course to transition amid the cheers of supportive spectators all encouraging me to keep pushing, having no idea that I had been disqualified. It's like people congratulating you on getting a job you actually didn't get but haven't announced yet. Except with a stomach and back ache. And throw up.

When I got to transition, they took my bike from me and told me I was still welcome to run, but then, as if I wasn't already aware, reminded me that I was no longer competing. I thought, what the hey, and walked into the changing tent with my running clothes bag.

I hopped into the marathon, motivated to run the full distance, but devastated that it didn't really feel like it meant anything. This inner-battle lasted for about 3 or 4 miles before I finally walked off of the course and back to the hotel.

Good bye, Ironman St. George. You've been a real jerk.

When I got to the hotel room, Daniel was already there, looking similar to how I felt. He missed the same cutoff time as me, but several minutes before I did.

We talked for a while about our experiences, both of us traumatized by several parts of the race, and also awed by the amount of support from so many of our incredible friends, and by so many of you strangers out there who sent encouraging messages, and in some cases, stood along the side of the road cheering us on. That will always be such a positive memory for me.

Over a week has passed now, and it's so strange that it has. Such an epic experience so full of frustration, disappointment, and a few little victories. It's hard to know what emotion to feel.

I gave myself a little pep talk at the end of the race. And again the next day. And every day since. Encouraging myself to be proud of what I did accomplish. Encouraging myself to be proud of the ways in which I've changed since I registered in a panic back in September, having never really swam or set foot on a bike. I didn't just learn how to do those things, but also learned more about dedication. About my own ability to face my fears. And to persevere, even when the storms and the waves become violent. Literally.

During this pep talk, I felt sheepish, wondering if I was just telling myself these things to make me feel better about failure. But I don't think I am. Because I believe these things when I say them about Daniel. I think Daniel has plenty to be proud of for pushing so hard for so long. For giving everything he's had in him to complete something that he could be proud of. And I guess if I mean it when I say it about him, I can mean it when I say it about myself. I can mean it when I claim that Ironman St. George was not really the goal, but just a place where we could showcase what we had gained while accomplishing the actual goal. And if that's true, then Ironman St. George was actually quite a success. Although one without a physical medal and a declaration of true ironman strength at the end.

Platitudes? Maybe. But they seem right.

I think no failure is permanent as long as you keep on pushing. No setback means anything about your character as long as you don't accept it as your destiny. And no experience is without value, as long as you cherish the strange parts of it.

That's what I'll keep telling myself, anyway.

Love you all.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. To be the first Commenteer, let me just say... I'm impressed. Way to go Eli. And platitudes define us, whether they're true or not - which then make them true, whether they were true or not. Will you be attempting this again?

    1. Thanks Ammon. I will be attempting it again. Trying to work out some kinks now to figure out when it might be possible . . .

  2. a handgun. and meth.

    oh te hehehe.

  3. I agree... way to go! Most guys don't have the cojones to even attempt something like this

  4. I've been reading your blog for a few months now (not even sure how I stumbled on it, actually), and I really enjoy your honest and funny writing style. And while I fully understand that it's tough to talk ourselves into feeling a certain way, you still should, because damn. I don't ever run more than 3 miles at a time, and I feel like a baller every time I do. So I suppose that makes you an extreme baller, if not *technically* an iron one.

    Oh, and you've definitely convinced me not ever to try an Iron Man. (Which I clearly wasn't close to doing anyway, but hey, thanks for the definitive "hell no!")

  5. Honestly, I think you are awesome. Even braver than most people to even attempt what you did. Seriously, you're amazing.

  6. "No setback means anything about your character as long as you don't accept it as your destiny."

    Amen. Perhaps the lessons have little to do with your Ironman challenge. Perhaps there are analogies here that will take on different meanings for you and others as new life challenges present themselves to you.

    Your blog is an excellent vicarious tool. I shall apply some of your 'it just gets stanger' wisdom in my own life. Thank you for the enlightenment.

  7. you should be proud hun! i wouldn't have lasted 3 sec. in that race

  8. The commenters and friends and family are right, you guys are amazing and attempted something that most people have no interest in even entertaining the idea.
    Most people work up to Ironman status, kudos for just diving in head first and skipping the whole 'building up' to it thing. I hope you both decide to compete in a few more Tri's this summer and gain a love for the sport that the Ironman may have beaten out of you.

  9. Eli, you are my hero for even attempting Iron-man St. George (which is one of the hardest Iron-mans or so I've been told), no lie. Kudos for making it as far as you did man.

  10. You did more than most and you kept going you didn’t jump in the boat when the guy told you to, you got off the floor when you had every reason to lay in that aid tent and say you couldn’t do anymore and for some suicidal reason you attempted to run the marathon after everything that you had done that day! You kept trying and you kept going. That’s really impressive and it says so much about the kind of person that you are. Great job sir!

  11. maybe its my pregnancy hormones but this post made me cry its so sweet and motivating. good for you Eli. and its so true you accomplished so much. You are amazing.

  12. maybe its my pregnancy hormones but this post made me cry its so sweet and motivating. good for you Eli. and its so true you accomplished so much. You are amazing.

  13. "Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength." unknown
    You showed true strength by sticking with the race prep and the race for so long when you could have quit many times. Good for you!

  14. I cried when I read this post too. I almost didn't make it through a 4-mile bike ride and an hour of yoga yesterday. I can't imagine what it took for you to get as far as you did.

    The finish line is arbitrary, you know. If the finish line had been at the place where you walked off the course would you have been proud of what you did? Of course you would have! Of course you should be proud of what you did. Don't let some randomly generated idea of a finish line take away the fact that you made it through an amazing ordeal. Congratulations.

  15. I was rooting and praying for you the whole day. Weird? perhaps. but it's been awesome to read about your experience in these installments and, as little as this means coming from a stranger, I am so proud of you for what you did accomplish! Well done. You are to be respected and admired for such perseverance.

  16. Likewise, this line affected me: "No setback means anything about your character as long as you don't accept it as your destiny."

    Given the months of training, your effort during the race, and the way you've handled the particular setback of disqualification (despite all those months and your extraordinary effort), I'd say that neither your character nor your destiny are in question.


  17. Eli - you inspire me. You voice my own fears as I train for a stinkin' little sprint triathlon, but for me it is a monumental goal. I alternate between confidence of achieving my goal and terror of drowning in the middle of the bay. I've been working on a positive internal dialogue and "If Eli can do it, so can I" keeps coming back to me.

    I talk about your determination to my friends who are also attempting their first sprint triathlons this summer and I share links to your blogs. I think I can say that you inspire them, too.

    In no way did you fail. You succeeded the minute you got into that water. Congratulations!

  18. You're such a freaking man! Congratulations. That's amazing, and totally inspiring. Loved following your posts through this journey. Reading this makes me want to be a better person. Don't ever doubt your accomplishments for a minute.

  19. I truly hope that you can see this for the amazing accomplishment it is, without any caveats. I saw the pictures of the water, and though I have know how to swim since I was very young, I would not have attempted it. You jumped in and finished! (and went twice as long add anyone else!) Please don't be hard on yourself about any of this. I know how diificult it can be to give yourself the same courtesy and support that you can give to others, but you need to do that. You accomplished something great just by overcoming your fears and jumping into that "lake" (I'm still not convinced the US doesn't have a small ocean in the middle of it, now that I've seen those photos). Hold onto that achievement, because you deserve bragging rights to it!

  20. like the previous commenters have said, you are amazing for doing what you did do! don't be hard on yourself - live and learn from the experience. there were so many things beyond your control (giant tsunami waves, anyone?) and you did the best you could do. be proud of yourself! you are awesome and have inspired me!

  21. I did a sprint triathlon at the same time you were doing your ironman. I kept telling myself, this is NOTHIN' compared to what that guy is doing today! It worked too.

  22. Reading your experiences and insights over the past several months has had a huge effect on me. I hope you know how much your words mean to other people. Preach on, brother.

  23. I don't know you but I have to say that I have followed your training posts and have cried and laughed along with you. I am SO proud of you Eli! I myself barely completed Ironman Cozumel and so I could relate to you in the physical and mental struggle of racing and training. I can especially relate to your struggle after the race. I felt like a huge success but I also felt like a huge failure. My best friend reminded me that I was a success the moment I stepped into that water. There was a moment on my run when I thought of quitting (I was so sick) and I knew that even if I didn't finish, it would be ok. You laid it all out there Eli and are a better person for it. Be proud of it and know that you are such an inspiration!

  24. I hope you realize that under any normal circumstances, you would have almost definitely finished. The guy that took first overall (I forget his name, Ben something, I think), who was in the pro division and has done at least several Iron Man races made the comment that this one was the hardest one he has ever done. The fact that you made it as far as you did under such brutal circumstances is a huge testament to your endurance and determination. I have no doubt that you will succeed in the next Iron Man you do. I look forward to following your blog and sharing in your fears and frustrations as well as your triumphs and joys, just as I have with this one. Ever since I began reading your blog you have been an inspiration and an example to me in so many ways and your efforts and determination in this race remind me why. You are my hero.

  25. I have absolutely loved reading your posts. It sad that the Iron Man didn't turn out like you hoped, but I appreciate you sharing with us anyways. And you are right - never forget what you did accomplish!

  26. I cannot even kind of fathom what you went through. The entire thing sounds a lot like what I figure Hell must include. But you kept going! Kudos, man. Seriously. The fact that you changed into your running clothes and then ran those 3-4 miles? It's very impressive. Good job, Eli.

  27. I have this picture on my wall - some crappy photo I printed off the internet that's the size of a credit card - but it still sits oh-so-importantly on my bedroom wall. It says, "No matter how slow you are running, you are still lapping everyone on the couch." So... look at all of us who completed the Iron Man: zero. Look at all of us that trained for the Iron Man: zero. Look at all of us that even registered for the Iron Man: zero. So you lapped all of us just on the day you registered! And that's a win! It's your ambition and determination (and clever humor) that still make all of it a success! I love this: " I claim that Ironman St. George was not really the goal, but just a place where we could showcase what we had gained while accomplishing the actual goal." So way to go! I think it's awesome.