Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Journey To Redemption

Some Background:
In 2008, I went to Lake Placid to try my hand at Ironman. Without question, I had the race of my life. The day brought rain, and I mean lots of rain, but other than that, the day went perfect for me. To this day, I still think that day was a fluke and I had the triathlon Gods watching over me.

I went back to IMLP in 2009 with some lofty goals. Training went well but the moment I stepped onto the beach for the swim, I had no desire to be there. By mile 98 of the bike, I made my mind to drop out of the race. It was a decision that I still regret and that decision brought me back to IMLP in 2011.

Race Morning:
I was up at 4:00 am. I only slept 3 to 4 hours all night. I wasn’t nervous but I think lounging around all day messed with my sleeping pattern. I was well rested and didn’t feel tired, but I still wish I had been able to sleep more.

I ate a banana while getting my race day bag organized. My plan was a banana, UCAN drink and a Powerbar while drinking on the way to body marking. Mistake #1 just occurred. I always like to take a hot shower before I race or head out for a long workout. People ask why, well, it gets the blood moving, as well as my system moving, too (if you know what I mean). However, the hotel we were staying at, the shower was luke warm at best. How is that possible?

Tammy was going to walk down to transition with Kim and me. The walk was calming but Kim was on a mission. He had his game face on and was ready and focused. I remember being the exact same way back in 2008. It was actually nice being the “veteran” of this event. I know he said he was relaxed but I saw something different in his eyes.

Along the way, we saw Scott and his family. Like Kim, he had his game face on. After a few pictures, it is onto body marking. Once there, we saw Peter, Tami, Chris and J. It was really nice to see the familiar faces at such a big event. The lady marks my shoulders and for some reason, puts my race number on my shins. Who does that? Were my quads not big enough? Odd, but oh well.

Kim and I head into transition to get everything organized. I put my pills and other nutrition on the bike along with my water bottles. I catch up with Tim and Dave G. This was Tim’s first Ironman too and I believe he was going to have a great day. Like the other 2 rookies, he is a bit nervous, but who wouldn’t be?

Everything was ready and I make one more stop, the porta potty. Once finished, it’s to the water. I saw Tammy and the crew one more time before I head into the water. I saw Tom, Tim B. and Bob on the beach. Everyone was ready.

The Swim (projected time: 1:05 – 1:15)
Once my wetsuit was zipped up, I got into the water to swim a bit. Because Tammy had worked for Ironman, she, Chris, J and Jenn all got bands to be on the dock. I was able to see them and knew they were in for an amazing sight. It was really cool know how close they were to the action and knowing exactly where they were. I really wanted them to be able to see me throughout the day.

I warmed up a bit and my plan was to start to the right of the middle, away from the buoys. Well, in my efforts to see Tammy and others, I misjudged my location and was starting towards the front and close to the buoys. Mistake #2. Completely and utterly my screw up.

The cannon went off and Mirror Lake became a blender full of arms and legs flailing in the air. I was trapped. I was getting trounced and there was no where to go. I did my best to protect my face but I was kicked so hard that I was stunned. Not fun. I began to swim with a bent forearm to protect myself from the feet and arms of others.

My next goal was to swim to open water and keep doing so until the turn around. It worked here and there but I just couldn’t find enough space to be comfortable. At the turn around, it was a mess. Everything clogged up and again, feet, arms and bodies everywhere. I had a hunch once I turned the corner it would open up a bit and it did.

As I got back to shore on loop number 1, I felt that my time was going to be slow. I popped up onto the shore, waved to Tammy, J, Chris and Jenn and ran through the exit. I saw my time on the race clock and it said “44:00”. Before I could process the time, I dove back in the water, trying to get in before the mob could catch me.

My mind quickly went back to figuring out how my swim could have been so slow. I guess, or hoped I should say, that the time was 10 minutes slower because the clock was on the pro start (they started 10 minutes before us). I decided to just swim and was able to get into a solid rhythm for the majority of loop 2. I was even able to pee again in the water. All was going smoothly.

Finally, out of the water and I see my time: 1:09:32.

Transition #1:
My first thought was to get this wet suit off. Find a wetsuit stripper. Here is a tip for everyone, find the biggest guy you can. I saw him and he saw me. We made eye contact and I knew this was my boy. He had an orange headband on and looked fired up. Down on to my back and whoosh, off came the wetsuit.

For some reason, under my armpits are chaffed like no one’s business. I realize that wearing arm coolers during the swim was mistake #3. I wore them in hopes of a faster transition but never wore them in the water. My armpit area was stinging, but maybe it will go away. Not!

Down the road to the transition area I ran. I felt good and comfortable. I was able to find my bag and went into the changing tent. Well, it reeked and it was crowded. Think being locked in a porta potty with 4 other people on a hot day. I finally found a seat and got on shoes, number belt, helmet, sunglasses, and loaded my pockets with nutrition. I handed by bag to a volunteer and it was time for the bike.

The Bike (projected time: 5:45 – 6:00)
Of this Ironman, the bike, by far, was my biggest concern. I didn’t feel I had prepared enough due to so much early season running. My goal was to ride comfortably for the first 56 miles and see what I had left. I was hoping to average around 18.5 mph.

As usual, the ride began with some climbing. I was thirsty from the swim, so I took in some Powerbar drink. It tasted awful! This was not good. I had trained for months with the Powerbar powder mix but this bottled stuff was disgusting. Too sweet and acidic. Mistake #4 just popped its ugly head. There was no way I could drink this stuff on the course.

I figured I would deal with the drink fiasco later on and began to ride. The climbs out of town are a nice way to get your legs warm. I passed a lot of riders while maintaining a nice cadence and remaining comfortable in the saddle. My plan was to drink every 15 minutes, take a gel/water drink every 45 minutes and to eat/take salt every hour. I started that 15 minutes into the bike.

At the top of the hills, I was averaging just under 18 mph. This was not a concern as the next 20 miles are extremely fast and you can make up time. As I went down the long 5 mile decent, my only goal was to stay upright. People passed me but I wasn’t concerned because I knew I would catch them on the hills later.

For some reason, the course was more “packed” than before. There were groups of riders all over the place. At first, I stayed out of it to the best of my ability, but in reality, I couldn’t. I knew I was going to have to make a choice and live with it on this part of the ride. Option #1 was to try and break away from the pack but I knew this would come back to haunt me later on. Option #2 was to drop back, slow down and let them go. I didn’t like this option because I didn’t want to hinder my race and not meet my goals. Option #3 was to stay the course, knowing that the group will break up at the next hill or turn. I was right and went with option #3.

I dumped the Powerbar drink at the next aid station and switched to the Gatorade I had brought. I was ready for the group to break up on the next climb that was just ahead. It was a long, miserable climb that looks easy. However, we didn’t’ turn! The course had changed. Mistake #5, I didn’t know the course had changed and had no idea of the route. I quickly asked some people and found out later the reason for the change.

This new out and back was nice and actually faster than the old one so I adjusted and moved on. At the turnaround, I backed it down a little and lost most of the peloton. The crappy climb was still ahead but I went at it alone. Well, as the climb progressed, I realized my cleat was loose. It happened about 3 weeks ago but I thought it was fixed. There was no way I could ride like this for another 80 miles. At the next aid station, I knew they would have tools so I stopped and had a volunteer fix my cleat. I lost 3-4 minutes but better to lose it now than not to have a shoe on the bike.

The last 14 miles back to Lake Placid are the worst! False flats, up hills, little recovery and usually a head wind make up this section of the course. My plan was to work but not to over work at this point. I was averaging over 22 mph and I knew that I was in a good place so why push it. At mile 102ish, I saw Dave C., Will and Anna. I gave them a quick “hello” and it was great to see them out there.

As I pulled into town, the crowd and vibe was amazing. I felt good. As I rounded the corner by the oval, I told Tammy to be in that area. I easily found Tammy, Jenn, J and Chris. I buzzed by them, feeling strong and ready for the second loop. I looked down and saw that the first loop took around 2:42 and I was averaging about 20.6 mph. Everything was right on track.

As I got to the first hill, it hit me. My stomach, all of a sudden, was rejecting this race, my drinks, my food, everything. It was painful and I still had 54 miles to go. Maybe it was just a cramp. Maybe it will go away if I try to eat or drink. Nope! I am in trouble.

I forced down some Powerbar balls and some water. It all tasted awful. I chucked my Gatorade because it was almost empty but I couldn’t drink it anyway. Significant self doubt began to creep into my mind. There was no way I could ride another 50 miles without eating and drinking. There was no way I could tolerate this stomach pain. My mind was beginning to go to places I really didn’t want it to go. Quit. Why bother? Is this 2009 all over again?

As my mind and body began rejecting this race again, I decided to focus on getting to the big down hills and long flats and then evaluate how I feel. The energy was leaving my body. Once on the flats, I stopped at an aid station. I used the porta potty. Nothing. Ok, get some water and plug away. My plan, which was against my mind and body, was to get to the next aid station and try to eat something.

My pace on the bike slowed but I was turning the pedals. I had to sit up more often to open up my stomach and relieve some of the pain. At the next station, I grabbed a banana and water. Both tasted ok but they really didn’t do the trick. I continued on my way, hoping that things would get better. They didn’t.

The new out and back was helpful but I couldn’t wrap my head around riding back to town and then having to run. My mind continued to mess with me. Why am I doing this to my body? I am never doing another Ironman again! Who am I going to disappoint this time if I don’t finish? How can I ask the superintendent to stop calling me Ironman when I didn’t finish another race? The questions kept coming and coming. And just like last time, I started to get sleepy, I was yawning on the bike. Who does that in the middle of the race? This was becoming eerily familiar.

I decided to break the bike course down. I looked at my watch and knew I had until 5 pm to finish the bike. That gave me 4 hours or so to ride 25 miles. I knew I could do that. I decided at the next aid station I would try and reload. I knew this station was 16 miles from home and if I could get there, I would be able to make it. This particular aid station scared me because this was the same one I quit at in 2009. I mentally had to prepare myself to do what I needed to do without stopping for good.

At the aid station, I tried to use the porta potty again. Still no luck. I ate 2 bananas and took my time getting back on the bike. The volunteers were outstanding. I remained there for about 15 minutes as they tried to cater to my needs. Even though I asked, none of them were willing to ride my bike back to town for me. I loaded up with water and reluctantly got back on the bike.

I knew in 3 miles would be the KOA and I would hopefully see Dave and his kids again. For some reason, all I wanted was a ginger ale. I think I rationalized that it would settle my stomach and all would be great. If I saw Dave, I would have him call Tammy and she get it ready for me for the run. As I got to the KOA access road, no Dave, no kids, no ginger ale. No worries.

My next check point was River Road. It was 5 miles from the KOA and 5 miles from T2. I continued to pedal the bike and cool my body with water. God I hate this section of the course. I was being passed more than I would like to have been passed but it was about survival at this point.

Finally, the last hill and back towards town. I began to process trying to run 26.2 miles after struggling on the bike for over 6 hours. I saw Tami and Peter and they were cheering like crazy. All I can do is shake my head. I then saw Tammy, Chris, J and Jenn. Again, I shook my head out of frustration. My hunch was they knew things had gone bad but I had no way to let them know.

Finally off the bike: 6:15:38

Transition #2:
I head into T2 knowing I have 9+ hours to make it through the marathon. I grabbed my bag and headed into the tent. I changed up sunglasses and got everything on pretty easily and quickly. My thoughts were positive only because running had become stronger for me since 2009. I figured if I could get “it” back then I could run a solid marathon and finish the day in a positive way.

The Run: (projected time 3:30 – 3:45)
I took off out of transition and actually felt like I was getting my body back. The first quarter mile is completely downhill and I was able to run easy and fast. I actually looked down and saw I was running at a 6:30 pace and was a bit shocked. That lasted all of 3 minutes. As soon as I got to the first little incline, it felt like I ran into a brick wall. I tried to power through it but my body was having nothing to do with it. How can this be, at ¾ of a mile into a marathon I had to walk?

The only way I can explain this is like this: I was out of energy, completely tapped out. At the first aid station I ate 2 orange wedges and half of a banana. I drank some water, hoping this was going to bring me back. Well, it didn’t. I had nothing. My stomach wasn’t in pain, rather, it felt like I did 1000 sit ups the day before. It was sore to the touch.

Frustration set in as I had 26 miles to go and I was already walking. I was embarrassed that I was walking already and that so many people were running by me. I knew I was going to walk at some point but never did I think it would happen so early.

On the next downhill, I saw David G. He was there watching us and supporting many friends at IMLP. I stopped him and asked if he could call Tammy. I knew this was going to worry her, but I asked Dave to tell her to get me some ginger ale. I was still craving it. I also asked him to tell her it was going to be a long day.

By around 2 miles, Scott passed me. We checked in with each other. He looked good and I knew he was having a solid race. Myles passes me a few minutes later. He looked strong and comfortable. A little later, Tim passed by me. Again, he looked strong and is moving right along. Mentally, I had calculated if I walk 15 minutes/mile, then I will be done between 9 and 10 pm. Not the result I wanted, but done nevertheless.

At each aid station, I filled up on ice and water. Pretzels and cookies were not appetizing. I made the decision that I somehow needed to get moving faster. I decided to run from one telephone pole to the next, and then walk to the next. I was hoping this will bring some energy and motivation back to me. It actually does. After doing this for 15 minutes or so, I decided to run .25 and then walk .25 miles. I would walk the aid stations and load up on ice and water to stay cool.

At the turn around, I begin the run/walk. My running was actually strong; I could run between 7:30 and 8:30 during that quarter mile. Of course, I was walking too so it really wasn’t all that impressive. On the way back to town, I saw Tim B., Tom and Bob. They all looked good. I didn’t seem Kim so I was a bit nervous about what might have happened. At each aid station I cooled my body with sponges and ice. I tried to drink what I could and carried cups of ice until they melted or I ate them.

When I finally got back into town, I walked up the big hill. As I turned the corner, I found Tammy, J, Chris and Jenn. Tammy had the ginger ale I was craving. And, I must say, it tasted delicious. She also had some watermelon. It to was good but my stomach wasn’t as big a fan as I had hoped. I shared with them my issues but I knew I still had 15 miles to go. About 5 minutes later, I saw Tami and Peter, who were now working on the course. Again, more words of encouragement.

On the way out of town, I got some more ginger ale and ran down the hill. I was still tired and feeling the effects of not eating all that much but I knew I was going to make it. I caught up to Scott around mile 15. I shared with him my walk/run plan and he joined the fun. Without question, his body was hurting. We connected with another gentleman a mile later and he joined us as well.

Scott hung tough for a couple of miles as did the other gentlemen. All of us were hurting, albeit, in different ways. My walk/run strategy remained in tact until mile 22. I was holding an 11:05 pace and was ok with my time at this point. I just wanted this Ironman experience to be over. My mind was also figuring out when I was going to get back. J told all of us we had to be finished by 8 pm because they had to leave. A week ago, I thought this wasn’t an issue. But today, I didn’t want to disappoint them by not making that cutoff. Again, weird things go through your mind during Ironman.

It wasn’t until mile 18 that I realized I hadn’t pee’d since the swim. I was drinking what I could tolerate from station to station but still nothing. I tried to “focus” on peeing, but nothing seemed to work. I knew I was dehydrated to a certain extent but not so much that I felt sick or clammy or tired. Or so I thought. More on that later.

The walk/run back to town was very challenging. Knowing I was going to finish really kept me going. The last hill and finally getting to the turnaround by Mirror Lake was a great feeling. I wanted to “conserve” my last little bit of energy so that I could run the last half mile and enter the oval in style. As I got closer to the oval, I made sure to look behind me to insure there was a gap between be and the next person. The last thing I needed was a sprint to the finish line and someone else in my picture. Sounds selfish, but too bad…I’d been out here for over 12 freakin’ hours.

When I got to the oval, everything looked clear. I really wanted to do something crazy and exciting to get the crowd fired up, but instead, I tried to look around and savor the moment. With my hands above the head and happy to be home, I heard Mike Reilly say “David Levesque, you are an Ironman!”

Marathon Time: 4:54:44

Final Time: 12:27:38

Post Race:
After crossing the finish line, Tammy, Chris, Jenn and J were right there. I must say, it was cool having my own “posse” in the finish line area. It was a little blurry at this point. I am not really sure how I acted or what was going through my mind but I remember telling Tammy that I think I should go to the medical tent to get checked out. I hadn’t pee’d in 12 hours and the way the last 8 hours went, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Upon entering the med tent, I explained my dilemma, no food and no pee for a long time. They weighed me in and I had lost over 6 pounds. They found me a cot and I began to talk with the EMT and the nurse about my concerns. They had me answer some questions. What have you eaten? What have you drank? Any pills or salt? I explained to them about the bananas, water, drinks, no pee, breakfast, the pills, etc. I could tell they were not impressed.

The EMT took my blood pressure, my pulse and listened to my lungs, heart, and any other organ I may have. Lastly, he listened to my stomach. The BP was a bit low, heart rate a bit high and my stomach was empty. The doctor came over and got the information. After all of us going through the information again, he heard the word ADVIL come out of my mouth. He asked how many. I told him 3 at 5 am and 3 more around 2 pm. He shook his head, again, unimpressed. He had them take some blood to be tested. This would determine my fate and length of time in the tent.

After a little lecture, he told the EMT to hook me up to an IV. I was severely dehydrated. He had a volunteer get me water and then a cup of chicken broth. The doctor told them to start with 2 bags of IV and see how it goes. They wrapped me up in a blanket to keep me warm.

The blood test came back and my sodium and potassium levels were a bit low. The look I got when he saw the test as it relates to my kidneys and dehydration was one I will never forget. He looked at me. Then the results. Back at me. Then the results again. Basically, he told me my kidneys were on the verge of failing due to dehydration and that I was to remain in the tent until I could pee. He actually brought over a kidney specialist to show him the results. If I can’t pee, I am going to the hospital.

I asked a volunteer to go out and see Tammy. Ben and another volunteer came in to check on me on her behalf. I felt ok, but I guess I really wasn’t. I hate putting her through this and I knew I screwed this one up big time.

They allowed Tammy into the med tent, which they never do. We both listened to the EMT explain that my blood basically had no fluid in it and that was all that was running through me. He shared that your blood begins to get thicker which can lead to some bad stuff. A few days later, my brother-in-law confirmed how bad it could have been.

The doctor and EMT were simply outstanding. They were there doing and saying what I needed to hear. After a little bit, the doctor said I needed to take in six (yes 6) bags of IV. That was 3 liters in all. To wrap my head around how much I was taking in, I thought of a 2 liter of Coke and ½ of another one. I guess I was on empty. For good measure, they made me finish 2 cups of broth and a 20 ounce of water.

Then, it happened, I had to go pee. The EMT walked me out to the porta potty and while he held the IV out the door, I was able to pee. A lot. I think they topped me off. After removing the IV, I was able to leave. I actually felt great. Yes I was sore, but I felt ready to eat and drink more. So I did!

Final Thoughts:
This Ironman was the most challenging thing I have ever done mentally and physically. I say this due to what I put my mind and body through during the day. I had no idea how close I was to being in the hospital but I do know how close I was to quitting. Luckily, neither happened. I learned a lot about myself and in retrospect, I know where and when I made all of those mistakes. Even better, I think I know how to fix each and every one of them.

The support of Tammy, Peter, Tami, Dave C., Will, Anna, J, Chris, Jenn and all of the other people out there was unmatched. Every time I felt like I wanted to quit, someone was there to yell my name and push me forward. Whether it was Kim, Tom, Tim, Bob, Tim B., Myles, Sean, Lisa or Scott on the course, I knew they were behind me 100%. Getting the text messages, phone calls and emails was amazing as well. It still shocks me at how many people go out of their way to support me and my fellow triathletes.

During the race, I told myself “never again can I put myself or my family through something this”. I verbalized this to both Tammy and my parents. They were all relieved, excited and readily agreed with my decision. I want to say I will never do an Ironman again….

But, like Justin Bieber says…“Never Say Never!”

1 comment:

Jenn said...

Dave, Great race report. No matter your future race plans or past races I just think it is awesome what you have accomplished.......you are an Ironman, twice. Take care and make sure to pee! Jenn