Monday, September 28, 2009


Looking back on the past 36 weeks and what life has brought is a humbling and satisfying experience. It seems like I have always been in training for this IM. It has been constantly on my mind for the better part of a year. Now it is done and I couldn't be more at peace with myself.

After completing the Chessyman 2 years ago I was proud, overjoyed, and content. Having learned my lesson from my first marathon,I put zero goals on the IM except finishing. When I came in under 13 hours I amazed myself. The whole thing seemed surreal, except the pain. Even that went away quickly after finishing. I still don't know how I could run the last mile of an IM marathon in 7 minutes and sprint the track. Anyway, about 8 months later I started to think that another IM was a good idea. I really wanted my son to have a memory of me finishing. Now he is 5 and should be able to enjoy the experience. Working out a "perfect" IM for my standards, had me finishing just under 12 hours. Since I always preach to my students that being a champion means reaching your potential and not winning championships, I set this as my ultimate goal. Training was going well this summer until my dad's heart scare. Using his life philosophy, I turned a negative into a positive and used it to fuel my desire to even greater heights.

Arrived in Cambridge, MD Friday afternoon. The weather was perfect. The forecast was decent. The sign-in takes place at the Hyatt. What a beautiful place. I entered the ballroom and was immediately approached by Vigo, the race director. I was wearing my short from 2 years ago. He grabbed me and gave me a hug, asking how I have been, where I was from, and thanking me for coming back. How many races have a greeting like that? The thing is, it isn't an act with this man or this race. He wants it to seem like a family atmosphere and the staff goes about making it that way. Had dinner with my dad, went to the pre-race meeting, met up with my wife and kids, and got to bed by 9:00.

I woke up amazingly calm. It felt like another training day. Quickly got in my core point (I have issues) ate breakfast, and was ready to go to the start. Easy walk to the start, put what I needed on my bike and changed into my wetsuit. I was still feeling way to calm, but it was better than shaking like last time. The water looked a little choppy but OK. Saw my wife, kids, and in-laws and made my way to the water. It was perfect. 72 degrees. We had about a 200M swim to the start buey. Perfect for a warm up.

As soon as I got to the pack the gun went off. I was near the back, just where I wanted to be. It was going to be a long day and I didn;t need to waste energy fighting for a few minutes. The first 5 minutes were great. Then I was punched in the teeth. That woke me up. One of my mantras for the day was, "It just doesn't matter". I had been punched harder before so it didn't matter. The swim was two loops. Going west was easy. Turning North was a bit of a shock. Now the Choptank started living up to its name. Same with turning back East. But this year it just didn't matter. I can deal with anything. So I changed my swimming style and started to try and predict the rhythm of the waves. It was tiring but it worked. I decided to conserve at the turnaround and cruised back out, letting the waves take me. The swim back in seemed much easier then the 1st loop. I was getting stronger. The only problem was a swimmer decided to get on top of me and continue to stroke. What is wrong with some people. I know we all are going to be hit and give out some hits during the swim. But to keep swimming when you are on top of someone is out of line. After the third blow to my back I elbowed as hard as I could. Got the person in the side and got them off of me. It didn't feel good but I did what I did. then I got stung by a jellyfish on my left hand. Karma? Another jellyfish ended up on my nose and goggles. That was super. It didn't sting me though. And one more on my foot. Another no sting. I got out of the water feeling good with a 1:25 swim. 15 minute PR. I could have pushed harder and maybe taken off another 10 minutes. That didn't fit into my plan for the day so I was very happy with a 1:25. I am not a fast swimmer, but I really feel like I am a swimmer now. I could have gone around again and again. What a huge difference from two years ago.

My transition was 7 minutes. I didn't rush, but I didn't sit down and talk like last time. No strippers at Chessyman, so you have to take off your own wetsuit, bag it, and find a volunteer to give it to. Got on the bike with a smile and a wave goodbye to my family. The first of the three part course is a 20 mile or so out and back. The wind was with us. I was cruising at 23 MPH with minimal effort. My mantra was "Hold Back". This was too easy. I was able to eat my PB&J sandwich this year. I didn't swallow a gallon of salty river water this time. At the turnaround the reality of Cambridge MD set in. This is a very windy place. It was in your face, incessant wind. Loud wind. Gusty wind. It seems to take on a personality of its own. But it just didn't matter. I had trained in pouring rain. I had trained on hills. I was ready. I stayed aero and spun through it. I was able to hold a steady 18-19 mph pace through it. Finally a right turn out of the heart of it. Up a hill cruising at 20. Left turn into the wildlife refuge and onto crappy roads and wind from everywhere. Made it back to the school at the 65 mile point and grabbed my special needs bag. Changed my Infinit bottles and took off. I was pumped for my two blueberry pop-tarts. They were not crushed, they were pulverized. I scooped up some crumbs and got about one entire pop-tart in me. I ate another sandwich. My nutrition and hydration were on. I stopped for my 2nd pee break. Felt good. The last 1.5 hours were tough. Mentally and physically. Even though I was tellingmyself it didn't matter, the wind was slowly beating me down. My right knee ached and I could not get comfortable. Time to adapt. 10 minutes aero, 1 minute seated, and im minute standing. Repeat. Amazing how the little things can make me so happy. Every time I stood up I felt like smiling. Stretching the legs was great. There were times when I could barely go 16 mph in the open stretches. I had a goal of under 6 hours on the bike. Almost got it. 6:01. 18 MPH avg. I could have gone faster but I wanted to be able to give the idea of running the marathon a chance.

Got of the bike and was shocked by how my legs felt. Awful. I decided not to sit down in transition. I was going to stay bent over and stretch my hamstrings. Came out of T2 in 6 minutes. Saw my family and missed the chip mat. Had to run back and go over it. It was worth the kisses though. I started to run. I mean run for real. I felt great. Too good. I had to hold back. 1st two miles I was nailing 8"30's with minimal effort. I knew it wouldn't last but it felt incredible. I talked to a man from Sweden for about 9 minutes. We talked about our ultimate goals of breaking 12 hours. I said I don't know if I could do it, but if I did I was going to freak out at the finish line. He told me to go ahead and I did. Another man overheard our conversation as we passed him. He became a source of positive energy every time I saw him. He would say each time that I was going to break 12 hours. He could feel it. It is an out and back that you repeat 3 times. I love the run course. It is desolate and the aid stations are like parties. I made it to the lovely ladies of aid station 4, the turnaround. They were awesome. What incredible energy. I made it back to the start with zero issues. 1/3 of the marathon down. I saw my family and made a great effort not to get caught up in the emotion. Keep the heart rate down. So I stopped and kissed my kids. As soon as I started I could feel my right hamstring starting to quiver. Time to relax the whole body. I can afford to slow down a bit. 4 miles and change later I am back with the lovely ladies. Now I am hurting. My feet are not bouncing, they are absorbing all 180lbs of me with each step and it hurts. But it just doesn't matter. 4 minutes later I am dizzy and wobbling. My first serious issue. This does matter and it needs to stop now or 11 hours is history. I slowed and then started to walk about 50 yards from the next aid station. I ate 2 sugar cookies, drank a mt. dew, and ate chicken soup. I took a 3 minute walk break to down it. I had no idea of I would be able to handle running after that, but I had no choice. It worked like magic. I took it back to the start slower but I was running. My new plan was to walk each aid station and I did. I made a brief friend a 1/2 mile from the start turnaround. He had a cool IM tattoo on his calf. I asked which one he did. He said this is his first. Now that is pressure. I lost him and didn't see him after that. I hope he made it.

I saw my kids and they were happy as could be. They asked if they could run on the track with me when I got back. I said it depended on if I was alone or not. One of the RD's staff was standing with them and he said they will absolutely finish with you. We will work something out. Then they ran out of the parking lot with me. What a great escort onto the last lap. I continued to walk the aid stations. My body craved soda so I drank it. I made it back to the lovely ladies. They were having a best leg and ass contest now that the course was full of runners. They told me I won. That made me feel good,even though they were probably telling everyone the same thing. Again, about 4 minutes later I got dizzy and wobble again. 3.5 miles to go. On pace to break 12 hours. I started to panic. I ate the chicken soup, drank the mt. dew and ate a bunch of cookies, while taking another 3 minute walk break. It worked again. I was going to break 12 hours if I could keep my head on and my emotions in check. 2 miles to go and I am feeling strong but my legs are twitching. I have an 8 minute cushion if I can keep a 9 minute pace. I have been here before in marathons and have been crushed by cramps and seen dreams of Boston disappear. It wasn't going to happen today. One mile to go. Get my Hawain lay. No yelling, no celebrating. I have taken it to the very edge and I still have a chance to finish in the daylight.

The last mile this year was remarkably different than 2 years ago. Then I felt like I was floating. This time I was grinding. Both times I was emotional. I just couldn't believe everything that I went through that day. The swim seemed like a lifetime ago. It is a much different feeling to do an Ironman with a time goal then when finishing is the only goal. I thought of all my dad had been through this summer. I thought of my wife and how patient she has been. I couldn't wait to get on that track and see my kids. A man was in front of me. I told him the track was his and slowed down. I will never forget running onto the track in either of my IM's. You simply cannot replicate the feeling anywhere else. My heart felt like it was going to burst with love and pride and accomplishment. I had 9 minutes to make around the track to break 12 hours. I did it!!!!! My dad was standing there by himself. I had prayed for this moment so many times as he lay in the hospital in July and he he was. Wow! My kids were waiting at the final turn. They grabbed my hands and we took off. We raised our hands and screamed in triumph as we crossed the finish line. That moment was worth every second of sacrifice and pain I went through. I think it was even better than my first finish. 4:15 marathon.
11hour 53 minute finish. Unbelievable. Reaching my potential and making my dream a reality.

I felt great. I had energy. For about 5 minutes. then the pain set in. But my stomach was fine. I didn't start shaking. I was hungry for pizza. They didn't have any pizza. Oh well. A quick 5 minute ride back to the hotel. The shower felt amazing. I ate a wonderful roast beef sandwich. Then my kids and I started devouring donuts as we watched Penn State play football. My legs hurt more than they ever did in my life. It felt like I was hit with hammers. I could not sleep. Today I feel great again. Sore but great.

One of the most powerful things I learned from this IM is too appreciate the moment. Staying in the moment is a must for IM, but reminding myself how lucky I was to be doing this was key to staying on pace.

I think I want to do at least 1 more. I have my family's blessing. I want to take a month to figure it out. But I think, volunteering at Lake Placid this summer is going to be the next step.

Thank you to all the incredible people at Trifuel for you help, support, inspiration, and friendship. The people in the forum have made a huge difference in my triathlon life.


  1. AWESOME RACE! Way to think your way through it, keeping in mind your end goal and reach your full potential for greatness on the course. I really enjoyed reading about your race day journey and I imagine your family is so proud.

  2. Hi Garen,

    congratulations on great day on Saturday. It was good to see you before the swim. I'm a wimp and only did the AquaVelo. I missed you at the T2 as I was probably looking for my bags or getting my bike on my car. Great you beat your goal time and you are right this race is well organized and feels like a family event. I'm sure I'll be back for a full one in a year or maybe two.


  3. Awesome! The culmination of much work, sacrifice, and tenacity. Having (all) of the family there made it perfect for you. Your triumph gives me hope to complete my own IM one day.

  4. Garen, that was a great race and a great report. I finally had time to read it all the way. I felt a little bit like i was there with you as i was reading it. I can only imagine and hope to get to the start line safe and sound for my first IM in 2010.
    But even not having done full IM before and having done Triple T at Ohio, i understand how you were feeling.
    Thank you for the report and good luck in next races.


  5. Finally I can read about it....Wow. I am so pumped up for you man. So happy you met your goal. Your report is brilliant.
    Although you are grateful for those at trifuel, I am sure their are many like me, more than grateful for the inspiration you have given us.
    Right so my next step is to win the legs and ass competition.

  6. Finally got a chance to read your report. Awesome. So inspiring. Your wife and kids will never forget watching you cross the finish line. What a fantastic thing to share with them. Wish my dad were alive to see me do this someday. So glad the day was everything you hoped it would be. thanks for sharing it with all of us!

  7. Just read up on the race...and a daylight finish? Well done!
    Chessie is on the radar for me this year...